Sin Synonyms

by Joan Rieber
Sentry Magazine, December 1999

Sometimes reading the scripture in English is like eating diet food, you get volume, but the flavor and texture are lacking. Word studies in the original languages can supply what is missing. The Greek words for 'sin' are especially rich. I am not a scholar, so some of this article is my subjective response to the words, but learning even a little more can deepen our understanding of the issues involved in sinning. The pictures they present help us be more determined to avoid sin.

One word, hamartia, means to miss the mark. This is the word in Luke 5:24 that testifies to Jesus' power to forgive me of the many times that I have missed the target. In my minds' eye, I see an archery range and that elusive bullseye. Hopefully, as time goes on we come closer to the mark. There is encouragement in that picture.

A second term, parabaino, refers to going beyond or aside. It reminds us to remain within the things authorized by God. This is the word which puts the teeth in II John 9, "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God," echoing God's voice in the Law of Moses, reminding over and over that Israel should not add to or take from the Law, nor should they deviate to the right or the left. Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32 and Deuteronomy 5:32; 17:20.

Our next word is proskomma, the obstacle, the stone of stumbling of I Peter 2:8. Don't those few words bring falling to mind? Add with falling comes wounds, discomfort, and scars. God is trying to protect us with a warning about spiritual things that begins with physical consequences that we have experienced. If we do not stumble we avoid the long-lasting pain that sin brings and scars that may be permanent.

The last word, skandalon, describes a trap, a snare. Can you hear the intensity of Jesus' words in Matthew 18: 7. "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks!" The piercing teeth, the crushing pressure, the struggle to escape all come to mind in this word. Sin, like a trap, is always easier to avoid than escape. I have read that an animal may gnaw off its foot to escape from a literal trap, but what might be needed to escape from or deal with the snares of sin can be even more drastic. Recognizing the trap and the damage it can do will help us stop before we sin. Our loving, wise Heavenly Father seeks to protect us by His principles from consequences of sin that we may not recognize. Some of that protection can be found in these vivid words as they show us something of how God sees sin.


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