Mortal sin and scripture

Did Jesus make a distinction between types of sin? Jesus repeatedly says go and sin no more. I don’t recall him saying if you have the stain of mortal sin on your soul at the time of life - no matter how virtuous you have been - then you cannot inherit eternal life?

Remember, it is not just a mortal sin that does you in, but the mortal sin coupled with impenitence. That’s why Jesus says every sin will be forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, who moves us to repentance. Jesus speaks often of repentance as necessary for salvation. He never says many sins are necessary to be condemned, but He rather He warns of specific sins. At one point He even says whoever calls his brother “fool” is in danger of hellfire. When asked how to attain eternal life, He says obey the commandments and lists them. Clearly disobeying them–and obstinately refusing to repent and seek forgiveness–is therefore incompatible with eternal life.

In Jesus’ parable about the wedding banquet, the guest not wearing the wedding garment gets thrown out into the darkness, where there is gnashing of teeth. There is no gray area there–the wedding garment is either on or off. One is either in the state of sin or the state of grace. The same is true of the virgins with lamps either lit or not.

It is actually the idea of venial sins that most heretics, ancient and in more recent centuries, have had a problem with and, to be fair, the idea of these is what is less obvious. However, when we understand that sin being contrary to charity is what destroys the divine life in us (since, as one of the epistles of St. John says, God is love, so whoever does not love cannot have His life in us), we can see that inadvertant or minor failings from weakness that, while disordered, are not strictly contrary to charity, do not destroy charity. In fact, as the Proverb says in the Old Testament, even the just man sins seven times a day (if every sin were mortal, he could not be called just).

In general, the Old Testament Law, which was meant to be didactic, teaches that not all sins are equal. Some were worthy of death and some were not (and for those worthy of death, it was one and done).

1 Like

St. John talks about the difference between mortal and venial sin, 1 John 5: 16-17:

“If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is a sin which is mortal; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.”


1 Like

1 John 5: 16

Not Jesus as such, but it’s explicitly part of scripture

NOTE “Mortal”’ mean “deadly” or otherwise suffering death…

1 Like

10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “You are not all clean.” (John 13:10-11)

In the above passage, some see Jesus making a distinction between greater sins and lesser failings. Haydock’s commentary on John 13:10 says, in part, emphasis mine:

Ver. 10. He that is washed, &c. The feet are always apt to contract some dust or dirt; and in the mystical sense, he that is washed by the sacraments of baptism, or penance, from greater sins, must still endeavour to cleanse, and purify his affections from lesser failings of human frailty. And you, my apostles, are clean from greater offences, but not all of you, meaning the traitor Judas. (Witham) — It is impossible that the extremities of the soul (if we may be allowed the expression) should not, as long as we tread upon this earth, receive some stain or other; although in the opinion of men, the soul appear just. Many indeed after baptism, are covered with the dust of sin, even to the head, but those who are disciples indeed, need only to wash their feet. (Origen, tract. 32. in Joan.)

Jesus might not have talked about it but Ezekiel said:

13 Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered; but in the iniquity that he has committed he shall die. (Ezekiel 33:13)


The Greek noun hamartia, translated as “sin,” occurs 173 times in the New Testament, according to the online concordance at Bible Hub. It is never found, as far as I can see, coupled with an adjective meaning either “venial” or “mortal.” There are a few instances where a distinction is drawn between different categories of sin, such as the two mentioned earlier on this thread by @Genesis315 and @johnnykins. But these are exceptions, not the rule. Almost always, in the NT, sin is just sin.

Not altogether sure of your point. Are you saying the lack of precise phrasing or rarity of use makes the distinction somehow suspect? I’m just not sure of your point

If indeed lack of precise usage or even rarity makes the concept suspect, I remind you the word “Trinity” never appears in the Bible at all. Does that somehow make it problematic to use it? Not to mention transubstantiation, homoousia, hypostatic union or any other number of terms dogmatized by the Church…

Just wondering…

I’m attempting to help the OP find an answer to his question:

Whether or not there is something “suspect,” as you put it, about the Church’s teaching on venial and mortal sin is a separate question, that I am not even attempting to address in my post.

Venial sin may be forgiven in the world to come, other sins are able to kill the soul.

Matthew 10

28 And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 12

31 Therefore I say to you: Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven.
32 And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come.

Mark 3

28 Amen I say to you, that all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and the blasphemies wherewith they shall blaspheme: 29 But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost, shall never have forgiveness, but shall be guilty of an everlasting sin.

John 16

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me.
5 I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.
6 If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth.

Luke 12

46 The lord of that servant will come in the day that he hopeth not, and at the hour that he knoweth not, and shall separate him, and shall appoint him his portion with unbelievers.
47 And that servant who knew the will of his lord, and prepared not himself, and did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
48 But he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more.
49 I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled?

True, but I think it’s important to point out that Jesus speaks in the entirety of Scripture, and not just in direct quotations in the Gospels. So, if we find it in Sacred Scripture (or even Sacred Tradition!), then it’s “Jesus making a distinction.”

Is that what the OP meant? That’s not the way I understood his question. Let’s ask him.

@JohnStrachan, could you kindly enlarge on the exact meaning of your question, in the light of @Gorgias’ post immediately above this one? Thank you!

I guess what I’m trying to get at is this whole notion that mortal sin must be forgiven so that the soul is in a state of grace at the moment of death.

Here are two scenarios

  1. Dr. David performs 10,000 abortions over his lifetime. He counsels women to terminate their pregnancies and give the fetal tissue to science. He has a death bed conversion and is baptized. He dies 15 minutes later and presumably enters heaven or purgatory.

  2. John gives his life to the most vulnerable He faithful protests outside abortion clinics. He financially supports crisis pregnancy centres. He’s even adopted two Down’s Syndrome babies who were destined to be murdered. John is totally committed to the cause. One night he has a night of heavy drinking that leads him to committing adultery. He has a heart attack and dies. He goes to hell.

This is an unsatisfactory outcome to me and portrays God as terribly unfair.

1 Like

This sounds like the question @Polak asked on Struggling with God’s judgment.

The verses @Vico posted says there is only ONE unforgivable sin, that’s blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

All sins are forgiven, even if you don’t have a chance to ask for forgiveness, because if you lived in the grace of God, your hole life, God will know you when you die, knows how true you are to Him. Roman 8:39.

Yes, you fell.
Yes, you died.
Yes, you couldn’t say I’m sorry.
but do you honestly believe God would not know you well enough to know your true heart? That He doesn’t know you love Him?

We should repent for our sins, all the time, we should always acknowledge our sins, make it know to God not only how sorry we are for our weakness, but we also pray for the Holy Spirit within us to guide us, to teach, to help follow God’s will to sin no more. Show God we love Him and desire to be obedient to Him. We can only do that when we repent.

God is just, so if a baptized person repented before death of all (mortal) sins, with contrition, then there would be a state of sanctifying grace, even though not able to confess to a priest. Keeping in mind that freely committed mortal sin is uncharitable, and if it is the last state, and without repentance, then justly, the person is condemned. That is the meaning of Matthew 12:21 and Mark 3:29 – final unrepentance, for the heart is dark.

1 Like

The “purgatory” element provides the justice in the former case. Praise God that even the most wayward child can repent and be saved, but the preparation of their soul for Heaven may take some doing.

In the latter case, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Mortal sin has requirements. John’s drunkenness may have limited his ability to meet the knowledge or consent requirements, if we presume he would never have acted in this way while sober.

  2. God is on our side and wants as many souls in Heaven as are willing to join Him there. The “hit by a bus immediately after sinning” scenario may be useful to remind us to be ever ready and not presume on God’s mercy … but God is not out to damn anyone for an accident of timing.

  3. God is all-knowing and is not bound by the sacramental requirements He has placed on us. If John is but penitent at the very moment of his death, even if to all outward appearances he died in the act of sinning mortally, God is not somehow prevented from saving him.

Also remember that no one earns Heaven by piling up good works. It’s not a matter of points in the good and bad columns. It’s a matter of whether God has made you spiritually alive and capable of joining Him in Heaven, or whether you have killed yourself spiritually and are not so capable.

1 Like

I love this. Thank you so much for the clarity.

This is the fundamental explanation to an atheist to points out whether a “good” person can still get into heaven. It’s not about good works, its about your spiritual disposition to receive God’s word and live it daily. Amen.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 14 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.