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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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lxvi. ἁμαρτία, ἁμάρτημα, παρακοή, ἀνομία, παρανομία, παράβασις, παράπτωμα, ἀγνόημα, ἥττημα.

A mournfully numerous group of words, and one which it would be only too easy to make larger still. Nor is it hard to see why. For sin, which we may define in the language of Augustine, as ‘factum vel dictum vel concupitum aliquid contra aeternam legem’(Con. Faust. xxii. 27; cf. the Stoic definition, ἀμάρτημα, νόμου ἀπαγόρευμα, Plutarch, De Rep. Stoic. 11); or again, ‘voluntas admittendi vel retinendi quod justitia, vetat, et unde liberum est abstinere’ (Con. Jul. i. 47), may be regarded under an infinite number of aspects, and in all languages has been so regarded; and as the diagnosis of it belongs most of all to the Scriptures, nowhere else are we likely to find it contemplated on so many sides, set forth under such various images. It may be regarded as the missing of a mark or aim; it is then ἁμαρτία or ἁμάρτημα: the overpassing or transgressing of a line; it is then παράβασις: the disobedience to a voice; in which case it is παρκοή: the falling where one should have stood upright; this will be παράπτωμα: ignorance of what one ought to have known; this will be ἀγνόημα: diminishing of that which should have been rendered in full measure, which is ἥττημα: non-observance of a law, which is ἀνομία or παρανομία: a discord in the harmonies of God’s universe, when it is πλημμέλεια: and in other ways almost out of number.

To begin with the word of largest reach. In seeking accurately to define ἁμαρτία, and so better to distinguish it from other words of this group, no help can be derived from its etymology, seeing that it is quite uncertain.Etym. Note. 32 Suidas, as is well known, derives it from μάρπτω, ‘ἁμαρτία quasi ἁμαρπτία,’ a failing to grasp. Buttmann’s conjecture (Lexilogus, p. 85, English ed.), that it belongs to the root μέρος, μείρομαι, on which a negative intransitive verb, to be without one’s share of, to miss, was formed (see Xenophon, Cyrop. i. 6. 13), has found more favour (see a long note by Fritzsche, on Rom. 5:12, with excellent philology and execrable theology). Only this much is plain, that when sin is contemplated as ἀμαρτία, it is regarded as a failing and missing the true end and scope of our lives, which is God; ἡ τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἀπόπτωσις, as Oecumenius: ἡ τοῦ ἁγαθοῦ ἀποτυχία, and ἁμαρτάνειν, and ἄσκοπα τοξεύειν, as Suidas; ἡ τοῦ καλοῦ ἐκτροπή, εἴτε τοῦ κατὰ φύσιν, εἴτε τοῦ κατὰ νόμον, as another. We may compare the German ‘fehlen.’

It is a matter of course that with slighter apprehensions of sin, and of the evil of sin, there must go hand in hand a slighter ethical significance in the words used to express sin. It is therefore nothing wonderful that ἁμαρτία and ἁμαρτάνειν should nowhere in classical Greek obtain that depth of meaning which in revealed religion they have acquired. The words run the same course which all words ultimately taken up into ethical terminology seem inevitably to run. Employed first about things natural, they are then. transferred to things moral or spiritual, according to that analogy between those and these, which the human mind so delights to trace. Thus ἁμαρτάνειν signifies, when we meet it first, to miss a mark, being exactly opposed to τυχεῖν. So a hundred times in Homer the warrior ἁμαρτεῖ, who hurls his spear, but fails to strike his foe (Il. iv. 491); so τῶν ὁδῶν ἁμαρτάνειν (Thucydides, iii. 98. 2) is to miss one’s way. The next advance is the transfer of the word to things intellectual. The poet ἁμαρτάνει, who selects a subject which it is impossible to treat poetically, or who seeks to attain results which lie beyond the limits of his art (Aristotle, Poët. 8 and 25); so we have δόξης ἁμαρτία (Thucydides, i. 31); γνώμης ἁμάρτημα (ii. 65). It is constantly set over against ὀρθότης (Plato, Legg. i. 627 d; ii. 668 c; Aristotle, Poët. 25). So far from having any ethical significance of necessity attaching to it, Aristotle sometimes withdraws it, almost, if not altogether, from the region of right and wrong (Eth. Nic. v. 8. 7). The ἀμαρτία is a mistake, a fearful one it may be, like that of Oedipus, but nothing more (Poët. 13; cf. Euripides, Hippolytus, 1426). Elsewhere, however, it has as much of the meaning of our ‘sin,’ as any word, employed in heathen ethics, could possess; thus Plato, Phoedr. 113 e: Rep. ii. 366 a; Xenophon, Cyrop. v. 4. 19.

Ἁμάρτημα differs from ἁμαρτία, in that ἁμαρτία is sin in the abstract as well as the concrete; or again, the act of sinning no less than the sin which is actually sinned, ‘peccatio’ (A. Gellius, xiii. 20, 17) no less than ‘peccatum’; while ἁμάρτημα (it only occurs Mark 3:28; 4:12; Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 6:18) is never sin regarded as sinfulness, or as the act of sinning, but only sin contemplated in its separate outcomings and deeds of disobedience to a divine law; being in the Greek schools opposed to κατόρθωμα.1 There is the same difference between ἀνομία and ἀνόμημα (which last is not in the N. T.; but 1 Sam. 25:28; Ezek. 16:49), ἀσέβεια and ἀσέβημα (not in the N. T.; but Lev. 18:17), ἀδικία and ἀδίκημα (Acts 18:14). This is brought out by Aristotle (Ethic. Nic. v. 7), who sets over against one another ἄδικον (== ἀδικία) and ἀδίκημα in these words: διαφέρει τὸ ἀδίκημα καὶ τὸ ἄδικον. Ἄδικον μὲν γὰρ ἔστι τῇ φύσει, ἢ τάξει· τὸ αὐτὸ δὲ τοῦτο, ὅταν πραχθῇ, ἀδίκημά ἐστι. Compare, an instructive passage in Xenophon (Mem. ii. 2, 3): αἱ πόλεις ἐπὶ τοῖς μεγίστοις ἀδικήμασι ζημίαν θάνατον πεποιήκασιν, ὡς οὐκ ἂν μειζόνος κακοῦ φόβῳ τὴν ἀ δικίαν παύσοντες. On the distinction between ἁμαρτία and ἁμάρτημα, ἀδικία and ἀδίκημα, and other words of this group, there is a long discussion by Clement of Alexandria (Strom. ii. 15), but one not yielding much profit.

Ἀσέβεια, joined with ἀδικία (Xenophon, Apol. 24; Rom. 1:8); as ἀσεβής with ἄδικος, with ἀνόσιος (Xenophon, Cyrop. viii. 8. 27), with ἁμαρτωλός (1 Tim. 1:9; 1 Pet. 4:18), is positive and active irreligion, and this contemplated as a deliberate withholding from God of his dues of prayer and of service, a standing, so to speak, in battle array against Him. We have always rendered it ‘ungodliness,’ while the Rheims as constantly ‘impiety,’ and ἀσεβής ‘impious,’ neither of these words occurring anywhere in our English Bible. The ἀσεβής and the δίκαιος are constantly set over against one another (thus Gen. 18:23), as the two who wage the great warfare between light and darkness, right and wrong, of which God has willed that this earth of ours should be the stage.

Παρακοή is in the N. T. found only at Rom. 5:19 (where it is opposed to ὑπακόη); 2 Cor. 10:6; Heb. 2:2. It is not in the Septuagint, but παρακούειν (in the N. T. only at Matt. xviii. 17) occurs several times there in the sense of to disobey (Esth. 3:3, 8; Isai. 65:12). Παρακοή is in its strictest sense a failing to hear, or a hearing amiss; the notion of active disobedience, which follows on this inattentive or careless hearing, being superinduced upon the word; or, it may be, the sin being regarded as already committed in the failing to listen when God is speaking. Bengel (on Rom. 5:19) has a good note: ‘παρά in παρακοή perquam apposite declarat rationem initii in lapsu Adami. Quaeritur quomodo hominis recti intellectus aut voluntas potuit detrimentum capere aut noxam admittere? Resp. Intellectus et voluntas simul labavit per ἀμέλειαν neque quicquam potest prius concipi, quarn ἀμέλεια, incuria, sicut initium capiendae urbis est vigiliarum remissio. Hanc incuriam significat παρακοή, inobedientia.’ It need hardly be observed how continually in the O. T. disobedience is described as a refusing to hear (Jer. 10:10; 35:17); and it appears literally as such at Act vii. 57. Joined with and following παράβασις at Heb. 2, it would there imply, in the intention of the writer, that not merely every actual transgression, embodying itself in an outward act of disobedience, was punished, but ever refusal to hear, even though it might not have asserted itself in such overt acts of disobedience.

We have generally translated ἀνομία ‘iniquity’ (Matt. 7:23; Rom. 6:19; Heb. 10:17); once ‘unrighteousness’ (2 Cor. 6:14), and once “transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). It is set over against δικαιοσύνη (2 Cor. 6:14; cf. Xenophon, Mem, i. 2. 24); joined with ἀναρχία (Plato, Rep. ix. 575 a), with ἀντιλογία (Ps 54 [LXX] 10). While ἄνομος is once at least in the N. T. used negatively of a person without law, or to whom a law has not been given (1 Cor. 9:21; cf. Plato, Politic. 302 e, ἄνομος μοναρχία); though elsewhere of the greatest enemy of all law, the Man of Sin, the lawless one (2 Thess. 2:8) ἀνομία is never there the condition of one living without law, but always the condition or deed of one who acts contrary to law: and so, of course παρανομία, found only at 2 Pet. 2:16; cf. Prov. 10:26, and παρανομεῖν, Acts 23:3. It will follow that where here is no law (Rom. 5:13), there may be ἁμαρτία, ἀδικία, but not ἀνομία: being, as OEcumenius defines it, ἡ περὶ τὸν θετὸν νόμον πλημμέλεια: as Fritzsche, ‘legis contemtio aut morum licentia qua lex violatur.’ Thus the Gentiles, not having a law (Rom. 2:14), might be charged with sin; but they, sinning without law (ἀνόμως==χωρὶς νόμου, Rom. 2:12; 3:21), could not be charged with ἀνομία. It is true, indeed, that, behind that law of Moses which they never had, there is another law, the original law and revelation of the righteousness of God, written on she hearts of all (Rom. 2:14, 15); and, as this in no human heart is obliterated quite, all sin, even that of the darkest and most ignorant savage, must still in a secondary sense remain as ἀνομία, a violation of this older, though partially obscured, law. Thus Origen (in Rom. iv.): ‘Iniquitas sane a peccato hanc habet differentiam, quod iniquitas in his dicitur quae contra legem committuntur, unde et Graecus sermo ἀνομίαν appellat. Peccatum vero etiam illud dici potest, si contra quam natura docet, et conscientia arguit, delinquatur.’ Cf. Xenophon, Mem. iv. 4. 18, 19.

It is the same with παράβασις. There must be something to transgress, before there can be a transgression. There was sin between Adam and Moses, as was attested by the fact that there was death; but those between the law given in Paradise (Gen. 2:16, 17) and the law given from Sinai, sinning indeed, yet did not sin “after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” (παραβάσεως, Rom. 5:14). With law came for the first time the possibility of the transgression of law (Rom. 4:15); and exactly this transgression or trespass, is παράβασις, from παραβαίνειν, ‘transilire lineam;’ the French ‘forfait’ (‘faire fors’ or ‘hors’), some act which is excessive, enormous. Cicero (Parad. 3): ‘Peecare est tanquam transilire lineas;’ compare the Homeric ὑπερβασίη, iii. 107, and often. In the constant language of St. Paul this παράβασις, as the transgression of a commandment distinctly given, is more serious than ἁμαρτία (Rom. 2:23; 1 Tim. 2:14; cf. Heb. 2; 9:15). It is from this point of view, and indeed with reference to this very word, that Augustine draws often a distinction between the ‘peccator’ and the ‘praevaricator,’ between ‘peccatum’ (ἁμαρτία) and ’praevaricatio’ (παράβασις). Thus Enarr. in Ps. cxviii.; Serm. 25: Omnis quidem prevaricator peccator est, quia peccat in lege, sed non omnis peccator prvaricator est, quia peccant aliqui sine lege. Ubi autem non est lex, nec paevaricatio.’ It will be seen that his Latin word introduces a new image, not now of overpassing a line, but of halting on unequal feet; an image, however, which had quite faded from the word when he used it, his motive to employ it lying in the fact that the ‘praevaricator,’ or collusive prosecutor, dealt unjustly with a law. He who, being under no express law, sins, is in Augustine’s language, ‘peccator’; he who, having such a law, sins, is ‘praevaricator’ (==παραβάτης, Rom. 2:25; Jam. 2:9, a name constantly given by the Church Fathers to Julian the Apostate). Before the law came men might be the former; after the law they could only be the latter. In the first there is implicit, in the second explicit, disobedience.

We now arrive at παράπτωμα, a word belonging altogether to the later Greek, and of rare occurrence there; it is employed by Longinus of literary faults (De Subl. 36). Cocceius : ‘Si originem verbi spectemus, significat ea facta prae quibus quis cadit et prostratus jacet, ut stare coram Deo et surgere non potest.’ At Ephes. 2:1, where παραπτώματα and ἁμαρτία are found together, Jerome records with apparent assent a distinction between them; that the former are sins suggested to the mind and partially entertained and welcomed there, and the latter the same embodied in actual deeds: ‘Aiunt quod παραπτώματα quasi initia peccatorum sint, quum cogitatio tacita, subrepit, et ex aliqua, parte conniventibus nobis; necdum tamen nos impulit ad ruinam. Peccatum vero esse, quum quid opere consummatum pervenit ad finem.’ This distinction has no warrant. Only this much truth it may be allowed to have; that, as sins of thought partake more of the nature of infirmity, and have less aggravation than the same sins consummated, embodied, that is, in act, so doubtless παράπτωμα is sometimes used when it is intended to designate sins not of the deepest dye and the worst enormity. One may trace this very clearly at Gal. 6:1, our Translators no doubt meaning to indicate as much when they rendered it by ‘fault’; and not obscurely, as it seems to me, at Rom. 5:15, 17, 18. Παράπτωμα is used in the same way, as an error, a mistake in judgment, a blunder, by Polybius (ix. 10. 6); compare Ps. 19:13, 14, where it is contrasted with the ἁμαρτία μεγάλη: and for other examples see Cremer, Biblisch-Theolog. Wörterbuch, p. 501. To a certain feeling of this we may ascribe another inadequate distinction,—that, namely, of Augustine (Qu. ad Lev. 20), who will have παράπτωμα to be the negative omission of good (‘desertio boni,’ or ‘delictum’), as contrasted with ἁμαρτία, the positive doing of evil (‘perpetratio mali’).

But this milder subaudition is very far from belonging always to the word (see Jeremy Taylor, Doctrine and Practice of Repentance, iii. 3. 21). There is nothing of it at Ephes. 2:1, “dead in trespasses (παραπτώμασι) and sins.” Παράπτωμα is mortal sin, Ezek. 18:26; and the παραπεσεῖν of Heb. 6:6 is equivalent to the ἐκουσίως ἁμαρτάνειν of 10:26, to the ἀποστῆναι ἀπὸ Θεοῦ ζῶντος of 3:12; while any such extenuation of the force of the word is expressly excluded in a passage of Philo (ii. 648), which very closely resembles these two in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and in which he distinctly calls it παράπτωμα, when a man, having reached an acknowledged pitch of godliness and virtue, falls back from, and out of this; ‘he was lifted up to the height of heaven, and is fallen down to the deep of hell.’

Ἀγνόημα occurs in the N. T. only at Heb. 9:7 (see Theoluck, On the Hebrews, Appendix, p. 92), but also at Judith 5:20; 1 Macc. 13:39; Tob. 3:3; and ἄγνοια in the same sense of sin, Ps. 24:7, and often; and ἀγνοεῖν, to sin, at Hos. 4:15; Ecclus. 5:15; Heb. 5:2. Sin is designated as an ἀγνόημα when it is desired to make excuses for it, so far as there is room for such, to regard it in the mildest possible light (see Acts 3:17). There is always an element of ignorance in every human transgression, which constitutes it human and not devilish; and which, while it does not take away, yet so far mitigates the sinfulness of it, as to render its forgiveness not indeed necessary, but possible. Thus compare the words of the Lord, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), with those of St. Paul, “I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly, in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13), where, as one has well said, ‘Der Ausdruck fasst Schuld und Entschuldigung zusammen.’ No sin of man, except perhaps the sin against the Holy Ghost, which may for this reason be irremissible (Matt. 12:32), is committed with a full and perfect recognition of the evil which is chosen as evil, and of the good which is forsaken as good. Compare the numerous passages in which Plato identifies vice with ignorance, and even pronounces that no man is voluntarily evil; οὐδεὶς ἐκὼν κακός, and what is said qualifying or guarding this statement in Archer Butler’s Lectures on Ancient Philosophy, vol. ii. p. 285. Whatever exaggerations this statement of Plato’s may contain, it still remains true that sin is always, in a greater or a less degree, an ἀγνόημα, and the more the ἀγνοεῖν, as opposed to the ἐκουσίως ἁμαρτάνειν (Heb. 10:26), predominates, the greater the extenuation of the sinfulness of the sin. There is therefore an eminent fitness in the employment of the word on the one occasion, referred to already, where it appears in the N. T. The ἀγνοήματα, or ‘errors’ of the people, for which the High Priest offered sacrifice on the great day of atonement, were not wilful transgressions, “presumptuous sins” (Ps. 19:13), committed κατὰ προαίρεσιν, κατὰ πρόθεσιν, against conscience and with a high hand against God; those who committed such were cut off from the congregation; no provision having been made in the Levitical constitution for the forgiveness of such (Num. 15:30, 31); but they were sins growing out of the weakness of the flesh, out of an imperfect insight into God’s law, out of heedlessness and lack of due circumspection (ἀκουσίως, Lev. 4:13; cf. 5:15-19; Num. 15:22-29), and afterwards looked back on with shame and regret. The same distinction exists between ἄγνοια and ἀγνόημα which has been already traced between ἁμαρτία and ἁμάρτημα, ἀδικία and ἀδίκημα: that the former is often the more abstract, the latter is always the concrete.

Ἥττημα appears nowhere in classical Greek; but ἧττα, a briefer form of the word, is opposed to νίκη, as discomfiture or worsting to victory. It has there past very much through the same stages as the Latin ‘clades.’ It appears once in the Septuagint (Isai. 31:8), and twice in the N. T., namely at Rom. 11:12; 1 Cor. 6:7; but only in the latter instance having an ethical sense, as a coming short of duty, a fault, the German ‘fehler,’ the Latin ‘delictum.’ Gerhard (Loc. Theoll. xi.): ‘ἥττημα diminutio, defectus, ab ἡττᾶσθαι victum esse, quia peccatores succumbunt carnis et Satanae tentationibus.’

Πλημμέλεια, a very frequent word in the O. T. (Lev. 5:15; Num. 18:9, and often), and not rare in later ecclesiastical Greek (thus see Clement of Rome, 1 Ep. 41), does not occur in the New. Derived from πλημμελής, one who sings out of tune (πλὴν and μέλος),—as ἐμμελής is one who is in tune, and ἐμμέλεια, the right modulation of the voice to the music; it is properly a discord or disharmony (πλημμέλειαι καὶ ἀμετρίαι, Plutarch, Symp. ix. 14. 7);—so that Augustine’s Greek is at fault when he finds in it μέλει, ‘curae est’ (Qu. in Lev. iii. 20), and makes πλημμέλεια == ἀμέλεια, carelessness. Rather it is sin regarded as a discord or disharmony in the great symphonies of the universe:

‘disproportioned sin
Jarred against nature’s chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair music that all creatures made
To their great Lord.’

Delitzsch, on Ps. 32:1, with whom Hupfeld, on the same passage, may be compared, observes on the more important Hebrew words, which more or less correspond with these: ‘Die Sünde heisst פֶּשַׁע als Losreissung von Gott, Treubruch, Fall aus dem Gnadenstande [== ἀσέβεια], חַטָאָה als Verfehlung des Gottgewollten Zieles, Abirrung vom Gottgefälligen, Vollbringung des Gottwidrigen [== ἁμαρτία], עָוֹן als Verkehrung des Geraden, Missethat, Verschuldung [== ἀνομία, ἀδικία.].’


1 When the Pelagians, in their controversy with the Catholic Church, claimed Chrysostom as siding with them on the subject of the moral condition of infants, Augustine (Con. Jul. Pelag. vi. 2) replied by quoting the exact words which Chrysostom had used, and showing that it was not ἁμαρτία, or sin, but ἁμαρτήματα, the several acts and outcomings of sin, from which the Greek Father had pronounced infants to be free. Only in this sense were they partakers of the ἀναμαρτησία of Christ.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G2275,G265,G266,G3847,G3876,G3892,G3900,G458,G51.]

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