The pictorial power of the Hebrew language,” writes one Hebrew authority, “is seldom exhibited more clearly than in connection with the various aspects of evil.” Of the four main words that indicate sin in the Hebrew, chātā’ (H2398) is used most often and means “to miss the mark.” It is used in this literal sense, for example, in Jdg_20:16, where Benjamin’s 700 left-handed slingers “could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss.” It also refers to breaking civil law (Gen_40:1, “offended”).
Human failure and sin, however, are the prominent focus of chātā’. Sin, therefore, means “missing the mark.” Which mark? God’s mark, the mark He sets as the standard, namely, His righteousness and commands. Just as an archer sets his sights on a specific target, it is God’s righteousness at which we “shoot” our arrows, but miss every time.
It is extremely significant that the Septuagint translates chātā’ using the Greek hamartanō (G264), which also means “to miss the mark.” The pivotal NT verse, of course, is Rom_3:23 : “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Again, what is the mark for which we shoot? The glory of God, which includes His righteousness and perfection but we always miss, whether deliberately or unintentionally. As Paul wrote earlier, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom_3:10, paraphrasing Psa_14:3).
If there is one doctrine that has been diluted by modern thought, it is most certainly the doctrine of sin. Opinions vary from “a low self-esteem” and “psychological self-abuse” to simply “felt needs” and personal problems. Even worse, while the word sin, along with its other forms (sins, sinner, sinners, sinful), appears some 900 times in Scripture, many “preachers” refuse to even mention the term. When asked in a television interview about the gospel, one popular leader (who proudly never preaches on sin) said, “To me good news is letting people know that God loves them, Jesus came, that we can overcome any obstacle, that we can be forgiven for our mistakes. I don’t see how beating people down [apparently by preaching about sin] . . . helps them grow closer to God.”
That, however, is not the gospel, as we will see. Oh, how we need to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jud_1:3).
Scriptures for Study: Compare Rom_3:10-18 with the following OT passages, from which Paul either quotes or paraphrases: Psa_5:9; Psa_10:7; Psa_14:1-3; Psa_36:1; Psa_140:3; Isa_59:7-8. His indictment of the Jews has the authority of Scripture behind it.