In a religious context, sin is an act of transgression against divine law.[1] Each culture has its own interpretation of what it means to commit a sin.


The word derives from "Old English syn(n), for original *sunjō. The stem may be related to that of Latin 'sons, sont-is' guilty. In Old English there are examples of the original general sense, ‘offence, wrong-doing, misdeed'".[2]



There are a few differing Buddhist views on sin. American Zen author Brad Warner states that in Buddhism there is no concept of sin at all.[3][4] The Buddha Dharma Education Association also expressly states "The idea of sin or original sin has no place in Buddhism."[5]

Ethnologist Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf explained, "In Buddhist thinking the whole universe, men as well as gods, are subject to a reign of law. Every action, good or bad, has an inevitable and automatic effect in a long chain of causes, an effect which is independent of the will of any deity. Even though this may leave no room for the concept of 'sin' in the sense of an act of defiance against the authority of a personal god, Buddhists speak of 'sin' when referring to transgressions against the universal moral code."[6]

However, Anantarika-kamma in Theravada Buddhism is a heinous crime, which through karmic process brings immediate disaster.[7] In Mahayana Buddhism these five crimes are referred to as pañcānantarya (Pāli), and are mentioned in The Sutra Preached by the Buddha on the Total Extinction of the Dharma,[8] The five crimes or sins are:[9]

  1. Injuring a Buddha
  2. Killing an Arhat
  3. Creating schism in the society of Sangha
  4. Matricide
  5. Patricide



The doctrine of sin is central to Christianity, since its basic message is about redemption in Christ.[10] Christian hamartiology describes sin as an act of offense against God by despising his persons and Christian biblical law, and by injuring others.[11] In Christian views it is an evil human act, which violates the rational nature of man as well as God's nature and his eternal law. According to the classical definition of St. Augustine of Hippo sin is "a word, deed, or desire in opposition to the eternal law of God."[12][13]

Among some scholars, sin is understood mostly as legal infraction or contract violation of non-binding philosophical frameworks and perspectives of Christian ethics, and so salvation tends to be viewed in legal terms. Other Christian scholars understand sin to be fundamentally relational—a loss of love for the Christian God and an elevation of self-love ("concupiscence", in this sense), as was later propounded by Augustine in his debate with the Pelagians.[14] As with the legal definition of sin, this definition also affects the understanding of Christian grace and salvation, which are thus viewed in relational terms.[15]

Original sin

Original sin, also called ancestral sin,[16] is a Christian belief in the state of sin in which humanity has existed since the fall of man, stemming from Adam and Eve's rebellion in Eden, namely the sin of disobedience in consuming the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a "sin nature", to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.[17]

The concept of original sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon in his controversy with certain dualist Gnostics.[18] Other church fathers such as Augustine also shaped and developed the doctrine,[19] seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalms 51:5.[20][21][22][23][24] Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose and Ambrosiaster considered that humanity shares in Adam's sin, transmitted by human generation. Augustine's formulation of original sin after 412 CE was popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who equated original sin with concupiscence (or "hurtful desire"), affirming that it persisted even after baptism and completely destroyed freedom to do good. Before 412 CE, Augustine said that free will was weakened but not destroyed by original sin. But after 412 CE this changed to a loss of free will except to sin.[25] Modern Augustinian Calvinism holds this later view. The Jansenist movement, which the Catholic Church declared to be heretical, also maintained that original sin destroyed freedom of will.[26] Instead the Catholic Church declares that Baptism erases original sin.[27]


In Hinduism, sin (Sanskrit: पाप pāpa "vice") describes actions that create negative karma by violating moral and ethical codes, which automatically brings negative consequences. This is somewhat similar to Abrahamic sin in the sense that pāpa is considered an act against the laws of God, which is known as dharma, or moral order, and one's own self, but another term aparadha is used for grave offenses.

However, the term papa cannot be taken in the literal sense as sin because there is no consensus regarding the nature of ultimate reality or God in Hinduism. Only, the Vedanta school being unambiguously theistic, whereas no anthropomorphic God exists in the rest of the five schools, Samkhya, Nyaya, Yoga, Vaisheshika, and Mīmāṃsā. The term papa however in the strictest sense refers to actions which bring about wrong/unfavorable consequences, not relating to a specific divine will in the absolute sense.


Sin is an important concept in Islamic ethics. Muslims see sin as anything that goes against the commands of God (Allah), a breach of the laws and norms laid down by religion.[28] Islam teaches that sin is an act and not a state of being. It is believed that God weighs an individual's good deeds against his or her sins on the Day of Judgement and punishes those individuals whose evil deeds outweigh their good deeds. These individuals are thought to be sentenced to afterlife in the fires of jahannam (Hell).

Islamic terms for sin include dhanb and khaṭīʾa, which are synonymous and refer to intentional sins; khiṭʾ, which means simply a sin; and ithm, which is used for grave sins.[29]


In Jainism, the word for sin is the Sanskrit word पाप (paap), which is the antithesis of पुण्य (punya) meaning merit.

A jiva (atman or soul) accumulates karma if it resorts to violence, non-chastity, falsehood, stealing, and possessiveness, if it hurts anyone, causes someone to hurt anyone, or commends hurting anyone by thought, speech or action. A jiva ceases to accumulate karma if it resorts to the ratnatraya (triple gems of Jainism): samyak gyan (right knowledge), samyak darshan (right sight) and samyak charitra (right character). A jiva begins to shed the accumulated karma by resorting to penance, repentance, vows and by exterminating foes of lust, anger, attachment, aversion, ignorance and fallacy.

No jiva can achieve moksha (release from samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth) without ceasing to accumulate karma and shedding the already accumulated karma entirely. Thus such a jiva is bound to remain in the worldly cycle of constant reincarnation, wherein it will keep taking rebirths, into any of the four broad types of living organisms, depending on the magnitude and nature of karma accumulated in previous birth(s). The four types are dev (beings of heaven, including deities), manushya (human), tiryanch (plants, animals, insects, etc.) and naarki (beings of hell).

During this cycle of getting born and dying for infinity, the jiva will have to then live the life of the organism he is and while living it, the jiva will again accumulate more karma. This will again lead to rebirth and again accumulating more karma. Thus, the cycle continues.

Jains believe that for complete liberation, not only the "sinful karma" but even the "meritorious karma" needs to be shed off. This means that a jiva can truly attain moksha only if the soul is completely and absolutely pure and devoid of any accumulation. For instance, sins may cause the jiva to be reborn in naraka (hell) and merits may cause it to be reborn in heaven. But heaven, like hell, is a part of worldly cycle of reincarnation and not supreme moksha of the soul. Thus, if a person hypothetically keeps performing only and exclusively good deeds in his life, he may still not attain moksha, because he has not yet shed off previously accumulated sins through repentance and knowledge.

Jains believe that only a human jiva has the capacity and the will to attain moksha. Hence the jiva should use this extremely rare opportunity of being born as a human to walk on the path that brings him closer to moksha. In fact, Jains take the concept of avoiding sin so seriously that not only are they completely vegetarian but some devout Jains also abstain from eating underground grown food like potatoes, onions, etc. to avoid killing small organisms. Most of the Jains are also non-alcoholics and eat before sunset each day.


Judaism regards the violation of any of the 613 commandments as a sin. Judaism teaches that to sin is a part of life, since there is no perfect man and everyone has an inclination to do evil. Sin has many classifications and degrees, but the principal classification is that of "missing the mark" (cheit in Hebrew).[30] Some sins are punishable with death by the court, others with death by heaven, others with lashes, and others without such punishment, but no sins committed with willful intentions go without consequence. Sins committed out of lack of knowledge are not considered sins, since a sin can't be a sin if the one who did it didn't know it was wrong. Unintentional sins are considered less severe sins.[31]

Sins between people are considered much more severe in Judaism than sins between man and God. Yom Kippur, the main day of repentance in Judaism, can atone for sins between man and God, but not for sins between man and his fellow, that is until he has appeased his friend.[32] Eleazar ben Azariah derived [this from the verse]: "From all your sins before God you shall be cleansed" (Book of Leviticus, 16:30) – for sins between man and God Yom Kippur atones, but for sins between man and his fellow Yom Kippur does not atone until he appeases his fellow.[33][34]

When the Temple yet stood in Jerusalem, people would offer Karbanot (sacrifices) for their misdeeds. The atoning aspect of karbanot is carefully circumscribed. For the most part, karbanot only expiate unintentional sins, that is, sins committed because a person forgot that this thing was a sin or by mistake. No atonement is needed for violations committed under duress or through lack of knowledge, and for the most part, karbanot cannot atone for a malicious, deliberate sin. In addition, karbanot have no expiating effect unless the person making the offering sincerely repents of his or her actions before making the offering, and makes restitution to any person who was harmed by the violation.[31]

Judaism teaches that all willful sin has consequences. The completely righteous suffer for their sins (by humiliation, poverty, and suffering that God sends them) in this world and receive their reward in the world to come. The in-between (not completely righteous or completely wicked), suffer for and repent their sins after death and thereafter join the righteous. The very evil do not repent even at the gates of hell. Such people prosper in this world to receive their reward for any good deed, but cannot be cleansed by and hence cannot leave gehinnom, because they do not or cannot repent. This world can therefore seem unjust where the righteous suffer, while the wicked prosper. Many great thinkers have contemplated this.[35]

Mesopotamian tradition

In Mesopotamian mythology, Adamu (or Addamu/Admu, or Adapa) goes on trial for the "sin of casting down a divinity".[36] His crime is breaking the wings of the south wind.[37]


Evil deeds fall into two categories in Shinto: amatsu tsumi, "the most pernicious crimes of all", and kunitsu tsumi, "more commonly called misdemeanors".[38]

See also

Notes and references

  1. "sin". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 28 August 2017.
  2. "sin". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
  3. Warner, Brad (2003). Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth About Reality. Wisdom Publications. p. 144. ISBN 0-86171-380-X.
  4. Warner, Brad (2010). Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between. New World Library. p. 72. ISBN 978-1-57731-910-8.
  5. "Buddhism: Major Differences". Buddha Dharma Education Association. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
  6. von Fürer-Haimendorf, Christoph (1974). "The Sense of Sin in Cross-Cultural Perspective". Man. New Series 9.4: 539–556.
  7. Gananath Obeyesekere (1990), The Work of Culture: Symbolic Transformation in Psychoanalysis and Anthropology, University of Chicago, ISBN 978-0-226-61599-8
  8. Hodous, Lewis; Soothill, William Edward (1995). A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms: With Sanskrit and English Equivalents and a Sanskrit-Pali Index. Routledge. p. 128. ISBN 978-0700703555.
  9. Rām Garg, Gaṅgā (1992). Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World. Concept Publishing Company. p. 433. ISBN 9788170223757.
  10. Rahner, p. 1588
  11. Sabourin, p. 696
  12. Contra Faustum Manichaeum, 22,27; PL 42,418; cf. Thomas Aquinas, STh I–II q71 a6.
  13. Mc Guinness, p. 241
  14. On Grace and Free Will (see Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, trans. P.Holmes, vol. 5; 30–31 [14–15]).
  15. For a historical review of this understanding, see R.N.Frost, "Sin and Grace", in Paul L. Metzger, Trinitarian Soundings, T&T Clark, 2005.
  16. Examples:
  17. Brodd, Jeffrey (2003). World Religions. Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press. ISBN 978-0-88489-725-5.
  18. "In the person of the first Adam we offend God, disobeying His precept" (Haeres., V, xvi, 3).
  19. Patte, Daniel. The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity. Ed. Daniel Patte. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010, 892
  20. Peter Nathan. "The Original View of Original Sin". Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  21. "Original Sin Explained and Defended: Reply to an Assemblies of God Pastor". Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  22. Preamble and Articles of Faith Archived 20 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine - V. Sin, Original and Personal - Church of the Nazarene. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  23. Are Babies Born with Sin? Archived 21 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine - Topical Bible Studies. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  24. Original Sin - Psalm 51:5 - Catholic News Agency. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  25. Wilson, Kenneth (2018). Augustine's Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to "Non-free Free Will": A Comprehensive Methodology. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. pp. 16–18, 157–187. ISBN 9783161557538.
  26. "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Jansenius and Jansenism". 1 October 1910. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  27. Catholic Church. "The Seven Sacraments of the Church." Catechism of the Catholic Church. LA Santa Sede. 19 November 2019.
  28. "Oxford Islamic Studies Online". Sin. Oxford University Press.
  29. Wensinck, A. J. (2012). "K̲h̲aṭīʾa". In P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.). Brill. doi:10.1163/2214-871X_ei1_SIM_4141.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  30. Silver, Jonathan, host. "Podcast: David Bashevkin on Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought." The Tikvah Podcast, The Tikvah Fund, 3 Oct. 2019.
  32. Mishnah, Yoma,8:9
  33. Simon and Schuster, 1986, Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, New York: Touchstone book.
  35. "Reward and Punishment". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  36. Preston, Christine (2009). The Rise of Man in the Gardens of Sumeria: A Biography of L.A. Waddell. Sussex Academic Press. p. 116. ISBN 9781845193157. Retrieved 4 April 2016. They represented 'Adamu' as being tried before a god for the sin of casting down a divinity, a vestige of which is the 'original sin' which Christianity has tied up with Eve's disobedience in the Garden of Eden.
  37. Mark, Joshua. "The Myth of Adapa". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  38. The Essence of Shinto: The Spiritual Heart of Japan by Motohisa Yamakage

Further reading

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