Thursday, September 06, 2007
9/06/2007 06:30:00 PM

A Theological Question of Epic Proportions...For Me At Least

Learning is such a joy and yet at times such a struggle. I can trace this completely to my ever-growing motivation and passion, which despite being rightly characterized by this adjective, it is still at this point comparatively deficient. I suppose this translates to some weak excuse on my part, but consider it more of a disclaimer. With this out of the way I will now focus on the issue at hand.

Last Tuesday night, in my class on Western Philosophy, a question was posed. While it does not directly jump out of the pages of Scripture at most readers, it has serious implications on one's theology, especially in the light of Who Jesus is. It may not seem like such a pressing matter at first glance, but given some thought it becomes clearly a question to be considered carefully.

Was Jesus "not able to sin" or "able not to sin?" This is the question that so incessantly stirs my curiosity. It burns in my mind; yet I have hardly labored to come to a valid conclusion. Considering that formation of critical thinking and inquiry is at this point one of my main reasons for writing this blog, I will seek to arrive closer to the answer here. After all, the solution is probably not as easily discovered as one might think.

Now let us consider the first option. Jesus, being the very Son of God, yea, God Himself, by default possesses all of the characteristics and attributes of God (If for some reason you need Biblical proof, check out John 1:1-14, 5:18, 8:58; Philippians 2:6). Thus the Bible clearly affirms Jesus was fully God.

Obviously one of God's chief attributes is not being able to go against His nature, and sin is absolutely contrary to God's nature. This is in part because God's nature is so clearly defined as righteous; indeed, righteousness itself is that which reflects God's nature, for apart from Him, no one accomplishes that which is truly good (Psalm 14:1). Also God is completely holy, partly defined as having no sin whatsoever. Numerous portions of Scripture show that sin is in no way likened unto God's nature, but is completely contradictory to His character. In fact, I John 3:5 makes it clear that there is no sin in Christ, period. James 1:13 (ESV) brings this topic to a speedy conclusion, stating that "God cannot be tempted with evil."

Simple right? This settles the debate. Or does it?

Consider that Scripture also affirms that Jesus is fully man, and just like any man He was capable of being tempted (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15). At least, that's the picture these verses seem to paint. Of course this seems at surface glance to be a contradiction of sorts. How can God be tempted? Without diving deeper, we are only left with minimizing or reducing Christ's deity (which cannot be done so without denying Scripture's clear teaching) or denying His humanity. Fortunately, we can also take a more detailed look at the texts in view. The word used in James 1:13 for "cannot be tempted with evil" is really an adjective as opposed to an actual phrase, which would accurately be defined as "incapable of being tempted." The word used in the two Hebrews quotations is a verb which means "to tempt" or "to test." Looking at this shows there could be a linguistic argument of sorts to try define these as two different kinds of temptation, but this is not likely the case as proper interpretation of the Hebrews texts clearly renders this word with the understanding of it being temptation to sin. Thus the debate persists.

Another question should be considered. Could the union of Jesus as God and Jesus as man be separated and acted on one from the other? If so, when Christ was tempted, it could be said that only His human nature was being tempted and not His divine nature. This however seems to be problematic when considering the implications of Chirst being the perfect union of God and Man. Yet I believe this is closer to the answer. For although Christ's divine nature and human nature were separate in essence, they were still fused together in ONE BEING. Thus as a being possessing two complete natures that were in harmony with each other (for man was originally created sinless, in God's image, and Christ did not inherit the sinful nature since He had no earthly father) His human nature could be tempted while His divine nature was not. Thus effectually He is both "not able to sin" and at the same time as a man "able not to sin."

Now I know this debate isn't exactly the most fruitful discussion in terms accomplishing the Great Commission and building God's kingdom. Nor is it even likely to be a question posed to you by an atheist or member of another faith. Nonetheless I hope it has stirred you to think some, which is something I believe followers of Christ (myself included) ought to be doing more of.


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