This article "Are we to love the sinner but hate the sin?" | gotquestions.org says:

Many Christians use the cliché “Love the sinner; hate the sin.”

This C.SE question Is “hate the sin, love the sinner” a Christian idea? tackled, to my understanding, whether the phrase is biblical and tagged , and .

Hence my question:

Did this phrase "love the sinner but hate the sin" in this form originate in Christianity and who is credited to have first used it?

  • 1
    Why did you rollback my edit? 3/4 of your tags are mistagged.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 20, 2015 at 0:01
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    @DoubleU well that tag wasn't actually the one about the Identity movement, but it was still wrong. There is nothing here about christian demographics, what identifies christians, and christian-history looks like a duplicate of church-history to me. origin and phrase are the right ones to use - see these other questions with those tags. The rest was minor editing which I thought would've been appreciated.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 20, 2015 at 0:07
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    The phrase seems like a rational response to deal with the paradox of worshiping a loving and wrathful god. Yet, it gets complicated when the sin becomes a person's identity. That's when it would be extremely difficult and controversial to accept this teaching as true.
    – Double U
    Jan 20, 2015 at 0:09
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    @FMS Can you please explain what the problem was with my edit? Was it changing 'tackled to my understanding' to 'covers to my satisfaction'?
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 20, 2015 at 0:18
  • @curiousdannii Thank you! That was the edit I had an issue with.
    – user13992
    Jan 20, 2015 at 2:47

2 Answers 2


Augustine of Hippo is basically universally credited with the coinage of the phrase. It is an idea which can easily be supported by the Bible, but he was the first to say it in a form close to its present proverbial form. He probably didn't think he was coining a cliche, since it was neatly hidden away in a letter to a convent. This blog has a summary of the circumstances:

Let’s establish this point from the outset: St. Augustine more or less coined the phrase “love the sinner but hate the sin” as a description of how Christians should behave in the church discipline process. He’s (apparently) talking about about those man-chasing “cougar” nuns that like to flirt with men and can’t keep their naughty bits covered. It’s hard to believe that this was a serious problem in 424AD, but – in respect of his sainthood and all that – we’ll give St. Augustine the benefit of the doubt.

In an attempt to better describe the love and wrath of God, the modern Christian cliche “love the sinner, hate the sin” has emerged in an attempt to capture the often-perplexing paradox of how God can simultaneously demonstrate wrath and love for mankind. There are hints of Biblical truth within the cliche. In His perfect holiness and justice, God is opposed to the open rebellion of sin (Romans 1:18-32). Yet, God loved us while we were still sinners and the enemies of God, and sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for our sin (John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-21).

The full text of the letter can be found here. Augustine opens it by saying:

As severity [i.e. hatred of sin] is ready to punish the faults which it may discover, so charity [i.e. love of the sinner] is reluctant to discover the faults which it must punish.

And later he says:

Moreover, what I have now said in regard to abstaining from wanton looks should be carefully observed, with due love for the persons and hatred of the sin (cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum), in observing, forbidding, reporting, proving, and punishing of all other faults.

Cliches and proverbs always evolve and mutate. We see in Augustine the pithiness and the exact idea expressed in the cliche. But nobody seems to know exactly how or when it entered English in its exact present form. On the English Stack Exchange one answer notes that it seems to have coalesced and "started appearing everywhere" in the 1820s. Others have found other mentions in the 18th century.

For example, in 1729, the hymnist Isaac Watts wrote in an essay, "[Jesus] hated even the least sin, but loved and saved the greatest of sinners." Similarly, in 1784, William Mason wrote in his commentary on The Pilgrim's Progress, "[God] can love the sinner, as much as he loaths his sin." And the 1779 Charles Wesley hymn Equip Me for the War says, "O may I learn the art / With meekness to reprove; / To hate the sin with all my heart, / But still the sinner love." Internet sources indicate that the idea became more well-known when Gandhi referenced it in his 1927 autobiography: "'Hate the sin and not the sinner' is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world."

In summary, it was first said by Augustine, echoed (coincidentally or not) by Christian writers in English in the 1700s, and it became a proverb in the 1820s for whatever reason. Then in 1927 it became even more popular when Gandhi used it.

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    cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum can be translated as "with [the] love of men and [the] hatred of sins."
    – user900
    Jan 19, 2015 at 22:19
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    @H3br3wHamm3r81 It could, but in context it's speaking of specific people (who happen to be women) and hatred of their specific sins. So the translation I quoted (J.G. Cunningham) seems like a better fit to me. Jan 20, 2015 at 15:44
  • @Mr.Bultitude Very well done! Excellent answer! Detailed and well-researched! And the votes reflect it. Thank you very much!
    – user13992
    Jan 20, 2015 at 18:04

It did indeed, though not that exact phrase.

It was St. Augustine in his Letter 211 (A.D. 423), in point number 11:

... If she refuse to submit to this, and does not go away from you of her own accord, let her be expelled from your society. For this is not done cruelly but mercifully, to protect very many from perishing through infection of the plague with which one has been stricken. Moreover, what I have now said in regard to abstaining from wanton looks should be carefully observed, with due love for the persons and hatred of the sin, in observing, forbidding, reporting, proving, and punishing of all other faults. ...

Source: Letters of St. Augustine > Letter 211 (A.D. 423) | New Advent.


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