New Testament Greek Words For Sin 

There are a number of words used in the original Greek New Testament which are translated “sin” or “sins”. These are “hamartia”, “hamartema” and “hamartano”.

In the original Greek New Testament, the most common word translated as “sin” or “sins” is “hamartia”. Vine says “hamartia” means “literally missing of the mark”. [1] But Richards says: “sin is not only missing God’s mark; it is an inner reality, a warp in human nature and a malignant power that holds each individual in an unbreakable grip”. [2] The word “hamartia” is used in the original Greek New Testament to refer to:


         sin as an element or principle within humans which produces corresponding sinful actions (see Romans 5:12, 5:20, 6:1 and 6:2). Romans 6:1-2 declares: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

         sin as a power or force within unbelievers which dominates, corrupts and distorts all aspects of their human nature and lives, including inward heart attitudes and outward behaviour; – even those parts which to other humans seem good (see John 8:34, Romans 3:9, 5:21, 6:6, 6:17, 6:20 and 8:2). Romans 6:20 says: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” John 8:34 states: “Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin’.”

         sin as being an expression of lawlessness in relation to God. 1 John 3:4 shows this: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness”.

         sin as being intimately related to the state of spiritual death into which all human babies are born. Ephesians 2:1 and 2:5 use the word “hamartia” in relation to spiritual death. Spiritual death refers to being cut off and separated from the Presence and eternal life of God. People who are spiritually dead do not have God living within them. Ephesians 2:1-5 shows sin is such a serious inner flaw in the human nature of unbelievers that from birth, they are willing slaves to this nature’s evil cravings and to demonic spirits.

         sin as including anything in our character, motives, thoughts, words, emotions and behaviour which is not right in God’s eyes. 1 John 5:17 reveals this: “All unrighteousness is sin…”

         sin as an act (see Matthew 12:312, Acts 7:60, James 1;15 (first part), 2:9, 4:17, 5:15 and 5:20). The Bible records multitudes of other specific acts which God regards as sin.


The Greek word “hamartema” means “an act of disobedience to divine law”. [3] This word is used in Mark 3:28, Romans 3:25 and 1 Corinthians 6:18. 1 Corinthians 6:18 shows God is concerned about the specific sins of Christians and not just sin in general.

“Hamartano” is the third Greek word used in the New Testament we need to examine. It means “to act contrary to the will and law of God” [4] and “do wrong, sin, of offences against the religious and moral law of God”. [5] “Hamartano” is used in the New Testament for sinning:


         by angels against God (see 2 Peter 2:4).

         by humans against God (see Luke 15:18, 15:21, John 5:14, 8:11, Romans 3:23, 5:12, 5:14, 5:16, 1 John 2:1 (used twice), 3:6 (twice), 3:8, 3:9 and 5:16 (twice).

         against other humans (see Matthew 18:15, Luke 17:3, 17:4 and 1 Corinthians 8:12).

         against our own physical bodies through sexual immorality (see 1 Corinthians 6:18).


Greek words for evil or wicked


One of the most widely used words for sin in the original Greek New Testament is the adjective (describing word) “kakos”. Bauer says “kakos” means “bad, evil, injurious, dangerous…” [6]

“Kakos” is used in the New Testament to refer to morally evil persons (see Matthew 24:48, Philippians 3:2 and Revelation 2:2) and to evil or wicked thoughts, qualities, emotions, desires and actions (see Mark 7:21, Romans 2:9, 7:19 and 7:21).

Another key word used in the original Greek New Testament for sin is “poneros”. Bauer says “poneros” means “wicked, evil, bad, base, worthless, vicious, degenerate, a wicked or evil-intentioned person, evil doer”. [7] The word “poneros” is used in relation to our wicked actions prior to conversion (see Colossians 1:21), those who do not have faith in God or Jesus Christ (see 2 Thessalonians 3:2 and Hebrews 3:12), evil hearts that turn from God (see Hebrews 3:12), evil thoughts (see James 2:4), evil boasting about what we are going to do in the future (see James 4:16), evil actions (see 1 John 3:12 and 2 John 11), and evil spirits (see Matthew 12:45, Luke 7:21 and Acts 19:12-13).

A third word used in the Greek New Testament for “evil” is “phaulos”. It is defined as “worthless, bad, evil”. [8] “Phaulos” is used in John 3:20, 5:29, Romans 9:11, 2 Corinthians 5:10 and James 3:16. James 3:16 links evil to selfishness. When Bauer relates “phaulos” partly to worthlessness, he is referring to worthlessness in terms of God’s justice and not in relation to His love.


Greek words for iniquity and unrighteousness


There are a number of words used in the original Greek New Testament which are translated as “iniquity” or “unrighteousness” in some of the best English versions. These are the words “adikia” and “adikema”. The Greek word “anomia” is translated sometimes in the King James Version as “iniquity”, but a far better translation is “lawlessness” used by the New King James Version. The Greek word “poneria” is translated “iniquity” by some versions of the Bible.

The Greek word “adikia” means “wrongdoing, unrighteousness, wickedness, injustice”.[9] “Adikia” is used in verses such as Luke 13:27, Acts 1:18, 8:23, Romans 1:18, 1:29, 2:8, 6:13, 1 Corinthians 13:6 and 2 Timothy 2:19. Verses such as Luke 13:27, Acts 1:18, 8:23, Romans 1:29, 6:13 and 2 Timothy 2:19 show the Greek word “adikia” relates to wrong or unrighteous character, attitudes and actions.

The Greek word “adikema” is defined as “unjust deed, a wrong”. [10] It is used in Revelation 18:5: “… God has remembered her iniquities.”

The Greek word “poneria” is derived from the word “poneros” previously mentioned. “Poneria” means “wickedness…maliciousness, sinfulness”. [11] This word is used in verses such as Matthew 22:18, Mark 7:22, Luke 11:39, Acts 3:26, Romans 1:29, 1 Corinthians 5:8 and Ephesians 6:12.


Greek words for “ungodliness”


The original Greek New Testament also uses three other sin-related words – the adjective (describing word) “asebes”, its noun form “asebeia” and verb (action word) form “asebeo”.

“Asebes” means “ungodly, without reverence for God, not merely irreligious, but acting in contravention of God’s demands.” [12] “Acting in contravention of God’s demands” means “acting contrary to God’s demands”. “Asebes” is used in Romans 5:6, 1 Timothy 1:9, 1 Peter 4:18, 2 Peter 3:7, Jude 4 and 15. Jude 4 refers to men who had no real fear of God joining the early churches and using God’s grace as an excuse for sexual immorality: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Asebeia” means “godlessness…in thought and act, godless desires”. [13] In Jude 18, “asebeia” is used of selfish desires after evil things when it mentions “ungodly lusts”. “Asebeo” means “to be or live ungodly, 2 Peter 2:6; to commit ungodly deeds, Jude 15”.[14]


Greek words for transgress, transgressions and transgressors


Another family of sin-related words found in the original Greek New Testament are translated “transgress” and “transgression” in English. These Greek words are “parabaino”, “parabasis”, “paranomia” and “parabates”. “Parabaino” means “transgress, break”. [15] Matthew 15:3 records Jesus’ usage of this word: “…Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?”

The second word “parabasis” means “primarily a going aside,…an overstepping,…transgression (always of a breach of law)”. [16] “Parabasis” is used in Romans 4:15: “because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.” This verse shows “parabasis” relates to breaking a law or command of God. In context, this verse is primarily referring to disobedience to the commands of the Law of Moses. But the latter part of this verse has a broader application. Evidence of this occurs when Romans 5:14 uses the word “parabasis” in relation to Adam’s transgression and 1 Timothy 2:14 uses “parabasis” for Eve’s transgression. Adam and Eve did not transgress any of the commands of the Law of Moses. They transgressed God’s law or command found in Genesis 2:16-17.

The third Greek word “paranomia” means “lawbreaking”. [17] “Paranomia” is the combination of two other Greek words “para” meaning “contrary to” and “nomos” meaning “law”. “Paranomia” is used in 2 Peter 2:16 in relation to the prophet Balaam’s lawbreaking. The prophet Balaam’s iniquity or lawbreaking did not relate to the Law of Moses, but involved disobedience to God’s commands to him recorded in Numbers 22:12. Balaam did not have the Scriptures to read, but God still regarded him as a law breaker for disobeying God’s supernatural guidance.

The fourth Greek word “parabetes” means “one who oversteps the prescribed limit”.[18] “Parabetes” is used in Romans 2:25, 2:27, Galatians 2:18, James 2:9 and 11. James 2:11 says: “For He who said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” The difference between a sinner (or “harmartolos” in Greek) and a transgressor (or “parabetes”) is that in God’s eyes all humans are sinners but only those who know His laws are transgressors.

Another Greek word relating to transgressing is “huperbaino”. “Huperbaino” means “overstep, transgress, break (laws and commandments)” [19] and is used in 1 Thessalonians 4:6 in the sense of going beyond the limits stated in God’s Word in relation to sexual matters.


The Greek word for offences or trespasses against God


Another word used in the original Greek New Testament in relation to sin is “paraptoma”. This word refers to offences against God and His perfectly right nature, character and standards in relation to our dealings with Him and others. “Paraptoma” means “what a person has done in transgressing the will and law of God by some false step or failure”. [20] The New King James Version translates “paraptoma” as “trespasses” or “offences” or “sins”. The New American Standard Bible translates “paraptoma” as “trespasses” or “transgressions”. “Paraptoma” is used in Matthew 6:14-15, 18:35, Romans 4:25, 5:15, 5:16, 5:17, 5:18, 5:20, Galatians 6:1, Ephesians 1:7, 2:1 and Colossians 2:13.



Greek words for sinning in ignorance


`There are three associated words used in the original Greek New Testament in relation to sinning in ignorance. These words are “agnoia”, “agnoeo” and “agnoema”. “Agnoia” means “ignorance” [21] and is used in Acts 3:17 and 17:30. Acts 3:17 refers to the people of Israel sinning in ignorance by killing Jesus Christ.

The Greek word “agnoeo” means “not to know, be ignorant, not to understand, do wrong, sin in ignorance” [22] and is used in 1 Timothy 1:13: “although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” Here Paul states some of his previous sins were done in ignorance.

The Greek word “agnoema” means “sin committed in ignorance” [23] and is used in Hebrews 9:7: “But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance.” This verse refers to the yearly Day of Atonement sin offerings of a bull and a goat made by the High priest under the Old Covenant for his and the Israelites’ unintentional sins. The bull was for the sins of the High Priest and his family (see Leviticus 16:6) and the goat was for the sins of the Israelites (see Leviticus 16:15).


Key New Testament verbs about unbelievers


The New Testament also uses numerous action words in the perfect tense which relate to sin or the results of sin. These are listed below. In Greek, the perfect tense refers mostly to completed actions with continuing effects or results or to present states which someone is in and which are results of completed past actions. Unbelievers are living in the effects of:


         having sinned (see 1 John 1:10). This verse applies to believers also. James 5:15 uses the words “having done” in the perfect tense also in relation to the committing of sins.

         having been overcome by the pollutions of the world and its corrupt desires (see 2 Peter 2:19 and 20).

         having been defiled by sin (see Titus 1:15).

         having been defiled in their minds and consciences (see Titus 1:15).

         having become slaves of corruption (see 2 Peter 2:19).

         having been taken captive by Satan to do his will (see 2 Timothy 2:26).

         having become guilty of disobeying the whole of God’s Law (see James 2:11).

         having become a transgressor or breaker of the Law (see James 2:11).

         having been alienated from God (see Colossians 1:21).


Bible Study questions


  1. Discuss the meanings of the following Greek words used in the New Testament:


a)      “hamartia”

b)      “hamartema”

c)      “hamartano”

d)      “kakos”

e)      “poneros”

f)       “phaulos”


  1. Discuss the meanings and usages in the New Testament of the Greek words for:


a)      iniquity and unrighteousness.

b)      ungodliness.

c)      transgress, transgressions and transgressors.

d)      offences or trespasses against God.

e)      sinning in ignorance.


[1] Vine, page 576.

[2] Richards, page 568.

[3] Vine, page 577.

[4] Louw and Nida, page 773.

[5] Bauer, page 42.

[6] Ibid, pages 397-398.

[7] Ibid, pages 690-691.

[8] Ibid, page 854.

[9] Ibid, pages 17-18.

[10] Colin Brown, page 573.

[11] Bauer, page 690.

[12] Vine, page 651.

[13] Bauer, page 114.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Bauer, page 611.

[16] Vine, page 640.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Bauer, page 840.

[20] Louw and Nida, page 774.

[21] Bauer, page 11.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.



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