Ask the UMC: Was Jesus Christ without sin?
I was taught that all humans are born with original sin. Was Jesus born with the human condition so he could have sinned?
The doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church confess Jesus was fully human, fully divine, and without sin, either original or actual. Wesley’s Notes upon the New Testament affirm the sinlessness of Jesus explicitly. The Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith, two of the other three doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church, affirm it implicitly.
John Wesley’s Notes upon the New Testament for Hebrews 4:15 confirms the teaching of Hebrews that Jesus was "without sin."
"15. He sympathizes with us even in our innocent infirmities, wants, weaknesses, miseries, dangers. Yet without sin — And, therefore, is indisputably able to preserve us from it in all our temptations." It would have been possible for him to sin, but he did not.
Article II of the Articles of Religion indirectly addresses concerns about original sin.
"The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, so that the two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and the Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided.”
The human condition of Jesus is understood to be "perfect… Manhood." This involves, among other things, freedom from original sin.
Augustine most fully articulated the doctrine of original sin embraced by the Western churches in “On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins.” There, Augustine writes sin is transmitted by the act of human procreation (see especially chapter 23).
While this background isn't stated in the Article itself, it lies behind it and every similar affirmation along these lines since at least the fifth century. Because Jesus did not have a human father, and was born of a virgin, original sin was not transmitted to him. This is why the Virgin Birth is regarded as essential in Christian doctrine, and not merely as a miracle pointing to divine intervention in some way.
Article VIII of the Confession of Faith (“Reconciliation through Christ”) states:
“We believe God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The offering Christ freely made on the cross is the perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, redeeming man from all sin, so that no other satisfaction is required.” (Emphasis added).
While again not explicitly stated in the article, the biblical requirement for a sacrificial victim was that it be whole, without defects of any kind (Deuteronomy 17:1). Since Jesus is here understood as a sacrifice for sins, he must be without sin — original or actual — in order to be such a sacrifice.
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First published March 19, 2018.