"Nothing more impressive than an intellectual and spiritual approach to seeking truth and a willingness to embrace it unconditionally."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Temptations of Christ

The crux of the impeccability vs. peccability debate centers on the nature of Christ’s temptations. This is true primarily from the perspective of the peccability view. The “temptation argument” is the only affirmative argument of merit from the peccability camp. If not for the temptation passages there would be no debate.

So, the purpose of this post is to address the temptation passages and to demonstrate that they are in no way incompatible with the impeccability view. I will deal with each of the temptation texts and demonstrate how they fall short of proving the peccability view.

The premise of the temptation argument is, if Christ could not fail then his temptations are meaningless. They argue that the possibility of failure is inherent in temptation. To the peccability camp, temptation and possibility of failure cannot be divorced. I will provide a remonstration of this view both grammatically and scripturally.

Is the view that the possibility of failure is inherent in temptation correct? The grammatical answer is, no! There is not a single definition of πειράζω (pierazo), the Greek word for temptation, that necessitates this inherent possibility of failure.

From G3984; to test (objectively), that is, endeavor, scrutinize, entice, discipline: - assay, examine, go about, prove, tempt (-er), try.” James Strong

to try whether a thing can be done” J. H. Thayer

to attempt, endeavour” J. H. Thayer

to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quantity, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself” J. H. Thayer

to try, attempt, assay” W.E. Vine

These are only a small sample of Greek scholarship, yet among the greatest and reflective of all. The redundancy of quoting every scholar would bore the reader as well as be impractical. As you can see, there is nothing in these definitions that indicates a necessity of possible failure for temptation to be real. I think the definition that best illustrates my point is Thayer when he says, “to try whether a thing can be done.” This is an absurd definition if possibility is inherent.

In all reality the burden of proof is on the shoulders of the peccability camp to prove that temptation must have the possibility of success to be real. They cannot do it grammatically, theologically, or otherwise. If one claims that “X” is true, the burden of proof is on their shoulders. In the matter of temptation the burden is most assuredly more than they can bear.

Let us take a look at the individual passages used by the impeccability camp to prove their claims about the temptations of Christ.

For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” Hebrews 2:18 KJV

This verse is often cited as proof that Jesus was tempted by sin and therefore the possibility of his failing exists. Is that really what the verse proves? I shall illustrate that the verse speaks nothing to Christ being tempted to sin, but to the Cross. Let us look at the text!

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. 17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” Hebrews 2:9-10, 14-18 KJV

As you can see, the entire context of the chapter is about the suffering of Christ on the cross. This is not a text demonstrating Christ’s suffering as a result of a temptation to commit sin; rather that the suffering of the Cross was a test that he endured. This verse is not saying that temptation to sin caused suffering, but that the suffering was a test to him. For proof I quote Vincent.

Ἐν ᾧ is not inasmuch as, but means in that which. Ἐν ᾧ πέπονθεν qualifies πειρασθείς, explaining in what the temptation consisted, namely, in suffering.” Vincent’s Word Studies

This text demonstrates that the experience of Christ suffering on the cross, and thereby being tested, enables him to more sympathetically indentify with those who are tested no matter what their test may be. There is nothing in the context of this verse that alludes to Christ being tempted to sin. In short, I deny that Hebrews 2: 18 is a text that teaches Christ was tempted with sin.

The second temptation passage that is pointed to is Hebrews 4:15. The peccability camp points to this text to claim that “Christ was tempted like we are tempted.” I will concede, if only for arguments sake, that this text teaches he was tempted with sin. The peccability camp argues that Jesus could not be tempted the way we are tempted if he could not sin like we can sin. Is this the claim made by the text? I say no! Please keep in mind that the burden of proof is on the shoulders of those who argue that the temptations text prove Jesus could sin. All I have to do is show that the texts do not conclusively prove what the peccability camp says that they do to disarm the argument.

For 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.” Hebrews 4:15 KJV

Nothing in the text says, either explicitly or implicitly, that Christ’s temptation experience was identical to ours in every way, including possibility of sinning. Yet, this is the very argument that is made by the peccability view. The terms used in the text demonstrate this is not necessarily true. The phrase “touched with the feeling” is a perfect example. It comes from the Greek συμπαθέω (sumpatheo), or as some translations better render it, sympathize (see EMTV, ESV, Murdock, YLT & others). His sympathizing with our condition does not necessitate that he has an identical experience with us.

For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.” Hebrews 10:34 KJV

Here the writer of Hebrews (Paul) says to “ye,” the entire receiving audience of this Epistle, that they had compassion (sumpatheo) on him in his bonds. It is impossible to assume that all of the “ye” had also been in prison like Paul, therefore they had not experienced all he had the way he had, yet they could all sympathize with him in his situation. It is probably unnecessary to point out that this is the only other place, apart from Hebrews 4:15, that “sumpatheo” is use; therefore it is impossible to grammatically insist on a definition in Hebrews 4:15 that means something more than it does in Hebrews 10:34. It cannot be proven that Christ feeling our infirmities means he had an identical experience, i.e. being tempted with sin with the possibility of sinning.

Next we must address, “but was in all points tempted like as we are.” The peccability camp argues from this text that Jesus experience d every temptation that we have experienced with the same ability to fail. Most argue that Jesus was tempted by each specific sin in order to be able to equally indentify with all. He was tempted by sexual lust, by stealing, lying and every other sin. Is this really what the text is teaching? I think you will find this absurd when you consider the true nature of temptation. What is absolutely necessary for temptation to be effectual? This is illustrated by James in a profound way.

But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” James 1:14-15 KJV

James argues that temptation occurs when a man is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. So, until one is drawn away and enticed, there has been no temptation that can cause its conception and bring forth or give birth to sin. The question at this point that must be answered by the peccability view is, was Jesus ever drawn away by a desire for sin? Where is the verse that teaches either by example or direct statement that Jesus ever had a desire in him for things that were sinful? In my opinion if you cannot do that, then you cannot begin to substantiate your pitiful premise of a peccable Christ.

The metaphors that were used by James give incredible insight into the true nature of temptation. I want to bring to your attention the Greek phrases for “drawn away” and “enticed”. The Greek for these words are essential to proper perspective on what James is illustrating.


Only here in New Testament. This and the following word are metaphors from hunting and fishing. Drawn away, as beasts are enticed from a safecovert into a place beset with snares.” Vincent’s Word Studies

“metaphorically lure forth: in hunting and fishing as game is lured from its hiding place, so man by lure is allured from the safety of self-restraint to sin.” J.H. Thayer


“As a fish with bait.” Vincent’s Word Studies

“to bait, catch by a bait” J.H. Thayer

The point that James is making with theses incredible metaphors is that for temptation to be real there has to be a desire for the things by which one is tempted in order for it to be effectual or successful . If the fish has no appetite for the bait (temptation) that the fisherman (tempter) is attempting to lure him with, the fish will not respond. The fisherman can dangle it in front of the fist all day long, yet if the fish has no appetite for it, the fisherman cannot catch the fish.

The fact that the fisherman cast the bait is proof that the fish is being tempted WITH the bait, yet the fish may or may not be tempted BY the bait. There is a distinct difference in being tempted WITH something and being tempted BY something. We must keep this distinction in mind. So, from the Fisherman’s perspective he is tempting, but from the fish’s perspective he may not be tempted at all. The temptation that is successful, according to James, must be the one where the fish is tempted BY the bait, and not just WITH the bait. There must be internal desire!

With this divinely inspired illustration in view, one must ask himself, did Jesus have appetite for the sin bait? Was there anything in Christ that desired sin? I think the scriptural answer is resounding and emphatically NO! On what do I base this position?

“Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.” John 14:30 KJV

What does the phrase “hath nothing in me” mean? Notice what appears to be nearly unanimous consent among scholarship.

“There is in me no principle or feeling that accords with his, and nothing, therefore, by which he can prevail. Temptation has only power because there are some principles in us which accord with the designs of the tempter, and which may be excited by presenting corresponding objects until our virtue be overcome. Where there is no such propensity, temptation has no power. As the principles of Jesus were wholly on the side of virtue, the meaning here may be that, though he had the natural appetites of man, his virtue was so supreme that Satan “had nothing in him” which could constitute any danger that he would be led into sin, and that there was no fear of the result of the conflict before him.” Albert Barnes

“or as some copies read it, "shall find nothing in me;" or as others, "hath nothing to find in me;" Christ had no sin in him, which can be said of none but him.” John Gill

“nothing to fasten on” Jamieson, Fausset, Brown

Should one of us make such a claim we would rightfully and immediately be derided as a fool. Surely none, save the impeccable Christ, qualifies to say, “the prince of this world…hath nothing in me.” This same thought is found in this specific temptation text, Hebrews 4:15. The phrase used in the text is “without sin.” I will not belabor this point, but I will give you one quote for consideration.

“Greek,choris,” “separate from sin” (Heb_7:26). If the Greek “aneu” had been used, sin would have been regarded as the object absent from Christ the subject; but choris here implies that Christ, the subject, is regarded as separated from sin the object [Tittmann]. Thus, throughout His temptations in their origin, process, and result, sin had nothing in Him; He was apart and separate from it [Alford].” Jamieson, Fausset, Brown

The answer must then be that Jesus, while knowing how we feel when we are tempted with sin, had nothing in him that desired sin and therefore it was impossible for lust to conceive and bring for sin. Jesus did not have what it took to conceive sin, that is desire for it, therefore without conception, giving birth to sin would have been impossible.

Being “in all points tempted likes as we are” was fulfilled in the wilderness. He was tempted in all points, categorically and not individually.

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” 1 John 2:16 KJV

Each of these three categories of temptation were fulfilled in the wilderness, which is the only model for the temptations of Christ that we have available to us. Further proof of this is found in the wilderness text.

“And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.” Luke 4:13 KJV

“The verb συντελέσας, from σύν, together, and τελέω, to accomplish, means to bring to one end together; hence to bring to an end utterly. Better therefore as Rev., completed. The temptations formed a complete cycle, so that it could afterward be said of Jesus that “he was in all points tried like as we are” (Heb_4:15).” Vincent’s Word Studies

Therefore, “tempted in all points like we are,” was fulfilled in the wilderness. Some argue, though I cannot say at this point I completely agree, that in the wilderness is found Christ only temptation so far as sin is concerned.


  1. I think your comments are very interesting. The concept of "by," versus, "with" shows great insight.

    I am a school teacher and often my students will say such things as, "Please lend me/us three dollars, I'll be your best friend/student/pay you back quickly, etc." Just because the student decided to offer me good behavior/quick repayment/friendship etc. does not mean that I have, will, or would even consider lending money to a student of mine.

    Obviously I am a mortal, and a sinner, so I am not perfect. However, my students are attempting to dangle something in front of me that I do not desire. Just as with the example of the Devil and Jesus the students are testing me: "Is he really the upright and moral teacher that he claims to be, can this man who teaches me be corrupted?" Despite the fact that my students know they will likely fail they still ask and probe in order to verify my true identity, moral center, and adherence to rules.

    Obviously the Devil had some prior knowledge of Jesus's condition as being God. Yet, he tried. In fact, I do not think it matters what Satan's opinion is prior to the attempt at temptation. What matters is Jesus's affirmation of his perfection by his refusal to use his powers for misbegotten purposes or to become a supplicant of Satan. So, the passages on Jesus's temptation show that Jesus was offered, but did not receive. Just as I as a teacher am offered much by students in attempts to win a few dollars, higher grades, friendship, etc., but I do not take their offers.

    Are my students wasting their time? Absolutely not, they must prove to themselves and their peers that I am a specific kind of teacher.

    Was Satan wasting his time? Absolutely not. He felt it necessary to prove to himself and to others that Jesus is God.

    Was Jesus tested many times to prove his divinity? Absolutely. Did he ever fail? No he did not fail.

    Being tested is not a sign of weakness. It is instead a sign of strength. If I as a teacher were known by my students to be morally weak they would view me as imperfect and leave me alone because no testing is necessary. If Jesus were known to be morally weak he would not be tested.

    Why would you test what you know is going to fail? This would be akin to taking a car with no tires on a test drive. You only drive a car at great speed to test its speed if you know, or have reasonable evidence to prove that it has great speed. To test a Geo Metro for speed would not only be a waste of time, as your top speed would peak at 45 MPH, but it would also be rather dangerous as the car is not designed for such stress.

    Jesus was designed to resist an infinite amount of stress as evidenced by his 40 days in the wilderness and his subsequent refusal to submit to the temptations of the Devil.

    In essence, without strength there can be no test. If I were weak my students would not test me, for they would see me as a creep. If a car is slow the driver does not test it for speed because that might be dangerous. If Jesus were imperfect the Devil would not test him because the Devil would already have evidence of his sin as with all men.

    While the Devil acts in all of our lives he does not personally come to us and command us to use our powers, as we have no innate powers to transfigure materials. The devil may act in my life but I can assure you that he would not ask me to jump from a building so that Angels might save me. Both the Devil and I know that Angels would not come and I would have to face my Lord as a suicide. Further, the Devil has not offered me the world as a kingdom because he knows I am a sinner and that this offer would be useless as I am already imperfect by my very nature.

  2. Very interesting comments. Great stuff. Thank you for the reply.