This is a Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.


I recently went through some of your work on the incarnation, specifically chapter 32 of Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview, because I find myself still struggling to wrap my mind around the dual nature of Christ. When I say "struggling", I don't mean it in the sense that I struggle believing it, but rather I struggle explaining certain aspects of it to believers and unbelievers. Both believers and unbelievers tend to ask "could Jesus sin?", to which the answer is obviously a hard "no". However, the follow up question is always "was Jesus aware that he could not sin?", to which I have always said, "Yes, he knows that he could not sin, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't feel the temptation in respect to his human nature?" This brought me to a strange question: Would it be possible to know something, without being consciously aware of that something? Could it be that while Jesus knows intrinsically he cannot commit a sin, that in the moment of temptation is not consciously aware of that reality, making the temptation extremely legitimate? For example, I am 6 feet tall and I know full-well that I am 6 feet tall. However, when I am teaching at the Wednesday night Bible study, I am not consciously aware of my height, despite knowing full-well my height. Perhaps I am complicating this far too much, but do you believe that this line of thinking could be an explanation to Jesus genuinely dealing with temptation?

William Lane Craig’s Response

It’s great to get questions two weeks in a row on the topic of my current writing for my systematic philosophical theology, namely, the Doctrine of Christ, specifically, the person of Christ and his incarnation. Your puzzlement about the coalescence of two complete natures, human and divine, in one person is certainly understandable, Mike! It is a question which the Church Fathers struggled with for hundreds of years. The best book on this subject, in case you haven’t read it yet, is Thomas Morris’ The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1986).

Your question is not about Jesus’ ability to sin, but about his conscious knowledge: “Was Jesus aware that he could not sin?” Your answer, “Yes, he knows that he could not sin,” does not actually address the question. The question was not whether Jesus knew that he could not sin, but whether he was aware that he could not sin. I agree that, being omniscient, Jesus knew that he could not sin, but I am not at all confident that he was aware of that fact during his life on earth (or what theologians call his state of humiliation). In my understanding, much of Jesus’s divine knowledge was subconscious during his earthly life. Genuine incarnation requires that Jesus is not like Superman disguised as Clark Kent, but rather someone sharing our ordinary human condition. This is just what we see in the gospels, as Jesus increases in knowledge as he grows up, asks questions and engages in normal conversation, and confesses his ignorance of the time of his second coming. I agree with you that in order to be genuinely tempted one does not need to be able to sin, but it is far from obvious that being genuinely tempted is compatible with a conscious awareness that one cannot sin.

Your following question is not at all strange: “Would it be possible to know something, without being consciously aware of that something?” Of course! This happens all the time. We have a memory lapse and forget someone’s name, but a few minutes later recall it easily. We sometimes say, “Oh, it was right on the tip of my tongue!” but can’t remember, until a few moments later it unexpectedly comes to us and we remember what we were going to say. I suspect we have huge amounts of information stored in our subconscious which we are not aware of. Your example of knowing your height even when you are not aware of it is a great example of the difference between occurrent beliefs (those that are occurring in consciousness) and what are sometimes called dispositional beliefs (beliefs I have but am not now aware of).

So I think you’re quite correct that “while Jesus knows intrinsically he cannot commit a sin,” it may be that during his state of humiliation he “is not consciously aware of that reality.”

- William Lane Craig

This Q & A and other resources are available on William Lane Craig’s website.