by the
Baha’i Faith
The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith. The official website of the Baha'i Faith is: The official website of the Baha'is of the United States can be found here:
The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
How do I become Baha’i?

What’s the Difference Between an Error and a Sin?

Rodney Richards | Apr 3, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Interested in Other Topics?

We’ve got something for everyone.
Rodney Richards | Apr 3, 2017

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

We commit errors all the time—it’s part of being human. Are those errors sins, or simply mistakes?

Take my favorite example, driving a car. Pulling out into a small opening in oncoming traffic instead of waiting for a larger one might be considered rude, but may have just been a mistake in judgment or depth perception. Speeding—although most drivers exceed the speed limit—is considered an error worthy of a traffic ticket from the authorities.

So is speeding a sin against the law, a deliberate breaking of it? A little definition work here might help.


An error implies a mistake. Whether conscious or unconscious, inconsequential or severe, it’s in the eye of the beholder. We all make mistakes—that’s normal and natural. The Baha’i teachings say “mortal man is prone to err:”

… He [God] is closer to him than his own self. He will, indeed, so remain forever, for, whereas the one true God knoweth all things, perceiveth all things, and comprehendeth all things, mortal man is prone to err, and is ignorant of the mysteries that lie enfolded within him .… – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 186.

Webster’s Dictionary defines sin as “the willful breaking of any moral or religious law.” When we err it may be out of ignorance or inattention. When we sin we usually know what law what we’re breaking, but we break it anyway.

Interestingly, though, the word sin comes from the original Hebrew word hata, an archery term that literally means to miss the bullseye—but still hit the target.

We’ve had hang-ups about sin since the earliest times. The Seven Deadly Sins, codified in the 4th century, are: greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony, and wrath. Comparatively, behavioral psychologists have catalogued a list of over six hundred human virtues.

Simply put, we acquire virtues by doing the right thing, and commit “sins” by doing the wrong thing—or sometimes by refusing to do the right thing. If you’re attempting to become a better person, you strive to acquire virtues and eliminate sins.

But unlike some of the religions of the past, the Baha’i teachings don’t emphasize or belabor the concept of sin. Instead, they define it very differently than you may have heard it defined in the past: as the “attachment of spirit and self to the material world …”Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 140.

All sin, the Baha’i writings say, comes from our lower, animal nature; the ego; the insistent self:

God has created all in His image and likeness. Shall we manifest hatred for His creatures and servants? This would be contrary to the will of God and according to the will of Satan, by which we mean the natural inclinations of the lower nature. This lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan—the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 286.

Baha’is view sin as a personal matter, not a public one. For Baha’is there is no confession of sins, only a humble request for forgiveness made entirely, prayerfully and privately between each person and God. The Baha’i teachings advise us to conceal the sins of others, and to lovingly help those who miss the bullseye in life:

If ye become aware of a sin committed by another, conceal it, that God may conceal your own sin. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 55.

When we find a person fallen into the depths of misery or sin we must be kind to him, take him by the hand, help him to regain his footing, his strength; we must guide him with love and tenderness, treat him as a friend not as an enemy.

We have no right to look upon any of our fellow-mortals as evil. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 150.

We must look upon our enemies with a sin-covering eye and act with justice when confronted with any injustice whatsoever, forgive all, consider the whole of humanity as our own family, the whole earth as our own country, be sympathetic with all suffering, nurse the sick, offer a shelter to the exiled, help the poor and those in need, dress all wounds and share the happiness of each one. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 41.

We humans, the Baha’i teachings say, have a natural inclination toward the good. We’re spiritual beings who temporarily live in a material world, and all of us struggle to fulfill our essentially spiritual nature and overcome our animal traits. Baha’u’llah compares our tender hearts to mirrors that reflect what we point them towards:

Wert thou to cleanse the mirror of thy heart from the dust of malice, thou wouldst apprehend the meaning of the symbolic terms revealed by the all-embracing Word of God made manifest in every Dispensation, and wouldst discover the mysteries of divine knowledge. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 68.

Baha’is consider humans to be naturally good, fundamentally spiritual beings. Yes, we can all sin, by turning the mirrors of our hearts away from the sun—but because the sun is the source of all light and life, its rays can warm even the coldest heart.

You May Also Like


5 Ways to Raise Kind, Caring Children


Does Religion Help or Hamper Children Spiritually?


Facing Pain, Tests and Trials with Infinite Joy


characters remaining
  • John Grinder
    Jun 15, 2020
    Rodney, I read in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh where he defined sin as being any attachment to something of this world which becomes a veil between us and God. Unfortanutely, I am having troubles locating that text's location. If you, or any of your readers, should run across it, would you be so kind as to post it's location in the writings here in the comments of you fine article.
  • Charles Boyle
    Aug 13, 2019
    After reading this and comments below, I am comfortable with the idea of sin as misalignment with the Revelation of Baha'u'llah which offers the fundamental spiritual truths and principles that should underpin our lives, as well as the religious practices and disciplines that allow us to align with these. Sometimes we forget which is an error, sometimes we willfully ignore which is a sin for which we should be be held accountable.
  • Susie Awerkamp Arviso
    Feb 24, 2018
    The definition of the word "sin" in Hebrew means: "to miss the mark".It IS an error, as well as a sin.
  • Lory Gustafson
    Nov 17, 2017
    Learning that the word sin came from the Hebrew having to do with archery, and then regarding the word "sin" (with all those bad, big badnesses implied) as "missing the mark" was a revelation for me. Therefore the phrase "we're all sinners" takes on a different meaning and can be embraced.
    • Apr 24, 2018
      I agree Susie. Making mistakes can be intentional or unintentional. Intentional infers "sin" in the sense that perhaps trying a different path, or a way that is known to work would succeed. But there are also addictions, where people cannot stop their own behaviors themselves. Help is needed, sometimes severe intervention. Is it a sin to be addicted, or a human condition? The world is not black and white, sin and non-sin as you point out. There is much more grey. Thanks for pointing this out.
    • Susie Awerkamp Arviso
      Feb 25, 2018
      It can also be looked at as not getting it right.
  • May 29, 2017
    Ahhh. This article (which so beautifully mirrors the teachings of the Baha'i Faith), is a solace to my heart Rodney! Thank you.
  • Dennis Pettyjohn
    Apr 3, 2017
    Outstanding Mr. Richards, just very well stated!
    This lovely Faith has such depth of empathy and encouragement for the human condition ... truly 'good news' for the current age.
Connect with Baha’is in your area
What's your name?
Thanks my friend ! We want to connect you with a Baha’i in your area, where would that be?
Thank you so much! How can they best reach you?
To put you in touch with a Baha’i in your area who can answer your questions, we would like to kindly ask for a few details about yourself.
Connect with Baha’is in your area
Connect with Baha’is in your area
Get in touch with the Baha’is in your community.