Please Support the Bible Translation Work of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
Explore the complexity of Hebrews 2:17-18 in examining whether it was possible for Christ to have sinned. This scholarly analysis considers Jesus’ dual nature, His role as High Priest, and the doctrine of impeccability. Learn how Christ’s experiences equip Him to be our perfect mediator.
A foundational question within Christian theology and Christology centers on the impeccability or peccability of Jesus Christ. In simpler terms, the inquiry is about whether Jesus could have sinned. Hebrews 2:17-18 offers a compelling window into this complex subject: “Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
Understanding the Greek Terminology
To comprehend fully what Paul is communicating, it is crucial to understand the Greek terminology used. The word for “tempted” here is “peirazó,” which denotes undergoing a test. This doesn’t automatically mean an enticement to sin but can include it. The term “suffered” or “pathéma” implies an emotional or physical experience.
The Humanity and Divinity of Christ
Jesus is both fully human and fully divine—a concept referred to as the hypostatic union. His full humanity means he was subject to the weaknesses of human nature (hunger, tiredness, emotional pain), yet without sin. His full divinity means he possesses all the attributes of God: omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection. Holding both natures perfectly, Jesus experienced temptation but did so without sin.
Christ as the Second Adam
Paul presents Jesus as the second Adam, correcting the errors of the first Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). Where Adam failed and brought sin into the world, Jesus succeeded in maintaining moral perfection. The temptations were real, as evidenced in the Gospels (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13), but Jesus overcame them. The ‘tests’ served to prove His perfection, not to lure Him into sin.
Christ as Our High Priest
In his role as a High Priest, Jesus becomes our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). His sufferings make Him merciful and faithful (Heb. 2:17). How could He sympathize with our weaknesses if He Himself had not been subjected to the same conditions? It is crucial, however, to delineate between being “subjected to conditions” and “having the possibility of sinning.” Jesus had the former but not the latter.
The Doctrine of Impeccability
The doctrine of impeccability states that it was impossible for Christ to sin. One might argue, “Doesn’t that make His temptations artificial or unreal?” On the contrary, the temptations were genuine experiences that Jesus underwent, but His divine nature rendered Him incapable of sinning. Here’s an analogy: A military tank can go through a battlefield and be subject to real gunfire, yet remain impenetrable. The gunfire is real; the tank is genuinely in battle; however, it is designed not to be penetrated.
Implications for Theology and Christian Life
Understanding that Christ could not have sinned does not minimize His humanity; it magnifies His divinity. It reminds us that Jesus is the ultimate standard of holiness and the perfect sacrifice for our sins. His life is not merely an example to emulate but a miracle to adore.
Hebrews 2:17-18 does not offer a treatise on the impeccability or peccability of Christ but makes it clear that Jesus suffered when tempted. This suffering, however, does not entail the possibility of sinning. His experiences were real, and they uniquely qualify Him as our merciful and faithful High Priest. Far from raising doubts about His divine nature, these verses give us confidence that Jesus is entirely trustworthy and that He understands what it means to be human. In Him, we find both the empathy of a caring Brother and the holiness of a perfect God. Thus, we can confidently approach Him in our times of need, knowing that He understands our weaknesses and has secured victory over sin and death.