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LIKE US IN ALL THINGS BUT SIN:

An examination of the question of the impeccability of Jesus Christ

Class: THEOL 510

Liberty University

11 October, 1996

The New Testament authors had no qualms about declaring that Jesus was

truly human and telling us that Jesus committed no sin. Bible passages

such as 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22 and 1 John 3:5

"witness that He [Jesus] did not give in to temptation, nor violate the

moral standards of God, nor was He inconsistent with the nature of his

character." That is, Jesus was sinless.

It is vital to our theology that Jesus was sinless. For only if Jesus

was sinless could His death have been a vicarious substitution and

fulfil God's redemptive plan for man. If Jesus had not been sinless,

then it would mean that He died for His own sins and not those of

mankind. Had Jesus died for His own sins then His death could not have

been accepted by the Father as a vicariously substitution for the

punishment and judgement each of us are entitled to receive.

Even though there is no serious debate that Jesus was anything but

sinless, theologians have discussed the question of whether Jesus could

have sinned if He had wanted. This is called the peccability of Christ.

The opposing argument, i.e., impeccability, being that even if He had

wanted, Jesus could not have sinned. Upon first consideration, one might

view this question as being trivial; something to simply keep the

theologians "out of mischief" when they have nothing better to do.

However, there are some very appropriate reasons for examining this

issue.

The first reason to examine the issue of Christ's

peccability/impeccability is so that we might obtain a better

understanding and a more in depth knowledge about both Jesus Christ and

God, just as God has invited us. This is the same reason that we study

Theology proper. When we arrive at an answer to this question, we will

have additional knowledge about Jesus' preincarnate state and a better

understanding of the meaning of the statement "Jesus Christ is the same

yesterday, today, and forever ."

Second, some theologians have argued that the peccability of Jesus has

a direct impact on the humanity of Christ. That is, if Jesus was not

peccable then just how "human" was he? Could he have been "true man" if

he were not able to sin like the rest of mankind? (Note: this is a

question of whether Christ could have sinned; not that Christ had to

have sinned in order to be human.) Morris indirectly asks if Jesus'

impeccability implied that he was lacking a part of the human condition

that the rest of mankind have, viz., the consciousness of past sin? If

this is the case, Christ may not have been truly human because he only

took on most of the "qualities" of human nature but shielded himself

from the consciousness of sin.

Third, Sahl tells us that "the virgin birth, the Incarnation, and the

hypostatic union, are all influenced by the impeccability of Jesus

Christ ." Therefore, if we are to have a full understanding of these

doctrines, we need to study the question of Christ's

peccability/impeccability.

Fourth, an understanding of the peccability/impeccability of Jesus

Christ will have an impact on our understanding of angels in general and

Lucifer/Satan in particular . That is, by examining the

peccability/impeccability of Jesus (and the related issue of the

temptability of Jesus) we will come to have a better understanding of

the realm of angels, especially the fallen angels. Furthermore, by

examining the temptations that Satan makes to Christ, we will also have

a deeper awareness of the powers of Satan and his followers.

Fifth, because the Bible tells us that Jesus did not sin, the question

of Jesus' peccability or impeccability will have an impact on biblical

inerrancy and integrity. As Sahl states, " if it is possible that the

Lord Jesus Christ could succumb to or be deceived by sin, then one must

also conclude that it is possible for Him to have given inaccurate

information about eternal things when He was growing in wisdom and

stature and favour with God and man ."

And finally, Christ's peccability/impeccability will have an impact on

the victory over temptation and sin that the Redeemer accomplished . For

if it was impossible for Jesus to have ever sinned then it is indeed a

hallow victory: there was no chance of his ever not winning the battle.

Thus, the victory is a very mute point and raises the question if the

victory has any real impact on mankind under these circumstances.

Thus, we can see that the peccability or impeccability of Jesus is more

than simply an academic debate. The outcome of such a debate could have

far reaching implications on our view and knowledge of God, our doctrine

of the humanity of Jesus, the doctrines of the virgin birth, the

Incarnation and the hypostatic union, our theology of angelology, the

question of biblical inerrancy and integrity and finally, our view of

Jesus' victory over temptation and sin.

I would now like to turn to the arguments for the peccability of Jesus,

i.e., Jesus could have sinned if he had wanted to sin. As stated

earlier, a positive result of this investigation does not imply that

Jesus had to have sinned during his earthly life. Only that it was

possible for Jesus to have sinned.

Our first argument that Jesus was peccable centres on the question of

the temptations of Jesus. Charles Hodge has been quoted as "summarizing

this teaching in these words: This sinlessness of our Lord, however,

does not amount to absolute impeccability. It was not a non potent

peccare. If He was a true man, He must have been capable of sinning.

That he did not sin under the greatest provocation ... is held up to us

as an example. Temptation implies the possibility of sin ." Sahl states

this as "if a person has no susceptibility to sin or if sin has no

appeal for him, the temptation is a farce ." In short, this means that

if Jesus was not capable of being tempted by sin and capable of sinning

and then He was not truly human. For temptability and the ability to sin

are part of being human.

In order to fully understand and respond to this argument based on

temptability we must examine the nature of temptability. Sahl argues

that the problem with this argument is that we have a misconception of

the nature of temptability. Specifically, he says, "the Greek word "to

tempt" does not mean to induce evil. The word means 'to try, make a

trial of, put to the test ... to signify the trying intentionally with

the purpose of discovering what of good or evil, of power or weakness

was in a person or thing,' " or "to have an appeal. " In this regard,

Sahl concludes that the temptations of Christ were real: Christ faced

real challenges in the desert where he proved the good that was in Him

and also in the Garden of Gethsemani and on Calvary where he

demonstrated His power.

Towns notes that temptability may be defined as "Generally understood

as the enticement of a person to commit sin by offering some seeming

enticement. ... In this sense our sinless Redeemer was absolutely

untemptible and impeccable. " That is, because Jesus was God and

possessed the attributes of God, there was nothing that Jesus could be

enticed to have or obtain. Therefore, he could not be tempted. However,

on the opposite side of the question, Towns also notes that "[t]he

nature of Christ's temptation was that He was asked to do the things He

could do and the things He wanted: the results of which would have come

from doing what Satan asked. The nature of His temptation was ... the

fact that He as God was tempted to do the things He could do. The things

Christ is asked to do ... appear to be valid requests ." Therefore,

because Satan asked Christ to do the things he was capable of, e.g.,

turning stones to bread, etc., we can see that the temptations Christ

faced were real. However, the temptations Jesus faced were different

from those other men would endure; "[Jesus] was tried as no other was

ever tried. Added to the nature of the temptation itself was the greater

sensitivity of Christ ". It is possible that the ultimate and most

severe temptation of Jesus came in the Garden of Gethsemani. Here Jesus

was tempted to abandon the plan of God and to "let this cup pass from

me" (Matthew 26:39). Clearly, "Jesus experienced worse temptations than

we do." Hence, the temptations Christ faced were real precisely because

they were tests of and trials to His power. That is, "when [the Bible

tells us Jesus] was tempted ... it implies He was tempted in all His

thinking, desires (emotions) and decision-making ability. Christ was

tempted in every part of His being as a person is tempted in every part

of human nature ."

Another point we must remember in disputing the argument of peccability

from temptability is that "temptation to sin does not necessitate

susceptibility to sin ". The impossible can always be attempted. While

success may not be likely, or the attempt may be impractical this does

not in and of itself mean that such an attempt cannot be done. Walvoord

states "while the temptation may be real, there may be infinite power to

resist that temptation and if the power is infinite, the person is

impeccable ." As an example, Walvoord quotes Shedd's example of an army:

"[it is not correct] to say that because an army cannot be conquered, it

cannot be attacked. "

There is also Biblical evidence that Jesus was truly tempted as we read

in Hebrews "for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize

with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are"

(4:15).

In summary then we can see that the argument of Jesus Christ's

peccability cannot be supported by the temptation argument. For one to

be tempted does not necessarily imply that one must be susceptible to

the temptation. Furthermore, Jesus was tempted in every aspect of the

term. True, His temptations were different from those we experience, but

they were none the less real temptations. And Finally, just because

Jesus was tempted does not imply that He was capable of sin. It is

possible for Satan to try the impossible, i.e., tempt Jesus, even though

there is no chance of success.

The second argument in support of the peccability of Jesus rests on the

humanity of Jesus, i.e., "[i]f He was a true man He must have been

capable of sinning ." This argument rests on two fallacies. First, it

fails to recognize that while Jesus was true man, He was also true God.

He was the God-man. Even though a man, Jesus still retained all of the

attributes of His divine nature (even though through the kenosis, or

self-emptying, He willingly did not exercise all of His divine

attributes.) "Jesus Christ possessed all the divine attributes of the

Father ... In humanity, Christ was totally human; in deity, Jesus was

unalterably God. Yet in Jesus Christ was a single, undivided personality

in whom these two natures are vitally and undividedly united, so that

Jesus Christ is not God and man, but the God-man. " The second fallacy

is that, Jesus was first God and subsequently took on human manhood.

"The second Trinitarian person [Jesus Christ] is the root and stock into

which the human nature is grafted " or "God in becoming man did not

diminish His deity, but added a human nature to the divine nature. "

>From these two rebuttals we can see that even though Jesus was truly

man, He maintained His divine attribute of holiness. It was this

holiness which supplied the strength and will power to ensure that

Christ avoided sin and could not sin. In other words, "[t]hough Christ

was of both human and divine desires, He had only one determinative

will. That determinative will is in the eternal Logos." Thus, even

though Jesus was truly human, His divine will was more powerful and

prevented Him from sinning because "a holy will may be perfectly free,

and yet determined with absolute certainty to the right. Such is God's

will ." Therefore, "as God, Christ is certain to do only good, and yet

He is a moral agent making choices. He need not have the capacity to sin

."

The third argument in support of the peccability of Jesus is based on

the Scriptural statements that Jesus is the second or New Adam and

corresponds to the first Adam. Thus, if Jesus was the second Adam he had

to have all the qualities and characteristics of the first Adam. The

proponents of this argument then proceed to conclude that one of the

characteristics of Adam was the ability to sin.

However, in actual fact, this argument misses the point. The first Adam

was a perfect man when he was created by God. "Adam was created in

holiness without the inward compulsion toward sin that now characterizes

his progeny " or "Jesus did not possess a sin nature because it was not

a part of the original nature of man ." In the garden Adam knew neither

sin nor the consequences of sin. "[Adam] had no experience of sin "

before the Serpent and Eve presented him the apple from the tree of

Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was only when Adam disobeyed God that

Adam added sin to his perfect nature. This is a case of arguing from the

present condition to a past condition which is then applicable to Jesus.

It "make[s] the mistake of taking our imperfect lives as the standard,

and regarding Christ as human only as He conforms to our failures.

[Rather,] He is the standard, and He shows us what a genuine humanity

can be ." Thus, the perfect human is without sin and is capable of not

sinning (even though the perfect human will still have inherited a sin

nature and original sin from Adam). Therefore, Christ can be the second

or New Adam and still not have a peccable nature.

In the chapter entitled "The Sinlessness of Christ" in Berkouwer's book

The Person of Christ, the author presents three unique arguments for the

peccability of Christ. I did not find mention of these arguments in any

other source and, therefore, am sceptical of the weight they carry.

However, I have decided to summarize them below in the interest of

completeness. All three of his arguments are based on Biblical passages.

Berkouwer's first argument centres on Christ words "Why do you call me

good? None is good but God alone" (Luke 18:19, Mark 10:18 and a similar

reference in Matthew 19:17). According to Berkouwer, this statement

brings the peccability of Christ into question because "people have

inferred that Christ himself did not proceed from his absolute

sinlessness or holiness but rather places himself in the rank of sinful

human beings. " However, to read this passage in this manner is clearly

a case of poor interpretation. The Jerome Biblical Commentary tells us

that the phrase "good teacher" is "a rarely used epithet for a rabbi "

and that Jesus' answer "implies that the epithet 'good' being proper to

God, should not be used indiscriminately and casually ."

Berkouwer, on the other hand, suggests that this is a different type of

misinterpretation. He argues that in the early church and at the time

these three Gospels were written, there was no question of the

sinlessness of Christ. The sinlessness of Christ is a theological

concept which developed later in history: "an explicit attestation to

[Jesus'] sense of sinlessness we do not find until we encounter them, as

the fruit of the Logos-theology, in the pronouncements of the Johannine

Christ ."

While I am not personally convinced with Berkouwer's interpretation and

prefer to base the rejection of this argument for Jesus' peccability on

the correct interpretation of the passage, I will grant that Berkouwer

presents a logical and plausible argument given what we know about the

development of the New Testament writings.

The second argument Berkouwer presents is based on the story of the

baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. In Matthew's account of this

incident, John the Baptist recognizes the holiness of Christ and tries

to avoid baptising Him. However, Christ instructs John the Baptist to

"give in for now " (Matthew 3:15). From this, the argument arises that

if Jesus was sinless why was it He had to be baptized and repent His

sins? The Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that the dialogue

between John the Baptist and Jesus is not found in the accounts of

either Mark or Luke and proposes that it is an addition by Matthew

because "it was necessary to explain how Jesus could submit to a rite of

repentance and confession of sin ." Berkouwer has a more fuller

explanation saying "Christ was obedient to the divine law in precisely

this manner ... To this law Christ was already subject in his

circumcision and in his presentation in the temple and in nothing was he

distinguished from the other children of his [i.e., the Jewish] people.

"He was born of a woman, born under the law" (Gal. 4:4) ". In other

words, Jesus was simply fulfilling the Judaic law and being a good Jew.

Like all other Jews of His time, He was keeping the precepts and

following the rules. It was not an attempt to deny his holiness or to

claim that He was sinful. It was simply a rite of passage. Had He not

followed through with the baptism it is possible that Jesus would have

been condemned by the Jewish leaders and banned from the Temple.

Therefore, we can see that the baptism of Jesus does not carry any

weight as an attempt to prove the peccability of Jesus.

Berkouwer's third unique approach of the peccability of Jesus is based

on Hebrews 5:7-8. In this passage we are told by the apostolic author

that "[Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered." This statement

has lead people (at least according to Berkouwer) to question if there

was "a stage in which Christ was not yet obedient ... a stage antedating

Christ's obedience." In countering this argument Berkouwer points out

that Hebrew 5 is related precisely to the suffering of Christ in

Gethsemani " where Christ is tempted to derail the divine plan, His

cross, death and resurrection. However, Christ was obedient in the sense

that He accepted the divine will and accepted the will of the Father.

This passage does not relate to the whole life of Christ, but merely to

a single episode.. Therefore, this passage is not supportive of the

peccability theory.

In summary therefore, we have seen that the question of the peccability

of Jesus, i.e., Jesus could have sinned if He had wished to sin, cannot

be supported by appealing to the following arguments:

a) that in order to have a true human nature Jesus had to be able to

sin;

b) that in order to be really tempted as man is tempted Jesus had to be

able to sin;

c) that temptability necessitates susceptibility to sin;

d) that if Jesus were a true man he would have to be able to sin because

sin is part of the human condition;

e) that if Jesus were really the Second or New Adam he had to have been

able to sin;

f) that Jesus statement in Luke 18:19, Mark 10:18 and Matthew 19:17

("None is good but God alone") implies that Jesus had to have been able

to sin;

g) that Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist implies Jesus' sin nature and

hence the ability to sin; and

h) that Biblical passage of Hebrews 5:7-8 implies that Jesus was not

always obedient and thus, able to sin.

Therefore, we can conclude that there is no argument that would require

us to admit or concur with the peccability of Jesus.

Having determined the lack of evidence to support the peccability of

Jesus, I now wish to examine the arguments in support of the

impeccability of Jesus.

The first argument to support the impeccability of Jesus is based on

Jesus' divine nature. Towns tells us "Jesus was unalterably God " and

to back up this statement he presents nine proofs. Sahl tells us that it

is precisely because Jesus is God that "it is not possible for Him to

sin ". Pannenberg explains this more fully, saying, "if sin is

essentially life in contradiction to God, in self-centred closing of our

ego against God, then Jesus' unity with God in his personal community

with the Father and in his identity with the person of the Son of God

means immediately his separation from all sin ." That is, "the concept

of peccability in the person of Christ is contradicted principally by

the attributes of immutability ." Pannenberg notes that "for

Tertullian, Jesus is ... sinless ... because he is one with the sinless

God ." In other words, both Pannenberg and Tertullian conclude that it

is impossible for Christ to be peccable because to do so would fly in

the face of God's (including Jesus') immutability.

For Christ to be able to sin there would have to be a substantial

change to the very nature of God. However, God himself has clearly

revealed that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever"

(Hebrews 13:8) and "you [Jesus] are the same, and your years will have

no end" (Hebrews 1:12). Walvoord has extrapolated these verses to imply,

"it is unthinkable that God could sin [in] eternity past, it must also

be true that it is impossible for God to sin in the person of Christ

incarnate. The nature of His person forbids susceptibility to sin ."

Towns states this as "To rob God of any attributes would be to rob God

of deity. It would mean that God is no longer immutable (unchanging),

and therefore, causes Him to be less than God ." Therefore, based on

the above, it is clear that Jesus could not have been able to sin.

Second, it has also been argued that since Jesus was God, His

omnipotence, even though he chose not to exercise this attribute

through the kenosis, would guarantee His impeccability: "peccability

always implies weakness on the part of the one tempted. ... On the part

of Christ, this is clearly out of the question ." Bechtle states this

argument as "falling to temptation shows moral weakness or lack of power

and ability. Christ had infinite power, and was therefore not

susceptible to sin ."

Third, it is argued that because Christ was omniscient He could not

have sinned:

sin frequently appeals to the ignorance of the one tempted. ... In the

case of Christ, the effects of sin were perfectly known, with all the

contributing factors. It was impossible for Christ having omniscience to

commit that which he knew could only bring eternal woe to Himself and to

the race. Having at once infinite wisdom to see sin in its true light

and at the same time infinite power to resist temptation, it is evident

that Christ was impeccable.

Towns takes this argument based on the definition and attributes of God

one step further and presents a fourth argument which includes the fact

that Jesus was omnipresent as a proof of His impeccability: "Christ is

omnipresent (His presence in heaven at the time of the temptation

disallows sin), therefore, Christ could not sin for He lived a perfect

life in heaven at the moment of the temptation ."

The fifth argument in supporting the view that Christ was impeccable

appeals to the statement "God cannot be tempted with evil " which is

found in James 1:13. However, this is an inaccurate translation of the

original manuscript. A more correct translation would be "Surely God,

who is beyond the grasp of evil, tempts no one ." This latter

interpretation is supported by the Jerome Biblical Commentary . Thus,

the passage in James 1:13 is not appropriate to the current discussion

and does not prove either the peccability or impeccability of Jesus.

The sixth argument in support of the impeccability is what Sahl refers

to as the "unique person of Jesus " or the hypostatic union. Under the

doctrine of the hypostatic union Jesus "had one intellect, one set of

emotions, and one volitional ability to make decisions ." However, some

theologians, such as Shedd, believe that "the divinity [of Jesus] is

dominant in his person. ... the divinity is the dominant factor in

Christ's complex person ." Walvoord concurs with this opinion: "In the

person of Christ, however, the human will was always subservient to the

divine will and could never act independently ." While such an argument

would seem to support the impeccability of Christ, I am not sure that

it does not erroneously interpret the two natures of Christ. Under the

doctrine of the hypostatic union we know that "the two natures [of

Jesus] are bound together ... by a bond unique and inscrutable, which

constitutes them one person with a single consciousness and will ." This

means that "the human and divine natures did not mingle or merge

together into a third nature with a different expression ." However, if

Christ had only one single will (a position which "the Third Council of

Constantinople in 681 condemned ') which was in fact dominated (and

hence controlled) by his divine will, does this not imply that there is

a blending of the wills or the creation of a third nature? Accordingly,

while I would like to say that this argument supports the claim of

Christ's immpeccability, to do so would be to accept an inaccurate

definition of the hypostatic union. Therefore, this argument is not

applicable to this discussion.

The seventh argument in support of the impeccability is that Christ

could not sin because he was doing the will of the Father, i.e.,

arguments from Jesus' omnipotent desire [and] His submission to the

divine will. " We know that Christ was doing the will of the Father

because the Bible clearly states this: "Then [Jesus] said, 'As is

written of me in the book, I have come to do your will, O God' "(Hebrews

10:7);" Jesus explained to them: Doing the will of him who sent me and

bringing his work to completion is my food" (John 4:34) and "I have

come down from heaven, but to do the will of him who sent me." (John

6:38). The will of the Father is also clearly stated in the Bible:

"[God] has sent his Son as an offering for our sins." (1 John 4:10). As

an offering for our sins, "Christ is a substitute for sin ." However,

the only way that Christ could be a substitute for our sin would be if

Christ had no sin himself. "It would only have taken one sin to make

Jesus a sinner. ... In that case, he would be unable to save Himself,

let alone be the sinless substitute for the sins of the world

."Therefore, if Christ were to fulfill the will of the Father, there

would have to be an assurance that He remained sinless throughout his

entire life. The only way to guarantee that Christ would remain sinless

would be if Christ could not sin. Therefore, Christ had to be

impeccable.

The eighth argument for the impeccability of Christ is presented by

Sahl and is based solely on the Biblical statements of Christ and the

fact that the Bible is inerrant, accurate and authoritative. Sahl

extracts the following verses: Mark 2:1-12 (the account of the Paralytic

at Capernaum), John 7:18 (Whoever speaks on his own is bent on

self-glorification. The man who seeks glory for him who sent him is

truthful; there is no dishonesty in his heart.), John 8:29 (The One who

sent me is with me. He has not deserted me since I always do what

pleases him.), and John 14:6 (Jesus told him: "I am the way, and the

truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me) and then

concludes Jesus "is the impeccable Saviour who saves His people from

their sins ."

In summary therefore we have seen that:

i) the fact that Jesus, who is God, is holy means that He his impeccable

because for Him to sin would mean that God is capable of change;

j) the fact that Jesus, who is God, is omniscient implies that He is

impeccable;

k) the fact that Jesus, who is God, is omnipotent implies that He is

impeccable;

l) the fact that Jesus, who is God, is omnipresent implies that He is

impeccable;

m) the fact that Jesus is a unique person who has an omnipotent desire

and is submissive to the divine will implies He is impeccable;

n) the fact that Jesus is the offering and sacrifice for man's sin

implies that Jesus is impeccable; and

o) the fact that Jesus own statements concerning Himself in the Bible,

which is inerrant, implies that Jesus is impeccable.

Thus we can conclude that Jesus was impeccable, i.e., he could not sin.

This assignment requires that after having examined the question of

Christ's peccability or impeccability that the author select a view and

defend it. There is no doubt that I would like to take the view that

Jesus is peccable and could have sinned if he had wanted to sin. For

some reason, I cannot fully express why the peccability of Jesus is very

comforting for me. Perhaps it is because such a view would mean that it

might be possible for me to also live my life without sin. That is, if

the perfect man, Jesus Christ, could live his life without sin, then

there is at least the possibility that I could do likewise. There may

also be comfort in the fact that it always easier to deal with another

person who is similar to ourselves and who is not superior, i.e.,

without sin. Or maybe, it is because I find myself being tempted so

often the idea of a Saviour who can also undergo temptation and who is

peccable seems to be less threatening and more approachable than the

alternative.

However, after reviewing the above material and searching my heart, I

would have to select the view that Christ is impeccable as my stand on

this issue. While the Bible passages which proclaim Jesus' sinlessness

and His impeccability are compelling, the ultimate arguments which

convince me is the nature of Jesus, the God-man. For me, Jesus is

clearly both God and man; fully the two natures and never separable. If

Jesus is God then it means that He must be holy, omniscient, omnipotent

and omnipresence. Given these attributes and the fact that Go

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