Why We Sin,
or how a little mistranslation
led to a great misunderstanding!

by Wim Janse

His mother and father were ill, so little Johnny was sent to church on his own. "Listen carefully, Johnny", mom and dad had said, "so you can tell us what the pastor said in the sermon. That way we won't miss a thing".
Little Johnny went on his way.
After "church" he quickly went home, where mom and dad were waiting for him. "Well", dad asked: "What was the sermon about?". "Oh", little Johnny said, "it was about sin". "Ah", his father said, "and what did the pastor have to say about it"?
"He said he was against it!".

Yes, we can joke about it, but to many people, sin is a major problem. And we shouldn't think lightly of it. It caused many sleepless hours for a lot f good people. And what is more, God considers sin to be a very serious problem, but has solved it most awe-inspiringly. However, that is another topic.

Most churches teach and most people believe that we die because we sin; it's our own fault. That is the common idea. And they go to Paul's letter to the Romans to give you the proof:

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned"
(Rom. 5:12 KJAV)

"You see," they say, "there it is": "So death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned". Simple and clear! We die because we sin! It is our fault! Don't you have enough proof? In James 1:15 it says so too:

"Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death"
(James 1:15 KJAV)

"sin,.....,bringeth forth death". End of discussion!

Before we draw that conclusion, I suggest we take a look at another possibilty.

The concordant method of translating Scripture has learned that we must translate this verse in a different way. By consistently using the same word in English for the Greek word in the original text, we come to a better and clearer translation.
Here the Greek text has two little words: eph ho. The King James Authorized Version and most others translate this as "for that". But this is a wrong translation; "for that" in Greek is: dioti! Eph ho should be translated as "on which". And by doing so we get a totally different translation:

"Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through into all mankind, ON WHICH all sinned...."
(Rom. 5:12 Conc. NT - emph. mine, WJ).
"On which" all sinned?
But that means that we do not die because WE sin! It must mean that death somehow has so much power over us that it causes us to sin!

But what then about James 1:15, does he say that we die because of our sins?
Yes he does indeed. Let's take a look at what he says:

"sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death"

Ah, you say, because WE do it. O.K. it sure looks that way, but now look in what context James is writing here. James is writing about believers who are undergoing trial and are being drawn away by their own desires. James warns that if they do not stop those (wrong-) desires they will eventually die. We must think here about things like heavy drinking, eating and smoking. When we do things that can bring disease, like heart-, liver- or lungproblems, we may die from them. That is what James is talking about here, not the problem of Romans 5:12.

We have now seen that we all sin because we are dying. But how does that work? Where is the connection?

For that we have to go back to the very first chapters of our Bible. In Genesis 1 we have the history of the re-creation of the Earth and the creation of man.
In Genesis 2, Adam, and his wife Eve, are taken to a special garden that God had planted for them, the Garden of Eden. In it were all kinds of trees and bushes of which Adam and Eve were allowed to eat. But there were also two very special trees:

"And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil"
(Gen. 2:9 KJAV)

Nowhere do we find that Adam and Even were forbidden to eat from the tree of life, but they were forbidden to eat from "the tree of knowledge of good and evil":

"And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die".
(Gen. 2:16,17 KJAV)

God said that Adam would "surely die" after eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But Adam stepped into the subtle trap that Satan had set for him: he did doubt God's intention! Adam ate and there we have the problem!

So, you might say, where is the connection? Adam was going to die, what has this to do with us?

In order to come to a solution that shows us why we sin because we die, we have to dig a bit deeper into the text of Genesis.
Adam was to die after he had eaten from the forbidden tree. God said so. But what did God say exactly? The truth lies in the translation of the Hebrew words here. The Hebrew for "surely die" is, in a correct way of translating, given as "dying thou shalt die", also translated as "to die you are dying". This sheds new light on the matter. Adam became a dying creature the moment he ate from the forbidden tree! He lived, while dying, until he was 930 years old! Wow! That's news!

Now let's look once more at Romans 5:12

"Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through into all mankind, ON WHICH all sinned...."
(Conc. NT)

Adam , by eating, changed from a living soul to a dying soul -- to a mortal. God removed him from the Garden, so he would not have access any more to the tree of life. Thanks to Adam, thanks to that one act of disobedience to God, we are mortals too. We do not BECOME mortal because we sin, like Adam, but we ARE mortal when we are born.

Adam became mortal and through him we are the same - mortal. But how does this cause us to sin, which is our problem here that needs an answer?

The answer lies in Romans 5:21. The Concordant NT has here:

"even as Sin reigns in Death,...."

Sin reigns IN Death! Death has a pal: Sin. Death and Sin do not come alone, they are inseparable companions!!

Romans 5:12 tells us that death passed through into all mankind. Sin comes with death, so we can also say: sin passed through into all mankind!!

Now we have to apply it to us, to our situation.

Romans 5:12 says that "..death passed through into all mankind...". Most people, if not all, think that we start to live the moment we are born. Nothing is further from the truth. The fact that "death passed through into all mankind" means that the "to die you are dying" passed through into all mankind! The moment we are born we start to die!
Our development from baby to grown-up may seem impressive, but it is no more than the example of the ball and the hill.
A ball is pushed down from the top of a hill. It's speed increases as it rushes downwards (for us: our growth). The moment the ball reaches the flat road in the valley it starts to go slower (our middle years) and slower, until the moment it stops (our death).
We like to think that from birth on, we first experience pure growth and development, but, in reality, the opposite is true. We start dying the moment we are born. For many this is a disappointing idea, but nevertheless, true!

And here we have the solution we were looking for:
We are, like Adam, people who are dying! We are, from the moment we were born, in a state of "to die you are dying".
As we have seen, death (the process of dying) does not come alone. Death comes with his companion: Sin. "Sin reigns in death". It doesn't say: in the dead. There wouldn't be much to reign over! Sin reigns over those in the process of dying.

That is why we sin:
we are under a Ruler who causes us to sin.
We can't help it because we are dying!

Has Death the final word??

Death and Sin do not have the last word. They were conquered!
Now Grace reigns (Rom. 5:21).
Praise be to God, who provided the solution for us: Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary! He paid for all of us. Our sins are justified and we are reconciled! Praise be to Him!

©Wim Janse

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