Hebrews 2:17–18—Was it possible for Christ to have sinned?

Problem: The writer of Hebrews says that Christ “had to be made like His brethren in all things... For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (2:17–18, nasb). Does this mean that Christ could have sinned?

Solution: Some argue that Christ could not have sinned. They believe that our Lord was tempted like we are and that He can sympathize with our weaknesses, but that He was incapable of sinning. In support of this view they argue, first, that since Christ was God, and since God cannot sin (Heb. 6:17; James 1:13), it follows that Christ could not sin either. Second, since Christ had no fallen human nature, as we do, He had no propensity to sin. Finally, they observe that His temptation was only from without, not from within. Hence, He could be tempted without having the real possibility of sinning.

Other orthodox scholars believe that Christ had the ability to sin (since He had the power of free choice), but did not sin. In short, sin was possible, but not actual in Jesus’ life. To deny this possibility, they believe, would deny His full humanity, His ability to “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb. 4:15), and would make His temptation into a charade. They note that while Jesus could not sin as God, nonetheless, He could have sinned (but didn’t) as man. Since Jesus had two natures, one divine and one human, a distinction must be made in what He could do in each nature. For example, He could not get tired, hungry, or sleepy as God. But He did all of these as man. His divine nature could not die. Yet He died as man. Likewise, they argue, Christ could not have sinned as God but could have sinned as man.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.