Was Jesus Tempted?

By John Drury

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I get this question a lot:

"The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in the desert, but if He is God, how could He be tempted? If you say that His humanity was tempted, are we saying that Jesus had the "urge" to commit sin? Are we to separate the humanity from the divinity of Christ?"

Here's a recent response to such an email query:

Temptation does not require that Jesus had a sinful inclination - it could simply be an option laid before his will which he rejected. The same applies for us that we can experience temptation without necessarily being culpable. We have a tendency to think that Jesus' humanity had some extra boost of divinity that we do not have and we therefore get ourselves off the hook for the call to become fully human. Note also that all the temptation stories for Jesus are to give up and/or twist his mission (wilderness at beginning of ministry and garden of Gethsemane at the end), so they have a particular focus. Hence Jesus was tempted to contradict the nature of his mission. And once again, this is the more dangerous form of temptation for us - to not fulfill or twist our vocation.

As for the unity of divine and human natures, it is essential that the one person "The Son made Man Jesus" does all and experiences all as a united person with two natures. So when the human flesh undergoes temptation, God is united to the humanity so that God experiences temptation in and through the humanity. God adds (assumes) humanity onto himself so that he can perform this mission, and yet the Trinitarian shape of his eternal life is the condition for this "adding" (hence God is not "changing" into a man). Everything undergone by the humanity God also takes on as his experience. And everything done by the humanity (whether it appears human or divine) is performed by the humanity under girded by the power of God. So the two natures are never separated, yet they are not mixed. The one God-Man is born, eats, sleeps, heals, walks on water, dies, and rises again. There is a long Christian tradition that attributes some things to the humanity and others to the divinity. But this is a dangerous game because the unity of the two natures is broken and we are left with a schizoid Jesus. Itís all the one person: The Logos Incarnate.

Does this old-school Chalcedonian stuff really answer the question?
Or are the problems of Christology unsolvable?
In other words, does the plain sense of Scripture fall apart in the context of a high Christology?
If so, what's the alternative?


At 11:20 AM, September 07, 2005, Anonymous said...

In James 1:13 it states that, "God cannot be tempted by evil". Is the word 'tempted' being used in another way here, or are we talking about the same meaning for 'temptation'? If the meaning is the same, if Jesus is God then he cannot be tempted, right? Or is it through the humanity alone that the temptation enters?


At 11:23 AM, September 07, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

God cannot be tempted, just like God cannot eat chicken. But God can experience temptation or experience eating chicken through the flesh to which he is now permanently united. So in a sense it is the humanity that is tempted, but it really does touch God in a serious way according to his will and purpose. And overcoming the temptation failed by the Israelites in the desert in order to fullfill the covenant is part of that will and purpose.

To put it in logical form: just as God became human without ceasing to be God, so the untemptable became temptable without cearing to be untemptable.


At 12:17 PM, September 07, 2005, Sniper said...

The more and more I study Christology (had a class in it last semester with Dr. Chris Bounds and just additional reading this summer on my own) the more I am convinced that it is simply impossible not to separate the humanity and divinity of Christ when using English rhetoric.

In my opinion, even in your explanation of God being tempted (or eating chicken) only through the humanity that he is now united to, a division is still created. But it's not your fault, it's just impossible. But is this a bad thing? As the incarnation shows us, we are in the business of trying to describe and define God to the human understanding of man. So as long as we understand it is an imperfect understanding or description. So I think at this point, I am just going to not kill myself over talking as if there is a slight separation as long as I explain it really doesn't exist and that I am just a flawed theologian with a human perspective.


At 2:46 PM, September 07, 2005, The Pupil said...

I can see the unity between the humanity and divinity of Christ and how temptation can enter because there is the human! Christ was flesh and blood. I believe that temptation could not touch the divinity of Christ but could 'infiltrate' through His humanity.
Good plug-in Profess.:"so the untemptable became temptable without cearing to be untemptable".


At 5:53 PM, September 07, 2005, Andy said...

I had a professor once who used to love to talk about the impossibility of classic Christology. He said, "If Jesus was 100% human and 100% God, that equals 200%. That doesn't make sense." He was trying to think about Jesus simply, not with all the Chalcedonian baggage that goes with Christology. But in doing so, he's missing the point. Chalcedonian (not just English rhetoric) cannot explain the Incarnation completely because it is...wait for it...a mystery. It's trying to work out the belief that in the human Jesus, God has visited his people, that the Logos became (not took on) flesh. At this point we have the Trinitarian distinction between Word/Son and the Godhead. But these are all mysteries which we can only reach by contemplation, no matter how much we try to explain it.

The wonder of it all is that the mysteries call out for understanding, drawing us ever upward toward God with our minds and our hearts. I don't think a division due to imperfect understanding is created by our terminology. (And notice the rhetoric here). What is created is a paradox--a paradox that leads right into the heart of God.

Just thoughts.


At 6:14 PM, September 08, 2005, Seeker said...

Just trying to understand the un-understandable draws me closer to God. You have helped me try.


At 9:40 PM, September 11, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

Good calls everyone on mystery. The key is that despite the mysterious nature of the faith, we still have to SAY something. Thankfully, the Chalcedon Definition of 451 stakes more on ruling out than it does on stating exactly what is going on in the person of Christ: his two natures are without seperation, without division, without change, without confusion. That's a lot of withouts. And that's the point. It's not just a who cares mystery about which we can say nothing . We can really speak about the mystery. But while speaking there are certain things we should avoid saying. For instance, we should avoid saying baldly that God suffers. But we should also avoid saying that the Jesus didn't suffer for real. Chalcedon rules these extremes out, but leaves a lot of wiggle room in the middle for true (though not perfect) speech.


At 12:47 AM, September 13, 2005, Sniper said...

Sorry, I've been reading too much Kirkegaard. Well said


At 6:06 PM, September 14, 2005, JohnLDrury said...

sniper- keep up the kierkegaard -- he won't dissappoint!


At 3:58 PM, September 30, 2005, Just . Jay said...

and using the framework Kierkegaard uses when speaking of the Theater; our Audience will most likely not be disappointed with our silly or imperfect attempts at defining the undefinable, so long as we are doing it to know our Audience better.