Did Jesus Really Sin?


Did Jesus really sin? Apparently nearly 60% of all practicing Catholic within the Diocese of Camden, NJ believe so. This was the findings of a religious survey  commissioned by the Diocese of Camden, with the intent and purpose of finding out what people know and understand about their Catholic faith. These results should put all of us on alert regarding the lack of fundamental Catholic knowledge that Camden Bishop Joseph Galante called both “disturbing” and “intriguing”.

Not wasting any time in interpreting the results, Bishop Galante attributed them to a lack of Mass attendance, which, in his assessment, contributes to the faithful being born “out of the Church.”   No one should be completely surprised at these results. This survey provides us with a genuine wake-up call on the need to reclaim our lost Catholic identity and clarify the misunderstandings of Church teaching.

How We Got to This Point: The “Jesus Loves Me” Model

You may be wondering how in the world so many people could believe Jesus actually sinned. The decade of the seventies introduced us to the “Jesus loves me” catechetical model. This particular method stressed Jesus as our friend. This sounds fine until you realize that this particular teaching method leaves out several key doctrinal points i.e.

  • Jesus is the Son of God
  • Jesus is the second person of the Blessed Trinity
  • Jesus is the Divine Teacher
  • Jesus is the Lord of History
  • Jesus is the Messiah
  • Jesus is the Word made flesh
  • Jesus is our Savior and King

Many catechists during this time period emphasized the humanity of Jesus rather than the Divinity of Jesus. This mindset created a catechesis from below rather than one from above (Col 3:1-3). Our understanding of Christ was based on our own personal experience and not what the Church taught. In other words, catechesis became “me centered” rather than a “Christ-centered”.

A Continuing Problem

“Jesus loves me” does not sound heretical in nature, nor does it profess to ignore the very mission of Christ on the Cross (Jn 12:27-36; Mt 27:32-44; Lk 23:26-43; 1 Cor 13:1-13). However, when you manipulate Christ’s love to mean something it truly is not, you then end up in the catechetical dilemma of people believing that Jesus actually sinned.  An ominous sign revealing the problems the Diocese of Camden faces are seen in the comments made by a parish Director of Religious Education (DRE) who said: “We tell our kids that Jesus had a childhood just like them. So they think that includes sin.” This is a great example of the “Jesus is my friend” methodology still in existence today. Yes, Jesus was indeed fully human having all the characteristics of man — except sin! See: CCC 456-460, 461

Oh, the Humanity!

The “Humanity of Jesus Catechetical Model” became a staple in many catechetical programs and texts used throughout the country in the seventies and eighties. The catechetical text themselves contained images of Jesus holding hands with children, or Jesus running through a field and smiling at everyone and so on. At no time do you see any specific reference to the Divinity of Christ; in particular imagery of the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, or the Crucifixion were considered “too much” for children to understand. These examples, quite frankly, were the catechetical methods employed by some of my own CCD and Catholic School teachers.

How Should We Teach?

The most telling statement of the entire article was a question posed by the parish DRE: “How do we teach our kids the humanity of Jesus without sin?” And here lies the problem; teaching the humanity of Jesus while forgetting to teach one important point: He is God!

The apparent assumption here is that a child could not possibly relate to Jesus as Messiah, Lord, and Savior. Hence, no need to teach on the True Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist (this may be one explanation on why the lack of Mass attendance is so prevalent). A second possible assumption is that teaching the doctrine of sin would traumatize a child to the point of not identifying with Jesus at all. Following this methodology bypasses some of the key doctrines: The Blessed Trinity, the Annunciation, the Immaculate Conception, the Incarnation, the Hypostatic Union, Original Sin, etc.

They were taught:

  • “Jesus loves you” no matter what you do, even if you sin. This leaves out the point that Jesus expresses His love to us sinners specifically by saving us from sin and from the death that is sin’s consequence.
  • “Jesus is your friend”, leaving out that this friend is vital to us because He is Son of God, the Second person of the Blessed Trinity. (CCC 441-451)
  • Sin consists of “mistakes we make” and since Jesus loves us anyway, what happens to the urgency for Confession?
  •  Jesus would never scold you (because, remember, He is your loving buddy) so what happens to the concept of making reparations for sin, being penitent?
  • Jesus is everywhere and since He is identified as a “friend”, instead of as God, why would you need to go to Mass and worship Him?

You may think I’m kidding, but this stark reality reflects the need for sound catechist formation, especially in Catholic doctrine and methodology.

  • Systematically teaching students how the Mass is integrally tied to the death of Christ on the Cross  (1 Cor 11:23-26)
  • Teaching how His sacrifice was the result of God’s love for His children in that that he offered His Son to be crucified for the sins of many (Jn 3:16; Jn 6:45-52);
  • Teaching how the Crucifixion visibly identifies the love of God for his children;  (CCC 599-603)   

A Return to the Basics

Whether it’s Jesus sinning or the Blessed Mother not being a Virgin or other evidence of Catholics being ignorant about their faith, it all adds up to a crying need for sound, systematic catechesis. Blessed John Paul II reminded us that the aim of catechesis is to place the person into an intimate communion with Jesus Christ (Catechesis In Our Time, 5). The first step in any teaching plan lies in establishing its purpose: the teacher leading the student towards an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ by authentic witness and instruction.

Our catechetical renewal should always affirm who Christ is as the Only-begotten Son; the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, who emptied himself taking the form of a servant . . . (2 Phil 2:6-11). Incorporating Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church doesn’t hurt either. These two resources provide us with a complete exposition of the Church’s teaching. We really can’t assume that the Mysteries of Christ are beyond our understanding, or the understanding of our children. We do not call them “mysteries” because they are hard to understand. We call them “mysteries” because they are revealed by God. We can trust that if we faithfully transmit the deposit of faith, the Holy Spirit will illumine the minds of the children and adults for each person to grasp these mysteries to the extent possible in this life. After all, the very purpose of Divine Revelation i.e. God’s spoken Word, delivered to us in and through the Church is so that we can understand the Mystery of Christ in an organic, visible way.

Prayer serves as the conduit towards all forms of catechetical instruction because it’s open communication with God, who is more than a mere “friend”. The Sign of the Cross, Our Father, Apostles Creed and the Hail Mary are the perfect basis for renewal — and the Camden survey should leave us with no doubt about how badly it is needed.

Blessed John  Paul II, Pray  for us!


About Author

Department Director of Catechesis for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and author of Screwtape Teaches the Faith (2011) Saint Benedict Press.

  • MarkA

    On November 2011, Bishop Alexander Sample conducted an interview with Catholic World Report (http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/968/lost_generations.aspx) in which he stated:
    “My generation was the first in the wake of Vatican II. While I certainly don’t blame the Council, much upheaval occurred in the Church in its aftermath.”

    “I am a member of the first lost generation of poor catechesis which raised up another generation that is equally uncatechized.”

    “We booted the Baltimore Catechism out the door, but there wasn’t anything to replace it. I was taught the faith in Catholic schools using materials that were weak and insubstantial. I wasn’t being taught my faith.”

    On May 5, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI told the Bishops of the United States that “Sound education in faith is most urgent challenge of the Church in America”

    Saint Pius X, ora pro nobis!

  • Logician

    Why is education such a popular solution? There’s a difference between learning what the church teaches and believing what the church teaches. Whilst the former is necessary for the latter, it isn’t sufficient.

  • ronthomski

    Interesting that the article says “This survey provides us with a genuine wake-up call on the need to … clarify the MISUNDERSTANDINGS of Church teaching.” [emphasis mine]. In reality, it is not that this 60% have “misunderstandings”, it is, rather, that the 60% are ignorant. As such, we need not “clarify” any “misunderstanding”, we need to perform a spiritual work of mercy and instruct the ignorant. If you claim to be Catholic and do not know that Christ did not sin, St. James’ appellation for you is best: “you ignoramus”! James 2:20.

  • Tarheel

    As a catechist for the past 11 years there is one point I have always reminded people of. Catechesis begins in the home. So if mom and dad were poorly formed we can expect the children to formed in the same way. Are mom and dad to take the blame completely? No. No, I can’t say they are to blame also. As catechist, I do feel that some of the textbooks we have been given to use, contribute to this problem. I have never been completely happy with textbooks we have been given and have always been “guilty” of using other books and resources to help me teach. My favorite resources are 1.) Scripture 2.) Catechism of the Catholic Church 3.) Homilies. You weren’t expecting that one were you?

    I do feel that for teens we need to teach them that indeed Jesus grew up just like them. But he resisted the temptations teens face because He asked His Father for guidance. He had a strong prayer life. Jesus did not sin because he was God.

    We need to teach the importance of confession. We need to stress the beauty of it.

    We need to teach more fully all parts of the Mass. Especially the Eucharist.

    We need to show teens especially the beauty and wonder of the Holy Scriptures.

    We need mom and dad more actively involved in their child’s religious education and formation.

    To Pope Benedict and to all those that developed YOUCAT. Thank you! A thousand times Thank you! It is wonderful. every child in the world should have one in their hands as soon as they can read. Every parent needs one of those and a catechism the day they are married.

    • MarkA

      Tarheel – great comments, especially “Jesus did not sin because he was God”. Just a couple of questions:
      1) What ages are you teaching?
      2) Have you ever taught of the “last four things”?
      3)You state “We need to teach more fully all parts of the Mass”. Do you teach how the Mass is a re-presentation of the Holy Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary?

  • Tarheel

    MarkA in the last 11 years I have taught classes from 6th grade to 11th grade. The last two years have been in 8th. 2011 was the last year the Mobile Archdiocese had Confirmation in the 8th grade so I taught Confirmation then. Note that last year I had 12 or more students in my Sunday class every week. This year still teaching 8th grade i do good to have 3. And attendance has been so low that we combined 6th and 8th grades. Remember back to my comment about about mom and dad more actively involved in their child’s religious education and formation? One parent told me class was too early. It starts at 10 a.m. and last for about 50 minutes.

    No I have taught the “last four things” directly.

    I have taught the portions of the Mass separately but have been using the text and guide we have been given.

    A CCD/Religious Education program is built on the foundation developed by earlier years of training and what has been taught at home. So a lot of times I have found I have to modify my approach to teaching a particular aspect of the Mass based on the students understanding of it. And remember I get 45 to 50 minutes a Sunday.

    This year as I move up with the 9th grade class, I plan on using YouCat more. And this will be the initial start of the 3 year Confirmation program for the Archdiocese of Mobile.

    • MarkA

      Tarheel – Thanks. I’m about 50 and went to Catholic School for 12 years. Over the past year I started going to a Traditionalist RC church. I have learned more about my faith in the past year than I did in my 12 years at Catholic school.

      BTW, your “class was too early” comment is very funny. My current Church does adult and children’s catechism after Traditional Latin Mass on Sunday and it’s packed. From start of Mass to end of Catechism is about 2 hours and people stay and chat after that.

      Thanks again. God bless you.

  • Tarheel

    MarkA I am a convert. Never went to a Catholic school or any kind of school with a church background. I was raised a very fundamental Southern Baptist.

    I just recently turned 18 for the 39th time 😉

    • MarkA

      Welcome to the faith and God bless you!
      If you ever have the opportunity, try the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM); it’s amazing.

  • Tarheel

    That is on my list of things to do!

  • NoreenD

    I consider myself blessed that I started grade school in a Catholic school in 1956. Vatican II started when I was in sixth grade and ended when I was junior in high school. To their credit, the nuns who taught me did a great job. By the time I graduated, when I had occasion to go to other parishes, I had to check to make sure I was in a Catholic Church. For the next ten years, I felt that I had to learn a new language. I didn’t know what they were talking about all I knew was it did not did not jive with what I was had learned in school. We have moved several times and it became a strange ritual to find a church with a priest who told the truth as I knew it. Unfortunately, I must fault the priests who allowed the liberal Catholics to take over the churches and it was the fault of the bishops who let them take over the chanceries. It is appaling who much Catholics don’t know even though they think they know. I taught 8th grade religious ed classes. What an eye opener. It seemed to me that if they thought something was alright it was alright. These subjects, as you might guess, including homosexual activity, living together, birth control. I was dead in the water before I got started. It will be a monumental job to undue the damage that has been done but “With God, all things are possible.”