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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Iniquity

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A. Verb.

‛Âvâh (עָוָה, Strong's #5753), “to do iniquity.” This verb appears in the Bible 17 times. In Arabic this verb appears with the meaning “to bend” or “to deviate from the way.” ‛âvâh is often used as a synonym of chata, “to sin,” as in Ps. 106:6: “We have sinned [chata’ with our fathers, we have committed iniquity [‛âvâh], we have done wickedly [rasha’].”

B. Nouns.

‛Âvôn (עָווֹן, Strong's #5771), “iniquity; guilt; punishment.” This noun, which appears 231 times in the Old Testament, is limited to Hebrew and biblical Aramaic. The prophetic and poetic books employ ‛âvôn with frequency. The Pentateuch as a whole employs the word about 50 times. In addition to these, the historical books infrequently use ‛âvôn. The first use of ‛âvôn comes from Cain’s lips, where the word takes the special meaning of “punishment”: “And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Gen. 4:13).

The most basic meaning of ‛âvôn is “iniquity.” The word signifies an offense, intentional or not, against God’s law. This meaning is also most basic to the word chatta’t, “sin,” in the Old Testament, and for this reason the words chatta’t and ‛âvôn are virtually synonymous; “Lo, this [the live coal] hath touched thy [Isaiah’s] lips; and thine iniquity [‛âvôn] is taken away, and thy sin [chatta’t] purged” (Isa. 6:7).

“Iniquity” as an offense to God’s holiness is punishable. The individual is warned that the Lord punishes man’s transgression: “But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge” (Jer. 31:30). There is also a collective sense in that the one is responsible for the many: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Exod. 20:5). No generation, however, was to think that it bore God’s judgment for the “iniquity” of another generation: “Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezek. 18:19- 20).

Israel went into captivity for the sin of their fathers and for their own sins: “And the heathen shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity; because they trespassed against me, therefore hid I my face from them, and gave them into the hand of their enemies: so fell they all by the sword” (Ezek. 39:23).

Serious as “iniquity” is in the covenantal relationship between the Lord and His people, the people are reminded that He is a living God who willingly forgives “iniquity”: “Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Exod. 34:7). God expects confession of sin: “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5), and a trusting, believing heart which expresses the humble prayer: “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:2).

Isaiah 53 teaches that God put upon Jesus Christ our “iniquities” (v. 6), that He having been bruised for our “iniquities” (v. 5) might justify those who believe on Him: “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11).

The usage of ‛âvôn includes the whole area of sin, judgment, and “punishment” for sin. The Old Testament teaches that God’s forgiveness of “iniquity” extends to the actual sin, the guilt of sin, God’s judgment upon that sin, and God’s punishment of the sin. “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Ps. 32:2).

In the Septuagint the word has the following renderings: adikia (“wrongdoing; unrighteousness; wickedness”); hamartia (“sin; error”); and anomia (“lawlessness”). In the English versions the translation “iniquity” is fairly uniform. The RSV and NIV give at a few places the more specialized rendering “guilt” or the more general translation “sin.”

'Âven (אָוֶן, Strong's #205), “iniquity; misfortune.” This noun is derived from a root meaning “to be strong,” found only in the Northwest Semitic languages. The word occurs about 80 times and almost exclusively in poetic-prophetic language. The usage is particularly frequent in the poetical books. Isaiah’s use stands out among the prophets. The first occurrence is in Num. 23:21: “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.”

The meaning of “misfortune” comes to expression in the devices of the wicked against the righteous. The psalmist expected “misfortune” to come upon him: “And if he come to see me, he speaketh vanity: his heart gathereth iniquity to itself; when he goeth abroad, he telleth it” (Ps. 41:6). 'Âven in this sense is synonymous with ‘ed, “disaster” (Job 18:12). In a real sense 'âven is part of human existence, and as such the word is identical with ‘amal, “toil,” as in Ps. 90:10: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

'Âven in a deeper sense characterizes the way of life of those who are without God: “For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practice hypocrisy, and to utter error against the Lord, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail” (Isa. 32:6). The being of man is corrupted by “iniquity.” Though all of mankind is subject to 'âven (“toil”), there are those who delight in causing difficulties and “misfortunes” for others by scheming, lying, and acting deceptively. The psalmist puts internalized wickedness this way: “Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief, and brought forth falsehood” (Ps. 7:14; cf. Job 15:35).

Those who are involved in the ways of darkness are the “workers of iniquity,” the doers of evil or the creators of “misfortune” and disaster. Synonyms for 'âven with this sense are ra’, “evil,” and rasha’, “wicked,” opposed to “righteousness” and “justice.” They seek the downfall of the just (Ps. 141:9). Between Ps. 5:5 and 141:9 there are as many as 16 references to the workers of evil (cf. “The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity”—Ps. 5:5). In the context of Ps. 5, the evil spoken of is falsehood, bloodshed, and deceit (v. 6). The qualitative aspect of the word comes to the best expression in the verbs with 'âven. The wicked work, speak, beget, think, devise, gather, reap, and plow 'âven, and it is revealed (“comes forth”) by the misfortune that comes upon the righteous. Ultimately when Israel’s religious festivals (Isa. 1:13) and legislation (Isa. 10:1) were affected by their apostate way of life, they had reduced themselves to the Gentile practices and way of life. The prophetic hope lay in the period after the purification of Israel, when the messianic king would introduce a period of justice and righteousness (Isa. 32) and the evil men would be shown up for their folly and ungodliness.

The Septuagint has several translations: anomia (“lawlessness”); kopos (“work; labor; toil”); mataios (“empty; fruitless; useless; powerless”); poneria (“wickedness; maliciousness; sinfulness”); and adikia (“unrighteousness; wickedness; injustice”). The KJV has these translations: “iniquity; vanity; wickedness.”

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Iniquity'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/i/iniquity.html. 1940.

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