Bible Question:

What is sin? Not the doctrine or its effect or its consequences, but what is it?

Bible Answer:

What is sin? The Bible defines sin in 1 John 3:4 as lawlessness.

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.  1 John 3:4 (NASB)

That is a quick definition. The Old and New Testament provide a fuller definition of sin. Sin is like sewage. There are many ugly parts to it. So, what is the biblical definition of sin?

Biblical Definition of Sin

Old Testament Definition of Sin

The most common Hebrew word for sin in the Old Testament is hatta’t and its verb form hata. It occurs more than 500 times in the Old Testament. It refers to missing the mark. In Judges 20:16 the verb form is translated as miss.

Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. Judges 20:16  (NASB)

To miss the mark should remind us of an archer who shoots an arrow but misses the bullseye or the center of the target. That is, when a person sins, they fall short of God’s standard. Sin always misses the center of God’s standard. Sin is like an arrow that misses the bullseye — God’s holiness.

Other Hebrew words are used as synonyms for sin. The Hebrew word sagah means error (Leviticus 4:13; 1 Samuel 26:21). The Hebrew word awon means wrong. (1 Kings 17:18). The Hebrew word pasha means rebellion, betray, or transgression (Proverbs 10:17; 19:2; Isaiah 1:2; Ezekiel 18:22). Awah means crooked. Rasa means wicked (Isaiah 57:20-21; Ezekiel 3:18). Abar refers to unfaithfulness or passing over (Numbers 14:41). The Hebrew word asam can mean guilt. It is the result of sin.

New Testament Definition of Sin?

In the New Testament, the Greek word for sin is harmartia. Therefore, the study of sin is called hamartiology or the Doctrine of Hamartiology. In Romans 3:23, it is referred to as missing the mark. 1 John 3:4 reveals that sin is a violation of God’s laws. So, we are law breakers or lawless anomia in the Greek.

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4 (NASB)

Another Greek synonym for sin is adikia, which means “unrighteous or not just (Romans 1:18; 9:14). Planao means to cause some to be deceived (1 Corinthians 6:9). Apeitheo means to disobey (John 3:36; Romans 2:8; 11:31). There are other Greek words for sin, but these help us understand that sin is complete opposition to God.


The definition of sin is like an octopus with many tentacles. Each tentacle gives us different insights into sin. Its basic meaning is to miss God’s standards. When we miss His standards, we are in rebellion, a covenant breaker, wrongdoer, wicked, and unfaithful. The result is guilt. The consequences of sin is eternal hell.

If you are not a Christian, you have discovered what God thinks about you and all other men and women. Romans 3:23 says that everyone has sinned. Romans 6:23 says we all deserve death, that is spiritual death or hell. Therefore, please read Searching For God. We encourage you to ask God to forgive your sins.

If you claim to be a Christian, you are encouraged to confess your sins daily in order to remove the guilt of sin and keep your relationship with God fresh and be filled with the Holy Spirit.



1. Robert Girdlesonte. Girdlestone’s Synonyms of the Old Testament. Baker Book House. 1983.  p. 91-92