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Faith and Philosophy

Volume 36, Issue 1, January 2019

Adam C. Pelser
Pages 81-101
DOI: 10.5840/faithphil2019117119

Temptation, Virtue, and the Character of Christ

The author of Hebrews writes that Jesus Christ was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Many Christians take the sinlessness of Jesus to imply that he was perfectly virtuous. Yet, susceptibility to the experience of at least some temptations, plausibly including those Jesus experienced, seems incompatible with the possession of perfect virtue. In an attempt to resolve this tension, I argue here that there are good reasons for believing that Jesus, while perfectly sinless, was not fully virtuous at the time of his temptations, but that he grew in virtue through overcoming temptation. If this is right, then Jesus Christ is an exemplar of character formation who is able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” in an important way that Christians have largely overlooked.