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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Sin

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‘Sin’ is a term which belongs to religion. Moral evil as an injury done by man to himself is vice, as an offence against human society crime, but as affecting his relation to God sin. But even here we may distinguish a more distinctively religious from the more general moral sense. It is distrust of the goodness and grace of God as well as disobedience to the law of God as the standard of moral obligation. To be forgetful of God in one’s thoughts, to be neglectful of piety and worship towards God, is as much sin as to disregard and defy God’s commandments. It is sometimes insisted in writings of to-day, such as Tennant’s (see Literature), that sin must be conscious and voluntary distrust and disobedience; but it will appear that in the Scriptures the emphasis on the subjective consciousness is secondary. Sin includes departure from, or failure to reach, the standard of religious and moral obligation for man determined by the nature and purpose of God; the stress falls more on the objective reality-the difference between what man is and what he should be, God being what He is. While it might be convenient to restrict the term ‘sin’ to conscious, voluntary acts, yet the wider usage is too deeply rooted in religious thought to be easily displaced. It must be insisted, however, that moral accountability, personal blameworthiness, attaches to the conscious and voluntary acts alone, even although, as regards the consequences of evil, human solidarity is such that the innocent may suffer with the guilty.

The term ‘guilt’ is one that requires careful definition. It is not punishment; for punishment consists of all the evil consequences of sin, which the sinner in his sense of having sinned regards as resulting from a violated moral law, or more personally as the evidences of the Divine displeasure. This subjective consciousness is not, however, illusory, as it does correspond with and respond to a moral order and a personal will opposed to sin, which are an objective reality. Guilt is the liability to punishment, the sinner by his act placing himself in such a relation to the moral order and the personal will of God as to expose him to the evil consequences included in his punishment. Here again our modern thought with its refinements makes distinctions which the Scriptures for the most part ignore. Can we separate, or must we identify, guilt and sense of guilt? Is there an objective fact and a subjective feeling? If sin is confined strictly to conscious and voluntary acts, then guilt, it would seem, must be measured by the sense of guilt, the blame-worthiness or evil desert that the conscience of the sinner assigns to him. If this were so, then the worse a man became, the less guilty he would be; for it is a sign of moral deterioration to lose the sense of shame in wrongdoing.

The Scripture approach-and surely this is the properly religious approach-to the question is from the side of God rather than of man. A man’s guilt is measured, not by his shame or sorrow, but by God’s judgment: his relation to God as affected by his sin is determined, not by his own opinion of himself, but by God’s view of him. The Divine judgment will, we may confidently believe, take due account of all the facts; the departure from, or failure to reach, the Divine standard, the moral possibility of each man as determined by his heredity, environment, and individuality, and his own moral estimate of himself-all will be included in God’s knowledge of him, and so his guilt will be determined, not by an unerring wisdom and an unfailing righteousness only, but also by an unexhausted love. Thus a man’s sense of guilt is not the measure of his guilt: for the more callous he is morally, the worse must his moral condition appear in the sight of God; and the more sensitive he is, the better must he appear to God. In the measure in which a man judges himself in penitence will he not be judged guilty by God.

Further, in his subjective consciousness a man tends to separate himself, both in his merits and in his defects, from his fellow-men; but in objective reality men are so closely related to one another as to be involved in moral responsibility for one another. Saints as a whole must bear the blame for many of the conditions which make the criminal; and the saint will bear in his heart as a personal sorrow and shame the sins of his fellow-men. In God’s view also the individual does not stand isolated; but the race is a unity, one in its guilt, yet also one for God’s grace. While, when necessary, we must insist on individual liberty and personal responsibility, we must not ignore the complementary truth of racial solidarity. The Scripture point of view is predominantly, if not exclusively, universal objectivity and not individual subjectivity; and unless we recognize this we shall fail to understand the apostolic teaching.

1. St. Paul’s teaching.-As the Dict. of Christ and the Gospels deals with the teaching of Jesus, we are here strictly con fined to the apostolic teaching; and we must obviously begin with St. Paul.

(a) The universality of sin.-St. Paul’s view is the distinctively religious view. Men, dependent upon God, and capable of knowing God, ‘glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks,’ but dishonoured God in their conception of Him, and in their worship (Romans 1:21); their moral deterioration followed religious perversion (Romans 1:24-25). Even in the Gentiles this involved guilt, for the sin was conscious and voluntary, as a disregard and defiance of a law written in their hearts (Romans 1:28-32, Romans 2:14-16). Not less guilty was the Jew who failed to keep the Law of the possession of which he made his boast (Romans 2:23). By such a historical induction St. Paul establishes his thesis of the universality of sin and consequent guilt, and confirms it from the Scriptures, the aim of which is to bring to all men the sense of guilt, ‘that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgement of God’ (Romans 3:19); ‘the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness’ (Romans 1:18). This thesis is advanced, not for its own sake, however, but to show the need of as universal a salvation offered to mankind in Christ.

The validity of St. Paul’s conclusion here is not affected by the correctness or otherwise of the explanation which he offers of the origin of idolatry and the immorality consequent on it. First, we must recognize the Hebraic mode of speech, which represents as direct Divine judgment what we should regard as inevitable moral consequence; and, secondly, we must to-day regard polytheism and the accompanying idolatry as seemingly inevitable stages in the development of the religious consciousness of the Divine. We may admit, however, that idolatry as St. Paul knew it in the Roman Empire was closely associated with immorality; and that Greek and Roman mythology was likely to have an adverse moral influence, as Plato in the Republic recognized.

In affirming that sin involves guilt, exposes man to the Divine judgment, St. Paul was echoing the teaching not only of the OT and of Jesus Himself (Matthew 11:22; Matthew 23:37; Matthew 23:39) but of the universal human conscience, confirmed by the course of human history. There is a moral order in man and the world condemning and executing sentence on sin; and, if God be personally immanent in the world, we cannot distinguish that moral order from the mind and will of God. And, if God be personal, He feels as well as thinks and wills; and so we cannot altogether exclude an emotional reaction of God against sin. St. Paul’s term ‘the wrath of God’ may be allowed its full significance so long as we exclude any passion inconsistent with holy love. Thus we are here dealing, not with an outgrown superstition, but with a permanent moral and spiritual reality-man’s sin and God’s judgment, man’s need and God’s offer of salvation.

(b) The development of sin.-From the universal fact we may turn to the individual feeling of sin. St. Paul was not merely generalizing his individual experience in his proof of the universality of sin, but it is certain that his individual experience gave emphasis to his statement. The classic passage is Romans 7:7-25, which the present writer must regard as an account of St. Paul’s own individual experience, before the grace of Christ brought him deliverance; but there is no doubt that he desires us to regard his individual experience as in greater or lesser degree common to all men. Sin is a power dwelling in man, which may for a time be latent, but which is provoked into exercise by the Law. The knowledge of the prohibition stimulates, and does not restrain, the opposition of sin to law; as the common proverb says, ‘Forbidden fruit is sweet.’ While the mind knows, approves, and delights in the law of God as holy, righteous, and good, the flesh is the seat and vehicle of sin. The ‘law in the members’ is opposed to, resists and conquers, the ‘law in the mind,’ and so the man is brought into bondage, doing what he condemns, unable to do what he approves. This passage raises three questions which must briefly be answered.

(1) Sin as a power.-For St. Paul here as throughout chapters 5, 6, 7 sin is personified as distinct from the animal appetites, the physical impulses, and even the human will itself as dwelling in men and bringing men into bondage. It enters into the heart (Romans 7:17; Romans 7:20), works on man, using the Law itself for its ends (Romans 7:8; Romans 7:11), and enslaves him (Romans 6:6; Romans 6:17; Romans 6:20). In Christ he is freed from sin (Romans 6:18; Romans 6:22) and dies to it (Romans 6:9; Romans 6:11). As freed from and dead to sin, the Christian is not to put his members at the service of sin (Romans 6:13), and must not allow it to reign over him in his body (Romans 6:12). Is this only personification, or does St. Paul regard sin as a personal agent? As a Jew he believed in Satan and a host of evil spirits; and probably, if pressed to explain the power of sin, he would have appealed to this personal agency; but we must not assume that when he thus speaks of sin he is always thinking of Satan. Sin is for him an objective reality without being always identified with Satan (see Sanday-Headlam, International Critical Commentary , ‘Romans,’ p. 145 f.). For us the personification is suggestive in so far as we must recognize that in customs, beliefs, rites, institutions, in human society generally, there is an influence for evil that hurtfully affects the individual-what Ritschl has called the Kingdom of sin as opposed to the Kingdom of God. ‘The subject of sin, rather, is humanity as the sum of all individuals, in so far as the selfish action of each person, involving him as it does in illimitable interaction with all others, is directed in any degree whatsoever towards the opposite of the good, and leads to the association of individuals in common evil’ (Justification and Reconciliation, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1900, p. 335).

(2) The flesh as the seat and vehicle of sin.-As there is in this Dictionary a separate article Flesh, the subject cannot here be fully discussed: a summary statement must suffice. The flesh is not identical with the body, animal appetite, or sensuous impulse; it is man’s whole nature, in so far as he disowns his dependence on God, opposes his will to God, and resists the influence of the Spirit of God. It is man in the aspect, not merely of creatureliness, but of wilfulness and godlessness. It is as corrupted and perverted by sin that human nature lends itself as a channel to and an instrument of sin as a power dwelling in and ruling over man.

(3) The relation of the Law to sin.-The Law reveals sin, because it shows the opposition between the will of God and the wishes of man (Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7). The Law provokes rather than restrains sin (Romans 7:8-9; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:56): the commandment is like a challenge, which sin at once accepts. This St. Paul represents not only as the human result, but as the Divine intention (Romans 5:20, Galatians 3:19), in order that a full exposure might be made of what sin in its very nature is (Romans 7:13), so that men might be made fully aware of their need of deliverance from it (Romans 11:32). The Law fails to restrain, because of its inherent impotence (τὸ γὰρ ἀδύνατον τοῦ νόμου, Romans 8:3), as letter and not spirit (2 Corinthians 3:6), as written on tables of stone and not on tables that are hearts of flesh (2 Corinthians 3:3; cf. Jeremiah 31:33). Thus sin as a power, finding its seat and vehicle in the flesh, not restrained but provoked by the law in the individual, brings a bondage from which the gospel offers deliverance, even as it sets a universal grace of God over against the universal sin of mankind.

(c) The origin of sin.-What explanation can be offered of the fact of the universality of sin? How has man’s nature become so corrupted and perverted as to be described by the term ‘flesh’? How can sin be represented as a power dwelling in, ruling over, man, and bringing him into bondage? While St. Paul does not in Romans 5:12; Romans 5:21 formally offer this explanation, the passage being introduced into the argument for another purpose-to prove the greater efficacy of grace than of sin, by as much as Christ is greater than Adam-yet, as he is there dealing with his view of the introduction of sin into the world, we must regard that passage as his explanation both of sin as a power in humanity and of the flesh; for it is not likely that he would leave sin in the race and sin in the individual unconnected. In the article Fall the subject has already been discussed; here only the considerations bearing immediately on the subject of sin need be mentioned. The relation of the race to Adam may be conceived as two-fold: (1) a participation in guilt; (2) an inheritance of a sinful disposition.

(1) Participation in guilt.-St. Paul teaches that all men are involved in the penalty of Adam’s transgression, for ‘death passed unto all men’ (Romans 5:12), but he does not teach that all men are held guilty of Adam’s transgression; for (a) by a surprising change of construction and discontinuity of thought he affirms as the reason for the universality of death the actual transgression of all men ‘for that all sinned,’ and (b) he guards himself against the charge of imputing guilt when there is no conscious and voluntary transgression, by affirming that ‘sin is not imputed when there is no law’ (Romans 5:13).

As regards (a), the clause ἐφʼ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον cannot mean that all sinned in Adam (‘omnes peccarunt, Adamo peccante,’ Bengel), either as the physical source or as the moral representative of the race; for ἐφʼ most probably means ‘because.’

As regards (b), while St. Paul affirms that guilt is not ascribed unless there is transgression of law, as in the case of Adam, yet he asserts that nevertheless the same penalty falls on all. For him, therefore, penalty may be racial, while guilt must be personal. This statement, however, is qualified by his declaration in chs. 1 and 2 of the responsibility of the Gentiles as having an inward law. Did he really think of any period or nation as having had in this sense no law?

(2) Inheritance of a sinful disposition.-Unless the analogy with Christ is incomplete, there must be, however, some connexion between Adam’s transgression and the actual sin of all mankind. How does St. Paul conceive that connexion? It has usually been taken for granted that he teaches that by Adam’s transgression human nature was itself infected, and that from him there descends to all men a sinful disposition. But he might mean no more than that sin as an alien power found entrance into the race, and brought each individual under its dominion. He may regard social rather than physical heredity (to apply a modern distinction) as the channel of the transmission and diffusion of sin. In view, however, of his teaching about the ‘flesh,’ it is more probable that he did regard human nature as corrupted and perverted; and, in the absence of any other explanation, we seem warranted in assuming that he did connect this fact with the Fall. We must beware, however, of ascribing to him such definite doctrines as those of ‘original sin’ and ‘total depravity’; for later thought has probably read into his words more than was clearly present to his own mind.

It cannot be shown that St. Paul regarded all men as involved In Adam’s guilt, either because of their physical descent from him or of any federal relation to him, even although all men are subject to the penalty of death. He does not explain how there is liability to the penalty without culpability for the offence; but he does regard mankind as guilty in the first sense, and not guilty (except by personal transgression) in the second sense. Later theology blurred this distinction in teaching ‘original sin’ in both sense. Nor is there any ground for holding that he ascribed to Adam that moral endowment which this theology assigned to him. He does not, as is sometimes maintained, represent Adam himself as subject to the flesh in the same way as are his descendants; for 1 Corinthians 15:47 contrasts not the unfallen Adam with the pre-existent Christ, but the fallen Adam with the Risen Christ; but be does emphasize the voluntary character of Adam’s act: it was disobedience (Romans 5:19). Could he have assigned to it the moral significance he does, had he thought of Adam as in the hopeless and helpless bondage described in Romans 7:7-25? This passage, however, represents that bondage not as directly inherited, but as resulting in the individual from a moral development, in which sin uses the flesh to bring it about. Thus he does not teach total depravity as an inheritance.

(d) The penalty of sin.-St. Paul undoubtedly teaches that death is the penalty of sin (Romans 5:12). While he includes physical dissolution, death means more for him (Romans 6:21-23); it has a moral and religious content; it is Judgment and doom; it is invested with dread and darkness by man’s sense of sin (1 Corinthians 15:56). While we cannot in the light of our modern knowledge regard physical dissolution, as St. Paul regarded it, as the penalty of sin (for it appears to us a natural necessity), yet, viewing death in its totality, as he did, we may still maintain that it is sin that gives it the character of an evil to be dreaded. The connexion between death and sin, St. Paul affirms, is not that of effect and cause, but of penalty and transgression (Romans 5:14), or wages and work (Romans 6:23); for he thinks not of a natural sequence, but of a deserved sentence (Romans 2:5). He approaches our modes of thought more closely, however, in the analogy of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:8; cf. James 1:15).

(e) The deliverance from sin.-This is for St. Paul two-fold: it is an annulling of the guilt and removal of the penalty of sin, as well as a destruction of the power of sin. Sin is an act of disobedience (Romans 5:19), committed against God (Romans 1:21) and His Law (Romans 3:20, Romans 7:7), which involves personal responsibility (Romans 1:20), ill desert (Romans 13:2), and the Divine condemnation (Romans 5:15; Romans 5:18). This condemnation is expressed in the penalty of death, which is not, as we have just seen, a natural consequence, but a Divine appointment, an expression of God’s wrath against sin (Romans 1:18, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6). The work of Christ as an act of obedience (Romans 5:19) reversed this condemnation (Romans 8:1), and reconciled men with God (Romans 5:10, 2 Corinthians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:20). We shall miss what is central for St. Paul if we ignore this objective atonement of Christ for the race, and confine our regard, as we tend to-day to do, to the subjective influence of Christ in destroying sin’s power in the individual.

That inward change St. Paul describes as dying to sin, being buried with Christ through baptism into death, a crucifixion or dying with Christ, a resurrection and living with Christ (Romans 6:1-11, Ephesians 2:1-10). By this he does not mean insensibility to temptation, or cessation from struggle, but a deliverance from the impotence felt in bondage to sin, and a confidence of victory through Christ. Nor does he mean a process completed in man by Divine power apart from his effort; for believers are to reckon themselves to be not only dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus. But they are not to let sin reign in their mortal selves, nor are they to present their members unto sin (Romans 6:11-13); and they are to mortify by the spirit the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13; cf. Colossians 3:5). Thus St. Paul knows from his own personal experience a complete remedy for the universal fatal disease of sin; and all that in his letters he presents regarding this subject is presented that he may commend the gospel to men, as the sole, sufficient, Divine provision for the universal dominant human necessity.

2. St. John’s teaching.-(a) In the Fourth Gospel sin is primarily represented as unbelief, the rejection of Christ (John 1:11; John 16:9), aggravated by the pretension of knowledge (John 9:41). As Christ is one with God, this involves hatred of the Father (John 15:24). The choice reveals the real disposition (John 3:19-21), and so justly incurs judgment. Sin is a slavery (John 8:34). One notable contribution to the doctrine of sin is the denial of the invariable connexion of sin and suffering (John 9:3), although it is not denied (John 5:14) that often there is a connexion.

In the First Epistle sin is described as lawlessness (1 John 3:4, ἀνομία) and unrighteousness (1 John 5:17, ἀδικία); and, as love is the supreme commandment, hatred is especially condemned (1 John 3:12). Further, as righteousness is identified with truth, sin is equivalent to falsehood (1 John 2:22, 1 John 4:20); but this is not an intellectualist view, as truth has a moral and spiritual content; it is the Divine reality revealed to men in Christ. On the one hand, Christ is Himself sinless, and was manifested to take away sins and to destroy the works of the Devil (1 John 3:5; 1 John 3:8); and, on the other hand, believers by abiding in Him are kept from sin (1 John 3:6), because the Evil One cannot touch them (1 John 5:18).

Hence arises what has been called the paradox of the Epistle. On the one hand, the reality of the sinfulness even of believers is insisted on; to deny sinfulness is self-deception, and even charging God with falsehood (1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10), and confession is the condition of forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). On the other hand, the impossibility of believers sinning is asserted; whoever abides in Christ cannot sin (1 John 3:6), the begotten of God cannot sin (1 John 3:9), because kept by Christ and untouched by the Evil One (1 John 5:18). The explanation is that each of these declarations is directed against a different form of error. Of the first declaration Westcott says: ‘St. John therefore considers the three false views which man is tempted to take of his position. He may deny the reality of sin (6, 7), or his responsibility for sin (8, 9), or the fact of sin in his own case (10). By doing this he makes fellowship with God, as He has been made known, impossible for himself. On the other hand, God has made provision for the realisation of fellowship between Himself and man in spite of sin’ (The Epistles of St. John, 1883, p. 17). Regarding the second declaration, he offers this explanation: ‘True fellowship with Christ, Who is absolutely sinless, is necessarily inconsistent with sin; and, yet further, the practice of sin excludes the reality of a professed knowledge of Christ’ (ib., p. 101). What the Apostle is referring to is not single acts of sin, due to human weakness, but the deliberate continuance in sin on the assumption that the relation to God is not, and cannot be, affected thereby. The one class of errorists denied the actuality of sin, the other declared that even the habit of sin did not deprive the believer of the blessings of the Christian salvation.

(b) Another contribution to the doctrine may be found in the conception of a sin unto death (1 John 5:16), for which intercession is not forbidden, and yet cannot be urged. The reference is not to any particular act, but rather to any act of such a character as to separate the soul from Christ and the salvation in Him. It may be compared to the sin against the Holy Ghost (Mark 3:29) and also to the sin of apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-5; Hebrews 10:26).

(c) It must be noticed that in this Epistle there is a very marked emphasis on Satan as the source of man’s sin. The Devil has sinned from the beginning, and he that sinneth is of the Devil (1 John 3:8), and the whole world lieth in the Evil One (1 John 5:19; cf. John 8:44, where the Devil is described as a murderer and a liar).

3. St. James’s teaching.-(a) St. James offers us, as does St. Paul, although much more briefly, a psychological account of the development of sin in the individual. Having asserted the blessedness of enduring temptation, he denies that God does or can tempt (James 1:12-13). Temptation arises when a man is drawn away and enticed by his desire (ἐπιθυμία). This desire need not itself be evil, but it acquires a sinful character when indulged in opposition to the higher law of duty. This desire has sin as its offspring, and this sin full grown is in turn the parent of death (James 1:14-15). This natural analogy, with which may be compared St. Paul’s figure of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:8), does not, in suggesting a necessary sequence of desire, sin, and death, exclude either man’s free will in consenting to the desire or God’s free will in decreeing death as the penalty of sin. Nor does the passage teach that every sin must issue in death. The sin must reach its full development before death is its result. We can also here compare 1 John 5:16, ‘a sin unto death.’ As St. James teaches the possibility of conversion (James 5:19-20) and enjoins the confession of sin and mutual intercession for forgiveness (James 5:16), this development from sin unto death may be arrested by Divine grace. The sequence is a possibility, not a necessity.

(b) What appears at first sight an echo of Rabbinic teaching in James 2:10, that stumbling in one point makes a man guilty of all the law, proves on closer scrutiny entirely Christian. The law is not the Mosaic Law, but ‘the perfect law,’ ‘the law of liberty’ (James 1:25), and the ‘royal law’ is, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (James 2:8); and assuredly the respect of persons condemned is entirely inconsistent with that law. Stumbling in such a point is a violation of the principle of the law. As has often been pointed out, Jewish as St. James is, no other NT writer has so completely assimilated the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount; and it is from the inwardness of Jesus’ standpoint, and not the externality of Rabbinism, that such a saying is to be judged.

(c) In one respect St. James does not, however, closely follow the teaching of Jesus. He assumes the probability of a connexion between sickness and sin (James 5:15), and enjoins not only prayer and anointing with oil in the name of the Lord for the healing of the disease, but also personal confession and mutual intercession for the forgiveness of the sin (James 5:14-16). For sin involves Divine judgment (James 4:12, James 5:9; James 5:12). There is a friendship with the world which is enmity against God (James 4:4). As for the other NT writers, there is in the background of St. James’s thought about sin the belief in Satan and demons (James 3:15).

4. Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews.-(a) The standpoint of Hebrews must be understood if the teaching on sin is to be understood. The Epistle is primarily concerned with man’s access to God, and sin, as guilt involving God’s judgment, bars man’s approach.

In the New Covenant there is no more conscience of sins, for the worshippers have been once cleansed, as they could not be by the sacrifices of the Law (Hebrews 10:1-2). While the Law failed to take away sins (v. 11), and could not, as touching the conscience, make the worshippers perfect (Hebrews 9:9), the blood of Jesus, the new and living Way, gives boldness to enter the holy place of fellowship with God (Hebrews 10:20), ‘having obtained for us eternal redemption’ (Hebrews 9:12). On account of this sacrifice offered once for all, there is remission of sins (Hebrews 10:18) and believers are sanctified (not in the sense of being made holy, but as set apart for God’s service, Hebrews 10:10). This guilt, which Christ by His atonement removes as all the propitiatory rites of the Old Covenant had failed to do, involves man in the fear of death with consequent bondage (Hebrews 2:15) and an evil conscience (Hebrews 10:22), by which is meant the sense of guilt. The writer is thus concerned not with the subjective aspect of sin as individual bondage to the power of sin, as is St. Paul in Romans 7:7-25, but with the objective aspect of God’s judgment on sin, and the echo of that judgment in man’s sense of guilt and fear of death.

(b) The sin which he especially warns against is the rejection of this Divine provision for the removal of sin in Christ. ‘How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?’ (Hebrews 2:3). There are two passages of very solemn warning, of even terrible severity (Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26; Heb_10:29). Those who have been guilty of apostasy, having yielded to ‘an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God’ (Hebrews 3:12), cannot be renewed ‘unto repentance,’ as they have crucified ‘to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame’ (Hebrews 6:6): for them ‘there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgement,’ because they have ‘trodden under foot the Son of God, and have counted the blood of the covenant … an unholy thing, and have done despite unto the Spirit of grace’ (Hebrews 10:26-29). G. B. Stevens’ interpretation of the two passages may be added: ‘If a man deliberately and wilfully deserts Christ, he will find no other Saviour; there remains no sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:26) except that which Christ has made. The Old Testament offerings are powerless to save; one who refuses to be saved by Christ refuses to be saved at all. For him who turns away from Christ and determines to seek salvation elsewhere, there can be only disappointment and failure. While such an attitude of refusal and contempt lasts, there is no possibility of recovery for those who assume it. But this impossibility is not an absolute but a relative one; it is an impossibility which lies within the limits of the supposition made in the context, namely, that of a renunciation of Christ. Nothing is said against the possibility of recovery to God’s favor whenever one ceases from such a contempt of Christ and returns to him as the one only Saviour’ (The Theology of the NT, Edinburgh, 1899, pp. 521-522).

(c) Unlike St. James, the author of this Epistle does not connect suffering with sin as its penalty, but urges his readers to regard their afflictions as fatherly chastisement (Hebrews 12:5; Hebrews 12:13), for Christ Himself was perfected by suffering Hebrews 12:1-3; cf. James 2:10, James 4:15).

5. St. Peter’s teaching.-There is nothing distinctive about the teaching of St. Peter in the First Epistle. He warns his readers, ‘as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul’ (1 Peter 2:11). He describes the Christian redemption as from the ‘vain manner of life handed down from your fathers’ (1 Peter 1:18). Christ’s atonement for sin by substitution is distinctly taught: ‘he bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness’ (1 Peter 2:24); and he ‘suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). In sin he sees a personal agency, ‘Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).

In the Second Epistle (and also in Jude) the demonology is still more pronounced. The rebellion in heaven against God, and the expulsion of the rebels to hell (2 Peter 2:4, Judges 1:6)-this is the ultimate cause of the sin in the world, on which the Divine judgment by fire will fall (2 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 3:12).

6. Apocalyptic teaching.-A vivid anticipation of this last judgment pervades the Revelation (Revelation 6:10; Revelation 15:1; Revelation 20:12): God will at last triumph over sin. But into the detailed account of that victory it is not necessary here to enter, as it belongs to eschatology (q.v. [Note: .v. quod vide, which see.] ).

Summary.-It will be useful, having thus passed the different apostolic writers in review, to attempt a more systematic statement of the apostolic teaching. In the background there is the Jewish demonology and eschatology, although it would be a mistake so to emphasize the personal agency of Satan as to give the impression that sin was always thought of in this connexion. St. Paul distinctly personifies sin as a power; and we must recognize this personification as a characteristic feature of his teaching. In accordance with Jewish belief also, the entrance of sin and its penalty death into the race is connected with the Fall of Adam. A morally defective nature is not ascribed to Adam; and such moral freedom and responsibility are assigned to him as make his transgression an act of disobedience deserving punishment. The whole race is subject to the penalty of death; but it is not taught that the guilt of his sin is imputed as personal culpability to his descendants, for the sin of all is affirmed, and imputation of sin, where there is no law, is denied. The assumption that, when there is no outward law, there is an inward, however, deprives the latter statement of its significance. While St. Paul does thus connect the death of all with the sin of all, it would be quite in accord with Jewish thought if he regarded all men as guilty in the sense of liable to the penalty of death, while not guilty as personally culpable for voluntary transgression of known law. It is very probable, if not altogether certain, that he did connect the perversion and corruption of human nature, which he indicates in the use of the term ‘flesh,’ with the sin of Adam by physical heredity; for it is not likely that he left this fact unexplained, or had another explanation of it than that which he gives of the introduction of sin. While the use of the term ‘flesh’ in this special sense is peculiar to St. Paul, St. James indicates that the desires of man often issue in sin. All the apostolic writings agree in recognizing the universality of human sinfulness, although St. Paul alone gives a proof of it. The possibility of the process of sin going so far that no recovery is possible is recognized by St. John in his reference to the sin unto death, and by the Epistle to the Hebrews in its warnings against apostasy. The Law fails to restrain, it even provokes, sin; and the gospel alone offers an effective deliverance from sin. The worst sin is the unbelief that rejects the sole means of salvation from sin. For all sin there is judgment; but the severest judgment falls on the neglect of the offered salvation. In Christ there is both the forgiveness of sin and the victory over the power of sin. While actually the conflict with sin still continues in the believer, ideally, according to St. Paul, he is dead to sin as crucified with Christ, or, according to St. John, he cannot sin, for he is kept by Christ. While the Epistle to the Hebrews specially emphasizes the objective aspect of sin as guilt rather than the subjective aspect as weakness, in the NT generally the need of atonement for the guilt is probably even more insisted on than the need of deliverance from weakness. The doctrine of sin is everywhere presented, not for its own sake, but as the dark background on which shines the more brightly the glory of the gospel of the grace of God.

While we cannot subject Christian faith to-day to Jewish eschatology, demonology, psychology, or anthropology, even on the authority of a Christian apostle, and while the apostolic doctrine must in these respects at least be modified for our thought, yet, as it rests on a real moral and religious experience, such truths as the universality of sinfulness in the race, the reality of the moral bondage of the individual, the certainty of future judgment on persistent transgression, the necessity of forgiveness and deliverance, the sufficiency of the grace of God for salvation, will find confirmation from the moral conscience and the religious consciousness wherever there has been the obedience of faith to the Divine revelation and human redemption in Christ Jesus. To most modern thought the apostolic emphasis on these truths seems disproportionate and exaggerated; but, whatever difference of terms and even of ideas there may have been between the disciples and the Master, they did not take sin more seriously than did He who gave His life a ransom for many, and who in His own blood instituted the New Covenant unto the remission of sins.

Literature.-The standard books in NT Theology and Christian doctrine; commentaries on the apostolic writings such as W. Sanday and A. C. Headlam, International Critical Commentary , ‘Romans,’ Edinburgh, 1902; B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews, London, 1889, The Epistles of St. John, do., 1883; J. B. Mayor, The Epistle of St. James 3, do., 1910; H. St. J. Thackeray, The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, do., 1900; J. Laidlaw, The Bible Doctrine of Man, new ed., Edinburgh, 1895; J. S. Candlish, The Biblical Doctrine of Sin, do., 1893; F. R. Tennant, The Origin and Propagation of Sin2, Cambridge, 1906, The Fall and Original Sin, do., 1903, The Concept of Sin, do., 1912; H. W. Robinson, The Christian Doctrine of Man, Edinburgh, 1911; F. J. Hall, Evolution and the Fall, London, 1910; A. Ritschl, Die christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung (Eng. translation , The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, Edinburgh, 1900).

A. E. Garvie.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sin'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/s/sin.html. 1906-1918.

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