The Equality of All Sins
By definition, sin is a transgression of God’s will in word, act or deed.[i] Per Dr. Thornbury’s notes on “The Doctrine of Sin”, Louis Berkhof defines sin as “any lack of conformity to the moral law of God, either in act, disposition, or state.”[ii] Sin is what separates humans from their creator. No matter the severity of the sin, it is always rooted in disobedience to the law of God. Therefore, it can be argued that no sin is greater or lesser than any other because all sin places a barrier between a holy God and His created human people.[iii] Paul wrote in Romans that the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) No delineation is given for certain sins over others, Paul wrote that all sin has a price and it is paid for with death. Paul also wrote that “sin came into the world through one man… so death spread to all men” and again the author shows indifference to the type of sin, only that man’s inherited disobedience to the Law dictates all men guilty of sin. The prophet Isaiah also wrote that sin makes a separation between men and God, and as with Paul’s writings, no hierarchy of sin was given by Isaiah’s writings either. (Isaiah 59:2) From these verses, it is stated that all men are guilty of sin, and that sin serves as a barrier that men alone cannot breach. Because all people are descendant from Adam, all humans bear that original sin as their birthright and are guilty of sinning against God from birth. The author of James seemed to write in the affirmative to all sins being equal, by stating that merely breaking one commandment of the Law makes the person guilty of breaking them all. (James 2:10) While all sin is equal in separating men from God, the same cannot be said for sin’s consequences, however.
While some may argue that all sins are equal, there is scriptural evidence in both the Old and New Testament to the contrary. With a quick scan of the book of Leviticus, a reader can quickly see instances where certain infractions are treated and punished differently than others. A thief is required to pay restitution plus a penalty (Lev 6:2-7), but someone who curses their parents was to be put to death. (Lev 20:9) In the New Testament, this is shown in Jesus’ own words. Luke records Jesus’ words that a servant disobedient to preparing for his master’s arrival would receive a severe beating but a servant being unknowingly ill prepared would only receive a light beating. (Luke 12:47-48) Jesus also warns Capernaum that their punishment would be harsher than that of Sodom. (Matthew 11:23-24) At Jesus’ interrogation by Pilate, Jesus answered his questioning by stating that the one who delivered Jesus to Pilate had committed the greater sin. (John 19:11) Certainly in this text Jesus seemed to be corroborating his earlier statements recorded in Luke 12, indicating that the High Priest held the greater sin because he should have known who Jesus was,[iv] whereas Pilate, while he did sin, was not as culpable because he was not “in the know” as to Jesus’ heavenly identity. The author of 2 Peter echoes this by stating that it would be better for people to not have known righteousness, implying greater knowledge brings greater responsibility.[v] (2 Peter 2:20-21)
Yes; per 2 Thessalonians 1:9, while consequences to sin are variable in their severity, all sin, big or small in scope or enumeration, separates us from God and the eternal consequence of any singular or plural sin is the same, eternal separation from God, so all sin is equal.
[i] Herbert Lockyer, Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary: An Authoritative One-Volume Reference Work On the Bible, with Full-Color Illustrations(Nashville: T. Nelson, ©1986), 994.
[ii] Gregory Alan Thornbury, The Doctrine of Sin (Jackson, TN: Union University, 2010), 7, accessed May 28, 2016, https://au.instructure.com/courses/5647/files/316135?module_item_id=218597.
[iii] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 579-583.
[iv] The Pulpit Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1980-1989), 420-21.
[v] Craig S. Keener, The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©1993), 226.