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A Sistine Chapel fresco depicts the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden for their sin of eating from the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

In Abrahamic contexts, sin is the act of violating God's will.[1][2][3][4] Sin can also be viewed as anything that violates the ideal relationship between an individual and God; or as any diversion from the ideal order for human living. To sin has been defined as "to miss the mark".[5]

Sins fall in a spectrum from minor errors to deadly misdeeds. Catholicism regards the least corrupt sins as venial sins—which are part of human living and carry immediate consequences on earth, and, if unrepented for, more painful purgation, assuming the person is destined to heaven, as it is written in the formation letter "Purgatory", "most of the early Fathers of the Church speak of a cleansing fire, though we cannot tell whether this means actual or spiritual fire." [6] Conversely, sins of great evil are mortal sins—which bring the consequence of hell if they are not addressed either through an act of perfect contrition or going to confession about them.

Sins of careless living are considered [7] destructive and lead to greater sins. Another concept of sin deals with things that exist on Earth but not in Heaven. Food, for example, while a necessary good for the (health of the temporal) body, is not of (eternal) transcendental living and therefore its excessive savoring is considered a sin.[8]

Many Christians also categorize sin as an inevitable act that was passed down from generation to generation by the common ancestor, Adam.[9] Believers in this doctrine of original sin hold that like a disease, sin is the curse that poisons the heart of every human thereafter; and that every person is completely full of sin and cannot help thinking and acting on it. Romans 3:22-24 states: "This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, / for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, / and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."[10]

History of the Term

The word derives from "Old English syn(n), for original *sunjō... The stem may be related to that of Latin sons, sont-is guilty. In Old English there are examples of the original general sense, ‘offence, wrong-doing, misdeed'".[11] The Biblical terms that have been translated from Greek and Hebrew as “sin” or "syn" originate in archery and literally refer to missing the "gold" at the centre of a target, but hitting the target, i.e. error.[12] In archery, not hitting the target at all is referred to as a "miss".



In the Bahá'í Faith, humans are considered naturally good (perfect), fundamentally spiritual beings. Human beings were created because of God's immeasurable love. However, the Bahá'í teachings compare the human heart to a mirror, which, if turned away from the light of the sun (i.e. God), is incapable of receiving God's love.


Buddhism does not recognize the idea behind sin, but believes in the principle of karma, whereby suffering is the inevitable consequence of greed, anger, and delusion (known as the Three poisons).[13] While there is no direct Buddhist equivalent of the Abrahamic concept of sin, wrongdoing is recognized in Buddhism. The concept of Buddhist ethics is consequentialist in nature and is not based upon duty towards any deity. Karma is the direct result of the intention. Action is secondary. Karma whether good or bad is performed with Mind, Body and words would bring pleasant or unpleasant results. Defilement in mind cause the Karma and Karma defiles the being. One needs to purify his being with Four Satipatthanas to free oneself from the viscous circle. The purification reduces suffering and in the end one reaches Nibbana, the ultimate purification. An enlightened being is free of all the suffering and karmas. He would never be born again.


In Western Christianity, sin is believed to alienate the sinner from God even though He has extreme love for men. It has damaged, and completely severed, the relationship of humanity to God. That relationship can only be restored through acceptance of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for humanity's sin. Humanity was destined for life with God when Adam disobeyed God. The Bible in John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son, so that whoever believes will not perish, but have everlasting life."

In Eastern Christianity, sin is viewed in terms of its effects on relationships, both among people and between people and God. Sin is seen as the refusal to follow God's plan, and the desire to be "like God" (Genesis 3:5) and thus in direct opposition to God's will.

Original sin is a Western concept that states that sin entered the human world through Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden, and that human beings have since lived with the consequences of this first sin.[14]

One concept of sin deals with things that exist on Earth, but not in Heaven. Food, for example, while a necessary good for the (health of the temporal) body, is not of eternal) transcendental living and therefore its excessive savoring is considered a sin.[8] The unforgivable sin (or eternal sin) is a sin that can never be forgiven. Matthew 12 30-32 : “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

In Catholic Christianity sins are classified into grave sins called mortal sins and pardonable sins called venial sin. Grave sins cause one to lose heaven unless the sinner repents and pardonable sins require some sort of penance either on Earth or in Purgatory.[15]

Jesus was said to have paid double for the complete mass of sins past, present, and to come in future. Even inevitable sin from our weakness has already been cleansed.

The Lamb of God was and is God Himself and therefore sinless. In the Old Testament, Leviticus (Specifically, 16:21) states that ‘the laying on of hands’ was the action that the High Priest Aaron was ordered to do yearly by God to take sins of Israel's nation onto a spotless young lamb.


In Hinduism, the term sin (dhanb, thanb ذنب) in Sanskrit) is often used to describe actions that create negative karma by violating moral and ethical codes, which automatically brings negative consequences. This is similar to Abrahamic sin in the sense that pāpa is considered a crime against the laws of God, which is known as (1) Dharma, or moral order, and (2) one's own self, but another term apradha is used for grave offenses.


Muslims see sin (dhanb, thanb ذنب) as anything that goes against the commands of God (Allah). Islam teaches that sin is an act and not a state of being. The Qur'an teaches that "the soul is certainly prone to evil, unless the Lord does bestow His Mercy" and that even the prophets do not absolve themselves of the blame.(Quran 12:53) It is believed that Iblis (Satan) has a significant role in tempting humankind towards sin.

In Islam, there are several gradations of sin:

  • sayyia, khatia: mistakes (Suras 7:168; 17:31; 40:45; 47:19 48:2)
  • itada, junah, dhanb: immorality (Suras 2:190,229; 17:17 33:55)
  • haraam: transgressions (Suras 5:4; 6:146)
  • ithm, dhulam, fujur, su, fasad, fisk, kufr: wickedness and depravity (Suras 2:99, 205; 4:50, 112, 123, 136; 12:79; 38:62; 82:14)
  • shirk: ascribing a partner to God; idolatry and polytheism (Sura 4:48)

One may sincerely repent to God for the wrongs committed and seek forgiveness, as stated in the Quran, "Our Lord! Forgive us our sins, remove from us our iniquities, and take to Yourself our souls in the company of the righteous." (Al-Imran.193/ 3.193).

"Say O my slaves who have transgressed against their own souls despair not of the mercy of God, verily He forgives all sins, verily He is the oft-forgiving, most merciful." (Al-Zumar)


Judaism regards the violation of any of the 613 commandments as a sin. Judaism teaches that sin is an act, but one has an inclination to do evil "from his youth".(Genesis 8:21 HE) Sin furthermore has many classifications and degrees. Some sins are punishable with death by the court, others with death by heaven, others with lashes, and others without such punishment, but not without consequence. Sins can also be by error and negligence or with willful intent. When the Temple yet stood in Jerusalem, people would offer sacrifices for their misdeeds. With some exceptions, sin offerings were brought for a sin punishable by death when done with willful intent, but committed by mistake.

All sin has a consequence. The righteous suffer their sins in this world and receive their reward in the world to come. The wicked cannot correct their sins in this world and hence do not suffer them here, but in gehinom (hell). If they have not become completely corrupted, they repent in hell and thereafter join the righteous. The very evil do not repent even at the gates of hell. Such people prosper in this world to receive their reward for any good deed, but cannot be cleansed by and hence cannot leave gehinom, because they don't or can't repent. This world can therefore seem unjust where the righteous suffer, while the wicked prosper. Many great thinkers have contemplated this, but God's justice is long, precise and just.


Evil deeds fall into two categories in Shinto: amatsu tsumi, "the most pernicious crimes of all", and kunitsu tsumi, "more commonly called misdemeanors".[16]

Notes and References

  1. Action and Person: Conscience in Late Scholasticism and the Young Luther Michael G. Baylor - 1977, "defined sin, in an objective sense, as contempt of god" page 27
  2. The Theology of the Oral Torah: Revealing the Justice of God Jacob Neusner - 1999, Page 523
  3. The fall to violence: original sin in relational theology Marjorie Suchocki - 1994 Page 29
  4. Five Views on Sanctification - page 188, Melvin Easterday Dieter, Stanley N. Gundry - 1996 "The other is 'deliberate violation of God's known will"
  5. Augustine eventually (after the Pelagian controversy) defined sin as a hardened heart, a loss of love for God, a disposition of the heart to depart from God because of inordinate self-love (see Augustine On Grace and Free Will in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, trans. P. Holmes, vol. 5, 30-31 [14-15]).
  6. [1]
  7. http://www.holyspiritinteractive.net/features/thesevendeadlysins/thesevendeadlysins.asp
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hanegraaff, Hank. The Bible Answer Book pp. 18-21. ISBN 0-8499-9544-2
  9. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11312a.htm#I
  10. Holy Bible, New International Version, Romans 3:22-24
  11. "Home : Oxford English Dictionary". Oed.com. http://oed.com/view/Entry/180030?isAdvanced=false&result=1&rskey=9Bb3P3&. 
  12. Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. Vintage Books: New York, 1989. p. 123.
  13. Soka Gakkai Dictionary of Buddhism, Soka Gakkai, "Three Poisons": "Greed, anger, and foolishness. The fundamental evils inherent in life that give rise to human suffering."
  14. "Catholic Encyclopedia: Original Sin". Newadvent.org. 1911-02-01. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11312a.htm. 
  15. Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1472.
  16. The Essence of Shinto: The Spiritual Heart of Japan by Motohisa Yamakage


  • Fredriksen, Paula. Sin: The Early History of an Idea. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-691-12890-0.
  • Granoff; P E ; Shinohara, Koichi; eds. (2012), Sins and Sinners: Perspectives from Asian Religions. Brill. ISBN 9004229469.
  • Hein, David. "Regrets Only: A Theology of Remorse." The Anglican 33, no. 4 (October 2004): 5–6.
  • Lewis, C.S. "Miserable Offenders": an Interpretation of [sinfulness and] Prayer Book Language [about it], in series, The Advent Papers. Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement Publications, [196-].
  • Pieper, Josef. The Concept of Sin. Edward T. Oakes SJ (translation from German). South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine's Press, 2001. ISBN 1-890318-08-6
  • Schumacher, Meinolf. Sündenschmutz und Herzensreinheit: Studien zur Metaphorik der Sünde in lateinischer und deutscher Literatur des Mittelalters. Munich: Fink, 1996.

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