July 10, 2020

The Council

A modern day council!

Impeccability and Temptation


I’m posting some of Jimmy Stephens’ statements on an issue to see if Steve Hays(or someone else) will give their thoughts on it:

I have a question. Can Jesus desire to sin?

The traditional answer is no, Jesus cannot. Two plausible arguments arise that Jesus could not desire to sin. One is that He is God and James tells us it is neither possible for God to tempt others or experience temptation to sin Himself. Another is that desiring to sin is itself sinful. Jesus cannot sin, cannot have sinful desires, and so cannot desire to sin. It goes without saying that the draw of this view is that one can say Jesus never desired to sin.

An easy objection to the first kind of argument is just to grant that Jesus was God but that he was also truly, fully man. The above argument confounds the distinction between Christ’s natures. Even if Jesus could not be tempted in his deity, it does not necessarily follow he could not experience temptation in his humanity. The second argument is harder to answer. However, the view that Jesus could not desire to sin faces an exegetical challenge. Specifically, to say that desires to sin are themselves sinful puts us in a bind when reading certain passages about Jesus’ desires.

There seems to be two kinds of binds. One is abductive. It is the problem of explaining how Jesus can be said to have experienced temptation or the same trials Christians face when, if he could not desire to sin, he could not desire that with which he was tempted. If Jesus can’t desire to do anything that would count as sin, what does it mean to say he was tempted to do evil?

Consider the God-man’s temptations in the wilderness. Let’s use Satan’s use of bread from rocks as an example. Here, from the reader’s perspective, this is a relatable trial for a fasting man. While fasting, Jesus would have been hungry, and Satan appears to prey on that weakness. But if Jesus cannot desire to sin, then he cannot desire to eat the bread, since that would amount to divine betrayal. If Jesus cannot desire the bread, then in what sense was Satan tempting Jesus rather than merely offering a random object to him?

The view that Jesus cannot sin seems to render temptations like these conspicuous and alien. Conspicuous because the word “offer” works just as well if not better than “tempt” to describe what Satan has done on this view. Why use the word “temptation” instead of “offer” [or the analogous, in Greek] when the Devil’s presents are not and cannot be desiderata for Christ ipso facto? Satan might as well have offered Jesus the rocks instead of the bread and we would just as well call that temptation. Alien because this means Jesus cannot display any realizable virtue. This passage does not give us hope by showing that where the Lord to whom Christians are united in baptism has defeated Satan and so given us the same power. Instead, it shows that Jesus was lucky enough to not inherit sinful desires and we don’t get dealt the same moral luck. So it seems, anyway.

The soft abductive challenge here is to show how Jesus could be meaningfully tempted and in a way that does not cut off Pauline theology of sanctification through the New Adam without experiencing some kind of desire to sin. I want to make it clear that this questioner takes it for granted that it would follow Jesus’ desires to sin are not themselves sinful, since I take it for granted Jesus cannot sin.

The more challenging hurdle is illustrated in the garden scene, with Jesus bloody tear inducing prayer. It’s possible someone can find another passage with which to make the same objection. In the Gethsemene prayer, Jesus appeals to the Father saying, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not My will, but Yours be done.” It seems painstakingly clear that Jesus desires to avoid the “cup,” what here refers to God’s wrath to be poured out on the Messiah. What is Jesus really expressing here? It seems Jesus is asking God not to use Him as the recipient of divine wrath, which amounts to asking the Father not to go through with His plan. Jesus is expressing a desire that is contrary to the Father’s will, hence “not my will, but Yours be done.” Of course, if all this is true and I haven’t glossed over something, then Jesus has expressed a desire for things to happen that would be evil or involve sinful disobedience if they happened. The question then is, if it is sinful to desire that the Father’s will not come to pass or that He change His mind or that something happen ither than the Father’s plan, and Jesus cannot desire to sin, then it appears Jesus sinned at the garden agony. That’s impossible, of course, but it begs us to answer the question of how to interpret that scene without reaching that conclusion.

We also have analogies in our experience that would lead us to reject the idea that every temptation requires an internal element. For example, consider those who do not struggle with SSA(Same-Sex Attraction). They are disinterested, but not necessarily exempt from external temptation.

This seems to beg the question (unless the former sentences can be demonstrated: Scripturally there is no support for an internal element). I would not at all grant that people are “tempted” by mere offerings or opportunities to sin. In fact, I’ve not until this topic heard people even refer to sin opportunities that way. It’s utterly foreign to my experience. If someone offered me goat-sex, I would not call that temptation. We already have a word for what that is: an offer. In fact, if asked if the goat-offerer was tempting me, I would comment that he was trying to but failing to succeed. I think, as your sentence about the mislead nature of evangelicals insinuates, I’m in the majority on that analog of human experience.

So there is no analog to human experience. One of us is tragically confused about the nature of temptation. There’s no way around that.

The question becomes whether Scripture teaches the external-internal dichotomy or not. If it does, evangelicals need huge reform in how we think about sin. If not, we’ll have to find a different objection to SSA.

Further Suggestions:


Is the desire to sin sinful?

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