Question of the Week: If Jesus couldn't sin, was he really "tempted like us"?

By Andreas Wahra (Own work (own photography)

By Andreas Wahra (Own work (own photography)

This week's question came to the Mentionables from John D. He asks:


So I am leading a class on Wednesday nights where we are discuss "The Little Book on the Christian Life" by Monsieur Calvin.  Last night, we got into the discussion of our sin nature and Christ's lack of sin nature.

I remember from my hours of Ligonier podcasts that there are Latin phrases that describe the nature of Adam, the Christ and regular humans.  I believe one of the terms is similar to "Pase non pecarum" or something along those lines.  Obviously my Latin is horrible, so I am hoping that one of my strong Apologists comrades is familiar with the terms and could offer some resources for me to research in preparation for my next class.

One student, a staunch Conservative Arminian Continuationist (Have those 3 words ever been used in that order to describe a believer? :)) said that if Christ could not sin, then we should throw out the 'tempted in every way' we are because then it would not be a 'true' temptation.   I stated that it was Christ's divine nature that prevented him from 'accepting' the offer from the satan.

Thank you very much in advance for any assistance you can provide! 

I do know "Post Tenebras Lux"! :)

John D.


This is Mentionable Nick Peters' answer (see below for Joel Furches' answer)

I am open that it is possible in theory, but highly unlikely still. All that matters was He was tempted and He overcame and we can the same way.

-Nick Peters

This is Mentionable Joel Furches' answer (see below for Tyler Vela's answer)

Among the attributes that theologians ascribed to Christ was that he was "able not to sin."

Note that the Hebrews passage you quoted (4:15) ends "Yet without sin." 

It is worth noting that in several points in the Bible, sin is practically anthropomorphized. Cain is told that "sin waits in the door and its desire is for you, but you must rule over it."

Paul says that sin came through the Law. Jesus clearly knew the Law, so that in his flesh, he had the potential to sin. He had hands, so he had the tools the assault. He had eyes, so he had the potential to lust. Much as a man who carries a gun has the tool to kill.

But in his deity, he was able to "rule over sin" in the way that Cain never could. 

Practically every temptation Christ faced involved abusing his deity to appease his flesh, or avoiding the cross.

Satan, for instance, offered him all the kingdoms of the earth - the very reward that he is said to have received from God after ascending to His right hand. In fact, the people tried to make him their king, and Satan caused Peter to try to forbid him from going to Jerusalem to die.

If anything might be a temptation to Christ, it would be to take his reward without his suffering. Conquering those that did not deserve salvation. We can see this in his prayer in the garden. 

No doubt sin awaited at the door, and its desire was for Christ, but he was able to rule over it.

-Joel Furches

This is Mentionable Tyler Vela's answer (see below for Network Member, Marc Lambert's answer):

Before the fall man was posse peccare (able to sin) and posse non peccare (able to not sin). After the fall man is non  posse non peccare (not able to not sin). Christ was a return to the prefall state. I have no issue saying that in his humanity Christ was the former but in his divinity he was non posse peccare (not able to sin) and thus while he was tempted, it was not possible for the God-man to sin. 

-Tyler Vela

This is Network Member, Marc Lambert's answer

Hey John, this is an interesting question to be sure. And I think what Joel said offers some insight as well. The Latin you're referring to means that prior to the fall Adam was able to not sin. And after the fall Adam and Mankind are not able to not sin.

I would probably describe myself as a staunch conservative arminian continuationist as well. :-)
Which is kind of funny since most of my favorite preachers and theologians tend to be Calvinists.

I think where this can get off in the weeds is by how people mean that someone is "able" to do something, which will depend a lot on how you view and define free will. And what a tangled mess the conversation becomes going down that road.

I hold the position that Jesus possessed the potential to sin because of his human nature, but because of his divine nature he was able to overcome that and not give in to temptation.

It is the hair-splitting difference between "not being able to sin" and "being able to not sin".

In His human nature Jesus had the ability to sin, but in his divine nature he had the freedom to not sin; whereas our Natures are in bondage and we are not able to not sin. Which is why we needed Christ  (who is able to not sin but is likewise tempted as we are) to come and save us.

-Marc Lambert