Hebrew Word for Sin: Chata, Miss the Mark
Updated: Mar 16
Hebrew has several words for “sin” primarily: chata, aavon, and pesha.
Today, let’s examine chata more closely.
Differences Between “Sin” and “Chata”
Chata is an action
Like most Hebrew words, chata describes someone’s actions. It’s a verb, a behavior.
English, however, defines “sin” as both a verb and a noun. We can have “Sin” like a type of cancer or commit a “sin” like stealing.
The origin of this thought is found in Greek Philosophy, which teaches that the physical world itself (i.e. the “flesh”) is basically flawed. This is the “Sin” (noun) we were all born with and until we shed this flawed body and become “spiritual beings” we will never be perfect.
If that sounds familiar, you’re definitely not alone. It may seem crazy to suggest it’s actually incorrect–I’m struggling to fully wrap my mind around it as well. But hear me out.
Striving against “Sin” vs Restoring Relationship
Our English word “sin” means “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” Related words include crime, debt, error, lawbreaking, offense, transgression, violation, wrongdoing.
Therefore, the opposite of “sin” is righteousness, right? Actually… no. Not in Hebrew, anyway.
In Hebrew, the opposite of “sin” is not “perfection”–it’s a restored relationship. Its chesed. That’s the true meaning of “sin”: separation from God. It’s about a relationship, not just breaking the law.
In Platonic dualism, the body (soma) is essentially corrupt and flawed. It must be left behind in the ascent to heaven. Sin is attached to the body, in fact, is an integral part of what it means to be a physical being. Guilt is the inevitable result of having a body since having a body is the equivalent of being flawed. My real issue in the battle against sin is my body and its passions. If I could just get rid of this physical prison, I would be the spiritual perfection God intended. In Christian thought, guilt is the result of a physical condition. Skip Moen
Greek Philosophy teaches that the best way to combat sin is to strive against this physical body with one’s mind. Believe differently, change your attitude, and stay away from inward mental error. Then your outward actions will follow those beliefs.
In scripture, “sin is not the inner moral struggle to believe the right things in order to have the right spiritual attitude” (Moen) but rather any behavior that breaks my relationship with God. In other words: not love.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. -James 4:17 ESV (emphasis mine)
Sin is not a thing we have (noun)–it's what we do (verb).
Chata is damaging
Another important difference is that the biblical meaning of chata does not separate the wrongdoing from its consequences.
Such as when you drop an expensive glass vase–the mistake and the disaster are pretty much the same. You broke the vase and the vase is now broken.
On the contrary, as in a court of law, the consequence is delivered separately from the crime. You stole something and now you will be put in jail. This is the context of our English word “sin.”
Why is this important? Because mainstream Christianity tends to think of sin as something that mostly just affects us, personally. But scripture shows us that sin always–always–affects other people as well.
Biblical chata doesn’t just break an imposed rule–its very definition is to do real damage to yourself and others. That’s why it makes God grieve.
Deeper Meaning of Chata
Miss the mark
In English, we tend to view “sin” as meaning the person is corrupt, bad, or awful. But in Hebrew it's different.
Chata is actually an archery term meaning simply to “miss the mark.”
This means that the archer was trying his best, had good intentions, and did pretty well. But as my Dad used to say, “Close… but no banana!” In the end, no matter how hard he tries to be good, he still failed to meet his goal.
When a piece of clothing gets stained, it’s still basically good, it just needs to have the stain removed. That’s the picture of chata.
Here’s another possible example of how chata may have been understood:
The origin of the word may be rooted in the pastoral lifestyle of ancient Semitic culture where pathways separated properties but allowed paths to open pastures or water. Sheepherders, taking their flock, sometimes would wander off the path and trespass onto someone’s property. Helpmewithbiblestudy.org
Again, the shepherd simply made a slight error but with grave consequences.
It’s like trying to draw parallel lines. If it’s even one-millionth of a degree off, it won’t look that bad right away. But farther and farther down you’ll see the lines getting extremely far apart.
And all because of one minor error.
Separation from God
My favorite explanation of chata is that it could actually mean offense–as in two people failing to get along. They “missed the mark” with each other.
It’s not a huge deal if I “chata” with a stranger and we don’t become best friends, but it IS a huge deal if God and I don’t get along.
The beautiful picture of the Gospel is that Yeshua came to restore our relationship with himself. He forgave us of our errors, crimes, and even rebellion. He took the consequences on himself.
One day, after our current body is swallowed up by death because of sin, he will remember us as he did Noah in the ark and give us new life.
All our hope is in the Resurrection of Messiah. Our inheritance from him is a brand new incorruptible body! There will be no more errors or separation… forever and ever.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2 ESV