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Is this a reasonable question to ask?

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bullet"The doctrine that Jesus lived a sinless life on Earth is a cornerstone of traditional Christian theology that transcends the Catholic-Protestant divide." Baptist Standard. 1

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Is this a "petty and small-minded" topic?

On 2003-MAR-6, we received a critical E-mail from a visitor to our web site that referred to one of our essays on Jesus' sinlessness. He wrote:

"Please let me take this opportunity to thank you for making me laugh so hard that I thought I might actually pull a rib muscle. Honest to God, I laughed so hard that my wife came in the room because she thought I was taking a seizure!! I just read your detailed description explaining why Jesus Christ was actually a sinner. To be perfectly honest with you, I have never encountered anything so petty and small-minded in my life as what I just read. No, I am not even a Christian!"

While we were pleased that this visitor enjoyed reading the essay, we do not share his evaluation of it. We believe that it is a serious topic to investigate. Realizing that there are probably many dozens of people who believe as he does and who did not write us an E-mail, we decided to write this essay.

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It is a worthwhile topic:

Some of our site visitors will consider the question of Jesus' sinlessness to be a worthwhile theological point to discuss: some will believe that Jesus was sinless during his earthly ministry; most will probably believe, with the majority of Americans, that he sinned. Other visitors don't care.

Still others will think like the above E-mailer: that the question is silly. It is like a debate on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is in the same class as the question whether God can create a stone so heavy the he cannot move it. (Some have suggested that if he can, then he is not omnipotent; if he cannot, then there are limitations to God's creative abilities.)

Our belief is that Jesus' sinlessness is a worthwhile and significant question to explore. We offer the following observations:

bulletPeople hold different opinions on this topic: His sinlessness is a matter of considerable division within Christianity. Polls by Barna Research showed that there is an almost equal split in opinion among American adults. 42% believe that he sinned; 40% believe that he did not. The percentage of those who believe in his sinlessness ranges from 73% among members of Pentecostal and Foursquare congregations to 28% among Episcopalians. An even lower result would probably be found among members of the United Church of Christ if they had been polled. The topic obviously divides Christians.
bulletConservative denominations, and some mainline denominations, believe that Jesus was sinless, and that this is an extremely important factor in his life.
bulletA main reason for this belief is that the Bible states that he was free of sin as a matter of fact in a number of places. Conservative Christians typically believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. So the matter is settled.
bulletJesus' sinlessness is an integral part of the "fall-sin-redemption" model, which is almost universally accepted as a key belief by conservative Christians. That is, that:
bulletAdam and Eve disobeyed God when the ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
bulletBy their actions, sin and death entered the world for the first time, and produced a gulf between God and humanity.
bulletThrough the concept of imputation, Adam and Eve's sin has been assigned to their children, their grandchildren, and all the way to present-day humanity. Not a single person since our first parents has avoided acquiring their sin. 2
bulletJesus had the power to forgive sin only because of the incarnation, in which God took human form in Jesus, and because of Jesus' sinlessness.
bulletPersons can be saved by repenting of their sin, and trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior. They will then attain Heaven when they die. They become a new creation. Through a process of sanctification God helps them change and become more like Christ. 3 Otherwise, without having been saved, they will be tortured in Hell for all eternity after death.

The "fall-sin-redemption" model involves a number of sequential components:
bulletOriginal sin -->
bulletGulf between God and humanity -->
bulletImputation of sin to all persons -->
bulletIncarnation -->
bulletJesus' sinlessness -->
bulletThe opportunity for humans to be saved.

If you delete any component, then the whole message of the Bible would collapse. Supporters of this model believe that, for example:
bulletIf Adam and Eve did not sin, then there would have been no sin imputed to all of humanity. All humans would not have become saturated with sin. There would have been no salvation role for Jesus to play. If he were sinful, he would have been only an ordinary itinerate Rabbi-teacher. Because of the importance of all of the elements in the "fall-sin-redemption" model,  many conservative Christians promote a literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden story.
bulletIf Jesus had not led a sinless life, they reason that he could not forgive sins of the 1st century Jews and Pagans that he came in contact with. Further, trust in him as Lord and Savior could not save anyone. His execution would have no more significance to us today than the death of the two thieves on either side of him.

If Jesus had sinned, then the atonement would not have happened. His death on the cross could not have created a route to salvation for the entire human population.

bulletLiberal Christians typically believe that he did commit sin. A main reason for this belief is that the Bible describes a number of events in Jesus' life which many consider sinful. Four examples are: his lack of respect to his mother on a number of occasions, his racial insult hurled at a non-Jew, the aggravated assaults that he committed in the Temple, and his conspiracy with his followers to steal an animal.
bulletBy inputting the search string  jesus sinless  into the www.google.com search engine, one can find about 31,100 web sites which deal with this topic. It is not a trivial subject to discuss.

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Some quotations from other web sites:

The following texts emphasize the importance of belief in the sinlessness of Jesus:


eThoughts: "Sinless: Jesus was utterly without sin. He never said or did anything, unless his father God in heaven told him to; and therefore he never did anything that was not the will of God. He was perfect and without sin."

"Perfect Sacrifice: And so Jesus, being perfect and being the son of God, became the perfect sacrifice that would be sufficient to atone for, to make up for, all our sin for all time. The Bible often refers to Jesus as 'the Lamb'." 4

bulletBibleTruths.net: "Jesus dared, if you will, any of his contemporaries to find fault with him (John. 8: 46). Only a sinless one could thus successfully challenge his enemies." 5
bulletMessiah Truth (A Jewish web site): "...Christian missionaries...will...claim that Jesus died as a sacrifice for their sins, i.e., that his spilled blood covered their sins, and that, according to the laws of sacrifice, a sacrificial offering had to be in perfect condition (unblemished), and only the sinless Jesus was able to fulfill that requirement." 6
bulletGahanna-Jefferson Church of Christ: "Jesus' sinlessness is one of the great declarations found in the Bible...Christ testified to His own sinlessness...Christ's followers testified to His sinlessness...Sinlessness allowed Christ to atone for sin...[If Christ had sinned, he] would have destroyed God's purposes and plan. He would have needed saved [sic] instead of being the atonement for others." 7
bulletDanaSgmon.org: "Jesus NEVER SINNED! Since the wages of sin is death (HELL)... Jesus' sinless blood was able to pay for your sin and mine!" 8
bulletFaith to Faith Ministries: "Only Jesus' sinless Blood is accepted by God as 'the eraser' of sin." 9
bulletUnited News: Jesus' sinless blood began the process of salvation for us and all mankind. No part of the overall process of our salvation (i.e., living our lives out in a saved state) could proceed any further without this vitally important event and glorious gift." 10
bulletTimeInTheWord.org: "Sinlessness is required for Jesus to be our Savior. He could not die for our sins if he had his own sins to die for (Psalm 49:7-9). And sinlessness is necessary for Jesus to be our Lord and Master. He could not demand our supreme allegiance and be our perfect example if he fell into sin himself." 11

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Do we do a poor job explaining the topic?

The visitor who E-mailed us went on to say that the author of the essay was stupid, a liar and ignorant.

We receive many unsolicited E-mails that call us liars, and clueless. Such comments appear to be inevitable because we try to explain all sides to each topic. Many people hold their religious beliefs very seriously and with absolute certainty. So when they see some beliefs expressed that conflict with their own, many of them assume that the author:

bulletIs a hypocrite -- he knows the truth but tells lies in order to promote his hidden agenda;
bulletIs incredibly stupid and does not have the intelligence to differentiate between truth and falsehood; and/or
bulletHas no real knowledge of the topic and is writing out of ignorance.

We are chronic victims of the "attack the message by attacking the messenger" syndrome. If a person considers a particular belief to be stupid, a lie, and ignorant, it is only a small leap to their assumption that the essay's author is stupid, a liar and ignorant. Ours is a no-win/no-win situation.

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  1. "Key doctrine of Jesus' sinless life fading from Americans' perspective," Baptist Standard, 2002-JUN-10, at: http://www.baptiststandard.com/
  2. Consider the following biblical passages: "For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." (Ecclesiastes 7: 20). "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1: 8). KJV translation.
  3. "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." (2 Corinthians 5: 21). KJV translation.
  4. "What is sin?," eThoughts, at: http://www.ethoughts.org/
  5. "The Sinless Jesus," BibleTruths.net, at: http://www.bibletruths.net/
  6. "Sinless Jesus?," Messiah Truth Counter-Missionary Education, at:  http://www.messiahtruth.com/
  7. Don Treadway, "Jesus' Sinlessness," Gahanna-Jefferson Church of Christ," 2002-MAR, at:  http://www.gahannajeffersonchurchofchrist.org
  8. Dana Sigmon, "Free Tickets," at: http://danasigmon.org/tickets.htm
  9. "Statement of Faith," Faith-to-Faith Ministries, at: http://aservant.bizland.com/
  10. "The Passover Season: the Death and Life of Jesus Christ," United News™, 2002-FEB, at: http://www.ucg.org/articles/un/
  11. "Sinless? Jesus Christ, really a man?," Time In The Word, at: http://www.timeintheword.org/

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Copyright © 2003 and 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-MAR-6
Latest update: 2004-OCT-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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