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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words


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A. Nouns.

'Âven (אָוֶן, Strong's #205), “iniquity; vanity; sorrow.” Some scholars believe that this term has cognates in the Arabic words ‘ana, (“to be fatigued, tired”) and ‘aynun (“weakness; sorrow; trouble”), or with the Hebrew word ‘ayin (“nothingness”). This relationship would imply that 'âven means the absence of all that has true worth; hence, it would denote “moral worthlessness,” as in the actions of wrongdoing, evil devising, or false speaking.

Other scholars believe that the term implies a “painful burden or difficulty”—i.e., that sin is a toilsome, exhausting load of “trouble and sorrow,” which the offender causes for himself or others. This meaning is indicated in Ps. 90:10: “The days of our years are three score years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow [RSV, “trouble”].…” A similar meaning appears in Prov. 22:8: “He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity ['âven]: and the rod of his anger shall fail.”

'Âven may be a general term for a crime or offense, as in Micah 2:1: “Woe to them that devise iniquity …” (cf. Isa. 1:13). In some passages, the word refers to falsehood or deception: “The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit: he hath left off to be wise, and to do good” (Ps. 36:3). “For the idols have spoken vanity [NASB, “iniquity”] …” (Zech. 10:2). Isa. 41:29 portrays idols deceiving their worshipers: “Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: Their molten images are wind and confusion.”

'Âshâm (אָשָׁם, Strong's #817), “sin; guilt; guilt offering; trespass; trespass offering.” Cognates appear in Arabic as ‘ithmun (“sin; offense; misdeed; crime”), ‘athima (“to sin, err, slip”), and ‘athimun (“sinful; criminal; evil; wicked”); but the Arabic usage does not include the idea of restitution. In the Ugaritic texts of Ras Shamra, the word atm occurs in similar passages. Scholars believe this Ugaritic word may mean “offense” or “guilt offering,” but this cannot be ascertained.

'Âshâm implies the condition of “guilt” incurred through some wrongdoing, as in Gen. 26:10: “And Abimelech said, … one of the people might lightly have lain with thy wife, and thou shouldest have brought guiltiness upon us.” The word may also refer to the offense itself which entails the guilt: “For Israel hath not been forsaken … though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel” (Jer. 51:5). A similar meaning of the word appears in Ps. 68:21: “But God shall wound the head of his enemies and the hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on still in his trespasses [RSV, “guilty ways”; NASH, “guilty deeds”].”

Most occurrences of 'âshâm refer to the compensation given to satisfy someone who has been injured, or to the “trespass offering” or “guilt offering” presented on the altar by the repentant offender after paying a compensation of six-fifths of the damage inflicted (Num. 5:7- 8). The “trespass offering” was the blood sacrifice of a ram: “And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him” (Lev. 5:18; cf. Lev. 7:5, 7; 14:12-13). The most significant theological statement containing 'âshâm is in Isa. 53:10, which says that the servant of Yahweh was appointed as an 'âshâm for sinful mankind. This suggests that His death furnished a 120- percent compensation for the broken law of God.

'Âmâl (עָמָל, Strong's #5999), “evil; trouble; misfortune; mischief; grievance; wickedness; labor.” This noun is related to the Hebrew verb ‛âmâl (“to labor, toil”). The Arabic cognate ‘amila means “to get tired from hard work.” The Aramaic ‛âmâl means “make” or “do,” with no necessary connotation of burdensome labor. The Phoenician Canaanite usage of this term was closer to the Arabic; the Book of Ecclesiastes (which shows considerable Phoenician influence) clearly represents this use: “Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun …” (Eccl. 2:18). “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labor …” (Eccl. 3:13). A related example appears in Ps. 107:12: “Therefore he brought down their heart with labor; they fell down and there was none to help.”

In general, ‛âmâl refers either to the trouble and suffering which sin causes the sinner or to the trouble that he inflicts upon others. Jer. 20:18 depicts self-inflicted sorrow: “Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor [‛âmâl] and sorrow [yagon], that my days should be consumed with shame?” Another instance is found in Deut. 26:7: “And when we cried unto the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction [‘oni], and our labor [‛âmâl], and our oppression [lachats].”

Job 4:8 illustrates the sense of trouble as mischief inflicted on others: “… They that plow iniquity [‘awen], and sow wickedness [‛âmâl] reap the same.” The word appears in Ps. 140:9: “As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them.” Hab. 1:3 also refers to the trouble inficted on others: “Why dost thou show me iniquity [‘awen], and cause me to behold grievance [‘amal]? For spoiling and violence are before me; and there are that raise up strife and contention.”

‛Âvôn (עָווֹן, Strong's #5771), “iniquity.” This word is derived from the root ‘awah, which means “to be bent, bowed down, twisted, perverted” or “to twist, pervert.” The Arabic cognate ‘awa means “to twist, bend down”; some scholars regard the Arabic term ghara (“to err from the way”) as the true cognate, but there is less justification for this interpretation.

‛Âvôn portrays sin as a perversion of life (a twisting out of the right way), a perversion of truth (a twisting into error), or a perversion of intent (a bending of rectitude into willful disobedience). The word “iniquity” is the best single-word equivalent, although the Latin root iniquitas really means “injustice; unfairness; hostile; adverse.”

‛Âvôn occurs frequently throughout the Old Testament in parallelism with other words related to sin, such as chatta’t (“sin”) and pesha’ (“transgression”). Some examples are 1 Sam. 20:1: “And David … said before Jonathan, what have I done? what is mine iniquity [‛âvôn]? and what is my sin [chatta’t] before thy father, that he seeketh my life?” (cf. Isa. 43:24; Jer. 5:25). Also note Job 14:17: “My transgression [pesha’] is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity [‛âvôn]” (cf. Ps. 107:17; Isa. 50:1).

The penitent wrongdoer recognized his “iniquity” in Isa. 59:12: “For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us: for our transgressions are with us; and as for our iniquities, we know them” (cf. 1 Sam. 3:13). “Iniquity” is something to be confessed: “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel …” (Lev. 16:21). “And the seed of Israel … confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers” (Neh. 9:2; cf. Ps. 38:18).

The grace of God may remove or forgive “iniquity”: “And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee …” (Zech. 3:4; cf. 2 Sam. 24:10). His atonement may cover over “iniquity”: “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged; and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil” (Prov. 16:6; cf. Ps. 78:38).

‛Âvôn may refer to “the guilt of iniquity,” as in Ezek. 36:31: “Then shall ye remember your own evil ways … and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations” (cf. Ezek. 9:9). The word may also refer to “punishment for iniquity”: “And Saul sware to her by the Lord, saying, As the Lord liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing” (1 Sam. 28:10). In Exod. 28:38, ‛âvôn is used as the object of natsa’ (“to bear, carry away, forgive”), to suggest bearing the punishment for the “iniquity” of others. In Isa. 53:11, we are told that the servant of Yahweh bears the consequences of the “iniquities” of sinful mankind, including Israel.

Râshâ‛ (רָשָׁע, Strong's #7563), “wicked; criminal; guilty.” Some scholars relate this word to the Arabic rash’a (“to be loose, out of joint”), although that term is not actively used in literary Arabic. The Aramaic cognate resha’ means “to be wicked” and the Syriac apel (“to do wickedly”).

Râshâ‛ generally connotes a turbulence and restlessness (cf. Isa. 57:21) or something disjointed or ill-regulated. Thus Robert B. Girdlestone suggests that it refers to the tossing and confusion in which the wicked live, and to the perpetual agitation they came to others.

In some instances, râshâ‛ carries the sense of being “guilty of crime”: “Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness” (Exod. 23:1) “Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness” (Prov. 25:5). “An ungodly witness scorneth judgment: and the mouth of the (wicked [plural form] devoureth iniquity” (Prov. 19:28; cf. Prov. 20:26).

Justifying the “wicked” is classed as a heinous crime: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 17:15; cf. Exod. 23:7).

The râshâ‛ is guilty of hostility to God and His people: “Arise, O Lord, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword” (Ps. 17:13); “Oh let the wickedness of the (wicked [plural form] come to an end; but establish the just …” (Ps. 7:9). The word is applied to the people of Babylon in Isa. 13:11 and to the Chaldeans in Hab. 1:13.

Chaṭṭâ'th (חַטָּאָה, Strong's #2403), “sin; sin-guilt; sinpurification; sin offering.” The noun chaṭṭâ'th appears about 293 times and in all periods of biblical literature.

The basic nuance of this word is “sin” conceived as missing the road or mark (155 times). Chaṭṭâ'th can refer to an offense against a man: “And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass [pesha’]? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me?” (Gen. 31:36). It is such passages which prove that chaṭṭâ'th is not simply a general word for “sin”; since Jacob used two different words, he probably intended two different nuances. In addition, a full word study shows basic differences between chaṭṭâ'th and other words rendered “sin.”

For the most part this word represents a sin against God (Lev. 4:14). Men are to return from “sin,” which is a path, a life-style, or act deviating from that which God has marked out (1 Kings 8:35). They should depart from “sin” (2 Kings 10:31), be concerned about it (Ps. 38:18), and confess it (Num. 5:7). The noun first appears in Gen. 4:7, where Cain is warned that “sin lieth at the door.” This citation may introduce a second nuance of the word—“sin” in general. Certainly such an emphasis appears in Ps. 25:7, where the noun represents rebellious sin (usually indicated by pasha’): “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions.…”

In a few passages the term connotes the guilt or condition of sin: “… The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and … their sin is very grievous” (Gen. 18:20).

The word means “purification from sin” in two passages: “And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purifying upon them …” (Num. 8:7; cf. 19:9).

Chaṭṭâ'th means “sin offering” (135 times). The law of the “sin offering” is recorded in Lev. 4- 5:13; 6:24-30. This was an offering for some specific “sin” committed unwittingly, without intending to do it and perhaps even without knowing it at the time (Lev. 4:2; 5:15).

Also derived from the verb chata’ is the noun chet’, which occurs 33 times in biblical Hebrew. This word means “sin” in the sense of missing the mark or the path. This may be sin against either a man (Gen. 41:9—the first occurrence of the word) or God (Deut. 9:18). Second, it connotes the “guilt” of such an act (Num. 27:3). The psalmist confessed that his mother was in the condition of sin and guilt (cf. Rom. 5:12) when he was conceived (Ps. 51:5). Finally, several passages use this word for the idea of “punishment for sin” (Lev. 20:20).

The noun chaṭṭâ'th, with the form reserved for those who are typified with the characteristic represented by the root, is used both as an adjective (emphatic) and as a noun. The word occurs 19 times. Men are described as “sinners” (1 Sam. 15:18) and as those who are liable to the penalty of an offense (1 Kings 1:21). The first occurrence of the word is in Gen. 13:13: “But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.”

B. Adjectives.

Râshâ‛ (רָשָׁע, Strong's #7563), “wicked; guilty.” In the typical example of Deut. 25:2, this word refers to a person “guilty of a crime”: “And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him … to be beaten.…” A similar reference appears in Jer. 5:26: “For among my people are found wicked [plural form] men: they lay wait, as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men.” Râshâ‛ is used specifically of murderers in 2 Sam. 4:11: “How much more, when wicked men have slain a righteous person in his own house upon his bed? …” The expression “guilty of death” (rasha’ lamut) occurs in Num. 35:31 and is applied to a murderer.

Pharaoh and his people are portrayed as “wicked” people guilty of hostility to God and His people (Exod. 9:27).

Ra‛ (רַע, Strong's #7451), “bad; evil; wicked; sore.” The root of this term is disputed. Some scholars believe that the Akkadian term raggu (“evil; bad”) may be a cognate. Some scholars derive ra‛ from the Hebrew word ra’a’ (“to break, smash, crush”), which is a cognate of the Hebrew ratsats (“to smash, break to pieces”); ratsats in turn is related to the Arabic radda (“to crush, bruise”). If this derivation were correct, it would imply that ra’ connotes sin in the sense of destructive hurtfulness; but this connotation is not appropriate in some contexts in which ra’ is found.

Ra’ refers to that which is “bad” or “evil,” in a wide variety of applications. A greater number of the word’s occurrences signify something morally evil or hurtful, often referring to man or men: “Then answered all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David …” (1 Sam. 30:22). “And Esther said, the adversary and enemy is the wicked Haman” (Esth. 7:6). “There they cry, but none giveth answer, because of the pride of evil men” (Job 35:12; cf. Ps. 10:15). Ra’ is also used to denote evil words (Prov. 15:26), evil thoughts (Gen. 6:5), or evil actions (Deut. 17:5, Neh. 13:17). Ezek. 6:11 depicts grim consequences for Israel as a result of its actions: “Thus saith the Lord God; smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel! For they shall fall by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence.”

Ra’ may mean “bad” or unpleasant in the sense of giving pain or caming unhappiness: “And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, … Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been …” (Gen. 47:9). “And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned …” (Exod. 33:4; cf. Gen. 37:2). “Correction is grievous [ra’] unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die” (Prov. 15:10).

Ra’ may also connote a fierceness or wildness: “He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil [ra] angels among them” (Ps. 78:49). “Some evil beast hath devoured him …” (Gen. 37:20; cf. Gen. 37:33; Lev. 26:6).

In less frequent uses, ra’ implies severity: “For thus saith the Lord God; How much more when I send my four sore [ra’] judgments upon Israel …” (Ezek. 14:21; cf. Deut. 6:22); unpleasantness: “And the Lord will take away from thee all sickness, and will put more of the evil diseases of Egypt … upon thee …” (Deut. 7:15; cf. Deut. 28:59); deadliness: “When I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, which shall be for their destruction …” (Ezek. 5:16; cf. “hurtful sword,” Ps. 144:10); or sadness: “Wherefore the king said unto me, why is thy countenance sad …” (Neh. 2:2).

The word may also refer to something of poor or inferior quality, such as “bad” land (Num. 13:19), “naughty” figs (Jer. 24:2), “illfavored” cattle (Gen. 41:3, 19), or a “bad” sacrificial animal (Lev. 27:10, 12, 14).

In Isa. 45:7 Yahweh describes His actions by saying, “… I make peace, and create evil [ra] …”; moral “evil” is not intended in this context, but rather the antithesis of shalom (“peace; welfare; well-being”). The whole verse affirms that as absolute Sovereign, the Lord creates a universe governed by a moral order. Calamity and misfortune will surely ensue from the wickedness of ungodly men.

C. Verbs.

‛Âbar (עָבַר, Strong's #5674), “to transgress, cross over, pass over.” This word occurs as a verb only when it refers to sin. ‛Âbar often carries the sense of “transgressing” a covenant or commandment—i.e., the offender “passes beyond” the limits set by God’s law and falls into transgression and guilt. This meaning appears in Num. 14:41: “And Moses said, wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? but it shall not prosper.” Another example is in Judg. 2:20: “And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and he said, Because that this people hath transgressed my covenant which I commanded their fathers, and have not hearkened unto my voice” (cf. 1 Sam. 15:24; Hos. 8:1).

Most frequently, ‛âbar illustrates the motion of “crossing over” or “passing over.” (The Latin transgedior, from which we get our English word transgress, has the similar meaning of “go beyond” or “cross over.”) This word refers to crossing a stream or boundage (“pass through,” Num. 21:22), invading a country (“passed over,” Judg. 11:32), crossing a boundary against a hostile army (“go over,” 1 Sam. 14:4), marching over (“go over,” Isa. 51:23), overflowing the banks of a river or other natural barriers (“pass through,” Isa. 23:10), passing a razor over one’s head (“come upon,” Num. 6:5), and the passing of time (“went over,” 1 Chron. 29:30).

Châṭâ' (חָטָא, Strong's #2398), “to miss, sin, be guilty, forfeit, purify.” This verb occurs 238 times and in all parts of the Old Testament. It is found also in Assyrian, Aramaic, Ethiopic, Sabean, and Arabic.

The basic meaning of this verb is illustrated in Judg. 20:16: There were 700 lefthanded Benjamite soldiers who “could sling stones at a hair breadth, and not miss.” The meaning is extended in Prov. 19:2: “He who makes haste with his feet misses the way” (RSV, NIV, KJV NASB, “sinneth”). The intensive form is used in Gen. 31:39: “That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it.…”

From this basic meaning comes the word’s chief usage to indicate moral failure toward both God and men, and certain results of such wrongs. The first occurrence of the verb is in Gen. 20:6, God’s word to Abimelech after he had taken Sarah: “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and also I have kept you from sinning against Me” (NASB; cf. Gen. 39:9).

Sin against God is defined in Josh. 7:11: “Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them.…” Also note Lev. 4:27: “And if any one of the common people sin through ignorance, while he doeth somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and be guilty.” The verb may also refer to the result of wrongdoing, as in Gen. 43:9: “… Then let me bear the blame for ever.” Deut. 24:1-4, after forbidding adulterous marriage practices, concludes: “… For that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin …” (KJV); the RSV renders this passage: “You shall not bring guilt upon the land.” Similarly, those who pervert justice are described as “those who by a word make a man out to be guilty” (Isa. 29:21, NIV). This leads to the meaning in Lev. 9:15: “And he … took the goat … and slew it, and offered it for sin.…” The effect of the offerings for sin is described in Ps. 51:7: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean …” (cf. Num. 19:1-13). Another effect is seen in the word of the prophet to evil Babylon: “You have forfeited your life” (Hab. 2:10 RSV, NIV; KJV, NASB, “sinned against”). The word is used concerning acts committed against men, as in Gen. 42:22: “Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child …?” and 1 Sam. 19:4: “Do not let the king sin against his servant David, since he has not sinned against you …” (NASB; NlV, “wrong, wronged”).

The Septuagint translates the group of words with the verb hamartano and derived nouns 540 times. They occur 265 times in the New Testament. The fact that all “have sinned” continues to be emphasized in the New Testament (Rom. 3:10-18, 23; cf. 1 Kings 8:46; Ps. 14:1-3; Eccl. 7:20). The New Testament development is that Christ, “having made one sacrifice for sins for all time sat down at the right hand of God.… For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:12- 14, NASB).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Sin'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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