Could Jesus Sin?

Question
Could Jesus sin? If he couldn't, then doesn't this mean when he was tempted, it was not a real temptation?
Answer
This answer is covered in a series by IIIM called the, "Apostles' Creed," (APC - 3rd Lesson) and the "We Believe in Jesus," (JES 2nd Lesson) video series. Here is a brief summary.

The word "impeccability" means "inability to sin." Christians have used it for centuries to refer to the fact that Jesus was incapable of sinning. Theologians often talk about Jesus' impeccability in conjunction with His temptation because it was the time in his life when he would have been most likely to sin if that were possible (which it is NOT).

There are a few things worth saying about Jesus' impeccability:

  • (1) Natures don't sin; only persons sin. Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. His person is fully divine. God can't sin. Therefore, Jesus can't sin.
  • (2) There is no mixture or confusion between Jesus' natures. Impeccability is a divine attribute, and part of Jesus' divine nature. Divine attributes are immutable. Therefore, Jesus' human nature can't change his divine attribute of impeccability.
  • (3) The ability to sin is not an essential human attribute. We lose the ability to sin when we are glorified. Therefore, one can be fully human without having the ability to sin.
Jesus was born without sin and lived a perfectly sinless life. The Bible specifically speaks of his sinlessness in passages like Hebrews 4:14-15 and 9:14. So, how do we reconcile this idea with the assertion that Jesus had a true and complete human nature? Simply, the commission of sin, and even the ability to sin, are not essential to being human.

It's true that in the very beginning God created humanity with the ability to sin. Adam and Eve proved this in Genesis 3 when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But we have to admit that even before they sinned, they were still human. So, it is possible to have a human being that does not sin.

When we die and go to heaven, we will actually lose the ability to sin - as Hebrews 12:23 teaches - but we will still be entirely human. So, while sin characterizes us in this fallen world, it will not characterize us in the next; therefore, sinfulness is not an essential attribute of humanity.

All Christians understand that Jesus never sinned. He never succumbed to temptation, never had an evil thought or desire, and never said a sinful word. His sinlessness is asserted in passages like 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15 and 7:26, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5.

But it's also true that he wasn't even capable of sinning. As we've seen, Jesus is the second person of the Trinity. And God can't sin, because he can't act in ways that are contrary to his nature (1 Pet. 1:16, etc.). All three persons of God always have been and always will be impeccable. We see this in Habakkuk 1:13, James 1:13, 1 John 1:5, and many other places.

But this doesn't make Jesus' temptation (Luke 4; Heb. 4:15, etc.) any less real. Because of his human nature, Jesus experienced temptation from a human perspective. He recognized the value of the things offered to him and keenly understood the benefits they could provide him. So, his obedience and sympathy aren't lessened in any way. In fact, we might even say that because Jesus is impeccable, his obedience and sympathy are actually increased, since he learned perfectly from the experience and now responds to us in a way that is perfectly suited to our needs.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).