In Psalm 51, David is clearly deeply penitent and stricken by the enormity of what he had done.

It is evident that he blames none but himself, saying 'my transgressions' verse 1 ; 'mine iniquity' and 'my sin' verse 2 ; 'my transgressions' and 'my sin' verse 3 : and that he realises that all he has done in regard to humanity upon earth is actually sin against God himself, saying 'against thee, thee only, have I sinned', verse 4.

Yet, despite such piercing and penetrating feelings, David expresses himself to God in an ordered and intelligent way, choosing his words precisely.

In verse 2 he says cleanse me 'from my sin' וּֽמֵחַטָּאתִ֥י, using the Hebrew word chattah חַטָּאָה Strong 2403 but in verse 9 he says hide thy face 'from my sins' מֵחֲטָאָ֑י, using the Hebrew word chet חֵטְא Strong 2399.

I looked up chattah and chet supposing that, simply, the first would be singular 'my sin' and the second would be plural 'my sins'.

But it was not so : they appear to be two completely different words.

What is the difference, however subtle, between the two ?

All my quotations are from the KJV and it is this, underlying, text that I am interested in. The Hebrew text pasted is from Biblehub.

4 Answers 4


The two words in question are:

  • חַטָּאָה (khatta'ah) = "sin", feminine in Ps 51:2, & 3 [derived from the verb חָטָא (khata) "to miss, go wrong, sin"]
  • חֵטְא (khet) = "sin" masculine in Ps 51:5 & 9 [derived from the verb חָטָא (khata) "to miss, go wrong, sin"]

[For completeness, there is third adjectival form in V13, חַטָּא [khatta] = "sinful".]

The distinction between the masculine and feminine form is simply a quirk of two things:

  • the requirements of Hebrew grammar
  • the historical list compiled by Strong - a modern list would not make such a distinction.

Indeed, Strong's list includes a long parade of such nouns, all with an extremely similar (mostly indistinguishable meaning:

  • 2398 - חָטָא (khata), verb, = "to miss, go wrong, sin"
  • 2399 - חֵטְא (khet), Masc. noun = "sin"
  • 2400 - חַטָּא (khatta) Masc. adjective = "sinful"
  • 2401 - חֲטָאָה (khata'ah) Fem. noun = "sin, sin offering"
  • 2402 - חַטָּאָה (khata'ah) Fem. noun = "sin offering"
  • 2403 - חַטָּאָה (khata'ah) Fem. noun = "sin, sinful thing"

The root form of all these words is the verbal form above.

  • Thank you. You say that a modern list would not make such a distinction. Where would I find such a list (online) ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 23 at 7:35
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    @NigelJ - The Strong's list was made over 100 years ago. Others have made new lists that have a number of advantages over the old lists such as those of Goodrick and Kohlenburger (I have one of these). I have not look if any are online.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 23 at 8:49
  • @NigelJ - see www.google.com.au/search?q=goodrick-kohlenberger+concordance+online&sca_esv=f0b39c056d6199a4&sxsrf=ADLYWIKSlz--P47t5xY_8IrOWyZniwYX6A%3A1716463088913&source=hp&ei=8CVPZrOgNdPL2roP-bm2wAk&iflsig=AL9hbdgAAAAAZk80ACFbe_PCxSidTyUTYBLFhcyTWcuU&oq=Goodrick+and+Kohlenburger+concordance&gs_lp=Egdnd3Mtd2l6IiVHb29kcmljayBhbmQgS29obGVuYnVyZ2VyIGNvbmNvcmRhbmNlKgIIADIGEAAYFhgeMgsQABiABBiGAxiKBTILEAAYgAQYhgMYigUyCxAAGIAEGIYDGIoFMgsQABiABBiGAxiKBTILEAAYgAQYhgMYigUyCBAAGIAEGKIESP5FUABYmStwAHgAkAEAmAGdAqABxBaqAQYwLjIuMTG4AQHIAQD4AQL4AQGYAg2gAuAWwgIHECEYoAEYCpgDAJIHBjAuMi4xMaAH8zM&sclient=gws-wiz
    – Dottard
    Commented May 23 at 11:21

חַטָּאָה (Chattah) is feminine. חֵטְא (Cheit) is masculine.

They are same word. However, in Hebrew nouns are gendered. Some nouns have both male and female forms. "Sin" is one of them.

But in Psalm 51, the difference between the word in 51:2 (51:4 in the Hebrew) and 51:9 (51:11 in the Hebrew) is singular and plural. They are all masculine.

51:7 (51:9 in the Hebrew) uses a similar but different Hebrew word "תְּחַטְּאֵ֣נִי." It is the same root but now it is asking someone else to do something to the speaker. Here it means "purge me." Incredibly in Hebrew the same root that means "sin" can also mean to purge or purify of uncleanliness. See: enter image description here .

  • 1
    Why, then, does Strong treat this as two separate words ? ? ? You same 'the same root'. But surely that means they are different words ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 22 at 20:30
  • 2
    Presumably Strong categorizes male and female versions of words as separate words. That's just a category choice. It doesn't change anything about the words. Commented May 22 at 22:38
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    In 51:7 however, it is really a completely different meaning. That, to me, is much stronger argument for it being a truly different word in that verse. In the rest of the verses, David uses the male version of חֵטְא (makes sense because he is a man). He doesn't use the femail version. Commented May 22 at 22:40

Different shades of meaning relating to "sin" continue throughout the psalm. I found this footnote in the NABRE instructive (Keep in mind that NABRE uses a different numbering system than KJV, with "have mercy upon me" being verse 1 in KJB but verse 3 in NABRE.):

The first part (Ps 51:3–10) asks deliverance from sin, not just a past act but its emotional, physical, and social consequences. The second part (Ps 51:11–19) seeks something more profound than wiping the slate clean: nearness to God, living by the spirit of God (Ps 51:12–13), like the relation between God and people described in Jer 31:33–34.

Based on this, KJV verse 2 ("wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin") is part of the section of the psalm dealing with deliverance from the personal consequences of sin. The psalmist (whether David himself or a later author writing in his spirit) desires to be purified. On the other hand, KJV verse 9 ("hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities") begins the second second section, dealing with relationship between God and the psalmist. Here, the petitioner begs God not to look upon his sins and (e.g. vs. 11) prays for God's presence and the closeness of his spirit.

It strikes me in this context that sin is sometimes defined as a violation of God's law, and sometimes as a state of separation from God. Could the terminology be related to this, as the psalm's two sections seem to be? I am not qualified to give an opinion on the nuances of the particular words involved, but I hope this helps.

  • My question asks, specifically, for the difference between two Hebrew words, Strong 2403 and Strong 2399 which Strong deals with as two different words (different lexemes).
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 22 at 18:03
  • Right - as I admitted, I cannot offer help on this narrow issue but I hope the contextual analysis was helpful toward that. Commented May 22 at 18:20
  • My question was hermeneutic. I am not seeking analysis or interpretation.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 22 at 18:22
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    I understand your objection and accept it. I disagree with your use of the word "hermeneutic" to describe your objection. This word is defined as "a method or principle of interpretation", merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hermeneutic Commented May 22 at 18:38
  • My enquiry was hermeneutic and I defined the methodology in my question. The methodology which I defined in the question was a matter of the meaning of two distinct words. That was my hermeneutic question and its specifically defined method. I also defined the text that I was studying and about which I was seeking information.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 22 at 18:44

In Psalm 51:1-4, David focused towards confessing his sin to God, as verse 4 clearly stated, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned". While the term 'sin' in verse 2 may serve as a collective noun, David recognizes the gravity of even a singular transgression, and its power to separate his connection with God.

In Psalm 51:5, David reflects on his inherent sinful nature from birth, acknowledging God's desire for faithfulness, yet lamenting his own persistent wrongdoing. Here, the term 'sins' in verse 9 alludes to his daily transgression in ordinary life.

Throughout Psalm 51:5-15, Daivd earnestly pleads for forgiveness, recognizing the necessity of personal redemption to be of service to others sinners. The shift towards earthly concerns leading to the use of the plural form "sins" in verse 9.

  • My question asks, specifically, for the difference between two Hebrew words. Strong 2403 and Strong 2399 which Strong deals with as two different words (different lexemes).
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 22 at 18:04

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