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Hebrew Thoughts

Chattâ'' - חטא (Strong's #2400)
Sinner, sin

"You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." (Micah 7:19)

The term "sinner" חטא chattâ' (Strong's #2400) derives from a verb חטא châtâ' (Strong's #2398) meaning to "miss the mark" as an archer or slinger (e.g., who "could sling a stone at a hair and not miss", Judges 20:16), or to "miss the way" as a traveller, or of a goal not reached. This particular word for sinner, highlighting the person occurs just 18 times to the verb's 238 uses. Hebrew is not quick to label a person a sinner, though the wicked רשע râshâ‘ (Strong's #7563), persistent sinners, are more frequently mentioned (263 times) yet still not without hope of redemption or change.

The feminine noun חטאת chattâ'âth (Strong's #2403) describing the act not criminalising the person, however, occurs 296 times, 16 times more frequently than the adjective. God judges the act of sinning but seeks to save rather than label the sinner that sinned, taking no pleasure in the death of any, even of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:21-23).

The first use of חטאת chattâ'âth is in Genesis 4:7 and is personified as an animal lying in wait for us. The forgiveness of sins is offered in Isaiah 53:10, Jeremiah 31:34 and Ezekiel 18:21 as part of repentance and salvation. According to Exodus 34:7 God is exceedingly merciful to the thousandth generation "forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty". This verse groups together with sin two other words "iniquity" and "transgression" and reminds that forgiveness does not mean injustice towards victims or leniency towards the guilty.

The other words for sin such as "iniquity" עון ‘âvôwn (Strong's #5771) and "transgression" פּשע pesha‘ (Strong's #6588) are not overly distinct in meaning from חטאת chattâ'âth for they are used synonymously in such verses as Micah 3:8 "To declare to Jacob his transgression // And to Israel his sin"; Micah 1:5 and 6:7.

In the Hebrew bible there were two types of sin, those of presumption זד zêdh, Strong's #2086, e.g., Psalm 19:13) and deliberate rebellion (בּידרמה beyâdh râmâh, Strong's #7411, e.g., Numbers 15:30), such as idolatry and unbelief, which required a cutting off from the covenant or the land of the living; and those sins (שגגה sheghâghâh, Strong's #7684, e.g., Leviticus 4:27) which were omissions, accidents, or of ignorance or weakness. These latter were covered within the Old Testament covenant of grace in which the people already stood, sacrifices were made to retain and sustain grace, not in order to obtain it.

The first use of "sinner" חטא chattâ' is in Genesis 13:13 concerning "the men of Sodom" who "were exceedingly wicked and sinful". Here, "wicked" is רע ra‘ (Strong's #7451) and is intensified by the Hebrew word מאד me'ôdh (Strong's #3966) meaning "very, much, exceeding" and which, in contrast, we are commanded (Deuteronomy 6:5) to love the Lord our God with, usually translated confusingly by "strength".

In order to be "converted", literally "about turned, returned" according to Psalm 51:13, sinners require not condemnation but education (Psalm 25:8), "I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You" (Psalm 51:13).


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Meet the Author
Jonathan Went teaches biblical Hebrew and Jewish background to Christianity. His "Biblical Hebrew made easy" course can be found at

Why not consider learning Hebrew online with teachers in Israel. He specialises in Hermeneutics, Judaica and Patristics (Early Church).

He also runs a biblical, Hebrew and multilingual software resources site.

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