HAMARTANO AND HAMARTIA
By John C. Carpenter
 
The apostle John wrote, Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother (1 John 3:1-10).
 
WHOSOEVER ABIDETH IN HIM SINNETH NOT
 
In verse 6 above, John teaches that whoever believes in and abides in Christ does not commit any acts of sin. John plainly writes, Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not. In verse 9, John also teaches Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin. Wow, what statements. Could this really be true? If we are honest with ourselves, those around us, the church, and God the Father, we can only find this the idea that believers in Christ do not commit acts of sin to be untrue, misinterpreted, or, at a minimum, misunderstood. We see believers in Christ, including ourselves, sin in thought, word, or deed all the time, and so did the churches within the new testament. If we ask any believer if he or she has ever sinned since their conversion to belief in Christ and love of God, not one believer can truthfully say they have never sinned. Sinlessness was a condition only seen in Christ: For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
 
Within 1 John, the apostle John makes statements about sin which appear contradictory they are difficult to understand and reconcile. Writing to fellow believers in Christ, John says, Whosoever [believer]abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him (1 John 3:6), and We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not (1 John 5:18). Yet, John also wrote, If we [believers] say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8), and If we [believers] confess our sins, he [God the Father] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us [believers] from all unrighteousness(1 John 1:9). Later, John added, My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1). In two verses, John says the believer in Christ does not sin, yet, in three different verses John says the believer in Christ does sin. Well, which is it? Does the believer in Christ sin, or not? As we said, these verses are confusing. How can we resolve this glaring contradiction about sin in the believer? How can these very different verses be explained?
 
First of all, tt is obvious that sin within the Christian church is prevalent. Even the organized church teaches and preaches that believers should not sin, yet church leaders see their congregations of believers sinning all the time, both intentionally or unintentionally, grossly or minutely, casually or regularly. Just ask a pastor what percentage of their time spent in counseling with their flock is because of sin. And, as we might also expect, so many church leaders find so much confusion and difficulty surrounding what the scriptures appear to teach about sin, they avoid preaching on the topic of sin altogether. It is not easy for a pastor to stand in a pulpit and tell his or her congregation that if they are a true believer, they will not sin. By teaching this idea, the pastor is very likely to offend someone [or many someones], and that individual might leave the congregation. For many church leaders, avoidance of preaching sermons on sin is much simpler and easier, a lot less work, and a whole lot safer than addressing the difficult topic of sin. Additionally, as the media has revealed to us in previous decades, significant sin is even found within church leaders themselves. The public and media evidence for leaders within the christian church committing serious sin is obvious, and cannot reasonably be denied. Additionally, as society becomes more liberal, denominations are receiving more and more economic, political and social pressure to be more tolerant of sin within and without the church, and many denominations are succumbing to this pressure. Shockingly, some churches are even employing openly sexual sinners as church leaders because of pressures from within and without.
 
The truth is that some biblical teachings about sinlessness in believers appear to be at odds with the earthly reality of sin in the believer. How can this be? Are God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit all scriptural liars regarding sin in the believer? Are the scriptures full of error about sin in the believer? Is it possible that believers in Christ can be completely sinless, for the rest of their lives, but do not know how to achieve this personal holiness? Can it be that church leaders, teachers, and believers have all misinterpreted or misunderstood the holy scriptures regarding sin in the believer? Can it be that those who translated the scriptures from Hebrew and Greek into English mistranslated certain verses leading to misunderstanding and confusion within the church? Or, can it be that those who commit acts of sin as believers are not truly believers at all, and were never truly saved, as some claim. I believe that misinterpretation of the scriptures may be the problem. Let me offer a possible explanation, an interpretation of our subject verses and the scriptures which will without a doubt make some [or many] very angry. Despite this anger, we are to still pursue complete and accurate interpretation of the scriptures and the truths found therein. The two different Greek words, hamartano and hamartia, which are both translated into the English word sin, may have have two different definitions; and these different definitions may hold the key to understanding why some of the scriptures on sin do not appear to agree with the reality. In any case, this article is simply an humble effort to bring some possible understanding to the difficult subject of the reality of sin in the believer in Christ. John's first letter, we must admit, in parts is complex and difficult to understand. You will have to decide the merits of the following interpretation and this article for yourself. Let us start with just two words. In our subject verses, there are two Greek words both translated into the English word sin: hamartano and hamartia.
 
THE HIGH CALLING OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS
 
The first Greek word, hamartano, a verb, means to err, sin, have faults, to offend, to miss the mark, and therefore not share in the prize. As a verb, hamartano implies action, the action of committing a sin, that is, the act itself. This act of sin logically results [without faith in Christ] in missing the mark and not sharing in the prize. So, what is this mark referred to here? Writing to the saints at Philippi, Paul and Timotheous identified the mark and the prize referred to here: I press toward the mark [Greek skopos, which means goal] for the prize of the high [upward, on the top] calling [invitation] of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). According to Paul, the mark is the goal, the goal is the prize, the prize is the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, and the high calling is eternal life. At this point, we should emphasize that hamartano not only refers to the action of sin, but that it is that very action of sin which causes the sinner to miss the mark of the high calling of God and not share in the prize of eternal life [that is, without faith in Christ]. The act of sin and the consequence of sin are tightly connected. For the ease of understanding this article, we shall simply define hamartano as the commission of the act of sin, or simply act of sin.
 
Let us review some examples of the use of the Greek word hamartano, or act of sin in John's first letter. In chapter 1, John wrote, If we say that we have not sinned [hamartano, an act of sin], we make him a liar, and his word [Greek, logos, not only refers to the gospel of Christ, but the divine expression or manifestation, that is, Jesus Christ Himself] is not in us (1 John 1:10). Here, John is saying that if we think, believe, or say that we have not committed acts of sin, we make God a liar, and the truth of Christ is not in us.
 
Later, in chapter 2, the apostle wrote, My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin [hamartano, act of sin] not. And if any man sin [hamartano, act of sin], we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1). In chapter 3, John writes, Whosoever abideth in him sinneth [hamartano, commit an act of sin, miss the mark, and therefore not share in the prize of eternal life] not: whosoever sinneth [hamartano, commit an act of sin in thought, word, or deed, miss the mark, and not share in the prize of eternal life] hath not seen him [Christ], neither known him (1 John 3:6). In verse 6, John makes a puzzling statement about sin in the believer. John states whosever abides in Christ does not sin, and that the believer who sins has not seen Christ, neither known Him. How do we accurately interpret these verses? John also wrote, He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth [hamartano, an act of sin] from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin [hamartano, act of sin resulting in missing the goal of eternal life], because he is born of God (1 John 3:8-9). Then John adds, If any man see his brother sin [hamartano, act of sin] a sin which is not unto [does not result in] death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin [hamartano, act of sin] not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth [hamartano, act of sin resulting in missing the goal of eternal life] not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not (1 John 5:16-18).
 
WHOSOEVER COMMITTETH SIN [Offence]TRANSGRESSETH THE LAW
 
The second Greek word, a noun, is hamartia, which means sin, sinful, or, better yet, offence. Because it is a noun, Hamartia appears to suggest not the action of sin itself, but the result, the fruit or the consequence of the act of sin. For simplicity, we should distinguish the act of sin [hamartano] from the result or fruit of the act of sin, that is, offence [hamartia]. The word offence is translated from the Greek word paraptoma, which means a side slip, lapse, deviation, error, transgression, fault, or trespass. When a sin is committed, the result can easily be biblically defined as offence [or offensive] to God, man, or both. Let us now review some verses from the new testament which contain the Greek word hamartia, and possibly refer to offence, rather than the usual translation of sin. Starting with our subject verses, in chapter 1, we read, If we say that we have no sin [hamartia, offence], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins [hamartia, offence], he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [hamartia, offences], and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9). In chapter 2, the apostle also wrote, he [Christ] is the propitiation for our sins [hamartia, offences]: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), and I write unto you, little children, because your sins [hamartia, offences] are forgiven you for his name's sake (1 John 2:12). In chapter 3, we find, Whosoever committeth sin [hamartia, offence] transgresseth also the law: forsin [hamartia, offence] is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away [take up, bear up, expiate] our sins; and in him [Christ] is no sin [hamartia, offence] (1 John 3:4-5). John also wrote: He that committeth sin [hamartia, offence] is of the devil; for the devil sinneth [hamartano, committed an act of sin, resulting in missing the goal of God's high calling, and therefore not share in the prize of eternal life] from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin [hamartia, offence]; for his [Christ's] seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin [hamartano, commmit an act of sin resulting in missing the mark and not sharing in the prize of eternal life], because he is born of God (1 John 3:8-9). In chapter 4, John wrote, In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [expiator, atonement] for our sins [hamartia, offence] (1 John 4:9-10). In chapter 5, the apostle also wrote, All unrighteousness is sin [hamartia, offence]: and there is a sin [hamartia, offence] not unto death (1 John 5:17). Finally, regarding our offence, Paul emphatically responds, What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin [hamartia, offence], that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin [hamartia, offence], live any longer therein? (Romans 6:1-2). When the Greek word hamartia is translated into the English word sin, a better New Testament contextual defintion of hamartia might be offence, instead of sin.
 
IF WE SAY WE HAVE NO SIN [Offence], WE DECEIVE OURSELVES
 
In 1 John, 2 groups of verses are particularly difficult to understand and, therefore, frustrating, but if we use our revised definitions of hamartano [meaning act of sin] and hamartia [meaning offence, resulting from the act of sin], these 2 groups of verses possibly become more clear.
 
The first group of verses is found in the first chapter of 1 John: If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness [untruth], we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light [truth], as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin [hamartia, offence]. If we say that we have no sin [hamartia, offence], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins [hamartia, offence], he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [hamartia, offence], and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned [hamartano, committed acts of sin causing us to miss the mark of the high calling of God and not share in the prize of eternal life], we make him a liar, and his word [logos, gospel message] is not in us (1 John 1:6-10). In these verses, it appears that John is saying that if we believers walk in the truth, as Christ is in the truth, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all offence [the consequence of acts of sin], not the acts of sin themselves. John also says that if we believers confess our offence toward God and man, God is faithful to forgive us our offences, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Finally, John clarifies that if we believers say that we have not committed acts of sin [hamartano] which are an offence [hamartia] to God the Father, an offence which causes us to miss the mark and not share in the prize of eternal life, the truth of the gospel and the truth of Christ is not in us. In similar terms, we can say that, because of our sin resulting in offence to God, we are deserving of judgement and death, apart from faith in Christ. As Paul taught, For all have sinned [hamartano, committed acts of sin, causing us to offend God, miss the mark of God's high calling, and therefore not share in the prize of eternal life], and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
 
The second group of puzzling verses is found in the fifth chapter of 1 John. The apostle wrote, All unrighteousness is sin [hamartia, offence]: and there is a sin [hamartia, offence] not unto death. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth [hamartano, act of sin, missing the goal of the high calling of God, and therefore not sharing in the prize of eternal life], not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not (1 John 5:17-18). It seems that John defined unrighteousness as offence [hamartia], the consequence of sin, and not the act of sin [hamartano, acts of sin]. In verse 18, when John wrote that whosoever is born of God sinneth [hamartano, acts of sin] not, John is saying that it is not acts of sin [hamartano] that the believer in Christ will not commit, because we know that all believers eventually sin in one way or another, but it is acts of sin committed by the believer that will cause she or he to miss the goal of the high calling of God and not share in the prize of eternal life.
 
BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD, WHICH TAKETH AWAY THE SIN (Offence) OF THE WORLD
 
Clearly, according to the Holy Scriptures as well as our own life experiences, believers commit acts of sin which are an offence, or offensive, to both God and man. James teaches For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend [Greek ptaio, to trip err, sin, fail of salvation, fall, stumble, or offend] in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10). Referring to dangers of offending, Paul said, And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence [Greek, aproskopos, inoffensive, not leading into sin, faultless] toward God, and toward men (Acts 24:16). John teaches, If we say that we have no sin [hamartia, offence], we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins [hamartia, offence], he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [hamartia, offence], and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9). The good news is that in spite of our offence, God the Father has provided a solution to our acts of sin which result in our offending man and God Jesus Christ.
 
Paul instructs us, For he [God the Father] hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin [hamartia, offence] for us, who knew no sin [hamartia, offence];that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21), while, in our subject verses, John possibly gives us a tremendous insight. When John writes And ye know that he [Jesus Christ] was manifested to take away [Greek airo, expiate, that is, to atone for, to appease, to extinguish the guilt incurred by, or to pay the penalty or price for] our sins [hamartia, offence]; and in him is no sin (1 John 3:5). Two important things should be noted here. One, when John refers to Christ taking away our sin, many understand this to mean that Christ removed the possibility of the believer ever sinning in the future. What it more accurately means is that Christ expiated, or paid the penalty or price for our offence to God. As Paul exhorted the church in Corinth, Ye are bought[by the ministry of Christ] with a price [the cost, what is to be paid]; be not ye the servants of men (1 Corinthians 7:23). Two, when John says that when God the Father hath made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin [hamartia, offence] for us, who knew no sin [hamartia, offence]; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, John is saying that Christ was not made to become acts of sin [hamartano, acts of sin] for us and in our stead, but that He was made to take on the offence [hamartia] that our acts of sin [hamartano] and resulting offence [hamartia] brought upon God the Father, and He paid the price for that offence.
 
Paul explained to the church in Rome, Wherefore, as by one man sin [hamartia, offence] entered into the world, and death by [because of this] sin [hamartia, offence]; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned [hamartano, committed acts of sin resulting offence to God]: (For until the law sin [hamartia, offence] was in the world: but sin [hamartia, offence]is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned [hamartano, acts of sin] after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence [side slip, lapse, error, transgression, fall, trespass], so also is the free gift [of salvation]. For if through the offence [side slip, lapse, error, transgression, fall, trespass] of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned [hamartano, committed acts of sin resulting in offence], so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences [side slip, lapse, error, transgression, fall, trespass] unto justification. For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence [side slip, lapse, error, transgression, fall, trespass] of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift [of salvation]upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience [inattention] many were made sinners [Greek hamartolos, sinful, disobedient], so by the obedience [attention] of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence [side slip, lapse, error, transgression, fall, trespass] might abound. But where sin [hamartia, offence] abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin [hamartia, offence] hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:12-21).
 
Paul later added, our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin [hamartia, which offends God] might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin [hamartia, offence to God the Father]. For he that is dead is freed from sin [hamartia, offence]. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin [hamartia, offence resulting in death] once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God (Romans 6:6-10).
 
To the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul wrote, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness [Greek aphesis, pardon, liberty, deliverance, remission] of sins [Greek, paraptoma, apostasy, a side slip, lapse, deviation, error, fall, fault, trespass, or offence], according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:3-7).
 
John, the revelator, wrote to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed [Greek louo, to bathe the whole person, to cleanse] us from our sins [hamartia, offence]in his own blood [atoning blood of Christ which washed away our offence] (Revelation 1:4-5).
 
Referring to John the Baptist, the scriptures instruct us, The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away [expiate, loose, put away, payed the price for] the sin [hamartia, offence] of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God (John 1:29-34).  AMEN.
 
 
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"The next day John seeth
Jesus coming
unto him, and
saith, Behold
the Lamb of
God, which
taketh awa
the sin of the world"
(John 1:29)

"For he hath
made him to
be sin for us, who knew no sin;
that we might
be made the righteousness of God in him"
(2 Corinthians 5:21).