Tuesday, May 06, 2014

How real was Jesus' temptation--could he really have sinned?

Some people get really riled up over questions like these! A good friend of mine got into a bit of a tussle with someone else over the question of whether Jesus, although tempted as a human, could have really sinned or not. I hate these little vignettes, where someone feels really strongly about something that, well, most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about... and get into the kingdom just fine. On the other hand, people sometimes leave churches over disagreements like these...

Here is my thinking. The Bible, as far as I can tell, always treats Jesus' temptations as completely real temptations, meaning that it was humanly possible for Jesus to make the wrong choice.

But I believe my good friend Chris Bounds, systematic theologian extraordinaire, would say that while it was possible for Jesus' human nature to sin, Jesus' divine nature would ultimately have trumped his human nature if it had tilted in the wrong direction. Now, mind you, this is later Christian theology speaking, where the Spirit has helped iron out the details in later church history.  

So I think the more or less official Christian answer is that, while Jesus' human nature could have theoretically tilted toward sinning, his divine nature would have inevitably have trumped it, if his human side had tilted the wrong direction.

Thankfully, though, his human side didn't tilt. Cosmic crisis averted!

My thoughts on a question the biblical authors probably never thought about...


David Smith said...

Ken...did I just hear what I thought I heard...did you just play the "God card" on Jesus' temptation? Did I hear you say even if He could have sinned ...the God side would trump the human side?
Say it aint so.

Ken Schenck said...

I have to live with Chris Bounds. :-)

Keith Drury said...

I think I got Chris once to say Jesus COULD have sinnd but then creation would simply come apart... At keast I THINK He said something like that

Ken Schenck said...

I heard from Chris Bounds. Although I remember the conversation that Keith mentions, I had spoken to him in more recent years and knew he understood the consensus teaching of the Church to be that Jesus couldn't have sinned. He expressed this in terms of Jesus being one person, a divine person who assumes a human nature.

I suspected I was trying to find a middle ground that wouldn't exactly be historic. But to me, it is important that Jesus' temptation be real (and thus that it be possible that he might sin in his humanity). I was not in any way suggesting that Jesus was two persons, a divine and human one. I was trying to develop something along the lines of Jesus' two wills and two natures. I can have conflicting desires even though I am one person.

I'm going to stick with my position for now. To me, this is a place where the historic position of the Church stands somewhat in tension with my sense of Scripture. As may come out in my review of Ehrman, the NT reflects the lights going on that the man who was among us was actually the pre-existent Word. Historic Christianity now more runs the risk of forgetting that Jesus was fully human in its sense of his full divinity, IMO.