Was Jesus Able to Sin?

This is a thorny question that has received more than one answer in history. Some Reformed authors like Sproul and Hodge have argued that Christ was not truly human if He was not subject to the possibility of falling into sin. Others have said that the unity of the God-man implies that the divine nature would have prevented the human nature from falling into sin. Both sides would agree that Jesus did not, in fact, sin. The question is whether it was possible or not.

I would argue that it was not possible for Christ to sin. However, this must be argued carefully. I would argue from the analogy of Christ’s sin-bearing that it was not possible for Christ to sin. How could Christ, as the God-man, bear the infinite weight of the punishment for sins? A mere human could not do so. Ursinus, in his commentary on the Heidelberg, argues that it is the divine nature which sustains the human nature in the sin-bearing. I would argue that Christ’s divine nature does the same with regard to withstanding temptation. Some versions of the position I hold wind up endangering the distinctiveness of Christ’s human nature. If we use the concept of sustaining, then we do not run the risk of attributing divine attributes to the human nature. This would be a more Lutheran communication of attributes that we should avoid. We can attribute characteristics of either nature to the person, but not human attributes to the divine, or vice versa.

Another way to get at the problem is to ask what kind of impossibility of sin are we positing? The impossibility I argue for is an impossibility of character. Not only was Christ’s human nature in the state of innocence, but also the divine nature sustained him in the temptations so that He would not fall into sin. This in no way minimizes the ferocity of the temptations directed Jesus’ way. Satan threw everything he had at Jesus. It is because Jesus resisted to the very last, to the very utmost heights of temptation, that he can be our Savior.

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27 Comments

  1. Ron said,

    November 14, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Lane,

    I agree. Didn’t know that Sproul followed Hodge on this. Shame.

    I think an easy way of tackling the question is by arguing: If Jesus could have sinned, then God could have stop being God. God could not have stopped being God. Therefore, it’s false that Jesus could have sinned. I suppose one might say to that, Jesus could have sinned but he never does in any possible world. To which we might reply, again, could God stop being God?

    Regarding the rest of your post, reminded me of a note I jotted someone a few weeks ago. If you don’t have it, and there’s room on the book shelf 😉, you might want to pick up Divinity and Humanity by Oliver Crisp.

    That note…

    “Much appreciated your point on communicatio idiomatum – staying clear of Luther and his modifiers e.g. genus maiestaticum.

    O. Crisp speaks of God’s omnipresence; he “interpenetrates” all things yet without transferring the divine properties. He speaks of diving *acts* that are NOT generated by the human nature yet are nonetheless performed *through* the human nature. He cuts a fine line positing a one way transfer from the divine nature to the human nature, while upholding the Reformed view of no commingling or confusion of attributes. That transfer being one of predicates not properties. Calls it nature-perichoresis. Might be something for discussion…”

  2. November 14, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Not sure I buy this. Could it not be that as a fully human man, Jesus was totally capable of sinning. But at the same time, since he didn’t have an Adamic ‘sin nature’ his human will would be perfect, not like ours. So when tempted, He was tempted as we are, yet didn’t sin because His will caused Him to overcome the temptations. Our wills can only do that in our born-again, spiritual nature — but because we have an Adamic sin nature until death, we sometimes overcome and sometimes don’t. jesus overcame every time in the same manner — through the power of the Spirit and the will — ours redeemed and regenerated, and His perfect from the get go.

  3. November 14, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Why would the weight of punishment be “infinite?” What makes human transgression in a cumulative sense infinite? Are you perhaps influenced by other theological commitments to see human transgressions having an infinite dimension? I don’t see God in creation as attributing this quality to humans.

    I agree with the idea though that Christ could not have sinned. One line of argument I take: the Word became flesh. God cannot sin. Christ was human through Mary but without a sin nature. He kept the Law perfectly but there never was any possibility of failure since He knew what was ahead and even orchestrated the events in some sense without taking away other’s responsibility for their actions.

  4. Ron said,

    November 14, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    “But at the same time, since he didn’t have an Adamic ‘sin nature’ his human will would be perfect, not like ours.”

    David,

    Adam didn’t always have a sin nature. Look how far that got him. :)

  5. Ron said,

    November 14, 2017 at 4:38 pm

    “Why would the weight of punishment be “infinite?” What makes human transgression in a cumulative sense infinite?”

    Alex,

    Carl Trueman in a fascinating essay that appears in a book on definite atonement warns of thinking of the atonement in quantitative terms. He puts forth Owen as a solution(?), positing that atonement is better thought of in *qualitative* terms. By thinking in terms of death, the Savior can pay the *exact* same penalty that is required of each of us, which is “death.” It’s no longer a matter of how much debt, i.e. quantity, but rather what all people owe for the wages of sin but death. (The context pertains to exact or identical vs an equivalent justice. If the former, then justice would eclipse mercy; it would be at the point of penalty paid. Justice must be accepted. Yet if the latter, the equivalent justice must be graciously accepted by the Father; hence mercy and justice working together. It also served to avoid a doctrine of justification based upon sins imputed to the Savior…)

    I’m not comfortable with this construct, yet very possibly I’m not grasping the dilemma that supposedly is being solved. As I understood CT on Owen, since Christ didn’t suffer an eternity in hell, the penalty as it related to the *person* suffering was relaxed; yet the *penalty* itself was not relaxed. The penalty being death.

    I’m not sure I even understand what that means. If the penalty wasn’t relaxed, then death entails the equivalency of eternal torment, in which case the penalty as it related to the person was *not* relaxed.

    As I see it, such a construct would open the door for annihilation if death doesn’t have a quantitative aspect. It would also seem to run contrary to the passive obedience and strict justice that WLC 38 contemplates, which speaks of God’s infinite wrath, a quantitative consideration. Again though, I could very well be missing something here. Be that so, I’m not sure how we can avoid a quantitative aspect if propitiation and satisfaction are to mean anything.

  6. roberty bob said,

    November 14, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    I am not aware of any biblical claim that Jesus could not sin; only that he did not sin. Even if Jesus himself knew that he could not sin, he prayed earnestly to his Father for the strength of faith to do his Father’s will. From all accounts it looks as though Jesus resisted temptation in order not to sin. He persevered to the end, where he, God’s Spotless Lamb, laid down his life as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world.

  7. Ron said,

    November 14, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    RB,

    Sometimes doctrines must be construed negatively. We rule out eternal matter and pantheism to come up with creation out of nothing. The doctine is no less sure, however.

    “From all accounts it looks as though Jesus resisted temptation in order not to sin.”

    That does not imply that Jesus, a divine person no less, could sin. H

    In my grey years I’m less concerned with persuading people and slightly more concerned with our recognizing the implications of presuppositions. Could God have sinned?

  8. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 14, 2017 at 11:45 pm

    This is the same question as that of whether it is impossible for a nonelect sinner to believe in Christ. The same questions of impossibility and inability are involved. It ultimately comes down to whether God works through certainty (as distinct from necessity) or through necessity (as synonymous with certainty). I agree with Millard Erickson that it was possible for Jesus to sin, but certain that He would not.

    It’s important not to conflate being unable to do something because one does not have it within his heart to want to, and being unable to want to do it. The latter is absurd, begging the question, does he really want to want to do it, or is he unable no matter how much he might want to do it?

  9. Ron said,

    November 15, 2017 at 7:26 am

    So Jesus was merely sinless and not impeccable? Jesus sins in a possible world?

  10. Ron said,

    November 15, 2017 at 8:50 am

    “This is the same question as that of whether it is impossible for a nonelect sinner to believe in Christ.”

    Ken,

    It’s not even close to the same question. Total Depravity means that it’s impossible for non elect sinners to believe because they’re blind and deaf. Jesus was not blind and deaf to anything.

    Jesus was unable to sin because he was a divine person. As such, he was impeccable. If Jesus could have sinned, then God could have sinned. Persons sin and not merely natures. Your position entails a radical kenosis in that it abstracts the human nature from Christ the Son of God.

    I detect an inadequate understanding of temptation driving this position. Temptation doesn’t imply ability to succumb.

  11. greenbaggins said,

    November 15, 2017 at 10:37 am

    I think that the parable of the unforgiving servant invites us, at least at some metaphorical level, to think of sin in quantitative terms. This is the way I usually think of it: a slap in the face implies completely different consequences depending on the dignity of the person being slapped. Just compare the following: a hobo on the street, a fellow-citizen, a police officer, the President of the United States. Slapping each of these people has completely different consequences. When we consider that sin is a slap in the face of an infinitely holy and dignified God, then it becomes obvious that our sin creates an infinite debt. It is not payable, except by infinite and permanent death, the second death, in Hell. Christ’s death has infinite value, and can therefore pay infinite debts to an infinite degree.

  12. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 15, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Ron,

    You said:

    It’s not even close to the same question. Total Depravity means that it’s impossible for non elect sinners to believe because they’re blind and deaf. Jesus was not blind and deaf to anything.

    In both, it’s the question of the impossibility of acting against one’s nature. You continued:

    Jesus was unable to sin because he was a divine person. As such, he was impeccable. If Jesus could have sinned, then God could have sinned.

    God cannot sin, but neither can He be tempted. Scripture is explicit that Jesus was tempted. Therefore, the reasoning that, “If Jesus, then God…” is misapplied. In the incarnation, qualities were assumed that do not belong to divinity, such as finiteness, human limitations, the qualities of having a beginning and of being created, and the ability to be tempted. In all these, it is true that “God is not, but Jesus is…” You also say:

    Persons sin and not merely natures. Your position entails a radical kenosis in that it abstracts the human nature from Christ the Son of God.

    Persons are tempted and not merely natures; yet the divine impossibility of being tempted does not preclude the Person of the Son from being tempted through His human nature.

    The moral inability of Jesus to sin is of the same species as the moral inability of sinners to come to Christ. Neither can find it in their heart to do such a thing. But as Edwards and Fuller put it (referring to sinners), such an inability consists only in lack of inclination. It is in the power of his hand to do it, if he will. The impossibility is just this: that a man would choose to do what he does not want to do. It is not only impossible but absurd that a man would want to do what he does not want to do. However, the use of the terms of inability in these moral matters (as Fuller pointed out) is figurative (or “improper”) and not literal. Fuller,  “Reply to Philanthropos,” states:
    “<iem[…]when the terms cannot, inability, &c. are used in these connexions, they are used not in a proper, but in a figurative sense; that they do not express the state of a person hindered by something extraneous to his own will, but denote what we usually mean by the phrase cannot find in his heart; […]”
    Edwards, “Freedom of Will,” states:
    But it must be observed concerning moral Inability, in each kind of it, that the word Inability is used in a sense very diverse from its original import. The word signifies only a natural Inability, in the proper use of it; and is applied to such cases only wherein a present will or inclination to the thing, with respect to which a person is said to be unable, is supposable. It cannot be truly said, according to the ordinary use of language, that a malicious man, let him be never so malicious, cannot hold his hand from striking, or that he is not able to show his neighbor kindness; or that a drunkard, let his appetite be never so strong, cannot keep the cup from his mouth. In the strictest propriety of speech, a man has a thing in his power, if he has it in his choice, or at his election: and a man cannot be truly said to be unable to do a thing, when he can do it if he will. It is improperly said, that a person cannot perform those external actions, which are dependent on the act of the Will, and which would be easily performed, if the act of the Will were present. […] it is in some respect more improperly said, that he is unable to exert the acts of the Will themselves; because it is more evidently false, with respect to these, that he cannot if he will: for to say so, is a downright contradiction; it is to say, he cannot will, if he does will. […] Therefore, in these things, to ascribe a non-performance to the want of power or ability, is not just; because the thing wanting is not a being able, but a being willing.

  13. November 15, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Hi Lane,

    Carl Trueman’s and your view is the qualitative aspect of human transgression. You follow Anselm’s philosophy in this regard. Aquinas later took this idea and expanded it philosophically. It sounds rational, even plausible but, as it is, it is not biblically warranted in my view. I seriously doubt that I will change your view, partly because, other philosophical ideas are associated with it. This is the problem: it is human philosophy without scriptural grounding.
    Sin is quantitative and a slap is a slap no matter upon whom the strike is given. Of course a human acting in an official capacity would make the strike against the office as well as the human. All humans are the same however. The “slap illustration” breaks down when thinking about God also. When humans sin, they don’t affect God in any appreciable way. They hurt only themselves with their sin.
    Again, I don’t think I will change your philosophy at this point. You will need to think about and process whether the qualitative argument is, in fact, credible. The only illustration anyone can bring is the “slap argument” but that suffers easy deconstruction. I do not have space to deal with the biblical arguments which support the quantitative view of sin. However, humans cannot not pay for any sin since they need a sinless substitute.

  14. Ron said,

    November 15, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    “God cannot sin, but neither can He be tempted. Scripture is explicit that Jesus was tempted. Therefore, the reasoning that, “If Jesus, then God…” is misapplied”

    Ken,

    I find that woefully incomplete so please indulge me as I try to unpack and interact with the assertion.

    I’ve argued:

    Argument 1:

    1. If Jesus could have sinned, then God could have sinned
    2. God could not have sinned
    3. Therefore, Jesus could not have sinned

    You want to say I’ve misapplied that argument because you think it would suggest this unsound (and absurd) argument.

    Argument 2:

    1. If Jesus could have been tempted, then God could have been tempted
    2. God could not have been tempted
    3. Therefore, Jesus could not have been tempted

    Obviously we agree argument 2 is riddled with problems. Notwithstanding, I find it quite a leap of reason to suggest that the first argument shares these same problems. After all, what if the two arguments are *significantly* different?

    Scripture reveals that the Second Person was tempted (but only in his humanity). Therefore, argument 2 fails. We agree.

    Now then, we disagree on the success of argument 1. Your position is that it was *possible* for Jesus to have sinned, but that his sin would not entail the possibility of God sinning. You’d like to support that conclusion by noting that: Jesus’ temptations don’t imply that God could be tempted (therefore, the possibility of Jesus’ sin would not entail the possibility of God sinning). Am I tracking? Pretty sure I am.

    Here’s the problem:

    If Jesus could sin, then there are possible worlds in which Jesus does sin. (We will revisit that momentarily.) If you disagree with that, then we might have to discuss. It’s pretty straightforward though.

    I’m quite confident you are willing to say this:

    P1. Being one person, the Second Person was tempted (but only in his humanity).

    In other words, Jesus’ humanity wasn’t tempted but rather Jesus, a person, was tempted in his humanity. A *person* according to a human nature was tempted, as opposed to an impersonal nature having been tempted.

    The question is whether you’re also willing to say this as it relates to some possible worlds:

    P2. Being one person, the Second Person sins (but only in his humanity).

    If so, then what must be true for P2 to obtain? Let’s first review the bidding.

    1. You deny that God meticulously ensures the *impossibility* of the human will not submitting to the divine will in the hypostatic union. (That’s a fearful thought.)

    2. Instead, you affirm Jesus could sin (and, therefore, does sin in some possible worlds).

    3. Your position entails P2. Being one person, the Second Person sins (but only in his humanity.)

    4. That entailment implies either a radical kenosis that amounts to the Son emptying himself by subtraction rather than addition, or else a radical abstraction of the human nature from the Second Person.

    NOTE: At the very least, if Jesus could have sinned, then it was “possible” that redemption not happen, even in this world. Yet God promised redemption in Genesis 3, making non-redemption impossible. That leaves you with a real contradiction. To pit metaphysics against the fulfillment of prophesy just won’t work. Prophecy is known only in so much as it is meticulously ensured.

  15. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 15, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Re: 13

    There is another reason as to why Christ’s atonement is not quantitative. Substitution works on a one-for-one basis. Each individual sinner owes the entirety of Christ’s suffering and death. If God only wanted to save one, the cross would have needed to be the same as it was. I can’t look to the cross as if only a small fraction of His suffering was for my personal sins. All of it was needed to pay for my sin alone. So how is there any left over to pay for yours and the rest of the elect? It works for any who come only because it is applied on a one-for-one basis. Christ’s death is sufficient to pay for an infinite number of sinners, not because of any supposed superabundance, but because it is applied one-for-one by the Holy Spirit whose indwelling so joins the sinner to the identity of Christ as to give the sinner an ownership (or, “interest in”) all of Christ’s human accomplishments. Since there is no limit to how many may be indwelled by the Holy Spirit, then there is no limit to how many may have their sins atoned for by Christ’s death.

  16. Ron said,

    November 15, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    Lane: “I think that the parable of the unforgiving servant invites us, at least at some metaphorical level, to think of sin in quantitative terms.”

    Alex: “Carl Trueman’s and your view is the qualitative aspect of human transgression.”

    Alex,

    I’m not following. In a few words can you explain? Didn’t Lane suggest that we can’t avoid a quantitative aspect?

  17. November 15, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Ron,
    Well, maybe it is myself who fails to distinguish between quantitative and qualitative. The slap in the face, to me, speaks of the qualitative aspect. The quality of who is being slapped. Correct me if I am wrong. I know the concept have have worked at it in thought for 40 years when I first heard the argument in seminary. I know what I am talking about but possibly I am using wrong terms, forgive me.
    For any cumulative accounting of infinite, each trivial (if any sin can be called that) sin has to be infinite. Non infinite plus other non infinite can never make cumulatively infinite, therefore the smallest sin has to be infinite. Some say that God is infinite (I affirm this) therefore every sin against Him is infinite (I don’t affirm this).
    What clouds the understanding of the issue for most who think about it is that the sin whether it is infinite or not, cannot be atoned for without death. So even a small sin requires death and the thinking is that sin must be infinite. This does not follow though is my thinking.

  18. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 15, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Ron,

    I’ll admit I’m not as philosophically adept as you seem to be. But this notion of things actually occurring in other “possible worlds” doesn’t seem right. There’s only one world; and while it’s a world filled with genuine alternative possibilities, it is certain that God’s meticulous plan will be what actually occurs. What I’m affirming is a certainty that’s distinct from necessity. God need not remove all alternative possibilities in order to ensure with certainty that His plan will be carried out.

    At each moment, we are confronted with myriad possible paths from which to choose. God, with His knowledge and plan, transcend this temporal world. In God’s foreknowledge, all things are immutably known and are thus certain, even those things for which alternative possibilities exist within this temporal world. Possibility and impossibility are terms that only apply to this temporal world and are foreign terms improperly applied to God’s transcendent foreknowledge. Within the scope of the creation, it is not impossible that a foreknown event may fail to be. Even events that are completely random in this world, if there are any, are certain in God’s transcendent view—but without losing any of the contingency of their nature. God merely foreknows with transcendent certainty which of many alternative possibilities will come to pass.

    So then, when we say that something is impossible, we need to note whether the reasons for its impossibility are transcendent or temporal. If the reasons are transcendent, such as, the impossibility of God’s foreknowledge failing, or the impossibility of God’s plan not being carried out, or the impossibility of Christ failing in His mission, then this does not preclude temporal possibilities. To say otherwise is to conflate certainty with necessity. There is another account in Scripture that illuminates this principle:

    Matthew 26
    51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

    If there was any event in human history that was necessary, it was the central event of the crucifixion of the Savior. But here we have the surprising revelation of Jesus that alternative courses of action were indeed possible. His question to Peter serves well as a rebuttal to all who think that the foreknowledge or the sovereign plan of God invalidate or preclude the possibility of alternative choices or actions: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Those who think that there are no genuinely possible alternatives would have to answer Him, “No, I do not think You can.” And although Christ implicitly affirmed the possibility of the alternative, He also affirmed that the Scriptures will indeed be fulfilled (God’s foreknown plan will indeed be carried out): “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” The balance is found in God’s use of certainty, rather than necessity, to carry out His perfect plan.

    It was absolutely certain, in God’s transcendent knowledge and plan, that Jesus would not sin; but it remained a temporal possibility until His death. It was impossible that He sin only in the figurative (“improper”), transcendent sense, and not in the literal sense. He did not have it in His heart to sin—there was no willingness to do so. Just as sinners have no willingness to come to Christ. The ability and possibility remain even with the absolute certainty that attends the moral inability. Is it impossible for a man to do that to which he is wholly averse? Can you not see the two sides to that prospect? Why would the IRS not accept such an excuse? It is because lack of inclination does not literally make it impossible.

  19. Ron said,

    November 15, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    But this notion of things actually occurring in other “possible worlds” doesn’t seem right.

    Ken,

    Just to be clear, possible worlds aren’t parallel universes. Things aren’t “actually” occurring. Notwithstanding, possible world discussions are quite useful given such an assertion as yours.

    You’ve posited that it was *possible* for Jesus to have sinned. My approach has been to run with that assertion to see where it leads you. What better way than to imagine the possibility as actualized? If it’s truly possible that Jesus could have sinned, then let’s think in terms of him actually sinning in order to consider whether such an act would undermine any non-negotiable doctrine(s). If the result of Jesus sinning causes heretical contradiction, then we must forgo the hypothesis that Jesus could have sinned.

    Now then, for your assertion to be meaningful it must fit within a possible reality – a non-contradictory reality that includes a total description of how things might have been. Obviously we cannot fill in all the occurrences of a possible world, but we can draw some useful and necessary inferences about such a world, and that’s all I’ve done.

    Aside from your radical kenosis and nature-abstraction problems, I also pointed out that if Jesus could have sinned, then it was “possible” that redemption would not occur. Yet God promised redemption in Genesis 3, making non-redemption impossible. If non-redemption is impossible, then how could it be possible that Jesus act in such a way as to make the impossible somehow possible? That’s an argument that does not employ possible world language.

    There’s only one world; and while it’s a world filled with genuine alternative possibilities, it is certain that God’s meticulous plan will be what actually occurs.

    That certainly begs a few questions regarding causality, necessity and the grounding of truth.

    What I’m affirming is a certainty that’s distinct from necessity. God need not remove all alternative possibilities in order to ensure with certainty that His plan will be carried out.

    True possibilities might actually occur, which also means they might not occur. With nothing to ensure their actual occurrence or non-occurrence, it’s a dubious claim that they have a truth value, without which they define being known. As soon as you ground the truth so that it can be known, you will have established causal antecedent and necessity.

    I believe I’ve dealt adequately with these claims of yours. I think I’ve shown they lead you into theological and philosophical contradiction. I believe you’ve offered little by way of argumentation, both in defending your assertions and interacting with my arguments. That’s why I think we should stop. Please have the final word.

    Best wishes in your studies and reflections.

  20. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 16, 2017 at 7:56 pm

    Ron,

    I’ve tried to emphasize the different meanings of “impossible,” but without any feedback here. It would be a shame if we were talking past one another. There is a completely different scope involved, compared to the scope that has God’s plan in view, when we posit the literal possibility of an action within the restricted scope of this world. Many things that are possible in the smaller scope are impossible in the larger; yet, it would be improper (or figurative) to say without qualification that the action is impossible.

    There is a similar difference in the meaning of terms of impossibility and inability when they are applied to decisions of men. Was Edwards wrong when he asserts that, although choosing against a man’s nature would be impossible, it is not a literal impossibility, since it is within the power of the man’s hand to choose either way, and if he was willing to go the other direction, nothing would stand in his way? I’m left to wonder why you have not addressed this. The Edwards/Fuller distinction between natural and moral inability is by far the best understanding. A natural inability is literal, and presupposes an absolute inability under which a man cannot do a thing “though he be never so willing to do it;” while a moral inability is figurative, and presupposes a remaining natural ability, but without any willingness to do a thing. That’s why the latter is without excuse. A literal ability remains even though it can be said that it is impossible for him to do it—it is a figurative expression describing the certainty of the situation. That it is figurative does not mean it is untrue. The man truly is unable, but the nature of that inability is different from one in which his will was the only impediment. It’s the difference between the inability to see because one is physically blind or because one just stubbornly holds his eyes shut: both have an inability to see, but only one is literal and provides an excuse.

    With these things in mind, let’s consider your replies. You stated:

    Just to be clear, possible worlds aren’t parallel universes. Things aren’t “actually” occurring. Notwithstanding, possible world discussions are quite useful given such an assertion as yours. You’ve posited that it was *possible* for Jesus to have sinned. My approach has been to run with that assertion to see where it leads you. What better way than to imagine the possibility as actualized? If it’s truly possible that Jesus could have sinned, then let’s think in terms of him actually sinning in order to consider whether such an act would undermine any non-negotiable doctrine(s). If the result of Jesus sinning causes heretical contradiction, then we must forgo the hypothesis that Jesus could have sinned.

    This is why I disagree with the “other possible worlds” approach. It presupposes a transcendent scope, having in view not only the proposed act but also how it would fit within God’s plan. I never intended to say that it was possible within God’s plan for Jesus to sin. My scope of meaning in saying it was possible is limited to the potential act itself and the nature of the inability.

    God’s plan will be carried out with absolute certainty. It is not necessary to eliminate all alternative possibilities in order to carry out this plan. It is not necessary for the prospect of Jesus sinning to potentially fit within God’s plan or to potentially fit within God’s nature or within theology, in order for it to have been a possibility—because it was utterly certain that it would not happen.

    To make an act impossible in the literal sense is to preclude all moral merit or demerit for that act. Take for example, the Kennedy Chappaquiddick incident, in which Ted Kennedy’s car ended up in the water, killing his lady passenger. Those who defended Kennedy tried to say that he was physically unable to save the lady, while those on the other side accused him of abandoning her to save his own life. It’s a difference that’s universally understood, and people often (for their own defense) try very hard to establish this difference between an inability that’s literal and natural, and one that consists only in a lack of inclination. Looking from the other side, it is no praise for a prisoner’s inability to escape if the cell door remains locked; but when the doors are left open, such an inability becomes a moral one and praiseworthy. You continued:

    Now then, for your assertion to be meaningful it must fit within a possible reality – a non-contradictory reality that includes a total description of how things might have been. Obviously we cannot fill in all the occurrences of a possible world, but we can draw some useful and necessary inferences about such a world, and that’s all I’ve done.

    You’re asserting that the possibility that I’m contending for cannot be meaningful unless the scope includes the whole plan of God—the whole world in which it potentially occurs. This begs the question of whether or not the scope can be reduced to the act without keeping God’s plan in view. According to His divine nature, He could not sin; but according to His human nature, the only thing preventing Him from sinning was His own human unwillingness, which itself stemmed from His divine nature. You also asked:

    I also pointed out that if Jesus could have sinned, then it was “possible” that redemption would not occur. Yet God promised redemption in Genesis 3, making non-redemption impossible. If non-redemption is impossible, then how could it be possible that Jesus act in such a way as to make the impossible somehow possible? That’s an argument that does not employ possible world language.

    Thank you for making my point! I agree that it is impossible for redemption to not occur; but, as I’ve repeatedly said, it’s a figurative impossibility, implying the extension, “impossible within God’s plan.” Forgive the repetition, but you did not address this earlier:

    Matthew 26
    51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

    If redemption not occurring was impossible in every respect, then explain why Jesus implied that He did not have to go to the cross but could instead call upon His father to send twelve legions of angels to set Him free. Within this temporal world, there are many genuinely possible alternatives to choose from, but it is utterly certain that God’s meticulous plan will be carried out. Even Jesus saw no inconsistency with these two facts. But your position would require you to answer Jesus’ question, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” with a denial, “No, I do not think You can.” But Christ’s clearly implied affirmation that He could indeed appeal to His Father in that way stands against you. Appealing to His father in that way was impossible within the scope of God’s plan, but it was not impossible in and of itself (in a literal sense). You stated:

    True possibilities might actually occur, which also means they might not occur. With nothing to ensure their actual occurrence or non-occurrence, it’s a dubious claim that they have a truth value, without which they define being known. As soon as you ground the truth so that it can be known, you will have established causal antecedent and necessity.

    Your vague terminology (“might actually occur”) isn’t helping. The future is not at all tenuous when God’s plan is in view. When presented with alternative possible courses of action, it is absolutely certain that only that course within God’s plan will be chosen. That certainty does not need to be grounded on causal antecedence alone, since God is providentially active within this world, ensuring that His plan is carried out, and with full knowledge of how anyone would act in any situation. You said:

    I believe I’ve dealt adequately with these claims of yours. I think I’ve shown they lead you into theological and philosophical contradiction. I believe you’ve offered little by way of argumentation, both in defending your assertions and interacting with my arguments. That’s why I think we should stop. Please have the final word.
    Best wishes in your studies and reflections.

    I disagree. But I appreciate the substantive and irenic exchange. Feel free to change your mind and reply if you find anything worthwhile.

  21. Ron said,

    November 17, 2017 at 7:41 am

    “Well, maybe it is myself who fails to distinguish between quantitative and qualitative.”

    Alex,

    I might be in your boat.

    There are different degrees of torment in hell. Yet each degree will never lapse. Degree A is 1/2 degree B at a steady rate over time. It’ll take A twice as long to reach any cumulative of B. Not sure if that’s relevant. Both *will* suffer the same yet at any point one will have suffered twice as much.

    I think I can accept CT’s point but I wish he would’ve fleshed out “death.” Or maybe he did and I missed it. Butmaybe it’s obvious he meant infinite propitiation. If he did, than isn’t that qualitative and quantitative? Maybe that’s Lane’s point.

  22. November 17, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Hi Ron,

    Could you give biblical references for the formulation of the scheme you listed regarding the final disposition of the wicked and the nature of their experience after judgment? You seem to have a well-developed and defined conception of these various categories. Usually, this is an area not studied to the degree as other biblical ideas. Are you primarily using the LWC for your ideas or do you specifically engage the biblical data?

  23. Ron said,

    November 17, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    Ken,

    Not only have you employed novel terminology, the very concepts as *you* understand them have been unlike any I’ve ever read (e.g. inability; impossibility; your most improper use of Edwards).

    I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood basic philosophical concepts. This is probably the most straightforward example of how lopsided this discussion has been in that regard:

    “Your vague terminology (‘might’ actually occur”) isn’t helping.” That’s truly remarkable and most ironic.

    There are several such examples as that one in the two threads, but that one is the most recent and concise. At the very core of this discussion is how “might-counterfactuals” relate to the “grounding objection.” What you found “vague” is telling. Yet even aside from the established taxonomy you found vague or evasive (another example is possible worlds), I also saw very little interaction with the very concepts the terms themselves contemplate. Not grasping the lingo is one thing, but to poo poo the concepts is quite another.

    It seems from this thread and the other that you think you have paved some third way between Arminianism and Calvinism. I suggest you read some William Lane Craig. At the very least you might gain an appreciation for the concepts that I was addressing. Craig and I would disagree, surely. But it would take all of five minutes to understand where we part ways.

    “ll admit I’m not as philosophically adept as you seem to be.”

    I passed over that before but I think it’s now fitting to say that regrettably, that has been our biggest challenge in this discussion. Please take some responsibility, that’s all. You might also consider that it’s highly unlikely you’ve forged a third way. With a bit firmer grasp of the debate, you might come to realize that you’re just a Molinist, which cashes out as garden variety Arminian in my book.

    That I didn’t just now interact with the substance of your post was intentional. I said I’d give you the last word. The debate is over. I just wanted to explain why it went so badly. You’re remark about the notion of “might” was important for me to comment on given your criticism. I hope it proves useful to you.

  24. Ron said,

    November 17, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Alex,

    Revelation 20, judgemeant according to God’s perfect record. Also, Luke 12, to those who’ve been given more, they’ll beaten with more stripes than those who acted in ignorance. Tyre and Sidon vs covenant people who saw the miracles. James 3:1… teachers vs non teachers, but presumably our teachers are all saved!

    I think the Standards corroborate too.

  25. November 17, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Ron,

    Where do you get 1/2 degree of B? Does God’s record end at human death or do the resurrected unsaved keep sinning? If there are “fewer stripes” it seems the judgment ends at some point.

    I am very familiar with all the references you gave but am puzzled at how you arrived where you did. Plato is recognized as the one who originated the idea of native immortality of all undifferentiated humans. Didn’t God prevent Adam and Eve from eating of The Tree of Life in the sinful state?

    Eternal life seems limited to the redeemed while eternal punishment will be “stripes” requisite with transgressions during time on earth without any recourse. I reject any reconciliation or eventual universal salvation such as purgatory. When the punishment is over, that’s it.

    Yes, the bible is clear on eternal torment of an entity as mentioned in Rev. 20. It is also clear that the wicked will go to this same place. What seems to be different is the status of the various entities. In other words, unredeemed humans do not share eternal existence but are eventually terminated. This is eternal punishment in my view.

  26. Ron said,

    November 17, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    “Didn’t God prevent Adam and Eve from eating of The Tree of Life in the sinful state?”

    Alex,

    Yes. Physical life would now come to an end.

    “In other words, unredeemed humans do not share eternal existence but are eventually terminated. This is eternal punishment in my view.”

    Paraphrases From Scripture….The worm never dies, the fire is never quenched. Forever and ever. Some unto eternal punishment, the righteous unto everlasting life.

    Not inclined to debate annihilation. It would be to debate the plain meaning of words.

  27. Ken Hamrick said,

    November 17, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Ron,

    There’s no doubt that Paul himself, should he reappear to disagree with you in this discussion, would find himself dismissed for failing to conform to the current philosophical scaffolding (I don’t think he’s read Craig, either ;) ). Whether that scaffolding serves to illuminate truth or to protect cherished errors remains to be seen.

    But let the readers note the validity of the critiques you’ve left on the table:

    1. You argued:

    …if Jesus could have sinned, then it was “possible” that redemption would not occur. Yet God promised redemption in Genesis 3, making non-redemption impossible. If non-redemption is impossible, then how could it be possible that Jesus act in such a way as to make the impossible somehow possible?

    My reply:

    Matthew 26
    51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

    If redemption not occurring was impossible in every respect, then explain why Jesus implied that He did not have to go to the cross but could instead call upon His father to send twelve legions of angels to set Him free. Within this temporal world, there are many genuinely possible alternatives to choose from, but it is utterly certain that God’s meticulous plan will be carried out. Even Jesus saw no inconsistency with these two facts. But your position would require you to answer Jesus’ question, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” with a denial, “No, I do not think You can.” But Christ’s clearly implied affirmation that He could indeed appeal to His Father in that way stands against you. Appealing to His father in that way was impossible within the scope of God’s plan, but it was not impossible in and of itself (in a literal sense).

    2. I’ve argued that you do not understand the plain language meaning of terms of inability (“cannot,” “impossible,” etc.) when applied to the will, which are always figurative and ever literal. I argued:

    The moral inability of Jesus to sin is of the same species as the moral inability of sinners to come to Christ. Neither can find it in their heart to do such a thing. But as [Jonathan] Edwards and [Andrew] Fuller put it (referring to sinners), such an inability consists only in lack of inclination. It is in the power of his hand to do it, if he will. The impossibility is just this: that a man would choose to do what he does not want to do. It is not only impossible but absurd that a man would want to do what he does not want to do. However, the use of the terms of inability in these moral matters (as Fuller pointed out) is figurative (or “improper”) and not literal. Fuller, “Reply to Philanthropos,” states:
    […]when the terms cannot, inability, &c. are used in these connexions, they are used not in a proper, but in a figurative sense; that they do not express the state of a person hindered by something extraneous to his own will, but denote what we usually mean by the phrase cannot find in his heart; […]
    Edwards, “Freedom of Will,” states:
    But it must be observed concerning moral Inability, in each kind of it, that the word Inability is used in a sense very diverse from its original import. The word signifies only a natural Inability, in the proper use of it; and is applied to such cases only wherein a present will or inclination to the thing, with respect to which a person is said to be unable, is supposable. It cannot be truly said, according to the ordinary use of language, that a malicious man, let him be never so malicious, cannot hold his hand from striking, or that he is not able to show his neighbor kindness; or that a drunkard, let his appetite be never so strong, cannot keep the cup from his mouth. In the strictest propriety of speech, a man has a thing in his power, if he has it in his choice, or at his election: and a man cannot be truly said to be unable to do a thing, when he can do it if he will. It is improperly said, that a person cannot perform those external actions, which are dependent on the act of the Will, and which would be easily performed, if the act of the Will were present. […] it is in some respect more improperly said, that he is unable to exert the acts of the Will themselves; because it is more evidently false, with respect to these, that he cannot if he will: for to say so, is a downright contradiction; it is to say, he cannot will, if he does will. […] Therefore, in these things, to ascribe a non-performance to the want of power or ability, is not just; because the thing wanting is not a being able, but a being willing.

    The ability and possibility remain even with the absolute certainty that attends the moral inability. Is it impossible for a man to do that to which he is wholly averse? Can you not see the two sides to that prospect? Why would the IRS not accept such an excuse? It is because lack of inclination does not literally make it impossible.

    Was Edwards wrong when he asserts that, although choosing against a man’s nature would be impossible, it is not a literal impossibility, since it is within the power of the man’s hand to choose either way, and if he was willing to go the other direction, nothing would stand in his way? I’m left to wonder why you have not addressed this. The Edwards/Fuller distinction between natural and moral inability is by far the best understanding. A natural inability is literal, and presupposes an absolute inability under which a man cannot do a thing “though he be never so willing to do it;” while a moral inability is figurative, and presupposes a remaining natural ability, but without any willingness to do a thing. That’s why the latter is without excuse. A literal ability remains even though it can be said that it is impossible for him to do it—it is a figurative expression describing the certainty of the situation. That it is figurative does not mean it is untrue. The man truly is unable, but the nature of that inability is different from one in which his will was the only impediment. It’s the difference between the inability to see because one is physically blind or because one just stubbornly holds his eyes shut: both have an inability to see, but only one is literal and provides an excuse.

    Your only reply was this:

    Not only have you employed novel terminology, the very concepts as *you* understand them have been unlike any I’ve ever read (e.g. inability; impossibility; your most improper use of Edwards).

    Then you should read at least one more book, “The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation,” by Andrew Fuller. As for Edwards, you’ve failed to provide any argument.

    In conclusion, I think you have not given me a fair hearing. But I accept you criticism that my knowledge of current philosophy is insufficient, and I will take your advice and study some of W.L. Craig’s books.
    Be blessed.


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