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What is the Sin of Gluttony, and What are its Consequences?

Gluttony is defined as the over-indulgence or lack of self-restraint in food, drink, or wealth items, especially as status tokens. The English word comes from the Latin and means “to gulp.” Gluttony worships food to feed our own self-love.
Updated May 22, 2024
What is the Sin of Gluttony, and What are its Consequences?

What is Gluttony? What is the definition and consequences of being gluttonous?

"Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags." (Proverbs 23:20-21)

Table of Contents

Definition of Gluttony

Gluttony is defined as the over-indulgence or lack of self-restraint in food, drink, or wealth items, especially as status tokens. The English word comes from the Latin and means “to gulp.” Gluttony worships food to feed our own self-love. Merriam-Webster defines gluttony as "habitual greed or excessive eating habits...greedy or excessive indulgence".

Example sentence: "His gluttony knew no bounds, as he devoured an entire cake in one sitting." ~ Smith, John. The Seven Deadly Sins.

"Her insatiable gluttony for luxury goods eventually led to financial ruin." ~ Johnson, Emily. Consumer Culture and Its Discontents.

While gluttony may seem to be a more trivial transgression than the others grouped in the “Seven Deadly Sins,” there is a reason this sin makes the list. With the alarming rate of modern obesity we see today, perhaps many have forgotten or forsaken the warnings against gluttony and its deadly consequences. Let’s look at the biblical references to gluttony to understand its classification as a deadly sin better. 

In ancient Greek, the concept of gluttony is captured by the terms "γαστριμαργία" (gastrimargia) or "λαίμαργία" (laimargia). These terms describe excessive indulgence in food and drink, often implying a lack of self-control and an overemphasis on physical pleasures at the expense of spiritual or moral well-being.

Gluttony and binge eating disorder (BED) are related concepts, but they are understood and addressed in different contexts—one is a moral or ethical issue, while the other is a clinical and psychological condition.

Gluttony in the Bible

Gluttony plunged the whole human race into a state of sin and misery with the first transgression (Genesis 3:6).

Gluttony, or “excess of food,” led to a curse of utter destruction upon Sodom, the standard example of God’s wrath and judgment (Ezekiel 16:49).

In Moses’ day, when Israel craved meat in the wilderness, the Lord sent quail. “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague” Interestingly, the name of the place was called “Kibroth-hattaavah” which means “Graves of Craving” (Number 11:18-34; Psalm 78:26-31). 

In the New Testament, gluttony is often associated with a lack of self-control and a focus on earthly pleasures over spiritual well-being. For instance, Philippians 3:19 warns against those "whose god is their belly," emphasizing the danger of prioritizing bodily desires. Additionally, in 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, Paul highlights the importance of moderation and the belief that the body should honor God rather than being enslaved by gluttonous desires.

Jesus Christ did not specifically use the term "gluttony" in his teachings, but he addressed the broader concepts of overindulgence, self-control, and the importance of spiritual over physical nourishment. Here are some relevant passages:

Matthew 4:4: "But he answered, 'It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" This emphasizes the importance of spiritual sustenance over mere physical consumption.

Luke 21:34: "But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap." This warns against overindulgence and the distractions of earthly pleasures.

Consequences of Gluttony

Furthermore, Church leaders from the rigorous Middle Ages developed a more extensive view of gluttony, as St. Thomas Aquinas did in his work called Summa Theologica. St. Thomas Aquinas emphasized a list of five ways to commit gluttony:

  • Laute - eating food that is too luxurious, exotic, or costly
  • Studiose - eating food that is excessive in quality (too daintily or elaborately prepared)
  • Nimis - eating food that is excessive in quantity (too much)
  • Praepropere - mindless eating (too soon or at an inappropriate time)
  • Ardenter - eating greedily (too eagerly)

St. Thomas Aquinas resolves that "gluttony denotes inordinate concupiscence in eating"; the first three ways are related to the food itself, while the last two are related to the manner of eating. He declares that abstinence from food and drink overcomes the capital sin of gluttony, and the act of abstinence is fasting.

Gregory the Great, also known as Pope Gregory I, extensively addressed the issue of gluttony in his moral and theological writings. In his work "Moralia in Job," Gregory describes gluttony as a sin beyond overeating. He emphasizes that gluttony encompasses any excessive indulgence in food and drink that distracts individuals from their spiritual duties and moral obligations. Gregory believed that gluttony leads to a loss of reason and self-control, making a person more susceptible to other vices. He asserted that gluttony harms the body and the soul, as it fosters a state of spiritual negligence and indulgence in earthly pleasures over divine pursuits.

Furthermore, Gregory categorized gluttony into several types, such as eating before the appointed time, seeking costly and delicate foods, and eating with excessive pleasure. He warned that gluttony could lead to many other sins, including impurity, dullness of mind, and an inability to understand or appreciate spiritual matters. Gregory's teachings on gluttony were part of his broader moral framework, where he aimed to guide Christians toward a life of temperance, self-discipline, and devotion to God. By highlighting the dangers of gluttony, Gregory sought to encourage believers to exercise moderation and focus on their spiritual growth and responsibilities.

The unfortunate reality is that most overweight people are overweight because they are gluttons, causing not only physical harm but spiritual illness. Part of the obesity epidemic is the normalization of gluttony in media and culture.

How to Overcome Gluttony

According to John Piper, there are many reasons for obesity in our culture. It's not just that we eat a lot of bad food. We're also pretty inactive and don't do a lot of walking, running, biking, etc. Oftentimes, obesity issues are connected as much to activity issues as they are to what goes into our mouths. Muscles are designed to burn food, but if they aren't being used, then any amount of food is going to result in obesity.

But "gluttony" is a better word to use in this context than "obesity" because overeating is the problem, not how much you weigh. There are all kinds of reasons why a person might weigh too much or too little that are not a result of gluttony.

So, how do you fight the battle? I think it must be fought mainly not with the word "No" but with an alternative "Yes."

It is very interesting to me that there are so many food and taste analogies in the Bible for God himself:

"Taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8)

"Desire the sincere spiritual milk of the word." (1 Peter 2:2)

"I am the bread of life. Come to me and you will not hunger." (John 6:35)

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food." (Isaiah 55:1-2)

The implication is that if we give ourselves to being satisfied with spiritual bread, wine, and milk, physical hunger will lose its supreme power. A lot of gluttony is born of boredom. Life is not satisfying or stimulating, relationships feel empty, and work is boring, but unlimited access to food is always there and tastes so good. But we cannot be mere slaves to our taste buds!

So we need to cultivate a range of appetites for great and good things like good literature, people's fellowship, reading the Bible, nature, work, etc. Discover these other appetites so that things other than food can satisfy you. Then pray earnestly and cultivate and nurture these satisfactions. 

The cardinal virtues, particularly temperance, directly counteract the vice of gluttony by promoting self-control and moderation in all forms of physical indulgence. By practicing temperance, individuals can maintain a balanced and disciplined lifestyle, avoiding the excessive and harmful behaviors associated with gluttony.

Christian Quotes on Gluttony

"These eight passions should be destroyed as follows: gluttony by self-control; unchastity by desire for God and longing for the blessings held in store; avarice by compassion for the poor; anger by goodwill and love for all men; worldly dejection by spiritual joy; listlessness by patience, perseverance and offering thanks to God; self-esteem by doing good in secret and by praying constantly with a contrite heart; and pride by not judging or despising anyone in the manner of the boastful Pharisee (cf. Luke 18:11-12)" ~ St. John Damascene

“Why do demons wish to excite in us gluttony, fornication, greed, anger, rancor and other passions? So that the mind, under their weight, should be unable to pray as it ought; for when the passions of our irrational part begin to act, they prevent the mind from acting rationally.” ~ St. Nilus of Sinai

“Nothing created by God is evil. It is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem. It is only the misuse of things that is evil, not the things themselves.” ~ St. Maximos the Confessor

"The mind of a glutton is beset by many enticing images and often cannot distinguish between the true and the false." ~ John Cassian, Institutes of the Coenobia.

"In inferno canto VI, Dante places the gluttonous in the third circle of Hell, where they are punished by being forced to lie in a vile slush that is produced by never-ending icy rain: 'In life, they were oblivious to others, lying in their greed. Now, they lie in the mire, as oblivious to themselves as they were to the world.'" ~ Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto VI.

"The belly is an ungrateful wretch, it never remembers past favors, it always wants more tomorrow." ~ Gregory the Great

"It is not the eating, but the gluttonous desire that is the sin. I strive daily to put it aside... For the mind must be withdrawn from the pleasures of the appetite." ~ Augustine of Hippo, Confessions.

Bible Verses about Gluttony

Luke 7:34 ~ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! He is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Proverbs 25:16 ~ If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.

Philippians 3:19 ~ Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Proverbs 23:20-21 ~ Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ~ Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

References

Wikipedia.org | Gluttony

Christianity.com | Conquering Gluttony

Article Image is a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder from the 16th Century, now in the Public Domain.


This article is part of our Christian Terms catalog, exploring words and phrases of Christian theology and history. Here are some of our most popular articles covering Christian terms to help your journey of knowledge and faith:

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