Aug 7, 2012

He Cannot Sin II

Trench wrote (emphasis mine):

"Nowhere in classical Greek do hamartia and hamartanein (G264) have the depth of meaning they have acquired in revealed religion. They run the same course there that all ethical terms seem to have run. Employed first about natural things, hamartia and hamartanein were then applied to the moral or spiritual realm. Initially hamartanein meant to miss a mark and was the exact opposite of tychein (G5177). Thus over and over in Homer we read of the warrior hamartei, who hurls his spear but who fails to strike his foe. Ton hodon hamartanein is to miss one's way. Next, hamartia was applied to the intellectual realm. Thus we read of the poet hamartanei, who selects a subject that is impossible to treat poetically or who seeks results that lie beyond the limits of his art. Hamartia constantly is contrasted with orthotes. Hamartia is so far removed from any necessary ethical significance that Aristotle sometimes (if not always) withdrew it from the realm of right and wrong. The hamartia is a mistake (perhaps a fearful one), like that of Oedipus, but nothing more. Elsewhere, however, hamartia can be as close in meaning to our use of sin as any word used in heathen ethics."   (Trench's New Testament Synonyms)

It is not denied that hamartia, like other words taken from the Greek language, was given an expanded definition by the new testament writers.  Their expanded definition included the concept of guilt and transgression of divine law.  Formerly, it only denoted weakness and ignorance without any emphasis on guilt, fault, and transgression.  The new testament writers, in expanding the definition, did not take away from hamartia its original ideas of tragic flaw and failure, but merely added to it.

Hamartia is viewed as a moral weakness by the new testament writers, but they saw it as resulting from depravity of nature, alienation from God, and to which blame was attached.  No man was innocent of his own harmartia.  All were responsible and accountable for their own tragic character flaws and for the death and downfall that results from it. 

Hamartia was also a moral ignorance, but it was much more.  It was willful foolishness and blindness.  The new testament or Christian definition did not take away the original meaning of weakness or flaw in character that brings downfall.  The new testament writers saw that sinful acts are but the result of an inner sinful state of the heart.  A man does evil because he is evil. 

The apostles, in their writings, never take away the Greek idea of moral failure from hamartia, and its connotation of tragic downfall, but even have it in mind in certain passages on hamartia, as we have seen already in John's saying that those who are born of God "cannot sin." 

"For all have sinned (hamartanō), and come short (hystereō) of the glory of God..."  (Rom. 3: 23)

This verse helps to explain the meaning of hamartia.  It means to miss the mark, not to achieve the end goal, to fail in purpose.  It was used in a physical sense of an archer failing to hit the mark.  So we read that there were 700 left handed Israelites who "could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss."  (Judges 20: 16) The Septuagint has the Greek word "hamartia" for "miss." 

Those who are "born of God," testified the Apostle John, "cannot miss the mark," or "cannot fail of the goal."  The words "come short" denotes much the same thing as "miss the mark."  So, using these definitions, we may say that those who are born of God "cannot come short" of salvation and the glory of God in Christ.  None of the born again will miss the chief end.  Lessor goals they often miss, but not the greater. 

Thus, hamartia was also used of failing in an ethical or moral sense.  It is true that every act of disobedience to God is a missing of the mark.  Every child of God that has ever been saved has lived a life where he did not always hit the mark as regards daily goals and activities, yet who did not miss the ultimate mark of winning Christ.  They have all "fallen short" of achieving perfection in this life, (though they all achieve perfection in the world to come through Christ).  So, the divine record testifies in these words.

"For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not."  (Eccl. 7: 20)  "Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity. Selah."  (Psa. 39: 5)  Christians are charged to "lay aside...the sin (hamartia) that does so easily beset us."  (Heb. 12: 1)  Paul said - "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.  Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin (hamartia) that dwelleth in me."  (Rom. 7: 19, 20)

It can be said that "hamartia," as used by the Apostle John, was used sometimes in one sense, and sometimes in another sense.  Paul does the same thing in his Roman epistle. 

"Sin" sometimes refers to an act of transgression, or disobedience, but sometimes refers to the evil principle residing in the "flesh" (sarx), or in the depraved nature, and which is the source of all actual transgression.  John sometimes spoke of "sin" with the definite article (articular), "the sin," and sometimes without it (anarthrous), simply "sin."  That John does not uniformly use hamartia in exactly the same sense may be seen further from the fact that he says there is "harmartia leading to death" and there is "hamartia not leading to death."  (5: 16-18) 

From this we may wonder what kind of "sin" John had in mind in previous chapters and verses in his epistle when he speaks of "sin" (singular) and "sins" (plural).  Is it all sin, sins in toto, including both that which is unto death and that which is not?  Or, is it sin unto death only or sin not unto death only?

Since hamartia may focus on the cause of downfall and moral failure, it denotes fatal character flaw or moral defect.  All men come into this world with a depraved nature.  (Rom. 5:12-19)  Thus, "if we say we have no hamartia" may be translated as - "if we say we have no moral defect."  Or, "if we say we have no inward evil principle that is the source of all our evil actions."  But, this is exactly what the Pelagians affirm.  They deny that all men have a natural moral defect or principle of sin within their inner being. 

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."  (1: 8)

Or, "If we say we have no fatal character flaws, no internal depravity," or "If we say we have no failure in our efforts to find peace with God." 

"The truth is not in us" may denote not only that the Gospel truth about Christ is not in us, but that "the reality" (aletheia) of salvation is not in us. Surely John's purpose in these words are to furnish a way for testing a Christian's profession, or what he "says" religiously. 

One of John's purposes in writing is to identify the "liars," distinguishing them from those who are "true," those who are real believers, truly born of God. There are professing Christians who are "liars," hypocrites who the Apostle says are "deceived." And, what is it that is false and deceptive about them? What is it that they are "deceived" about? Is it not in regard to their status as divinely begotten children of God as well as to the truth and reality of their faith in the divine revelation? They are liars, lying to themselves and to others, and therefore they have no "right to become the sons of God," (John 1: 11, 12) or right to be "called" (truly designated as) the "children of God."  (Rom. 9: 26)  John, in the Apocalypse, said  that "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."  (Rev. 21: 8)  They who are truly born again are they who characteristically "do his commandments" and therefore "have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city."  (Rev. 22: 14)

Jesus spoke of the impossibility of the "elect" being "deceived."  (Matt. 24: 24)  Once they have genuinely trusted Christ and committed themselves to him with honest and sincere hearts, they form a bond of union with him that is unbreakable.  What they "heard" and "learned" of the Father (John 6: 44, 45) cannot be forgotten or lost from memory and experience.  What is heard and learned by the Father is called "revelation" and concerns the person and work of Christ.  (Matt. 16: 16-18)  Once a person becomes a "true believer," he can never become an unbeliever.  Once convinced, always convinced.  Once trusted and committed, always trusted and committed.  That does not mean that he has no unbelief at all, for he does not always have the degree of faith in the promises of God as he should have, and as he desires to have.  If he had perfect faith, he could work miracles.  Most worry, if not all, results from the sin of unbelief.  It reveals lack of faith in God and in his word.  But, though this degree and kind of unbelief exists in the daily lives of children of God, it is not of the kind of unbelief that denies Christ and the Gospel. 

John does not use the plural form "sins" in the above verse, but the singular without the article.  "If we say we have no hamartia, no character flaws that lead to tragic ruin..."  John will go on to say - "let us confess our sins" (plural), by which he seems to be focusing on the acts of the tragic hero in succumbing to his defect.  It is because of "sin" that there are "sins."  John thus does not seem to be referring to any particular act of moral failure, but to the principle of moral failure that men are born with. 

John sees that acts of transgression, unrighteousness, disobedience and lawlessness as symptoms of the moral disease that infects man's character.  When the definite article is absent in the Greek, one should not assume to add the indefinite article "a."  When the noun is anarthrous the writer is emphasizing the quality and character of the person or thing referred to in the context. 

The Apostle Paul also often spoke of "sin" (hamartia or hamartano) without the article.  In such instances he speaks of the state or condtion of non-conformity to God and his law.  In these instances Paul uses "hamartia" to denote much the same thing as when he speaks of the "sarx" (flesh).  Paul said that "hamartia" is "in the flesh," where "dwells no good thing."  (Rom. 7: 18)  And, "it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me."  (vs. 20)  Acts of sin do not "dwell" within a person.  The indwelling principle of sin is also called "lust" (epithumia) and "ungodliness" (asebeia).  We can distinguish between the actual missing of the mark and the reasons/causes of one's missing it.  Both are examples of hamartia though the focus is different.

Christians can never be as good as they want to be.   Thus, Paul wrote these words:

"For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."  (Gal. 5: 17)

"For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I...For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."  (Rom. 7: 15, 19)

Paul argues that the Christian cannot do and be the person he wants to be because of the presence of the lusting flesh.  Every Christian confesses that he is not as good and holy as he wants to be.  Paul would seem to overthrow the idea that Christians can and do live without sin.  Paul says that Christians "cannot do the things you would," meaning "cannot do the things you want to do."  In this life no Christian can be the kind of person that he wants to be, and he knows it, and grieves over it.  And, he knows that his achieving the goal, or hitting the ultimate mark, does not require perfect obedience to the laws of God.  He knows that his salvation is secured not on the basis of his own obedience to law but to the righteousness of Christ put to his account.

Not only does the presence of "the flesh," with its "lust" for what is evil and wrong, prevent the Christian from "being all you can be," but the presence of "the spirit" prevents the flesh from doing the things that it wants to do. 

"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death."  (James 1: 13-15)

James focuses on the causes and effects of hamartia.  The causes of sin (hamartia) he ascribes to "lust" and to "temptation" (which he seems to equate with being "enticed"), one external and one internal.  Paul and John seem to have used "sin" in the sense in which James here uses "lust" (concupiscence).  This is because James is focusing on simple acts of sin, on symptomatic sins, and views sin as act, as transgression, as doing what is forbidden.  James is not denying that "lust" is itself sin, or evil.  Though John and Paul spoke of "sin" (anarthrous) as being what resides in a man and what is equated with his "flesh" or sinful nature, James focuses on sin as lawless and ungodly act.  The sin of lust brings forth the sin of act.

Still, James does seem to retain the primitive Greek idea of "fatality" in its idea of hamartia by saying that "sin, when it is finished, brings forth death."  John also spoke of "sin unto death."  So too did the Apostle Paul when he said "the wages of sin (hamartia) is death."  (Rom. 6: 23)  "Unto death" corresponds with the Greek idea of tragic downfall. 

The idea is not that a sinner dies every time he transgresses, as some want to interpret the passage.  How can a man die when he is already dead?  But, all the sins that a spiritually dead man commits is yet in some sense "unto death."  It cannot mean "unto spiritual death" for this would limt sins unto death to the very first sin that brought death.  All other subsequent acts of sin could not therefore be "unto death" in that sense.  But, the Scriptures say that all an unbeliever's sins are "unto death," meaning that they point in the direction of and lead one to eternal death in the Lake of Fire, which is the "second death."  (Rev. 20: 14) 

James did say this about hamartia.

"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."  (James 4: 17)

Missing the mark and coming short of salvation is evidenced not only in what men do, but in what they do not do.  There are sins of omission as well as commission.  This is seen in the ten commandments where there is "you shall not" as well as "you shall." 

What person does not know that he has failed to be the kind of person he ought to be?  What person has not said "I should have done" this or that?  What "good" has a man aimed at and yet fell short of the goal?  So many "resolutions" to do and be better that met with failure! 

What is the ultimate "good"?  Is it not "to be found in him" and declared righteous?  To win the prize of eternal life?  Hamartia is to miss the very point of life.

Paul said - "...for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."  (Rom. 14: 23)

Elsewhere Paul said that "the love of money is the root of all evil" (I Tim. 6: 10) and yet here he seems to say that unbelief is the root of all sin.  No doubt this is why Solomon said - "...the plowing of the wicked, is sin."  (Prov. 21: 4)  It is sin because it is not done out of faith, or with the right motive and reason.

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