Sunday, 4 September 2011

Does “Sin” Mean to “Miss the Mark”?

Many thanks to Baker Book House Church Connection from whom the following is copied directly:

Given enough time you will a preacher or teacher say that the Greek word for sin “actually” or “literally” means “to miss the mark.” It really is sad with all the excellent resources on Greek and Hebrew that things like this are still so often heard. I offer as a corrective this great paragraph taken from J. P. Louw’s book Semantics of New Testament Greek.

“A very important fact, as always neglected when ἁμαρτάνω is explained etymologically as ‘to miss the mark’, is that among the oldest usages of ἁμαρτάνω contexts can be found in which ἁμαρτάνω not only meant ‘to miss a target’, but also ‘to make a mistake, to be deprived of, to lose, to neglect’ (see LSJ). Why is ‘to miss a target’ taken as the ‘hidden meaning.’ not not one of the others? Furthermore, if etymology is to be used, why go back only as far as Homeric Greek? Why not even further to ἁ + μαρτος in which μαρτος goes back to a stem σμερ from which μέρος ‘part’ is derived. This derivation is given by J. B. Hoffman (1950) as the origin of ἁμαρτάνω. Thus, the basic meaning would be ‘not be have a part in’–a meaning which can easily be applied to ‘sin.’ In fact, the concept ‘sin’ has so many facets that it takes little imagination to link any of the above mentioned ‘meanings’ in some way or another to a favored explanation of the basic notion of sin.”

Who today, for example, would try to make a case that the English word “nice” “actually” or “literally” means “stupid” or “ignorant” even though these meanings can be found in an etymological study of the word? For someone to claim that “sin” literally means “miss the mark” is simply showing how “nice” they are (literally speaking).

Till Next Time!


  1. Ah, the etymological fallacy! See also, "'power' means 'dynamite' because the Greek word is dunamis".

    Etymologies can be helpful sources of images or related meanings if used carefully, of course - it just important not to present that as the "real meaning" of the word, because words change over time. "Missing the mark" can be a useful metaphor for sin, but doesn't capture its full meaning and is one image among many.

  2. Nicely put Caleb, thanks.... and by nice I don't mean stupid!