Get thee behind me Satan, I think.


Back in the early 2000s, Greg Boyd and some friends (myself included) discussed the peccability/impeccability of Jesus, that is, whether Jesus was genuinely capable of sin (peccable = vulnerable to or capable of choosing sinfully; impeccable = not capable of choosing sinfully). It’s a question all Christians get around to eventually. Greg argued for the impeccability of the God-Man. His reasons were pretty straightforward:

Jesus is God.
God can’t sin.
Therefore Jesus can’t sin.

Years later in response to Dwayne and me, Greg clarified his Christology regarding Chalcedon (ReKnew, Jan/2014) and said that in becoming flesh, God sets aside the exercise of any divine attribute that contradicts what it means to be ‘human’ (‘omnipresence’, ‘omniscience’, and ‘omnipotence’ didn’t make the cut). But Greg argued passionately that God cannot set aside his perfect, loving, character; thus the impeccability of Jesus. Indeed, for Greg the one thing (actually the only thing) that makes Jesus divine is his perfectly loving character. For Greg, there’s no divinity apart from this essential benevolence and full divinity wherever you have it (whatever else you might not have).

However, to take the human journey does entail, Greg agreed, being capable of experiencing temptation. Greg leaned on the familiar passages in Hebrews which make it clear that Jesus suffered temptation. So in the end Greg’s position was the Jesus was not peccable, i.e., he could not sin, but he could and did genuinely suffer temptation to sin. To clarify, I’m just narrating the flow of an old conversation here. I’m not engaging Greg’s Christology at this point. Maybe I’ll weigh in on the question later. But for now I just want to reflect on Greg’s logic.

Greg was pressed to explain his commitment to Jesus’ impeccable character and goodness, and thus his inability to choose sinfully, on the one hand, and the reality of his temptations, on the other. After all, James 1 makes it clear that God’s impeccability precludes the capacity to be tempted. And if God cannot be tempted to do evil, he cannot do evil. And yet Hebrews makes it clear that the God-Man was tempted.

Greg eventually offered the following solution: Jesus was in fact incapable of choosing sin (impeccable), but he didn’t know this. Jesus was ignorant of his impeccability. He mistakenly believed himself capable of sinning. And being unaware of his impeccability was enough, Greg argued, to produce the required feeling of being drawn toward sin or, as temptationwe say, tempted. Even if Jesus could not in fact have followed through in choosing to sin, his ignorance of this fact permitted in him all the psychological aspects of temptation required to (a) fulfill an essential aspect of human being, and so (b) provide us the comfort, encouragement and inspiration we require as Hebrews 4 describes.

I’m not interested in agreeing or disagreeing at this point. I only want to show how Greg’s Christological move here is inconsistent with his kenotic view of the Incarnation and, more specifically, his objection to Chalcedonian Christology on the basis that it essentially makes Jesus’ suffering on the Cross a charade.

First, if it’s true that Jesus only thinks he’s capable of sinning when he’s not, as Greg holds, then clearly Greg doesn’t think Jesus’ false belief in his own peccability disqualifies his experience as genuine temptation. His temptations are no charade given his impeccability. This is similar to how an Orthodox person might make sense of a Chalcedonian view of Jesus’ sufferings on the Cross.

With respect to Christ’s suffering on the Cross as the God-Man, Greg argues that it is not enough for Jesus’ human subjectivity to suffer while the divine nature suffers not. With respect to Christ’s suffering temptations as the God-Man, however, Greg holds to the imperturbability of the divine nature with respect to its essential goodness. Jesus is impeccable and cannot sin, so his experience of temptation is grounded in his ignorance regarding his divine nature.

So in relating Christ’s humanity and divinity to each other relative to his genuine temptations, on the one hand, and his actual impeccability, on the other, Greg stands in the same challenging place that an Orthodox believer stands in relating Christ’s humanity and divinity to each other relative to God’s essential, unbroken triune beatitude, on the one hand, and the integrity of his being tempted, on the other.

Second, if a human nature can be created impeccable, incapable of sinning (as was Jesus on Greg’s account) without sacrificing the reality of temptation required to qualify Jesus as a true and representative champion of the human journey, then why wouldn’t God have created us all like that? If God can give a human nature perfect benevolence without jeopardizing the genuineness of those struggles and temptations necessary to human spiritual development and personal becoming, why would a benevolent God not give us all this immunity? If one can be truly tempted and develop as a human being without risking sinful choosing, why aren’t we all impeccable from the get-go? (I have my own answers to these questions. I’m asking them of Greg’s position.)

Third, if Greg’s argument against Chalcedon stands, namely, if it’s not enough for Jesus to suffer in his human nature on the Cross but not in his divine nature since that would make his suffering a charade, then the same logic should apply to Greg’s construal of Jesus’ suffering temptation while being impeccable. Jesus’ temptations then would be a charade if in fact he was incapable of sin given his divine nature (to say nothing of the fact that James 1 not only makes ‘willing sinfully’ an impossibility for the divine nature, but also ‘being tempted’ at all). And if the charade Greg thinks is involved in Chalcedonian Christology empties Jesus’ life of its existential import for us, then so would his account of Jesus’ temptations fail for the same reason. If Greg’s claim is true that the integrity of Jesus’ temptations is not jeopardized by Jesus’ being nevertheless incapable of sin, then why cannot other types of human suffering (not just suffering temptation) be attributed to the God-Man without effecting change in the divine nature?