There is a difference, and it’s important. Jim breaks it out in this recently released volume of JimTalks.
In Jim’s own words, “Sin came to my attention first when I was reading when Moses was up on the mountain with God. He asked if he could see God pass by and God put him in that little cleft in the rock. And as they were talking Moses made the point that God was merciful to our transgressions, sins and iniquities. To him they were very different concepts.”
“At that point in my own Christian life I hadn’t thought there was any difference between them. They were three words that meant the same thing; but it got me curious why Moses would mention the three things separately. So I looked up all the scriptures related to those words and that is why we have more than 8 hours of talking on iniquity in volume 30! And while they all indicate something wrong with us, they are really quite different.”
Transgressions involve a command or a law. “Without the law there is no transgression.” If the law says you should go 35 and you go 37 that is a transgression. Had there been no law you could go 37 with no problem. If the law says “thou shalt stop at this corner,” there is a red stop sign. If you don’t stop that is also a transgression because the law says you should stop and you didn’t. If there was no sign, there would be no transgression. Understanding that one is the easiest.
Sin in both the Old and New Testament is an archery term. In the New Testament Greek it simply means you missed the mark. You can miss the target in any number of different ways: too high, too low, to the side, fall short of the target, shoot past the target—just all kinds of ways you can miss the target. The archery term literally means that your arrow did not reach as far as it needed to.
That is why Paul said, when he was trying to make it clear to Greek speakers, that “all have sinned and missed the mark and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 It is a very specific kind of falling short of what you were asked to do…for instance God asks you to love those that hate you and be merciful to your enemies. But, often when you find your enemies you just want to pound their noses—that is falling short of what you should be doing.
Iniquity is a more difficult concept. With transgression you clearly have a choice: you stop or you don’t stop. You follow the law or you don’t follow the law. With sin, you might give it your best shot and still not make it as far as God wants you to go. With sin you are trying but simply are not making it.
Iniquity is a word that means something is deformed; it is a deformity. There is something not right about you.
The interesting thing is that in the New Testament, the Greek does not appear to have any direct corresponding word for that, just like there is not a corresponding word for sin. They are close, but iniquity is even more difficult. Usually in the passages in the Old Testament whenever the word used is translated “iniquity,” the New Testament talks about “weaknesses.” Often that is translated into English as infirmities or weaknesses.
Leprosy is an iniquity in the skin; it is a weakness in the skin. Blindness is an iniquity in the eyes. If your friend tries to pass a kidney stone and his legs swell up and things were not running they way they should…some of those things are just deformities. There is nothing he can do about it. There is no way he can change that by willing harder or just obeying. He is dealing with some things about himself that are not the way they are supposed to be.
Physically that is okay. Christians don’t have trouble saying, “my back is out” or “my left leg is too short,” or “my eyesight is deformed or I have other kinds of deformities.” When they become deformities of character or personality or even deformities in outlook on the world—those are the ones that are much more insidious.
It is in that context that I want to suggest that our society’s outlook on sexuality is pretty deformed and culture is actively in the process of helping deform it even more.
Women in South America have the idea that they have to look a certain way or they won’t be lovable. They believe it. They can look at their bodies and find out what is wrong with them, from their point of view that makes them unlovable. But that is not the way it was supposed to be—that is an iniquity, a deformity in outlook. Their concept of who they are has been misshaped in some way. And, South America does not have the corner on that.
This lays a foundation for what iniquity means in the development of sexual predator impulses for men and women. Most readers would probably think the term “predator” only applies to people who are in San Quentin. However, predatory impulses are not a rare and strange thing that happens to just a few people. Everyone is wired with sexual predator impulses; that is normal and automatic; it’s easy to do. No brains required. Anyone can feel this reaction.
Next week we will delve more into those predator instincts that seem to be the baseline wiring of our species! Chris and I hope that making plain the differences between sin, transgression and iniquity is helpful.
May your joy be full!
Chris & Carol,
Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer, www.thrivetoday.org
Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive www.fromgodsheart.com
This post was developed from a talk by Dr. Jim Wilder for Pastor’s Weekly, Oct. 31, 2013