Many popular Protestant gospel explanations and frameworks define the essence of sin as rebellion against God.

Two Ways to Live:

The sad truth is that, from the very beginning, men and women everywhere have rejected God by doing things their own way. We all do this. We don’t like someone telling us what to do or how to live—least of all God—and so we rebel against him in lots of different ways. We ignore him and just get on with our own lives; or we disobey his instructions for living in his world; or we shake our puny fists in his face and tell him to get lost.

How ever we do it, we are all rebels, because we don’t live God’s way. We prefer to follow our own desires, and to run things our own way, without God. This rebellious, self-sufficient attitude is what the Bible calls ‘sin’.

Knowing God Personally:

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Man was created to have fellowship with God; but, because of his own stubborn self-will, he chose to go his own independent way and fellowship with God was broken. This self-will, characterized by an attitude of active rebellion or passive indifference, is an evidence of what the Bible calls sin.

Christianity Explored:

But many people rejected Jesus. They thought they’d be happier making their own rules and living outside his kingdom. This rejection of the King is something we all do. Jesus called it sin.

But the Hebrew and Greek words for sin have the senses of failure, error, and evil.

What basis is there for defining sin as "rebellion"?

  • Is there any lexical support for such a definition (either through a sub-sense of those words, or through other words)?
  • Are there any passages which define or equate sin and rebellion?
  • 1
    Nice question here, though. But i think that "kowing God personally" doesn't define sin as rebellion, when it says " rebellion [..] is an evidence of what the Bible calls sin". I think the author puts rebellion more as a consequence or a caracteristic than a definition, while in the two others, the relation of rebellion as a definition of sin is crystal clear. Therefore, i think it should be removed. Dec 24, 2015 at 7:06

7 Answers 7


I would like to add to the answers already posted a few observations about the theological lexical register of the Biblical writers that may bear on the OP's question.

Is there any lexical support for [sin as rebellion] (either through a sub-sense of those words, or through other words)?

Yes. This is true both in the OT and the NT. The NT understanding of sin is the development of a Hebrew concept, and the vocabulary follows suit. Thus, although, as pointed out by the OP, the Greek ἁμαρτία (and a slurry of cognates) in Ancient Greek denoted "missing the mark", they are frequently used in the LXX to represent the particular Jewish notion of sin.1 In the NT these words are never used without these moral connotations (NIDTTE). This Hebrew background is therefore of primary importance in understanding the meaning of the NT authors.

In Hebrew, there are indeed other words conveying the notion of sin. The OP mentions חטא (ḥṭʾ), which can be used outside the moral realm to mean "to be mistaken" or "to miss". (See, for instance, Judg 20:16, of archers who could sling stones and not "miss" (ḥṭʾ).) The term is also used to express interpersonal ethical lapses (e.g. 2 Kings 18:14). The most common use in Biblical Hebrew, however, is in the theological sphere, where it denotes failure in one's obligations toward God, particularly in the legal and cultic domain. This is the most common word used for sin, used ~595 times. It contains no a priori notion of rebellion.

However, there are many other words that express related concepts of human evil sometimes translated "sin".2 The most relevant here is the term פשע (pšʿ) (~145 times). Unlike ḥṭʾ which can refer to a mere mistake (primarily cultic inadvertences), pšʿ essentially means "rebel", also sometimes translated "revolt" or "transgress".3 In interpersonal relationships, it means "willful violations by an inferior against a superior" (Luc; see, e.g., Gen 31:36, Prov 28:24). In man's relationship with God, this sense is preserved:

In biblical theology, the term refers to an open and brazen defiance of God by humans.

This, then, is the word that denotes the aspect of sin that comes closest to the notion of rebellion. Not surprisingly, it is a favorite of the (latter) prophets, where the role of Israel's pšʿ in their broken relationship with Yahweh is relentlessly rehearsed.

These prophets...make repeated use of pšʿ because their ministries devote significant attention to Israel’s past or present covenant treachery. They indict Israel for disrupting their covenant relationship with Yahweh. Isaiah begins his prophecy by depicting Yahweh’s relationship with Israel in terms of a father-son relationship. Israel, although a recipient of Yahweh’s abundant, tender care, has rebelled against her father (suzerain) (Isa 1:2) and faces severe judgment (1:28) (Carpenter).

A few (of many available) examples that well illustrate this theme:

Hos 7:13:

Woe to them, for they have strayed (or fled) from me!
       Destruction to them, for they have rebelled (pšʿ) against me!

Hos 8:1:

because they have transgressed (lit. passed by) my covenant
       and rebelled (pšʿ) against my law.

Isa 1:2:

Children have I reared and brought up,
       but they have rebelled (pšʿ) against me.

Rebellion is thus central to pšʿ.

The OP further asks:

Are there any passages which define or equate sin and rebellion?

Other answers have given many relevant conceptual parallels, the connection with Genesis 3 (which uses neither of these terms!4 ) being the strongest in my mind. This is summarized by Bloesch:

It should be acknowledged that sin entails both privation and positive rebellion, but the latter is prior to the former. "The origin of pride," says the prophet, "is to forsake the Lord, man's heart revolting against his Maker" (Ecclesiasticus 10:12 NEB).

To expand on this idea with a bit of lexical precision, I will just point out that, although they certainly emphasize different aspects of sin, the Biblical writers recognized close connections between ḥṭʾ, pšʿ, and other terms in this semantic domain (most prominently ʿwn). Isaiah states this directly in terms of their common end (1:28):

But rebels (pšʿ) and sinners (ḥṭʾ) shall be broken together,
       and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.

The Psalms include repeated rehearsals of synonymous parallelism using these two terms. This is often formulated in terms of Yahweh's grace, which, as with his punishment, applies "together" to every brand of evil entertained among men:

I acknowledged my sin (ḥṭʾ) to you,
       and I did not cover my iniquity (ʿwn);
I said, “I will confess my transgressions (pšʿ) to the LORD,”
      and you forgave the iniquity (ʿwn) of my sin (ḥṭʾ). (Psalm 32:5)


All English is ESV unless otherwise stated.

1. There are, of course, many other terms. See, Trench, "Synonyms of the New Testament", p. 239ff, for an extensive discussion. As pointed out by Silva (NIDTTE) and undoubtedly many others with modern linguistic sensitivities, the etymological distinctions drawn out there are not necessarily meaningful with respect to NT usage. Silva, regarding the dominance of ἁμαρτία + cognates:

[U]sing the language of semantic hierarchy, ἁμαρτία may be viewed, with some qualifications, as the superordinate of the other nouns, which are its hyponyms... But more important, within a theological framework, ἁμαρτία becomes for the NT writers the key term to express the fallen human condition.

2. Excerpted from NIDOTTE's index of semantic fields: אָוֶן (mischief, iniquity, deception, H224); ‏חָטָא‎ (sin, commit a sin, purify, H2627...); ‏עָוָה (do wrong, pervert, H6390...); ‏עָוַל‎ (act wrongly, H6401...); ‏פָּשַׁע (rebel, violate, transgress, H7321...)

3. Like ḥṭʾ, pšʿ has both noun and verb forms that are both very common. Both also can be used as participles: "sinner", "rebel", etc. I have represented all of these with the root consonants here.

4. In fact, none of the common words for "sin" is used in the Gen 1-11 saga that is so formative for the Hebrew notion of sin, with the single exception of Gen 4:7 (as if we needed another source of obscurity in that verse).


"ἁμαρτάνω". New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis. Ed. Moises Silva. Zondervan, 2014.

Donald G. Bloesch. Essentials of Evangelical Theology. Prince Press, 1978; 1:93.

Eugene Carpenter, Michael Grisanti. "פשע", New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. Ed. Willem A. Wangemeren. Zondervan, 1992; 3:705.

Robin C. Cover. "Sin", Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, Ed. David Noel Freedman. YUP, 1992.

Alex Luc. "חטא", New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. Ed. Willem A. Wangemeren. Zondervan, 1992; 2:90ff.


Sinning is described in the Bible as willfully transgressing God's law, and as turning away from him, the rightful ruler, to become his enemy and serve a different master. This seems to fit right into the Oxford English Dictionary definition of "rebellion":

rebellion, n.1
2.a. Open or determined defiance of or resistance to any authority, controlling power, or convention; an instance of this.

God is the ruler

There are many many verses about God's lordship, kingship, and domain. I include the following verses not because this concept is in dispute, but just to set up the stark contrast that follows, and to plant the idea of God's rightful rulership of the world firmly in the reader's mind:

For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. ... For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
Psalm 47:2,7-8 (ESV)

By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. Isaiah 45:23 (NIV)

Sinning is turning away from God

Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Psalm 53:3 (NIV)

The wicked turn aside from birth; liars go astray as soon as they are born.
Psalm 58:8-9 (NET)

Sinning is transgressing against God's law

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

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
James 2:9-10 (NIV)

Sinning makes us enemies of God

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Romans 5:6-10 (NASB)

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.
Colossians 1:21 (NIV)

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:18-20 (NIV)

Sinning is serving a different master from God


Satan is called the "ruler of this world" (Jn 12:31) and even the "god of this world." (2 Cor 4:4) Jesus says in John 8 that all who sin are slaves to sin, and implies that all men have either God or the devil for a father.

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.
John 8:44 (NIV)

Other gods

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Joshua 24:15 (ESV)

Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites.
Judges 10:6-7 (NIV)


No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

Israel's sinfulness is identified as rebellion

In Deuteronomy 9, Moses recounts a long list of Israel's sins, and repeatedly speaks of their sins as rebellion against God. For example:

But you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You did not trust him or obey him. You have been rebellious against the LORD ever since I have known you.
Deuteronomy 9:23-24 (NIV)

Similarly, Isaiah 48:8 says that Israel was "a rebel from birth."


The Bible implicitly equates sin with rebellion throughout its pages because sin turns us away from the one true king and makes us his enemy. The equation becomes explicit in Deuteronomy and Isaiah.


In this answer, I'm focusing on "Are there any passages which define or equate sin and rebellion?" Specifically, equating sin to rebellion.

Several sources show that rebellion is one type or aspect of sin. Sin is defined in 1 John 3:4 as "Transgression of the law". When this is willful, it is, by definition, an act of rebellion against God's law, and therefore against God.

This would be in alignment with the samples you've given. Gotquestions.org has a fairly detailed answer that talks about this.

Sin is described in the Bible as transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4) and rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7; Joshua 1:18). Sin had its beginning with Lucifer, probably the most beautiful and powerful of the angels. Not content with his position, he desired to be higher than God, and that was his downfall, the beginning of sin (Isaiah 14:12-15). Renamed Satan, he brought sin to the human race in the Garden of Eden, where he tempted Adam and Eve with the same enticement, “you shall be like God.” Genesis 3 describes Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God and against His command. Since that time, sin has been passed down through all the generations of mankind and we, Adam’s descendants, have inherited sin from him. Romans 5:12 tells us that through Adam sin entered the world, and so death was passed on to all men because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

The article goes on to describe the doctrine of original sin, in which we see sin as an inherited thing. Even that, however, is explained as having Adam and Eve's rebellion as the root source.

As shown in the paragraph above, a willing disobedience of God's Law (rebellion against His Law) was the origin of sin, for Satan, and for us.

The Biblical references cited:

1 John 3:4, King James Version (KJV)

4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

Deuteronomy 9:7 (KJV)

7 Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness: from the day that thou didst depart out of the land of Egypt, until ye came unto this place, ye have been rebellious against the Lord

Isaiah 14:12-15 (KJV)

12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:

14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.

15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

There are actually quite a few Biblical verses that talk about rebellion. For example, God equates it with other sins, such as witchcraft.

Samuel 15:23 (KJV)

23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

Also, you could look to the entire history recorded in the Historical books. Kings and Judges chronicle several generations rebelling against god, being judged for that sin, and repenting in a cycle that spirals downward.


What basis is there for defining sin as "rebellion"?

1 Samuel 15:23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

At first glance it might seem difficult to see a similarity between “rebellion” and witchcraft. However one can see that both have at their core the motive to gain what one desires. This can also be seen in what the New Testament calls the works of the flesh.

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

If one considers the world God created and the order he established, we can see that the exercise of our will apart from God results in actions inconsistent with that order and can be considered rebellion.

The core of the flesh is “self”. The opposite of living in the flesh is living by the Spirit;

Gal 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

The opposite of self is selflessness and can be found described in the Biblical description of love;

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love has long patience, is kind; love is not emulous of others ; love is not insolent and rash, is not puffed up,
does not behave in an unseemly manner, does not seek what is its own, is not quickly provoked, does not impute evil, does not rejoice at iniquity but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

One can see the volitional exercise of self-will apart from the leading of the Spirit as resulting in the contravention of God’s established order. This can be rightly called “rebellion”.


A Definition

Rebellion: an act of violent or open resistance to an established government or ruler.

Adam and Eve

Genesis 3:1-6 - Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?” 3:2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; 3:3 but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’” 3:4 The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die, 3:5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.”

3:6 When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.

The environment Adam and Eve were created in was as perfect as it could be. No wars, no hatred, nothing evil going on around them day in and day out. Their bodies were as perfect as human bodies could be. Nothing ached or didn't work, no cancer, no sickness, etc. As God declared, "it was good", and that included Adam and Eve. How, then, could anything go wrong?

God had told them not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden. They clearly KNEW they were not to eat of that tree, but they did. But it was a choice they decided to make. It was a 'deliberate' rebellion against the clear instruction, the clear will of God.

The Devil

Revelation 12:7-9 - Then war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 12:8 But the dragon was not strong enough to prevail, so there was no longer any place left in heaven for him and his angels. 12:9 So that huge dragon—the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world — was thrown down to the earth, and his angels along with him.

Heaven is the abode of God. It is where Christians long to go. It is where the word holy gets its definition. You could learn what you wanted about the creation. You could live a life with others without sin. Every spiritual blessing would be yours. All the riches of God are waiting for those who will enter heaven. But, as Revelation 12 points out, there was a time things were not like this.

Something happened that affected the pride of the devil. He felt he had an importance beyond everyone else. After convincing many to follow him, he choose to go to war with those he felt were inferior, those who did not share in his glorious plan(s). He rebelled against God and against all around him and fought. He lost and was thrown out of heaven as one who was a murderer, one who did not uphold the truth, and one who was a liar (John 8:44).


Romans 1:18-23 (The Message) - But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.

This section of scripture states there is more than ample evidence given by God to all of mankind. Further, it is God who has made sure those who have been made, us, can see and understand the invisible attributes, the eternal power, and the divine nature of God. In fact, it is so evident, there are none who have any good excuse for not believing.

Like Adam and Eve, like the devil, created beings are made without spiritual life. All created beings lack the spiritual power needed to live a holy life like that of God. Instead of turning toward God in a heart felt desire to be led by God, our choices are against the will of God, as with Adam and Eve. Or we are like the devil, where our pride makes us rebel and fight against God. The truth is there, but we find so much to suppress it in our effort to hide, or wilfully suppress the fact that God is greater than us.


God did not create anything evil. But, as shown above, inner compulsions of created beings, even when surrounded with the best environment and conditions possible, turn to rebellion toward God. We develop our own essence of sin, if you will, by our rebellious thoughts and actions.

That is a basis for defining sin as 'rebellion'.

p.s. - To be clear, neither did God create sin.

There was nothing created whereby one might 'catch' or 'be infected by' sin. It is not necessary to come in contact with someone who has a fracture to fracture a bone. All that is needed is to twist a limb in the wrong way, and there is a broken bone! Similarly, sin results when a person's will and relationship to God are twisted the wrong way, when the wrong one of two possibilities (good or evil) is actualized. (Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson)

As a side note:

Thankfully God knew all of this before creating any of us. As a result, Jesus Christ planned, before we were created, to wilfully gave his life that we might live. Acceptance of God's gift is your first acknowledgment to God that you live a rebellious life and want to change. Anything else is simply holding tight to sin instead of God.

And finally, a good read:


In Numbers 14:10-20 Israel people rebelled against God... Rebellion in not acknowledging the reverence of God and does not follow His command.. means they know who is in Authority who's giving command and instructions and people do not follow it and even reject Him and plans to chose a leader for themselves instead ( Self-Willed)..

SIN is according to the Word and what was written is everyone has sinned meaning even if they haven't heard the Word or even believe there is God still the Law exists.. no one can reason out that there sinless because the Glory of God is displayed in nature in scripture and in the mind and hearts of all of us. He said that I will put My Laws in their hearts and write them in their mind. A person can Sin without him knowing.

Rebellion is Sinning Willfully. Sin is either doing it willfully or unintentionally committed.

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    Can you give us the Bible verses that back up what you say about sin and rebellion?
    – Lesley
    Mar 3, 2021 at 12:01

The original sin of Adam was that of the original sin of Satan. That is Rebellion against the law of God. This meanimg need not be in the original etymology of the word sin as in "failure, error and evil" as it adds to it.

One can say that original sin of Adam was the evil of his rebellion against God and his error amd failure to recognise it.

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