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DID JESUS LEAD A SINLESS LIFE?

Beliefs of different groups

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Beliefs of most conservative Christians:

There appears to be unanimity among conservative Christians that Jesus was without sin during his earthly ministry. Some typical quotes:
bulletBaptist Information Service: "There was never even a hint of sin or error in Jesus Christ, not in thought nor in deed."
bulletDan Boeckmann, Spring to Life: "I have know Jesus most of my 44 years here on this earth. He committed no sin...For people to say he committed sin is unfathomable for me. They must have never met Jesus." 2
bulletJ.G. Machen, "Christianity and Liberalism" (1923) "He never in His recorded words deals in any intelligible way with sin in His own life...He always assumes that other men are sinful; yet He never finds sin in Himself. A stupendous difference is found here between Jesus' experience and ours." 3
bulletTrue Jesus Church: "Since Jesus was not born of Adam or the flesh, he did not have the 'death' Adam and Eve brought to all human beings. Therefore, Jesus is holy and sinless." 4
bulletApostolic Truth Church: Referring to Jesus' execution, they write: "All this was done to a man who never did anyone any wrong; the only completely sinless man who ever lived....It is through the willing death of this sinless One and His subsequent burial and resurrection that we can be relieved of our sins and their consequences." 5
bulletGrace to You: "If God were a man I would expect Him to be sinless. The record of history and the affirmation of apostolic testimony and the truth is, Jesus was sinless." 6
bulletDale Johnsen: "Throughout Jesus' life on earth, He obeyed all of God's law perfectly. Of all the 613 commands [in the Mosaic code], He obeyed every single one that applied to Him. He is the only One who ever did this. Thus, through His perfectly sinless life, fulfilled the law on behalf of a sinful human race which was unable to keep it." 7

Conservative Christians derive their belief about the sinless nature of Jesus largely from their concept of salvation and atonement. As quoted above: "It is through the willing death of this sinless One and His subsequent burial and resurrection that we can be relieved of our sins and their consequences." Religious conservatives understand that Adam and Eve's transgression in the Garden of Eden brought sin into the world for the first time; this has caused succeeding generations of humans to inherit a sinful nature. Further, the sin of the first parents has alienated all humans from God. There was only one way that this sin can be cancelled, and the separation from God overcome:  Everyone's sin had to be transferred to God's son, a perfect human being. Jesus had to accept all of the sins of the human race (past, present and future) and be murdered on our behalf. Then, if an individual repents of their sin and trusts Jesus as Lord and Savior, she/he will be saved and inherit eternal life in heaven. [Some conservative Christians have dropped the requirement for repentance on the basis that this requires effort on the part of the new Christian. They view salvation as being totally a gift from God.] In order for Jesus to be an acceptable human sacrifice, capable of creating a path by which we can cancel our sin and re-unite with God, he had to be devoid of sin.

Their belief is reinforced by various passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament), some of which are listed below.

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Beliefs of some liberal Christians:

As with so many other elements of Christian belief, there is an unbridgeable gulf between conservative and liberal Christians on the topic of Jesus' sinlessness.

Many liberals view Jesus as a 1st century Jewish rabbi, as a follower of the great Jewish philosopher and theologian Hillel, as a native healer, and/or as a philosopher of the Greek "cynic" school, etc. -- a prophet with such advanced teachings in the areas of spirituality, religion and community that his followers were inspired to found what was to become the largest religion in history. They view Jesus as a great human being, not as a deity. Thus they believe that it is quite unlikely that he could have lived his entire life without sinning.

The concept of salvation is not of great importance to religious liberals. Most view Hell symbolically, not as a real place. Most interpret Satan as a symbol of evil, not as an all-evil quasi-deity. Many are repelled by the concept of God being so incapable of forgiveness and empathy that he required the torture death of an innocent man in order to allow believers to be saved. They also believe that sins are not transferable. Thus:

bulletPresent-day humans cannot inherit the sin of Adam and Eve.
bulletJesus could not inherit our sins.

With these beliefs about Hell, Satan, God and sin, there is no need for Jesus to have been a perfect human while on earth. Thus there is no need for him to have led a sinless life.

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Muslim beliefs:

The Qur'an is accepted by Muslims as the direct words of God, dictated by an Archangel to the prophet Muhammad. It does not contain a passage that directly states the sinlessness of Jesus. However, there are two passages in the Qur'an which imply his sinlessness:

bulletSura 22: 51: "Never have We sent a single prophet or apostle before you with whose wishes Satan did not tamper. But Allah abrogates the interjections of Satan and confirms His own revelations. Allah is wise and all-knowing. He makes Satan's interjections a temptation for those whose hearts are diseased or hardened - this is why the wrongdoers are in open schism - so that those to whom knowledge has been given may realize that this is the truth from your Lord and thus believe in it and humble their hearts towards Him. Allah will surely guide the faithful to a straight path."
bulletSura 3:36: "...and have called her Mary. Protect her and all her descendants from Satan, the Accursed One."

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What does the public believe?

The Barna Research Group conducts nationwide surveys among American adults on a variety of religious topics. Some results from 1999 phone surveys are:

bullet42% of adults believe that Jesus committed sins while on earth.
bullet40% believe that he led a sinless life on earth.
bullet33% of Roman Catholics believe that he led a sinless life.
bulletGroups most likely to believe that Jesus led a sinless life are: Bible readers (67%), Born-again Christians (65%), Baptists (61%), Church goers (58%), and persons who attend non-mainline (mostly conservative) churches (56%).

In 2001, the same question was asked again. The percentage of adults who strongly disagree that he committed sins during his life on earth remained at 40%. However, Barna Research also listed results by denomination:

bulletAbove average:
bulletPentecostal / Foursquare: 73%
bulletLatter-day Saints (Mormons): 70%
bulletAssembly of God: 70%
bulletNon-denominational, mostly Fundamentalist: 63%
bulletBaptist: 55%
bulletChurch of Christ: 54%
bulletBelow average:
bulletSeventh-day Adventist: 45%
bulletPresbyterian: 45%
bulletCatholics: 33%
bulletLutheran: 33%
bulletMethodist: 33%
bulletEpiscopal: 28% 8

In 2004, a Barna Research survey of the "unchurched" found that 51% believe that Jesus committed sins while on earth. Barna defines the "unchurched" as "... an adult (18 or older) who has not attended a Christian church service within the past six months, not including a holiday service (such as Easter or Christmas) or a special event at a church (such as a wedding or funeral)." They include many Agnostics, Atheists, non-church going Christians, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans etc. They constitute 75 million American adults, an massive increase from 39 million in 1991. 9

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References:

  1. Baptist Information Service, weekly E-Mail update, Vol. 4, Issue #16, 2000-APR-17 
  2. Spring to Life Home Page, at: http://www.spring2life.com 
  3. J. Gresham Machen, "Christianity & Liberalism, Chapter 5," at: www.markers.com/
  4. "Questions and Answers," True Jesus Church, at:  http://www.tjc.org/
  5. "The truth about repentance," Apostolic Truth Church, at: www.atchurch.org/
  6. "The child who was God," Grace to You, at: http://www.gty.org/ 
  7. Dr. Dale Johnsen, "Law and Grace - Part One," Ahtanum Pioneer Church, at: http://www.nwinfo.net/ 
  8. "Religious beliefs vary widely by denomination," Barna Research, at: http://www.barna.org/
  9. "Unchurched People," Barna Research, (2004) at: http://www.barna.org/

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Site navigation:

 Home page > Christianity > Personalities > Jesus > His sinlessness > here

or Home page> Christianity> Christian history...> Beliefs> Sin> Jesus sinlessness> here

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Copyright © 2000 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-APR-17
Latest update: 2004-OCT-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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