A Besetting Sin

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks for a definition of “besetting sin.”

What … is a “besetting sin?” Are there different types of sin, or is sin an inclusive? What is sin anyway? Does it have anything to do with missing the bull’s eye?

Theologically speaking, sin is a transgression of divine law and an offense against God. For the nonbeliever, sin can be a violation of a moral principle, or merely a violation of some standard of taste or propriety.

Hester and Dimmesdale committed a sin that did not intentionally hurt anyone but their own souls,

Nicolas Sarkozy has committed the sin of voluntarism

THE 1913 Natives Land Act is considered by many people to be SA’s original political sin

The verb of which besetting is the participle form means “to surround with hostile intent; to set upon, attack, assault on all sides.” For example,
The fox was beset by hounds.
St. Anthony was beset by demons.
Believers are beset with sin.

In the expression besetting sin, however, the word “besetting” seems to mean “chief” or “principal.” Judging from usage, a besetting sin is one to which a particular individual is particularly susceptible.

A besetting sin is one to which on account of our constitution, or circumstance or both, we are peculiarly exposed, and into which we most easily and most frequently fall.

In the life of every individual, there is a “besetting” sin that can tower like a mountain between the individual and God.

Pastor John has a good word for those who battle the besetting sin of worry.

Prodigality is nearly as much the besetting sin of youth as avarice is the besetting sin of age;

Evelyn Waugh observed: Prince of Darkness is a magnificent study of sloth—a sin which has not attracted much attention of late and which, perhaps, is the besetting sin of the age.

Tolerating intolerance is still this country’s besetting sin

The expression besetting sin derives from a verse in the New Testament:

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us… –Hebrews 12:1 KJV

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7 Responses to “A Besetting Sin”

  • Stephanie

    You forgot to mention that the word “sin” does originate from archery. “Mark” is hitting the bull’s eye, “sin” is hitting anywhere outside the bull’s eye. In Judeo-Christian terms, to “sin” is to miss the bull’s eye of God’s will.

  • Naomi Hamm

    I have never heard that expression and therefore would recommend writers of our era, to not use it or sparingly use it. I think it may belong more in a historical document or historical romance novel then in our times.

    As always when in doubt just leave it out.

  • Ken

    Notwithstanding the religious context, I find the word “non-believer” jarring (from a philosophical preservative). Non-believer in sophistries? Everyone is a non-believer in one thing or another. … Is it just me? Have I just committed a sin?

  • Tom

    I’ve never run across the expression ‘besetting sin’. Thanks for explaining it so well; it’s an interesting concept.

    Hey, isn’t it a shame to call the tree-dwelling mammal a ‘sloth’? After all, we don’t call the peacock the ‘pride’, or the pack-rat the ‘greed’…

  • Julie

    After defining “besetting” as “surrounding with hostile intent, [etc.]” you proceed to offer a different “seems to mean” definition of a besetting sin. I would argue that the original definition is perfectly applicable in a theological context. The concept is that Satan, knowing the weaknesses of individuals, besets each one with the particular temptation designed to lure him or her into sin. According to biblical Christianity, this is a deliberate and hostile intent.

  • Andee

    I agree completely with Julie’s post. Satan certainly will and does “attack” and “surround with hostile intent.”

    Also, I’m so glad for the quotation of Hebrews 12:1. It’s one of my favorite verses. The writer’s use of “beset” in that verse also fits with the definition “surround with hostile intent.” Often we fall to sin when we feel completely surrounded by its temptation and can see no way out of it.

  • naomi hamm

    watch this one rule out! well as far as relgion goes, satin rules, and gods accursed. don’t let those old hagfags drive you up a wall. I prefer the cunning and coy and playful palling around of Lucifer. so beset this, there is no such thing as sin! smoke it out of pot, grassy this and grassy that…….hahahaha yea doan ya wish you were on my brew!

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