Updated: Aug 23
I have often wondered about the difference between these three words. My brain pondered the idea that surely if I had sinned then I had transgressed and also committed iniquity. Surely it is this simple? Right?
Some would argue that these three words are the same: sin, transgression and iniquity? However, we find these three words used simultaneously in many scriptures denoting that they do not have the same meaning. One such scripture is Psalm 32:5:
I acknowledge my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah (NKJV)
Consider also one more scripture in Exodus 34:7:
Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin, by no means clearing the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation. (NKJV)
From these two scriptures alone, one should be able to see that these words mean different things. So, what is the difference and why is it important in understanding sin? I hope I can break this down in a simple fashion so that it will bring a real clarity.
It is my opinion from studying these three words that a person can be a sinner (that is they have sinned) without being a transgressor or having committed iniquity. Please allow me to explain.
The word sin denotes to miss the mark. It is likened unto an archer aiming at a target. Every time a person (any human being) performs an action which violates a law of God that person has missed the mark. Perhaps that individual was not aware that they were violating an established command of God, it doesn’t matter, they still sinned. The Creator is keeping a tally. A person can truly be ignorant of the ways of God and yet every time they perform an act that violates His standards they have still sinned (missed the mark). This is why scripture can say, “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
A person who is ignorant of the teachings and instructions of Almighty God would not truly be able to commit transgressions and iniquity.
The word transgression means to “trespass” or “to rebel”. A rebel is a person who resists or defies rules or norms and rises up against the powers that be (dictionary.com). As defined by The Free Dictionary: a rebel is a person who refuses allegiance to, resists, or rises in arms against a government or ruler. A person who resists any authority, control, or tradition.
You see, only a person who knows right from wrong, a person who knows what is expected of them by the Creator, can choose to trespass or rebel against His authority. A person not knowing or understanding the ways of God cannot truly rise in rebellion. Their rebellion would be limited only to their understanding and then the subsequent rejection (trespass) of it.
David, in the Psalm quoted above, stated that he would confess his sin (missing the mark) unto God and that he would not hide his transgression (rebellion/trespass) against the LORD. David knew right from wrong. He knew full well what he was doing when he committed his sin with Bathsheba. He knew it was a sin (missing the mark) but he chose to transgress (rebel/trespass) against the LORD’s commands.
To “sin” points to an action taken, perhaps without knowing or by accident, whereas a “transgression” denotes the CONDUCT of a person who chooses to do wrong when they know the right way to walk. A transgressor deliberately “chooses” to do wrong. Like David, a transgressor is fully aware that he is going against commands of God.
Let me throw in another scripture to now show what the word iniquity means:
Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope (Isaiah 5:18).
Here we have the third “woe” in the book of Isaiah. This woe is against those who are obstinate and determined to persevere in their sin; to the point that it will eventually bring about the judgment of God against them.
These are not people who commit sin unaware but those who seek after it and willingly commit sin; those who take every opportunity to go after it in any manner necessary and acceptable to their own corrupt and fleshly appetites. They desire it and gratify their flesh; all the while knowing that they are engaging in open rebellion against God and His commands.
“Sin as it were a cart rope” is used to denote the ungodliness of their behavior! About this statement the Talmud states, “the evil imagination or corruption of nature at first is like a spider’s thread, but at last it is like to cart ropes; as it is said, “woe to them that draw iniquity” (T Bab. Suuca, fol. 52 . 1. & Sanhedrin, fol. 99. 2. Vid. Bereshet Rabba, sect. 22. Fol.).
The Targum compares it to those who choose to sin a little, and they go on and increase until they are strong, and “their” sins are as a cart rope (John Gill).
Herein we see the progression of sin if left unchecked in our lives. Iniquity denotes not so much an action, or conduct, but the very CHARACTER of the person. A person who has willfully transgressed the commands of God habitually to the point that they are in danger of their conscience being seared with a hot iron and now instead of their sin being like a spider’s web it has become a multi-twined rope from which they drag around their iniquity. Their boldness in rebellion has slapped God in the face and is sure to draw swift judgment upon them if repentance does not soon take place.
The word iniquity means “crookedness, bent, to twist, perverted”. It denotes the character of a person who corrupts the word – teachings and instructions – of God to suit their own fleshly appetites. They have “twisted”, “bent” or made “crooked” His holy teachings to suit their own perversions, arguments, lusts, and excuses.
After David knowingly committed adultery with Bathsheba (transgressed) he then sought to make his sin right. When that plan didn’t work out, he deliberately set out to have Bathsheba’s husband murdered. All of this was to appease his fleshly appetite. The prophet Nathan had to set him straight. Fortunately, David repented.
This is why I said that a person who does not know the truth or has never walked in the truth cannot truly commit iniquity, because a person must first have known truth to rebel (transgress) against God and then to let this rebellion continue until it becomes full blown iniquity.
Ancient Israel was well aware of their transgressions (rebellion). The LORD revealed it to them all the time through His prophets. However, instead of repenting from their sin, and transgression, they chose to let it progress to the point of iniquity. Then, without repentance, their iniquity brought the judgment of their Elohim upon them.
The Apostle James gives us a firm warning when it comes to sin and death:
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is FINISHED, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren (James 1:14-16).
I capitalized the word “finished” in that verse because that is the key. Sin left unchecked will continue to mature until it will bring the judgment of God. There is an old saying that I have heard all of my life: “sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay”. I don’t know who first made that statement but it is so true.
Are you walking with the LORD? Have you ever sinned? Yes, the Bible says so! Are you knowingly doing things against His teachings and instructions? If so, you are a transgressor. If you admitted that you are a transgressor (rebel) then are you going to repent and go the other way toward God? If not, your transgressions will continue to grow until you commit iniquity. Then, your iniquity will bring the judgment of God upon you.
Perhaps these words from Yeshua have a deeper meaning now:
But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:48).
He used this parable to speak volumes! Are WE walking in what knowledge and understanding that we have been given? Are we using our gifts, talents and abilities to bring Him glory?