DEGREES OF SIN
T. PIERCE BROWN
Why it is assumed that there are NOT degrees of sin, when both the Bible and logic assure us otherwise, I do not know, but I have heard it denied all my life, with such profound accompanying assertions as: “Sin is sin, and there is not any difference in sin in God’s sight,” and “Any sin will send you to hell, and therefore there are no degrees of sin.” “It is no hotter in one part of hell than it is in another, and this proves that there are no degrees of sin, nor degrees of punishment.”
If this article helps anyone to see that the strong assertion of any assumption proves nothing about what the Bible teaches, it will be worth something. I am not concerned with an examination of the assumption that one part of hell has a specific temperature, or that another part is or is not any hotter. You do not know anything about how hot any part of hell is, and could not prove anything about whether some part is any hotter than another. But if you could, it still would neither prove anything about degrees of punishment, nor anything about degrees of sin.
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, murder, etc. 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 Samuel2:17)? What is the meaning of Isaiah 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 (in case someone assumes that the way God looked upon sin changed with the new dispensation), notice Mt. 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?
An honest exegete of the scriptures cannot afford to wave these scriptures off with the assumption that they can not be understood. What do they mean?
Very closely connected, but relating to a different subject are those who will receive “greater condemnation” (Cf. Mt.23:14; Mark12:40, Luke20:47; James 3:1). If that does not indicate a “degree” of condemnation, how would one indicate such?
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. If one is not, Jesus misrepresented the fact. 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 4 elders who argued with me for 2 hours that there were no degrees of sin!) We have as much right to reject the statement of Peter that “baptism doth also now save us” as we do the reject the statement of Jesus that one is greater than another.
This has nothing to do with the false Roman Catholic doctrine of “mortal” or “venial” sins, or that men have the right to classify sins as “big” or “little” and assume that the little ones are insignificant. In the first place, any sin will cause one to be lost if it is not forgiven, so no sin is insignificant. Second, any classification by man as “big” and “little” sins is wrong.
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 than 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.
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. Nor does it have anything to do with whether the Bible teaches that one will suffer more severely in judgment, although it is logically connected with that subject, and the Bible does teach that.
Finally, the very fact that 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.