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When Did Jesus Become Sinless?

I recently received a question from a blog member about when it was in the Christian tradition that Jesus came to be thought of as “perfect,” without sin.   I feel no great need to answer the question myself because my friend and occasional guest blog poster Jeffery Siker, long-time professor of New Testament at Loyola Marymount University, has written an entire book on the topic.   And so I asked him to prepare some blogposts, and here’s the first one.

For what it’s worth, he and I both liked very much the title he wanted for the book, Jesus the Perfect Sinner; but, as often happens, the publisher went with something less scintillating: Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity. But the cover of the book is to die for. He has also written Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia.




Jesus and Sinlessness


How and when did Jesus come to be viewed as sinless in earliest Christianity?   Surprisingly, this question has received scant attention from NT scholars over the years.  For this reason I wrote Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity (New York: Cambridge, 2015), which explores early Christian understandings of Jesus in connection with sin, especially in light of Jesus’ death and subsequent belief that God had raised him from the dead.

Several passages in the New Testament make it plain that the common view among early Christians was that Jesus was (as Hebrews 4:15 puts it) “one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”  This same conviction that Jesus was perfectly sinless can be found in Paul (2 Cor 5:21 – “for our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin”), 1 Peter (2:22, echoing Isaiah 53:9 – “he committed no sin”), 1 John (3:5, “in him there is no sin), and the Gospel of John (8:46, “Which of you convicts me of sin?”).

And yet, at the same time, there is plenty of evidence that shows …

To see the rest of this post, you’ll need to be either to be sinless or a member of the blog.  Or both.  Joining is actually the easier option.  And won’t cost much.  That’s what I’d suggest.

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  1. tompicard
    tompicard  May 16, 2019


    ‘sinlessness’ in relationship to Jesus preaching that the Kingdom of God is imminent,

    Is the Kingdom equivalent to the nation where all citizns are ‘sinless’ ?
    or is it something beyond that ( according to Jesus’ ministry) – like no sickness, no death, no more births of children?

  2. Avatar
    anthonygale  May 18, 2019

    Preface: I realize you didn’t write this post, but if I’m not mistaken you’ve expressed a similar view.

    When you suggest early Christians reviewed the Hebrew scriptures in light of their new understanding of Jesus, just who were these Christians and how early was this happening? I ask because consensus seems to be the earliest followers of Jesus were illiterate. How could they have reviewed the scriptures? Perhaps they had a knowledge of them (not sure that is a safe assumption any more than assuming modern Christians know the New Testament), but how could they have done a detailed reanalysis? Certainly literate Christians could have done so, but how far removed would they be from the original followers of Jesus? Unless the original followers of Jesus consulted literate people to scour the scriptures for them, I don’t see how anything they believed could be based on a scouring of scripture. I suppose Paul is worth a mention. He was an early literate Christian who is said to have met the apostles. He wasn’t an eyewitness though.

    If I have one question, it would be: Are any of the beliefs, based on a scouring and reanalysis of scripture as written in the gospels, likely to have come from the followers who knew Jesus in his lifetime?

  3. Avatar
    Gary  May 19, 2019

    Acts 21 describes the events of the Council of Jerusalem in circa 48 CE. Rumors have spread among the Jews that Paul is preaching that the Law has been abolished; that Jews no longer needed to circumcise their children, eat kosher, or follow the Law of Moses. James and the Jerusalem church want Paul to prove these rumors false. They order him to go to the Temple and make an animal sacrifice for sins.

    Isn’t this evidence that the idea of Jesus’ death being an atonement for sin probably came from Paul (and later the anonymous author of John), and not from the original followers and the family of Jesus?

  4. Avatar
    Brand3000  October 26, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    What do you think is a good analogy for the “Holy Spirit”? In reading Romans it seems Paul at one point is basically talking about our conscience…

    • Bart
      Bart  October 27, 2019

      He is almost certainly referring to God’s actual Spirit come down among the believers, based on all sorts of traditions originating in the OT, starting with Genesis 1; I’m pretty sure he’s not talking about ones’ own conscience, which can be defiled for him, but the “Holy” Spirit, from God.

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