Could Jesus Have Sinned?
This issue may best be illustrated by the use of four Latin phrases:
· non posse non peccare - "not able not to sin" (this describes unregenerate people and the fallen angels)
· posse peccare – “able to sin”, and posse non peccare - "able not to sin" (these describe Adam before the fall, regenerate people, and Jesus, if one denies his impeccability)
· non posse peccare - "not able to sin" (this describes God, the saints in heaven and Jesus, if one affirms his impeccability); we could also include here posse non peccare, because if Jesus is unable to sin he is obviously also able not to sin
That Jesus did not sin is undeniable. The NT is clear concerning his sinlessness (see Luke 4:34; John 6:69; 8:46; 9:16; Acts 3:14; 4:27-30; Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 1:19; 2:22; 3:18; 1 John 3:5). But was his sinlessness because he could not sin or because he would not sin? Was he constitutionally incapable of sinning or merely volitionally unwilling to sin? To say that Jesus could have sinned, even though he did not, is to say he was peccable. To say that Jesus could not have sinned, and therefore didn’t, is to say he was impeccable.
When he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, could he have succumbed? Was it possible for him not to have resisted? Those who deny impeccability answer yes to both questions. They base their argument on three points, only two of which, I believe, are valid:
First, if he could not sin, he was not truly human. After all, “to err is human.” This argument is weak, for it is not necessary to human nature that one be capable of sinning. In heaven, having been glorified, the saints will be incapable of sinning, but they will not for that reason be inhuman.
Second, if Jesus could not have sinned, he was not genuinely tempted. True temptation requires the possibility of sinning. That he refused to yield to Satan’s temptations no one denies. But yielding must have been possible or the encounter was a sham.
Third, the doctrine of impeccability is based on the assumption that Jesus resisted the devil from the strength of his divine nature. But this is highly questionable. I believe Jesus lived and ministered as a human dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit. As a human, the possibility existed that he could have sinned, but by virtue of his unceasing reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit he did not sin.
It would appear, then, that Jesus is to be conceived as having lived in much the condition of Adam prior to the latter’s fall.