Could Jesus sin?
Published: 16 March 2013 (GMT+10)
Today’s feedback raises a common issue to do with the incarnation—could Jesus sin? Another takes a look at the concept of a single designer in the light of the Trinity.
Narindra R. from Madagascar writes in response to The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?
Very good article, but your statement “He was incapable of sin” confuses me. What would have been the point for the Holy Spirit to bring Him to the desert to be tempted? Why would the devil have bothered tempting Him? Wouldn’t it have been a loss of time? Also, He looks like on the verge of giving in to temptation in the garden of Gethsemane. You pointed out yourself that He was subject to temptation, but what is the point of temptation if there is no possibility of sin.
I always thought that Jesus, by taking human nature, had the same ability as Adam before the Fall to choose freely between obeying the Father or disobeying Him, and that’s also why His sinless life on Earth was satisfactory for the Father and why His perfect work at the Cross of Calvary gives us the right to come to the throne of grace, as per Heb. 4:14–16. Can you correct me, please?
Dear Narindra R.
That’s a fair question, which a few others have asked as well.
If Jesus could sin, it would go against His divinity. Because His divine nature never left him, contrary to the Kenotic Heresy, for Him to have sinned would have implicated His divinity in the act. That should settle the question of “peccability” (from Latin peccare to sin) vs. “impeccability”; the latter has always been the teaching of the Church.
The question of whether He did sin is different, and the answer should be even easier: no, and this doesn’t seem to be doubted by the correspondent either. But it doesn’t follow from either that the temptations were not real, since Satan was acting on His human weakness (cf. Hebrews 4:15). But the reason that they did not work is that even in His humanity, He kept obeying God’s law and resisting temptation. He was strengthened by the Holy Spirit, knowledge of the Scriptures available, and communion with God the Father in prayer, and the prayers of His disciples (which He asked for). We are supposed to follow His example (1 Peter 2:21).
Systematic theologian Dr Bruce Ware has good information on this in his lectures on the Incarnation under The Impeccability of Christ, and also has a helpful section on the Kenosis doctrine. There is a further consideration: in the Resurrection bodies, of which Christ was the first fruits, we will also be incapable of sin. See also this discussion of the Power of Contrary Choice.
Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.
Joel T. from Australia writes:
I’ve come across an argument that I don’t know exactly how to respond to, namely this (paraphrased for clarity):
1. Creationists claim that unity in nature (creation) is evidence for a single, as opposed to many, designer
1a. By analogy of human designers, unity in design is evidence for one designer.
2. But, humans often design in teams and create unity in what they design.
3. So, (1a) is no evidence for (1).
It’s just so simple that I don’t know where to begin. I accept premise (2), and, by browsing your site, (1) and (1a) seem to be true. But then I am compelled to accept (3), which makes what I initially thought to be a strong argument immensely weak.
So, how do you respond?
CMI’s Dr Jonathan Sarfati responds:
Dear Mr T.
Thank you for writing to CMI.
I fail to see (3) as a problem. First of all, the atheists don’t believe in design—whether by teams or by one. Second, the team still has a unity. The one God is a team of three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D., F.M.
Regarding "Why would the devil have bothered tempting Him?" if Jesus could not sin. Wouldn't that have been a waste of time? My answer would be, why did the devil rebel against an omnipotent god in the first place. Was that not also a waste of time? It seems the devil already had a track record for entering into unwinnable battles.
Also, I really liked the analogy by Phil M about testing an unsinkable ship. Nice one.
An interesting thing about the temptation in Matthew 4 and Luke 4 besides the order of events is that two of the statements the devil makes are to authenticate Jesus as the Son of God. Turning stones into bread is not a sin (Jesus made bread from nothing on at least two occasions). Falling off a height and receiving angels protection is not a sin as the people went to throw him off a cliff in Luke 4:29. But passing through the midst of them he went away.
The one true temptation of Jesus was the same temptation that Adam and Eve received (you can have all this) the difference being that Adam and Eve could and did, and Jesus couldn't.
The purpose of the temptation seems to have been to fulfill all righteousness, much like his baptism.
As I am a 'digger' and a 'want to know-er' , it is refreshing to see others are 'working' the Bible too.
I am sure God appreciate this interest more than the outcome.
Was Jesus Christ fully man? (yes).
Were the temptations real? (yes).
Was it easy for Jesus to resist Satan's temptations to sin? (No).
Do we have an excuse if we sin, because "it was different for Jesus" ? (No, Born-again Christians have the Spirit of God by which we can resist sin).
I believe that when creationists say that unity of design implies a single designer rather than multiple designers, what is implied is "rather than multiple independent designers".
The contrast is not intended to be between a single designer and a design team, but between a single designer and, for example, one person designing the fish, another separately designing birds, and so on, where each has taken a different approach to things common to both, such as the genetic code.
Hence the critical response misunderstands the argument.
Regarding the point of the temptations if Christ could not have sinned. If a shipyard builds a number of ships, one of which it is claimed cannot sink, which of all those ships built would we expect to be put to the test? Particularly if that ship was built for a very special unique purpose? Or, if an engineering company builds a number of bridges, one of which it is claimed cannot collapse, which of all the bridges built would we expect to be put to the test? Christ being put to the test demonstrated that He could not sin.