Theological Mistakes #3: “Missing the Mark”

Sometimes, strange things happen when systematic theologians use the Bible. Rather that searching Scriptures to find theological material that allows them to build solid doctrine, the process often goes the other way. Having decided upon a doctrine, it is always tempting to search for a text to support it. Rather than a text that speaks theology to a careful listener, it is theology in search of a text, a conclusion in search of a premise. (Tonight I am stuck in the Salt Lake City airport due to a massive snowstorm in Seattle, our destination. I could probably do some searching to find a Bible text that expresses my feelings, but I think that would be unwise right now.)

This agenda often intersects with the idea of doing theology based on the meaning of Greek words. Today’s example is the Greek word hamartia and its verbal counterpart, hamartano. Usually translated “sin,” you have probably heard an explanation of this word group as meaning “missing the mark.” In other words, it is a word drawn from the archery world. I shoot my arrow at the bullseye, but I miss the mark and end up in the second ring of the target. I have missed the mark.

But sin isn’t like this. Sin is not where I try my very best but fall short. (This isn’t even a Calvinistic or Augustinian view of sin, which would be that I am incapable of even shooting the arrow.) Sin is when God tells me to shoot my arrow at the bullseye, I know that God desires me to hit the bullseye, and I deliberately turn 180 degrees and fire the arrow the other way. I disobey. Sin is more than failure, it is rebellion.

The point is that no one in Paul or John’s audiences would have thought archery metaphor when they used the word hamartia. What they were talking about was far more serious. John says, “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal.” I think that leaves the possibility that some sin is “mortal” or “deadly.” Serious stuff. Not ring two on the archery target. Bad bad bad stuff. Let’s lose the “missing the mark” baloney.

Mark Krause

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