Whether or not humans have free will is something that has captivated theologians, philosophers, and scientists. Is human activity pre-determined by interior and exterior forces? If so, does this mean that we don’t make decisions but instead only appear to chose? If we do have free will how free is it? What role does genetics, environment, and other factors play?
This seems to be an important topic when we discuss the hypothetical question, “Could Jesus have sinned?” The Christian tradition has confessed Christ as sinless as far back as we can tell. Yet people have often wondered what this means for temptation. We are told by the author of the Book of Hebrews that Jesus was tempted in various ways (4.15). We see in the Gospel narratives that he was tempted by Satan himself. Yet, again, Christian insist he was sinless. Jesus always won the battle with temptation.
When we consider the doctrine of the incarnation it complicates things a bit more. Jesus as a sinless human is quite an accomplishment. Jesus as one with God makes us wonder if it was even possible for Jesus to sin and if it was not possible is there any sense in which we can say he was tempted?
Philosophers ask whether or not we can speak of virtue and vice if humans are predetermined to certain actions. This concern applies to Christology because if Jesus could not sin it seems like a farce to speak of him as overcoming temptation.
This brings me back to some of the questions asked above. Let me ask this: Can we speak of Jesus as being tempted, having free will, yet unable to sin because of the “environmental” factor of his oneness with the Father and unity with the Spirit? I know this is a bit of lofty theology, which is rare to this blog, but I thought I’d toss it out there. Can we say that Jesus being constantly in communion with the Father and empowered by the Spirit allowed him to “freely” chose not to sin while also being a reason why we can be assured he would have never sinned.
I know, I know, at the end of the day this is like the questions, “What if Adam and Eve never ate the fruit?” or “What is Christ had not been crucified?” Unless one espouses some form of multiple universe theory where Adam is sinless or Christ lived to die of old age it seems insensible to even ask this question, but I think we ask it because we are trying to better understand the unique claims of the church regarding Jesus and we find this scenario a bit perplexing.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on the interchange between Christ’s temptation, his sinlessness, the freedom of his will, and his relationship to the Father and Spirit. Now I state upfront that I confess the sinlessness of Christ along with the historic, catholic church, so while you are free to ask, “What if Jesus did sin?” you know already that I don’t think he did. This thought experiment will be more enjoyable for those who share my confession on this matter.
On another note, Fr. Ted Bobosh is an Orthodox priest whose blog I follow. He wrote a series on this subject that you may find interesting. These are the links to the four posts: “Environmental Clues, Shaping Behavior and Free Will (1)”; “Environmental Clues, Shaping Behavior and Free Will (2)”; “Free Will and Biology (1)”; and “Free Will and Biology (2)”.