Jesus’ experience of temptation was unique

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Temptation of Christ
The Temptation of Christ by Juan de Flandes. Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington. Public domain

Question: Help me answer an attack on Jesus as God by the verse James 1:13 (“No one experiencing temptation should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one.”). God cannot be tempted.

James Jeson, via email

Answer: As God, Jesus cannot be tempted, but as man he can be tempted. Jesus unites in his one person, two natures: divine and human. Many who raise questions of the sort you repeat above or see contradictions in Scripture, fail to remember this.

God, though omnipotent (all-powerful), cannot be or do things that are contrary to his very nature. God cannot lie, he cannot suffer, he cannot be tempted or do evil. In effect, God cannot stop being God, who is truth itself, goodness itself, and cannot be moved or pressured by temptation.

Hence, when coming to save us, Jesus, who is God, took to himself a human nature, which can suffer. With his human nature, he also has a human will by which he can obey his Father. As God, he cannot obey since there is only one divine will. But in taking a human will, now he can obey his Father.

Divine and human nature

In terms of temptation, the Book of James is correct, God cannot be tempted. But as man, Jesus can be tempted, as Scripture records of him in the temptations in the desert. So, there is no contradiction that Jesus, though God, can be tempted since he is also man.

Exactly how Jesus experiences temptation in his human nature is somewhat mysterious. Jesus did not have the woundedness that comes from original sin or the weakness that comes from repeated sinning. These things make temptation a much harder thing for us to resist. So, resisting temptation would seem to be easier for him than us. Nevertheless, Jesus is still our example since he did not come to be “pathetically” human but to be perfectly human. That is, he is like us in all things except in the degradation of sin and the personal harm it inflicts. He comes to restore humanity to perfection and show us what it means to be wholly and perfectly human.

This perfect humanity is fitting since Adam and Eve were sinless and perfectly human before they were tempted and then disobeyed. So it is right that Jesus, as the New Adam, should also be sin-free (along with Mary, the New Eve). As perfect man, Jesus faces down temptation and obeys his Father, unlike Adam who was perfectly human but did not. Mary too, is perfectly human and, in that strength Eve originally had, Mary obeys God, unlike Eve.

I hope these distinctions help answer that Jesus as God cannot be tempted, but as man, even perfect man, he can be tempted.

Msgr. Charles Pope

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. at Send questions to