What is it?
Is it defined by law? Or does the law just help us understand what is wrong?
In general, I think, the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) define sin as being outside of the will of God. (I originally typed “quill of God,” which is, if you believe God to be the author of life, a serendipitous typo.)
This is the most useful definition and explains some of the apparent oddities of Paul, where for some people certain things are fine which would cause others to deviate from God’s will. I liken this to alcohol—fine for most, but alcoholics best not tempt fate.
And, no, I do not think it a sin to imbibe. Jesus made wine at a fairly big wedding party he attended (and who says Jesus never had a good time?). The writer could have said juice, but he chose wine. And my favorite, on the very day of Pentecost, when accused of being intoxicated, Peter said it was too early in the day to be drunk, not that it was wrong for them to drink (See Acts 2).
But surely not all sin is the same and what of the so-called seven deadly sins, which are usually given as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony? Not sins according to some, but perversions of goods that can lead to sins. But then Jesus Sermon on the Mount lists lust as a equivalent of sexual sin. So which is it? Is thinking about doing something the same as doing it?
I think what the Great Teacher was doing was pointing out that a person with sufficient self-control to not carry out an evil deed still has the inclination, so we had best watch ourselves and not feel so very good that we didn’t do one thing or another that others have done. Maybe we didn’t do it because we chose not to because to do it was wrong or perhaps we elected not to pursue the path because of fear, which should earn us no reward. “Yes, if had I the courage, I would have robbed that bank, but I was a chicken.” So, where does that leave me?
Surely consummated acts mean more than contemplated ones?
Being out of the will of God? If God willed me to be a great scientist and locate the so-called God Particle, it would then be a sin to be a preacher. Or vice-versa. Or if I was to have a child who would eradicate cancer from the world and God intended this to be the third child, I was out of His will by stopping after two. How does one know? I have prayed often and with real intent and sincerity and never once have I heard that still small voice. Opening and closing of doors? Ok, but how do we KNOW for sure?
Can an insane person sin? If they cannot understand what it is they do and the consequences of their actions, can they sin? We do not hold insane people accountable for their actions. Does God?
Can a person not capable of making moral decisions sin? This is why many denominations believe there is not sin in children, that children dying before the age of awareness or accountability or before the law is made know to them (because without the law no sin is imputed (see Romans 5) And yet many people who believe the Bible believe that those who have never heard of Christ and the Salvation that can be had are damned, including little children and even embryos because of Original Sin, the sin that entered the word through Adam requires the atoning sacrifice.
Are there venial and mortal sins? And if so, what constitutes a mortal sin? Yeah, I know, it has to be grievous and there has to be intent and full knowledge of the sin and its gravity—at least that’s the Catholic view, which many Protestants say is wrong-headed thinking.
There are kosher laws and purity laws… Are these the same as the prohibitions against murder and stealing and such? What about the sexual taboos? Are they present to keep the peace or are they really damnable offences? And the command to honor parents seems to have no consequence beyond this world.
Without the law there is no sin.
More thoughts along the path to understanding.
The picture is from here and I like it more than most I have seen lately