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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Could Jesus Have Sinned?

Could Jesus have sinned? Nineteenth century, Princeton Theologian Charles Hodge argued that He could since for Hodge temptation always presupposes the possibility of sin. Naturally, therefore, Hodge reasoned that since Jesus was tempted, He must have been able to sin. In one sense, Hodge can be refuted quite readily since an action cannot be contrary to the decree of God; which would imply that since Jesus did not sin then he could not have sinned.

An argument that supports such a conclusion can be found at:

To get to the heart of what Hodge and others have asked, we might rephrase the question to “Could God have decreed that Jesus sin?” Even that, however, is an unsatisfactory question since God’s decree, being eternal, was necessary. I hope to Blog on the necessity of the divine decree in the weeks to come.

The question Hodge and others have tried to ask is indeed a hypothetical one that grants the Arminian notion of the non-necessity of choices that defy both the decree of God and the metaphysical axiom that responsible choices being caused are, therefore, necessary and not purely contingent. Such concessions as these do not, in my estimation, take away from the legitimacy of the question at hand. Whether the incarnate Christ could have sinned speaks to the question of His person, which deals with a most reasonable Christian inquiry.

The question we must concern ourselves with is whether an action (in this case the action of sin) defies an essential property of the person committing that action. For instance, if I were to have chosen to dine at a Chinese food restaurant last evening instead of a Mexican food restaurant, my choice would not have been contrary to my personhood, which is human, let alone destroyed it. However, had the incarnate Son of God sinned, he would no longer have been a divine person, which is a contradiction since divinity is an immutable property. The reason Christ could not have sinned is simply because were He to have sinned, He would have stopped being God incarnate. We might argue that if one state of affairs necessitates a contradictory state of affairs, then it is impossible that the first state of affairs obtain. If P, then Q; ~Q, therefore, ~P is a valid form of argumentation. Conseqently, it would seem to follow that if Jesus could have sinned, then Jesus could have stopped being God; but it’s not true that Jesus could have stopped being God; therefore, it is not true that Jesus could have sinned.


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razzendahcuben said...

I always liked this response to the charge that Jesus could have sinned: "Can an undefeatable army be attacked? Of course. Can it be defeated? Of course not."

When someone raises this problem I think its also a nice opportunity to show him or her that Jesus was fully God AND fully human. Or can God be tempted?

Tim H said...

Well, I'm thinkin that "being part of God's decree" is not the same as "is non-contingent."

WCF 3:1 says "... nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established."

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...


I'm not following your thoughts. Whatever you mean, keep in mind that contingency in the WCF is not philosophical contingency. I had a Molinist argue that the WCF affirmed contingency of choice, which is LFW. He appealed to that portion of the Confession.


Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I recently received an opposing argument. It will be noted in intalics below.

"Hodge is arguing for contingencies, and--surely you know--that, while the Princeton Doctor knew all about God's eternal decree and affirmed it jot and tittle, it didn't change his argument. You, on the other hand, have ignored (or just didn't realize) that Hodge is speaking of hypothetical contingencies and based your argument simply on the eternal decree."

I based my argument on the eternal decree? Not at all. I noted that Hodge could be refuted on the basis of the eternal decree and on the basis of the necessity of choices that do occur. However, I granted those matters in order to refute Hodge on the basis of the divine and immutable essence of the Second Person of the Trinity, something the reader did not interact with.

"Hodge affirmed that Christ's sinlessness was itself predestined, but he still affirmed the theoretical possibility of the peccability of Christ.

That much is true.

"You are arguing a different question than Hodge is, and you haven't refuted anything. That is equivocation of the first order."

This reader thinks that my argument was based upon the decree. Obviously my argument wasn't read or understood. It certainly wasn't addressed. Again, I refute Hodge in three different ways, the third being the point of the post.

"I say that, according to his human nature...Christ could have sinned, and according to his divine nature, he could not have...

That is to divide the Person of Christ asunder. A Person was tempted and not merely two distinct natures.

"...making the whole person of Christ "impeccable," being that his humanity was guarded from sin by, at least in part, his divinity, but also preserving the reality of the temptation and the danger that he, as a man, faced in our behalf."

In the final analyses the reader asserts a correct conclusion. The only problem is that all he has done was assert it, rather than argue for it (let alone prove it).

As was PROVED with Modus Tollens, if Jesus could have sinned, Jesus could have stopped being God. Since it is false that Jesus could have stopped being God, then it is, therefore, false that Jesus could have sinned.


Anonymous said...

itMy name is John Dod and I really enjoy your articles. I am in need of a better understanding of Hebrews 2:18 based on your understanding of the temptation of Christ. I do certainly believe that Christ would not ever sin based on his divinity but the Hebrews passage has me showing the Greek for "suffered" temptation as being the active form "felt" and not "allowed" so that he is perfectly able to succour those that are tempted.

The verse reads: Heb 2:18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Thanks, Ron!

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...


I'm glad you like the blog. Some don't I suppose! :)

Jesus' temptations were indeed as real as ours, yet he never sinned. In fact, being a divine person Jesus was tempted in ways more severe than we since as God he had abilities we don't.

But as for your question, there is no contradiction with respect to being truly tempted and not being able to sin. In this defense I presuppose that it is impossible (in the strictest sense of the word) for anyone to act contrary to how he does.

We are often tempted yet without sin. We might say that Jesus simply had a better record than us. Now that's an oversimplification of course, but just the same it makes the point. That one can't sin does not lessen the temptation, which you know from your own experience. In those cases when you were not able to sin because God determined you wouldn't, weren't you tempted just the same? I'm not saying that Jesus couldn't sin because of a determination by God as opposed to the ultimate reason being indexed to his Personhood, which the decree had to be consistent with of course. I'm simply pointing out that the impossibility of sin does not preclude the temptation to sin. With respect to your temptation and victory over it, I am presupposing that it is impossible to act contrary to how we do. So, the impossibility of sin does not detract from the real temptation (though the ultimate reason for the impossibility of Jesus sinning and our sinning is for two different reasons).



Anonymous said...

We are often tempted yet without sin.

Could you elaborate on, or point me to a more definitive explanation of temptation?

Maybe a "classic" on the subject?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I don`t know of any classic I`m sorry to say.