Distinguishing levels of sin


I would like to know where or how the distinction between venial and mortal sin arose. James says (2:10) “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Isaiah says (64:6) “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

It appears to me that venial and mortal are descriptors of sin from a human perspective, and a flawed perspective at that, but that evidence of such from a divine perspective is lacking. Is there biblical evidence that God makes such a distinction?


I am not sure about Biblical evidence for the distinction. There may be some, I just don’t know it.

We must be careful not to look only to the Bible for our beliefs. As Catholics, we rely on Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as the basis for our faith.

From the use of reason, we can see that certain types of sins should be considered mortal and others venial. Mortal sins are distinct from venial sins by the gravity of the sin. Serious sins are mortal, less serious sins are venial. Now no one is perfect, so we all sin. Mortal sins are actions that, when committed, totally separate us from God. In committing a mortal sin, we are rejecting God’s love. In committing a venial sin, we are offending God, but we do not totally reject Him. When we commit a mortal sin, we must first know that it is wrong, and then fully choose to do it anyway. This is a deliberate rejection of God’s commands.


Yes. In 1 John 5:16-17, we read: “There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death”
(1 John 5:16-17) Sin that leads to spiritual death is mortal; sin that does not lead to spiritual death is venial.

Do you really believe that a white lie is equally as serious as multiple murder in the eyes of God?


You have described venial and mortal sins, but not answered my question as to how such a distinction arose. It sounds like you, as I, are also unable to find biblical evidence for this dogma. How can we get around James’ words (2:10) that seem to allow no such distinction?


JimG, that’s helpful.


Mortal sin is a deliberate rejection of God. Venial sin is offending God, but not in such a way as to totally reject Him.

Now, based on that, we see the distinction. The distinction did not “arise” it was always there. If we choose to reject God, we create a rift between us by our own choosing. If we die in this state, our decision to separate ourselves from God is mourned for all eternity. This grief burns the soul, and is part of the definition of Hell. Those in Hell feel the most intense grief possible: the loss of the beatific vision.

This is how we can delineate, through the use of reason, the difference between venial and mortal sin. Mortal sin causes the death of the soul. Venial sin does not. It is not a man-made distinction. It is an eternal distinction.

p.s. - It doesn’t have to be in the Bible for us to believe it.


Are you looking for the specific words “mortal” and “venial”? Like other concepts Christians believe, just because it’s not spelled out literally in the Bible doesn’t mean it isn’t Truth.

“Not all sin is deadly”. What does that mean to you?


I’m going to address your reference to Isaiah. Chapter 64 appears to be a plea to God to look past our sinfulness; to have mercy on us, despite our iniquities.



I agree,
James says (2:10) “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

I would say yes but,

The Bible also states that God will be just and fair in His punishment of sin and that on the day of judgment some sin will merit greater punishment than others (Matthew 11:22, 24; Luke 10:12, 14).

I believe 1 Cor 3:13-15
suggests venial sin and thus purgatory (but that is another topic). No man is perfect except Christ- There is no way of knowing every little sin we commit, and a slim chance of being repentant and asking for forgiveness of every little sun before we die. Therefore
1 Cor 3:13-15
3each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.
14If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
15If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Also there are many scrictures and I would have to go look them up such as Rev. 21:7-8 Where specific types of sins will not make it into heaven.
"Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
** But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." [Rev. 21:7-8]

As a fromer baptist I always had a problem with Christians around me professing once saved always saved, who were involved in these sins which they managed to justify in some manner, and had no apparent intent of repenting and asking forgiveness. (I say apparent intent because no one can no anothers heart fully)


James 1:15
"…after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."

Seems like this verse distinguishes between levels of sin, doesn’t it?


Are the 3 requirements that constitute mortal sin the same for Catholics as well as Protestants?

What are the ways that a Protestant who mortaly sins can be reconciled to God?


Someone already mentioned 1 John 5:16-17
Also, Jesus said this of Herod…
John 19:10-11…"So Pilate said to him, "Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?"Jesus answered (him), “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above. **For this reason the one who handed me over to you [Herod] has the greater sin.” **

Since Jesus is saying Herod had the greater sin, is Jesus distiguishing between levels of sin?

All unrighteousness is sin because God is holy, yet is murder worse than saying a curse word?


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