Sinless character of Christ

December 2020

It is universally held among Muslims that all prophets as a class were sinless; and sometimes there is quoted in support of such a notion the following passage:

> “They speak not before He speaks, and they act (in all things) by His command” (Al-Anbiya 21:27)

The general understanding of this verse is expressed by Maulana Muhammad Ali: This verse give us a conclusive testimony to the sinlessness of prophets. When they speak they do not precede Allah in speech, i.e. they speak according to what He has taught them, not speaking of their own accord. And when they act, they act according to His commandment. Thus both their speech and their actions are in accordance with Divine will, and therefore it cannot be said that they commit sin,”

Occasionally it is stated by Christian writers that Jesus Christ is the one sinless prophet in Islam, but that must not be taken to represent the Muslim view: for whatever the Quran may say about Him, it nowhere states that He, or any prophet for that matter, was’ sinless’. Nevertheless, while by inference from the Quran itself other prophets have sinned yet there is not a hint there, or anywhere else in Islamic literature, of sin in Jesus. On the contrary, definite support for the common belief of the masses that He was without sin is to be found in a well-known, tradition, attested by both Bukhari and Muslim, which runs as follows: “The Prophet said, ‘There is no son of Adam born, except Mary and her Son, but Satan touches him when he is born and he cries out from the touch of Satan,”

This tradition is quoted by Baidawi in his comment on the verse:> ” I have named her Mary, and I commend her and her offspring to Thy protection from the Evil One, the Rejected.” (Al-Imran 3:36). A variant form of the tradition is as follows: “The apostle of God said, Every child of Adam is at its birth, struck in the side by the devil’s fingers, except Jesus, son of Mary. The devil went to stick his fingers into his side, but struck them in the membranes enveloping the foetus’.” (Mishkatu’l-Masabih, Book I, chap. 3, pt.1, and Book 14, chap. 1, pt.1, (trans. Matthews).  And the Quran itself makes Gabriel say to Mary that she is to have a holy son which Baidawi interprets to mean pure from sin. > He said: “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son (Maryam 19:19).

Muslim attempts to prove from the gospels the Christ was not sinless

While Islam has no record of accusing Christ of being a sinner, certain Muslim apologists from time to time, seek to unsettle the Christian by destroying his confidence in holy scripture and in the character of Jesus Christ by making such an accusation, so we are obliged to examine them briefly here.

1) The Baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:4-5,9; Matthew 3::13-17). The question inevitably suggests itself to the mind – how could the Saviour of the World submit to a rite which, for all others, amounted to a confession of sin? We need to bear in mind, however, that baptism, even for others, was always more than just that. For all, it was an act of self-consecration, marking the beginning of a new epoch as St. Paul says: “We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death…. that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” ( Romans 6:3-4). It was this for Jesus, it marked the beginning of a new epoch in His life; and yet for Him it meant much more.

1a) Among the Jews the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit was the expected sign of the dawn of the Messianic Age, cp. Joel, 2: 28-39; and it was such an out-pouring that Jesus experienced, as all the narratives declare. (Mark 1:10; Matthew 3:16; Luke 3:22; John 1:32)

1b) For Him the incident signified His consecration to the office of Messiah; this was part of the “righteousness” He felt Himself under an obligation to ‘fulfil”. Matthew 3:15.

1c) By this act Jesus identified Himself with the human race, we may say that He was baptized as the “Son of Man”. He stood down with the crowds, identifying Himself with sinful men, yet remaining Himself “without sin”. So He fulfilled this purpose of the Incarnation, He identified Himself, by the act of baptism, with the race of men. Nevertheless there was in this act, as He performed it, not the remotest suggestion that He felt He needed purification, nor any confession of sin.

2) The hidden years There are those who suggest that we do not really know what transpired in the hidden years before the ministry. They draw attention to critical biographers of Christ who say that the gospels have carefully refrained from making even a passing reference to his earlier years and have intentionally omitted to give any account of His first thirty years. They have chosen to start with that moment in his life when he emerged out of the sacred waters of Jordan a purer and perhaps a better man.

This is definitely not true, for we are told that > “the child grew and became strong and full of wisdom, and the grace of God rested upon Him”; and in that glimpse of Him as a boy of twelve it is recorded that >”Jesus increased both in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:40 and verse 52).

3) The Temptations of Jesus. The main conclusion to be drawn from the Synoptic writers’ accounts of the temptations is that Jesus was really tempted (Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). That is the view, too, of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). What then are we to infer from these temptations? Certainly not that He was, thereby, sinful for to be tempted is not to incur sin; rather, as written in James 1 verses: 2 and 12 man is to be praised who endures temptation and overcomes it. Surely the truth is that Jesus could not have been really tempted unless He was really able, if He chose, to yield. That He never did choose and never did yield are, likewise, facts equally well-attested in the gospels. Jesus being man was tempted, but being the man He was He did not sin.

We see that He was spared no obstacle, no pang. He had to resist temptation by exercising His strength. Nowhere is this fact more strikingly set forth than in the account of His ordeal in Gethsemane. And when it is recorded of Him that “He was tempted at all points as we are”, what is meant is that He was tempted at all points of His sinless character as we are tempted at all points of our sinful character. Yet if ever it can be said of anyone, it should be said of Him, that there were certain things He simply could not have done. It has been truly observed that His will always showed its strength chiefly in certain splendid incapacities.

Any other view of His sinlessness would rob His character of all moral complexion. Certainly He would not have become a creative moral force in history if at the age of thirty He had never yet in things physical as well as spiritual heard the tempter’s voice. As it is, we see that He surmounted all His temptations that is something that immensely helps us who also wrestle, and makes true what is recorded of Him: >  “for in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted. He is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18).

4) “Why callest thou me good; none is good save one, even God” Yet another difficulty is presented in the remark of Jesus, “Why callest thou me good; none is good save one, even God”(Mark 10:17). It is sometimes suggested that we have here an avowal of failure, a plain denial of sinless ness. But to put such an interpretation on these words would make nonsense of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus, according to Mark, is the Messiah in whom the Righteousness of God is concretely present in the midst of Israel. The passage really has no bearing whatever on the question of the sinless ness of Jesus, but indicates that He is anxious to correct this young ruler’s idea as to what constitutes “goodness”. For, even though we may agree that the man was sincere, it is obvious that he had not given due thought to the importance of the words he used.

Moreover, Jesus’ rejoinder is not merely a declining of the youth’s too glib tribute, it is that, but it is a challenge to him to contemplate the Absolute Goodness, an attribute of God Himself, and then measure himself, and the righteousness he professes, by that supreme standard. Let him think what goodness means to God, and then think out what it must mean to call Jesus “good”. Goodness, in its fullest sense, is not human at all, but an attribute of God alone. We thus arrive at a thought-provoking conclusion: that only after giving due consideration to the essential meaning of goodness and its bearing on the fact of Christ, is a man in a position to give to Him the praise that is His due. And even then, praise alone is not enough. Christ asks for, and expects, allegiance also. It was in this that the ruler signally failed, Like many Muslims, he found it easy to praise Christ, but when faced with the obligation to follow Him, he turned away, unwilling to make the sacrifice.


In conclusion it can be stated without fear of contradiction that there is a total absence of a consciousness of moral guilt on the part of Jesus in the gospel records. Jesus never prayed for forgiveness, yet He asked others to do so. He expressed no need for reconciliation with His Father. He had no seasons of self-abasement, born of a sense of transgression, At each stage His will was undamaged by the previous admission of sin, there was no enemy of self-will within, and therefore no danger of defeat. This is something that greatly impresses the unprejudiced reader.

And in Jesus this arresting feature is an essential part of Him; it is not the effect of pose. He who so severely condemned hypocrisy in others, combined with His own claim to sinless ness the possession of a sincerity transparent and undisputed, All others, the world’s greatest heroes, are conscious of shortcomings. Even the saint has the sense of unworthiness, only much more acutely. But in the case of Jesus the serenity of His vision of God was unclouded. His fellowship with the Father was maintained unbroken in the face of well-nigh overwhelming temptation. The perfect harmony was never marred, if we except those few hours of agony on the cross. From the outset to end, no desire, motion, conception or resolve existed in the soul of Jesus, which was not the affirmation and execution of the will of God dwelling in Him and informing His entire life.