Thursday, March 30, 2006

Peccable or Impeccable: What do you think?

It's been a few days since I've blogged (posted or read). We're in the midst of Missions Conference and I'm running point for our pastoral staff here. Therefore, it's been absorbing most of my time. However, here's the my latest heresy from Senior Sem:

1. Peccability/Impeccability – It is necessary to clearly articulate that the discussion here revolves around Jesus ability to sin and not whether or not He actually sinned. All orthodox theologians maintain that Jesus never sinned - see 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Hebrews 4:15 cited above. The argument I have most frequently heard advanced is in favor of impeccability and normally proceeds along the following syllogistic lines: 1) Jesus is God 2) God cannot sin 3) Therefore, Jesus could not have sinned. Premise one is indisputable for all orthodox theologians. Premise two is as well, and is typically connected to James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” However, the problem with making such a connection is that this verse does not say that God is impeccable; it says that He can’t be tempted. If anything, this text only complicates matters, for Jesus clearly was tempted (cf. Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.) Besides this, this still fails to address the issue; for everyone agrees He was tempted, the question at hand is: Could He have yielded to the temptation (sinned)? While I am clearly in agreement with the second premise above (God cannot [is not able] to sin), I maintain that premise three is non-sequitar. There are multiple instances in which Jesus [by means of His human nature] did things that we would say God could not do. For example: Does God hunger? Does God thirst? Does God sleep? Is God able to die? We would answer no to all of these questions. However, they are all true of Christ. Jesus did hunger, thirst, sleep and die. So can God sin? NO! Could Jesus have? I am inclined to say “yes.” For me the issue hinges on Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” I fail to see how the logic of this verse can be maintained if Jesus was metaphysically unable to sin. To be sure, all things are determined by means of the eternal decree of God. Therefore, there is a sense in which I would agree Jesus couldn’t have sinned; namely, God decreed the plan of redemption. This plan could not have been accomplished if Jesus sinned and thus, at this level (viewed through the lens of foreordination) I concede He couldn’t have sinned. However, the peccability/impeccability debate normally centers on moral ability; that is, did He have the potential to sin. The issue is largely related to how one understands temptation. Though I have heard arguments to the contrary I remain unconvinced that temptation is genuine apart from the ability to yield to that temptation. I admit, this is purely a logical presupposition, but it seems inherent in the concept of temptation itself. When I say that I am tempted to do something, it presupposes that I can do it. Else where does the temptation reside? For example, it would be irrational for me to say that I am tempted to time travel; for time travel only exists in sci-fi fantasy. I cannot time travel; therefore it would be irrational to say that I am tempted to. Again, I appeal to Hebrews 4:15 and query how the logic of the verse can be maintained in the absence of His ability to sin.

8 comments:

Luther's Stein said...

"When I say that I am tempted to do something, it presupposes that I can do it." How would you distinguish this supposition from that of Arminians and the like who argue that a command or offer of the gospel presupposes man's ability to be obedient?

NWMihelis said...

Simple. The arminians are wrong and I am right. Nice red herring though :-)

Luther's Stein said...

I was going more for poisoning the well. Perhaps I should rephrase the question: "You are an Arminian." Oh . . . . no, wait . . . I meant to say, "If a command does not imply the ability to obey, why must a temptation?"

NWMihelis said...

I can't say I didn't see that coming; my last comment was just an attempt to buy some more time to think it over. I don't know that I can articulate the distinction that I'm seeing in lucid metaphysical categories. Here's the best I have to offer at this point. The nature of a command is that it issues forth from a person to an object. That object may be animate or inanimate; either way it does not take away from the essence of a command. Hence, Jesus can command a dead man (Lazarus come forth!) and he can call sinners to life. Likewise, he can command an impersonal object like a fig tree and it responds; or he could command an inanimate object like stones to change their molecular structure and become either bread or seed of Abraham (take your pick).

On the other hand a temptation is only a temptation when an object is tempted. There does not necessarily have to be an external source (i.e. James 1 seems to at least imply that we are tempted from within). However, in the absence of a sin nature (Jesus and Adam) there would need to be an external source. Either way, however, they must be genuinely tempted to yeild. There is no longer a parallel here with inanimate or impersonal objects. In other words, I don't think the serpent could have tempted the tree of life to sin; nor could Satan tempt a rock to transgress the moral law of God. I know it sounds tautalogical (though I don't' think it is) but it is not a temptation unless someone is tempted. Again, I ask, how does this make logical sense out of Heb 4:15?

Chris Bruno said...

Nate,
I think I like the distinction you are making. If I understand you right, you are saying that a command is an objective reality--it is valid regardless of who experiences it, and a temptation must be subjective--it must be experienced to become reality. Therefore, since a command is objective, the Arminian objection is not valid. Since temptations are subjective, though, they must be experienced to even exist.

OTwannabe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
OTwannabe said...

Your logic on this does make sense. Therefore, those who would argue from the traditional stand point of impeccablity, i.e. a command does not necessitate the ability to obey, therefore a temptation does not necessitate the ability to sin, would be argueing faliciously due to category confusion (atleast the way you define them). I have no problem with what you are saying, I just never thought of it that way before. You may make a peccablist out of me yet!!

NWMihelis said...

Bruno:

Yes. Exactly. Thank you for putting it far more succinctly.

BTW,

Nice job on your NT paper; I already footnoted you in my senior sem paper on christology(which I'm sure you recognize is an unfathomable mark of prestige). I came to a similar conclusion regarding the metaphor of Jesus as the Light of the world in John's gospel during sermon prep a few years back. Though my work was not as academically rigorous as your paper, the correlation (your statements about "Son of God" and "Logos" and my own regarding light) are leading me to look at the fourth Gospel a little differently. Rather than a hodgepodge of metaphors (a characterization of my previous thoughts) it seems that many (all?) of them point towards Jesus as being the ultimate revealer of God.