Question: Just What Exactly Is Sin?

My friend Nate, from the insightful, agnostic/atheistic blog “Finding Truth” gave me the following comment (one of many 🙂 ) in response to my post “A Discussion of Free Will”.  Though I answered him in a follow-up reply, and I’ve expanded on some of our discussions before, I thought this was a great comment to begin and/or further a dialog on.  Please feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts below:

It’s interesting to think about how Adam and Eve could sin prior to receiving the “knowledge of good and evil,” which is what the fruit supposedly gave them.

It is interesting.  Because that is exactly what happened.   In this case–the instance of “original sin”–the very definition of sin is stretched beyond the parameters of simply “knowledge of good and evil”; touching on our God-given ability to choose, the freedom and consequences of freewill, and why–since before we were even created–God’s plan included a “savior”.

Ephesians 1Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (NLT)

Regardless of whether or not a choice itself is inherently good or evil, could sin also be defined as knowing what is the right or proper thing to do in a given situation, and choosing otherwise?   After all, the fall of man was Adam’s doing, not Eve’s.  Eve was led into temptation; Adam freely disobeyed God by, instead, following the lead of his wife.

In a paper written by Rabbi Jeffery Leynor, its noted that the three most often used words in the Hebraic bible to denote ‘sin’ are:

  • The root HT (Het): which occurs 459 times and the original meaning of the verb HATA: “to miss” something, or “to fail.”  It signifies a failure of mutual relations and corresponds to the modern idea of “offense” rather than the theological concept of “sin.”  One who fulfills the claims of a relationship or an agreement is righteous, ZADDIQ; one who does not, offends, fails, or misses the mark.  This is essentially what Adam did in the Garden.
  • The root PESH which occurs 136 times and is also found in the early texts of Genesis and Exodus. Its basic meaning is that of the “breach of a covenant.”  Acts of this type are said to dissolve the community or break the peaceful relations between two parties, as in cases involving international treaties.  Or, in Biblical terms, the covenant between God and His people, Israel.
  • And finally, the word AVON (meaning “crookedness”) which, according to the Holman Bible Dictionary, is the main Hebrew word for “iniquity” and describes perversion or depravity of actions causing the ‘sinful’ person to become crooked rather than straight.

It is my belief that the choice Adam made–though it was indeed sin (HATA)–on its own merits was neither good nor evil.  I imagine Adam’s thought process went something like, “I’ve lost her anyway.  I can’t live without her.  I can’t stand the thought of her suffering alone.  I might as well do the same thing . . .”

It’s that same thought process that leads us as well—ever so slowly—away from God.  There’s any number of things on any given day that we feel—no, that we know—we “can’t live without”.  God may be somewhere in there but, if we’re honest, rarely is he the first “thing”.

Adam chose to follow his wife, openly disobeying what God personally told him. (At least Eve could have the excuse of, “Well, I think this is what Adam told me that God told him . . .”) Adam’s eternal sin was committed before his bite from the forbidden fruit was ever taken.  Finally, it was sealed when he tried to shift the blame for his actions . . . to God himself. (“It was the woman YOU gave me.”)

What the snake did was evil; what Adam did was ‘miss the mark’, then further complicate things by guilt, shame, hiding, denial, pride, on and on (of which, these thoughts and emotions may very well have been the result of the “knowledge of good and evil”): thus breaking the covenant relationship with his Creator . . . .

Genesis 3:23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

. . . . A relationship that we later have the ability to choose to restore, through a new covenant, and a new “Adam” . . .

1 Corinthians 15:45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

Romans 7:25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

10 thoughts on “Question: Just What Exactly Is Sin?”

  1. Thanks for tackling the question, Kent!

    Do you think not having a “knowledge of good and evil” is pretty much the same kind of innocence that young children possess?

    1. That is an outstanding question. In my mind, I believe it to be a very comparable innocence; and I wonder if that was the meaning behind Jesus’ words to his apostles, ““Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15) My question is, can we “regain” that type of innocence? Or is it more the feelings behind that innocence such as wonder, honesty, sincerity, and even faith?

    2. Yeah, that’s how I view their level of innocence too. My children know not to fight with each other, but they still do from time to time. While that’s a level of disobedience, I wouldn’t call it “sin,” because there’s still so much they don’t understand about the gravity of the things they do. This is how I view Adam and Eve “before the fruit” (copyright, btw 😉 ), so I find God’s reaction a bit puzzling. It seems like overkill if they were incapable of knowing good from evil. And if they did know good from evil, what’s the deal with the magic fruit?

      To me, it almost sounds like a set up, which would carry some uncomfortable connotations. If God orchestrated the whole thing so he could bring a savior into the mix, then the fault of sin entering the world lies at his feet, not Adam and Eve’s. Or, this could just be an ancient fable to explain the existence of evil, in which case it’s bound to have a few flimsy areas upon close examination.

      1. Hey, I’m not discounting the fact that it may be fable. 🙂 There are some very prominent religious scholars out there that believe some of these OT stories are fable and/or allegory. I just shrug and say, “dunno.” I have a question for you though, in regards to God’s reaction: why do you think he reacted as he did? What I mean is, when Adam & Eve eat of the fruit, then hear God walking through the garden (BTW, I find the whole idea of Adam & Eve actually walking with God fascinating!), they hide. God’s reaction is to question. “Where are you?” “Who told you you were naked?”, “Have you been eating of the fruit . . . ?”

        Obviously God would have already known the answers, so why the questions? And, in light of the type of questions–and I’m also not discounting the fact that God may have been “setting up” Adam, or at least giving him the chance to choose “right or wrong” at this point–where exactly did the “sin” take place? The eating? The denial? The shame and guilt? I think this is a fascinating “chicken & egg” question . . .

        1. BTW, as far as “overkill if they were incapable of knowing good from evil”, I see God’s reaction as more parental than anything. How many times have we told our young kids not to do something, they do it and we’re, at times, overly stern with them; “I TOLD you not to do XX! NOW look what happened!” Overall, I understood a lot more about God after I had kids of my own, ha ha!

        2. I guess I find it overkill because of the consequences. Let’s say for a moment that God couldn’t help the consequences — maybe eating the magic fruit automatically created a scenario in which Adam and Eve could not stay in the garden and they couldn’t continue having such a close relationship with God. But if that’s the case, why did God put the tree in the Garden to begin with? Isn’t that a bit like leaving a loaded gun in the toy box?

          If he did have a choice in how he reacted, then I don’t know why he didn’t stop them right before the first bite, like he did with Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac. Or remind them (as I do my son in the parking lot) that they’ve just done something that I told them not to do, and I expect them to do better next time.

          Your point about the questions God asks is very interesting. I really don’t know why he asks those particular questions… or really why he asked any questions at all. Maybe it shows an earlier form of the story before the idea of God’s omniscience was worked out, or maybe he was testing them to see what they’d do and how they’d respond.

          Interesting stuff!

          1. It’s interesting that you’d bring up Abraham and his sacrifice of Isaac. In that case, Abraham was willing to prove his faith in God by sacrificing his only son, knowing full well that God had said that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars through Isaac. (Did his faith include the belief that God could resurrect Isaac?) God realized Abraham’s faith and stopped him before he had to fully prove it. I wonder what God’s reaction would have been if Adam had refused the fruit from Eve? Thus proving his faith in God over his bride–his “helpmate” and “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. And what would have happened to Eve? Hmmmm . . . .

            On a separate note, someone pointed out to me (I’d never caught this before) that “God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife…” We assume these were animal skins; were they in fact the first atonement sacrifices for mankind’s sin?

            Also, I’ve also found it interesting that God says, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” Who, or what, was/is the tree of life? And why deny it to Adam and Eve, and now offer it to His followers today?

            I feel like I’ve been singling you, and our back-and-forth commentary out lately :-), but man, you are giving me some more great fodder for future blog posts here!! Woot, woot!

  2. God could not allow Adam and Eve to partake of the Tree of Life because they would then live forever in their sin, not
    having an opportunity to repent. While it was true that because they had partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil, they would “surely die”, God gave them a probationary time (this life) to repent and prepare to meet him.
    Sometimes we forget about the ‘GOOD” part in the Tree of GOOD and Evil—interesting to note restored latter-day scripture:
    “And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: “I am the Only Begotten
    of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even
    as many as will. And in that day, Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again
    in the flesh I shall see God. And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we
    never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known to their sons and daughters.” Since we will ALL live forever, Eve was speaking of eternal life here as a God-like quality of life, not a time period.

  3. Hi Kent, here’s my bit for what it’s worth.
    Adam had lived his entire existence prior so the fall from the nourishment of the tree of life, he was in intimate union with Christ (who is the tree of life) and this union was the life source of his existence. Adam’s decision to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a decision to live from the resourses of self apart from his union with Christ, he chose to find his nourishment in his own ability (to do good or evil) as opposed to the life that emanates from Christ (that’s why he calls himself The Bread of Life). It’s the same today, we either eat from Christ or from self – religion has packaged-up self with all the trimmings of Christ, but scratch the surface and most believers dont believe (feed on Christ) they just do religion.
    What do you think? cheers Graeme

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