Degrees of Sin

Why is it assumed by some that there are NOT degrees of sin, when both the Bible and logic assure us otherwise?

Let us examine some of the teachings of the Bible about the degrees of sin, starting in the beginning of the Old Testament and working into the New, but not attempting to exhaust the subject at any point.

As we examine the records in Exodus and Deuteronomy of the various kinds of sins and the punishment for them, we cannot but be impressed with the fact that some of the sins had more severe punishment than others, and were looked upon as greater sins in some respects. In Exodus 22:15, we find, "He that smiteth his father or his mother shall surely be put to death," but "If a man steal an ox or a sheep and kill it or sell it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep" (Exodus 23:1). Surely no one who would read that thoughtfully could assume that it is as bad for a man to kill or steal a sheep as it is to commit adultery or murder. If so, why did not the language and the punishment indicate that it was? What, in that case, is the meaning of such expressions as "a great sin" (Exodus 32:21,30,31) and "a very great sin" (1 Samuel 2:17)? What is the meaning of Ezekiel 8:6 where "great abominations" are compared with "greater abominations"? If one is greater, how could that be any thing but a different "degree" of sin?

Turning to the New Testament, notice Matthew 23:15, where Jesus says, "Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more a child of hell than yourselves." If being twofold does not indicate a degree, what does? When in verse 23 Jesus says, "Ye have omitted the weightier matters of the law," what does that mean if some matters are not weightier? If so, what is that but a different degree of weight?

Very closely connected, but relating to a different subject are those who will receive "greater condemnation" (Cf. Mt. 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47; James 3:1).

If there remains the slightest question about the fact that some sins are greater than others, Jesus' statement in John 19:11 should forever remove it. "He that delivered me unto thee hath the GREATER SIN." If one sin is greater than another, then there are degrees of sin. This is not merely an implication, assumption, interpretation, supposition, opinion or theory, but a statement from the lips of Jesus. (At this point, I wonder why I started the article in the first place, for I would think that surely none of my readers would attempt to deny it. Yet I had four elders who argued with me for two hours that there were no degrees of sin!)

This has nothing to do with the false Roman Catholic doctrine relating to "mortal" or "venial" sins, nor does it indicate that men have the right to classify sins as "big" or "little" and assume that the little ones are insignificant. The problem with that doctrine is twofold. First, there are no insignificant sins. Second, people's assumption regarding which ones are bigger or smaller are usually wrong, and even if their assumptions were right they have nothing to do with God's judgment.

From a purely logical standpoint, if a person admits that one person can be better or worse than another, or that a person is better or worse at some period in his life than at another, he must admit that one is more sinful than another. What makes a man better or worse?

Again, if no sin is worse than another, you should be as glad to associate with a drunken, adulterous, lying, murdering thief as you would be with one who failed to give as he had been prospered, or pray as he should. If not, why not? I believe one of the elders with whom I had the long discussion said, "Yes, in man's sight those are worse, but in the sight of God, perhaps pride, arrogance, or indifference are worse." I admit that, but the statement itself was an admission that in God's sight, there might be degrees of sin. Some could not be worse than others without there being degrees.

Even sins that are called by the same name have different degrees. Even if we could say "Pride is worse than lying," we should not, for there are degrees of pride. Even killing in one situation is worse than another. The fact that the laws of our land have perverted the truth about it, and many news commentators and others pretend that to put a murderer to death is just as bad as the crime he committed when he murdered, does not change the Bible truth.

Also, remember that this has nothing to do with the fact that all sinners are lost if they do not repent.

Finally, the very fact Jesus talks of an "unpardonable sin" and "there is a sin unto death" shows that some sins are worse than others. The supposed Aristotelian logic of the statement that "Sin is sin" showing that one sin is equal to another is invalid. The truth is that sin1 is not sin2, either in kind or degree.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive