‘Without sin’ – wait, what?
Christian salvation doctrine depends on the premise that Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22 (citing Isaiah 53:9). He is figuratively called a ‘spotless lamb’ to make the point that his death was an acceptable sacrifice.
But what does ‘without sin’ mean?
- That he never violated the will of God? If so, it’s kind of an empty claim. Whatever God told him to do was automatically ‘not sin.’
- That he never caused harm to anyone? It can’t mean that, because he did some harm to some people. He called the Pharisees bad names, wrecked moneychangers’ property, commandeered someone’s donkey colt, and sent a demon into someone’s herd of pigs (presumably ruining his livelihood).
- That he was never selfish, always altruistic, in everything he did? Kind of impossible. He ate and slept when he could have been healing people, raising the dead, etc. He praised a woman for pouring perfume on him as a tribute when, to Judas’s point, it could have been sold and the money used to alleviate someone’s suffering.
- That he always made the right moral choices? That’s problematic. Is there always exactly one right choice?
The reality is that every act, however altruistic it might be, has an opportunity cost. It’s possible to always do things that have desirable effects, but there is no act that has only desirable effects.
In the very best cases, you have to choose between one good thing and another. There are trade-offs.
Put another way, every action has a moral downside. Being more generous toward one person means being less generous toward another.
No action is inherently good, so it is logically impossible for Jesus — or anyone else — to only do things that are good, things that have no downside.
It’s possible to be ‘without sin’ only if you treat ‘sin’ as a narrow list of don’ts. This is akin to saying a TV show is ‘wholesome’ as long as it breaks no FCC rules.