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Clearly Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden affected everyone. And clearly if you murder someone, or commit adultery, it affects others. But are there sins which do not affect other people?

What I am wondering for this question is if every sin affects other people.

As an extreme example, suppose God has spoken a promise to me, and I doubt it for a moment, but then repent and have faith. During my time of doubt, I never speak or do anything - it is all internal. Would that sin affect others?

The reason I am asking is that often times, non-Christians define "evil" as that which does harm to another. By this definition, they justify things which are explicitly forbidden in Scripture, because in their eyes, it doesn't affect anyone else. I also often hear Christians define "sin" as that which does harm to another. One of the many passages used to support this teaching is:

Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. -Romans 13:10

Is "evil" defined as "that which harms another"? If not, it seems like Christians need to stop using this secular definition in their teachings.

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4 Answers 4

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Personally, I am of the opinion that all sins affect those around us in at least the second degree, and they have a third degree effect on the whole world.

Here's the thought. In life you are either walking towards God or away from him. As you walk towards him you gain a docility of the spirit and become more Christ-like. If you walk away, you diminish in this.

So, if I decide that I am going to sin, "in private" that will still mean I have less of a disposition to Christ when in public. The lesser the disposition in public, the more likely I am to be less charitable with those around me, even if the sin is something completely unrelated. Thus, while we may not be hurting people directly, it is causing us to hurt them through second-hand folly.

(But, you say, what if one were to make amends before returning to the public? Well, what if, instead of making amends the same effort were put into prayer after never having sinned to begin with?)

I say that it affects us all in a "third degree" because the sins in the world make the world less righteous. Not only can it be said that you can never catch up to where you were had you not sinned to begin with, and that will carry over in both obvious and direct ways, and in more remote and indirect ways. One example might be that if you snap at someone, it may make that person more inclined to snap at another.

One might try to say, "but it would be but a drop in an ocean," and I would be inclined to agree but for the fact that there are almost 7 billion of us with droppers and all of us are putting a little in every day.

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(taking that analogy literally and assuming that we all put in one drop for every sin and we are all righteous (and only sin 7 times a day), it will take approximately 1.8e12 years to fill up the world oceans) –  Ignatius Theophorus Jul 11 '12 at 18:02
Any chance you could include a reference from Scripture or Church doctrine to support your personal opinion? (In the mean time I'm going to go ahead and accept, because this is an excellent answer which settled the topic in my mind.) –  Jas 3.1 Jul 11 '12 at 19:41
@Jas3.1 The majority is related to my interpretation of Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle. I think it is book 5. –  Ignatius Theophorus Jul 12 '12 at 2:38

No, not EVERY sins affectS other people (directly, at least.).

Lust, covetousness, idolatry are three examples of sins, neither of which affects anyone else, unless acted upon.

All are sins, whether acted upon or not.

  • Lust:

Matthew 5:28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

  • Idolatry:

Exodus 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

  • covetousness:

Exodus 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

As for whether Christians should stop using secular definitions for doctrinal terms, from a Biblical Literalist, Sola Scriptura standpoint, I'd say, "duh!".

(No offense meant, just using that slang for emphasis. It seems stronger than just "yes")

One of the easiest way to win a debate is to redefine terms, and I've always fought back against that form of attack.

I think that from a Christian perspective, I'd sidestep the definition of "evil" and stick with the Biblical definition of "sin".

1 John 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law

All scripture quotes KJV


I have to say, @user1539 has a good point.

In theory, the sins I listed are sins even if not acted on, but practically, as it applies to real-world probability and human nature, all of these would probably be manifested in some sort of way that does affect someone.

The odds that they would be "not acted on" in other words, is not very likely, and these sins would result in us committing other sins that do affect people.

So, while some specific sins may not directly affect others, they do affect others indirectly, because human nature being what it is, the sins do lead to actions that affect others.

(Although this may be splitting hairs.)

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Hah. Thanks for the great answer. I am eager to see if anyone disagrees! –  Jas 3.1 Jul 11 '12 at 2:06
the sins you mentioned still has effect on others though indirectly. What is difference between Lust and Covetousness? It's the same. They start from your heart and if you have the opportunity you'll carry them out - for both, your neighbour is involved or will be affected. Idolatory if practised by a Christian leads other Christians into it –  tunmise fashipe Jul 11 '12 at 11:55
Hence the caveat at the end of the answer. ;-) –  David Stratton Jul 11 '12 at 11:56

I suppose we could say, In what sense? One could argue that everything you do affects other people in some way. Of course some sins afect other people very directly. If you steal from someone or beat him up, you are clearly doing him direct harm. Other sins are less direct. If a husband struggles with lust for other women, surely at some point this will negatively affect his relationship with his wife. Even if he never actually has an affair, it's got to be a problem.

That said, nowhere does the Bible define sin as things that harm others. Such a definition is too simplistic. If I owe someone money and he demands I pay, he is harming him, but I don't think asking someone to live up to an agreement is a sin. If I tried to kill someone and he killed me in self-defense -- or even just knocked me down so he could get away -- he is harming me, but that would not be a sin. You might say, yes yes, of course I mean that it is a sin to harm someone else UNJUSTLY. But then how do we decide what is "unjust"? This turns it into a circular argument: it is morally wrong to harm someone else except when it is not morally wrong.

Is it possible for someone who lives alone on an island to sin? He can't harm anyone. But according to the Bible, yes, he can. He can't kill or steal. But he could blaspheme God. He could lust. He could hate.

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Hah. Now I have a "yes", a "no', and a "maybe". Thanks. ;) You brought up some interesting points - especially the island example. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 11 '12 at 2:56

Simple: Every sin does affect every person because it weakens your faith and ability to love others. The more you sin the less good you are to everyone.

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I'm digging the "simple" answer, but could you add some sort of reference to Scripture or Church authority to back up your claim? –  Jas 3.1 Jul 11 '12 at 19:33

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