A lucid and engaging study of the biblical theology of sin, taking into account views in theology, philosophy, and the social sciences, and offering insights for contemporary culture and ministry.
"The haunting question of Karl Menninger, 'Whatever Happened to Sin?', is given full, thick answer here. Sin has been flattened, trivialized, reduced to 'crime,' and completely misconstrued among us. With shrewdness and finesse, Biddle shows the 'thickness' of sin in the Bible, and the way in which sin, without reductionism, pertains to the deepest human reality. Biddle is one 'Mark' that impressively does not miss!
Columbia Theological Seminary
Biddle addresses the essential nature of sin. He examines the dominant Christian understanding of sin, carefully rereads key biblical texts, and reveals the lexical depth of meaning in the biblical tradition. Missing the Mark examines the following aspects of the subject of sin: key passages and terms in the Old and New Testaments that deal with sin, its consequences, its effect on the community; reflection on the nature of sin, including original sin, in classical Christian theology; the relationship of the biblical theology of sin to Western juridical practice as well as philosophy, psychology, and the social sciences; the implications of the biblical theology of sin for the life of the church and Christian ministry.
The "sin as crime" metaphor, with its emphases on the juridical, the individual, and willful rebellion, and its interests in assignment of guilt and exaction of punishment, addresses certain aspects of the problem of human existence. Yet, although dominant in the Western popular mind, it does not fully reflect the biblical witness, nor provide a sufficient basis for the church's ministry in addressing human wrongdoing and its consequences, nor take account of the insights of contemporary theological movements, philosophies, and social sciences that do not confirm its validity as a thorough description of the problem of being human. Consequently, the conventional understanding of sin offers the church meager tools for ministry. In response, Mark Biddle reveals the biblical insights often overlooked in the dominant theological tradition, tests these insights against those of contemporary theology, philosophy, and the social sciences to confirm their accuracy and currency as descriptions of significant aspects of the human condition, and shows the value of these insights into sin for ministry to the wide range of human pain and sorrow.
Central, of course, to the difficulty in framing a "biblical" doctrine of sin is the incongruity between the semantic fields of terms for "sin" in the biblical languages and in Western languages. In common English usage, "sin" refers to "transgression of divine law" or to "the human propensity for such transgression," definitions that emphasize the act apart from its consequences or the tendency as a trait of human nature and that imply willful violation of a known standard. Biblical terms and usage involve a much broader spectrum of ideas--the act as a wrong regardless of intention, the real effects of the act loosed on the world as an abiding condition unless and until remedied, shortcomings resulting from ignorance or incapacity, a communal phenomenon with communal consequences, etc.
The dominant Christian understanding of sin sees it primarily as a soteriological problem; that is, it pertains chiefly to what are the conditions that make salvation necessary. The Bible, and common experience, suggest, however, that sin is more than a blot on one’s record, that, as an organic continuum, it influences the world including and surrounding the sinner in real and lasting ways. Biddle explores the dynamics of sin as act, condition, and cause. Its effects cannot be remedied merely by a transaction analogous to forgiving a debt. Sin does damage that must, as far as possible, be repaired. A biblical view of sin understands that sin’s impact on the world reverberates throughout the sinner’s environment, across space and time. In this sense, sin becomes a cause, and it creates a distorted environment that is the pre-condition for other sin.
Careful comparison of the Bible's understanding of the complex phenomenon of human sin with reflection on common experience reveals that the Bible offers a corrective to Western Christian hyper-individualism, moral relativism, and inadequate theological tools and rationale for ministry to the full range of wrong and wrongdoing. Specifically, the Bible speaks to a number of aspects of sin often largely ignored in Christian theology and ministerial praxis.