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What is Iniquity? Bible Definition and Importance for Christians

As found in the Bible, “iniquity” is defined as being corrupt or immoral in nature or character. Primarily, it indicates "not an action, but the character of an action", and is so distinguished from "sin."

Updated Feb 02, 2024
What is Iniquity? Bible Definition and Importance for Christians

Understanding the Essence of Iniquity

In the sacred scriptures, the term "iniquity" emerges as a profound descriptor of the corrupt and immoral nature inherent in human character. Unlike "sin," which encompasses the actions themselves, "iniquity" delves into the very essence of the action, portraying it as a distinctive character trait. 

As expressed in Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." This article delves into the multifaceted dimensions of iniquity, its biblical implications, and the critical distinctions between iniquity, sin, and transgression.

Definition of Iniquity

Iniquity, as articulated in the Bible, encapsulates the fallen nature of humanity, describing a disposition that is inherently wicked or immoral. It's not merely an action but the character of that action, as emphasized in Psalms 32:5 with the phrase "the iniquity of my sin." 

To provide further context, Merriam-Webster draws parallels, stating, "The use of illegal narcotics is not only a destroyer of personal health but also an iniquity that undermines our society." Synonyms such as corruption, degeneration, immorality, sinfulness, and vice further elucidate the multifaceted aspects of iniquity.

Synonyms of Iniquity: corruption, degeneration, immorality, sinfulness, vice.

Iniquity in Biblical Context

The Bible, a reservoir of wisdom, paints a nuanced picture of iniquity. 

Ezekiel 18:20 delineates the principle that the soul who sins shall bear the consequences individually, free from the burden of ancestral iniquity. 

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

Meanwhile, Exodus 34:7 highlights the divine balance, where steadfast love forgives iniquity but doesn't absolve the guilty. 

Keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.

Jeremiah 31:34 promises divine forgiveness, erasing iniquity from the divine memory. 

And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

The profound sacrifice depicted in Isaiah 53:5 underlines the gravity of iniquity, signifying its weight in the grand narrative of redemption.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Distinguishing Iniquity and Sin

The Hebrew language, rich in expression, employs three key words—Chattah, Awon, and Pesha—to convey the nuances of "sin, iniquity, or transgression." Chattah, akin to missing the mark, corresponds to sin. Awon, reflecting inner character, points to intentional deviation from standards. Pesha, symbolizing willful rebellion, is synonymous with transgression. Psalm 51 exemplifies their interchangeability, unraveling the depths of human frailty.

In Psalm 32:5, the psalmist lays bare the human condition, acknowledging the intertwining of "sin," "iniquity," and "transgression." Each term, while converging on the concept of evil and lawlessness, carries a distinct undertone upon closer inspection. This linguistic richness enhances our comprehension of the intricate dance between human fallibility and divine redemption.

Exploring Sin and Iniquity

Meaning of Sin: Missing the Mark

Sin, etymologically rooted in "missing the mark," encompasses actions against God or others. It encompasses doing the opposite of what is right, leading to adverse consequences. In the Old Testament, even unintentional sins found redemption through divine sacrifices, showcasing the gravity of falling short of God's glory (Romans 3:23).

Meaning of Iniquity: Conscious Deviation

Iniquity, however, signifies a conscious decision, a deliberate deviation without repentance. Micah 2:1 condemns those who plan iniquity, emphasizing the gravity of intentional wrongdoing. David's plea in Psalm 51:2 reflects the profound plea for cleansing from both sin and iniquity.

Iniquity Unveiled: A Gateway to Unchecked Sin

While God forgives iniquity upon genuine repentance (Hebrews 8:12), unchecked iniquity morphs into intentional sin devoid of fear for the divine. The metaphorical "cup of iniquity" depicted in Revelation 17:4 warns of the perilous progression toward shameless sin. Nations forsaking God exemplify the growth of shameless sin, leading to a degenerate mind, as vividly described in Romans 1:28-32.

Conclusion: Navigating the Complex Landscape of Iniquity

Iniquity, a profound concept embedded in the fabric of biblical teachings, transcends mere definitions. It unveils the intricate relationship between human frailty and divine redemption. As we dissect the layers of sin, iniquity, and transgression, we uncover not only linguistic nuances but profound insights into the human condition. The journey through the labyrinth of iniquity beckons us to introspection, repentance, and an unwavering pursuit of divine grace.


Merriam-Webster | Iniquity

Crosswalk.com | What Are Iniquities and How Are They Different Than Our Sins?

Photo Credit: ©Jonathan Coonrod/Pexels


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