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Article Info:
published: 3/31/13
updated: 2/27/14

Seven Deadly Sins

What are Seven Deadly Sins?

The Tower of Babel (Dante) was
motivated by humanity's
deadly sin of pride

The Seven Deadly Sins - lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride - are sins that characterize fallen humanity, so classified by traditional orthodox Christianity and especially held to, and taught by, the Roman Catholic Church. The Seven Deadly Sins are understood to summarize the Bible's teaching on sin (see verses below).

Are the Seven Deadly Sins found in the Bible? The seven sins are not found altogether in the same verse or passage in either the Old Testament or in the New Testament by Jesus Christ or the Apostle Paul. However, they are understood by many Catholics to summarize the teaching of the Bible on the subject of sin.

How does the Catholic church classify the seven sins? The seven deadly sins are cardinal sins (i.e. mortal wrongdoing), as opposed to venial sins (i.e. minor wrongdoing). Note: Protestant Christianity doesn't make this distinction. (For more information, see this chart to compare Catholicism and Protestantism.)

Do Protestant denominations and churches utilize the list? Some Protestants do, but most don't. Although the list of the Seven Deadly Sins was established well before the Protestant Reformation, the teaching has been embedded into Roman Catholicism in a way that it has not been in most Protestant churches. Protestant theology would agree that the seven vices on the list are sins, but it generally doesn't make a distinction between mortal and venial sins in the same way Roman Catholicism does.

What is the purpose of the list: The Seven Deadly Sins have been used to summarize the condition of fallen humanity for the purposes of education and edification; in other words, they teach people about what displeases God and by avoiding them it enhances the believer's efforts to live as a Christian.

The Seven Deadly Sins in the Bible

The Bible includes lists of sins, though none align exactly with the traditional "seven deadly" sins. For example Proverbs 6:16-19 reads,

“These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares
(Bloemaert), with the lazing servants,
illustrating the deadly sin of sloth

The only direct parallel between this list and the traditional list of seven seems to be “pride,” although there are other loose associations as well. (See the Christian view of human nature)

Also consider Galatians 5:19-20,

“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Because the Apostle Paul says at the end of this list that those who commit these sins shall not inherit the kingdom of God, these sins are traditionally classified as “mortal sins.”

Here are examples of Bible passages for each of the seven deadly sins:

  • Example Bible passages on lust: Gen. 3:6, Job 31:9, Pro. 6:24-25, Matt. 5:28, 1 Cor. 9:27, 1 Tim. 6:9
  • Example Bible passages on gluttony: Ex. 16:20-21, Num. 11:32-33, Luke 12:19-20, Rom. 13:13-14
  • Example Bible passages on greed: Ex. 20:17, Neh. 5:7, Job 20:15, 31:24, Matt. 16:26, 1 Cor. 5:11
  • Example Bible passages on sloth: Pro. 6:6, 10:4-5, Matt. 25:27, Rom. 12:11, 2 Thess. 3:10, Heb. 6:12
  • Example Bible passages on wrath: Ps. 37:8, Pro. 6:34, 14:17, Matt. 5:22, 2 Cor. 12:20, Eph. 4:26
  • Example Bible passages on envy: Ps. 37:1, 49:16, 73:3, Rom. 1:29, 1 Cor. 13:4, 1 Tim. 6:4-5
  • Example Bible passages on pride: Deut. 8:17, 1 Sam. 2:3, Pro. 8:13, 11:2, Matt. 20:26, Luke 18:14

Also see: Christian beliefs / Christianity facts / Christian symbols / Christianity main page

The History of The Seven Deadly Sins

"The Seven Deadly Sins" can be traced back to the 4th century A.D. when a monk named Evagrius Ponticus generated his own sin list, likely stemming from problems he saw in his own day (behaviors which undoubtedly were, and still are, present in other times and places). [1] (See Christian history)

His list included the following sins: gluttony, fornication/prostitution, greed, pride, sadness (i.e. envy – sadness at another’s good fortune), wrath, boasting (i.e. a verbal proclamation of inner pride), and dejection (i.e. gloominess, depression). Evagrius' list proved to have staying power in the Church and was translated from Greek into Latin and used for educational and devotional purposes.

In 590 Pope Gregory I revised Evagrius’ list, although the essence remained the same. Gregory’s list included sloth (a combination of three of the sins on Evagrius’ list), greed, pride, lust, gluttony, wrath, and added envy. Gregory also emphasized an order to the list: (1) lust, (2) gluttony, (3) greed, (4) sloth, (5) wrath, (6) envy, and (7) pride. [2]

Gregory’s list, and its order, was cemented into Roman Catholic tradition for centuries to come when the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) used them in his epic tale, The Divine Comedy. (See more on Dante)

Definitions of The Seven Deadly Sins

Definitions of the individual sins can vary depending on the era or theologian, yet there is significant overlap upon comparison. The following descriptions will provide a modern-day definition of the sin and also elements that have often been included in the definitions of the individual sins in Christian history. (See Christian theology)

(1) Lust

Dictionary definition: “intense or unbridled sexual desire” (Merriam-Webster)

Elements often included in the theological definition: lust as sexual desire; secondarily, lust as desire for other things like money and power

(2) Gluttony

Dictionary definition: “excess in eating or drinking” (Merriam-Webster)

Elements often included in the theological definition: an emphasis on over-indulgence, stress on lacking trust for future provisions, stress on taking from those in need, especially the hungry

(3) Greed

Dictionary definition: “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed” (Merriam-Webster)

Elements often included in the theological definition: excess, stress on lack of trust for future provisions, stress on taking from those in need, especially the poor.

(4) Sloth

Dictionary definition: “disinclination to action or labor” (Merriam-Webster)

Elements often included in the theological definition: laziness, primarily spiritual (i.e. lack of spiritual maturity, growth development); secondarily, physical laziness; spiritual laziness considered a rejection of God's grace

(5) Wrath

Dictionary definition: “strong vengeful anger” (Merriam-Webster)

Elements often included in the theological definition: out-of-control anger, inside is fueled by hate, outside is manifested through verbal and/or physical violence

(6) Envy

Dictionary definition: “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage” (Merriam-Webster)

Elements often included in the theological definition: excess, jealousy over a range of issue like materialism and sexual desire

(7) Pride

Dictionary definition: “inordinate self-esteem” (Merriam-Webster)

Elements often included in the theological definition: the chief sin from which others are generated, the sin that occurred in the Garden of Eden, Lucifer's sin

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1. Evagrio Pontico,Gli Otto Spiriti Malvagi, trans., Felice Comello, Pratiche Editrice, Parma, 1990, p.11-12.

2.  Introduction to Paulist Press edition of John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent by Kallistos Ware, p. 63

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