The Seven Deadly Sins: Then and Now and Then Again
The seven deadly sins, they are a perennial topic for both the religious and the non-religious alike. This Google image search of the most famous of sins proves it’s not just Christians cloistered in their chat rooms that are talking about them.
The Catholic Church first categorized the seven sins as sins that all other sins flowed from. These were labeled capital vices or cardinal sins. It seems that the seven deadly sins have a long and varied history in Church History. They started out as eight sins drawn up by Evagrius of Pontus: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. But by the 500’s A.D., Pope Gregory the Great proposed seven: pride, envy, anger, sadness, avarice, gluttony, and lust. It was not until the 17th century that the church replaced sadness with sloth.
But do they miss the point? The seven deadly sins are only an invention of theologians as a way to teach, warn, and instruct disciples on what to avoid as bad behavior. And while the attempt was good-hearted, I think that a simpler, more Proverbial approach to sin and right thinking is better suited to our lives.
Here are the seven deadly sins in there present form. Given with each is a brief description. After that, I will give what I believe is the Bible’s original Seven Deadly Sins.
The Seven Deadly Sins – Now:
It is an overestimation in one’s own abilities, attributes, or worth. It has been deemed the vice from which all others arise. Is an overestimation of oneself. Pride displayed in different ways, but boils down to giving yourself credit when credit is due someone else.
Is the desire for someone else’s belongings. This can be whether possession of the item is inside them like a characteristic or attribute: or the item can be outside them such a possession or relationship. It is a lack of gratitude and contentment for what has been given to you.
Normally associated with an inordinate craving of the sexual appetite. These desires are seen as excessive when they do not conform to the divinely mandated purpose of sex, which is to grow and develop the mutual love of husband and wife in the bonds of marriage.
Also known as wrath, it is a rejection of love as the sole means for conflict resolution. It is a lack of impulse control that instead appeals to our need to be right and justified when we feel wronged. It is a lack of taking into account another’s frailty and humanness, but instead seeks to lash out at our stereotype of bad behavior.
Is the passion for wealth or power and can become a consuming desire that robs the joy out of possessions. It is born out of a lack of trust in God and instead tries to horde possessions to build a sense of security and accomplishment.
Is the unwillingness to to conduct work if only because of the effort that one must put forth in order to complete the task. It is important to note, however, that thoughts of fatigue or displeasure over a job is not a sin, but allowing those thoughts to consume you so as to prevent you from completing the task.
Is the compulsive desire to eat or drink more than what is needed for the body to function properly. Overeating or excessive drinking largely comes as a means to sooth emotional stresses or wounds or can be used to “reward” oneself as a coping mechanism. At its core, it is a means of escapism instead of confronting the real issues in your life.
The Seven Deadly Sins As the Bible Sees It:
16 There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Here the Bible has a play with phraseology. Notice that their are first six then seven things the Lord hates. This is an ancient literary device meant to highlight the fact that whatever is being spoke about is complete. For example: there were six days of creation and the seventh completed it. Also, in Job 19 it says
“From six calamities he will rescue you;
in seven no harm will touch you.”
– Thus showing that God will completely save someone. In the case of the Proverbs passage, we have a literary device that serves two purposes. It shows that God completely hates these sins. But as an added twist it also “buries the lead.” What I mean is the first six define the seventh thing but you don’t find that out until the end. We are subtly told that the seventh is somehow unique in all this in the opening statement, but it is not until we get to the end that we see why.
In the ancient Hebraic culture, community was everything. Your standing in the community and how you conducted yourself literally meant life or death. Excommunication from your family and tribe meant loneliness at best, but most likely meant starvation and death.
So is it no surprise that the six things that God hates all help to define the seventh: “a person who stirs up conflict in the community?” To God and the ancient Hebrew culture, breaking unity in the camp was detestable. In fact, as this Proverb points out, it is the measure by which everything else is measured.
Now certainly there are times that doing the right thing will break unity because the majority of the community is doing the wrong thing. But that is normally not the case. To me, the seven deadly sins of church history miss the point of the Bible’s Seven Deadly Sins: unity of community. The Seven Deadly Sins of history all focus on the individual, not the community. They observe how sin distorts the individual. But the Bible is calling us to observe how sin distorts the community. How our actions hurt the whole.
Maybe if we learn to watch our impact on those around us, we will learn how to avoid the death that sin brings and watch life take root in our relationships. What do you think of the difference between the two lists of sins?