Dennis Prager: which sin is the worst sin?

My friend Drew suggested this post to me to blog about, and I was able to find the Prager University video that goes with it. Drew really liked the video, as well.

Excerpt:

The worst sin is committing evil in God’s name.

How do we know?

From the third of the Ten Commandments. This is the only one of the ten that states that God will not forgive a person who violates the commandment.

What does this commandment say?

It is most commonly translated as, “Do not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. For the Lord will not hold guiltless” — meaning “will not forgive” — whoever takes His name in vain.”

Because of this translation, most people understandably think that the commandment forbids saying God’s name for no good reason. So, something like, “God, did I have a rough day at work today!” violates the third commandment.

But that interpretation presents a real problem. It would mean that whereas God could forgive the violation of any of the other commandments — dishonoring one’s parents, stealing, adultery or even committing murder — He would never forgive someone who said, “God, did I have a rough day at work today!”

Let’s be honest: That would render God and the Ten Commandments morally incomprehensible.

As it happens, however, the commandment is not the problem. The problem is the translation. The Hebrew original doesn’t say “Do not take;” it says “Do not carry.” The Hebrew literally reads, “Do not carry the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

This is reflected in one of the most widely used new translations of the Bible, the New International Version, or NIV, which uses the word “misuse” rather than the word “take:”

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”

This is much closer to the original’s intent.

What does it mean to “carry” or to “misuse” God’s name? It means committing evil in God’s name.

And that God will not forgive.

Why not?

When an irreligious person commits evil, it doesn’t bring God and religion into disrepute. But when a religious person commits evil in God’s name he destroys the greatest hope for goodness on earth — belief in a God who demands goodness, and who morally judges people.

The Nazis and Communists were horrifically cruel mass murderers. But their evils only sullied their own names, not the name of God. But when religious people commit evil, especially in God’s name, they are not only committing evil, they are doing terrible damage to the name of God.

Now, I don’t agree with Dennis on his ranking this sin as the worst. I would put this one lower, and say that rebellion against God is the worst sin. That’s what I would say intellectually speaking. Emotionally speaking, I think that attacking people for their allegiance to God is the worst sin, like when people go after Christians for trying to take the Bible seriously in sexual matters, for example.

Dennis is Jewish, so he believes that religions should be judged based on whether they produce good or not, rather than whether they are true or not. I try to listen to Dennis’ radio show as often as I can, and although he does like to discuss what we can know about God from science and history, he doesn’t think that getting the right answers to theological questions is as important as doing the right actions. I think that might be why he chose this one as the worst, because actions are more important to him. I agree with him that it is certainly very bad to invoke God in a way that makes God look bad.

13 thoughts on “Dennis Prager: which sin is the worst sin?”

  1. Being Jewish, Prager only has the Old Testament perspective on evil, not the New Testament one, so his views will necessarily be incomplete, to be charitable. Not that one can’t gain valuable insights from reading Jewish thinkers, but just that as Christians, we must take them with a grain of salt, recognizing their deficiencies.

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  2. Agreed on rebellion against God. Specifically, Christians who rebel against God.

    All sins can be forgiven except the “worst” sin of apostasy for those who have known Him:

    Hebrews 6:4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, [d]since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

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  3. However, I would reword Dennis Prager’s comment that hypocrisy — Christians doing evil — can be the “most damaging sin” in terms of being a witness to others. It has the greatest potential to turn others away from God.

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    1. I think the worst sin is breaking the most important commandment according to Jesus, which is not loving God.

      Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)

      36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

      37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

      Source:
      https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22:36-40

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    2. I would say that the “worst” sin in terms of effects upon the sinner who commits the sin is the active rejection of God’s grace for the full extent of ones mortal life, and which leads progressively to God’s withdrawal of any further opportunity for a reversal of this rejection on the part of the sinner. This is what is generally known as the “unforgivable sin”. The result is that the one who commits this sin is eternally “lost” and will be finally banished to what the book of Revelation calls “the lake that burns with fire and brimstone”. The course of those who commit this sin is alluded to in II Thessalonians 2:11-12 which reads: (NASB) “For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” As for the Hebrews 6 passage, I see that passage as pointing to what might best be called chastening or disciplining of intentionally wayward Christians by God rather than any kind of a loss of ones position of Justification once it has been established through faith / belief. Scripture seems clear that those who are redeemed (Christians) will eternally remain redeemed no matter what (eternal security), albeit with divine chastening and discipline as necessary.

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  4. Another interpretation would be all those songs we sing, that we don’t really mean. Which songs do we sing, where we say we’ll do things, love others, because “that’s what Christians do” – and we don’t?

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  5. Regardless of hermeneutics, I do consider taking the Lord’s Name in vain to be my worst sin, and arguably the worst of the Ten. BC, I cursed the Lord morning, noon, and night, over the most trivial matters. (I am glad this sin is not the unforgivable one, obviously!) I believe this was my attempt to curse / kill my Creator. In that sense, it dovetails nicely with your view on the Greatest Commandment, WK. (Obviously the Greatest Commandment “covers” a portion of the Ten and the Second Like It, the remainder.)

    After I became a Christian, the Holy Spirit did for me what I could never have done for myself: removed from me forever the addiction to curse His Name. It is probably the best testament to those who knew me BC of the authentication of the Power of God in converting me. Needless to say, my family was stunned to see that habit “go away.”

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  6. Which verse is it that says “He who keeps the whole Law, yet stumbles in one point, is guilty of all”? This would seem to negate the whole idea of “greater” or “lesser” sins, IMHO. Sin is sin, and all sin leads to death, although I do believe in degrees of punishment in hell for the ultimately unrepentant. Any thoughts?

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    1. While there are certainly no sins that are more “unrighteous” than any others, there do seem to be sins that are more harmful or that are characteristically carry more serious consequences in a temporal sense. For instance consider these verses:

      [1Co 6:18 NASB] 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.

      (Aren’t sins “outside” the body immoral, too?)

      or

      [Pro 6:16-19 KJV] 16 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.

      (Doesn’t God hate ALL sins?)

      Such distinctions make no real sense if all sins are equal in EVERY possible respect.

      JMG

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      1. Hmm, makes sense. All sin equally fatal,* but some with more severe consequences than others, depending on their effect on others, i.e. God’s image-bearers, all of whom are equally valuable in God’s sight, whether saved or unsaved. BTW, agree w/your view above regarding eternal security. He saves us, and He keeps us. Thanks.

        *Kind of like varying doses of poison?

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