sinner, iniquity, original sin.
Christian Spirituality > Spiritual Word Meanings > define Sinner and Original Sin.
sinner : in ordinary speech, it means someone who is deeply depraved, evil, bad. However, that's not what the Christian faith means by the word. In Christian belief, 'sinner' is not a moral description, but a relational one. Sin is the broken state of our relationship with God. There's a distance, a gap between us (with the rest of the created universe) and God, a distance far too wide for us to cross over, a distance bridged only by God's act of coming over onto our side of the gap through Jesus Christ (God-with-us) and the Spirit that Jesus sent in His place. The nicest, kindest, most spiritual, and most virtuous of us is a sinner. The vilest, darthest, crookedest, most evil of us is a sinner. Everyone in between is a sinner. Each and all of these sinners are loved by God.
Perhaps it would be best to use a word which lacks the moralistic overtone of 'sinner'. That overtone undercuts the Christian message of grace for those on our human side of the divide. I would love to look at the good and pretend the bad away, it's so much happier -- but it is unreal. The words often put forward to replace 'sin' and 'sinner' fail to catch enough of the negative quality of that divide: it is very very bad for you (in fact, fatal) and is far from what God wants for you. Because the broken relationship is so bad for us, it has profound and deep effects on all of us and all we do. It is a part of our human identity and character (that which makes each of us who/what we are), whether we want it to be or not.
The Bible has all sorts of words to describe sin. The most striking of these is Heb. mešubah (infidelity); the covenant people Israel was chasing after other lovers, as the prophets described it. In the Hebrew Scriptures, other words include ‘ahar (transgression, law-breaking), ma’al (trespass), ‘awon (straying, wandering), tum’ah (becoming unclean), beged (disloyalty, treason), and peša (revolt, rebellion). The image of sin which the New Testament most picked up on was the idea of an archer missing his mark (Heb. chatta’t, Gk hamartia). Anyone who does these is in some sense a 'sinner'. The origin of hamartia is the reward from competition; due to missing the mark badly or often, the archer has no (ha-) share in the allotment (mer-) or prize.
Notice that these are word-pictures, metaphors that help to describe something that has so many angles that no mere word or even phrase can quite hit the mark. You can picture someone straying from the path into the dangers of the woods, getting lost. Or, you can picture armed brigands trying to establish control of your area by force. Or being soaked through and through with pig-mud. Some of these are relational, others personal, or ritual, or societal. Sin is so pervasive, it colors everything we do. We all do these things, in all sorts of ways, thus we are all sinners. It took Jesus' death, the indirect and direct result of our being sinners, to clear this up and clean it out.
You can look up the dictionary meaning of 'sinner', without actually sinning.
If you're looking for forgiveness, go to Jesus.
iniquity [from Latin iniquitas, from inequus unfair, from in- (un-) + aequus (even, level); akin to Mod English equal]
Its word-field includes wrong(doing), crookedness, and transgression, not leveling with someone, not being 'on the level' with someone. It was often used to translate New Testament Gk adikia, which is injustice as to the law or judges. In Hebrew texts, it was often used to translate Heb. ’awon (bent; stray). Both words are about an action's character rather than the act itself; its sinfulness rather than the sin, its injustice rather than the crime.
The core meaning of 'iniquity' is 'unfair' or 'unjust', but it carries a deeper, more menacing connotation. The word, in older English, usually indicated malice from a depraved or evil or thoroughly selfish state of mind, which is what leads to to being unjust.
I said, 'older English', because 'iniquity' fell out of common use more than a century ago, and when it is used, it is treated merely as a synonym for 'sin'. Bible translators have only recently begun to catch up with the change. Iniquity's a perfectly good word to use when you run out of more common ways to describe what it describes, but otherwise it's best to avoid using it outside of literary contexts, unless you just want to sound high and mighty. I would love to see its return in public discussion, regarding the sin of economic injustice and extreme disparity, but until that sort of recovery of the word comes to the general public, the word just sets up a barrier.
Lead me not into temptation.
I can find it entirely on my own.
Original sin is not about infants having dreams of evil. It's not about how creative we are at sinning (for most of us, it's all pretty much a variation of what's been done before). And it's not about turning us into a miserable pack of whiny sad sacks moaning, 'Woe is me'. Original sin is the start of the brokenness of the human relationship with God. Because of original sin, even the best of us turn away from God in some way (theologians used to call this fact 'depravity'). Even the best of us at our best is in the same basic dilemma as the worst of us, and even the holiest of us at their tippy-top is a universe distant from God's holiness. No one is born with faith; it is poured into you by the Spirit as you live. Original sin and depravity do not mean we're basically all evil monsters (God originally created us good, says Genesis). Instead, it means there's some 'monstrousness' in all of us, and it affects everything we do. And, there's a bit of this monstrousness in whatever way we gather together -- clubs, teams, parties, unions, companies, cartels, ethnic groups, nations, governments, and churches. We each add a bit of our own monstrousness to the group, and we take into ourselves a part of the group's monstrousness. (We also add and take on goodness.) Our monster isn't something we created recently. It is rooted in our origins, in the very beginning of the human race, hence, it is 'origin-al'. But each of us gives it another twist.
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|ver.: 10 February 2012
Sin and the sinner. Copyright © 1999-2012 By Robert Longman.