(Investigator 143, 2012 March)


The Seven Deadly Sins laid down by Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) and popularized by Dante in The Inferno are Anger (or Wrath), Avarice (or Greed), Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Pride, and Sloth.

Alternative lists of Seven have been proposed, and recently the Vatican increased its list of Seven to Fourteen.

A "sin" is basically any failure to conform to God's standards. If humans were perfect and free of self-deception then two commands would suffice — "Love God with all your heart" and "Love your neighbour". (Matthew 22:37-49) Due to human ignorance and inadequacy the Bible expands these two into many specific do's and don'ts.

Additional to the Seven Deadly Sins is another list the persistent flouting of which, according to the Bible, condemns perpetrators to the "lake of fire" at their final judgment.   


Pope Gregory's original Seven are all mentioned in the Bible:

•    Anger (Ephesians 4:31; Proverbs 22:24; 14:29; I Timothy 2:8)
•    Avarice (Luke12:15; Ephesians 5:5; Titus 1:7; I Timothy 6:9)
•    Envy (Galatians 5:26, 20; Proverbs 27:4)
•    Gluttony (Proverbs 23:21)
•    Lust (II Peter 1:4; Matthew 15:19; I John 2:16-17)
•    Pride (Proverbs 8:13; 16:18; I Timothy 3:6)
•    Sloth (Proverbs 19:15; 6:6-9; Titus 3:1; II Thessalonians 3:10).

The "Anger" condemned in the Bible is not appropriate anger in response to injustice or bad conduct but "blowing one's top" as a habit or when one's incompetence is exposed.

"Avarice" is similar to greed. Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary defines avarice: "Passion for acquiring and hoarding riches; greed."

Envy is: "1. A feeling of resentment…over another's superior attainments, endowments or possessions. 2. A desire to possess the goods of another." Envy overlaps with jealousy.

Gluttony is habitually eating excessively. A glutton is "One who eats to excess."

Lust refers to sexual appetite for another when morally or socially inappropriate.

Pride refers not to satisfaction in work well done but to "vanity" i.e. excessive belief in one's abilities that ignores the "grace of God" and others' input.

Sloth refers not to recuperation from work but to doing so little work that one's responsibilities remain unfulfilled.


The Seven Deadly Sins' modern relevance is seen in that Oxford University Press commissioned a series of volumes about them. Philosopher Simon Blackburn, for example, wrote Lust: The Seven Deadly Sins (2006).

Solomon Schimmel (1997) examines the Seven from a modern psychological perspective. A Book Description on the Amazon books website says:
These seven sins…are alive and well, deadlier than ever, spawning violence and suffering, illness and anxiety, loss of meaning and depression. An arrogant yuppie considers suicide after losing his job on Wall Street, which had been the fragile basis of his false pride. A distinguished senator and a prominent judge destroy their careers and wound their female victims with their lust. Millions of men and women, distraught about their body image, subject themselves to liposuction, breast and hair implants because of their gluttony or vanity.
The seven "Deadlies" have become areas of investigation by neuroscientists using magnetic resonance imaging. McGowan (2009) writes:
The most enjoyable sins engage the brain's reward circuitry…such fundamental feelings as pain, pleasure, reward, and punishment. More disagreeable forms of sin such as wrath and envy enlist the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex… The more social sins (pride, envy, lust, wrath) recruit the medial prefrontal cortex.

…inhibitory cognitive control networks involving the front of the brain activate to squelch the impulse by tempering its appeal… The two sides battle it out, the devilish reward system versus the angelic brain regions that hold us in check.  
Ridgway & Parsons (2010) write: "We now have the technology to reveal the root of our darkest impulses, deep within our brains. And the evidence is clear: nature wants us to be bad."


The Bible does not allow the innateness or genetics of sin as an excuse. It states that sin resides in "the flesh" and humans are "slaves of sin" but also teaches self control achievable with God's help:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety, and worldly passions, and…live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly… (Titus 2:11-12)
To speak about sin is considered out-of-date. Psychologists prefer to consider people as victims of society, or as under-privileged, immature, or reacting to childhood trauma.

However, without recognizing one's faults and accepting responsibility there won't be any decision to change. Proverbs 19:3 says: "One's own folly leads to ruin, yet the heart rages against the LORD." In other words don't blame others — especially not God.

The acknowledgement that a conduct is wrong or damaging precedes any decision to give it up.


A UK survey of 1001 people's attitude to the Seven Deadly Sins found only greed was still considered relevant. (Martin (2004)

The survey produced a revised list of Cruelty; Adultery; Bigotry (e.g. "racism, ageism and homophobia"); Dishonesty (e.g. misrepresenting one's credentials); Hypocrisy; Greed (acquiring excessive, unneeded stuff); and Selfishness (satisfying one's wants to the detriment or loss by others).

Williams (2004) considers deadly the following: Apathy (i.e. Indifference); Dogmatism; Intolerance (Living by one-sided rules and forcing these on others); Violence; Speed (i.e. being too busy); and Domination.

In 2008 the Vatican increased its original seven to 14. Paul Syvret in The Courier Mail reported: "Not only do we have to be on the watch for Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride…but we must now also be mindful of seven new deadly sins…" (March 18, 2008)

The seven additions are: Genetic modification; Experiments on humans; Social injustice; Environmental pollution; Causing poverty; Financial Gluttony; and Drug abuse.

Syvret notes that these seven extras place: "most multinational corporations in the ‘burn in hell' category."

One Internet writer asks "Why stop at 14?" and makes it 21." I here summarize his additions:

1.    Guttony: Wearing offensive clothing such as low-rise jeans which flaunt as much blubber as possible without going naked.
2.    Caravanism: Gray nomads clogging the roads on long holidays and whingeing all the way about facilities.
3.    Phonepride: Banal mobile-phone conversations conducted at volume on public transport and in libraries.
4.    Holy rolling: When evangelists harvest money from gullible followers and live in multimillion-dollar luxury.
5.    Wowserism: Criticism of drinking although Jesus reportedly turned water into wine.
6.    Nimbyism: Whining about building developments larger than a cubby house near one's home.
7.    Bigotry: New Australians may have suntanned skin, beards, and clothing resembling bed-sheets — but that describes Jesus.


Biblical ethics are not intended to restrict our liberty but to increase it. (James 1:25) They are objective, and their rightness potentially measurable, because the intention behind them is to promote longer life, better health, peaceful relations, prosperity, and positive emotions:
Those who keep the commandments will live; those who are heedless of their ways will die. (Proverbs 19:16)

For by me [Godly wisdom] your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. (Proverbs 9:11)

The iniquities of the wicked ensnare them… They die for lack of discipline, and because of their great folly they are lost. (5:22-23)

The drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty… (23:21)

Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor. (Proverbs 21:21; Also 3:1-4; 12:28)
Since the intended consequences are often measurable this makes biblical ethics testable, and provides added scientific validation of the Bible after biology, history, geography, prophecy, archaeology, astronomy, etc.

Potentially we can check psychological or medical magazines such as Psychologies and Scientific American Mind for comment and statistics (where surveys have been done) about every principle, and disposition that the Bible trains people to adopt or reject. Leaf through recent volumes and you'll see articles about anxiety, humility, joy, empathy, betrayal, generosity, guilt, racism, boasting, courage, shame, fear, kindness, rage, peace, conflict, selfishness, addiction, pornography, honesty, forgiveness, hope, gratitude, etc, and how these relate to health, relationships and feeling good.

The Bible for example teaches "hope" and a psychologist writes: "We know that hope is good for us. More hopeful people are more popular, healthier, live longer and are more likely to succeed…" (Psychologies, January 2010)

And the Bible teaches "gratitude", and a psychologist writes: "Grateful people report consistently higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress." (Psychologies, December 2009)

We've already, in Investigator, discussed the Bible's opposition to drunkenness, stealing, lying, immorality, homosexual sex, gambling and debt and found that these behaviours come with substantial risk of suffering including pain, poverty, sickness, depression, loss of sanity, and even death.

Measurable correlation with suffering often depends on the extent to which "sins" are committed. A little envy or gluttony, for example, might not hurt much, but if envy or gluttony dominates one's life trouble will follow.


The Bible has another list of sins which it relates to the "wrath of God" and "the lake of fire" and which we may consider another time:
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 sulphur, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)


Blackburn, S. 2004 Lust, Oxford University Press

Martin, J. Sunday Mail — Body & Soul, 2005, July 24, pp 2-3

McGowan, K. Seven Deadly Sins, Discover, September 2009, pp 49-52

Ridgway, A. & Parsons, P. The science of the seven deadly sins, Focus, February 2010, pp 27-34

Schimmel, S. 1997 The Seven Deadly Sins: Jewish, Christian and Classical Reflections on Human Psychology, Oxford University Press

Syvret, P. The Courier Mail, March 18, 2008

Williams, N. 2004 The Advertiser, March 6, p. 36,

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