By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
Did Jesus think about having a sexual relationship?
You have asked a rather controversial question — one that we don’t talk or think much about. Nevertheless, the answer to your question has great relevance in our world today. After all, Jesus was fully human and He experienced everything that we experience — including temptation. So, it is essential that we deal with this question.
Did Jesus ever think about having a sexual relationship? My opinion is, of course, He thought about it. Like most men and boys, I imagine that He thought about it a lot. I have read that most adolescent males think about sex at least once every 15 minutes or so. Jesus was once an adolescent.
Many Christians wonder just how close Jesus came to “eating the forbidden fruit.” This question really focuses on whether or not Jesus was capable of sinning. After all, He was God. Could God sin? At first blush, the obvious answer is, “No, God cannot sin.” However, the answer is a little more complex than a simple “yes” or “no.” I believe that the biblical evidence declares that not only was Jesus tempted, He was fully capable of sinning.
He Could Have Sinned... But Didn't
In Philippians 2:1-11, Paul composed a melodic poem describing Jesus’s seven steps downward from Heaven to become human and to endure the cross. Then, Paul described Christ’s seven-step exaltation from the resurrection back into Heaven to receive back His glory as fully God.
In verse six Paul declared that in the process of abandoning Heaven, Jesus made Himself “nothing.” The Greek word “kenosis” literally means, “to empty one’s self” — but no one knows exactly what that really means. I think it is safe to say that somehow or other He emptied Himself of some of His “godness” in order to put on “humanness.” He remained 100% God, but also became 100% man. This God and Human union is called the “hypostatic union.” This doctrine is inscrutable. In other words, it is a mystery, incapable of being understood.
I believe that “emptying” Himself opened the door so that He could actually sin (for a more extended interpretation of this concept, read my “Ask Roger Answer” entitled “Son of God or son of man?” on preachitteachit.com.
In my mind, there is no way Jesus could fall into sin as fully God. On the other hand, He certainly could fall into sin as fully human. After all, if Jesus could not sin, why would Satan bother to tempt Him at the commencement of His earthly ministry (Matthew 4 and Luke 4)? Both gospel writers declared that temptation would follow Jesus all the days of His life; and, they were right.
Furthermore, in describing Jesus’ ministry as our great high priest, the writer to the Hebrews revealed that Jesus endured every temptation (including sexual temptations) that we humans face — without sinning: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
The term “yet without sin” obviously meant that He was fully capable of falling into sin — but He didn’t.
Temptation Is Not Sin
We must remember that temptation itself is not sin. Martin Luther wrote, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head; but, you certainly can keep them from nesting in your hair.”
Let’s look carefully at what Jesus taught about lust in light of Luther’s illustration.
Jesus declared in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard it said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Looking at a man/woman and appreciating his/her beauty is not a sin. Perhaps even a moment’s imagining a sexual encounter is still not a sin. The sin occurs when we mentally and emotionally dwell upon one particular individual while imagining a drawn-out sexual experience with him or her. In this case, temptation has evolved into lust. The sin occurs in the long, drawn-out visualizing, not in the thought which comes to mind for a fleeting moment.
Did Jesus think about having a sexual relationship? As fully human, He most certainly did. Both Satan and/or His own humanness obviously “flew the bird of the temptation” over His head. However, according to the Hebrews passage mentioned above, Jesus never allowed that bird “to nest in His hair.”
Claims Against Jesus
Some imagine that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute who tempted Jesus to have a sexual relationship with her. For example, “The Last Temptation of Christ” by Nikos Kazantzakis postulates that Mary Magdalene, “out of whom Jesus cast seven demons” (Luke 8:2), was His temptress, at least, and more probably, His girlfriend.
I don’t believe that. However, I do believe that whatever lifestyle she lived before meeting Christ was dramatically changed by her spiritual encounter with Him. She became a devoted follower and financial contributor to His ministry who witnessed the crucifixion, prepared His body for burial, and was the first to hear the good news of the resurrection!
So far, we have discussed the idea of Jesus having a sinful sexual relationship. Without a doubt, He did not.
Because Jesus was like us, I am certain that He experienced the internal, God-implanted-sexual drive to procreate and thus fulfill His Father’s command to be “fruitful and fill the whole earth.” Therefore, I believe that He must have considered marriage as a viable option.
Dan Brown imagines, in his contemporary novel, The Da Vinci Code, that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered children by her. He intertwines this concept with the legend of the “Holy Grail.” However, these claims have no basis in biblical truth.
Jesus' Ultimate Mission
Could Jesus have married if He wanted? Could Jesus have had children if He had married? Some Christians answer “yes” to both questions. Personally, I have difficulty saying “yes” to either question.
I believe that whatever Jesus thought about marriage or children — if He thought about it at all — was quickly dismissed. His mission was to “bring many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10), not to marry and procreate. Jesus made it clear that the “Son of Man came to seek and to save those who were lost.” This God-inspired calling far outweighed the distraction and any possible fulfillment He might have gained from having His own wife and children. Would He have liked to be married? Possibly. Were marriage and children God’s will for His life? Certainly not.
Well, Fred, thanks for asking such an intriguing question. I hope my answer gives several thought-provoking and helpful insights to you and others about the sexual life of Jesus.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Prostock Studio
Dr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Original publication date: February 29, 2012
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].