What Does the Bible Say Makes Someone Anathema or Cursed?

Contributing Writer
What Does the Bible Say Makes Someone Anathema or Cursed?

With a bite of fruit, the first humans brought a curse upon creation, bringing death into the world. Christian theologians often use the term “anathema” for the curse.

Like many doctrinal terms, “anathema” may be unusual but implies something serious. It can be hard to define in a culture where curses can mean witchcraft or saying an offensive phrase. In the Scripture, the word applies to both people and objects.

According to the Bible, what does it mean for a person to be cursed?

What Does the Word Anathema Mean in the Bible?

In the Bible, anathema conveys the concept of God devoting something or someone to destruction or condemnation.

In Hebrew, cherem is the word most commonly translated as anathema. Cherem appears throughout the Old Testament, particularly referring to the destruction or devotion of certain objects, people, or cities. For example, in Joshua 6:17, God declared the city of Jericho and all its inhabitants cherem—devoted to destruction due to divine judgment. Similarly, in Leviticus 27:28, the Law considered objects used in idolatry or associated with sin to be cherem—destroyed.

The New Testament (and the Old Testament Greek translation) applies anathema to a curse or cherem. Romans 9:3 says, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race.” In Romans 9, the apostle Paul expresses grief for his people, the Jews, and their rejection of Jesus the Messiah. He loves them so much that he states his willingness to be cursed (anathema, set aside for destruction by God) if this would lead to the Jewish people accepting Christ.

When Does the Bible Use Anathema for Objects?

In the Bible, anathema describes various objects, practices, or entities devoted to destruction or considered accursed due to their association with sin, idolatry, or disobedience.

As already noted, in the Old Testament, anathema refers to objects associated with false worship. Deuteronomy 7:25-26 warns against bringing these things into one’s house, stating, “Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it; for it is detestable to the Lord your God. Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Regard it as vile and utterly detest it, for it is set apart for destruction.” Just as certain objects had been set aside and made holy for Tabernacle worship to Yahweh, people made other things to worship false idols. God disapproved of these objects and further marked them for destruction.

In some cases, God declares entire cities or nations anathema because of their persistent rebellion against God. In Joshua 6:17, the Lord devoted Jericho and its inhabitants to destruction for their wickedness and defying God’s commands.

In the New Testament, anathema denounces false teachings or doctrines that lead people astray from the Gospel. Galatians 1:8-9 warns against preaching a different gospel, stating, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” While not tangible objects, philosophies and ideas can be more destructive, leading people from the true worship of God and condemning individuals, and therefore, these false teachings deserve divine judgment.

When Does the Bible Use Anathema for People?

Beginning with the first humans, associating with something set aside for death also curses the person. God instructs Adam and Eve not to touch the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The consequence leads to death. It took a lie (bad doctrine) to get them to eat the forbidden fruit. Since they consumed the fruit, they also took the curse upon themselves and all humanity, bringing death.

Like in the Garden, when the serpent was cursed for lying to Adam and Eve, the Bible applies anathema to false teachers or preachers who lead people astray from the truth. While the passage doesn’t use the word anathema, Jesus teaches a similar idea: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6) Those who promote false teachings or distort the message of salvation deserve divine judgment for their deception and keeping people from life in Christ.

The Scripture declares anathema on people who persist in unrepentant sin and rebellion against God. In 1 Corinthians 16:22, Paul pronounces a solemn warning: "If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!” Those who reject God’s love and refuse to turn from their sinful ways earn the curse, as well.

Ultimately, anyone who rejects the offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is considered anathema, subject to divine judgment and separation from God. In John 3:18, Jesus declares, speaking of himself as the Son, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Humanity is born under the curse, and those who reject the Son of God remain under the curse of sin and death.

While the Bible expresses more serious judgment for certain people, like false teachers, every one of us has been rebelling against God and deserves judgment (Romans 9:22). Without a direct rescue from God, this curse is our fate.

What Makes Someone Being Anathema So Serious?

Anathema involves the rejection of God’s truth and the message of salvation. Those who teach lies not only do not receive the Gospel’s grace, but they also lead others down the same path. We must adhere to the authentic salvation message through the Lord Jesus Christ. The message is so serious that James 3:1 tells us teachers receive a greater judgment, even in the church.

Lies lead to death, as we see in the Garden with Adam and Eve, so those living according to the lie receive the consequences of sin. Romans 6:23a states, “For the wages of sin is death.” Sin earns both physical and spiritual death. Contrary to this, following Christ brings blessings in this life and the future. Being anathema keeps us from the life we long for and further condemns us to misery here in this world and beyond.

Every person will stand before God and give an account of their life, an ultimate accountability. Hebrews 9:27 declares, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” God holds each individual accountable for their actions, beliefs, and decisions, and those who persist in unbelief and rebellion face the solemn consequences of divine judgment.

This Day of Judgment signifies the finality of separation from God’s presence, leading to “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” the symbol of an afterlife of suffering and torture (Matthew 8:12, 13:50, and more). Those who reject the Son of God, the Person of Truth, remain under the curse of sin and face eternal separation from God unless they repent and turn to him in faith.

He is the only way.

Does Being Anathema Mean Someone Is Beyond Redemption?

Thank God for a way of escape from the fate we deserve. Each has been born with and chose the curse, resulting in the destruction awaiting us. However, being an anathema through Christ doesn’t mean we are beyond redemption. In our own strength, this is impossible. But all things are possible through God.

  1. God’s Love and Mercy. Throughout the Bible, God’s love and mercy are central aspects of his character. Despite our sin and rebellion, God extends his grace and offers the gift of salvation through faith in Christ. John 3:16 declares, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love and mercy provide the foundation for redemption, demonstrating his willingness to forgive and reconcile even the most wayward sinners.
  2. Opportunity for Repentance. The Bible consistently emphasizes the opportunity for repentance and reconciliation with God, if we will but respond to his call. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God desires for all people to repent and turn to him, regardless of past sins or spiritual condition. If we’re alive, there remains the opportunity for redemption through genuine repentance and faith.
  3. Jesus’ Atoning Sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross provides the basis for redemption and forgiveness for all who believe. Romans 5:8 affirms, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus paid the penalty for sin through his atoning sacrifice, offering redemption and reconciliation with God to all who place their faith in him. No one is beyond God’s grace and the power of Christ's redemption.
  4. Promise of Forgiveness. The Bible repeatedly promises forgiveness and restoration through repentance to those who turn to the Father. 1 John 1:9 assures, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” He forgives all sin, no longer counting any against us.
  5. Jesus’ Victory Over Sin and Death. Finally, Jesus’ death and resurrection proved his victory over sin and death. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:55-58, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God not only forgives and atones for our sins, but we now have victory over death’s finality through the resurrected Christ. No longer under the penalty of spiritual and physical death, we live forever with the Father.

God’s love, mercy, and grace provide the pathway to redemption and eternal life through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. The curse is broken in Christ, and if we still live, there remains hope in Jesus.


Photo Credit:©GettyImages/Shapla Khatun

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

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