The Difference Between Righteousness, Sin, Transgression, Iniquity, Lawlessness, Unrighteousness, and Wickedness

This study is available in Spanish here.

To view a list of all studies in this blog, click here.

Recommended before reading this study,

The Law of Moses Has Not Been Abolished

The Hebrew word for “sin” is “chatta’ah”, which means to “miss” an intended target, hence why, using the same original word, certain men that were slinging stones in the following passage did not “sin”, or or rather, “miss” their intended mark,

Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. (Judes 20:16 [NIV])

Where the target for man is to be the “representation of God”, otherwise called the “image of God”, that God created man to be,

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27 [ESV])

Hence why Paul calls man the “glory of God”, just as a wife is the glory of man,

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (1 Corinthians 11:7 [NIV])

Which relates to why all are called to imitate Jesus Christ,

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.(Ephesians 5:1-2 [ESV])

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1 [ESV])

Because he is the exact representation and glory of God,

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3 [BSB])

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:15 [NIV])

Yet because all have sinned is why all “fall short” and miss this target of being the glory of God,

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23 [KJV])

Where the Law reveals what being the glory of God is, since it reveals everything that is sin,

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7 [ESV])

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, (Romans 7:22 [ESV])

Which is why the the Law is called “the embodiment of knowledge and truth”,

if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— (Romans 2:18-20 [NIV])

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
(Psalm 19:7 [NLT])

Which is also called the Law of Moses,

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44 [ESV])

Which is the first five books of the Bible, otherwise called the Torah,

There is one Torah for the native-born and for the stranger who sojourns among you. (Exodus 12:49 [TS2009])

Or the “law of the Lord”,

(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) (Luke 2:23 [ESV])

Or the “book of the covenant”,

And the king went up to the house of the LORD, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the Levites, all the people both great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD. (2 Chronicles 34:30 [ESV])

Or the “book of the law”,

And the LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. (Deuteronomy 29:21 [ESV])

Or the “book of the law of the LORD”,

While they were bringing out the money that had been brought into the house of the LORD, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the LORD given through Moses. (2 Chronicles 34:14 [ESV])

Or the “book of Moses”,

And they set aside the burnt offerings that they might distribute them according to the groupings of the fathers’ houses of the lay people, to offer to the LORD, as it is written in the Book of Moses. And so they did with the bulls. (2 Chronicles 35:12 [ESV])

Which is a Law that has existed even before it was given through Moses,

Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
(Genesis 26:5 [KJV])

Where this Law reveals sins that exist outside the body, such as actions that miss how God wants man to act towards others, even towards God,

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14 [NIV])

So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. (Exodus 32:31 [ESV])

You shall not steal. (Exodus 20:15 [NIV])

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15 [ESV])

Or sins that exist against the body, such as actions that miss the natural purpose of the body sexually as designed by God,

You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22 [NASB])

Flee sexual immorality. Every sin, whatever if a man might do, is outside the body, but the one sinning sexually sins against the own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18 [BLB])

For woman was created for man,

neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (1 Corinthians 11:9 [NIV])

Which is why sexual relations end with man giving forth “seed”, to naturally impregnate a woman,

And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. (Genesis 38:9 [KJV])

Which relates to why homosexuals commit an “error”, for the sin of homosexuality misses the natural purpose of a woman being made for man, hence “sin against the body”,

and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:27 [ESV])

Or sins that exist in in the heart, such as covetousness, which misses how God wants man to think in his heart, which is where sins outside and against the body stem from,

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17 [NIV])

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
(Mark 7:21-23 [ESV])

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28 [BSB])

As such, disobedience to the Law is not only sin, but also  “transgression”, also referred to as a “trespass”,

When a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by deceiving his fellow citizen in regard to something held in trust, or a pledge, or something stolen, or by extorting something from his fellow citizen, (Leviticus 6:2 [NETBIBLE])

Then Jacob became angry and contended with Laban; and Jacob said to Laban, “What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me? (Genesis 31:36 [NASB])

‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. (Genesis 50:17 [ESV])

for every matter of transgression, for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, for any lost thing of which it is said that it is his; unto God cometh the matter of them both; he whom God doth condemn, he repayeth double to his neighbour.
 (Exodus 22:9 [YLT])

For as opposed to the meaning of sin, “transgression” or “trespass” means to disobey an explicit command of God, which are the Greek words “parabasis” and “paraptóma”, or the Hebrew words “maal” or “pesha”, where someone may transgress a command given in the Law of Moses,

All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. (Daniel 9:11 [NIV])

Or transgress a command given by God outside of the Law, hence why Adam and Eve fell into transgression when they disobeyed a specific command given to them to not eat the fruit of the forbidden tree,

but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17 [ESV])

And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman who was deceived and fell into transgression. (1 Timothy 2:14 [BSB])

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, hwow much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.
(Romans 5:17-18 [NIV])

Or why certain men were punished to death for “trespassing” specific commands of God given to them through prophets,

By the word of the LORD one of the company of the prophets said to his companion, “Strike me with your weapon,” but he refused. So the prophet said, “Because you have not obeyed the LORD, as soon as you leave me a lion will kill you.” And after the man went away, a lion found him and killed him. (1 Kings 20:35-36 [NIV])

So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, (1 Chronicles 10:13 [NASB])

You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you… (1 Samuel 13:13 [NIV])

And this is why even though sin existed before the Law came through Moses,

for till law sin was in the world… (Romans 5:13 [YLT])
Since commands in the Law that later came as “do not murder” and “do not steal” were already known to be sin, even by Gentiles to whom the Law was not given to,
For when Gentiles, not having the Law, do by nature the things of the Law, these not having the Law are a law to themselves (Romans 2:14 [BLB])

Transgression of the Law did not come until the Law was given,

because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. (Romans 4:15 [NIV])
Because the Law came forth with various commands to then be able to transgress one of them,
If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, (Leviticus 26:3 [NIV])
Why then the law? It was added for the sake of transgressions, until the seed came to whom the promise was made, ordained through angels in [the] hand of a mediator. (Galatians 3:19 [DBT])

In the likeness of the command given to Adam, which he transgressed,

but the death did reign from Adam till Moses, even upon those not having sinned in the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a type of him who is coming. (Romans 5:14 [YLT])

Where the commands in the Law are “righteousness”, which is the Greek word “dikaiosuné” and the Hebrew word “tsedaqah”,

And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Deuteronomy 6:25 [NIV])

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” (Romans 10:5 [NIV])

Which not only has commands of “do not steal” and “do not murder”,

You shall not steal. (Exodus 20:15 [NIV])

You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:13 [NIV])

But also commands related to giving to the poor,

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. (Leviticus 25:35 [ESV])

If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8 [NASB])

And since the commands in the Law are “righteousness”, transgression of the commands in the Law are thus the opposite, “unrighteousness”, which is also translated as “wickedness”, which is the Greek word “adikia” or Hebrew words “evel or avel or avlah or olah”,

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:35-36 [KJV])

Having forsaken the straight way, they have gone astray, having followed in the way of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wage of unrighteousness. (2 Peter 2:15 [BLB])

As such, sin is not only transgression of the Law, but also “lawlessness”,

Everyone who sins also commits lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness.
(1 John 3:4 [WEB])

Which means “having no law”, which is the Greek word “anomia”, or the Hebrew word “avon”, which is also translated as “iniquity”,

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah (Psalm 32:5 [ESV])

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:23 [ESV])

The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all the stumbling blocks and those practicing lawlessness, (Matthew 13:41 [BLB])

Hence why the Sodomites and Amorites lived in iniquity, because they lived without regard of the Law, “lawless”, and thus transgressed the Law of God because they disregarded it,

And when dawn came the angels hurried the angels hurried Lot, saying, In rising up, take  your wife and your two daughters whom you have, and come forth! that you should not also be destroyed together in the lawlessnesses of the city. (Genesis 19:15 [ABP])

But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. (Genesis 15:16 [KJV])

Yet iniquity is also charged against those who observe the Law, yet break any of its commands, such as the priests who wore their garments improperly,

You shall make them linen breeches to cover the flesh of their nakedness; from the waist even to the thighs they shall reach:
They shall be on Aaron, and on his sons, when they go in to the Tent of Meeting, or when they come near to the altar to minister in the holy place; that they don’t bear iniquity, and die… (Exodus 28:43 [WEB])

Because whoever observes the Law, yet transgresses even one command of the Law breaks the entire Law just as someone who is “lawless” that lives without regard of the Law,

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10 [NIV])

Where the punishment for transgressing the Law of God, whether someone lived with regard or without regard of the Law, is death,

For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. (Leviticus 18:29 [ESV])

You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. (Deuteronomy 13:9 [NIV])

Who having understood the righteousness of God, they did not understand that those who do such things are worthy of death, not only those that do the same, but even those who encourage those that do them. (Romans 1:32 [JB2000])