Sin and Sin-Offering
"Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him" -
2nd Corinthians 5.21, R.V.
"God, sending his own son in the likeness of flesh of sin and as an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh"-Romans 8.3,R.V. & mg.
Of all the lesser emendations made by the revisers of the New Testament, none is more acceptable than that of Rom. 8.3. In this short passage are included the doctrines that sin is a constituent of the fleshly organization ; that our Lord was constituted as to his physical nature in this likeness (cp 1 Cor. 15.49) ; that he was sacrificed as a sin-offering, and that since this sacrifice was of a Holy One, who did no sin yet "died unto sin" (Rom.6.10), sin became condemned in human nature and so could be taken away from it - in the person of the risen Saviour - with full satisfaction to the justice of God.
Some translators and expositors have not shown the same wisdom and knowledge as the revisers, but have allowed themselves to insert "sin-offering" in quite a number of passages where the original does not warrant it. Before we give examples we will show upon what their action is based.
We are given to understand that "sin" and "sin-offering" are the same in the Hebrew of the Old Testament. These translators, therefore, assume that the same rule applies to the Greek of the N.T., hence their errors.
The Greek for "sin" in these cases is hamartia. The translators of the Septuagint, faced with the need to render clearly in Greek what might be doubtful if translated literally, used the phrase peri hamartias (concerning sin) to indicate "sin-offering". Consequently, where they did not use this phrase, but rendered the Hebrew by hamartia, they made it clear that in such passages "sin" was meant. One is sometimes directed to Hosea 4.8, as being a place where "sin" means "sin-offering", but the R.V., supported by the LXX, makes it plain enough that the priests "fed on the sin of the people", i.e., they made sins a source of profit, like the Roman Church.
The attempt, then, to force upon hamartia a meaning which it will not bear is to be condemned, and the consequent endeavour to force unwarranted meanings on texts of scripture is to be resisted. Examples are :- Heb.9.28 R.V., "Apart from sin", wrongly rendered in Young's translation, "Apart from a sin-offering", and the first verse at the head of this article.
The force of the latter passage lies in the antithesis between sin and righteousness ; that Jesus was, though sinless, constituted of our sinful nature in order that we, through him, might become "partakers of the divine nature" : the erroneous rendering, "made a sin-offering" (Emphatic Diaglott, etc.), obscures the antithesis and weakens the passage as a testimony to our Lord's nature.
It is hoped that these remarks may assist in right understanding of the Word of Truth.
W.J.Y. November 10th, 1913. The above article appeared in 'The Christadelphian' December 1913 page 531.
An article with the above title in 'The Christadelphian' for December 1913, has aroused criticism from certain who hold the "clean-flesh theory" of the nature of the Lord Jesus. That article condemns their translation of hamartia in selected passages of the New Testament by "Sin-offering" ; it states that thus to render the Greek word is to force on it a meaning it will not bear, and results in foisting an unwarrantable meaning on such texts as 2 Cor. v. 21, and Heb. ix. 28 ; that the correct Greek equivalent for "Sin-offering" in the New Testament is peri hamartias, and that the phrase is derived from the Septuagint (briefly "the lxx."), which uses it as the Greek translation of the Hebrew word for Sin when that word signifies, as it also does, "Sin-offering." The critic strenuously antagonises these views and invokes a number of "authorities" to his aid. Perhaps a brief rejoinder may not be out of place.
To begin with, some of these "authorities" deal with the meaning of the Hebrew, which is not in dispute, and has nothing to do with the matter. We will, therefore, not waste any space over these. But others say that the Greek word hamartia alone means not only Sin, but also Sin-offering. Parkhurst, Bullinger, and Cremer amongst the theological lexicographers, Cruden and Stewart of the commentators, Robert Young and Benjamin Wilson from the translators, are all against us. Well, we know enough of commentators to regard their views as of little or no weight ; as to lexicographers, the lexicon which, perhaps alone, in English commands universal respect is "Liddell and Scott", and it knows of no such meaning as "Sin-offering" for hamartia ; whilst as for translators, it should be enough to point out that the Revisers of the New Testament, with all their ecclesiastical bias, with all the support of various translators, commentators, and lexicographers, have not in one single instance rendered hamartia "Sin-offering". This is one of those "mountain facts" which are not to be removed by any amount of faith in translators and others with doctrinal axes to grind.
Another was appealed to about the meaning of peri hamartias. Far more satisfactory would it have been if my critic had asked his "undoubted Greek scholar" : "Were the Revisers right or were they wrong in rendering this phrase 'offering ( or sacrifices) for sin' in Romans viii. 3, and in Heb. x. 6 , 8" ? For myself, I much prefer to trust the "undoubted Greek scholars" of the Revision Committee when they give us a translation which tends to tell against their own theological views. We may also add here that the "Handbook to New Testament Grammar", published by the Religious Tract Society, which cannot be accused of bias towards Christadelphian doctrine, says definitely, "peri hamartias...is Sin-offering".
The greatest effort of criticism is directed against my statement that the lxx. renders the Hebrew word by hamartia, when it means Sin, and by peri hamartias when it means Sin-offering, and the critic cites authorities and passages to prove that hamartia is used for both in precisely the same way as the Hebrew word. Let us see.
"Sin-offering" is represented some 55 times in the lxx. ; we are justified, therefore, in expecting, if hamartia alone is sufficient and adequate to translate the Hebrew word when it means "Sin-offering", to find it frequently, if not almost invariably, so doing. The truth is, that even if the reading can be trusted, and it is not altogether beyond doubt, hamartia is found only twice in Lev. iv. 21, 24 ; twice more in the next chapter with the genitive hamartias as alternative reading, and once, in Exod. xxix. 14, the genitive occurs unquestioned -- more about these later. In the meantime, to establish beyond cavil our own contention, we can point to over two score instances, scattered through Lev., Numb., 2 Chron., Ezra, Psalms, Isaiah, and Ezek. of the use of peri hamartias to translate the Hebrew when "Sin-offering" is meant. To vary the application of a sentence of my critic, "We can see where the New Testament got the expression" ; in point of fact the very phrase itself is quoted by the apostle in Heb. x. 6, 8, from the lxx. of Ps. xl. 6.
But if the lxx. uses the word hamartia at all for "Sin-offering", does not that alone dispose of our contention? Not so ; it most strongly confirms it by showing how the translators in their desire to be literal essayed to make this word serve a double purpose* despite the fact of it having no such meaning as "Sin-offering" amongst the Greeks themselves (see "Liddell and Scott"), but quickly realised that to do so was to force their own Hebrew idiom on another language, an idiom which it could not tolerate. Had the lxx. translators been satisfied that hamartia alone was adequate to signify "Sin-offering" they would not, we may be quite sure, have used it so very rarely (if, indeed, they used it at all), and then have dropped it altogether.
*But even then only in places where the real meaning could not possibly be mistaken, or where ambiguity did not matter.
Allusion has been made to the genitive as though it conveyed a difference in meaning from the nominative hamartia, and so it does ; in the passages referred to it marks as much difference as exists between "it is John" and "it is John's". Now, whereas in Lev. iv. 24, the lxx. reads when rendered literally into English "it is Sin", in the cases where the genitive occurs it means "it is (something) in respect of Sin", that is as is shown by the context, "it is a Sin-offering", truly a distinction with a mighty difference, and undeniable. But even thus the translators seem to have recognised the weakness and imperfection, to say the least, of this rendering, for after being used only three times it was abandoned for the unmistakable and idiomatic phrase peri hamartias, and its slight variants.
My critic quotes Cremer against us on Lev. vi. 25 : if he had looked up the passage for himself, he would have found that it gives the very phrase for which we are contending, and anyone who knows anything of Greek idiom will notice here the demonstration that peri hamartias is constituted a definite technical phrase to represent "Sin-offering", since it is preceded by the article. One's attention is also invited to Lev. iv. 25, as an example of the use of hamartia alone for "Sin-offering", and here again we find things other than as represented, for the phrase is tou tes hamartias, which means "of the thing in respect of Sin", once more, of course, "of the Sin-offering". An abundance of examples of such a construction is found in the scriptures. There is nothing in it to bolster up the notion that hamartia means "Sin-offering", but much to the contrary.
Even were we snowed under with "authorities" the iron truth would remain as stated ; hamartia means "Sin", and cannot be rendered "Sin-offering" without doing it violence. The lxx. recognised this truth, and therefore introduced and used in over forty places the phrase peri hamartias, as the technical equivalent in Greek for the Hebrew word when it meant Sin-offering, in order to avoid all obscurity or ambiguity. We may be certain also that the inspired writers of the New Testament would not be less clear in marking such an important difference in meaning. And now these various expositors and one-time fellow labourers want to turn back to obscurity and ambiguity, that by so doing they may gain some semblance of support for their views on the nature of the Lord Jesus in the days of his flesh. As we have already remarked, all such endeavours to foist unwarranted meanings on texts of scripture are to be resisted.
W.J.Y. February 15th, 1915. The above article appeared in 'The Christadelphian' March 1915 pages 106/107.
NOTE: The "modern" variety of "clean flesh" is far more subtle than the older version rebutted above (as indicated elsewhere in the following words - "Earlier forms of this heresy have been largely rejected, and current errorists favor the above book, because it uses all the abilities of the serpent mind to deceive. Its current proponents do not perceive that their adoption of its serpentine reasoning signals the final victory of error in their midst" - 'resolution'). Many current errorists will generally verbally accept the correct translations set forth in the articles on this page, but will still persist in denying that the designation of 'sin' ('hamartia') to our condemned "sinful flesh" endorses the truth of the Sacrifice of Christ set forth in page 1. And thus they deny that even though He did not sin, Jesus Christ needed salvation through sacrifice and resurrection in common with those whom He came to save. The errorists pay lip-service to "a representative offering", but by their denial of the above essential truth, in actual fact they deny it. In doing so, they destroy the efficacy of the Sacrifice of Christ, both for themselves and also for those who follow them. Do not be ensnared in this disaster, because such a heresy cannot save anyone who adopts it - & concerning the subtilty of error & its consequences link to 'proverbs'- pages 2 & 3.
page 1 (sacrifice)
page 3 (a time to heal)