Able to or able not to?

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I've been pondering again what is always a somewhat thorny issue: was Jesus able to sin or was he not able to sin? It arose again yesterday in a Patristics class in which we were examining the early work of Athanasius, de incarnatione. It is a question that is related to whether Jesus assumed a "fallen human nature" (which is sometimes suggested by the formula employed in Gregory of Nazianzen's First Letter to Cledonius that "the unassumed is the unhealed."

Giving expression to the sinlessness of Jesus, Jonathan Edwards wrote, "It was impossible it should be otherwise, than that he should behave himself holily, and that he should be perfectly holy in each individual act of his life ... it was impossible that the Messiah should fail of persevering in integrity and holiness, as the first Adam did." ( Works I:42f).

Could Christ have willed to sin? And the answer to that seems self-evident. If he could have willed to sin in his human nature, we would have to attribute this to his Person (to avoid Nestorianism). If his human nature was fallen (whatever precisely that means, as Irving, Barth and the Torrances have suggested) it is impossible not to credit the Person with this fallen nature--an impossible assertion.

If Jesus' human nature was incapable of sin, what could the devil "get a hold of" in the temptation? Does it necessitate that his nature be fallen in order for the temptation to be meaningful? The fact that there was nothing "inside" Jesus -- no proclivity to sin, no innate desire to sin -- does not mean a lessening of the reality of the temptation. Jesus was not necessarily aware in his human mind that he was not able to sin. The devil no doubt questioned his sinlessness and impeccability and the resources Jesus employed to combat it were strikingly similar to the way we must resist temptation: prayer (Mark 14:35), Scripture (Matt. 4:4) and the fellowship of brothers (Mark 14:33).

Posted November 9, 2006 @ 9:56 AM by Derek Thomas

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