Could Jesus Sin? (Part Two)
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 NKJV
Most of us are at least familiar with this Hebrews passage, or various renderings. However, I think to interpret it to mean that Christ was tempted in every way, meaning moral sin, as we are then we have some biblical and philosophical problems. Language scholars suggest that "Some translators have mistakenly interpreted who was tempted in every way that we are as “who wanted to sin in every way that we do.” It is, of course, better to translate “whom the Devil tried to make sin in every way that he tempts us.” (1) Note the ESV and NRSV translations:
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. ESV
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. NRSV
In Dogmatic Theology G.T. Shedd notes,
“The appeal of Satan, in the last of the three temptations, to a supposed pride and ambition in Christ was met with the avaunt: “Get you hence, Satan.” Christ had no sinful lust of any sort. This is taught in Christ’s own words: “The prince of this world comes and has nothing in me” (John 14:30). It is also taught in Heb. 4:15: “We have a high priest who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” This text teaches that the temptations of Christ were “without sin” in their source and nature and not merely, as the passage is sometimes explained, that they were “without sin” in their result. The meaning is not that our Lord was tempted in every respect exactly as fallen man is—by inward lust as well as by other temptations—only he did not outwardly yield to any temptation; but that he was tempted in every way that man is, excepting by that class of temptations that are sinful because originating in evil and forbidden desire.” (2)
Often times we try to interpret Christ in exact parallel with our own human life. Jesus definitely touches us on every level but can we say Christ was tempted to shoot heroine? Watch an X rated movie? Commit adultery? These type of questions could go on ad nauseum. Movies were not even developed in those times though, and this is the problem when we try to interpret Jesus one for one with our personal human life.
A temptation is also not a sin. It is a prodding or desire to do something wrong. Jesus being God in flesh however makes it impossible for Him to sin. When Jesus was tempted it seems he could only be tempted in the realm of what is possible in His divine union with human nature or as God manifest in the flesh. He was a genuine man, but even sin is not part of human nature. Therefore, a temptation for moral sin doesn't seem congruent. This does not mean that He cannot be tempted or cannot sympathize with our weakness. In fact this ensures that He had the ability to understand what it is like to be genuinely tempted as we are.
James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one." NET
Clearly, God cannot be tempted by evil. Christ was tempted but not for evil. He was tempted yet "without sin". Sin here is not necessarily a reference to a sinful act. I believe the nature of Christ's temptations were that He was asked to do things He could do and the things He wanted to do as a human. The nature of God is to do the miraculous or supernatural. Therefore, when Christ was tempted, it was not done with evil desires within Him.
You may ask, what is a temptation? Notice the Greek word here for temptation here has at least two meanings. Notice the data on this verb, peirazo, from the Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (ANLEX):
πειράζω impf. ἐπείραζον; fut. πειράσω; 1aor. ἐπείρασα, mid. ἐπειρασάμην; pf. pass. πεπείρασμαι; 1aor. pass. ἐπειράσθην; (1) make an attempt, try, followed by an infinitive to indicate what is being attempted (AC 9.26); (2) put to the test, examine, try (RV 2.2); in a good sense of God’s actions toward his people prove, put to the test, try (HE 11.17); in a bad sense of a person’s hostile intent toward God or Christ test, try, prove (MT 16.1); also in a bad sense of enticement to sin tempt (GA 6.1); participle as a substantive ὁ πειράζων the tempter, a descriptive title for the devil (MT 4.3) (3)
As you can tell a temptation can really be a test. Notice the NRSV renders peirazo as "tested". When it comes to the last clause of Hebrews 4:15 Jesus was tested in all points of His being, or in every respect of His personality, as we are. This verse is also reminsicent of Hebrews 2:18 below. We also have the second reference in Hebrews 12:4 which Ellingsworth, in the Commentary on the Greek Text possibly refers to "the final test of the cross". (4)
Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. NRSV
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. NRSV
The reality of temptation was valid as is for present humanity. However, can this logically conclude that the same "evil desires" we are tempted with are the very same that Jesus was tempted with? He didn't even have the Internet. Notice Young's Literal Translation of Hebrews 4:15:
for we have not a chief priest unable to sympathise with our infirmities, but one tempted in all things in like manner--apart from sin; YLT
The last phrase is “like as” in the KJV or "like manner" in the YLT. It refers to "likess" and is the Greek word homoiotes which refers to similarity and not necessarily exactness. Notice the ANLEX defines this term as similarity, likeness. This can easily refer to the fact that Christ was tempted just like we are, yet those temptations were “without sin” or “apart from sin”. This does not mean Christ had to experience every sinful act common to man but was indeed tested and found perfect and sinless.
G.T. Shedd continues, "If Christ, like fallen man, were subject to that class of forbidden appetences and selfish desires mentioned in Gal. 5:19, 21, namely, “idolatry, hatred, emulation, envyings, murder, wrath, uncleanness, drunkenness, and such like,” the dignity and perfection of his character would be gone, and he could not be looked up to with the reverence that he is. The words of the dead kings to the fallen king of Babylon would apply: “Are you also become weak, as we? Are you become like unto us?” (Isa. 14:10)" (5)
Indeed, it It is by this perfect, spotless sacrifice that we can ever become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is not our righteousness, but it is indeed His that atones for our sin. It is God, Himself, who atones for our sin. Deuteronomy 32:43 declares:
Praise, O heavens, his people,worship him, all you gods! For he will avenge the blood of his children, and take vengeance on his adversaries; he will repay those who hate him, and cleanse the land for his people. NRSV
Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. NRSV
As noted earlier, Jesus was submitted to the will of the Father that to do otherwise was not optional unless there were actually two persons present in Christ. The Incarnation is not about God coming into a person with a complete personality outside of Gods. God became a man (John 1:1, 1:14). He added humanity (true biological humanity) to His existence as deity. The only person was the person of God which is expressed by the unique nature of Jesus Christ.
This informs our thoughts about what it means for Christ to be tested. Was Christ tempted to fornicate? or was He tempted to steal? I believe these answers are no. Did he face them? I believe He probably did. Yet, I cannot believe that they were actually tempting for Him to succumb to. He simply rejected them, as He did Satan.
1. (Ellingworth, P., & Nida, E. A. (1994], c1983). A handbook on the Letter to the Hebrews. Originally published: Translator's handbook on the Letter to the Hebrews. c1983. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators (90). New York: United Bible Societies.)
2. Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. (2003). Dogmatic theology. "First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)" Jacket. (3rd ed.) (659). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.
3. Friberg, T., Friberg, B., & Miller, N. F. (2000). Vol. 4: Analytical lexicon of the Greek New Testament. Baker's Greek New Testament library (304). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
4. Ellingworth, P. (1993). The Epistle to the Hebrews : A commentary on the Greek text. Spine title: Commentary on Hebrews. (268). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle [England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
5. Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. (2003). Dogmatic theology. "First one-volume edition (3 vols. in 1)" Jacket. (3rd ed.) (667). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.