27 July 2006

Back to bidniss

by Phil Johnson

y post on 17 July ended with these words: "At least three vital perspectives of Christ are given to us in this text, and beginning tomorrow, we'll take some time to look at each of them individually."

"Tomorrow" has now surpassed 10 days and the long gap between posts reminds me of James 4:13-15. Circumstances took me out of town for a few days this past weekend, and despite my best efforts, I am still not caught up with the stack of stuff that has been accumulating in my "to do" file since January. So I want to offer a hearty thanks to Daniel and Frank, who have kept the blog busy in my absence by posting brilliant artwork and picking fights with charismatics.

As much as I hate to interrupt Daniel's posts on the charismatic movement (that series will still resume tomorrow, Lord willing), we need to keep going with a different series that has been lingering for a long time—2 Corinthians 5:21 and the doctrine of justification by faith.

As I was saying. . .

This entry in the 2 Corinthians 5:21 series should be the least controversial of the entries to come. It features the first of three perspectives of Christ we're going to consider from that verse:

Christ as Sinless

hrist "knew no sin." Those words appear in the middle of the verse in most English versions, but the Greek text begins with that phrase. The utter sinlessness of Christ is the foundation for everything else Paul has to say in this verse. It is also the logical starting point for understanding the meaning of the whole text.

First Peter 1:19 echoes this truth. That verse speaks of "Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." As Hebrews 9:14 says, He "offered himself without spot to God."

Now, of course, as God, Christ was perfectly righteous, absolutely holy, and eternally immutable in all His perfections long before the incarnation. All the virtues of deity were His, and everything Scripture says about the perfect holiness of God applies to Christ. He is, according to Habakkuk 1:13, "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and [unable to] look [approvingly] on iniquity" of any kind.

But here in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is speaking about Christ's utter sinlessness as a man. Christ was not only God, but He became a man. His humanity was not an illusion; He was a true man—God incarnate in human flesh. And when Paul says here that Christ "knew no sin," he is speaking, in this context, of Christ as our substitute, as a man—the perfect man, who lived His whole life spotlessly, in flawless obedience to the law of God, without ever once succumbing to temptation or defiling Himself with sin in any way.

The final Adam

Christ as a man did what Adam failed to do. He withstood temptation and rendered perfect obedience to every commandment of God. Scripture makes that very comparison of Christ to Adam in several places. First Corinthians 15:45, Paul writes, "The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit." In that verse, Paul is quoting from Genesis 2:7, where it says, "the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man [the first man, Adam,] became a living soul." "The last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving spirit."

In what sense was Christ like Adam? Just as Adam stood in relationship to the human race as our head and representative, Christ stands in relationship to the redeemed race as our head and representative. Again, by withstanding temptation, Christ did for us what Adam failed to do. That's why Paul says in Romans 5:19: "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."

Adam was put to a simple test. He had only one command to obey, and that was the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He failed. By contrast, Christ's obedience was much more complex. He was "born under the law," according to Galatians 4:4, so the obedience required of Him included more than 600 distinct commandments—moral, civil, and ceremonial. But He fulfilled them all to the letter, from the beginning to the end of His life.

Hebrews 4:15 says "[He] was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." In other words, He was put to the test and proven to be perfectly sinless, without any spot or blemish.

The fact of His sinlessness was testified to by multiple witnesses in His trials, just before His crucifixion. His enemies were desperately seeking a way to accuse Him. They looked diligently for anyone who could testify of any wrong that He had done. In the end they had to rely on the testimony of false witnesses who twisted His Words in order to justify false and trumped-up charges against Him. Even Pilate refused to render any verdict of guilt against Jesus, but after hearing all the charges and cross-examining Christ, Pilate said repeatedly, "I find no fault in this man" (Luke 23:4; John 19:4, 6).

Could Jesus have sinned?

A couple of hard questions always come up whenever the human sinlessness of Christ is under discussion. First of all, there's been a running debate among theologians for centuries over the question of whether Christ, as a man, could have sinned. Did He even have the potential to sin? Was there any possibility that he would succumb to temptation—and fall, as Adam did?

Some have argued that unless there was a real possibility that He might sin, His temptations were somehow unreal, a pretense, only a simulation of the temptation Adam faced, and unlike the temptations we face. (Every true Christian, of course, acknowledges that Christ did not sin, but some say that in order for His temptation to be meaningful, He must have had a real potential to sin.) Those who hold this position say he differed from you and me in that He had the ability not to sin. So He was subjected to temptation with an ability to say either yes or no, and He simply exercised His ability not to sin.

The other view—which I'm convinced is the correct view—is that there was never any real possibility that He might sin. But His moral perfection was such that sin had no appeal to Him whatsoever, and therefore no matter what Satan might have done, he could never, under any circumstances, have enticed Jesus to sin.

This debate has raged since medieval times. There are even Latin terms for the two different views. The first group believes Christ was posse non peccareposse meaning "able," and peccare, meaning "to sin"—posse non peccare, "able not to sin."

The second group says Christ was non posse peccare—"not able to sin."

By the way, you and me (and everyone born as Adam's offspring, inheriting both his guilt and his sinful nature) are non posse non peccare, "not able not to sin."

So there are these three possible moral states: posse non peccare, "able not to sin"; non posse peccare, "not able to sin; and non posse non peccare, "not able not to sin.

I believe strongly that Scripture teaches Christ was non posse peccare, "not able to sin." He is not able to sin for the same reason Adam's offspring is not able not to sin: our nature determines what we choose.

Christ's inherent righteousness is one of the attributes of His deity. His absolute hatred for sin is part of His eternal nature. He did not divest Himself of the attributes of deity in order to become man. Therefore He could no more sin than God could lie, and Scripture says plainly and repeatedly that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Numbers 23:19, and 1 Samuel 15:29).

Furthermore, Christ is immutable—unchanged and unchanging in His character, and the New Testament expressly declares this. Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever."

There was nothing in Him that held any attraction whatsoever for sin. He hated sin as God hates it. He had none of the evil desires we have inherited as part of our fallen nature. Jesus could not be deceived, as Eve was. He would not yield to sin, as Adam did. In fact, although He was tempted—meaning that he was assaulted with enticements and inducements and arguments by Satan, Jesus said this about Satan in John 14:30: "The prince of this world . . . hath nothing in me."

Yeah, but . . .

What about this argument that Jesus' temptations weren't real unless He had the possibility to sin?

Look: you can put pure gold in a crucible and heat it to a white-hot temperature, and there is no possibility that it will be burned up, or that it will produce any dross. But the purity of the gold doesn't make the heat of the flame any less hot.

If anything, Christ's temptations were more intense, not less intense than ours, because He never sought relief from any temptation by giving into it.

He felt all the normal, non-sinful human weaknesses that you and I struggle with. Scripture says He suffered hunger, and thirst, and bodily fatigue, just like you and me. And He surely knew what it was under the pressure of temptation for the pains of those infirmities to be intensified.

In fact, that is precisely what Hebrews 4:15 says: "We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." He bore all the natural infirmities of human flesh and endured the pressure of temptation on the night of His betrayal to the point that His capillaries burst and His sweat was mixed with blood. But never, ever, did he have any attraction to sin or any desire for that which is sinful.

To say that there was ever any possibility of sin in Christ is to misunderstand the utter moral perfection of His character. I think it's a fairly serious error to imagine that Christ could have sinned, because it tends to diminish the truth of His deity. Christ was non posse peccare—not able to sin, and that is true because He was God incarnate, unchanging, perfectly righteous in and of Himself, with an eternal, immutable, and holy hatred of all that is unholy.

Does Jesus' life count for me, or just His death?

There's a second important debate about Christ's perfect earthly obedience. And it has to do with the question of whether His life, as well as His death, has redemptive significance.

Now we know that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). "We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). In other words, his death bought our atonement. His blood was the redemption-price. That's what 1 Peter 1:18-19 means: "Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things . . . But with the precious blood of Christ". Again and again, Scripture says Jesus' death is what made atonement for our sins.

But is there any sense in which His life also had redemptive significance? I believe there is. Throughout His earthly life, Christ was acting as our substitute, so that everything He did as a man, He did on our behalf. And everything He did ultimately contributed to our redemption.

There's a reason why Christ did not simply take on the body of a human adult and visit earth for a weekend in that full-grown incarnate form, die, and then ascend to heaven. Would simply dying in human form, apart from living a complete human life, have provided the same kind of sufficient atonement for us? Apparently not.

Hebrews 2:14 says Jesus "took [partook of flesh and blood] so that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." So the ultimate purpose of the incarnation was redemptive. He became a man—partook of flesh and blood—for us, in order to "deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (v. 15). Notice (v. 16), He did not do this for angels. The angels who fell were condemned and sentenced without any possibility of atonement. But He became a man.

In fact, verse 16 says "he took on him the seed of Abraham." That's a reference to the Abrahamic covenant, which promised (Genesis 22:18) that "in [Abraham's] seed . . . all the nations of the earth would be blessed." Christ was that promised seed, bringing the blessings of divine grace and eternal salvation to people from every tongue and tribe and nation.

OK, you say, but that's still about His death, not His life. Verse 14 expressly says, "that through death he might destroy . . . the devil"

But look at verse 17-18: "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted."

That is a sweeping statement that makes it clear that Christ had to live a full life as a man. His life—not only His death—clearly had redemptive significance. A full life of perfect faithfulness was essential to His role as a mediator between God and men. It was the essential proof that He qualified to be the spotless lamb of God to take away sin.

But it was more than that. Christ's whole life was a fulfillment of the principle of substitution we find in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Before we are done with this series, I hope to take up the issue of Christ's so-called "active obedience." Meanwhile, keep this principle in mind: Christ's life, and not His death only, contributes something vital to our redemption.

Scripture is clear (Hebrews 2:17) that Christ, in order to be the High Priest who offers atonement, "had to be made like His brethren [in all things]." So those who limit His atoning work to His death alone have an incomplete work of the atonement. Lord willing, we'll come back to that point in a future post and treat it in depth.

Whatever view you may take in the current debates over "active obedience," you must acknowledge that the perfect obedience Christ rendered to the law was essential to demonstrate and maintain His utter sinlessness. So His whole life, and not only His death, was redemptive.

That's the first perspective of Christ we see from this passage: Christ as sinless. Not only sinless God, but sinless God incarnate, so that He is a sinless man as well.

Phil's signature

50 comments:

Steve said...

Phil said, "But His moral perfection was such that sin had no appeal to Him whatsoever...."

That hits the nail on the head, Phil. I think the reason those in the "Christ was able to sin" camp have struggled so greatly over this issue is because we, as fallen creatures, are utterly incapable of comprehending that true moral perfection would find absolutely nothing enticing or attractive about sin.

Thanks for a wonderful affirmation of the perfect righteousness of our Lord and Savior!

Even So... said...

Phil,

Nice going...

Sweet timing for me...have a post running now, "How were OT people saved?

and this verse came up, so I linked to Pyros...some interesting characters look at this in so many diferent ways, it is a very important verse to understand as full as we can, so thanks, and looking forward to more...

Steven Dresen said...

phil,
Superb post.

Taliesin said...

Phil, excellent post. I only have one bone to pick. You said, So there are these three possible moral states: posse non peccare, "able not to sin"; non posse peccare, "not able to sin; and non posse non peccare, "not able not to sin.

Now, I'll admit I was never a good dispensationalist, so maybe this is the dispensational viewpoint. But most reformed types will claim three possible moral states - Adam before the fall was able to sin; all those affected by Adam's sin, but not yet regenerate are not able not to sin; the regenerate are able to not sin; and the glorified are like Christ, not able to sin. (See here for a brief discussion)

By this it is not assumed that man can be sinlessly perfect in this life, only that we now have the ability to overcome temptation.

Taliesin said...

I hate not being to edit posts. I never see my mistakes till after I push the button.

Second paragraph second sentence should read, "But most reformed types will claim four possible moral states ..."

If I believed in Freudian psychology I might consider typing three there a Freudian slip...

Jerry Wragg said...

Phil -
Christ's "active obedience" is inseparably linked to His death in Philippians 2:8. His incarnation, humiliation, and submission are an unbreakable chain by which our redemption is accomplished ("He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death". Jesus' condescension and self-emptying were the beginning of His obedience which culminated in His ultimate act of submission in death. Those who claim that His life offers us nothing salvifically are relegating the redemptive work to His murder only. Yet, Philippians 2 is clear that a cross without a preceding condescension in the likeness of men could incur the charge that Jesus death was not voluntary. Jesus lived among men so as to manifest a resolute, progressive movement toward the cross. We cannot separate His obedient life (beginning at the incarnation) from His ultimate act of submission in death.

Exist~Dissolve said...

What about this argument that Jesus' temptations weren't real unless He had the possibility to sin?

Look: you can put pure gold in a crucible and heat it to a white-hot temperature, and there is no possibility that it will be burned up, or that it will produce any dross. But the purity of the gold doesn't make the heat of the flame any less hot.


This doesn't make any sense. The fact that gold isn't consumed by fire doesn't mean a whole lot to grain that is consumed by fire. If you want to say that Jesus couldn't sin, fine; Jesus is gold to fire. However, as we are as grain is to fire, Jesus' temptations would mean nothing to us. You present a sinless savior of other divine beings, not of finite, contingent humans. Not much of a savior, in the final analysis.

EJ said...

Phil,
I've been observing an interesting Cessation debate elsewhere on this blog, but thought I'd venture over from the balcony of that discussion to say I agree w/ your position that it was impossible for Jesus to sin. I also agree w/ your ontological rationale for this position. It seems that to hold that Christ could have sinned is to place one foot on the slippery slope of docetism.

Phil Johnson said...

exist~dissolve: "This doesn't make any sense."

If you had a right view of the atonement, it would make perfect sense. Reject the ideas of propitiation, penal substitution, and/or imputation, and of course it won't make sense.

What's truly irrational is your notion that because the Lamb of God is sinlessly and infallibly perfect, He is "Not much of a savior, in the final analysis."

Such a statement refutes itself.

BlackCalvinist said...

Exist~Dissolve wrote:
This doesn't make any sense. The fact that gold isn't consumed by fire doesn't mean a whole lot to grain that is consumed by fire. If you want to say that Jesus couldn't sin, fine; Jesus is gold to fire. However, as we are as grain is to fire, Jesus' temptations would mean nothing to us. You present a sinless savior of other divine beings, not of finite, contingent humans. Not much of a savior, in the final analysis.

*in voice of Wink Martindale*
Thank you for taking the time to drop through and blaspheme! However, you've missed the point of Jesus not being able to sin. :) As we are (to use your illustration) "grain to fire" and He is "gold to fire", He is able to know experientially what FIRE is like. The Hebrews passages emphasize His intimacy with the believer, since He faced the same temptations that we face. That is a part of His human nature. Our problem is that we give in to temptation - and that's not specifically (in this case) a human nature problem, but a TAINTED human nature problem.

That's the OTHER piece missing from your statement above.

Great article, Phil.

Pittsley said...

taliesin: The regenerate are able to not sin.

Perhaps this is a nit-picky point, but I agree with taliesin here. What is regeneration if it does not entail the impartation of posse non peccare?

Romans 6 teaches that union with Christ includes a definitive break with the mastery of sin. It seems like that's pretty much the same thing as posse non peccare.

DJP said...

Very solid and helpful, Phil, thanks. A blessing to read.

Those words appear in the middle of the verse in most English versions, but the Greek text begins with that phrase

"The one who knew no sin, on our behalf sin He made" -- it is almost chiastic (A B B A).

Christ's non poss peccare did strike me as removing the intensity of His temptation. I was helped by a prof who put it this way: we have never known the intensity of temptation Christ knew, because we buckle, we break, we bail out long before the temptation reaches climactic intensity. Christ, however, ran every temptation out to its most hideous degree, without once buckling. Therefore only He knows how bad temptation can get.

If you go down the trail of "Yeah, but because it didn't appeal to Him, He really didn't know it like we know it," pretty soon you will be driven to say that He had to have sinned (I speak as a fool) in order to really share our experience.

Sin is not the essence of being human qua human; it is only the essence of fallen humanity. And, thank God, that isn't where Christ is taking us.

centuri0n said...

Gosh, I only got halfway through Phil's post and started thinking about this passage:

"14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

Without coming to blows with Phil or anybody here over this, I understand why I ought to be in the non posse peccare camp, but because Christ (as the KJV here says) "is not a high priest who is not able to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities", I have a lot of sympathy for the posse non peccare camp.

It seems to me that the rest of Phil's point -- about the active obedience of Christ, the real sinlessness of his actions though he was a man exactly like us, which is "the rest" of the righteousness we are imputed -- hangs on the real obedience of Christ.

Let's be clear that I don't think Christ had a sin nature -- but Adam also did not have a sin nature. The question, I think, is if Christ had the will to sin. Adam had the will to sin; Christ had the will to be obedient. In that way, if I had to stain the Latin language with my thoughts on the matter, I'd prolly say something like, "posse non peccare quod non erat volens" -- "able not to sin because he was not willing".

And since some will read this as me being at odds with Phil, fie upon you pre-emptively.

centuri0n said...

And I'm not at odds with Dan, either. He posted a fraction of a second before I got this up, and I wasn't ignoring him. I was not able to ignore him. That's not to say I wasn't willing ...

8D

Exist~Dissolve said...

phil--

If you had a right view of the atonement, it would make perfect sense. Reject the ideas of propitiation, penal substitution, and/or imputation, and of course it won't make sense.

Actually, this doesn't even make sense within the self-contradicting parameters of penal substitutionary atonement theory. That being said, I hardly think that you are in a position to tell me what constitutes a "right view of atonement." Of course, that will certainly not stop you from making grandiose claims anyway.

What's truly irrational is your notion that because the Lamb of God is sinlessly and infallibly perfect, He is "Not much of a savior, in the final analysis."

No, I have no problem affirming that Christ was sinless. If you had actually read my response, you would note that my objection was to the ridiculous notion that Christ could not have sinned, not that he didn't sin. So stop with the petty mischaracterizations and actually engage what I have said.

Such a statement refutes itself.

...even though you give no reason at all why this is actually so. Brilliant form!

centuri0n said...

And in scrolling the comments, I see E~D has dropped by to make some stir over whether Christ's temptation was anything like ours.

Phil is exactly right in this: the point of Christ's temptation is that he did not sin. Period. It is not in his nature to sin.

But I think the point specifically of Heb 4 as I cited it just now is not that "Christ is sinless because he is God", but that Christ demonstrated his sinlessness: that is, Christ wasn't theoretically or merely-metaphysically sinless: he came to prove he was sinless in spite of temptation. The passage in James 1 where James says that God cannot be tempted is not talking about the man Christ Jesus: it is talking about the divine nature of God.

And in that, I think that the willingness of Christ to sin is categorically what is at stake: was Christ just walking through the temptations but invulnerable to them and therefore obedient by default, or was Christ invulnerable to sin because he was instead obedient to the Father rather than to his human weaknesses?

The matter is certainly the Christ was invulnerable to sin -- so saying that he was merely "posse non peccare" regardless of qualifiers is not strong enough.

Exist~Dissolve said...

blackcalvinist--

*in voice of Wink Martindale*
Thank you for taking the time to drop through and blaspheme!


Where have I blasphemed? There is nothing within my comments that contradict any of the creeds or confessions of the ecumenical church, nor have I spoke adversely to the rest of Christian theological tradition. Your claims of "blasphemy" are impressive, not in the sense that they actually mean anything, but more precisely because they reveal 1.) an ignorance about what actually constitutes blasphemy and 2.) a irrational virulence against any form of thinking that contradicts the self-justified parameters of your theological paradigm.

However, you've missed the point of Jesus not being able to sin. :)

Yes, I missed it because it is not there.

As we are (to use your illustration) "grain to fire" and He is "gold to fire", He is able to know experientially what FIRE is like.

So what? I ask again what gold's experience of fire means to that of grain's experience? The answer is nothing! If this is the level upon which Jesus has been tempted, he is only a savior of gold, not of grain. While some other divine beings may be the object of his sympathetic work, if Christ did not truly engage the full virulence of sin, he is of no help to humans that are enslaved by the same.

The Hebrews passages emphasize His intimacy with the believer, since He faced the same temptations that we face.

If Jesus was not able to sin, then the temptations were not real, for the whole point of temptation is that it presents the tempted with a contingency. If there is no contingency for Christ in temptation, then the temptation is not actual, and he can not understand nor sympathize with those who actually encounter its power.

That is a part of His human nature.

Apollonarianism, anyone?

Our problem is that we give in to temptation - and that's not specifically (in this case) a human nature problem, but a TAINTED human nature problem.

Yes, but if Christ does not face temptation with the very real possibility of engaging in sin, there is no way in which to say that he overcame it. If the temptation is not such that Christ can repeat Adam's error, there is also no way in which Christ can succeed where Adam failed. This is elementary.

centuri0n said...

One last thing for E~D before I go to work today:

Dude, you're somewhat stunning in your expectation that others will treat you like a prince and give you a free pass for all your own blanket assertions. You haven't yet demonstrated your own view in any kind of way which can be said to be definitive so that it topples the view you oppose, yet your view is that all of Christian history is fallen over and now you are the Ozymandius who rules the roost.

The passage Phil is puzzling together here makes some very clear assertions: Christ was sinless, Christ was "made sin"; Christ reconciles us to God. Your view ignores the first two and overextends the third to make it useless.

When you can overcome that problem, you can wag a finger at anyone else about "brilliant form".

Exist~Dissolve said...

centuri0n--

And in scrolling the comments, I see E~D has dropped by to make some stir over whether Christ's temptation was anything like ours.

These blogs wouldn't be nearly as fun if I didn't pop in from time to time...

Phil is exactly right in this: the point of Christ's temptation is that he did not sin. Period. It is not in his nature to sin.

Why didn't you end at the "period?" Why does the speculative nature of "nature" have to be brought into this? I agree with everyone that Christ was sinless. The part on which I disagree is why. Many will say that Christ was sinless because of his "nature." I say the much simpler and more biblical answer is that Christ was sinless because he was faithful to the will of his Father. This was proven in that he was vindicated for his faithfulness by being raised to newness of life by God. To go beyond the phenomenology of Christ's sinlessness, however, into speculations about the precise relationship of Christ's divine and human natures is not only irrelevant to the discussion, but also leads to the numerous Christological errors of early Christian (heretical) thought.

But I think the point specifically of Heb 4 as I cited it just now is not that "Christ is sinless because he is God", but that Christ demonstrated his sinlessness: that is, Christ wasn't theoretically or merely-metaphysically sinless: he came to prove he was sinless in spite of temptation. The passage in James 1 where James says that God cannot be tempted is not talking about the man Christ Jesus: it is talking about the divine nature of God.

I'm not sure about the "he came to prove his sinlessness" part, but I agree that a distinction must be made between speaking about the divine nature of the Triune God and speaking of the nature of the God/human.

And in that, I think that the willingness of Christ to sin is categorically what is at stake:

This is a great way to put it. Kudos.

was Christ just walking through the temptations but invulnerable to them and therefore obedient by default, or was Christ invulnerable to sin because he was instead obedient to the Father rather than to his human weaknesses?

The obedience is definitely the issue that is at stake and, moreover, it is what makes Christ's temptations meaningful to us: even as Christ was obedient to the will of the Father (and thereby broke the power of sinfulness), so also those who follow Christ can walk in his example, living lives of obedience and faithfulness to God.

The matter is certainly the Christ was invulnerable to sin -- so saying that he was merely "posse non peccare" regardless of qualifiers is not strong enough.

I'm not sure I get how you are using "invulnerable." Could you explain more?

Steven Dresen said...

exist,
Reread your blog...all those posts...yup you guessed it heresy. But then again that's where reader response hermeneutics and deconstructionism gets you isn't it, it leaves you an unoriginal heretic. You can repent though and accept Jesus Christ as your penal substitution and start interpreting the Bible by what it says.

Exist~Dissolve said...

steven dressen--

Reread your blog...all those posts...yup you guessed it heresy.

Heresy? Which parts? In what statements have I denied the orthodox beliefs of the universal church? Your claims are serious, yet the fact that you will not substantiate them seems to indicate that you are simply taking shots at me instead of meaningfully interacting with what I have said. Instead of crying "heresy," why don't you show me where what I have said is heretical?

But then again that's where reader response hermeneutics and deconstructionism gets you isn't it, it leaves you an unoriginal heretic.

If I am an "unoriginal heretic," which heretics am I copying? Again, you have yet to define where I am heretical, and are merely throwing out unsubstantiated accusations.

Surely the moderaters of this meta will not allow such unabashed vitriol and slander to continue!

You can repent though and accept Jesus Christ as your penal substitution and start interpreting the Bible by what it says.

As my "penal substitution?" C'mon.

I do interpret the bible by what it says--my conclusions just happen to contradict your interpretations.

teacher said...

I've been following along with PyroTeam for a while now and truly appreciate all of them. I recently noticed Exist-Dissolve throwing in high-sounding comments here and a few other places. He and a crony with a similar hyphenated name have been arguing steadily with the Reformed bloggers. He (and his buddy) sound very intelligent and well-read. Unfortunately, neither of them have an ounce of humilty in their bones. They both completely talk down to their audience and expect groveling awe at their depth of thought. If you go to their profiles, neither of them is old enough to have read or thought enough on the subjects they both so scornfully dismiss from people like Phil Johnson who is old enough to have thoroughly studied the subjects he writes on. In other words; E-D, show some grace and humility in your posts, allow that you aren't perfect and may have some wrong thoughts and you may be taken seriously. As it is, you're coming across as a punk kid who has read a couple of books and think you alone have figured out everything there is to know about the Bible.

DJP said...

Phil -- I publicly propose that "Exist-Dissolve" be categorized as "troll" and subjected to the "Don't feed the trolls" rule, at least.

His schtick seemingly is to appear, post loftily (and designedly enigmatically) from his imagined position far above the ignorant rabble, snipe, weave endlessly labyrinthine sidepaths all centered around himself, and leave us blinking at how far off the road we've gotten.

C. T. Lillies said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed this series in spite--and the charismatic one too--of the fact that I have had to reach for the dictionary a few times. In Oklahoma posse has an entirely different meaning.

Anyone know a good latin primer?

Much Grace
Josh

centuri0n said...

E~D said this:

Why didn't you end at the "period?" Why does the speculative nature of "nature" have to be brought into this? I agree with everyone that Christ was sinless. The part on which I disagree is why. Many will say that Christ was sinless because of his "nature." I say the much simpler and more biblical answer is that Christ was sinless because he was faithful to the will of his Father. This was proven in that he was vindicated for his faithfulness by being raised to newness of life by God. To go beyond the phenomenology of Christ's sinlessness, however, into speculations about the precise relationship of Christ's divine and human natures is not only irrelevant to the discussion, but also leads to the numerous Christological errors of early Christian (heretical) thought.

The problem with this, E~D, is that it is actually both that Christ was sinless because he is the exact imprint of the Father's nature and he was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

It is not either/or.

And to the point you are making here about very bad heresies that come from trying to sift out human Jesus from divine Christ -- which is itself impossible -- let me say this: I think the approach which tries to resist the fact that Christ was both obedient in human terms and morally holy and perfect in divine terms is badly flawed. The relationship between these two things is vitally important to the work of Christ. If Christ is only a perfectly-good man, the scope of his death is not large enough; if Christ is only divinely holy by nature, his death is not really a death at all but a token.

I agree that we ought not to spend our theological energy on trying to sort the pieces of Jesus into "human" and "divine" boxes -- but in saying that Christ is necessarily "both", we must grasp that "both" is the substance of his work for us: both obedient and perfect, both eternal and temporal, both human and divine.

He's better than Deon Sanders: he really is "both".

Exist~Dissolve said...

cent--

Thank you for the response. I have to get busy at work here, but I will think over what you have said.

centuri0n said...

As for Christ being invulnerable to sin, here's what I mean:

[1] From an eternal standpoint, there is no doubt that Christ, Son of God, the Word with God who is God, will never sin. Frankly, he can't do it -- not because it is forbidden for him by some external delimiter, but because his nature, his very essence cannot allow it. It would violate who he is to sin -- it would prove he never was who he says he is. It's not in him to sin, so he doesn't sin. In that respect, he is invulnerable to sin: it has no means to motivate him.

[2] But then we have the fact that the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. It might be useful to point out that he was born of a woman; that he had brothers and sisters; that he ate and drank; that he wept. But in that respect, it seems that Jesus may have been vulnerable to sin in a way that, in his eternal state prior to the incarnation, he could not have been. Perhaps, we can imagine, that Jesus became "vulnerable" to sin in becoming a man.

The problem, of course, is that Jesus does not demonstrate any kind of vulnerability ("open to attack or damage") in the Bible at all, specifically in relationship to sin. Jesus says expressly that all he does, he is doing because it is what the Father wants him to do.

So the invulnerability to sin of the eternal nature of Christ is not lost or removed or even separated. It is in fact demonstrated in the incarnation through obedience.

As the Word was the Light, and the darkness cannot overcome the light, so the Son is obedient, and is doing what the Father wills. The Son is not just invulnerable to sin by divine nature, but invulnerable to sin because of his human willingness to do what the Father has planned.

Those 2 things said, it is impossible to separate those two things without doing some harm to the doctrine of Christ. When we try to say that Christ's righteousness was "only" from willing obedience, we are wrong; when we try to over spiritualize it and say that it is "only" from his divine nature, that is also wrong. It is both: he was invulnerable to sin, and would never sin, because there was nothing about him which had any desire to sin. It is in that way we can say he was "not able to sin": not that it was out of his causal grasp, but that it was outside of his motives and nature, both as Son of God and as son of man.

Sojourner said...

Phil,

I hate to be in error, but I hope that I have a good question here.

Why is it that Jesus can get tired, hungry, and etc. when part of the nature of God is that He is omnipotent and self-sufficient? Could Jesus have gotten tired and passed out? Does this diminish omnipotence?

The obvious answer is that Jesus got tired because He was a man, and that solves that. Why, then, when He is subject to Adam's folly of sin do we only appeal to the divine nature and not the pre-fall Adam nature?

Steve said...

Exist-dissolve said: "These blogs wouldn't be nearly as fun if I didn't pop in from time to time..."

Nearly as fun? Make that nearly as tragic.

Yesterday, after I read Phil's post about Christ's sinlessness, I marveled over the greatness of God. I was genuinely excited because I had just read something that elevated my thoughts of Him. But each time I read one of your comments, Exist-Dissolve, I find myself sorrowing over the pride of man.

Exist-dissolve, I fear your posts leave the mark of one who enjoys stirring up strife, and not the mark of one who dialogues with a genuine and humble desire to contend for the faith and build up others in the Word. Sorry to say, the only benefit I have gained from your posts is that they remind to me of the need to always check myself against a prideful and contentious spirit.

Phil Johnson said...

Frank: "I'd prolly say something like, "posse non peccare quod non erat volens"--"able not to sin because he was not willing"."

I'd change it to "not able to sin because He was not willing." Christ's inability to sin is an exact parallel to the unredeemed sinner's inability to do authentic righteousness. It is not an inability of strength or intellect; it is (to borrow Edwards's language) a moral inability—an utter lack of any will to do whatever is contrary to our moral nature.

That's what I meant in the original post when I wrote, "He is not able to sin for the same reason Adam's offspring is not able not to sin: our nature determines what we choose." A Calvinist who recognizes that the sinner's lack of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation is properly understood as total inability ought to have no difficulty recognizing that Christ's refusal to sin likewise reflects an inability to will any evil.

You alluded to James 1:13: "The passage in James 1 where James says that God cannot be tempted is not talking about the man Christ Jesus: it is talking about the divine nature of God."

I don't think that quite captures James's point, according to James's own explanation of what he meant (v. 14): "But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed."

James isn't using the verb tempted in that context to speak of a mere solicitation to evil. He is using the word the way we often do, to speak of our inner attraction to evil. He is talking about effectual temptations.

In that sense, James 1:13 applies to the human Christ: He could not be "drawn away by lust, and [successfully] enticed."

He could be put to the test by being assaulted with solicitations to evil under the strain of every kind of non-moral human weakness. It's in that sense, and that sense only, that He "was in all points tempted as we are" (Hebrews 4:15). So Hebrews 4:15 does not suggest that He had to struggle with sinful desires in His own mind and heart. Indeed, it denies that very thing with the words "yet without sin."

Which is ultimately to say that He was non posse peccare.

Exist~Dissolve: "Why does the speculative nature of 'nature' have to be brought into this?"

The nature of Christ only seems "speculative" to hopeless postmodernists. Scripture is actually explicit: He is "is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Hebrews 7:26)—and His character is immutable (13:8).

The fact that you think this makes Him "Not much of a savior, in the final analysis" says everything that needs to be said about your way of thinking. "A tree is known by its fruit" (Matthew 12:33).

DJP: " I publicly propose that 'Exist-Dissolve' be categorized as 'troll.'"

I may be wrong, but I don't think he's merely trolling. Yes, his sneering tone is as irritating as his ideas are unorthodox, but I don't think he is just fooling around. Plus, he is useful as a cautionary example to some of the younger lurkers and commenters here who start with similar epistemological assumptions and refuse see the multiple ways sound doctrine and authentic faith are undermined by postmodern skepticism.

DJP said...

< shrug >

You're The Phil.

(c:

Trinian said...

Wow. It always baffles me that so many people through history have gotten so insensed over what I can't help but consider a silly hypothetical situation.

I mean really, it's apparently not enough to say that Christ lived as a man and was exposed to the same temptations that we are and didn't sin (and that amazingly enough, that same righteousness can be applied to me! Wow!!). We have this compulsion to append "Well, He could have sinned if He wanted too!" as though somehow being God would otherwise be cheating.

God does what He purposes. That's kinda what being Sovereign is all about. He says He does not sin, and so He does not sin. Capability really doesn't seem to have any bearing on anything.

Flowerchild said...

So...ref: "James isn't using the verb tempted in that context to speak of a mere solicitation to evil. He is using the word the way we often do, to speak of our inner attraction to evil. He is talking about effectual temptations."

When I am born again..."a NEW CREATURE" has this this inner attraction to evil been eliminated? I have a different desire (set of desires actually) But continue to sin. Is this the same old attraction to evil or did something change with regard to my sin and sin nature?

donsands said...

Excellent teaching Phil. Very well done. I am in awe of our Lord. He truly is the Majestic One! He is the King of all! He is the Prince of glory!
He became sin for us? He gives us His righteousness?

Thank you Lord. We are so undeserving. Grants us strength and courage to stand for this magnificient truth. Amen.

John W. Lost Us said...

Centuri0n,

You go to work? I thought this was your job. Hee hee

chamblee54 said...

And now for something completely different.
Before I begin, I must admit that I have only skimmed over the original post and the comments. There is much too much verbiage here, and when people start quoting the bible and telling you what it means, my eyes glaze over. After all, not everyone accepts the bible as the word of god!
As for the issue of whether Jesus ever sinned...isn't that up to god to judge? Men are going to have different ideas as to what sin is. I dare say the moneylenders in the temple thought he was sinning.
Also, if the purpose of Jesus was to teach mankind a better way, then he failed. He didn’t get along with his audience, and he was put to death. Maybe if he had been a better communicator, then he would have lived a bit longer and gotten more of his message out. This failure just might be considered a sin.
Of course, those who worship Jesus are more interested in his death than in his life.
The unification church (which I have many disagreements with, and am not a member of) teaches that Jesus failed in his mission. Perhaps this is because he got himself killed, when he could have been teaching more effectively.
Exist-Dissolve: Cent is saying the same things about you (Dude, you're somewhat stunning in your expectation that others will treat you like a prince and give you a free pass for all your own blanket assertions.) that he says about me. I guess that comes with the territory.
As I have said before, this is not a church, this is the internet. In a church, you can say all kinds of goofy stuff and the choir will say amen. Here, you can expect to be challenged. This can have the effect of forcing people to examine their thoughts and try to justify them. My experience has been, the more I see of the arguments here, the more certain I am of my ideas.

Steven Dresen said...

chamblee,

what church do you go to so I can make it a point never to visit if that is how it really is.....besides that saracastic comment I do have to say you really don't know Jesus. He was a man on a mission and his mission was the cross, he did teach the better way through the example of his life, and through the redemption and regeneration provided by his death on the cross Christians are able to follow that example, while not perfectly because we have remaining sin....I'm really tempted to use the h-word...no the one that refers to your theology, because it seems to fit.

Exist~Dissolve said...

chamblee--

Exist-Dissolve: Cent is saying the same things about you (Dude, you're somewhat stunning in your expectation that others will treat you like a prince and give you a free pass for all your own blanket assertions.) that he says about me. I guess that comes with the territory.

Well, unfortunately, this particular blog tends to be a bit more hostile to ideas that land outside of the Reformed tradition. If you even want to, feel free to come over to my spot. While I may not agree with what you say, I will, at the very least, engage the points that you make.

As I have said before, this is not a church, this is the internet. In a church, you can say all kinds of goofy stuff and the choir will say amen. Here, you can expect to be challenged. This can have the effect of forcing people to examine their thoughts and try to justify them. My experience has been, the more I see of the arguments here, the more certain I am of my ideas.

When one gets to the point that others' approch to "argument" is personal attack, it is clear that one has accomplished one's goal.

Steven Dresen said...

exist,

It's not so much Reformed Tradition that leaves you in the dog house with them, it's your heterodox theology.

Exist~Dissolve said...

steve dressen--

It's not so much Reformed Tradition that leaves you in the dog house with them, it's your heterodox theology.

That may very well be. However, you have failed to show how this is an accurate accusation, which only reinforces what I said immediately above.

If you wish to show me where my theology is heterodox, feel free. However, if all you can offer is drive-by slights, don't waste my time.

Steven Dresen said...

exist,

You deny substitutionary atonement, imputation of righteousness, your denial of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Don't even try saying you hold to the inspiration and authority of Scriptures with your pomo source criticism you've done on your blog. I'm actually kind of glad you spend your time in blogs such as this one because it just means that you're not out somewhere converting people to your diminished form of Christianity.

Exist~Dissolve said...

steven dresen--

You deny substitutionary atonement,

This is not true. What I do deny is the conception of "penal substitutionary atonement" and the legal/forensic gloss which it uses to describe the work of Christ on the cross. Morever, there is nothing in the ecumenical creeds of the church that would classify my understanding on this issue as "heterodox," given that no particular theory of atonement has ever been codified as orthodoxy.

Strike 1.

imputation of righteousness,

Again, the concept of imputation of righteousness as proposed by Protestantism is not a part of the orthodox beliefs of the church universal. Therefore, there are no grounds upon which to say I am a heretic in denying the Protestant conception of "imputed righteousness," other than the marginal, non-authoritative and so-called "orthodoxy" of Protestantism.

your denial of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Don't even try saying you hold to the inspiration and authority of Scriptures with your pomo source criticism you've done on your blog.

I will say that I hold to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. In terms of inspiration, just because I do not affirm the materialist conception of "inspiration" that you do does not mean that I do not believe they are inspired. Moreover, I fully affirm the authoritative role which the Scriptures have occupied within the tradition of the Christian church and its regula fidei. As far as "pomo source criticism" and your obvious vitriol against the same, I see no reason why this form of approach to the Scriptures is less legitimate than whatever paradigm you use (which seems to be quite a silly one from my perspective). But again, I see nothing in what I have said about inspiration and the authority of Scripture (two concepts which I consistently affirm on my blog and elsewhere) that would contradict the orthodox beliefs of the Christian church as preserved in the ecumenical councils and creeds of the Church.

In conclusion, it appears that my original assessment of you has been vindicated. You speak forcefully about my so-called "heterodoxy," yet when challenged to produce proof, you have nothing but empty allegations and no support from the actual orthodox beliefs of the church which you originally claimed I deny. In reality, you have made yourself the arbiter of what constitutes orthodoxy. Please forgive me if I do not rush to study at your feet.


I'm actually kind of glad you spend your time in blogs such as this one because it just means that you're not out somewhere converting people to your diminished form of Christianity.

Give me a break. Is vitriol all you have to offer? Such responses only affirm my assertions that your allegations against me are completely hollow and you are proceeding exclusively from the prejudices of your own mind.

philness said...

The fact that Jesus' nature dictates that he can not sin makes His sacrifice all the more perfect. "Innocent" blood had to be spilt.

Shining and Burning Light said...

Exist,

Words have meaning. If you use the same words, such as atonement or imputation, and yet have a different meaning than the biblical one, you are heterodox. See Arius or Michael Servetus. What you have to prove is that the meaning of the words you use accurately reflect the meaning of the words as used in the Bible. Please do...

Exist~Dissolve said...

shining and burning--

Words have meaning. If you use the same words, such as atonement or imputation, and yet have a different meaning than the biblical one, you are heterodox. See Arius or Michael Servetus. What you have to prove is that the meaning of the words you use accurately reflect the meaning of the words as used in the Bible. Please do...

The onus is on all to "prove" that the meanings which we assign to the linguistic symbols we deploy are somehow relevant to and consonant with the meanings which the biblical writers assigned to linguistic symbols which they used. Unfortunately, this is no easy process as words do not have objective meaning; rather, the meaning is mediated through a variety of filters, including authorial intent, context of usage, and reader interpretation.

Therefore, the fact that you think the meanings which you apply to biblical language is somehow "objective" reveals that you are painfully ignorant of the nature and function of human language and the obstacles which the same presents to biblical interpretation.

In other words, I can say the exact same thing to you with just as much force. Where does it get us? Nowhere. This is why dialogue and reasoned discussion--and not personal attacks and pathetic mischaracterizations--are necessary.

Brent Railey said...

I greatly enjoyed this article. My former pastor and I disagreed Christ's ability to sin... I believed he could not, he believed, as the objection in this article says, the temptation would not be real if Christ couldn't sin.

To me, to say that Christ could sin is borderline to the heresy of Nestorianism: The doctrine teaching that the divine nature and the human nature of Christ were NOT unified in any way, each were seperate persons.

There are both the distinctive divine and human natures revealed in Scripture, but Christ is ONE PERSON. To say that Christ could sin is to say that God the Son could sin. There is no seperation of the natures, only distinction. (As in the Trinity, There is no seperation of Persons, only disctinctions.)

To say that Christ had the possibility of sin is to divide the divine from the human doctrinally, and that is a mild form of Nestorianism.

Exist~Dissolve said...

brent railey--

I greatly enjoyed this article. My former pastor and I disagreed Christ's ability to sin... I believed he could not, he believed, as the objection in this article says, the temptation would not be real if Christ couldn't sin.

To me, to say that Christ could sin is borderline to the heresy of Nestorianism: The doctrine teaching that the divine nature and the human nature of Christ were NOT unified in any way, each were seperate persons.

There are both the distinctive divine and human natures revealed in Scripture, but Christ is ONE PERSON. To say that Christ could sin is to say that God the Son could sin.


Well, this depends upon on your definition of "Christ." If you are referring to "Christ" as in the eternal Logos of God who is consubstantial in nature with God, then yes, to say that "Christ" could sin would be curiuos indeed. However, when we are talking about the Logos incarnate in the person of Jesus, an entirely different issue is at play. One's conversation about what can and cannot be is altered, for now we are talking about the God/human, not just God and/or human.

To say that Christ had the possibility of sin is to divide the divine from the human doctrinally, and that is a mild form of Nestorianism.

But the alternative you are proposing is to conmingle them indistinguishably, yet in such a way that the human nature is absorbed by the divine. This is Apollonarianism, a heresy no better than Nestorianism.

Shining and Burning Light said...

Exist,

What personal attacks and pathetic mischaracterizations are you referring to? I haven't offered any. The way we discern the biblical meaning of words is to exegete those texts where the word or concept occurs. In order to defend your positions on atonement, imputation, etc. you need to show us that the meaning you have assigned to those words or concepts are consistent with the text. I haven't attacked you, I'm just challenging you to defend what you say....

Exist~Dissolve said...

shining and burning--

What personal attacks and pathetic mischaracterizations are you referring to? I haven't offered any.

Sure you have. By the substance of your post, you suggested that the meaning which I derive from the Scripture is somehow heterodox, even though you did not show this is so (besides vaguely appealing to an "objective" meaning to words).

The way we discern the biblical meaning of words is to exegete those texts where the word or concept occurs.

Yes, which is in the midst of, interestingly enough, other words...

In order to defend your positions on atonement, imputation, etc. you need to show us that the meaning you have assigned to those words or concepts are consistent with the text. I haven't attacked you, I'm just challenging you to defend what you say....

Actually, this is not what you originally said. What you said was this:

"If you use the same words, such as atonement or imputation, and yet have a different meaning than the biblical one, you are heterodox"

Your language betrays that you believe the linguistic symbols within the text of Scripture somehow has an objective meaning to which I am askew and to which you have some sort of priveleged access. If we are looking at historical theology (which should be our major paradigm for textual interpretation), the reformed position on atonement is actually that which is askew of the majority of Christian thought throughout the centuries. Therefore, I will simply say that the challenge is for you, just as much as it is for me, to define the texts.

Brent Railey said...

exist~dissolve:

What I presented earlier does not absorb the humanity of Christ by His divinity and does not border on Apollonarianism. The formal doctrine of Christ as presented in the church creeds is this: in the ONE PERSON of Christ, TWO Natures are joined together, one human, one divine.

The natures are not seperated within the Person of Christ for if they were so, there would be no union. They are united together, but distinct from each other.

To say that the MAN Jesus could do something that OPPOSES the nature of God that the DIVINE Christ could not do is to SEPERATE the natures to a point of mild Nestorianism. It indicates that the natures were not UNITED into ONE Person. In other words: Jesus was a shizophrenic of sorts.