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What are the seven deadly sins?

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According to Catholic theology, the seven deadly sins are seven vices or negative character qualities that, left unchecked, will result in a host of other sins and eventually kill a person’s soul. The seven “deadly” sins are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. The list was first delineated by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century. Thomas Aquinas later expounded on the idea. In the fourteenth century, Dante wrote his epic poem Inferno in which he pictured Purgatory as having seven terraces corresponding to the seven deadly sins.

The seven deadly sins are also called the seven capital sins or the seven cardinal sins—cardinal in this context meaning, “of basic importance” or “extremely grave.” The seven deadly sins are considered to be the most basic sins that plague humanity and the sins that are most likely to beset us. Each of the seven deadly sins leads to other sins; for example, anger can lead to evil speaking, violence, or murder.

Here is a brief description of each of the seven deadly sins:

Pride — An inflated, unrealistic sense of your self-worth.

Envy — The feeling that you deserve the possessions, success, virtues, or talents of another person.

Gluttony — An excessive desire for the pleasure of eating and drinking.

Lust — A selfish focus on sex or a desire to have sexual pleasure with someone other than your spouse.

Anger — An excessive, improper desire to exact revenge.

Greed — A strong desire for possessions, especially for possessions belonging to another.

Sloth — Lack of effort in the face of a necessary task, causing it to go undone (or done badly).

A common misconception about the seven deadly sins is that they are sins that God will not forgive. The Roman Catholic Church does not teach the sins to be unforgivable; in Catholic doctrine, the seven deadly sins can lead to mortal sins, which will send a person to hell immediately upon death, unless such sins are repented of before death. Catholicism also teaches that the seven deadly sins can be overcome with the seven virtues (humility, gratitude, charity, temperance, chastity, patience, and diligence).

Is the idea of seven deadly sins biblical? Yes and no. Proverbs 6:16–19 lists seven things that are detestable to God: 1) haughty eyes, 2) a lying tongue, 3) hands that shed innocent blood, 4) a heart that plots evil, 5) feet that are quick to rush to do wrong, 6) a false witness, and 7) a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. Of course, this list is not what most people understand as the “seven deadly sins.”

Yes, pride, envy, etc., are sins that the Bible condemns; however, they are never called “the seven deadly sins” in the Bible. The traditional list of seven deadly sins can function as a way to categorize the many different sins that exist. Nearly every sin could be placed in one of those seven categories.

In the final analysis, no sin is any more “deadly” than any other sin. All sin results in death (Romans 6:23). Even one sin condemns a person as a lawbreaker (James 2:10). Praise be to God that Jesus Christ took the penalty for all of our sins, including the “seven deadly sins.” By the grace of God, through faith in Christ, we can be forgiven (Matthew 26:28; Acts 10:43; Ephesians 1:7).

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022