Is “hate the sin, love the sinner” found in the Bible?
The phrase ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ is not explicitly found in the Bible. The origins of this phrase come from two authors, St. Augustine and Mahatma Gandhi. The earliest use of this phrase comes from St. Augustine in a letter he wrote to a commune of nuns (Letter 211, c. 424). In this letter he encourages them to act with love for the persons and hatred of sins.
The modern rendering of the phrase comes from Mahatma Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography. He writes: [the phrase] “hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.” Gandhi argues that using this phrase is an excuse to judge another person because it cannot be effectively practice.
Today this phrase more commonly appears as “love the sinner but hate the sin” or “hate the sin and not the sinner.”
There are a few biblical passages similar to this phrase. In Jude, the writer emphasizes that Christians should be known for their mercy and hatred of the effects of sin.
Jude 23 “Save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.” [emphasis added]
Romans 12:9-10 “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” [emphasis added]
While both passages mention two separate commands of “love the sinner” and also “hate the sin,” the phrases are not interdependent on the other. In both passages, it is the effects or the results of sin that should be hated. The judgment of sin, as implied in using the phrase “hate the sin and love the sinner,” is not mandated to Christians.
Adam Hamilton, Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say (2016)
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P., “Who said, ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’?“
St. Augustine of Hippo, “Letters 211-270.“ Above quote appears on page 25.
So it’s not found in the Bible. Is it still good theology?
Romans 5:8 “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.”
1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.”
While sin is serious and discussed at length in the Bible, it is not the job of Christians to hate the sin. Instances of God hating sin must be understood in the context of the whole Bible. God hates sin because of what sin does to humanity: it separates us from ourselves, from each other, and from God. God does not hate sin for sin’s sake, but because sin separates (Isaiah 59:2).
Using “hate the sin and love the sinner” against anyone divides people into two groups: those who are sinners and those who are not. It could be used to exclude anyone, including queer people of faith. It’s clear that God loves all people the same, regardless of sin status. Furthermore, it is never instructed for people of faith to be those who divide people up in this way. In fact, Jesus directly addresses a similar line of thinking in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”
The phrase “hate the sin and love the sinner” could be the modern equivalent of “hate your enemy and love your neighbor.” It’s safe to say that Jesus’ response would be the same to those who hate their enemies. Jesus’ answer doesn’t include any instructions about their sin, only a commandment to love.
Isn’t being gay, bisexual, queer, or transgender still a sin?
The writers within these ancient cultures were unfamiliar with the modern understanding that separates gender identity from sexual attraction. For this and other reasons, the few verses typically referenced in this conversation are not applicable to the contemporary lives of queer and trans people.
There are a variety of denominations and expressions of Christianity, many which are fully affirming of the lives of queer people. Other LGBTQ+ Christians still fight simply to be heard by their church family. The theological study of sin is no excuse to cast out the command to love.
An affirming understanding of the Bible would render this statement (“hate the sin and love the sinner”) ineffectual because being queer or trans is not a sin, and so there is nothing to hate.
Isn’t “loving the sinner” the important part of that statement?
From the perspective of the one saying it, it would appear that love is the most important part of the phrase. More often than not, the phrase “hate the sin and love the sinner” is only used as a response to queer and trans identities. When used against anyone, the only word heard is “hate.” To hate the sin is to say “I hate this part of you.” And to those who have had this response used against them, the only thing heard is “I hate you.”
By framing LGBTQ+ identities as a sin, societal sins are ignored. Rarely is hating the sin and loving the sinner used for personal sins like greed and theft. It’s hardly used for social sins like poverty and systemic racism. The sins that Christians should care about, are the ones that God cares about: those that separate humanity from living an abundant life (John 10:10).
How can “hating the sin and loving the sinner” be hurtful in relationships?
The statement is used as an excuse to pass judgment on another with a supposed free pass from God. It’s tempting to think that judging what may be a sin in another person is okay if God judges that sin too. It’s used as an excuse to dislike certain people based on certain aspects of who they are.
Regardless of what is and isn’t a sin, accusing someone of sin will hurt any relationship. Using this phrase divides a relationship between “someone who is sinning” and “someone who isn’t sinning.” Dividing people up between sinners and non-sinners encourages the already prevalent alienation of queer people within the church. It creates and sustains a damaging theology of “us vs. them.” By using this phrase, one person becomes the sinner, and the other the one who loves sinners.
Christians are called to love their enemies and their neighbors. The command to love is founded in who others are (neighbors) not what they do (sinners). To “love the sinner” is to see others as sinners, to focus on their sin. Through the eyes of Jesus, God sees humanity as worthy of love. Christians then, too, are to love everyone with no regard to sin at all.
What should our response be?
The more that we listen to the stories of others, our capacity for hate diminishes. If you are not sure how to response to queer people and queer people of faith, take some time before you do respond.
Loving others can be as simple as using the pronouns they use (even if they seem different or unusual). It means to treat them as you treat others. For some, it can mean not focusing on the fact that they’re gay, as many see their orientation simply as one aspect of who they are. For many, love simply means listening. Listen to their stories. Study and read affirming theology. Above all, any response should be one of love.
Jeremy Myers, “Stop Saying You ‘Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin‘” (2015)
Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships (2014)
The Liturgists Podcast, Episode 20 “LGBTQ.” (This episode does contain one harmful viewpoint of LGBTQ people. It is a short segment, and is included in the podcast to showcase a variety of views).