In the last few posts I’ve been arguing for a traditional understanding of Jesus’ impeccability. Yes his temptations were real, yes as a real human he had the capability to sin and yet due to the uniqueness of his person he was yet not capable of sinning. And I’m saying this is roughly the classical and orthodox position across the last two millennia. You can catch up here, here and here.
The view has been criticised as both incoherent and offering no comfort whatsoever. And yet this isn’t incoherent and I think it does offer comfort.
It’s no more incoherent to say that Christ was capable of sin in one sense, and yet all things considered was incapable of sinning than to say my Apple TV, which just arrived today, has the capacity to be smashed if my kids drop it on the tiles but if it stays in it’s box surrounded by packing foam and airbags it will be protected from smashing. It has the capacity to break if it’s chucked around like a ball, but this property which it is disposed towards will never obtain so long as it stays protected in it’s packaging.
In the same way Christ’s human nature may have the property or capacity to sin, though be rendered incapable of sinning through being united with his personal divine nature.
This is not to say that when Jesus is presented with a temptation he just draws on his special God-power to overcome it. We have very little, if any, access to the interior psychology of the incarnate Jesus. And because his person as the God-man is sui generis we are on very dangerous ground when we try to imagine how he processes or sees or understands the world.
But what we can say is that it’s not necessarily the case that Jesus overcame temptation due to his divine impeccability. The hypostatic union is a union of natures in a person, not a Lutheran communication idiomatum. (See here for more on this ) Though divinely incapable of sinning, it is yet possible that the divine nature was never needed to prevent sin. The person of the Son may have always overcome temptation through faith and the Spirit, because impeccability doesn’t of necessity preclude the capacity to sin.
And so when the speaker at the conference said:
“The tension is not resolved by saying that Jesus is able to sin in his human nature but not able to sin in his divine nature. Such a conclusion is neither orthodox nor comforting.”
I think he was wrong on all three counts. Saying that Jesus was able to sin in his human nature and yet not able to sin due to his divine nature 1) does resolve the tension; 2) is absolutely and historically orthodox; and 3) is comforting.