“Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans?” (Luke 13:2, NASB).
Is there such a thing as one sin being greater than another?
Jesus was asked about some Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Josephus wrote about skirmishes between the Jews and the Romans – particularly around Jewish feasts – that resulted in heavy bloodshed (Pulpit Commentary). Perhaps such an event is here referenced.
Jesus’ answer is interesting: “Do you suppose these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans because they suffered these things?” On another occasion, Jesus illustrated the same truth. When a woman was brought before him who was caught in adultery, he famously instructed those who were without sin to cast the first stone (John 8:1-11). This would imply that their sins were no less significance than hers.
There are numerous passages that help us understand sin’s consequences. Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin was called “very grievous” (Gen. 18:20). Then in Lamentations, Judah’s sin was considered worse than Sodom’s (Lam. 4:6). In John 19:11, Jesus told Pilate that those who delivered him to Pilate had “the greater sin.”
Some sins are indeed more grievous than others. There is a difference between sins of presumption, sins of ignorance, and sins of premeditation/outright rebellion. For example, Paul, who was “a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent man” – the “chief of sinners” – received mercy “because [he] did it ignorantly, in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). Yet, the Jews who persecuted the prophets of old and then the church during the days of the apostles were not shown such mercy (see: Matthew 12:41). They did so, not out of ignorance, but out of envy and wrath. Obviously, motive matters.
We might also point out that God once overlooked the ignorance of idolatry in a way that He will not for people living under the reign of His Son (see: Acts 17:30-31). Opportunity matters.
Certainly, we can understand that saying a word that we shouldn’t in a moment of anger is consequentially different than planning and carrying out a murder. Both the Law of Moses, and human law recognize these differences – at least in the punitive sense.
Not every sin carries the same weight of consequence. But any sin has the power to condemn eternally. Let us not worry about other people’s sins as much as we do our own. And may our lives reflect the understanding that while the earthly consequences for sins may vary, the eternal consequences will not.