International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
in-ik'-wi-ti (`awon; anomia): In the Old Testament of the 11 words translated "iniquity," by far the most common and important is `awon (about 215 times). Etymologically, it is customary to explain it as meaning literally "crookedness," "perverseness," i.e. evil regarded as that which is not straight or upright, moral distortion (from `iwwah, "to bend," "make crooked," "pervert"). Driver, however (following Lagarde), maintains that two roots, distinct in Arabic, have been confused in Hebrew, one equals "to bend," "pervert" (as above), and the other equals "to err," "go astray"; that `awon is derived from the latter, and consequently expresses the idea of error, deviation from the right path, rather than that of perversion (Driver, Notes on Sam, 135 note) Whichever etymology is adopted, in actual usage it has three meanings which almost imperceptibly pass into each other:
(2) guilt of iniquity,
(3) punishment of iniquity.
Primarily, it denotes "not an action, but the character of an action" (Oehler), and is so distinguished from "sin" (chaTTa'th). Hence, we have the expression "the iniquity of my sin" (Psalm 32:5). Thus the meaning glides into that of "guilt," which might often take the place of "iniquity" as the translation of `awon (Genesis 15:16 Exodus 34:7 Jeremiah 2:22, etc.). From "guilt" it again passes into the meaning of "punishment of guilt," just as Latin piaculum may denote both guilt and its punishment. The transition is all the easier in Hebrew because of the Hebrew sense of the intimate relation of sin and suffering, e.g. Genesis 4:13, "My punishment is greater than I can bear"; which is obviously to be preferred to King James Version margin, the Revised Version, margin "Mine iniquity is greater than can be forgiven," for Cain is not so much expressing sorrow for his sin, as complaining of the severity of his punishment; compare 2 Kings 7:9 (the Revised Version (British and American) "punishment," the Revised Version margin "iniquity"); Isaiah 5:18 (where for "iniquity" we might have "punishment of iniquity," as in Leviticus 26:41, 43, etc.); Isaiah 40:2 ("iniquity," the Revised Version margin "punishment"). The phrase "bear iniquity" is a standing expression for bearing its consequences, i.e. its penalty; generally of the sinner bearing the results of his own iniquity (Leviticus 17:16; Leviticus 20:17, 19 Numbers 14:34 Ezekiel 44:10, etc.), but sometimes of one bearing the iniquity of another vicariously, and so taking it away (e.g. Ezekiel 4:4; 18:19). Of special interest in the latter sense are the sufferings of the Servant of Yahweh, who shall "bear the iniquities" of the people (Isaiah 53:11; compare Isaiah 53:6).
Other words frequently translated "iniquity" are: 'awen, literally, "worthlessness," "vanity," hence, "naughtiness," "mischief" (47 times in the King James Version, especially in the phrase "workers of iniquity," Job 4:8 Psalm 5:5; Psalm 6:8 Proverbs 10:29, etc.); `awel and `awlah, literally, "perverseness" (Deuteronomy 32:4 Job 6:29 the King James Version, etc.).
In the New Testament "iniquity" stands for anomia equals properly, "the condition of one without law," "lawlessness" (so translated in 1 John 3:4, elsewhere "iniquity," e.g. Matthew 7:23), a word which frequently stood for `awon in the Septuagint; and adikia, literally, "unrighteousness" (e.g. Luke 13:27).
D. Miall Edwards