The Meaning Of Iniquity In The Bible: Distinguishing Sin, Iniquity, and Transgression

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Published by Kenneth Garcia

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Co-Founder of Biblekeeper, Author & Theologian

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In Genesis 44:16, Judah’s decision to sell their brother into slavery is referred to as “iniquity.” The Hebrew term for sin, “avon,” signifies distortion, and it’s seen as a violation of God’s law.

In the Bible, iniquity is characterized as evil or immoral. However, it’s important to note that not all sins are iniquities, and not all iniquities are sins. Sin in the Bible encompasses not just wicked actions but also negligence and unconscious behavior.

Key Takeaways

  • Iniquity is distinguished from sin in the Bible. Defined in Hebrew as “avon,” it represents a serious form of sin, marked by its premeditated, persistent nature, often viewed as a distortion or violation of divine law.
  • There is a clear distinction between “sin,” “iniquity,” and “transgression” in biblical terms. While all wrong acts are sins, not all are iniquities. Iniquity refers to the inherent evil of an act, whereas transgression indicates intentional defiance.
  • Iniquity and sin affect one’s relationship with God, with iniquity often viewed unfavorably by the divine. Despite this, forgiveness is available. Biblical verses and examples illustrate iniquity’s moral and spiritual impact on both personal conduct and societal issues.
a haunting depiction of iniquity represented by a lone figure in a dimly lit alley

What Is Iniquity?

Iniquity[1], often used in the Hebrew language, signifies “guilt deserving punishment” and is considered the gravest form of sin. It’s premeditated, persistent, and escalating. However, the misconception exists that sin can be controlled.

The terms “sin” and “iniquity” are often used synonymously in the Bible, both implying offenses against God. Most Bible dictionaries refer to “sin” when “iniquity” is searched.

All wrongdoings are sins, but their severity and corresponding punishments vary. For example, in the Old Testament, adultery and murder warranted death, while theft, though still a sin, carried a lesser penalty due to its reduced guilt level.

an abandoned courthouse in a decaying city

What Is The Meaning Of Iniquity In The Bible?

In the Bible, iniquity is characterized as evil or immoral. Unlike sin, which refers to actions, iniquity represents the inherent nature of an act. Hence, the phrase “iniquity of my sin” implies that iniquity is the core of evil and sin is its worldly manifestation.

Some Daily Bible Verses About Iniquity

Ezekiel 18:20

Sin leads to spiritual death. Neither a father nor a son will bear the other’s sins. Each bears the consequences of their actions, whether wicked or righteous.

Leviticus 20:17

If a man and his sister, who is his father’s or mother’s daughter, see each other naked, it’s considered shameful. The youth of their community will ostracize them. The man will face consequences for revealing his sister’s indiscretion.

Numbers 5:15

The wife must offer a tenth of an ephah of barley flour. The man then presents his wife to the priest. This grain offering symbolizes jealousy, remembrance, and acknowledgment of iniquity. It should not have oil or frankincense added to it.

Romans 13:1–2

All should be governed by the established authority, as God, the sole source of power, has instituted it. Thus, opposing these authorities equates to opposing God’s decree, leading to punishment.

a lone individual amidst the shadows of an urban setting

Is Iniquity A Specific Type Of Sin?

In the Bible, iniquity is a type of sin linked to guilt. It implies a violation of God’s law, often associated with harm to others.

For example, if a teenager accidentally misses a stop sign and kills a pedestrian, it’s considered a sin. However, willful and deliberate murder is an act of iniquity.

The pedestrian’s death would be termed an accident, not “evil” or “wicked.” But a premeditated murder is deemed unethical, wicked, and evil.

Wickedness requires a conscious choice and persistence without repentance. As stated in Micah 2:1, those who plan evil and execute it are condemned. David’s plea in Psalm 51:2, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin,” reflects this understanding.

How Does God View Iniquity?

God disapproves of iniquity and is affected by sin, which hinders our relationships with Him and others. As stated in Isaiah 57:17, God’s anger was kindled due to the injustice of unjust gain.

Despite the damage caused by iniquity and sin, God offers forgiveness. Awareness of our sins leads to repentance. We then either experience God’s continued forgiveness or let sin define us.

Galatians 5:19–21 and 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 list various transgressions that shape a person’s lifestyle. The psalmist’s plea for God to forgive both sin and wickedness highlights their distinction.

a solitary figure standing in the stark alleyways of an urban landscape

What Is The Difference Between Iniquity, Sin, And Transgression?

In Psalm 32:5, the poet states, “I confessed my sin and didn’t hide my iniquity. I will admit my transgressions to the Lord.” This line mentions “sin,” “iniquity,” and “transgression,” all of which refer to God’s definition of wickedness and lawlessness.

Sin

“Sin” signifies “missing the mark.” It can involve acting against God or others, behaving wrongly, causing harm, or not doing what’s right. In the Old Testament, God required sacrifices even for unintentional offenses. “Sin” denotes any shortfall from God’s glory.

Iniquity

Unaddressed sin in our souls often leads to repeated iniquity. God seeks to know our essence, which can lead to changes in our actions and thoughts. In the flawed world we’ve created, God aims to rectify things through sinners. He invites us to restore our humanity.

Transgression

Three Hebrew words often used together are typically translated as transgression, sin, or iniquity. “Pesha,” meaning “transgression,” denotes intentional defiance of norms.

a stark scene in a desolate urban environment

Summary

God uses terms like trespass, sin, transgression, and wickedness to denote various levels of disobedience. He not only atones for our sins but also purifies us from wrongdoing. Christ’s work addresses all aspects of sin and cleanses our character.

Even at our worst, Christ cleanses us. No offense is too severe for Him to reconcile, as He was “pierced for our offenses and crushed for our sins” (Isaiah 53:5).

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is An Example Of Iniquity?

An example of iniquity, which refers to gross injustice or wickedness, can be seen in various forms. It could be the use of illegal narcotics that not only harms personal health but also undermines society. It could also be a nation grappling with the aftereffects of the iniquity of slavery.

Another example is when the wicked are ensnared by their iniquities, held fast in the cords of their sin. Lastly, it could be seen in the long and hard fight against the iniquities of apartheid. These examples highlight how “iniquity” is used to describe deeply unfair, unjust, or wicked actions or situations.

What Is The Root Of Iniquity?

The root of iniquity is traced back to Latin, where it is formed from the prefix “in-,” signifying “not,” and “aequus,” denoting “equal” or “just.” Consequently, “iniquity” fundamentally implies “not just.” This term is generally employed to indicate an absence of moral or spiritual principles.

The word entered the English language in the 1300s via French, where “iniquité” was derived from the Latin “iniquus,” signifying “uneven,” “unequal,” “unjust,” or “wicked.”

What Are Examples Of Iniquity In The Bible?

Examples of iniquity in the Bible, often associated with sin or immoral behavior, include the iniquity of the Amorites in Genesis 15:16, the iniquity of the city in Genesis 19:15, and the iniquity of the fathers visited upon the children in Exodus 20:5 and 34:7.

Isaiah 5:20 warns against calling evil good and good evil, an iniquity of moral inversion. Isaiah 53:5 speaks of our iniquities, for which he was pierced and crushed, bringing us peace and healing.

These verses demonstrate the use of “iniquity” in the Bible to depict deeply unfair, unjust, or wicked actions or situations.

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