Could Jesus Sin?
There are two important questions people ask, “Did Jesus sin? Could Jesus sin?”
The Bible is absolutely clear about this matter. It says that Jesus, “… has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Peter, a close friend and apostle, said Jesus was “the Holy One of God” (John 6:69). John said about Jesus, “In him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). The writer to the Hebrews stated Jesus is “a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:26).
Concerning His sinless life, Jesus even went so far as to challenge those who were opposed to Him. He was not afraid to ask, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46). No one replied. Contrary to the lying, lustful, sinful, rebellious Jesus of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, the true Jesus of history maintained, “I always do what pleases him [the Father]” (John 8:29).
After thinking about Jesus, Pilate’s wife warned her husband, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man” (Matt. 27:19). Also, contrary to the Judas depicted in The Last Temptation, who accused Jesus of being a coward and traitor, the real Judas of history said about Jesus, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matt. 27:4).
Examining Jesus’ life, one finds there are biblical reports of His being tempted, but none of sin. No one reports hearing Jesus confess any sin of His own to the Father, even though He taught His disciples to confess their sins. We must conclude from this evidence that Jesus lived a sinless life.
But if He didn’t sin, why didn’t He sin? And if He didn’t sin, was He truly human? First, we must note, that although Jesus was fully human, He did not have a sinful nature. Rather, He had a sinless nature—like Adam and Eve when they were first created. This is why the supernatural birth of Jesus is so important in the Scriptures:
- At the critical moment of conception, when God the Son entered into the unfertilized egg of Mary, she was prevented by the Spirit of God from passing to the living fetus her sin nature. The virgin conception, pregnancy, and birth manifested a sacred, sanctified mystery. No man knows all that happened in that historic moment, but the fact that Jesus Christ possessed two natures (human and divine) apart from sin, argues back to the virgin conception.
Who was Jesus? The Scriptures and all the Creeds have agreed that He is:
- … undiminished Deity—none other than the Second Person, whom He eternally is—incorporated into His Being that perfect humanity which He acquired and ever will retain. Of these two natures it may be affirmed from the evidence which Scripture provides, that they united in one Person, and not two; that in this union, that which is divine is in no way degraded by its amalgamation with that which is human; and, in the same manner and completeness, that which is human is in no way exalted or aggrandized above that which is unfallen humanity.
But the next question people ask is, “What kept Jesus, in His humanity, from sinning, from giving into temptation?
- Here the fact of the unity of His Person is involved and becomes in a large measure the key to the solution of the problem. There are those who, desiring to accentuate the reality of Christ’s humanity, have taught that He could have sinned…. Some have taken the ground that, because of His infinite wisdom and power, He would not sin. Others contend that, being God, He could not sin….
- It is essential to recognize that, as demonstrated in the case of the first Adam, an unfallen human being may sin; and from this it may be reasoned, were there no other factors to be considered, that the unfallen humanity of Christ could have sinned.
- It is at this point that error intrudes. If isolated and standing alone, it is claimed that the humanity of Christ, being unsupported, could have willed against God as Adam did.
- The misleading fallacy is that the humanity of Christ could ever stand alone and [be] unsupported by His Deity. With Adam there was but one nature and it could stand in no other way than unsupported and alone. The humanity of Christ was not, and could not be, divorced from His Deity, nor could it ever be in a position of uninvolved responsibility…. a wire may be bent by human hands, but, when welded into an unbendable bar of steel, it cannot be bent.
- If it be argued that Christ’s humanity seemed to act separately in matters of knowledge, human weakness, and limitations, this may be conceded; yet not without a reminder that, though His humanity might seem to act independently in certain ways which involved no moral issues, because of the unity of His Person His humanity could not sin without necessitating God to sin….
- This vexing problem is thus reduced to the simple question whether God could sin; for Jesus Christ is God. If it be admitted that God cannot— not merely would not—sin, it must be conceded that Christ could not—not merely would not—sin. It remains only to observe that… He is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)….
- When thus viewed, there could be no ground for further discussion on the part of those who honor the Son as they honor the Father (John 5:23)…. [quoting Charles Feinberg] It is not enough to say Christ did not sin; it must be declared unequivocally that He could not sin…. Because He was man, He could be tempted, but because He was God He could not sin, for there was no sin principle in Christ that could or would respond to solicitation to sin.
But if Christ was unable to respond to temptation, then some say that the temptations must not have been genuine. But there is a basic error in this approach. The assumption here, namely, that if it is not possible to commit sin, there is no genuine temptation, is wrong.
First, the Bible says Christ did experience genuine temptation (Heb. 4:15). We will argue that it was possible for Jesus to experience genuine temptation, yet at the same time was impossible for Him to ever give in to the temptation and sin. How?
A moment’s reflection on one’s own struggle with genuine temptation will prove this point to be true. Each one of us is fully human. Each one of us has been genuinely tempted. Yet, all of us have successfully resisted temptation at one time or another and not sinned. But because we did not sin, would any of us argue that our temptation was not genuine? Because Jesus did not give in to temptation does not mean that the temptation He faced was not genuine. The reason He did not give in to temptation was because He was God and it was impossible for Him to sin. But Jesus both understood and experienced genuine temptation, yet He did not sin.
We are told in Scripture that God is infinite, holy, righteous, omnipotent and immutable. Since He is immutable (never changes), then He is always holy and righteous. He will never change. It is impossible for God to sin or to do evil. Again, the writer of the book of Hebrews says, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). That means He is unchanging (immutable). Therefore, if He also is God and man in one person, and Scripture says He never changes, then He could not ever sin.
(Excerpted from The Facts on “The Last Temptation of Christ”, pp. 15-18)
- Robert Glenn Gromacki, The Virgin Birth: Doctrine of Deity (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1974), p. 120.
- Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas, TX: Dalls Seminary Press, 1971), Vol. 1, p. 384.
- Ibid., pp. 393-394.