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The answers to the question on the essence of sin seem to form a consensus that sins are acts of disobedience against things God specifically told us not to do.

Since sin is defined as disobedience and not related to evil, are there evil acts which are not sins?

(Sins which are not acts of evil might also be considered with the special exception of course for the disobedience itself being the only evil)

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closed as off-topic by Mr. Bultitude, fredsbend, curiousdannii, bruised reed, Nathaniel Aug 14 '15 at 11:47

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Since sin is in essence any act of disobedience towards God or disbelief and we know that God is good1 we can conclude that there are no evil acts which are not sins.

1In fact good and evil are defined by and measured against His nature.

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Reminds me of the line from Nixon when Frost asked about illegal activities: "When the President does it, it's not illegal." I think there are some interesting philosophical problems here but require more room than a comment to unpack. – Chelonian Sep 5 '11 at 22:55
There is a single word for it: Tautological. – user unknown Sep 6 '11 at 0:11
That's because the President is not above the law. The law does not derive from him. But the law does derive from somewhere -legislature. If the legislature says something is illegal, then it is. And even the president is allowed to do things that other people are not, such as issue pardons. – DJClayworth Oct 20 '11 at 14:24
Well, what about lie Rahab told the soldiers looking for spies? What about Jehu, when he lied to prophets of idols to kill them? – Phonics The Hedgehog Apr 8 '13 at 3:28

Wow, this is an excellent question.

In essence, there are some things that are unethical from the viewpoints of some societies that are not immoral. Polygamy and slavery are two examples of this. However, anything that is immoral is, by definition, a sin.


There are two approaches I can see to answering this question. And these two appraoches really boil down to two definitions of "evil". on evil

  1. morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked
  2. harmful; injurious

If you come from the direction of "evil" meaning "morally wrong or bad" or "immoral", then the very definition of "evil" implies that something goes against God. In this sense, the question becomes tautology and is merely asking the definition of a word.

However, there are acts that some people consider "evil" that others do not consider a evil. This is the second perspective (from the second definition listed above): the perspective that "evil" is something that is harmful. And this argument boils down to ethics.

So, the question is (from this second perspective): is there anything that is "evil" (in the sense that it is not ethical) that is not a "sin" (in that it is not immoral).

For that, I need to clarify two words. For our purposes, please accept these definitions:


unwilling to adhere to proper rules of conduct for the given society


violating principles guiding the distinction of good and bad

Support for these definitions can be found here: [1], [2], and especially [3].


While the distinction is very academic, it's actually critical for the understanding of how something can be "evil" without being a sin. So, I continue...

The essence of these two definitions is that something is "unethical" if it violates what society accepts as normal, acceptable behavior. Because of this, something that violates ethics of one culture (and therefore be considered "evil") may not violate the ethics of another. By contrast, an act is considered "immoral" if it violates the sense of what is right and wrong (good and evil).

Even in this sense, immorality is a sin. In fact, immorality is the definition of sin. Since God has laid down what is right and wrong, good and evil, we know without a doubt what is sin and what isn't. Determining whether something is moral or immoral is exactly the same as determining whether something is a sin or not.


So, can something be "evil" in the sense that it's unethical and still be moral? To answer this, we need to find something that may be considered harmful in one society (and therefore "evil") while it's considered normal and acceptable in another--all while being allowed by God (and therefore moral).

For that, I point to three examples: polygamy, slavery, and garments.

Looking at our first example, polygamy has been an acceptable part of societies throughout history. In fact, the vast majority of known societies have been polygamous (source). And there are societies that are both Christian and polygamous (Kenya, for example 1 2). Because of this, we can see that polygamy is a value that has been accepted by some societies and not others. It is, therefore ethical in some societies and not in others. However, since there is no solid biblical basis for declaring polygamy immoral, it remains moral, but unethical.

Our second example, slavery, follows the same reasoning. I'll leave those explanations to these sources: [1], [2], and [3]. Essentially, though, it's been viewed as "evil" by societies that do not accept it and acceptable within societies that do accept it, making it an ethic, rather than a moral.

I won't site any sources for this one, but rather appeal to the common sense: In many cultures, wearing certain garments is considered "evil" (such as wearing a bikini in Iran or women being topless in the United States). However, other societies find these completely acceptable and normal. Because of this, these societies may find wearing certain clothing "evil", although it violates no sin (per Christianity).


So, to answer your question: If something is immoral, it is by definition a sin. If something is unethical, however, it may or may not be a sin. Usually, however, it is.

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You reminded me that I was thinking of asking a question about slavery. – hippietrail Sep 6 '11 at 16:17
Yeah, I was looking for that question, but couldn't find one. I didn't have the energy to do enough research to ask one. ;) – Richard Sep 6 '11 at 16:20

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