Sin as an Archery Term

Many Christians today find it helpful when describing sin to mention that the word “sin” was an old archery term that meant “missing the mark.” The goal with this illustration is to show that God’s standard is perfection, and anything short of that is sin. However, Randy Newman in his book Questioning Evangelism exposes some of the problems with this analogy:

It doesn’t help that some Christians have tried to illustrate sin as an archery term. ‘Sin is simply missing the mark,’ they say. ‘The same Greek word for sin is used as an archery term, so we’re all just target-missers.’ Well, the same Greek word might be used, but the two concepts couldn’t be further apart. When the Bible describes the nature of our rebellion against God, it paints an uglier picture than our simply missing a bull’s eye (see Rom. 3:10-18). Rather than aiming carefully at God’s target, we turn our backs and shoot arrows everywhere else. Wanting to please ourselves, we ignore the true bull’s eye and set our affections on seductive targets that cannot satisfy, sanctify, or save. We are not primarily target-missers; we are self-centered false-target worshippers. I wouldn’t suggest saying any of that to a non-Christian, but I would avoid the archery illustration. Following such faulty reasoning, a thoughtful seeker might wonder why God would go to all the trouble of the Cross simply because we aren’t spiritual Robin Hoods. (Questioning Evangelism, p. 81-2)

Sin as an Archery TermA similar problem may arise when we say “nobody is perfect” as a way of admitting that we are sinful. Or we may simply allow the person with whom we are sharing to accept this as his understanding of his own sin. Each of these ways of explaining sin run the risk of making people think that sin is merely an inability to do something. The problem with this is that we are unable to do a lot of things, but most of those inabilities do not make us morally guilty. The main reason that we are sinful is that our wills are corrupt, not that we want to do good but simply fail. We choose to sin; we do not want to do God’s will as we ought.

While the archery analogy implicitly portrays sin as an inability to do good, what people need to hear – if they are to hear the gospel – is that they have chosen not to do good. Then they may see that it is this choice for which God calls them to repent and trust Jesus to forgive.



To learn more about this insight and others concerning how to share your faith well, we recommend reading through Randy Newman’s Questioning Evangelism.

Have you heard the archery analogy for sin used before? Have you used it yourself? Do you agree with Newman’s take on it, or do you find that it is beneficial despite what he said? Let me know in the comments below!

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