The question about whether of not Jesus sinned has come up, as well as whether this matters in relation to His atonement for the world. In these days of Absolute Moral Relativism, the notion that Jesus Christ may actually have been exactly as the Gospel accounts describe Him, runs headlong into the humanist dogma, which thinks itself enlightened and tolerant, to grant the Son of God status as a ‘good teacher’, but not as the Lord God’s only begotten Son. So, a defense of the Lord’s perfection, once accepted as obvious as the corrupt nature of Man, is necessary.
There is an abundance of Scripture which refers to Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, much of the Old Testament is rejected by non-Christians in that context, and so for the purpose of this discussion I will leave aside the Old Testament passages which I believe specifically mention Jesus the Christ, and bear directly with New Testament passages when speaking of Jesus directly, and only refer to the Old Testament when addressing the Jewish position on sin.
To answer the question of whether Jesus sinned, requires a basic agreement on the meaning of ‘sin, especially as practiced in Jesus’ day. Accordingly, I have selected verses which bear on the general description of sin, and on the actions of the Jewish authorities in Jesus’ specific case.
First, the functional starting point – does it matter? To that, I reference Ezekiel 33:12, which reads:
“The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness.”
So, if Jesus Christ had sinned, even though He was perfectly righteous, He would have been made unfit to be the Savior of the world in that moment. This is exactly why satan tried to tempt Him in the wilderness, and a point on which I may not yield.
So, what else does God have to say about sin before the coming of Christ? Quite a bit, actually. Consider what these verses say:
“The Lord says:
"These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13)
The law is from God, not what men demand.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
To love God and act in that love, is to not sin at all.
“The day of the LORD is near
for all nations.
As you have done, it will be done to you;
your deeds will return upon your own head.” (Obadiah 1:15)
You get back what you do. Sin, therefore, must be to do a thing which is destructive and evil. To do good would only bring good back to yourself.
“Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:13)
God is not concerned with what happens on the outside, but what happens on the inside, in your heart.
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)
Again, we see plainly that God is concerned not with technicalities, but the heart and soul of a person.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
Even in the book most often quoted as onerous and burdensome, God speaks plainly about love and doing good.
Therefore, the notion of sin must be considered not by what is written in ink, but in what pleases and serves God.
Further, we have the example of how Jesus was treated in His own life. Consider the words and actions of the Pharisees and Levites in these situations:
“Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."
At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.”(Matthew 9:1-8)
See how the Pharisees are answered, and how by doing what is good Jesus rebukes them.
“While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel."
But the Pharisees said, "It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons."
See how Jesus does a blameless thing, and His enemies seek an insulting explanation. Who in this point pleases God more?
“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."
He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"
He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."
Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”
Jesus not only explains the law, but provides a historical context. Se how the Pharisees do not answer, but accept His truth.
“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!"
Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
" 'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.' "
“Break the tradition”? See how cumbersome these men become, that even a habit they have become used to, is now considered a requirement!
“Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"
"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"
Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."
The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."
Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.”
Jesus again explains the law and more, shows us that some of the old law was not what God desired, but what man was willing to accept.
“Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Could Jesus be more plain? It is not about deeds against a standard, or knowledge of a code of rules, but the purity of heart.
Now, after all this, you would think that the Pharisees would have had a lengthy list of accusations to place against Jesus, but when they arrested Him, they couldn’t even agree on their stories:
“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward.
Finally two came forward and declared, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.' "
Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, "Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ,the Son of God."
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?"
”He is worthy of death," they answered.”
Note that carefully. Not that Jesus broke any point of the law, not any of the Commandments, except that they claimed He blasphemed, and if Jesus is the Son of God then that charge was false.
So they take Jesus to Pilate, but once there, they no longer accuse Jesus of Blasphemy, but Sedition and Insurrection against the Caesar by claiming to be a king.
The matter is plain, from that perspective – even the Pharisees could not find a law Jesus had broken.
OK, now I sense the people who don’t accept the Bible as literally true, will protest that I am taking the accounts at their word, and that very possibly the Sanhedrin did in fact press Moses’ law against Jesus. To that, I answer look at what happened. Jesus was not stoned, as is the customary punishment for Blasphemy. He wasn’t even flogged by the Sanhedrin, which we know was an option through the events mentioned in the Book of Acts. Nope, the Sanhedrin sent Jesus off to Pilate and Herod. Why? Because they had no religious basis on which to kill him, and depended on the Secular government for that. So, on that basis, the sole conclusion available, is that the Sanhedrin could not indict Jesus convincingly on a charge of violating the law. IF they could, they could have discredited Him, which would have done exactly what they wanted.
Now, returning to the Person of Christ, what signs do we see that support His sinlessless? Consider these verses:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
Jesus said this at the start of His ministry. Would His disciples have included this in the Gospel according to Matthew, if they believed He had broken the Law? Would Jesus have said this, if He was going to violate the Law?
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Jesus enjoys a special relationship with God the Father. Who could say this, except the one man who never sinned?
“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah."
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
We see here Jesus speaking to the writer of the Law, and to its most effective defender. That speaks to His authority. Also, there is no chance, at all, that the most Holy and Perfect LORD would say this statement, if Jesus were simply a good teacher.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
“The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Jesus has authority to judge all men, including those who God deems righteous. That speaks for itself.
Jesus, alone of all men, lived a sinless life. This is borne out by a close look at how God created His Law, how even Jesus’ enemies weighed His actions, by the effects and results of Jesus’ words and deeds, and by the authority which is reserved for Christ Jesus. In my opinion, one can only pretend Jesus sinned, by denying Whom He Is.