Theology – An Examination Of The Question Of The Impeccability Of Jesus Christ Essay, Research Paper
The New Testament authors had no qualms about declaring that Jesus was
truly human and telling us that Jesus committed no sin. Bible passages
such as 2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22 and 1 John 3:5
?witness that He [Jesus] did not give in to temptation, nor violate the
moral standards of God, nor was He inconsistent with the nature of his
character.? That is, Jesus was sinless.
It is vital to our theology that Jesus was sinless. For only if Jesus
was sinless could His death have been a vicarious substitution and
fulfil God?s redemptive plan for man. If Jesus had not been sinless,
then it would mean that He died for His own sins and not those of
mankind. Had Jesus died for His own sins then His death could not have
been accepted by the Father as a vicariously substitution for the
punishment and judgement each of us are entitled to receive.
Even though there is no serious debate that Jesus was anything but
sinless, theologians have discussed the question of whether Jesus could
have sinned if He had wanted. This is called the peccability of Christ.
The opposing argument, i.e., impeccability, being that even if He had
wanted, Jesus could not have sinned. Upon first consideration, one might
view this question as being trivial; something to simply keep the
theologians ?out of mischief? when they have nothing better to do.
However, there are some very appropriate reasons for examining this
The first reason to examine the issue of Christ?s
peccability/impeccability is so that we might obtain a better
understanding and a more in depth knowledge about both Jesus Christ and
God, just as God has invited us. This is the same reason that we study
Theology proper. When we arrive at an answer to this question, we will
have additional knowledge about Jesus? preincarnate state and a better
understanding of the meaning of the statement ?Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday, today, and forever .?
Second, some theologians have argued that the peccability of Jesus has
a direct impact on the humanity of Christ. That is, if Jesus was not
peccable then just how ?human? was he? Could he have been ?true man? if
he were not able to sin like the rest of mankind? (Note: this is a
question of whether Christ could have sinned; not that Christ had to
have sinned in order to be human.) Morris indirectly asks if Jesus?
impeccability implied that he was lacking a part of the human condition
that the rest of mankind have, viz., the consciousness of past sin? If
this is the case, Christ may not have been truly human because he only
took on most of the ?qualities? of human nature but shielded himself
from the consciousness of sin.
Third, Sahl tells us that ?the virgin birth, the Incarnation, and the
hypostatic union, are all influenced by the impeccability of Jesus
Christ .? Therefore, if we are to have a full understanding of these
doctrines, we need to study the question of Christ?s
Fourth, an understanding of the peccability/impeccability of Jesus
Christ will have an impact on our understanding of angels in general and
Lucifer/Satan in particular . That is, by examining the
peccability/impeccability of Jesus (and the related issue of the
temptability of Jesus) we will come to have a better understanding of
the realm of angels, especially the fallen angels. Furthermore, by
examining the temptations that Satan makes to Christ, we will also have
a deeper awareness of the powers of Satan and his followers.
Fifth, because the Bible tells us that Jesus did not sin, the question
of Jesus? peccability or impeccability will have an impact on biblical
inerrancy and integrity. As Sahl states, ? if it is possible that the
Lord Jesus Christ could succumb to or be deceived by sin, then one must
also conclude that it is possible for Him to have given inaccurate
information about eternal things when He was growing in wisdom and
stature and favour with God and man .?
And finally, Christ?s peccability/impeccability will have an impact on
the victory over temptation and sin that the Redeemer accomplished . For
if it was impossible for Jesus to have ever sinned then it is indeed a
hallow victory: there was no chance of his ever not winning the battle.
Thus, the victory is a very mute point and raises the question if the
victory has any real impact on mankind under these circumstances.
Thus, we can see that the peccability or impeccability of Jesus is more
than simply an academic debate. The outcome of such a debate could have
far reaching implications on our view and knowledge of God, our doctrine
of the humanity of Jesus, the doctrines of the virgin birth, the
Incarnation and the hypostatic union, our theology of angelology, the
question of biblical inerrancy and integrity and finally, our view of
Jesus? victory over temptation and sin.
I would now like to turn to the arguments for the peccability of Jesus,
i.e., Jesus could have sinned if he had wanted to sin. As stated
earlier, a positive result of this investigation does not imply that
Jesus had to have sinned during his earthly life. Only that it was
possible for Jesus to have sinned.
Our first argument that Jesus was peccable centres on the question of
the temptations of Jesus. Charles Hodge has been quoted as ?summarizing
this teaching in these words: This sinlessness of our Lord, however,
does not amount to absolute impeccability. It was not a non potent
peccare. If He was a true man, He must have been capable of sinning.
That he did not sin under the greatest provocation … is held up to us
as an example. Temptation implies the possibility of sin .? Sahl states
this as ?if a person has no susceptibility to sin or if sin has no
appeal for him, the temptation is a farce .? In short, this means that
if Jesus was not capable of being tempted by sin and capable of sinning
and then He was not truly human. For temptability and the ability to sin
are part of being human.
In order to fully understand and respond to this argument based on
temptability we must examine the nature of temptability. Sahl argues
that the problem with this argument is that we have a misconception of
the nature of temptability. Specifically, he says, ?the Greek word ?to
tempt? does not mean to induce evil. The word means ?to try, make a
trial of, put to the test … to signify the trying intentionally with
the purpose of discovering what of good or evil, of power or weakness
was in a person or thing,? ? or ?to have an appeal. ? In this regard,
Sahl concludes that the temptations of Christ were real: Christ faced
real challenges in the desert where he proved the good that was in Him
and also in the Garden of Gethsemani and on Calvary where he
demonstrated His power.
Towns notes that temptability may be defined as ?Generally understood
as the enticement of a person to commit sin by offering some seeming
enticement. … In this sense our sinless Redeemer was absolutely
untemptible and impeccable. ? That is, because Jesus was God and
possessed the attributes of God, there was nothing that Jesus could be
enticed to have or obtain. Therefore, he could not be tempted. However,
on the opposite side of the question, Towns also notes that ?[t]he
nature of Christ?s temptation was that He was asked to do the things He
could do and the things He wanted: the results of which would have come
from doing what Satan asked. The nature of His temptation was … the
fact that He as God was tempted to do the things He could do. The things
Christ is asked to do … appear to be valid requests .? Therefore,
because Satan asked Christ to do the things he was capable of, e.g.,
turning stones to bread, etc., we can see that the temptations Christ
faced were real. However, the temptations Jesus faced were different
from those other men would endure; ?[Jesus] was tried as no other was
ever tried. Added to the nature of the temptation itself was the greater
sensitivity of Christ ?. It is possible that the ultimate and most
severe temptation of Jesus came in the Garden of Gethsemani. Here Jesus
was tempted to abandon the plan of God and to ?let this cup pass from
me? (Matthew 26:39). Clearly, ?Jesus experienced worse temptations than
we do.? Hence, the temptations Christ faced were real precisely because
they were tests of and trials to His power. That is, ?when [the Bible
tells us Jesus] was tempted … it implies He was tempted in all His
thinking, desires (emotions) and decision-making ability. Christ was
tempted in every part of His being as a person is tempted in every part
of human nature .?
Another point we must remember in disputing the argument of peccability
from temptability is that ?temptation to sin does not necessitate
susceptibility to sin ?. The impossible can always be attempted. While
success may not be likely, or the attempt may be impractical this does
not in and of itself mean that such an attempt cannot be done. Walvoord
states ?while the temptation may be real, there may be infinite power to
resist that temptation and if the power is infinite, the person is
impeccable .? As an example, Walvoord quotes Shedd?s example of an army:
?[it is not correct] to say that because an army cannot be conquered, it
cannot be attacked. ?
There is also Biblical evidence that Jesus was truly tempted as we read
in Hebrews ?for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize
with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way that we are?
In summary then we can see that the argument of Jesus Christ?s
peccability cannot be supported by the temptation argument. For one to
be tempted does not necessarily imply that one must be susceptible to
the temptation. Furthermore, Jesus was tempted in every aspect of the
term. True, His temptations were different from those we experience, but
they were none the less real temptations. And Finally, just because
Jesus was tempted does not imply that He was capable of sin. It is
possible for Satan to try the impossible, i.e., tempt Jesus, even though
there is no chance of success.
The second argument in support of the peccability of Jesus rests on the
humanity of Jesus, i.e., ?[i]f He was a true man He must have been
capable of sinning .? This argument rests on two fallacies. First, it
fails to recognize that while Jesus was true man, He was also true God.
He was the God-man. Even though a man, Jesus still retained all of the
attributes of His divine nature (even though through the kenosis, or
self-emptying, He willingly did not exercise all of His divine
attributes.) ?Jesus Christ possessed all the divine attributes of the
Father … In humanity, Christ was totally human; in deity, Jesus was
unalterably God. Yet in Jesus Christ was a single, undivided personality
in whom these two natures are vitally and undividedly united, so that
Jesus Christ is not God and man, but the God-man. ? The second fallacy
is that, Jesus was first God and subsequently took on human manhood.
?The second Trinitarian person [Jesus Christ] is the root and stock into
which the human nature is grafted ? or ?God in becoming man did not
diminish His deity, but added a human nature to the divine nature. ?
>From these two rebuttals we can see that even though Jesus was truly
man, He maintained His divine attribute of holiness. It was this
holiness which supplied the strength and will power to ensure that
Christ avoided sin and could not sin. In other words, ?[t]hough Christ
was of both human and divine desires, He had only one determinative
will. That determinative will is in the eternal Logos.? Thus, even
though Jesus was truly human, His divine will was more powerful and
prevented Him from sinning because ?a holy will may be perfectly free,
and yet determined with absolute certainty to the right. Such is God?s
will .? Therefore, ?as God, Christ is certain to do only good, and yet
He is a moral agent making choices. He need not have the capacity to sin
The third argument in support of the peccability of Jesus is based on
the Scriptural statements that Jesus is the second or New Adam and
corresponds to the first Adam. Thus, if Jesus was the second Adam he had
to have all the qualities and characteristics of the first Adam. The
proponents of this argument then proceed to conclude that one of the
characteristics of Adam was the ability to sin.
However, in actual fact, this argument misses the point. The first Adam
was a perfect man when he was created by God. ?Adam was created in
holiness without the inward compulsion toward sin that now characterizes
his progeny ? or ?Jesus did not possess a sin nature because it was not
a part of the original nature of man .? In the garden Adam knew neither
sin nor the consequences of sin. ?[Adam] had no experience of sin ?
before the Serpent and Eve presented him the apple from the tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was only when Adam disobeyed God that
Adam added sin to his perfect nature. This is a case of arguing from the
present condition to a past condition which is then applicable to Jesus.
It ?make[s] the mistake of taking our imperfect lives as the standard,
and regarding Christ as human only as He conforms to our failures.
[Rather,] He is the standard, and He shows us what a genuine humanity
can be .? Thus, the perfect human is without sin and is capable of not
sinning (even though the perfect human will still have inherited a sin
nature and original sin from Adam). Therefore, Christ can be the second
or New Adam and still not have a peccable nature.
In the chapter entitled ?The Sinlessness of Christ? in Berkouwer?s book
The Person of Christ, the author presents three unique arguments for the
peccability of Christ. I did not find mention of these arguments in any
other source and, therefore, am sceptical of the weight they carry.
However, I have decided to summarize them below in the interest of
completeness. All three of his arguments are based on Biblical passages.
Berkouwer?s first argument centres on Christ words ?Why do you call me
good? None is good but God alone? (Luke 18:19, Mark 10:18 and a similar
reference in Matthew 19:17). According to Berkouwer, this statement
brings the peccability of Christ into question because ?people have
inferred that Christ himself did not proceed from his absolute
sinlessness or holiness but rather places himself in the rank of sinful
human beings. ? However, to read this passage in this manner is clearly
a case of poor interpretation. The Jerome Biblical Commentary tells us
that the phrase ?good teacher? is ?a rarely used epithet for a rabbi ?
and that Jesus? answer ?implies that the epithet ?good? being proper to
God, should not be used indiscriminately and casually .?
Berkouwer, on the other hand, suggests that this is a different type of
misinterpretation. He argues that in the early church and at the time
these three Gospels were written, there was no question of the
sinlessness of Christ. The sinlessness of Christ is a theological
concept which developed later in history: ?an explicit attestation to
[Jesus?] sense of sinlessness we do not find until we encounter them, as
the fruit of the Logos-theology, in the pronouncements of the Johannine
While I am not personally convinced with Berkouwer?s interpretation and
prefer to base the rejection of this argument for Jesus? peccability on
the correct interpretation of the passage, I will grant that Berkouwer
presents a logical and plausible argument given what we know about the
development of the New Testament writings.
The second argument Berkouwer presents is based on the story of the
baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. In Matthew?s account of this
incident, John the Baptist recognizes the holiness of Christ and tries
to avoid baptising Him. However, Christ instructs John the Baptist to
?give in for now ? (Matthew 3:15). From this, the argument arises that
if Jesus was sinless why was it He had to be baptized and repent His
sins? The Jerome Biblical Commentary points out that the dialogue
between John the Baptist and Jesus is not found in the accounts of
either Mark or Luke and proposes that it is an addition by Matthew
because ?it was necessary to explain how Jesus could submit to a rite of
repentance and confession of sin .? Berkouwer has a more fuller
explanation saying ?Christ was obedient to the divine law in precisely
this manner … To this law Christ was already subject in his
circumcision and in his presentation in the temple and in nothing was he
distinguished from the other children of his [i.e., the Jewish] people.
?He was born of a woman, born under the law? (Gal. 4:4) ?. In other
words, Jesus was simply fulfilling the Judaic law and being a good Jew.
Like all other Jews of His time, He was keeping the precepts and
following the rules. It was not an attempt to deny his holiness or to
claim that He was sinful. It was simply a rite of passage. Had He not
followed through with the baptism it is possible that Jesus would have
been condemned by the Jewish leaders and banned from the Temple.
Therefore, we can see that the baptism of Jesus does not carry any
weight as an attempt to prove the peccability of Jesus.
Berkouwer?s third unique approach of the peccability of Jesus is based
on Hebrews 5:7-8. In this passage we are told by the apostolic author
that ?[Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered.? This statement
has lead people (at least according to Berkouwer) to question if there
was ?a stage in which Christ was not yet obedient … a stage antedating
Christ?s obedience.? In countering this argument Berkouwer points out
that Hebrew 5 is related precisely to the suffering of Christ in
Gethsemani ? where Christ is tempted to derail the divine plan, His
cross, death and resurrection. However, Christ was obedient in the sense
that He accepted the divine will and accepted the will of the Father.
This passage does not relate to the whole life of Christ, but merely to
a single episode.. Therefore, this passage is not supportive of the
In summary therefore, we have seen that the question of the peccability
of Jesus, i.e., Jesus could have sinned if He had wished to sin, cannot
be supported by appealing to the following arguments:
a) that in order to have a true human nature Jesus had to be able to
b) that in order to be really tempted as man is tempted Jesus had to be
able to sin;
c) that temptability necessitates susceptibility to sin;
d) that if Jesus were a true man he would have to be able to sin because
sin is part of the human condition;
e) that if Jesus were really the Second or New Adam he had to have been
able to sin;
f) that Jesus statement in Luke 18:19, Mark 10:18 and Matthew 19:17
(?None is good but God alone?) implies that Jesus had to have been able
g) that Jesus? baptism by John the Baptist implies Jesus? sin nature and
hence the ability to sin; and
h) that Biblical passage of Hebrews 5:7-8 implies that Jesus was not
always obedient and thus, able to sin.
Therefore, we can conclude that there is no argument that would require
us to admit or concur with the peccability of Jesus.
Having determined the lack of evidence to support the peccability of
Jesus, I now wish to examine the arguments in support of the
impeccability of Jesus.
The first argument to support the impeccability of Jesus is based on
Jesus? divine nature. Towns tells us ?Jesus was unalterably God ? and
to back up this statement he presents nine proofs. Sahl tells us that it
is precisely because Jesus is God that ?it is not possible for Him to
sin ?. Pannenberg explains this more fully, saying, ?if sin is
essentially life in contradiction to God, in self-centred closing of our
ego against God, then Jesus? unity with God in his personal community
with the Father and in his identity with the person of the Son of God
means immediately his separation from all sin .? That is, ?the concept
of peccability in the person of Christ is contradicted principally by
the attributes of immutability .? Pannenberg notes that ?for
Tertullian, Jesus is … sinless … because he is one with the sinless
God .? In other words, both Pannenberg and Tertullian conclude that it
is impossible for Christ to be peccable because to do so would fly in
the face of God?s (including Jesus?) immutability.
For Christ to be able to sin there would have to be a substantial
change to the very nature of God. However, God himself has clearly
revealed that ?Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever?
(Hebrews 13:8) and ?you [Jesus] are the same, and your years will have
no end? (Hebrews 1:12). Walvoord has extrapolated these verses to imply,
?it is unthinkable that God could sin [in] eternity past, it must also
be true that it is impossible for God to sin in the person of Christ
incarnate. The nature of His person forbids susceptibility to sin .?
Towns states this as ?To rob God of any attributes would be to rob God
of deity. It would mean that God is no longer immutable (unchanging),
and therefore, causes Him to be less than God .? Therefore, based on
the above, it is clear that Jesus could not have been able to sin.
Second, it has also been argued that since Jesus was God, His
omnipotence, even though he chose not to exercise this attribute
through the kenosis, would guarantee His impeccability: ?peccability
always implies weakness on the part of the one tempted. … On the part
of Christ, this is clearly out of the question .? Bechtle states this
argument as ?falling to temptation shows moral weakness or lack of power
and ability. Christ had infinite power, and was therefore not
susceptible to sin .?
Third, it is argued that because Christ was omniscient He could not
sin frequently appeals to the ignorance of the one tempted. … In the
case of Christ, the effects of sin were perfectly known, with all the
contributing factors. It was impossible for Christ having omniscience to
commit that which he knew could only bring eternal woe to Himself and to
the race. Having at once infinite wisdom to see sin in its true light
and at the same time infinite power to resist temptation, it is evident
that Christ was impeccable.
Towns takes this argument based on the definition and attributes of God
one step further and presents a fourth argument which includes the fact
that Jesus was omnipresent as a proof of His impeccability: ?Christ is
omnipresent (His presence in heaven at the time of the temptation
disallows sin), therefore, Christ could not sin for He lived a perfect
life in heaven at the moment of the temptation .?
The fifth argument in supporting the view that Christ was impeccable
appeals to the statement ?God cannot be tempted with evil ? which is
found in James 1:13. However, this is an inaccurate translation of the
original manuscript. A more correct translation would be ?Surely God,
who is beyond the grasp of evil, tempts no one .? This latter
interpretation is supported by the Jerome Biblical Commentary . Thus,
the passage in James 1:13 is not appropriate to the current discussion
and does not prove either the peccability or impeccability of Jesus.
The sixth argument in support of the impeccability is what Sahl refers
to as the ?unique person of Jesus ? or the hypostatic union. Under the
doctrine of the hypostatic union Jesus ?had one intellect, one set of
emotions, and one volitional ability to make decisions .? However, some
theologians, such as Shedd, believe that ?the divinity [of Jesus] is
dominant in his person. … the divinity is the dominant factor in
Christ?s complex person .? Walvoord concurs with this opinion: ?In the
person of Christ, however, the human will was always subservient to the
divine will and could never act independently .? While such an argument
would seem to support the impeccability of Christ, I am not sure that
it does not erroneously interpret the two natures of Christ. Under the
doctrine of the hypostatic union we know that ?the two natures [of
Jesus] are bound together … by a bond unique and inscrutable, which
constitutes them one person with a single consciousness and will .? This
means that ?the human and divine natures did not mingle or merge
together into a third nature with a different expression .? However, if
Christ had only one single will (a position which ?the Third Council of
Constantinople in 681 condemned ?) which was in fact dominated (and
hence controlled) by his divine will, does this not imply that there is
a blending of the wills or the creation of a third nature? Accordingly,
while I would like to say that this argument supports the claim of
Christ?s immpeccability, to do so would be to accept an inaccurate
definition of the hypostatic union. Therefore, this argument is not
applicable to this discussion.
The seventh argument in support of the impeccability is that Christ
could not sin because he was doing the will of the Father, i.e.,
arguments from Jesus? omnipotent desire [and] His submission to the
divine will. ? We know that Christ was doing the will of the Father
because the Bible clearly states this: ?Then [Jesus] said, ?As is
written of me in the book, I have come to do your will, O God? ?(Hebrews
10:7);? Jesus explained to them: Doing the will of him who sent me and
bringing his work to completion is my food? (John 4:34) and ?I have
come down from heaven, but to do the will of him who sent me.? (John
6:38). The will of the Father is also clearly stated in the Bible:
?[God] has sent his Son as an offering for our sins.? (1 John 4:10). As
an offering for our sins, ?Christ is a substitute for sin .? However,
the only way that Christ could be a substitute for our sin would be if
Christ had no sin himself. ?It would only have taken one sin to make
Jesus a sinner. … In that case, he would be unable to save Himself,
let alone be the sinless substitute for the sins of the world
.?Therefore, if Christ were to fulfill the will of the Father, there
would have to be an assurance that He remained sinless throughout his
entire life. The only way to guarantee that Christ would remain sinless
would be if Christ could not sin. Therefore, Christ had to be
The eighth argument for the impeccability of Christ is presented by
Sahl and is based solely on the Biblical statements of Christ and the
fact that the Bible is inerrant, accurate and authoritative. Sahl
extracts the following verses: Mark 2:1-12 (the account of the Paralytic
at Capernaum), John 7:18 (Whoever speaks on his own is bent on
self-glorification. The man who seeks glory for him who sent him is
truthful; there is no dishonesty in his heart.), John 8:29 (The One who
sent me is with me. He has not deserted me since I always do what
pleases him.), and John 14:6 (Jesus told him: ?I am the way, and the
truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me) and then
concludes Jesus ?is the impeccable Saviour who saves His people from
their sins .?
In summary therefore we have seen that:
i) the fact that Jesus, who is God, is holy means that He his impeccable
because for Him to sin would mean that God is capable of change;
j) the fact that Jesus, who is God, is omniscient implies that He is
k) the fact that Jesus, who is God, is omnipotent implies that He is
l) the fact that Jesus, who is God, is omnipresent implies that He is
m) the fact that Jesus is a unique person who has an omnipotent desire
and is submissive to the divine will implies He is impeccable;
n) the fact that Jesus is the offering and sacrifice for man?s sin
implies that Jesus is impeccable; and
o) the fact that Jesus own statements concerning Himself in the Bible,
which is inerrant, implies that Jesus is impeccable.
Thus we can conclude that Jesus was impeccable, i.e., he could not sin.
This assignment requires that after having examined the question of
Christ?s peccability or impeccability that the author select a view and
defend it. There is no doubt that I would like to take the view that
Jesus is peccable and could have sinned if he had wanted to sin. For
some reason, I cannot fully express why the peccability of Jesus is very
comforting for me. Perhaps it is because such a view would mean that it
might be possible for me to also live my life without sin. That is, if
the perfect man, Jesus Christ, could live his life without sin, then
there is at least the possibility that I could do likewise. There may
also be comfort in the fact that it always easier to deal with another
person who is similar to ourselves and who is not superior, i.e.,
without sin. Or maybe, it is because I find myself being tempted so
often the idea of a Saviour who can also undergo temptation and who is
peccable seems to be less threatening and more approachable than the
However, after reviewing the above material and searching my heart, I
would have to select the view that Christ is impeccable as my stand on
this issue. While the Bible passages which proclaim Jesus? sinlessness
and His impeccability are compelling, the ultimate arguments which
convince me is the nature of Jesus, the God-man. For me, Jesus is
clearly both God and man; fully the two natures and never separable. If
Jesus is God then it means that He must be holy, omniscient, omnipotent
and omnipresence. Given these attributes and the fact that God is, by
definition, immutable then I must conclude that Jesus is impeccable.
In conclusion therefore, we have seen that there are several arguments
which attempt to prove peccability of Jesus. However, all of these
arguments fail to be convincing and have inherent fallacies. On the
other hand, we have seen that there are several arguments which prove
beyond a doubt that Jesus Christ is impeccable. Each of these arguments,
by their very definition and by logical conclusions they lead to, show
us that Jesus was impeccable.
For myself, while I would like to believe that Jesus is peccable, the
evidence and weight of conviction is clearly proves that Jesus Christ,
the Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, the true God-man, is