Is there such a thing as the “Seven Deadly Sins” in the bible?
It’s one of those things that’s been around so long it seems as though it should be in the bible. Like, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. That’s not in the bible either. Or “This too shall pass” or “There but for the grace of God go I.”
So where did we get the notion of seven deadly sins? Roman Catholicism, with a lot of help from Renaissance painters, novelists, poets, and cultural icons, which embedded the false notion of 7 deadly sins so that it carries weight even to this day. But first, let’s go back to the bible.
Malachi lists 6 sins the priests did that brought destruction upon the nation. As John MacArthur lists them in his introduction to Malachi:
1) repudiating God’s love (1:2–5);
2) refusing God His due honor (1:6–2:9);
3) rejecting God’s faithfulness (2:10–16);
4) redefining God’s righteousness (2:17–3:5);
5) robbing God’s riches (3:6–12); and
6) reviling God’s grace (3:13–15).
Paul makes several lists of sins, but they’re longer than 7. (Galatians 5:19-21, for example).
Proverbs 6:16-19 lists six things the Lord hates, no, seven, but those sins are not the same as the renowned ‘Seven Deadly.’
So why seven? And why are these deadly? Isn’t all sin deadly? (Romans 6:23)
John MacArthur explains the general origin of what we know today as the list of 7 deadly.
Now some medieval monks, you know back in the medieval times between 500 and 1500, took all the sins and sort of spread them out over a table and they drew them all together in groups and they decided that they all sort of got reduced down to seven sort of motivational sins that were behind all sins and they were called the “Seven Deadly Sins.” The seven deadly sins are: pride, covetousness, lust, anger, envy, gluttony, and laziness. These medieval monks said all sin kind of fits into those categories. And these were the categorical sort of underpinnings or attitudes of the heart that led to all kinds of sin. Now that wasn’t a biblical group but it was sort of a classic group by those medieval theologians.
To be more specific than MacArthur, the generally accepted originator of the first list is Monk Evagrius Ponticus (345-399AD). He listed them as ‘seven evil thoughts’. In 590, Pope Gregory I revised this list to form the more commonly known Seven Deadly Sins.
The Catholic Church divides sin into two categories: venial sins, in which guilt is relatively minor, and the more severe mortal sins. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a mortal or deadly sin is believed to destroy the life of grace and charity within a person and thus creates the threat of eternal damnation. (Wikipedia).
That’s why there are 7 ‘deadly’ even though Protestants know that ALL sin is deadly.
|Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516): The Seven Deadly Sins.|
The 7 deadly sins were increasingly codified into Catholic doctrine and then gravitated to the culture. In other words, because we live lists so much, the list of seven deadly sins really caught on. When the Renaissance came, they became even more deeply ingrained in the culture. Medieval writers and artists such as Dante Alighieri wrote of them in his “Divine Comedy”. Hieronymus Bosch painted The Seven Deadly Sins. Printmaker Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) depicted them. Poet Edmund Spenser used them as a theme. And so on.
Today we have Lawrence Sanders’ Seven Deadly Sins series of detective novels, Se7enthe movie, and the manga series The Seven Deadly Sins.
So that is the history of the Seven Deadly Sins not being in the bible (as a list, or as a sin that’s any more special than any other sin).
Remember, all sin kills. That’s why we must kill IT. We cannot engage in a program is sin management, as Jared Wilson says in the Sunday School curriculum “Seven Daily Sins.” In an interview with Trevin Wax, Trevin asked Jared about the difference between sin-management and sin-killing.
Trevin Wax: Why are Christians tempted toward sin-management instead of sin-killing? What’s the difference?
Jared Wilson: Sin-killing is more painful and requires more self-honesty. Any schmuck can change his behavior. The Pharisees did. Buddhists do. The unsaved working the program in addiction recovery can do that. But it’s the desire, something much more elusive, much deeper, more rooted in our interior life and worship-wiring, that has to be fixed.
It’s the difference between mowing over weeds and actually uprooting them. And it’s a pain to pull weeds; we’d all just rather mow them down. Over and over and over again. It takes some grit to manage our sin — and then we can feel proud of ourselves — but it takes grace to kill sin.
We must kill it. There must be grace to do it. Don’t mow over your sin, whether there are “seven” or not. Uproot them! The best sermon I’ve heard on sin-killing is John MacArthur’s “Hacking Agag to Pieces.” I recommend it.