Mistake Or Sin?
by Sandy Simpson, 3/13/02

Today we often hear the word "mistake" coming from pulpits, and especially in defense of false teaching and false prophesy.  "Cut him some slack!  He just made some mistakes".  "We all make mistakes, so don't judge lest you be judged."  We even hear the word "mistakes" being substituted for the word "sin" in many presentations of what I have termed "Gospel Lite" today.

Dictionary Definitions

So is it proper to substitute the word "mistake" for the word "sin"?  We'll look at the problem of one word "mistakenly" being used for the other.

First, let's look at the definition of the words "mistake" and "sin" in the "Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary" & "Merriam-Webster Collegiate Thesaurus".

Dictionary - MISTAKE

Main Entry: mis·take 
Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English, from Old Norse mistaka to take by mistake, from mis- + taka to take -- more at TAKE
Date: 14th century
transitive senses
1 : to blunder in the choice of <mistook her way in the dark>
2 a : to misunderstand the meaning or intention of : MISINTERPRET <don't mistake me, I mean exactly what I said> 
b : to make a wrong judgment of the character or ability of
3 : to identify wrongly : confuse with another <I mistook him for his brother>
intransitive senses
1: to be wrong <you mistook when you thought I laughed at you -- Thomas Hardy>
- mis·tak·en·ly adverb
- mis·tak·er noun 

Dictionary - SIN

Main Entry: sin 
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English sinne, from Old English synn; akin to Old High German sunta sin and probably to Latin sont-, sons guilty, est is -- more at IS
Date: before 12th century
1 a : an offense against religious or moral law 
b : an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible <it's a sin to waste food> 
c : an often serious shortcoming : FAULT
2 a : transgression of the law of God b : a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God
synonym see OFFENSE 

Thesaurus - MISTAKE

Entry Word: mistake
Function: verb
Text: 1 to take one thing to be another <he mistakes sarcasm for wit>
Synonyms: confound, confuse, misdeem, misidentify, mix, mix up
Related Word: misconceive, misknow; addle, jumble, muddle, tumble
Contrasted Words: discern, distinguish, grasp, perceive; differentiate, separate
Antonyms: recognize

Synonyms: MISUNDERSTAND 2, misapprehend, misconceive, misconstrue, misinterpret, misread

Synonyms: MISJUDGE 2, misdeem, misesteem

Thesaurus - SIN

Entry Word: sin
Function: noun
Text: 1 
Synonyms EVIL 3, crime, diablerie, iniquity, tort, wrong, wrongdoing

Synonyms EVIL 2, debt, wickedness, wrong

Synonyms IMPERFECTION, deficiency, demerit, fault, shortcoming

Now, let's break down the differences between "mistake" and "sin" from a secular Dictionary and Thesaurus before we get into more practical and theological definitions.

(1) Word: The words are different.

(2) Function: "Mistake" is primarily a verb, sometimes an adverb or noun.  Today it is being used as a noun almost exclusively, when it is actually a verb (take/mis-take). "Sin" is primarily a noun, but it is also being used a lot today as a verb.  Looks like we have almost juxtaposed the grammatical usage of these words in modern English.

(3) Etymology:  "Mistake" means to "take by mistake". "Sin" is being "guilty".

(4) Date: "Mistake" is a Middle English word from the 14th century. "Sin" is a Middle English word from before the 12th century.  But sin, as a word in Hebrew and whatever language was spoken in the pre-flood Genesis, is a word that has been around since the beginning of time.  I can only assume that the word "sin" came first, then the word "mistake" followed shortly on it's heels.  People never change.

(5) Let's look at the definitions.
Definition: Mistake - to blunder in the choice, to misunderstand the meaning or intention of, to make a wrong judgment of the character or ability of, to identify wrongly : confuse with another, to be wrong (mistaken)
Definition: Sin - an offense against religious or moral law, an action that is or is felt to be highly reprehensible, an often serious shortcoming,  transgression of the law of God , a vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God
Do the definitions match?  Are they alike in any way?  Not really.

(6) Synonyms: not only are "mistake" and "sin" not synonyms of each other, but there is not one word in common among the synonyms of each one.

The conclusion is that there is absolutely no Dictionary or Thesaurus definition that both mistake and sin have in common.

Practical Definitions

Examples of a "mistake":

(1) You add two and two and get the sum of five.
(2) You take a right turn when you should have taken a left.
(3) You think someone meant something they did not.
(4) You think someone can do something when they are not able to.
(5) You see someone in the supermarket and think he is someone you know when he isn't.
(6) You accidentally delete a computer file you really need.
(7) You use a word like "mistake" to define something that is a "sin".

Examples of a "sin":

(1) You lie, commit adultery, steal, kill or think about doing them.
(2) You treat others not in the fruit of the Spirit.
(3) You have a character trait which causes you to subvert moral laws.
(4) You teach false doctrine.
(5) You make false prophecies.
(6) You promote or do actions that go against the precepts of the Word of God.
(7) You claim new revelation "beyond what is written".

Can you see the difference now?  How can people claim that those who teach false doctrine have made a mistake?

Even if a person teaches false doctrine unknowingly, it is still a sin and must be repented of in order for it tobe forgiven.

If a person is teaching false doctrine and has been admonished but still does not repent, just how far from a mistake is that?  I would say just about as far as you can get.  Unrepentant false teachers and false prophets are living in the worst possible sin because they are in rebellion against God and LEADING MANY PEOPLE ASTRAY!

Scriptural Word Usage

Let's look at the words "mistake" and "sin" in the Bible.

The word "mistake" appears in the sixty six books of the Bible the following number of times:
(American Standard Version)
(King James Version)
(New International Version
(New King James Version)
(Revised Standard Version)
(Young's Literal Translation)
0 0 5 0 1 0

The word "sin" appears in the sixty six books of the Bible the following number of times:
393 389 421 393 398 406


To be fair, let's add all the variations of the word "mistake" such as mistake, mistakes, mistaken, mistakenly, mistaker, mistakers, mistook. We then have the following statistics:
0 0 6 3 3 0

Add all the variations of the word "sin" such as sin, sinful, sinning, sinner, sinners, sinned, sins, and we come up with the following statistics:
750 766 ("sinneth" included) 915  (sorry KJV-Only fans!) 770 758 761

Starting to get the picture?

Now I ask you ... what does the Bible teach about the condition of man?  What does it teach is the problem of man?  What does it teach are the actions of men who are sinners?  What is the overwhelming message of the Bible with regards to the usage of the words mistake and sin?  The verdict is obvious.

Should we then be proclaiming the gospel, framing it in terms of "Jesus Christ will forgive all your mistakes if you just recognize them" or "Jesus Christ will forgive your sins if you repent of them"?

There is absolutely no way, after looking at the evidence already presented, that a biblical Christian, in good conscience, can use the word "mistake" in place of the concept of sin!

Let's look at those rare occurrences of the word and derivatives of "mistake" in the Bible.  We'll use them from the most prolific version that shows them, namely the NIV.

(1) Genesis 43:12  Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake.

(2) Leviticus 22:14  "‘If anyone eats a sacred offering by mistake, he must make restitution to the priest for the offering and add a fifth of the value to it.

(3) Judges 9:36  When Gaal saw them, he said to Zebul, "Look, people are coming down from the tops of the mountains!" Zebul replied, "You mistake the shadows of the mountains for men."

(4) Ecclesiastes 5:6  Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?

(5) Jeremiah 42:20  that you made a fatal mistake when you sent me to the LORD your God and said, ’Pray to the LORD our God for us; tell us everything he says and we will do it.’

(6) Mark 12:27  He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!"

In any of the passages above were they using the word "mistake" in place of the word "sin"?  No. Let's look at them one by one.

Genesis 43:12: Jacob/Israel thought that the silver that was in their sacks might have been a mistake.  This is using the word "mistake" the same way as the dictionary defines it.

Leviticus 22:14: This is an important point.  The Bible makes a DISTINCTION in this verse between a sin and mistake.

Judges 9:36: The shadows of the mountains are mistaken for men.  This definition is the same as the dictionary definition for "mistake".

Ecclesiastes 5:6: This is a second important example.  The word "sin" and "mistake" are, again, contrasted in this verse.  A vow unkept is a sin, not a mistake.  A sin is a sin, not a mistake! Apparently people were making the same excuses even back in Solomon's day.  There truly is nothing new under the sun!

Jeremiah 42:20: This is another case where a mistake is contrasted with a sin.  The people made the mistake of asking Jeremiah to pray to the Lord and tell them everything the Lord told him, because the next verse states: "I have told you today, but you still have not obeyed the LORD your God in all he sent me to tell you."  Their mistake was to ask for the truth; to disobey that truth was the sin.  This is the same sin we see today in people who ask for the truth, but then when confronted with the truth they do not obey the Lord.  One command of the Lord is to get away from false teachers and false prophets.  It is not a mistake to disobey this command, it is a sin!

Mark 12:27: The Sadducees believed that there was no resurrection. Jesus' response to this disbelief is translated in the NIV and NKJV as "You are badly mistaken."  Upon first reading of this verse it looks like their belief about this false doctrine was just a bad mistake. We might assume that since their doctrines were wrong about the resurrection, they were simply arguing from a mistaken premise. But we must look further at this verse for the Greek word translated in the NIV/NKJV as "mistaken". Come to find out, there is an English translation problem with this verse.  It is not very well translated in the NIV/NKJV.  This is where cross referencing and Strongs are indispensable (note to KJV-Onlyists!).
27  He is not the God of the dead, but of the living: ye do greatly err. 27  He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err. 27  He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!" 27  "He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken." 27  He is not God of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong." 27  he is not the God of dead men, but a God of living men; ye then go greatly astray.’

The Greek word translated as err, mistaken, wrong and astray is:

4105 planaw planao plan-ah’-o
from 4106; TDNT-6:228,857; v

AV-deceive 24, err 6, go astray 5, seduce 2, wander 1, be out of the way 1; 39

1) to cause to stray, to lead astray, lead aside from the right way
1a) to go astray, wander, roam about
2) metaph.
2a) to lead away from the truth, to lead into error, to deceive
2b) to be led into error
2c) to be led aside from the path of virtue, to go astray, sin
2d) to sever or fall away from the truth
2d1) of heretics
2e) to be led away into error and sin

Nowhere in the definition of this word does it define this word directly as "mistaken".  The sense is much closer to the words deceived, in error, gone astray, seduced, wandering, out of the way.  As you can see from the Strongs definition, this part of the verse is better translated "you go greatly astray" or "you therefore do greatly err" and not "you are badly mistaken".  It could also be translated "you are deceived", "you have gone astray" (YLT), "you have been seduced", etc.  There is a difference between being mistaken and deceived/deceiving, going astray/leading astray, and erring/causing to err, which are sins. Being mistaken is to make a mistake.  Even the word "err" is not the same as "mistake", not even in our modern English dictionary definition. To err is human, but it is not done without sin.  Sin is error that leads to death.  The Sadducees were clearly in doctrinal error and in sin.  This is a case where the NIV/NKJV do not do justice to this verse. (Chalk one up for the KJV on this one!)

The point is that this verse, properly translated in the KJV, ASV, RSV and YLT is not about mistakes at all but about error, deception, and going astray from the truth.  This verse makes the point that error from the truth is deception, not a simple mistake.

Sin - A Biblical Definition

1 John 3:4  Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.

Sin is not a mistake.  It is a willful breaking of the law.  The Law of Moses was fulfilled in Christ the sinless One who paid the penalty of sin for us so that we would not have to suffer sin's wages of death.

1 Corinthians 15:56  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It was no mistake that Jesus Christ came to redeem us. What must we do to be rid of sin?

Ezekiel 18:30  "Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.
1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Jesus paid the price.  He redeemed us back from death to life if we confess our sins, turn from them, and believe that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, Who alone can redeem us and give us eternal life.

Titus 2:14  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Galatians 4:5  to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
Ephesians 1:7  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace
Romans 3:24  and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus
Colossians 1:14  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Words Matter!

I have had so many people write to me and tell me to stop warning people away from false teachers and false prophets because they are "just human" and "making mistakes".  I always write back to them and point out that teaching false doctrine is not a mistake, but a sin. Claiming to speak for the Lord Jesus Christ things that do not come true or are not biblically true is a sin.

The New Apostolic Reformation is teaching a whole generation to think that false prophets are really true prophets who make mistakes.  But there is no such thing in the Bible.  They are not only trying to redefine the English language, but to redefine biblical truth.

Words have meanings.  Third Wave false teachers are currently in the process of redefining both the English language and the truths of God's Word, and calling it "new revelation" and a "paradigm shift".  Let's all be careful that we don't take a paradigm shift into foolishness and accept new revelation that drags us further into sin.

It is my prayer that those engaged in teaching false doctrines and making false prophecies will cease and desist, repent of their sins, return to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word and to the foot of the cross.

In the meantime, beware of false teachers who teach you that a sin is a mistake!

(c) 2002 Sandy Simpson, ACT