So, I have a question for you:
Are HaShem’s people allowed to sin? If they do sin, is there a punishment for their sin?
I would like to explore the issue of sin in greater detail. Strong’s defines the Hebrew word for sin as:
2403 chatta’ah, khat-taw-aw’; or chatta’th, khat-tawth’; from 2398; an offense (sometimes habitual sinfulness), and its penalty, occasion, sacrifice, or explanation; also (concr.) an offender:-punishment (of sin), purifying (-fication of sin), sin (-ner, offering).
--------------- Dictionary Trace -----------------
2398 chata’, khaw-taw’; a prim. root; prop. to miss; hence (fig. and gen.) to sin; by infer. to forfeit, lack, expiate, repent, (causat.) lead astray, condemn:-bear the blame, cleanse, commit [sin], by fault, harm he hath done, loss, miss, (make) offend (-er), offer for sin, purge, purify (self), make reconciliation, (cause, make) sin (-ful, -ness), trespass.
The first use of sin (chatta’ah) is found in:
Bereshit (Genesis) 4:3-7 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to HaShem. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. HaShem looked with favor on Abel and his offering, But on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then HaShem said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
So, shortly after Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, Cain is warned that he will sin if he does not do what is right. This, in my mind, presumes that he knows what is right. Since we are 2500 years before Sinai, HaShem must have communicated His laws to man even though that communication is not recorded in the TaNaK.
Israel’s first king, Saul, defined sin for us in:
Shmuel (Samuel) 15:1-3 Shmuel (Samuel) said to Saul, “I
am the one HaShem sent to
anoint you king over his people
I Shmuel (Samuel) 15:24-25 Then Saul said to Shmuel (Samuel), “I have sinned. I violated HaShem’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship HaShem.”
9:8-11 O Lord, we and our kings, our
princes and our fathers are covered with shame
because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving,
even though we have rebelled against him; We have not obeyed HaShem our God or kept the laws
he gave us through his servants the prophets. All
Yaaqov (James) 2:8-10 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
James is acknowledging that the law is more than the letter. He calls “favoritism” sin. So, we sin if we do not also keep the spirit of the law. The word he uses for “law” is “nomos” which is the ordinary way of referring to the law of Moses. To further belabor the point: John defined sin as:
So, sin is defined as being disobedient to HaShem, whether He delivered His command in person (as He did with Cain), verbally through His prophets (as He did with Saul), or His written word as delivered on Mt. Sinai. HaShem also made it clear that we sin when we do not keep the “spirit” of the law. Mashiach also illustrated this point in:
Matityahu (Matthew) 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
And again He said:
Matityahu (Matthew) 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
We have already seen that sin is not just the transgression of the written law of Moses (Torah). I would like to look at a few more scriptures that emphasize that point.
Bereshit (Genesis) 15:12-16 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then He said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Matityahu (Matthew) 6:14-15 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Bereshit (Genesis) 39:6-9 So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, And after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
(Exodus) 10:13-17 So Moses stretched
out his staff over Egypt, and HaShem
made an east wind blow across the land all that day and
all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; They invaded all
Galatians 3:21-25 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Yeshua Mashiach, might be given to those who believe. Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Mashiach that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
There are several other passages that are used to “prove” that we do not need to obey the law. I would like to focus on the above two passages to illustrate the relationship we have to the law since we have already seen what sin is.
In the Galatians 3 passage, we see that that we are prisoners of sin and that we are held prisoners by the law. This illustrates the relationship between the two. Further, we see that the issue is “life”, or justification. So, being under the supervision of the law will not bring life, only faith will bring life. It is also plain that we require the law to lead us to Mashiach. This assumes that you are following the law before you receive Mashiach by faith.
To examine Galatians 5, we will need to put this passage in context:
Galatians 5:13-23 You, my brothers,
were called to be free. But do not use your freedom
to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one
another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single
command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you
keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by
each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful
nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the
Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with
each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the
Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful
nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and
debauchery; Idolatry and witchcraft; hatred,
discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions And
envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that
those who live like this will not inherit the
First I would like to point out that law and sin are both prominent in this passage. Since we already know that disobeying the law is sin; it is obvious that the “acts of the sinful nature” are acts which are contrary to the law. I doubt that many of HaShem’s people would see these acts as something that they should do. So, whatever “under the law” means, it obviously does not mean that we are free to commit the “acts of the sinful nature”. Most commentators agree that the entire book of Galatians is concerned with justification by faith and not by the works of the law. This simply means that the law can not save us, only the right faith can save us.
Romans 2:12-15 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, Since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
Paul also confirms what we learned previously, that we know what HaShem’s law is whether we have the written, and oral, Torah or not. Paul also shows that HaShem will hold us accountable for sin, which is disobeying HaShem. We can see clearly that the issue is sin, not the law of Moses. The law of Moses is but one definition of sin. Sin also defines who will perish. All who sin, without faith, will perish. Paul also shows that only those who obey the law will be declared righteous. This seems to assume that we obey because of our faith.
Romans 6:11-18 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Mashiach Yeshua. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey--whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Here, Paul indicates that being “under the law” implies that sin is your master. This use of the phrase, “under the law”, seems to show that obeying the law is different than being “under the law”. Sin, which is disobedience to the law, is not to be our master. Sin should not be a part of the life of HaShem’s people. Paul commands us not to sin. To put it another way, Paul is commanding us to obey the law!
Paul is a deep theological thinker. His words are HARD to understand. Peter tells us this in:
II Tzefet (Peter) 3:15-17 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.
Peter specifically mentions that Paul’s words are misunderstood by those men who sin (lawless). The error is to not obey the law!
Paul makes a big deal, in his writings, of the importance of the law.
Romans 3:29-31 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, Since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we establish the law.
I Shmuel (Samuel) Then he said, “Go out among the men and tell them, ‘Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them. Do not sin against HaShem by eating meat with blood still in it.’” So everyone brought his ox that night and slaughtered it there.
II Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles) 19:10 In every case that comes before you from your fellow countrymen who live in the cities--whether bloodshed or other concerns of the law, commands, decrees or ordinances--you are to warn them not to sin against HaShem; otherwise his wrath will come on you and your brothers. Do this, and you will not sin.
Psalm 4:4 In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. <Selah>
Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 5:6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?
Yechezkel (Ezekiel) 3:18 When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.
Romans 6:13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
HaShem also said that there would be punishment for those who sin:
Psalm 89:30-33 If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, If they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging; But I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.
(Hosea) 10:9-10 “Since the days of Gibeah, you
have sinned, O
Shemot (Exodus) 32:33-34 HaShem replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”
Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:40-42 “‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers--their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, Which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies--then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
I Timothy Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.
Mishlei (Proverbs) Because HaShem disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Mashiach used some very graphic language to describe how bad sin is:
Matityahu (Matthew) 5:29-30 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
This graphic language illustrates that our failure to obey the Torah has severe, eternal, consequences.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!
Psalm 119:152 Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever.
(Jeremiah) 31:31-34 “The time
is coming,” declares HaShem,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of
Matityahu (Matthew) 5:17-19 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
I have heard it
said that the Law of Moses applies only to
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Mashiach died for us.
2:11-17 When Peter came to
I have heard it said that the law was “nailed to the cross”:
Colossians 2:13-17 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Mashiach. He forgave us all our sins, Having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore do not let any (Gentile) man condemn you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the body of Mashiach.
Whatever “nailing it to the cross” means, the fact that we are not to be condemn for observing the law is indicative that the law has not been abolished. This whole passage is referring to the Mashiach’s work of atonement. Forgiving sins does not mean that there is no more sin, else Mashiach would not have said:
Yochanan (John) 8:10-11 Yeshua straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Yeshua declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Some say that they have the righteousness of Mashiach and have no sin or consequence. They quote:
II Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
However, if we were to look at that passage, in context, they would see that sin does matter and it does have a consequence. Note:
II Corinthians 5:10 - 6:1 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Mashiach, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Mashiach’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Mashiach in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Mashiach, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Mashiach and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That God was reconciling the world to himself in Mashiach, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Mashiach’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Mashiach’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.
I have heard it said that HaShem’s law can be divided into the “civil”, “ceremonial”, and “moral”. Those who make this distinction say that HaShem’s people only have to obey the “moral” law. This seems to contradict Matityahu (Matthew) 5:17-19. This also makes for some rather awkward theology. For example: what scriptures outline those laws which are “ceremonial”? Which scripture outlines those laws which are “civil”? The issues become even thornier when those same folks observe such “ceremonies” as baptism, communion, and tithing.
II Luqas (Acts) 15:19-21 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
This seems hard to understand because they were not commanded to love HaShem, to love their neighbor, or even abstain from murder! All of which produce sin if disobeyed. Verse 21 seems to imply that they will learn the law of Moses, in the synagogue, on Sabbath. What is the point of learning the law if we do not obey it? Obedience is the whole point of learning.
Luqas (Acts) 17:10-11 As soon as it was night, the
brothers sent Paul and Silas away to
Paul replies, “It is a collection of writings, some of which I will compose in a few years”.
The Bereans would stop listening at this point because they would not be able to prove that what Paul was saying was true.
This same illustration could be applied to eating any thing, keeping Sunday holy instead of the Sabbath, or any doing any other sinful thing. Obviously a law that lasts forever would not become void a mere two thousand years later. And certainly the Bereans would not be able to look in the TaNaK, the old testament, to verify that it was true.
HaShem’s people are promised His Spirit as a “down payment” to those who obey him:
II Luqas (Acts) 5:30-32 The God of our fathers raised Yeshua from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
One of the most sobering scriptures is found in:
Matityahu (Matthew) 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you who violate the law!’
One of the last scriptures to be written was penned by John:
I Yochanan (John) 3:4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
So, at the end of the Apostolic era, sin was still defined as disobedience of HaShem’s commands. John did not qualify his statement with “civil”, “ceremonial”, or “moral”. He did not qualify this statement with “New Testament” only. In fact, he followed the same line that HaShem had in the beginning. He did not say that this applied just to “Jews“ or just to “Gentiles“.
From this study, we can see that we do not obtain the righteousness that leads to salvation by observing the Torah. Never the less, we are required to obey the Torah. It is the keeping of Torah that sanctifies us. We become a holy, a separate people because of our obedience to the Torah, the law.
The Bottom Line:
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:5-9 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as HaShem my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the HaShem our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
* * *
This study was written by
Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David
Comments may be submitted to:
Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian
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 The midrash Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (ch.21) relates: Kayin enjoyed working the ground and Hevel enjoyed shepherding sheep. This one gave the fruits of his labor to the other one to eat, and the other one gave the fruits of his labor to the first one to eat. When the night of Pesach arrived, Adam said to his sons, “On this night Israel is destined to offer Pesach offerings. You, too, should offer offerings before your Creator.” Kayin brought the leftovers of his meal--flax seed, while Hevel brought the best of his flocks--lambs which had never been shorn. Kayin’s gift was despised by HaShem and Kayin’s gift was found to be desirable, as is written (verse 4), “HaShem turned to Hevel and to his offering.”