Word Study: Khata – “Sin”
Word Study: Khata – “Sin” Most people assume the Bible has a lot to say about how messed up humans are, and that is true. It is also true that the Bible’s vocabulary about this topic sounds odd to modern people, using words like: sin, iniquiity or transgression. So, the Bible’s perspective on the human condition is often ignored or treated as ancient and backwards. This is really unfortunate. Because, through these words, the biblical authors are offering us deeply profound diagnosis of human nature. Iniquity describes behavior that is crooked, while transgression refers to breaking trust. Sin is actually the most common of this bad words in the Bible. So, let’s focus on it for a few minutes. “Sin” translates the Hebrew word “Khata” and the Greek word “Hamartia”. The most basic meaning of sin isn’t religious at all. “Khata” simply means “to fail” or “miss the goal”. Like when the Israelite tribe of Benjamin trained a small army of slingshot experts, they could sling a stone at a hair and not “khata”, that is “fail” or “miss”. Or, there is the biblical proverb that warns against making hasty decisions because you are likely to “khata” your way, miss your destination. So, in the Bible; sin is a failure to fulfill a goal. What is the goal? Well, on page 1 of the Bible, we learn that every human is a image of God, a sacred being who represents the Creator and is worthy of respect. In this way of seeing the world, sin is a failure to love God and others by not treating them with the honor they deserve. You can see this idea in the famous code of conduct given to the Israelites – the Ten Commandments. Half of them identify ways you can fail at loving God. The other half names ways you can fail at loving people. The fact that both kinds of failure are combined shows that failing to honor God is deeply connected to failing to honor people. This is why, in the Bible, sin against people is sin against God. Like when Joseph refuses to sleep with the wife of Potiphar, he says, “How could I sin against God?” In Joseph’s mind, failing to honor a human made in God’s image is a failure to love God. So, sin is a failure to be truly human. But there is more. The fascinating thing about sin in the Bible is that most of the time that people are failing, they either don’t know it, or even worse, they think they are succeeding. Like when Pharaoh wants to build Egypt’s economy and protect national security. In his mind, this justifies enslaving the Israelites. He thinks it is good. He is totally unaware that it is an epic fail. Or when King Saul is chasing David around the wilderness trying to kill him, he thought he was bringing a criminal to justice. Until he realizes he is the corrupt one and he says, “I have sinned, I am the failure.” So, sin is about more than just doing bad things. It describes how we easily deceive ourselves and spin illusions to redefine our bad decisions as good ones. So why are humans such bad judges between moral failure and success? The first appearance of the word “sin” in the Bible offers an insight. There are these two brothers, Cain and Abel. Their parents had just given into this beastly temptation to redefine good and evil by their own wisdom. Now Cain is faced with a similar choice. He is jealous and angry that God has favored his brother. So God warns him, “If you don’t choose what’s good, Khata is crouching at the door. It wants you, but you can rule over it.” In these stories sin, or moral failure, is depicted as a wild, hungry animal that wants to consume humans. We know how that story ends. The Bible is trying to tell us that failed human behavior, our tendency toward self deception, it runs deep. It is rooted in our desires and selfish urges that compel us to act for our own benefit at the expense of others. It leads to this chain reaction of relational break down. This is why in the New Testament, the apostle Paul describes Hamartia as a power or a force that rules humans. In his words, “We are slaves to sin.” He even says, “Sin lives in us so that the things I don’t want to do, that’s what I do.” With the word “sin”, the biblical authors are offering a robust description of the human condition. It is a failure to be humans who fully love God and others. It is our inability to judge whether we are succeeding or failing. It is that deep, selfish impulse that drives much of our behavior. This is not a pretty picture of ourselves. But, if we are honest, it is realistic. This is why in the Bible, the story of Jesus is such good news. He is depicted as the Creator become a truly human one who did not fail to love God and others. That is, he did not sin. And yet, he took responsiblity for humanity’s history of failure. He lived for others and he died for their sin. He was raised from the dead to offer them the gift of his life that covers for their failures. Or in the word of the apostles, “He committed no sin yet he carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we might die to our sins and live to do what is right.” That is the story behind the biblical word for sin. Hey, everybody! That was the first video that we are doing in a series called the bad words of the Bible. We have a lot more coming out, and a lot more videos, that you can checkout and everything we are up to at thebibbleproject.com This entire project is a crowed funded en-devour and we can make videos and our podcasts and other resources because of the generous support of people like you, so thank you for being a part of it with us.