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Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old Testament
We now come to a word about which there has been a good deal of difference of opinion, namely, Asham (אשׁם ), the usual rendering of which in the LXX is πλημμέλεια, a mistake, and in the A. V. trespass or guilt. [Probably these passages in Leviticus ought to be translated otherwise. See chap, :xvi § 3.] [The English word guilt is probably derived from A. S. geldun, to pay a fine.]
Some critics hold that whilst Chatha denotes sins of commission, Asham designates sins of omission. Others have come to the conclusion that Chatha means sin in general, and Asham sin against the Mosaic law. An examination of all the passages in which the word occurs leads to the conclusion that Asham is used where a sin, moral or ceremonial, has been committed through error, negligence, or ignorance. A loose code of morality might permit such offences to be passed by, but not so the law of Moses. An offence against the person of another is an offence, whether it be known or found out at the time or not. When it comes to our knowledge, we are liable, i.e. we are to regard ourselves as having offended, even though it has been unwittingly; and compensation must be made. So also when the offence is a breach of ceremonial law, or if it is an act of idolatry (for which the word Asham is frequently used), when the matter is brought to a man's cognisance, he is not to content himself with the excuse that he acted in error, but is to acknowledge himself as Asham, and is to offer an Asham or guilt-offering [See chap. xvi.] for his trespass.
The following passages are the most notable in which the word occurs: -
Leviticus 4:13, 'If the whole congregation of Israel sin through err or (A. V. ignorance), and the thing be hid from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done (somewhat against) any of the commandments of the Lord (concerning things) which should not be done, and are guilty,' &c.; so also in verses 22 and 27 in these cases a commandment has been broken unwittingly; it afterwards comes to the knowledge of the offender, and he is Asham.
Leviticus 5:2-3, 'If a soul touch any unclean thing, and if it be hidden from him, he also shall be unclean and guilty . when he knoweth it, he shall be guilty;' verse 4, ' or if a soul swear . and it be hid from him, when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty;' verses 5, 6, ' and it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinneth in that thing, and he shall bring his trespass-offering;' verse 15, 'If a soul commit a trespass (maal), and sin through err or (or ignorance), in the holy things of the Lord; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram . for a trespass-offering;' verse 17, 'If a soul sin, and commit any of these things that are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord; though he wist it not, yet he is guilty, and shall bear his iniquity; and he shall bring a ram . and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance where in he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him. [ is it not in some degree implied here that a man is, in a measure at least responsible for his ignorance.] It is a trespass-offering: he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord.'
It is unfortunate that unity of rendering has not been preserved in these passages, as there is nothing to show the English reader the connection between the words guilty and trespass. But see R. V. Compare Genesis 42:21; Numbers 5:6-7; Judges 21:22; 1 Chronicles 21:3; 2 Chronicles 19:10; 2 Chronicles 28:10; 2 Chronicles 28:13; Ezra 10:19; Psalms 69:5; Proverbs 30:10; Jeremiah 2:3; Jeremiah 50:7; Ezekiel 22:4; Ezekiel 25:12; Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:15; Hosea 10:2 (compare 2 Samuel 14:13).
It may be gathered from a consideration of these passages that whilst Chatha marks the peculiar nature of sin as a missing of the mark, Asham implies a breach of commandment, wrought without due consideration, and which, when brought to the notice of the offender, calls for amends or atonement.
Words for sin in the NT
Most of the Greek words which have been referred to in the foregoing sections are to be found in the N.T. The original sense of ἁμαρτάνω and Chatha seems to be referred to in a most important passage in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 3:23), 'All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.' The sinner is one who has missed or come short of the mark. An important definition of sin is given by St. James - 'to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin' (4:17). It would seem to be implied that where there is no knowledge of what is right or wrong there is no sin; and with this agree the words of our Lord to the Pharisees, 'If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth' (John 9:41). The profession of knowledge involved responsibility, and caused the Pharisees to be condemned, out of their own mouth, as sinners. Absolute ignorance is excusable, even though it is a missing of the mark, but negligence is not (see Hebrews 2:3).
The relationship of ἀνομία to ἁμαρτία is clearly shown in 1 John 3:4, 'Whosoever committeth sin committeth iniquity (ἀνομίαν): and sin is iniquity.' So again with regard to the connection existing between, ἀδικία, departure from right, and ἁμαρτία, we read (1 John 5:17), 'All unrighteousness is sin.' A similar relationship between ἀσέβεια and ἁμαρτία is implied in the juncture of ἀσεβει̂ς and ἁμαρτωλοί in 1 Timothy 1:9, 1 Peter 4:18, and Judges 1:15. With regard to all these words, it is to be noticed that the N.T. leans up on the O.T., and that the vivid teaching of the latter is taken for granted as authoritative by the writers of the Christian Scriptures.
The labour and wearisomeness of sin is not dwelt up on in the N.T., and the words which imply it are usually found in a more noble sense, in connection with toil for Christ. With regard to κόπος, one passage may be referred to as an illustration of this fact, namely, 1 Corinthians 3:8, where we read that every minister shall be rewarded according to his own labour (κόπον). He shall be rewarded not by the results produced - This would have involved the use of the word ἔργον - but by the amount of labour expended; hence κόπος is used. A few verses further down ἔργον is used with great propriety, where we read that the fire shall test a man's work, of what sort it is. Here the point of the passage is that it is not the outward show or bulk, but the real value of the work done, which shall be the test of a man's faithfulness at the Great Day. The words κόπος and μόχθος are found together in 2 Corinthians 11:27, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, and 2 Thessalonians 3:8. While the former implies pains and labour, the latter signifies toil of such a sort as produces weariness Where πόνος is used, it is generally to indicate a tax up on one's physical strength, whether arising from toil or from pain in Revelation 21:1-27; Revelation 4:1-11, we are told that there shall be none of it in the new heaven and earth. The etymological relationship between πόνος and πονηρία is undoubted, though no passages in the N.T. clearly refer to it, and the double use of the word Amal is exactly analogous to it. Πονηρία is often to be understood in the N.T. as signifying rapacity, which is the fruit of covetousness. It is also used of 'evil spirits.'
the Second Week of Advent