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Just One More “Itching Ear” Doctrine,
Needing to be Confronted!


          In the last few weeks this writer has heard one of these “Itching Ear” doctrines once to often; once directly from the pulpit and twice from Christian brethren looking for consolation and answers.  This “Itching Ear” doctrine which is a Real Christians do not sin.cunningly devised fable is that; “It is impossible for true Christians to sin!”  “Once a person is born again he receives a divine nature and sin is not part of that nature,” obviously then he can not sin.  Sounds really good does it not?  Note the picture of a woman who has fallen for this “Itching Ear” doctrine or cunningly devised fable.  This picture was taken from a Donald B’s website.

Over the past few weeks this writer has prayed much on how to confront this error, other than to confront ones desire to cover failure and comfort guilt, on which one might build such a belief.  Therefore, I believe the best course of confronting this “Itching Ear” doctrine is by allowing the Word of God through the Spirit of God to bring willing and open believers to the truth.  It appears at least to this writer that this cunningly devised fable comes mainly from two roots.  One is the misunderstanding of the two Old Testament types of sin.  One is the “Sin of Omission” which some call a “transgression of the Law” not sin!  The other is the “Sin of Commission” which they label as “Sin.”  The second is the one which can not be committed by a true Christian.  This false belief stems from improper Biblical Hermeneutics of such verses like 2nd Corinthians 5:17 and 1st John 3:4-9.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, (2) speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…  (7) But reject profane and old wives' fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness” (1st Timothy 4:1-2, 7).  Did you happen to take note of the last 4 words in verse 7?  Exercise yourself toward godliness.”  Anyone reading these words would immediately recognize that this command, given by the Apostle Paul, clearly recognizes that an option exists.  The option is that “one can just as easily exercise oneself toward ungodliness, either by taking action along that line or taking no action whatsoever toward godliness.”  Paul is clearly and precisely telling Timothy how to avoid unrighteousness, which as you know is Sin.  Paul in this passage is NOT speaking to an unbeliever.  He is speaking to a Christian!  Not only to a Christian but to Timothy who was the head of the church in Ephesus (Ref. 1st Timothy 1:3).  Paul understood the Christians propensity to sin and its possibility, hence the warning.

On the heels of this warning comes another, which is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy.  “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; (4) and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2nd Timothy 4:3-4).  A warning all of us should heed.

In Titus’ words to Bishops (episkopos), which means someone who is charged with the duty of seeing that things are to be done properly, a curator, guardian; a superintendent, sentry or scout, he rights this “holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.  (10) For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, (11) whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:9-11).  We must at least give some thought to the possibility that God knew these deceptive lies would come in these last days and that is why He commanded us to “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  (16) But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.  And their message will spread like cancer…”  (2nd Timothy 2:15-17a).

The point being in these last days there are many doctrines that will come forth specifically designed to deceive the gullible and unlearned brethren.  They are designed to attract the nominal (if there is such a thing) believer whose only purpose for Christ and His Church is the hope of escaping Hell and living his life with as little true Christianity as possible.  Unfortunately these doctrines are extremely cunning and they sound wonderful; in the same way as the devil’s argument to Eve was in the Garden of Eden.  The problem is that they are exceedingly frustrating, discouraging and dangerous to the true believer that wants more from Christ and His Church then a social club and a get out of Hell free card.

Let us start confronting this “Itching Ear” doctrine by first defining the two Old Testament types of sin; the “Sins of Omission” and “Sins of Commission.”  A “Sin of Commission” is something we do (we commit) against the command of God by the act of our own free will (Ref. Leviticus 6:2-3).  For example; “If a person sins and commits a trespass against the LORD by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor, (3) or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it, and swears falsely—in any one of these things that a man may do in which he sins…”  

A “Sin of Omission” is when we fail to do something commanded by God (omit or by accident) through a knowing act of our will but without the fore-knowledge of that transgression (Ref. Leviticus 4:2).  “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the LORD in anything which ought not to be done, and does any of them…”  The “Sin of Omission” is also described as “Sins of Neglect of Duty” (Exodus 4:13-14; Numbers 9:13; 2nd Kings 12:6; Jonah 1:3; Haggai 1:2 etc.);  “Unfaithfulness” (Leviticus 6:4; 1st Kings 20:40; Nehemiah 1:7; Isaiah 5:7; Hosea 10:1-2 etc.) and “Unfruitfulness” (Isaiah 5:2; Matthew 3:10,13:22; Luke 13:6, 19:20; Hebrews 6:8 etc.). 

One pastor I know and I have listened to, describes these two sins as “Sin” and “Transgression.”  He teaches when an individual deliberately or intentionally disobeys God that is called “Sin.”  He says this type of sin is impossible for a true Christian.  That is what the woman’s tee-shirt in the picture above is proclaiming and what she undoubtedly believes.  On the other hand when one unintentionally without fore-thought goes astray that is not “Sin” it is a “transgression of the law.”  This pastor tries to give credibility to this argument by comparing the two Hebrew and Greek words for “Sin” (Chattă’th), and “Transgression” (pesha’) showing that their meanings are different.  Let us compare them to see if this argument is correct. 

The all encompassing word “Sin” “Chattă’th” appears 294 times in the Bible.  Its basic meaning is an offense against God or “man.”  A full word study shows basic differences between “chattă’th” and other words rendered “Sin” true enough.  But for the most part, chattă’th represents any sin committed with forethought or committed by omission.  It is any offense against God or man (cf. Leviticus 4:14).  It is defined as missing the road or mark designated by God (155 times). 

Chattă’th also means “sin offering” (135 times).  The law of the “sin offering” is recorded in Leviticus 4 – 5:13; 6:1-30.  This was an offering for some specific “Sin” whether it is committed wittingly or unwittingly; intentional sin (Sin of Commission;” Ref. Leviticus 6) or unintentional sin without intending to do it and perhaps even without knowing it at the time (“Sin of Omission;” Ref. Leviticus 4:2; 5:15).  Chattă’th is derived from the verb chătă’ and ‘the noun chéta,’ which occurs over 102 times in the Biblical Hebrew.  This word again means “Sin” in the sense of missing the mark or the path or to trespass (pesha) or to be led astray; again wittingly or unwittingly.  This may be sin against a man (Ref. Genesis 41:9, the first occurrence of the word) or God (Ref. Deuteronomy 9:18).  Second, it indicates the “guilt” of such an act (Ref. Numbers 27:3).

The Greek masculine noun “pesha” means a revolt, rebellion, sin (state of), transgression, or a trespass.  Note this definition includes the “Sin of Commission” to revolt or rebel which is its primary meaning and the “Sin of Omission” in the words transgress or trespass as well.  For example; have you trespassed on somebody’s property without knowing it or broken the speed limit unwittingly.  Have you ever offended another without meaning to or unknowingly, that is the definition of the word “trespass.”  In other words the “Sin of Omission.”

Look at Genesis 31:36 “Then Jacob was angry and rebuked Laban, and Jacob answered and said to Laban: "What is my trespass (pesha’)?  What is my sin (Chattă’th), that you have so hotly pursued me?”  It is such passages which prove that chattă’th” and “pesha” are simply general word used  to define all types of “Sin.”  Since Jacob used two different words, he probably intended two different degrees of “Sin,” not two different types of “Sin.” Simply; all degrees of sin are still “Sin!”  All of which need an atoning sacrifice.

Now let us look at the Greek.  The primary Greek word for “Sin” is “ἁμαρτία – hamartia” and it appears 167 times in the New Testament.  It is a “feminine noun” which simply means it is generic for all types of sin.  All the other Greek words for “sin” used in the New Testament are derivatives of this word, such as “ἁμαρτάνω – hamartanō, (verb)” and “ἁμάρτημα – hamartēma (noun).”  The other Greek word used for “sin” in the New Testament is “προαμαρτάνω – proamartanō (verb).”  This word used only twice in the New Testament is simply the past tense which means “have sinned already” (Ref. 2nd Corinthians 12:21, 13:2).

These derivatives have the same meaning “to miss the mark” or an act of disobedience to Divine Law.  Hamartia” is the most comprehensive term for moral deviation found in the Greek.  It is used of sin as:

  1. a principle or source of action, or an inward element producing acts of sin, so that it might be shown to be sin (cf. Romans 3:9, 5:12-13, 20, 6:1-2, 7:7-8)
  2. a governing power or principle (e.g. Romans 6:6 – “the body of sin”)
  3. a generic term inclusive of continuous wrong doing or lawlessness.  Paul uses the term “prasso” in association with this type of sin; meaning the practice of sin (cf. Romans 1:32, 2:1; Galatians 5:21).

The Greek word “hamartano” which is the verb form of “hamartia” adds insights that will help us to understand thoroughly the use of the word.  The aorist tense (meaning continual action) referring to an act of sin is used in 1st John 3:6 (twice), 8, 9 and the present tense usage in 1st John 5:16 (twice) indicates, not the committal of an act, but the continuous practice of sin.  Keep this in mind when we get to 1st John 3:4-9.

The Greek word “transgression” in the New Testament is “παράβασις – parabasis.”  Its meaning is a disregarding, violating or a breach of the law.  The indication is one of consciously or unconsciously violating the law.  Once again the definitions seen above include the “Sin of Omission” as well as the “Sin of Commission.”  There is no distinction from sin and transgression.  If one transgresses the Law or one purposely sins it is still defined as “SIN.”

Let us look at one last word; the Greek word for “iniquity or lawlessness, transgression or unrighteousness, “anomia which comes from anomos.”  It is the condition of violating the law because of ignorance or because of a direct decision to violate it.

So what have we learned?  We have learned that the basic meaning of the primary Hebrew word for “Sin” is, Chattă’th.  Its meaning does include subtle differences depending on context, but the basic meaning is identical.  It means “missing the road or mark” which is determined by God.  The word can represent either the “Sin of Omission” or the “Sin of Commission.”  Showing there is no difference, both are defined “Sin.” 

We see the same thing in the word “pesha” translated “transgression” in the Old Testament which means “rebellious sin” or a “revolt” against God and “parabasis” in the New which means a violation or a breach of the Law.  They both have the same basic meaning and they both include unconscious or willful sin.  It is the same for “anomia and anomos” there is no distinction between the “Sin of Omission and the “Sin of Commission” they are both “sin;” both needing an offering for that sin.  In the New Testament that Sin Offering was Christ.  

The argument used by this pastor that there is a difference between a “Sin” and a “transgression of the Law,” “Sin” being the “Sin of Commission” and a “transgression” being the “Sin of Omission” is invalid and without proper foundation.  In other words, it is error!  When one misses the road or mark established by God, whether it is by mistake or on purpose, whether it be once or continuous it is defined as “Sin” and needs to be repented of.  If not, the consequences are dangerous and ultimately disastrous.

Now let us look at the Scripture used by these misinformed believers as the foundation of their belief.  First is John 6:56, 15:5; 2nd Peter 1:4; 1st John 2:5, 5:20 that state that believers are “in Christ; and have a divine nature.”  And if there is no sin “in Christ” and Christians are “in Christ” it is impossible for a Christian to sin.  They then associate these verses with 1st John 3:4-9 and it becomes understandable, especially to those who are unskilled in proper Biblical Hermeneutics, how they developed this mistaken belief that Christians can not sin.  Now any first year Bible student knows that proper Biblical interpretation starts with keeping all scripture in its proper context and making all judgments on the foundation of that context.  For after all, a text without a context is a pretext!  Therefore, let us now confront the pretext that “Real Christians Can Not Sin!”  Then we will look at 2nd Corinthians 5:17 and 1st John 3:4-9 in their context using correct Hermeneutics. 

John 6:56, 15:5; 2nd Peter 1:4; 1st John 2:5, 5:20 state that believers are “in Christ; and have a divine nature.”  Our deceived brethren extrapolate this out to mean that “if there is no sin “in Christ” and Christians are “in Christ” then it is impossible for a Christian to sin.”  Seems logical to assume that, right?  Being in Christ, as we shall see is extremely important, in fact it is at the crux of the matter for understanding how people believe that Christians can not sin if they are in Christ.  There are no fewer than thirteen different Greek prepositions translated “in” in the King James Version of the Bible.  In general, the Greek preposition “en” (one of the prepositions translated “in”) simply denotes a fixed location time or sphere, a place of resting.  Also, the preposition “en” besides being translated “in” is also translated “among” 119 times, “at” 113 times, “on” 47 times, “through” 37 times, along with a dozen other words such as “by” “with”, “wherein,” “hereby,”  “shortly,” and “glorious.”  So to make any assumption regarding the exact meaning of the word is questionable at best and is no way sufficiently concrete enough to establish a doctrine upon.

There are other phrases involving “en” that are used for “in Christ” that have the same basic meaning.  The phrase “in Christ” or its equal is used about 27 times by Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus.  It also occurs 164 times in all the letters of Paul, and 536 times in the New Testament.  Needless to say understanding exactly what “in Christ” or “in the Lord” means is indispensable to a proper understanding of the New Testament.  To be “in Christ” or “in the Lord” does not solely mean to be inside Christ, as tools are in a box or clothes in a closet, but it is implicating much more.  The meaning is much more along the lines of a personal and intimate relationship with Christ which is the distinctive mark of His authentic followers.

When we come to understanding this, it becomes evident that as we walk in absolute harmony with the Lord’s will we do not sin and, for that matter, we can not sin.  The crux of the matter is, walking in absolute harmony with the Lord’s will.  Any realistic and honest Christian knows that by shear experience this is a goal we often fall short.  There are times we fail and it is during those times we are no longer in pure harmony with the Lord and therefore we sin.

Being “in Him” is a spiritual reality, walking in perfect harmony with Him is also a spiritual reality.  Unfortunately there is a physical reality also.  One in which we must choose to accept and strive for and one we must live in.  “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (12) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.  (13) And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:11-13). 

Even though these verses clearly point out the existence of a spiritual reality as well as a physical reality that we all must deal with on a daily basis, some will still say, does the Bible not say that "whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remains in him and he cannot sin because he is born of God” (Ref. 1st John 3:9)?  Yes, it does!  But please notice that this verse says that this is true of every believer (whosoever); is born of God.  Now we all know by reason of experience that sinless perfection is not true of every Christian, yet this verse says it is true.  How can that be?  What is the explanation?  The answer is simple: Every believer is born of God and at his new birth he receives God's life and nature, and those, of course, are sinless.  However, by natural birth the believer received a life and nature from his earthly human parents which is sinful.  Hence, every Christian has within him his old sinful life and nature as well as his God given nature which is sinless; hence the warring of the flesh and spirit (cf. Romans 6:11-13, 7:23).  The one he received by his natural birth; the other by his spiritual birth.  Both exist in the same body, so that he is capable to do things that please God and also capable of sinning.  It all depends on which life has the upper hand in his daily experience.

This study is by no means finished at this point but it is a good start.  Therefore we will continue this teaching next month by looking closer at this physical reality we all must live in.  By examining arguments that stem from verses like John 15:2-4; 2nd Corinthians 5:16-17; 1st John 3:4-9 and others.  Finally we will give scriptural references that our brethren who believe this doctrine can look up study and meditate upon.

  Back to Top Part Two

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