Originally the Bible was written in Greek. It was then translated into Hebrew for the Old Testament and into Latin for the New Testament. The Greek used was actually an international Greek different than Classical Greek. I call this vendor Greek like vendor English, a close replica of the original language but without the nuances and complexities of the original. Later the Bible would be re-translated into various languages often being corrupted because there were no accurate words into the new language to match the original Greek.
Bibles were also politically influenced by the national faction that hired the translation. For instance, the King James Bible was translated at the behest of King James of England in 1610 C.E. King James’s approval was required before publication.
These corruptions have caused many misunderstandings by those who rely on its veracity. As societies change our ability improves to break off from the common doctrines and dogmas that have prevented alternative, and perhaps more accurate, re-translations of the Bible as we continue to seek the truth. Today’s podcast redefines sin and evil.
The word, “sin” is cited throughout the New Testament translations and on Sundays from Christian church pulpits around the world. I once bought a long sleeve black crewneck shirt with flames decorating the arms for the day, I might preach a fire and brimstone sermon. Alas, that day never came, and I grew out of that shirt, in the worst way.
The Greek word translated in its many forms as sin is [ἁμαρτία] hamartia (transliteration), which in Greek does not mean sin. Sin wasn’t a concept that the Greeks ever put into words. I don’t imagine they even had a concept of sin so there was no reason to make a word to mean it. They certainly knew love, though, since they had five words to describe ways to experience that.
Hamartia in its various parts of speech means to miss, or express failure or to miss the mark, as in an arrow shot that misses the bullseye. Once we begin to understand the real meaning of hamartia perhaps we can get a better concept of what is really at stake when we humans miss the mark or fail to live up to standards of behavior that has been set by Jesus Christ.
They are seen as mistakes that can be forgiven. Our immortal soul is not at stake if we err or miss the mark. Mistakes can be fixed or, if not fixed then made amends for. In fact, Jesus says that all our failures to miss the mark are forgivable. Only blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable.
One such instance of hamartia and its forgivability as compared to blasphemy which rises to a whole other level of judgement is in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 12 verse 31: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
There is a bigger word and idea than hamartia . The word is big enough to require the word, [μετἁνοια] “metanoia” (transl.) to be its antonym. Metanoia is translated as repent. What it means is turn around or change one’s mind or turn back to. This bigger word is [παραβαινω] “parabaino” (transl.). Its meanings are more about transgressing, deviating from the way, or turning aside from.
You’ll find parabino in the Old Testament in sentences like this one in Exodus, chapter 32 verse 8: “They have been quick to turn away from (parabino) what I commanded them and made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf.”
Another Greek word for “turning away” is [ἀποστρέφω] “apostrepho” (transl.). It’s the word you’ll find in sentences like this one in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5 verse 42: “Give to him who begs from you and do not turn away from him who would borrow from you.” (Unfortunately, some of the translations do not use the appropriate phrase and use another like “do not refuse”.)
It’s inconsistencies of translations that have led us to misunderstand the nature of sin.
If we seek to understand the nature of sin, I suggest it is in this phrase “turn away from”. It is only by turning away from that we can “turn back to”. “Turn back to or “metanoia”—repent.
It was the turning away from God and building an idol that was a sin, that is something God abhors. God does not abhor our mistakes, in the old testament or new. It is the turning away from God that causes us to do evil in the sight of God.
This being the case then there is only one type of sin and it comes in two ways, turning away from God and turning away from the opportunities God sends us – parabino and apostrepho.
A beggar asks for a hand-out. You don’t want to give him something. Do not turn away. Change your mind. See God in this moment. Grasp what God has sent to you. This sentiment plays neatly into one of my favorite understandings of prayer:
Humans are partners with God. The contract we have with God, that is the Testament or Covenant, requires that we have the power to act. You see the adage “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is a truth.
Tyrants are born of power. God may be all powerful, but if God used God’s immeasurable power then God would be a Tyrant. So as not to be a tyrant, God shares the part of God’s power that is the action part. Humans must enact God’s will. But they don’t have to. They have free will. Humans can choose to not enact God’s will. In this way God is saved from tyranny.
Thus, human beings are the agents of God’s response to prayers. Someone prays. God hears. God assigns another to be the answer to that prayer. Circumstances play out whereby the two meet. Will the one assigned to answer the prayer fulfill his or her duty or “turn away”?
The two commandments Jesus gives his disciples confirm this precept. “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” Do not turn away from God or your neighbor.
A man slaps you on the cheek. (In antiquity a man would strike a slave or person of lower rank with the back of his hand. That reflected the contempt of higher rank toward a lower rank person.)
A man slaps you on the cheek. Turn back to him and offer the other one. This is recommended by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5 verse 39. He says, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
In other words, do not turn away from him. Turn back to him. Do not strike him back lest he use his power in self-righteousness to destroy you. Rather offer him your other cheek. If he strikes that then he will do so with the front of his hand and make you his equal by his own action.
Thus the man must face his own character by your simple action of not turning away from him. He will confront his own evil or he will sink into it. But he will now know what he is. This story is in the gospel of Mark. The act of turning the other cheek is an act of rebellion in the guise of peaceful resistance. Mohandas K. Gandhi used this simple Biblical passage to build a movement that overthrew British rule in India.
What is evil [πονηρὰ] “ponaera” (transl.)? I postulate that evil is that force which destroys, degrades, kills, or diminishes. In contrast, good is that force which creates, builds, increases, and nurtures.
There are various lenses by which we understand that which happens around us. These lenses are born by our experiences, our culture, our relationship with God or lack thereof, and other things, I’m sure.
There are various theological lenses by which scholars identify themselves once they recognize the lens in which they come to understand God. One of these identified lenses is Process Theology. Process theologians would agree with my statement of evil. Of course, they would word smith it. That is they would make additions and conditional asides and pound it and shape it into something more sophisticated. But simply put, evil destroys and good creates.
In his book series, “Alvin Maker”, Orson Scott Card, clarifies for the general reader this concept of good and evil. If you really want to wrap your mind around this concept spend some time reading the series. It’s about an alternative American history. It’s a fantasy series.
An interesting insight into this concept of good and evil comes with examining our decisions and their consequences. Those decisions and actions which offer us more choices are good. Those which offer us less choices are evil. Think about your experiences with your decisions and actions and consider if they fit into this model; and if you agree with my conclusions.