Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST005/4 The Doctrie of SIN. (hamartiology).


The Doctrine of Sin. 


Hamartiology is the theological word for the doctrine of Sin and is derived from the most common Greek word for sin (hamartia) plus the usual ending which we have explained already. In view of the fact that Christianity is a religion of redemption, the doctrine of sin is very important. Our view of sin is bound to have profound effects on our conception of the atonement and redemption.

If we think lightly of sin, we shall think lightly of the work of Christ. The quotation from Fletcher of Madeley with which Wiley heads his chapter on this subject is worth repeating. "In every religion there is a principle truth or error which, like the first link of a chain, necessarily draws after it all the parts with which it is essentially connected. This leading principle in Christianity is the doctrine of our corrupt and lost estate; for if Man is not at variance with his Creator, what need of a Mediator between God and him?

If he is not a depraved, undone creature, what necessity of so wonderful a Restorer and Saviour as the Son of God? If he be not enslaved to sin, why is he redeemed by Jesus Christ? If he is not polluted, why must he be washed in the blood of the immaculate Lamb?

If his soul is not disordered, what occasion is there for the divine Physician, if he is not helpless and miserable, why is he perpetually invited to secure the assistance and consolations of the Holy Spirit? And, in a word, if he is not born in sin, why is the new birth so absolutely necesary that Christ declares with the most solemn asseverations, without it no man can see the Kingdom of God?"

In dealing with the subject of sin we shall consider first of all the general nature of sin, paying special attention to the words used in the Scriptures; then we shall pass on to the origin of sin and its consequences, dealing with the Fall; finally the question of original sin and inherited depravity, with all that that entails in connection with Man`s sinful condition today, must be carefully investigated.

1. The nature of sin.

(a) The Law of God.

Law has come to mean in scientific language an established order of things, a ruling principle, quite apart from the idea of any intelligence or will. The true meaning of the word, however, has to do with voluntary agents and springs from the conception of a personal lawgiver.

Where there is a law, there must be a personal lawgiver. The laws laid down are the outworking of the nature of the lawgiver. This is the true conception of the world and its ordering. We have seen already that God is author, creator and upholder of all. The laws that He has laid down are not merely arbitrary commands but the very principles, the following of which can alone keep the world running as it should run.

The natural laws are the governing principles of the physical and material part of the world. Whether they believe in God or not, scientists know that only as they work in harmony with these principles can they achieve results.

When they unwittingly work against them, there is only frustration and failure. Their whole energy is spent in discovering more and more what these principles are so that they can use them accordingly. The same is true of the moral laws, though men are slower to admit it. Man was made for God and he can only fulfil his true purpose and live in the harmony and effectiveness that he should, when he is in true and unhindered fellowship with God.

Then only can he live according to the moral laws and principles of God, Sin, as we shall see, lies in the breaking of this fellowship and in failure to fulfil these moral laws and principles, in fact in rebellion against God and His nature and therefore all that is for the highest good of Man.

(b) The Scriptural Conception of Sin.

The above conception is upheld by the teaching of Scripture as will be seen more clearly when explaining New Testament terminology in connection with sin, the idea of the Bible all through is that sin is not merely an infirmity or weakness, but is a deep seated disease and anarchy against the nature and person of God, and also transgression of His law. It opposes His government, is contrary to His nature and offends His love.

The Scriptures speak plainly of sin as an act taking many and varied forms. Most of the sins of mankind are mentioned by name or described in some way or another. The Bible, however, speaks of sin as more than the mere act. There is an evil nature from which the acts spring, a disease of sin which shows itself in the symptoms, the acts of sin.

Such verses as the following bear this out . "Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps.51:5); "Sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4 R.V.), "Lest there be in you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God" (Heb.3: 2), "Behold thou desirest truth in the inward parts (Ps.5l:6). This is further borne out by the way in which the apostle Paul speaks of sin as an entity or a nature in many passages, especially in the Epistle to the Romans.

It is useful to consider the actual words used in the New Testament to describe sin. These help us to understand its nature and further substantiate what has been said above.


This is the most frequent word for sin in the New Testament. It contains the idea of missing the way or missing the mark; thus it implies a deflection from the right. It is used both to refer to acts of sin and also to the state or disposition of sin. It is not only the particular act of missing the mark and thus not doing the right thing, it is also the disposition that has missed the mark and thus come short of the standard.

It is the word used by Paul in Romans when he speaks of sin almost as a person who has got man under his control or an evil force which pollutes and enslaves s man.


The word means "transgression" and refers to sin as an act and as rebellion against the law of God (Romans.4:15).


This word is mostly translated "unrighteousness" or "inquity". It has the idea of a perversion of the right or "crookedness". The translation "iniquity" likewise implies this, meaning "inequity" or "twistedness".

John connects the two words "unrighteousness" (adikia) and "sin" (hamartia) in 1 John 1:9 and 5:17. The word is an abstract one and refers therefore, not to a mere act but to the state of perversion or iniquity arising from sin.

The greatest commandment, said Jesus, is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, but sin brought a perversion of our natures whereby there is self—separation from God and the bent of our being is towards self and the world rather than towards God.


This is another abstract word and is found in connection with sin in 1 John 3:4 meaning "transgression of the law" is rather misleading, since it gives the idea more of an act than
a state.

The R.V. renders the verse, "Every one that doeth sin, doeth also lawlessness and sin is lawlessness". It is a state or condition characterized by a rebellious spirit against the law and lack of conformity to it in spirit as well as act. Dr. Pope's remarks on this verse are worth noting.

"St.John:s definition is important, as showing the difference between the act of transgression and the state of transgression. The words mean that the act is the result of the state, and the state also the result of the act.

Sin is only the act of a primitive transgressing will, but that will forms the character behind the future will, and shapes its ends. This final statement of St. John may be divided into its two branches, each of which will shed light upon the general terminology of Scripture.

Sin is the voluntary separation of the soul from God: this implies the setting up of the law of self actively, and passively the surrender to internal confusion." (Vol.2 m.30).


This is the word for "ungodliness". It brings out the thought of a character unlike God and a disposition which is characterized by the absence of God. The word occurs in Romans.1:18 and Jude 14,15.

(c) Definitions of Sin.

It is useful to have some sort of definition of sin with which, an far as possible, to summarize the teaching of Scripture. Possibly one of the most quoted, perhaps because of its useful brevity, is that of John Wesley, "sin is a voluntary transgression of a known law".

Unfortunately it is neither sufficient nor complete and for that reason it may be as well to say something about it. It was never meant to be a complete theological definition of sin nor was it written in a treatise on systematic theology.

The definition is used in defence of and in explanation of his teaching of the message and experience of entire sanctification and perfect love. He is saying that entire sanctification is not inconsistent with mistakes of judgment and practice, shortcomings, defects and infirmities.

These need not spring from a sinful heart. They are not sins "properly so called (that is the voluntary transgression of a known law)" though they are of course, as all would agree, a coming short of the Divine Perfection.

This definition, however, does not mean that Wesley did not believe in inherited depravity as a nature and dispositions derived from our first parents, and which is the source of our acts of sin and the cause of our terrible weakness and inability to overcome sin.

Dr.Pope's definition has been mentioned above, "the voluntary separation of the soul from God". Dr.Raymond gives the following, "The primary idea designated by the word sin in Scriptures is want of conformity to law, a transgression of law, a doing of that which is forbidden, or a neglecting to do that which is required.

In a secondary sense the term applies to character; not to that which one does, but to what he is." The most concise and satisfactory is probably Dr.Strong`s, "Sin is lack of conformity to the moral law of God: either in acts disposition or state."

< back to previous page >

©2008 Church Education Trust