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Did Jesus lead a sinless life?

Part 1: Methods of determination.
Path forward. What does the Bible say?


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Methods of determining whether Jesus was sinless:

The question whether Jesus was without sin is ultimately impossible to answer. That is because no consensus exists about the precise nature of Jesus:

bulletSome Christians -- particularly those who are religious liberals -- consider Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ), to be a 1st century itinerate rabbi -- perhaps the greatest of the Jewish Prophets -- but still a human. Thus:

bulletHis religious actions could be evaluated against the behavioral requirements of Judaism at the time.

bulletHis secular behavior could be compared to the duties of a citizen in a state that was under occupation by the Roman army.

However, some do not consider the act of disobeying religious, civil, or military law to be religiously sinful in some circumstances. There are thousands of years of precedents in Judaism and Christianity where individuals have conscientiously objected to what they considered to be improper laws by intentionally disobeying them. They have felt called to respond to a higher law. For example:

bullet Many Christian parents disobey the biblical instructions to beat their children with a rod because they believe that corporal punishment is an unjust, unloving, and counterproductive method of disciplining children. It teaches them that violence is a solution to conflicts, and that might makes right. Also, long term studies of children being spanked in childhood show increased levels of alcohol addiction, drug addiction, clinical depression and anxiety.

bullet Some Christians who are opposed to abortion access have murdered abortion providers to prevent the latter from performing more abortions.

bulletMany of the religious freedoms that Americans and Canadians enjoy today were obtained through legal means by Jehovah's Witnesses, and others, who first disobeyed civil laws, were charged, and then successfully fought for their religious freedom through the courts.

Thus, violating a religious, civil, or military law may be considered a sin by some authorities even as it is regarded as a noble act by a perpetrator.

bullet Most Christians consider Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and a co-equal, eternally existing, person within the Trinity -- the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These Christians might define a sin as an action that is contrary to the will of God. Since Jesus and God are believed to be omnipotent, they have an infinite choice of actions in every instance. They would never do anything which was against their own will. Thus, it is impossible for them to sin. These Christians believe that since Jesus Christ created humans, the other life forms on earth, the earth itself, and the rest of the universe, he can perform many acts without sin - acts that might be considered criminal if done by a human. The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures describe how God initiated many acts that would be considered crimes against humanity or genocide if they were done by a human being today. Some examples are:

bullet The most serious genocide in history, in terms of the percentage of human beings exterminated was the alleged world-wide flood during the time of Noah. The Bible relates that the entire human race was destroyed with the exception of 8 people: Noah, his three sons and their wives. There might have been daughters of Noah and their husbands as well, but they may not have been considered important enough to mentioned. Women were considered to have such a low status in ancient times that they were often considered property.

bullet God's instructions to the ancient Israelites to commit genocide against the Canaanites by killing every man, woman, child, newborn and infant. This would be considered a very serious crime against humanity today.

bullet The creation of a Hell where unsaved people will be tortured for all eternity for thought crimes -- i.e. for having the wrong religious beliefs. Some countries in the world today are considered pariah states with a poor human rights records because they imprison their citizens for thought crimes, or torture prisoners, or keep them in jail forever without hope of release. The Hell that God created -- and to whom many Christian believe he sends people for thought crimes --commits all three crimes against humanity.

bullet

The set of laws that God gave to the ancient Hebrews includes:

  • Condoning and regulating human slavery;
  • Executing religious minorities, gays, non-virgin brides, and disrespectful children;
  • Allowing the enforced marriage and rape of female prisoners of war;
  • Etc.

Some feel that a deity is sinless, even after performing  actions that would be considered horrendous and despicable if done by a human being. They believe that God cannot perform a sinful act. Thus, by definition, Jesus led a sinless life.

The path forward:

If one believes that God is sinless, and that Jesus is one of three persons in the Trinity, then no further discussion of Jesus' sinlessness is necessary or possible. The subject is closed. Jesus did not sin. You can hit the "Back" key at the top of your browser now if you wish.

For those who feel that Jesus' sinfulness or sinless can reasonably be evaluated using human standards of sin, we will continue this essay by evaluating Jesus' actions against religious and civil rules of behavior in 1st century Galilee.

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What does the Bible say about Jesus behavior?

The Bible, if interpreted literally, appears ambiguous about whether Jesus was without sin. Some applicable passages from the King James Version are listed below:

bulletIn the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is described as being righteous and having done nothing wrong -- or at least, not anything that was criminal in nature: 

bulletLuke 23:39-41: One of the criminals who was crucified beside Jesus stated that Jesus had done nothing amiss. Various translations say that he has "done nothing wrong" or "done nothing criminal", "done no evil", "hasn't done one thing wrong." The King James Version says: "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss."
 
bulletLuke 23:47: A Roman centurion guard at the crucifixion site said that Jesus was righteous: "Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man."

bulletElsewhere in the Christian Scriptures, Paul and various other authors state unequivocally that Jesus was without sin:

bullet2 Corinthians 5:21: "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

bulletHebrews 4:15: "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin."

bullet1 Peter 2:21-22: "...because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth."

bullet1John 3:5: "And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.

bulletThere is an ambiguous reference to Jesus and sin in Hebrews:

bullet Hebrews 7:26-28: The author refers to Jesus: "For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens;Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. Describing Jesus as undefiled might indicate that he was in a state of sinlessness. But later, Jesus is compared to a high priest: the latter offered a sacrifice daily -- first for his own sins and then for the sins of the rest of the population. Jesus is described as doing this only once, at his execution. This passage might imply that Jesus did sin.

bulletA remarkable incident occurred during Jesus' ministry when a follower referred to him as "Good Master" -- a term that was rarely used to refer to a rabbi or teacher. Jesus replied, implying that he was not God, that he was not "good," and that only God is good:

bulletMark 10:17-18: "And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God."

bulletMatthew 19:16-17: "And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God..."

bulletLuke 18:18-19: "And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God."

The Jerome Biblical Commentary attempts to harmonize this apparent conflict. It states that the phrase "Good Master" was "a rarely used epithet for a rabbi." Thus, Jesus' response might have implied that "the epithet 'good' being proper to God, should not be used indiscriminately and casually." 1,2 Still, the passages in the three synoptic gospels records Jesus as rejecting the suggestion that he was all good; i.e. without sin.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. G.C. Berkouwer, "The Person of Christ," Out of print. However, the Amazon.com online book store may be able to obtain a copy.
  2. "Like us in all things but sin: An examination of the question of the impeccability of Jesus Christ," at:  http://www.bignerds.com/

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

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

Copyright © 2000 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-APR-17
Latest update: 2010-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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