What Is the Sin of Sloth?


Sloth has always been an especially notorious sin in the Christian church because it’s a behavior (or lack thereof) that is highlighted in the Bible as ungodly. Sloth is even one of the Seven Deadly Sins according to the Roman Catholic Church. What exactly is sloth and why is it sinful?

Sloth means laziness. It’s sinful because God designed people to work. Work is important because it’s how people provide and care for their family, help their neighbors and community, or use the gifts God gave them for his glory. According to the Bible, laziness and reluctance to work are offensive to God.

What does the Bible teach about sloth? Why is sloth considered one of the “seven deadly sins” in Roman Catholicism? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Also see Is Manifestation A Sin? to learn more about the Bible’s teachings.

sloth lazy
What Bible verses teach about sloth? See below

What does the Bible teach about sloth?

In the 21st century, many people tend to use synonyms like “laziness” or “idleness” instead of the word sloth in common speech.

Part of the reason why people don’t use the word “sloth” in this way is that they associate the word with the animal that has the same name. The sloth, a mammal found in Central and South America, is so named because of the slowness of its movement.

LanguageSloth
Hebrewshiphluth: a sinking or slackness, i.e. negligence (e.g. Ecc. 10:18)
Greekoknéros: shrinking, timid, hence idle, lazy, troublesome (e.g. Matt. 25:26)
Modern EnglishOriginated in the 12th century; its meaning “indolence, sluggishness; formed from Middle English slou; replaced Old English slæwð “sloth, indolence”; sense of “slowness, tardiness” is from the 14th century

What does the Bible teach about sloth? Scripture contains many warnings about the dangers of sloth. Older Bible translations tend to use the word “sloth” more than newer ones, which also employ terms like lazy, idle, and sluggard.

  • Proverbs 13:4, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”
  • Proverbs 12:24, “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
  • Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men”
  • Proverbs 15:19, “The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.”
  • Ecclesiastes 10:18, “Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks.”
  • Romans 12:11, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”
  • Proverbs 21:25-26, “The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.”
  • Proverbs 19:15, “Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.”
  • Matthew 25:26, “But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?'”

Theologian Sinclair Ferguson on sloth: “Twentieth-century man needs to be reminded at times that work is not the result of the Fall. Man was made to work, because the God who made him was a ‘working God.’ Man was made to be creative, with his mind and his hands. Work is part of the dignity of his existence.”

Also see Is It A Sin to Commit Suicide? to learn more about the Bible’s teachings.

laziness in the Bible
Why is sloth a “deadly” sin? See below

Why is Sloth one of the Seven Deadly Sins?

The Seven Deadly Sins — lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride — are sins that characterize fallen humanity, according to the Roman Catholic Church. The Bible doesn’t contain a verse or passage that lists the seven deadly sins.

Are the seven deadly sins found in the Bible? The so-called “seven deadly sins” are not found altogether in the same verse or passage in either the Old Testament or in the New Testament.

However, many Catholics believe that they summarize the teachings of the Bible on the subject of sin.

How does the Catholic Church classify the seven sins? The seven deadly sins are cardinal sins (i.e. mortal wrongdoing), as opposed to venial sins (i.e. minor wrongdoing). Protestant Christianity doesn’t make this distinction.

Do Protestant denominations and churches utilize the list? Some Protestants do, but most don’t. Although the list of the seven deadly sins was established well before the Protestant Reformation, the teaching has been embedded into Roman Catholicism in a way that it has not been in most Protestant churches.

Protestant theology would agree that the seven vices on the list are sins, but it generally doesn’t make a distinction between mortal and venial sins in the same way Roman Catholicism does.

What is the purpose of the list? The seven deadly sins have been used to summarize the condition of fallen humanity for the purposes of education and edification.

In other words, they teach people about what displeases God, and avoiding them enhances the believer’s efforts to live as a Christian.

Also see Is It A Sin to Kiss? to learn more about the Bible’s teachings.

The Seven Deadly Sins in the Bible

The Bible includes lists of sins, though none align exactly with the traditional seven deadly sins. For example, Proverbs 6:16-19 reads,

“These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” (KJV)

The only direct parallel between this list and the traditional list of seven seems to be “pride,” although there are other loose associations as well.

Below are examples of Bible passages for each of the seven deadly sins:

  • Example Bible passages on lust: Gen. 3:6, Job 31:9, Pro. 6:24-25, Matt. 5:28, 1 Cor. 9:27, 1 Tim. 6:9
  • Example Bible passages on gluttony: Ex. 16:20-21, Num. 11:32-33, Luke 12:19-20, Rom. 13:13-14
  • Example Bible passages on greed: Ex. 20:17, Neh. 5:7, Job 20:15, 31:24, Matt. 16:26, 1 Cor. 5:11
  • Example Bible passages on sloth: Pro. 6:6, 10:4-5, Matt. 25:27, Rom. 12:11, 2 Thess. 3:10, Heb. 6:12
  • Example Bible passages on wrath: Ps. 37:8, Pro. 6:34, 14:17, Matt. 5:22, 2 Cor. 12:20, Eph. 4:26
  • Example Bible passages on envy: Ps. 37:1, 49:16, 73:3, Rom. 1:29, 1 Cor. 13:4, 1 Tim. 6:4-5
  • Example Bible passages on pride: Deut. 8:17, 1 Sam. 2:3, Pro. 8:13, 11:2, Matt. 20:26, Luke 18:14

Who was Evagrius Ponticus? The seven deadly sins can be traced back to the 4th century A.D., when a monk named Evagrius Ponticus generated his own sin list, likely stemming from problems he saw in his own day. His list included the following sins:

  • gluttony
  • fornication/prostitution
  • greed
  • pride
  • sadness (i.e. envy – sadness at another’s good fortune)
  • wrath
  • boasting (i.e. a verbal proclamation of inner pride)
  • dejection (i.e. gloominess, depression)

Evagrius’ list proved to have staying power in the Church and was translated from Greek into Latin and used for educational and devotional purposes.

What sins were on Pope Gregory I’s list? In 590 Pope Gregory I revised Evagrius’ list, although the essence remained the same. Gregory’s list included sloth (a combination of three of the sins on Evagrius’ list), greed, pride, lust, gluttony, wrath, and added envy. Gregory also emphasized an order to the list: (1) lust, (2) gluttony, (3) greed, (4) sloth, (5) wrath, (6) envy, and (7) pride.

Gregory’s list, and its order, was cemented into Roman Catholic tradition for centuries to come when the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) used them in his epic tale, The Divine Comedy.

Also see Is Cussing A Sin? to learn more about the Bible’s teachings.

Definitions of The Seven Deadly Sins

Definitions of the individual sins can vary depending on the era or theologian, yet there is significant overlap upon comparison.

The following descriptions will provide a modern-day definition of the sin and also elements that have often been included in the definitions of the individual sins in Christian history.

(1) Lust

  • Dictionary definition: “intense or unbridled sexual desire” (Merriam-Webster)
  • Elements often included in the theological definition: lust as sexual desire; secondarily, lust as desire for other things like money and power

(2) Gluttony

  • Dictionary definition: “excess in eating or drinking” (Merriam-Webster)
  • Elements often included in the theological definition: an emphasis on over-indulgence, stress on lacking trust for future provisions, stress on taking from those in need, especially the hungry

(3) Greed

  • Dictionary definition: “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed” (Merriam-Webster)
  • Elements often included in the theological definition: excess, stress on lack of trust for future provisions, stress on taking from those in need, especially the poor.

(4) Sloth

  • Dictionary definition: “disinclination to action or labor” (Merriam-Webster)
  • Elements often included in the theological definition: laziness, primarily spiritual (i.e. lack of spiritual maturity, growth development); secondarily, physical laziness; spiritual laziness considered a rejection of God’s grace

(5) Wrath

  • Dictionary definition: “strong vengeful anger” (Merriam-Webster)
  • Elements often included in the theological definition: out-of-control anger, inside is fueled by hate, outside is manifested through verbal and/or physical violence

(6) Envy

  • Dictionary definition: “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage” (Merriam-Webster)
  • Elements often included in the theological definition: excess, jealousy over a range of issue like materialism and sexual desire

(7) Pride

  • Dictionary definition: “inordinate self-esteem” (Merriam-Webster)
  • Elements often included in the theological definition: the chief sin from which others are generated, the sin that occurred in the Garden of Eden, Lucifer’s sin

Also see Is Jeaousy A Sin? to learn more about the Bible’s teachings.

Conclusion

Proverbs 24:30-34 reads, “I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” (ESV)

Also see:

Bible verses about sloth

Bible verses about laziness

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