Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

koine Greek, missing the mark, and beginner’s heart ~

My sister-in-law reads Biblical Greek. Not the New Testament kind, but the kind that the really old parts of the Jewish & Christian Bible are written in. She’s a Presbyterian minister, which is one of the few ways (that I know of, at least) to come by such arcane skills. Here’s what she told me yesterday:

“One of the cooler things I found when learning biblical Greek was that the Greek word that gets most often translated to “sin” in English means just “missing the mark” It is the same word used if you are in an Olympic game throwing a javelin, and don’t hit the bullseye.”


Wow. Think about that: ‘sin’ — as defined through more careful translation — is just missing our best target.

I know a little about translation. It’s been a passion of mine — well, the study of it has, and the reading of translated works — since I was in HS. I didn’t have American literature; I had Russian. We read Dostœvsky, not James or Faulkner. And later I was crazy about Neruda, reading his poetry w/ the Spanish on one page and the English beside it. Still later, I read Walter Benjamin, and several of the post-colonial writers like Trinh Minh-ha, who talked about ‘the language of the oppressor,’ and what translation meant to a citizen under colonialism.


What I know is that translation is an art, and requires letting the first writer speak to you. You can’t impose yourself — in any way — on the content, or it turns. Talk about missing the mark. A few years back I readWar & Peace (really). It was a new translation, and I absolutely loved it. Made all the difference in the world. And when I read the intro, I could see why, from the examples of changes given. BIG shift.

So…How did the idea of sin move from an almost Buddhist notion of ‘missing the mark’ — not measuring up to standard — to evil that damns you to hell? I don’t understand, but wish some etymologist or linguistic scholar of Biblical translation would explain. Because I’ve never thought the universe punishes us for making mistakes. We are our own punishment, another Buddhist thought. So I need not feel guilty of ‘sin.’ I should try harder next time.


I miss my own objectives daily — when I split dessert w/ a friend instead of saying no; when I don’t get out & walk before it’s 100˚; w hen I flare back at my tired husband, who isn’t thinking about how he says what he says…:) I don’t think of these as the same, of course, as the murder of an innocent bystander in a gang fight the other day at Best Buy. But I also don’t believe the young men & woman involved in the shooting will spend eternity paying for this. Already, their lives must be full of fear, of violence, of hate. What kind of lives are those?

Yes, they should be punished. But for horrible mistakes. For falling short of a kinder & less violent ideal. Not because they’re sinners…

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kurt Bowers
  • Ellis LeBeau

    Oh and PC as it may not be for all you seekers out there, I am compelled to say:

    Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

    That is THE choice. It always has been.

    • Britton Gildersleeve

      Ellis, I appreciate the time you took to respond. I’d have to know a great deal more than I do about translation and Biblical context before I could answer! Thanks again ~

  • Ellis LeBeau

    Keep this in mind, we do not miss the mark in terms of a standard that we set. We are the creation, not the Creator. The standard set by Jesus was simply to be perfect, “as the Father is Perfect”. We cannot achieve anything remotely like this in ourselves, because of iniquity, according to God’s Word. That is why we need Jesus as our atonement and propitiation for our sins. Our actions, in and of ourselves, warrant damnation. God desires reconciliation with us. He provides opportunity for that in free will acceptance of what He has done to meet the penalty for our separation from Him, both in nature and specifically in thought and deed. He more than pays for our sin because His substitutionary Sacrifice for us, His death, the death of God for man, more than compensates for any “penalty” we incur.

    1 John 1, the author was writing to believers, clearly says that sin is in us, as does Romans chapter 7. The remedy, I might add, is in chapters 1 and 8,respectively. I personally like Jeremiah 17:9. It perfectly encapsulates the nature of man’s heart. Salvation is not the product of a sinless life, or even saying “I’m sorry”, 2 Corinthians 7:10. It is offered freely to those that believe, of which repentance is a part, and confess, Romans 10:9-10. Belief and confession are not one time events locked in space and time. They are a lifestyle based on an awareness of who we are, our need and the acknowledgement of a superior Sacrifice for our sin. We are convicted, repent, confess, and obey in word and deed and go on in relationship with God as He completes us, Philippians 1:6.

    To deny sin is to deny God and our need for a Savior. Further, it denies the authority of Scripture, 2 Peter 1:20-21…and a whole bunch of other places. One of my favorites is Psalm 138:2. God magnifies His Word above His name…think on that. The first time He is named in the Bible, Genesis 1:1, He chooses to identify Himself with the uniplural noun “Elohim”, a combination of “the strong One”- El and Alah- ” to swear or bind oneself with an oath” This implies both faithfulness and truth. Heavy emphasis on the truth.

    It is not God’s desire to punish His creation. He lovingly made us in His image, Psalm 139 says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, read, “with such awesome power and wisdom on the part of GOD as to inspire terror, as He and His ways are so far beyond us. He also told us that there would be terrible consequences for not obeying Him. There are, death now and potentially forever, in the form of separation from Him. Often, what we see as “punishment” is simply the natural consequence of sin. But He made provision for our reconciliation to Him. Plato writing to Socrates, about 500 BC, says, “It may be that the Deity can forgive sins, but I do not see how”, recognizing both the sinful nature of man and righteous one of God. Instead of fixating on why God “punishes” or whether He will, both clearly addressed in Scripture, consider His mercy and grace, in the face of having a willful, disobedient creation deny His authority and veracity, despite untold attempts to renew relationship with them. Read 2 Peter 3:9.

    If the Bible is too hard to understand, “to get the real meaning”, perhaps your attempts are a little too “you” focused. While Greek and Hebrew studies and trying to put Scripture into its proper historical/cultural context have some limited value, in most instances, what God wants for us is relational/homiletical in nature. It should be pretty simple. “God says what He means and means what He says”, is a valid exegetical principle. Oh and if you have Him, the Holy Spirit. “Seek”, with a genuine heart, “and you shall find”. James 1:5 also applies.

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