Was Jesus Able to Sin?

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005
There are two important questions people ask, “Did Jesus sin? Could Jesus sin?” The Bible is absolutely clear about this matter, but Hollywood has a different opinion. What did the movie and the novel, The Last Temptation of Christ conclude about whether Jesus sinned?

The movie The Last Temptation of Christ, like many other Hollywood and literary offerings, paints a picture of Jesus far different from what we find in the Bible. We are examining some of the false charges made in the movie and in the book upon which it was based: Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ (1960).

In the movie and the novel, Jesus talks with Mary Magdalene and asks her forgiveness.

The setting: Jesus has entered the brothel where Mary Magdalene is the prostitute. A dozen men are present, waiting their turn to be with her. A transparent veil separates Magdalene and her customer from the rest of the men who watch quietly and wait. Jesus also watches as one by one the men enter Mary’s bed. After all the men have left, Mary is lying exhausted on the bed. Jesus approaches her, and Mary says:

Movie

Magdalene: Who’s out there? What are you doing here?
Jesus: I want you to forgive me. I’ve done too many bad things. I’m going to the desert. I need you to forgive me before I go. Please….
Magdalene: Oh, I see. You said I’ll have a day with you. And then you come in here with your head down saying, “Forgive me. Forgive me.” It’s not that easy. Just because you need forgiveness, don’t ask me to do it….
Jesus: Look, Mary, look at this. God came to change this… to save your soul.

(What Jesus is referring to here is that God can deliver Mary from a life of prosti­tution. The dialogue continues):

Mary: You’ve already broken my heart. Just get away from me. I hate both of you.
Jesus: Hate me; blame me. It’s all my fault, but not God’s. Mary: Who made me feel this way about God?

Jesus: I know—that’s why I’m here. So I want you to forgive me. I’ll pay my debt…. Mary, do you remember?

(Those in the theater wonder what Jesus and Mary are referring to when Jesus asks, “Do you remember?” Kazantzakis’ novel, quoted below, explains that they are referring to a sexual incident very early in their lives.)

Mary: No, I don’t remember. Why should I?… You’re not a man. You’re the same as all the others, only you can’t admit it. You’re pitiful. I hate you!… Turn away; don’t look at me. Here’s my body. Save it! Save it!… You don’t have the courage to be like other men. Don’t look at me!… I do remember when we were children. Never have I felt so much tenderness toward anyone as I felt with you that night. All I wanted was you, nothing else.

Novel

In the book Kazantzakis writes:

“Mary,” he said, “forgive me!”… “Mary,” he repeated, “forgive me!”….
“Don’t blaspheme, Mary. I’m to blame, not God. That’s why I came: I want to beg your forgiveness.”
But Magdalene exploded, “You and your God have the identical snout; you’re one and the same and I can’t tell you apart. Sometimes I happen to think of him at night and when I do—curse the hour! It’s with your face that he bears down on me out of the darkness;…”
“Mary, listen to me, let me speak, don’t fall into despair. That’s exactly what I’ve come for, my sister: to pull you out of the mud. I have committed many sins—I’m on my way to the desert now to expiate them—many sins, Mary, but your calamity weighs on me the most.”…
[Mary speaking] “Keep your distance, coward! I don’t want you here. You disgust me; don’t touch me! In order to forget one man, in order to save myself, I’ve surrendered my body to all men!”
The son of Mary lowered his head. “It’s my fault,” he repeated in a strangulated voice, and he clutched the strap which was tied around him, still splashed with blood. “Forgive me, my sister. It’s my fault, but I shall pay off my debt.”[1]

What is revealed here in the novel is only mentioned briefly in the movie. Those watching the movie wonder why Jesus feels so guilty and considers Mary His great­est sin. The novel reveals an event that happened to Jesus and Mary when they were children that has led Jesus to believe He is responsible for Mary Magdalene’s life of prostitution.

Here is Jesus’ account of what happened as He relates it to His rabbi:

“Why should he choose me? Doesn’t he uncover my breast and look in? All the serpents are entwined and hissing. They are hissing and dancing—all the sins. And above all…”
“Magdalene!” said Jesus, raising his head. “Magdalene! It’s my fault. Mine, that she took the road she did. I drove her to the pleasures of the flesh when I was still a small child—yes, I confess it. Listen, rabbi, if you want to be horrified. It must have been when I was about three years old. I slipped into your house at a time when no one was home. I took Magdalene by the hand; we undressed and lay down on the ground, pressing together the soles of our naked feet. What joy that was, what a joyful sin! From that time on Magdalene was lost; she was lost—she could no longer live without a man, without men…. But ever since my childhood, rabbi, I’ve not only kept the devil of fornication hidden deeply within me but also the devil of arrogance….[2]
[Jesus screams] “I am Lucifer! Me! Me!”[3]

Objection

Christians object to portraying the Savior of the world as committing all these sins. The Bible says Christ was innocent of sin (2 Cor. 5:21).

Christians know from the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life that they knew nothing of such scandalous accounts. For example, the Apostle Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, said of Jesus, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22). Therefore, it is wrong to claim the sinless Jesus led a woman into prostitution.

Analysis

Was Jesus able to sin or not able to 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” (Jn. 6:69). John said about Jesus, “In him there is no sin” (1 Jn. 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?” (Jn. 8:46). No one replied. Contrary to the lying, lustful, sinful, rebellious Jesus of Martin Scorsese’s movie, the true Jesus of history maintained, “I always do what pleases him [the Father]” (Jn. 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 movie, 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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.

Notes

  1. Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ (New York: Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, 1960), pp. 89-90.
  2. Ibid., pp. 144-145.
  3. Ibid., p. 146.
  4. Robert Glenn Gromacki, The Virgin Birth: Doctrine of Deity (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1974), p. 120.
  5. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1971), Vol. 1, p. 384.
  6. Ibid., pp. 393-394.

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