The Greek word for “sin” is hamartia (a noun), found 173 times in the New Testament. Its verbal counterpart, hamartano, occurs forty-three times. An adjective, hamartolos (sinful), is found some forty-seven times in the inspired record. Obviously, this word-family is an important one.
These terms have an interesting history in classical Greek. Herodotus, the Greek historian, speaks of a hunter named Adrastus who “hurled his spear at the boar, but missed his aim” (The Histories I.43). In the Greek version of the Old Testament (Septuagint), a writer describes certain soldiers of the tribe of Benjamin who could “sling stones at a hairbreadth, and not miss” (Judges 20:16).
The word thus basically signified “missing the target.” In the Bible, the term takes on a theological significance. The target is the law of God; whenever man fails to conform to that law, he has “missed the target,” i.e., he has sinned. The apostle John expressed it like this: “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV), or, as another translation has it: “Sin is lawlessness” (ASV).
If one desires to be a competent archer, he will practice—time and time again, hour after hour. There will be sore muscles and raw fingers. It is not easy to become a proficient marksman. Spiritually, it is not an easy thing, in a world immersed in wickedness, to live a life dedicated to obeying the law of God. It is a real struggle, but the committed Christian accepts the challenge because he knows this is the will of his Creator.
Vast multitudes today, both religionists and otherwise, are so undisciplined they make no conscientious effort to “hit the target,” i.e., submit to Heaven’s law. Two tactics are employed to accommodate this disposition of spiritual retardation.
First, some would destroy the target. If there is no target, it is irrelevant as to which direction the arrow flies, or where it lands. If it sails through the air, and—as in Longfellow’s poem—falls to earth, he knows not where, it is of no concern to the outlaw.
Those who pursue this line of activity would destroy the Bible if they only could. In former ages, they burned it, but the flame of its message could not be quenched. Skeptics have sought to ridicule it out of existence, but have only embarrassed themselves in the process. Those who have thought to mute the Bible’s influence with intellectual argument have faded into oblivion while it remains the world’s most influential volume.
Thomas Paine, the celebrated author of the revolutionary war period, produced a vicious attack against the Scriptures, which, he predicted, would make the Sacred Book obsolete eventually. I once examined a copy of Paine’s book, The Age of Reason, from the Stockton, California library. In a city of more than a quarter-of-a-million people, this book had been checked out only sixteen times in ten years!
Second, there are those—especially in the religious community—who are ever adjusting the target so that no matter how awkward the flight of the missile, the target is always hit. These folks insist, for example, that the Scriptures must ever be changed to meet the fluctuating practices of a fickle and evolving culture. Society is under no obligation to repent, according to this ideology; rather, it is the Bible that must be altered.
And so with new and subjective “hermeneutical tools” they overhaul the Holy Writings, so that conduct once considered an appalling violation of the Word of God, is now wholly acceptable (e.g., homosexual conduct, sexual cohabitation outside of marriage, abortion, etc.). Multitudes arrogantly revise the conditions of the divine plan of redemption, e.g., the elimination of repentance, or immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Others ammend the New Testament by crafting a self-willed pattern of worship, designed to please men rather than the Creator (cf. Colossians 2:23).
But the authority of the Word of God is not so easily dispensed. “For ever, O Jehovah, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). As Jesus declared: “[T]he scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
To move the target, or to extend its parameters is cheating. And none who cheats will obtain the prize. If a person contends in the games, he is not crowned, unless he has contended lawfully (see 2 Timothy 2:5).