I know that Protestants reject the Roman Catholic understanding of "mortal" and "venial" sins. I also know that there's biblical basis for seeing sins as both equal and different.

But how do Protestants explain this? According to them, are sins equal or different?

Related: How do Protestants understand the "unforgivable" sin?

3 Answers 3


The consensus among Protestants is that some sins are worse than others, but even the smallest sin deserves God's wrath. Or, put another way, sins are equally damning, but not equally heinous. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it succinctly:

Every sin deserves God's wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come. (Answer 84)

Some sins [...] are more heinous in the sight of God than others. (Answer 83)

Reformed theologians like Louis Berkhof1 and John Frame2 follow this framework. So do Baptists like A. H. Strong3 and Wayne Grudem.4 Grudem explains:

In terms of our legal standing before God, any one sin, even what may seem to be a very small one, makes us legally guilty before God and therefore worthy of eternal punishment.

On the other hand, some sins are worse than others in that they have more harmful consequences in our lives and in the lives of others, and, in terms of our personal relationship to God as Father, they arouse his displeasure more and bring more serious disruption to our fellowship with him.

Arminian theologian H. Orton Wiley5 similarly holds that the penalty of sin is "death physical, temporal and eternal," but that the term "penalty [...] must be made to include the consequences of all the various evils included in sin." He thus describes "degrees of both guilt and penalty as in the case of sins of ignorance or infirmity as over against sins of knowledge."

Anglican W. H. Griffith Thomas6 explains that "[a]ll sin is deadly in that it tends toward death, but there are sins which because they are deliberately committed against light are obviously more injurious to the soul."

Lutheran theologian John Mueller, condensing Franz Pieper's work,7 likewise writes:

Every transgression of the divine Law is rebellion against God and therefore damnable, Gal. 3, 10. From the viewpoint of damnability therefore we cannot speak of "smaller" and "greater" sins. Still Scripture itself distinguishes degrees in sinning [....] [and] degrees also in the eternal punishment which the damned will suffer.


  1. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 2.2.4, p252
  2. Frame, Systematic Theology, Chapter 36, p851.
  3. Strong, Systematic Theology, Volume 2, Part V, Chapter VI, pages 656 and 648-650
  4. Grudem, Systematic Theology, Chapter 24, D-4, p501.
  5. Wiley, Christian Theology, Chapter 18
  6. Thomas, Principles of Theology, p230-31
  7. Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, p230

Do Protestants believe that all sins are equal?

One might say that a glass with 1" of water in it was "equal" to a swimming pool with 1" of water in it.

This can illustrate the fact that any sin causes us to fall short of the perfection to which we are called.

James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

At the same time there is proportionality in regard to punishment;

Luke 12:47-48 And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

As a protestant our focus is more on life as Christians. Christians do not come under judgment for punishment of their sins;

John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

Those who do not have new life in Jesus should be more concerned about punishment for sins;

Revelation 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Those who are Christian will also be judged, not for punishment, but for reward.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

As Christians we still sin and these sins great and small can poison our relationship with God and others and we are told that our confession helps to repair these relationships.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

I would says that Protestants generally see sin as both equal in terms of keeping us from God's holiness as well as unequal in terms of its effects. Although I do not think we would see just two categories of classification ("mortal" and "venial" sins).


Bible says all sins are not alike;

There are two types of sins

  1. Sins which are leading to death

  2. Sins those are not leading to death

1 John 5:16-17 bible says

"If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death. "

As a protestant, i believe in this.

  • 3
    This site isn't about personal opinions, but the beliefs of whole groups of Christians. Can you provide some quotes or references to other people who agree with you?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 13:32

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