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Earlier in 2012 I attended a conference where one of the speakers was addressing the question: was Jesus sinless or was he unable to sin? And if unable to sin, then how can his temptations be real?

Here’s the problem: the Bible both shows us examples of- and explicitly states- that Jesus was “tempted in everyway, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV84). The Bible also says that it is impossible for God to sin, that is he is impeccable. Jesus is God incarnate, and so that would seemingly mean impeccable. How do we account for this? And how can Jesus’ temptations be in any sense ‘real’?

One option is to deny that the incarnate Jesus is impeccable, but was instead sinless. The idea is that Jesus was capable of sinning, and might have sinned if he’d chosen to, but chose not to across his earthly life and was in fact sinless the entire time. The distinction here is that at the end of Jesus life you can look back and see that he never sinned, but that this was not an inevitable and foregone conclusion.

This view, denying the impeccability of Christ, has been gaining popularity over the last few hundred years. Though it is in the vast minority across the last two millennia of Christian thought.

The speaker at the conference wanted to hold on to the impeccability of Christ, in line with orthodox and Chalcedonian Christology across the centuries, and yet find a way to still explain the genuineness of Jesus’ temptations. His solution was that perhaps the divine Son knew he was of course impeccable, but that in the incarnation his human mind did not have access to that knowledge. And thus the temptations ‘felt’ real and Jesus had to respond to them by faith in the promises of the Father in the power of the Spirit, just like we do.

For more on this understanding of the relation between the two natures of Christ in the hypostatic union check here. For a quick primer on incarnational theology and terms and stuff give here a click.

The obvious problem with this proposal is that it requires that Jesus does not know in his human nature that he is God. Presumably his divine nature has a pretty good idea that he’s God. Yet if his human nature is also conscious of his divinity then it’s difficult to see how he would be unaware of his impeccability. It is also very difficult to maintain that the incarnate Jesus was unaware of his divinity in light of some of his statements in the Gospel of John for example. For the speakers proposal to obtain Jesus would need to either a) not know he is God in the flesh and therefore not know he is impeccable; or b) know that he is God in the flesh and yet be unaware somehow that this makes him impeccable. Both positions are very hard to defend and he didn’t attempt to defend either of them, and so the jury is still out on whether his proposal is coherently biblical or not.

Leaving aside the issues of the precise nature of temptation and the conditions necessary to produce it, and leaving aside the issue of the subjective psychology of the incarnate Jesus, I’d like to turn in the next post to the impeccability question and suggest a way forward in explaining how the biblical account can be coherent.