“1. Free from error, fault, or flaw.
2. Incapable of doing wrong; unerring.”1
From Latin “in” or not, and “peccare” which means, to sin.
This would mean that the word itself means only, not sinning. The thought of theologians, when using the term would follow the dictionary meaning
of unable to sin.
Enns mentions that impeccability comes from the Latin phrase, “non potuit peccare” which means not able to sin, while peccability comes from “potuit non peccare” which means able not to sin. (Taken from: “The Moody Handbook Of Theology”; Enns, Paul; Copyright 1989, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 236) Able not to sin, allows for the possibility of sin, yet He did not.
Another term that we need to deal with that is related to this discussion is the Hypostatic Union.
This is the union between the divine and human natures of Christ and the relationship between the two natures.
Hypostatic is “…..of or relating to substance…..” according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.”2
Hypo has the idea of under while static has the idea of standing or nonchanging, or in relation to Christ we speak of his nonchanging position as God coming DOWN to man. It is that union of God from above with man here on earth.
Concerning the hypostatic union we must remember: The two natures were integrated. He isn’t God and man. He is the God-man. One nature cannot operate independently from the other.
The question of whether some of the Lord’s attributes were limited or not is related to this thought. The question of whether only the man was tempted and not God, is also related to this thought. Before we go further let us consider why this is important for us to study.
If Christ could have sinned, some suggest, then He could have messed up the entire plan of the ages to provide salvation for man. If a sin could do that then the plan was defective in the beginning. The plan was laid by a perfect God thus it must have been a perfect plan — ungoofable, unblowable, not even problematic.
Let us look at some views:
Liberal View: This view holds that Christ was able to sin. He was mere man and he did what we humans do best — sin. I suspect however that some liberal views that hold Christ as a highly moral man might well hold to the lack of sin, if not inability to sin.
Orthodox View: Within the impeccability controversy there are two main views of thought within orthodoxy. We will look at these main two views and one radical view, which classes all but the impeccable side of the controversy as heretics.
The orthodox thought holds that Christ was totally God and totally man, He did not sin, and He could not have sinned and completed His work on the cross, yet within these parameters are three views.
I think that you will find some of all of these in Fundamental circles. The emphasis would definitely be on the “did not” and the “capable of not” side of things. All would see an impeccable Christ, but with different approaches to how He was impeccable.
Ryrie mentions “conservatives” in his discussion as holding to the peccability as well as the impeccability. All would hold to the ultimate fact and need of impeccability as the final result of Christ’s life.
a. Impeccable: That Christ was unable to sin in any situation or any form. This inability is based on the fact that Christ was God and God cannot sin — it is against His very nature.
His hypostatic union would not allow it. His two wills may have differed. His human may have been tempted to sin, but His divine definitive will would not allow it. Some of those that hold this position: Ryrie, Walvoord, Dr. Myron Houghton, Shedd, and Chafer.
I will include some comments by Enns in end note number 13, that details this position. I will also give some comments to consider with it.
b. Peccable: That Christ was able to sin but did not sin due to His divine nature. Houghton mentioned that DeHann held to peccability. Enns also on page 236 mentions that both M.R. and Richard DeHann teach the peccability of Christ.
Hodge seems to be in this slot. “The sinlessness of our Lord does not amount to absolute impeccability. As a true man, He must have been capable of sinning. That He did not sin under the greatest provocation, which when He was reviled He blessed, which when He suffered He threatened not, that He was dumb, as a sheep before its shearers, is held up to us as an example. Temptation implies the possibility of sin. If from
the constitution of His person it had been impossible for Christ to sin, His temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with His people.” 3
c. : I’m open for titles for this one.
I considered several but don’t like them. Pnemapecare, pnempeccable, pecpnema etc. This position teaches that Christ was capable of sin but did not sin due to His total and perfect reliance upon the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know of anyone holding this position, other than some first year classmates of mine in Bible college. We thought that it sounded quite good.
I have not personally run across any writer that mentions this position much less holds it. But remember, just because there are no current authors that hold the position, which doesn’t mean it is wrong.
This thinking stemmed from a further application of a statement by Chafer which tells that the Lord relied upon the Spirit in total.
“Though this specific theme will be introduced more fully under Pneumatology, it demands some consideration at this juncture. Again it should be stated that Christ’s dependence upon the Holy Spirit was within the sphere of His humanity. As respects His
Deity, there was no occasion for Him to cast in dependence upon either the Father or the Spirit; and though He could as God have ministered to His own human needs as fully as did the Spirit, that arrangement would have moved Him from the position occupied by all believers, to whom His life is a pattern. Christians cannot call upon any such resource within themselves; so they are, as He was, cast utterly upon the enabling power of the Spirit. The New Testament asserts throughout — even from His conception
through the generating power of the Spirit to His death through the same eternal Spirit — that Christ lived and wrought on a principle of dependence upon Another. No attentive student can fail to observe this truth (cf. Matthew 12:28; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:14, 18; John 3:34). The truth that Christ — and to the end that He might demonstrate the effectiveness of life that is lived wholly in reliance upon the Spirit — was Himself dependent upon the Spirit, should not be allowed to engender any failure to recognize the absolute Deity of the Savior.”4
The implications of Christ relying upon the Holy Spirit in the area of temptation are not considered in Chafer’s work that I have found thus far.
To apply what he has stated, it would be simple to suggest that the Lord was in total reliance upon the Spirit to say no to sin, just as we of this age.
Bancroft in his “Christian Theology” p 107-108 mentions a similar thought, but based his ideas on the premise that the divine attributes were absorbed by the human side of Christ.
These divisions of thought are somewhat misleading for all of these feel that Christ Did Not Sin & That He Could Not Have Sinned And At The Same Time Completed The Work God Had Sent Him To Do.
All of these positions teach the same ultimate end of impeccability.
Ryrie states the problem of these positions in this manner: “One says that he was able not to sin while the other states that He was not able to sin. In either case He did not sin, though one viewpoint involves the possibility that He could have. That idea is usually held because it is hard to understand how His temptations could have been real if He could not have
sinned. That He did not sin and that He was tempted are facts agreed on.” 6
I would like to adapt some information from Dr. David Miller’s class notes for our study. He was an advocate of the “couldn’t sin and impeccable” position.
a. Christ was tempted, yet did not sin: 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5; 2
b. He was unable to sin — impeccabile.
c. Because He of His divine, His human was unable to sin.
d. His human side, if left alone was temptable and peccable.
e. Due to the union, however He was only temptable.
f. Christ’s temptation was directed toward His human side, and was tempted in all points as we. James 1:13; Hebrews 4:15.7
This position normally suggests that if Christ could have sinned, then He could sin today and be kicked out of heaven, thus we could have no eternal security.
Let’s apply that logic to ourselves when we are glorified. We can sin now in this life so we can sin when we get to heaven and we can get kicked out of heaven thus having no eternal security. Not correct. Unacceptable.
The Glorification process relates to the fact that we are eternally secure. We will not sin before God in the eternal state, and there is no way that Christ could sin there either since His glorification. This does not hinder His being able to sin while on earth and is a false argument.
Walvoord mentions that peccability here means peccability there. This is the same situation worded differently. There is no basis for that thought. He also uses the fact that Christ is the same yesterday, today etc. but that also is false in that there are some aspects of Christ’s earthly time that Are Not true of eternity past nor eternity future. Body for one, glory for two, etc.
1. Christ had no sin nature. Some suggest that this is proof that He could not sin.
2. The sin nature is not required for sin to occur. Example: Adam and Eve pre fall.
3. The sin nature is not required for temptation to occur. Example: Adam and Eve before the fall.
4. It is true that sin in the life of Jesus would have upset the plan of providing salvation.
Some might suggest that there may well have been another plan in the wings that would have taken care of this failure. There is one problem with that. Christ the Lamb was ordained before the foundation of the world.
The Lamb of God would have eternally been imperfect and unable to die for the sins of the world. Not acceptable.
5. This was God. How can God sin? He cannot.
6. The statement, “Peccability then means peccability now in heaven” is not a valid statement. It is not provable nor logical. There are a number of things that changed when Christ was glorified and this was one of them. Body, Glory, etc.
7. Peccability does not require less than deity. It holds to full humanity and full Deity as well.
1. Luke 4:22,
SOME VERSES TO DEAL WITH
“And all bore him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?”
They were unable to tell that He was God from His outward appearance. Those around Christ viewed Him as man and not God.
2. John 17:5,
“And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.”
It would seem that there was a limitation of glory in the Lord Jesus while He was here on earth. Indeed, it would seem, since creation. It seems that Christ took a step out of the glories of heaven to work among men as the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament.
3. John 18:6 mentions that the people fell back when they were confronted with Christ stating He was Christ in the garden. Most feel that they were shocked or knocked back due to who He was. This is not provable.
4. James 1:13,
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of god; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man;”
This verse has two sides to it for our discussion. a. God cannot be tempted. b. God does not tempt man. Now, let us think of that verse. Jesus was the God-man. He was God, the one James states can’t be tempted, and He was man, that which God does not tempt.
Christ was tempted in the wilderness, by statement of the Scriptures, thus we must assume that it was the human side of Christ that was tempted. If we take that one step further, we must admit that if Christ was impeccable, His impeccability must be based on His deity and not His humanity.
If then He be totally man as we say, He was then peccability on the part of the man Jesus seems to be the logical conclusion.
This would seem to be why we have two lines of thinking on the subject. Ryrie presents in his Survey of Bible Doctrine an alternative to the
problem of the possible to, or impossible to question.
He translates Hebrews 4:15 thusly, “…having been tested according to all, according to likeness, apart from sin.” He then states, “The phrase ‘according to likeness’ apparently means that He could be tested because He took the likeness of sinful flesh. ‘Apart from sin’ means that, having no sin nature, He could not have been tested from that avenue, as we can and usually are.”
He further suggests, “It [Hebrews 4:15] does not say that Christ was tempted with a view to succumbing to sin. He was tested with a view to proving He was sinless. It does not say that He was tested in every particular specific test that man can be put to. It does say that His tests were in all the areas in which a man can be tested: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The particular tests within those areas were entirely different for Him from the ones for us.” “His temptations were really not to see if He could sin, but to prove that He could not.”8
I am not sure he answers anything. He just calls for more answers to questions that he has raised.
Yes, Christ was tempted in the three areas in the wilderness however there is the thought in Luke 4:13 that the devil came again for further testing. “And when the devil had ended all the testing, he departed from him for a season.” We don’t know if we have an account of this or not. The garden before the cross may well have been further testing. There could have been other testing as well.
Cambron also presents his thoughts well.
“That age-old question may now be raised: ‘Could the Lord Jesus have sinned had He wanted to?’ The question is thrown aside by stating, ‘He could not have wanted to, being the Son of God.’ But, someone may add, if He could not have sinned, then why the temptation? If He could not have sinned, then the temptation was a mockery. That is exactly the answer. For He was not tested to see if He would sin, but He was tested to show (to prove) that He could not sin.”9
Note should be taken to show that Cambron feels that He “would not sin,” which indicates that there was a choice. “Could not” shows no choice while “would not” shows choice on His part?
Hodge makes the statement,
“If from the constitution of His person it had been impossible for Christ to sin, His temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with His people.”3
This raises the question, “Can there be temptation if there is no possibility of sin?”
Hodge brings up a good question. Most would say YES, while he states that it really isn’t temptation without the possibility of sin.
I would ask another question to seek out the answer to this one. “Is it possible that Adam and Eve could have been tempted and resisted temptation and remained as they were?” YES.
Bancroft in his Elemental Theology suggests the position that Christ had two natures — a human nature and a divine nature. Because the divine was true and complete holiness then the human could not go against that which is by nature holy.
The human apart from the divine we must assume could have sinned. This is the crux of the argument.
He, as man could sin and could be tempted as we, however He is inescapably tied to the divine and holy nature. The divine and holy nature could not sin, the human nature could not submit to sin. The divine was the determinative will, or nature and the human always submitted to that determinative divine will.
“His human nature could not have sinned without the consent of His unique Person.” Thus Christ “would not” or “could not” sin. The question must be asked. Bancroft goes on to tell us that it was “could not.”
“Since the personality of our Lord Jesus Christ is the personality of God, it was impossible for Him to consent to sin. Since His personality could not consent to sin, it was impossible for Him in
His human nature (seeing that human nature was inseparably joined to His personality) to have sinned.”10
We must address the question, which Walvoord raises in his following statement: “…that in any case the temptation of Christ is different from that of sinful men.” (Taken from: “Jesus Christ Our Lord”; Walvoord, John F.; Copyright 1969, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 146) Do we dare say that, in light of His being our example and being tested in all points as we?
Why would this be the case? James 1:13 tells us on the one hand that God cannot be tempted with evil. Christ had no sin nature. Thus we must assume that He was tempted HOW? They were tempted the same way Adam and Eve were tempted. They had no sin nature but were tempted. If we are to say that His temptation was different from that of sinful man’s, then we may say yes because He had no sin nature. However His temptation was just as Adam and Eve’s, pre-fall.
Was He tempted in all points as we? In the sense that we fell with Adam, and He did not fall in this particular situation, we must assume that He was. This of course ignores the divine nature and it’s relationship to that temptation.
Since God cannot be tempted, we must assume that the human side of Christ was tempted and not the divine.
Since the divine and the human are completely inseparable we must assume that any “not sinning” would have to have come from the divine side — OR — from a complete reliance upon the Holy Spirit to not sin.
And this is the boiled down view of the question. He did not sin. He could not sin, and complete the work of God. Was it through His own divine nature that he was able to say no to sin? Was it through His leaning on the Holy Spirit that he was able to say no to sin? Was it that He could not sin?
LET US CONSIDER THIS AND SEE IF WE CAN FIND AN ANSWER
1. He did some miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 12:28; Luke 4:14-18. He was relying on the Spirit’s work at those points.
2. He seems to have voluntarily decided not to use some of His attributes.
3. His glory was not that of heaven.
We are left to hold that the man Jesus was capable of sin, but did not because of one of two reasons.
a. The man Jesus was totally submissive to the divine Christ in all that the God-man did while on earth and thus He never sinned.
b. The man Jesus was totally and perfectly reliant upon the Holy Spirit for help in refraining from sin. Christ’s divine attributes having been in a state of voluntary nonuse did not assist the man Jesus to withstand the wiles of the Devil, but only that reliance upon the Holy Spirit.
Which you hold is up to you and how you feel about the fact that Christ was tempted in All Points As We. It also relates to His understanding our struggle with sin. If you feel that Christ can accomplish these as statement “a” suggests, then position “a” is adequate. If you feel that Jesus was so closely related to the Holy Spirit that He was able to say no to sin, then “b” is the better position.
1. A word of warning on this doctrine as you read different authors.
a. They assume all but themselves incorrect and argue from that basis.
b. They assume that they know what others think.
c. They assume that the laws of logic are required for everyone but themselves.
d. This is a field that there is little Scripture to build on, so they make rash statements that really have no foundation as if they were fact.
e. Look at what they say and think logically to see if what they say be true.
2. Ryrie mentions some items that are of good thought. “The Results Of Christ’s Testings
a. Sensitivity. He became sensitive to the pressure of testing. He experienced it with emotions and powers we cannot understand.
b. Example. He furnishes us an example of victory over the severest kinds of tests.
c. Understanding. He can offer sympathetic understanding to us when we are tested.
d. Grace and power. He can also provide the grace and power we need in times of testing.”11
3. This statement may rattle some cages but here goes anyway. I don’t think that there is any way Biblically, to prove the discussion either way. I think there are good men on both sides of the fence. The main thought that must be held and usually is — The Lord did not sin. The Lord could not have sinned and fulfilled the work that He had been given to do. The Lord was totally God and totally man.
I think that those that hold to peccability would agree to all of these statements as well as all of those that hold to impeccability.
The verse in James one which tells us that God cannot be tempted leads me to believe that the Lord was tempted in His humanity as we are. This could have been accomplished in one of three manners. The fact that He was relying on the Holy Spirit perfectly can answer the how of His not sinning. The fact that He was in submission to the will of the divine will, can answer the how of His not sinning. The fact that He was incapable of sinning can answer the how of His not sinning.
I have been chewing on this one for many years and have had some very good discussions concerning it. I convinced a class of students that I was correct in the Holy Spirit theory a number of years ago, much to the dismay of the instructor that disagreed to the point of being beet red in the face and hollering about my false ideas.
I, however realize that the majority of recent and current church fathers do not discuss this possibility.
The incapable of sinning, would be the prominent view among conservatives today, I’m fairly sure. Indeed, I have not run across any current writers other than DeHann that hold to the other view.
I personally see only a semantic difference between capable of not sinning and unable to sin. Both are predicated on the divine nature and both see the end result as impeccable. Indeed all orthodox views see an end result of impeccable. They arrive there in different ways.
4. I would like to close with a comment from Ryrie’s introduction to his discussion on the topic. This Shows Our Example.
“Sinlessness in our Lord means that He never did anything that displeased God or violated the Mosaic Law under which He lived on earth or in any way failed to show in His life at all times the glory of God.”
He goes on to mention, “…at every stage of His life, infancy, boyhood, adolescence, manhood, He was holy and sinless.”12
1. “Funk And Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary” revised edition, New York: Funk and Wagnalls Pub., 1976
2. By permission. From Webster’s Third New International Dictionary copyright by Merriam-Webster Inc., publisher of the Merriam-Webster (registered) Dictionaries.
3. Charles Hodge, “Systematic Theology,” Abridged Edition, Edward N. Gross, editor; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988, p 364-365
4. Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Systematic Theology,” Dallas, TX: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947, Vol. V. p 80
5. W. E. Best, “Christ Could Not Be Tempted,” Houston, TX: South Belt Grace Church, 1985, p 19
6. Taken from: “A Survey Of Bible Doctrine”; Ryrie, Charles C.; Copyright 1972, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. P 59
7. Dr. David Miller, Theology notes, Western Baptist College, Salem, OR
8. Taken from: “A Survey Of Bible Doctrine”; Ryrie, Charles C.; Copyright 1972, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. pp 59-60
9. Mark G. Cambron, D.D., “Bible Doctrines,” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954, p 86
10. Taken from the book, Elemental Theology by Emery H. Bancroft. Copyright 1977 by Baptist Bible College. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. p 136
11. Reprinted by permission: Ryrie, Charles C.; “Basic Theology”; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986, p 265
12. Reprinted by permission: Ryrie, Charles C.; “Basic Theology”; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986, p 263
13. From Paul Enns, (Taken from: “The Moody Handbook Of Theology”; Enns, Paul; Copyright 1989, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 237-238)
“Christ’s peccabilty could relate only to His human nature; His divine nature was impeccable. Although Christ had two natures, He was nonetheless one person and could not divorce Himself of His deity. Wherever He went, the divine nature was present. If the two natures could be separated then it could be said that He could sin in His humanity, but because the human and divine natures cannot be separated from the Person of Christ, and since the divine nature cannot sin, it must be affirmed that Christ could not have sinned.”
Mark Enns lists the following arguments. I will list his topics and summarize his comments, and then comment on his comments.
“(1) The immutability of Christ (Hebrews 13:8).”
Christ is unchangeable. If He could sin while on earth then He could sin now in heaven.
Christ is truely unchangeable in nature and essence, yet is quite changeable in other ways. For example he had no human body or humanness before the birth. If we apply the same logic then we have to assume that Christ never was incarnate for He could never have a body.
In relation to His deity, yes it is very true that GOD Cannot sin. “(2) The omnipotence of Christ (Matthew 28:18).”
“Christ was omnipotent and therefore could not sin. Weakness is implied where sin is possible, yet there was no weakness of any kind in Christ.”
Is sin related to all powerful? I think not. Weeping indicates weakness, being tired indicates weakness, yet they are not indicative of Christ’s attribute of omnipotence. There are some that would argue with the fact that the omnipotence is an issue in relation to the incarnate Christ. They would view this as one of the attributes that He gave up the free use of.
“(3) The omniscience of Christ (John 2:25).”
“Christ was omniscient and therefore could not sin. Sin depends on ignorance in order that the sinner may be deceived, but Christ could not be deceived because He knows all things….”
Again, the thought of omniscience is debatable in the incarnate Christ. The line of thinking presented seems a bit flawed however aside from that Mark Enns says that we can’t sin unless we are ignorant of things. So how come so many of us know all there is to know about a particular sin and we chose to walk right straight into it with our eyes wide open.
“(4) The deity of Christ.”
He restates what is contained in the quoted paragraph above about the fact that the man Jesus could have sinned if He were separated from God.
“(5) The nature of temptation (James 1:14-15).”
“The temptation that came to Christ was from without. However, for sin to take place, there must be an inner response to the outward temptation. Since Jesus did not possess a sin nature, there was nothing within Him to respond to the temptation. People sin because there is an inner response to the outer temptation.”
So, why did Adam sin if Mark Enns is correct?
Not having a sin nature seems to be irrelevant to me. Man responds from within to outward temptation. The man Jesus would also have responded had He not also been God.
“(6) The will of Christ.”
He holds to two wills and the human will was ALWAYS subservient to the divine will. He mentions something that might be of interest to consider.
“If Christ could have sinned then His human will would have been stronger than the divine will.”
“(7) The authority of Christ (John 10:18).”
“In His deity, Christ had complete authority over His humanity. For example, no one could take the life of Christ except He would lay it down willingly (John 10:18). If Christ had authority over life and death, He certainly had authority over sin; if He could withhold death at will, He could also withhold sin at will.”
Much of what Mark Enns mentions is good if you agree with all of his other theology. For one that views some of Christ’s attributes as nonfunctioning Mark Enns is lacking.
I suspect from his final statement that he misunderstands the people that believe in the peccability.
Of course deity can withstand temptation and keep sin from happening.
“non potuit peccare” “potuit non peccare”
LIBERAL VIEW ORTHODOX VIEW
a. Impeccable: That Christ was unable to sin in any situation or any form.
This inability is based on the fact that Christ was God and God cannot sin
— it is against His very nature.
b. Peccable: That Christ was able to sin but did not sin due to His divine nature.
c. : I’m open for titles for this one. That Christ was capable of sin but did not sin due to His total and perfect reliance upon the Holy Spirit.
1. Luke 4:22
2. John 17:5
3. John 18:6
4. James 1:13
SOME VERSES TO DEAL WITH
 Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. B.A. (n.d.). DERICKSON’S NOTES ON THEOLOGY: A STUDY BOOK IN THEOLOGY.