Fellowship at Cross Creek
The Story of Sin…
By Joseph M. Cross
Part I: It Started with a Christmas Curiosity…
It started with a Christmas curiosity of mine concerning the interpretation of a very familiar biblical passage—one that many of us have heard read or referenced many times in our lives, especially at Christmas time. The passage contained a dream to a very troubled man—Joseph, the fiancé of Mary. In the dream, the angel tells Joseph not to divorce Mary because she is now pregnant. She has done nothing wrong. The child is God’s, conceived by the Holy Spirit. When he is born, the boy is to be named Jesus (Greek or Yeshua in Hebrew, which means Yah or Yahweh [I AM] Saves), because he will save the people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
At first glance, the meaning of this very familiar passage seems so obvious. Jesus died for our sins…if we believe in him, our sins are forgiven and we have eternal life with him (John 3). And that’s what I assumed, or have always assumed. And I still believe that’s partly what this angelic message comes to mean. At the same time, I have now discovered that there are some incredibly, rich and meaningful layers to this understanding.
It all started when I decided to explore the biblical meaning of sin. I mean who doesn’t know what sin is. Every child who has spent some time in Sunday school can tell you what sin is. It’s when you do wrong. Bad things. When you disobey your parents or teachers. And yet I was still curious. If Jesus is supposed to save the people from these things called sins, then it might be important to go back and see just what the Scriptures meant by this thing that Jesus was supposed to save us from, as well as, the importance of his name in the first place.
So I began my journey into the story of sin, or the meaning of sin, by taking a shortcut, a legitimate shortcut, but still a shortcut. I turned to my New Testament theological dictionary (Sin; NIDNTT) which contains articles written by various scholars on every New Testament Greek word, beginning with the word’s uses in Classical Greek literature, then moving to the LXX, or the Greek translations of the Hebrew Old Testament, dating a couple of centuries before Jesus’ day, then moving to Rabbinical uses of the word during Jesus’ day, and finally to the New Testament’s uses of the word itself. The two primary words I focused on were unrighteousness and sin, or adikia and hamartia, and I gleaned some really helpful insights, which I shared with the church body over several weeks during the Christmas holidays.
Some of the insights that ended up serving as a foundation for my understanding of the biblical concept of sin included:
1) the Greeks seemed to define unrighteousness as injustice…that which departs or goes against societal norms or values. And it is particularly egregious when it is combined with the misuse of power. In other words, injustice + power = serious unrighteousness or sin
2) the Greeks two greatest obstacles in dealing with one’s sin were overcoming: a) infatuation…or passion…and b) fate. And to this end, certain spiritual-religious rites, the acquiring of knowledge in order to overcome naiveté or ignorance which led to sin, and good works were all employed in hopes of overcoming these two masters.
Part II: The Hebrew Concept of Sin Contains a More Well-Defined Divine Dimension to Justice and Injustice.
3) The Hebrew OT uses 36 different words for the one Greek word—adikia, so it becomes very apparent, sin is a big deal when it comes to the OT.
4) When it comes to adikia, the OT understandably adds both a spiritual or divine element, as well as, a legal tone to man’s understanding of sin or unrighteousness, thus unrighteousness comes to mean anything against the sacred order of divine justice, and sin…a deviation from the right path.
5) Also beginning in Genesis and extending throughout the Mosaic Law and the history of Israel, we learn that sin is: a) universal; everyone commits it; b) it leads to death ultimately, even if momentarily delayed, and c) not only is sin an offense against God’s justice, and therefore, breaks fellowship with God, sin is an offense against one’s nation or community as well.
6) Since sin is such highly contagious and deadly virus, leading to devastating consequences (Gen. 6; Ex. 32; Numbers 13; 16; 20; 21; 25; Josh 7: etc.), it is in the community or nation’s best interest to deal with sin’s contagion effectively and rapidly. And for serious enough sins within the Law, this included banishment and yes, death.
7) Thus dealing with sin, or spiritual, legal and moral injustice, was not just punitive, but salvific. In other words, as the body’s defenses seek to wage war with a deadly virus in order to save the body, so it is with a community’s war with sin. The war is waged in order to save the person, family, community or nation from the far-greater consequence of having ignored the sin.
8) There were two major ways under the Law for dealing with sin: a) punish the offender and b) kill a beast…offer a ritual sacrifice…thus making legal and Spiritual amends or atonement for the sin.
9) In the end, the history of God’s people, despite many gracious warnings and God’s seemingly eternal patience, is primarily one of complete moral and spiritual apostasy.
10) Thus Israel’s only hope…strongly hinted at 700 years before his coming… is Isaiah 53’s Suffering Servant, who though he will know no sin, will become sin for the many…and make expiation or atonement for their sins.
Next Time: Parts III and IV…Yah-Saves (Jesus’) View of Sin and Righteousness Clashes with the Jewish View…