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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Temptation

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TEMPTATION.—The word πειράζω (noun πειρασμός, Luke 4:13; Luke 8:13; Luke 22:28, Matthew 6:13; Matthew 26:41; intensive form ἐκπειράζω, Luke 10:25, Matthew 4:7) has a neutral, a good, and a bad sense. It may mean simply ‘to try,’ ‘make trial of,’ ‘test,’ for the purpose of ascertaining the quality of a man, what he thinks, or how he will behave himself; but usually there is either a good (John 6:6, perhaps also Matthew 22:35) or a bad intent. In the latter case it means to solicit to sin, to tempt. That the word may be used in the wider sense, even when rendered ‘tempt,’ must not be forgotten. In James 1:12 ‘temptation’ is used of trial generally, the issue of which is intended to be the crown of life; but in James 1:13 ‘tempted’ is used in the sense of solicited to sin; and the writer very emphatically asserts, ‘God cannot be tempted (ἀπείραστος) with evil, and he himself tempteth no man.’ This statement seems to be contradicted by Jesus’ quotation from Deuteronomy 6:16 in His answer to the second temptation in Matthew 4:7, as well as by the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13); but tempting God does not mean soliciting Him to sin, but trying His justice and patience, challenging Him to give proof of His perfection to such a degree as to incur His displeasure, and to expose oneself to His judgment; and the temptations into which God is asked not to lead us, are the circumstances or the states of mind which, though to the strong they might prove the opportunities of winning ‘the crown of life’ (James 1:12), to weakness may be the occasions of failure and transgression. This weakness of His disciples, while admitting their good intentions, Jesus recognizes in His warning in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:41), and commends their fidelity to Him in the trying experiences they had shared with Him (Luke 22:28). To the enthusiastic but shallow hearers of His words He affirmed that trials (persecution, etc.) would prove morally fatal (Luke 8:13). The cares and riches and pleasures of this life (Luke 8:14) He regarded as hindrances to the higher life. Noteworthy is the emphasis He lays on the peril of wealth (Matthew 19:23-24). That Jesus discovered the moral peril in which Judas was placed from the very first indications of distrust and disloyalty to Himself, is suggested by John 6:70-71, which shows also the danger He feared for the other disciples. His repeated references to His coming betrayal (Matthew 17:22; Matthew 20:18; Matthew 26:2), His plain allusion to the presence of the traitor at the Last Supper (Luke 22:21), His giving the sop to Judas (John 13:26), may all be regarded as loving endeavours to strengthen him against temptation; and even when all these efforts had proved vain, what good was still in him was appealed to in the pathetic reproach, ‘Betrayest thou the Son of Man with a kiss?’ (Luke 22:48). Peter, too, was warned against the temptation that threatened him (Luke 22:31-32); and Jesus, who feared his fall through his self-confident weakness, hoped for his recovery, and the help he could be to others after his recovery, because He believed in the power of His own intercessory prayer.

Jesus Himself was both tried and tempted. He seems to confess His own liability to temptation when He refuses the epithet ‘good’ (Luke 18:19), although He never confesses to have fallen before temptation; and the attitude He assumes to sinners implies His own sinlessness. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 4:15) states His moral position in the words, ‘in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’; and St. Paul seems to indicate this liability to temptation without the actuality of sin in the phrase ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ (Romans 8:3). St. Luke’s statement that the tempter ‘departed from him for a season’ (Luke 4:13), and Jesus’ own reference to the temptations (Luke 22:28) which His disciples had endured with Him, show that the experience in the wilderness was not solitary. It is not improbable even that the narratives of the Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13) are a summary of a succession of moral trials through which Jesus in the course of His ministry passed, or at least that this record of an early experience has been coloured by reminiscences of later experiences. Be this as it may, we can find in the Gospels indications of similar trials of His fidelity to God. The desire of the people for healing (John 4:48) and bread (John 6:28), the demand of His enemies for a sign (Matthew 16:1), the attempt to make Him a king (John 6:15), may be regarded as illustrations of the three kinds of temptation recorded. A careful study of the record of the early ministry (in John 2-4) warrants the assumption that Jesus was tempted by His enthusiasm (which see) to force the issue between Him and His enemies prematurely, and that the reserve in language and restraint in action He displayed as soon as He had discovered this peril, are to be regarded as a conquest over temptation. His ‘escapes,’ as Bruce calls them (With Open Face, ch. vii.), were intended, in the later part of His Galilaean ministry at least, not only to secure quiet for the training of the Twelve, but to withdraw Him from the danger threatened by His enemies. Had He run risks before His hour, He would have fallen before what seems to be indicated by the Second Temptation (Matthew 4:5-6). His own family were a source of moral peril to Him. His words to His mother in Cana (John 2:4) are explicable only if in her request He found a suggestion of evil, that He should use His miraculous power at the bidding of His natural affection instead of at God’s command alone. The completeness of His repudiation of the claims of His mother and brethren upon Him in relation to His public ministry indicates how intensely He felt this peril (Matthew 12:48-49). The attempt to influence Him was nevertheless renewed by His brethren, when they advised Him to go up to the feast and so manifest Himself to the world (John 7:3-4). Peter was rebuked as the Tempter (Matthew 16:23) almost immediately after being commended as the Confessor, because he sought to turn Jesus from His sacrifice. May His refusal of the request of the Syrophœnician woman (Matthew 15:24-27) not have been due to the fear lest a ministry of healing among the Gentiles might divert Him from the path of sacrifice to which He knew that His Father called Him? The request of the Greeks also (John 12:21) stirred so deep emotion, because it seemed to suggest the possibility of an escape from the Cross, which had to be rejected as a temptation. The same temptation in its most acute form presents itself in the Agony (which see) in Gethsemane.

Tests or trials which were not felt by Jesus as temptations, but which were intended by His enemies either to discredit Him with the multitude or to obtain some ground of accusation against Him, were the questions addressed to Him about the tribute to Caesar, the resurrection, and the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:15-40), and divorce (Matthew 19:3). The man with the withered hand in the synogogue (Luke 6:6-7) was a trap set for Him, to involve Him in the guilt of Sabbath-breaking; so also was the woman taken in adultery (John 8:6), that He might either by His severity estrange the people, or by His laxity be shown to be in opposition to the Mosaic law. The sufferings and sorrows Jesus passed through were Divinely appointed trials that He might learn obedience, and so be made perfect (Hebrews 5:8; Hebrews 2:10); but it is not necessary here to illustrate this discipline in detail (see Struggles of Soul). To the data from the Gospels here presented, a few observations may be added regarding the possibility, the necessity, and the nature of temptation in Jesus’ life.

As God cannot be tempted, the liability of Jesus to temptation proves that there was a Divine Kenosis (which see) involved in the incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus could be tempted, because He was limited in knowledge, subject to emotion, and undergoing a moral development. Omniscience has an insight into the moral character of all conduct, and a foresight into the moral issues of all choice, which exclude even the possibility of temptation; omnipotence has such a command over all its moral resources that its moral efforts, can never involve any moral strain, such as is experienced in temptation; omniscience and omnipotence, therefore, cannot know the disturbance of feeling which is possible to limited knowledge and power. To ascribe these Divine attributes to the incarnate Son of God is to deny His liability to temptation, and to make His moral development a semblance and not a reality. Liability to temptation, necessary to moral development, does not, however, imply any necessity to sin. There may be growth unto perfection, with a constant choice of good. Temptation does not arise only in a sinful nature. Natural instincts and appetites, which are morally neutral, become sinful only when seen to be in conflict with the will of God as revealed in conscience. The opinions, sentiments, and desires of sinful men may become the occasions of temptation to a sinless nature. Temptation is not sin, involves no necessity of sin, although it brings the possibility of sin.

It was necessary for the fulfilment of Christ’s vocation as the Saviour of men that He should be tempted without sin. His moral teaching gains force from His moral example, and He can be a moral example to us only because He passed through a human moral development. His own moral struggles enable Him to feel with us in ours (Hebrews 4:15). To condemn the sin of mankind (Romans 8:3) it was needful for Him not only to suffer for sin, but also to overcome sin by withstanding its assaults.

The nature of His temptation was determined by His unique vocation. The lower passions and appetites seem never to have assailed Him. He was tempted to abuse His miraculous power, His privileged position, His supreme authority as Son of God, to fulfil the popular expectations instead of His own ideal of the Messiahship, to shrink from the agony and desolation of the Cross. His temptations transcended the common experience as much as He Himself did; but, though possible to Him alone, they were as real for Him as are the lower temptations for other men. See, further, the following article.

Literature.—Butler, Anal. ch. v.; Dods, The Prayer that Teaches to Pray, 143 ff.; Liddon, BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] 512; Ullmann, Sinlessness of Jesus, 123 ff., 264 ff.; W. C. E. Newbolt, Gospel of Experience, 98; J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, 92; D. Fairweather, Bound in the Spirit, 33; W. H. M. H. Aitken, Temptation and Toil, 1–205; G. A. Smith, Forgiveness of Sins, 51; J. Stalker, The Four Men, 29.

Alfred E. Garvie.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Temptation'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/temptation.html. 1906-1918.

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