Saturday, February 17, 2007

What is Sin? And What It Isn't?

If anyone at all is reading this blog, then you know that I have interacted with some of the discussion on a blog by a feminist theology student. She is self professedly influenced by Mary Daly, a radical feminist at Boston College. Mary Daly has her own ideas about what "sin" is. Here is a quote from the New Yorker, from February 1996, that shows what she thinks that word means:
EVER since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a Radical Feminist Pirate and cultivating the Courage to Sin. The word "sin" is derived from the Indo-European root "es-," meaning "to be." When I discovered this etymology, I intuitively understood that for a woman trapped in patriarchy, which is the religion of the entire planet, "to be" in the fullest sense is "to sin."
Now it is obvious that I disagree. I of course hold to what would be a "traditional" view of the definition of sin; however, let's take a look at what she has to say, and try to understand her method of hermeneutics, and see if this is anything close to what the Bible means when it uses the term "sin."

  1. First of all, let's look at her use of etymology: She says that the word "sin" comes from the "Indo-European root 'es-,' meaning 'be.'" Well, this just may be true. I've never studied Indo-European language roots. So I grant that this is quite possible. But what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? The Bible wasn't written in Indo-European, or English. It was written in Hebrew and Greek. Why in the world, would we want to know about the origins of words used in a translation, when they have nothing at all to do with the original languages to which they refer. This is merely the fallacy of etymology at work. Don't be fooled.
  2. Second, is it that usage determines the meaning of a word in a statement. Is it the etymology of a word? No one seriously thinks this is true. The meaning of words is determined by their usage in sentences. When I say, "the milk in the refrigerator is 'expired,'" do I intend the meaning of the term expired that is derived from its etymology--that it 'breathed out?'" Of course not, I mean it the way all native English speakers would understand it. The milk has gone bad and needs to be thrown out before it stinks. Which is what we should do with interpretations that are obviously violation of the intention of the author. Either this is willful misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what at text is saying, and undermines the ethical requirements of the social contract of human language, or it is an extremely naive attempt at scholarship.
  3. Third what does the Greek word for "sin" mean? While, more extensive documentation could be done, I will use Thayer's Greek Definitions, simply because I have it in electronic form on a free bible software program.
1. ἁμαρτία
Thayer Definition:
1) equivalent to 264
1a) to be without a share in
1b) to miss the mark
1c) to err, be mistaken
1d) to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour,to do or go wrong
1e) to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin
2) that which is done wrong, sin, an offence, a violation of the divine law in thought or in act
3) collectively, the complex or aggregate of sins committed either by a single person or by many

Thayer Definition:
1) to be without a share in
2) to miss the mark
3) to err, be mistaken
4) to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong
5) to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin
Part of Speech: verb

These make up the word translated sin in the New Testament in its noun and verb forms.

4. Now, how does Hebrew use the word. For Hebrew the lexical information will be abbreviated for space and time considerations. I will not be looking up all the cognate uses. This data will come from the free version of BDB (Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew Lexicon):

חטּאת / חטּאה
chaṭṭâ'âh / chaṭṭâ'th
BDB Definition:
1) sin, sinful
2) sin, sin offering
2a) sin
2b) condition of sin, guilt of sin
2c) punishment for sin
2d) sin-offering
2e) purification from sins of ceremonial uncleanness
Part of Speech: noun feminine

BDB Definition:
1) to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness
1a) (Qal)
1a1) to miss
1a2) to sin, miss the goal or path of right and duty
1a3) to incur guilt, incur penalty by sin, forfeit
1b) (Piel)
1b1) to bear loss
1b2) to make a sin-offering
1b3) to purify from sin
1b4) to purify from uncleanness
1c) (Hiphil)
1c1) to miss the mark
1c2) to induce to sin, cause to sin
1c3) to bring into guilt or condemnation or punishment
1d) (Hithpael)
1d1) to miss oneself, lose oneself, wander from the way
1d2) to purify oneself from uncleanness
Part of Speech: verb

BDB Definition:
1) guiltiness, guilt, offense, sin, wrong-doing
1a) doing wrong, committing a trespass or offense
1b) becoming guilty, guilt
1c) bringing a guilt-offering
Part of Speech: noun feminine

BDB Definition:
1) to go astray, stray, err
1a) (Qal)
1a1) to err, stray
1a2) to swerve, meander, reel, roll, be intoxicated, err (in drunkenness)
1a3) to go astray (morally)
1a4) to commit sin of ignorance or inadvertence, err (ignorantly)
1b) (Hiphil)
1b1) to lead astray
1b2) to lead astray, mislead (mentally)
1b3) to lead astray (morally)

These first two of these are the typical words used when the English translations use the word sin. The other two were a used much less frequently where we find the word sin. There may be others, and this is not the place for comprehensiveness. I'm just trying to demonstrate a point. Even if the "Indo-European root 'es-,'"does mean "to be" surely the English translators aren't stupid enough to think that's what was meant when they were reading the original languages.

The fact is, encouraging people to have the "Courage to Sin" is exactly what the last of the Hebrew definitions that I gave implies--to lead astray (morally)." Which makes me think of what Jesus said about those who lead others astray: Luke 17:2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.

I hope that this encourages anyone reading this to pray for Ms. Daly and anyone whose ear she has captivated. Deconstructing the definition of a word for the promotion of an anti-biblical agenda, is a dangerous thing. Let us pray that their eyes would be opened to see the light of the gospel of truth.

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