How was Jesus tempted in the desert when it was impossible for God to sin?


#1

What was the purpose of Jesus being tempted, if as God, it was impossible for Him to sin? Even though He is fully man, he is also fully God, so wasnt there in effect no temptation, because in no way could Jesus have sinned.


#2

What Does the Bible Mean by Temptation?
by Bob and Gretchen Passantino.

God cannot be tempted (James 1:13).

God can be tempted (or there would be no reason for us to be warned against tempting God – Deuteronomy 6:16).

If God cannot be tempted (see 1 above), and Jesus is God, then
does that mean he cannot be tempted? (James 1:13)

But Jesus was tempted (Hebrews 4:15).

God tempts no one (James 1:13).

God tempted someone (David, to number Israel – 2 Samuel 24:1).

How are these biblical statements reconciled, both within scripture and consistent with God’s character?

The answers to these statements can be categorized in two major ways: vocabulary (what words were used in the original, and what meanings those words have), and context (how the words were used in each passage).

Vocabulary

Temptation has many synonyms (equivalent words) in English. It can mean (among other things) test, proof, experiment, trial, and enticement. The main Greek (New Testament language) words for temptation are formed from peiraz and dokimaz , both words of which also occur in the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. The main Hebrew words are n sƒh, s rap, and b han, and one word which relates primarily to the genuineness of coins, sig. Comparing the Septuagint equivalents to the original Hebrew helps us understand the overall biblical use of the terms.
[Those who wish more information on the Greek or Hebrew should see The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Vol. 3), Colin Brown, ed., Zondervan, 1978, pp. 798-810; or The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Lawrence O. Richards, Zondervan, 1985, pp. 593-594.]

Both peiraz and dokimaz can mean test or proof. In addition, peiraz includes the ideas of temptation or enticement (to sin) and of a trial. Dokimaz also carries the connotation of approval or genuineness.

From this vocabulary study, we see that “temptation” can mean test, proof, or to establish genuineness; not only “enticement to sin.”

Context

Armed with our vocabulary study, we can look at the context of each of our six statements.

God Cannot Be Tempted

James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” Looking at the context, we see that the statement is not merely “God cannot be tempted,” but “God cannot be tempted by evil.” In other words, God cannot be enticed to sin (Greek apeir st s). James 1:13 affirms that God cannot sin, but is completely holy and good.

God Can Be Tempted

When Deuteronomy 6:16 warns us against “tempting God,” the context refers on the one hand to testing the Israelites’ faithfulness and, on the other hand, to testing God’s righteous judgment. Paraphrased, the passage means, “Don’t test God’s righteous judgment by worship-ping idols unless you are willing to be wiped off the face of the earth” (v. 15).

The reconciliation of the two statements? God cannot be enticed to sin; he is holy and good. God’s consistent, holy, good reaction to idolatry is righteous judgment. One should not “test” God’s character by sinning, since God will “pass the test” of righteousness and punish the sinner (see also Jeremiah 18:7-10).

Can Jesus Be God and Be Tempted?

Jesus is God and so he cannot be tempted in the sense that he cannot be enticed to sin, but he can be tempted in the sense that he can be tested, even with the evil lures of Satan (Matthew 4), and found to be true to his character. This is the context of Hebrews 4:15, which says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted (peiraz ) in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus was tested by Satan’s enticements concerning his obedience to the Father and his commitment to his messianic mission, yet he did not succumb to the temptation. (A related issue concerns the dynamics between Christ’s human and divine natures, under the subjection of his one divine person. See The Impeccable Christ by W. E. Best, Zondervan, 1971).

Does God Tempt People?


#3

Does God Tempt People?

Look again at James 1:13. Just as God cannot be enticed into sinning, so God does not entice anyone else into sinning. That is what is meant by “and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” James warns us not to blame our own fall into sin on God. God does not persuade us to sin, we willingly fall to the lure of our own sinful nature (Romans 3:23), the sinfulness in the world (Titus 2:12), and/or the false promises of Satan (Genesis 3:1-5).
When 2 Samuel 24:1 says God provoked or tempted David to number Israel, it means God made use of David’s action to manifest David’s disobedience to God. The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 27:23-24 credits Satan with provoking David to take the census. Putting the two passages together shows that, while Satan may have enticed David into sin, it was God who tested David and used that occasion to show both David and the Israelites the consequences of David’s sin.

God tests us to reveal to ourselves and the world our true characters.

God has always tested each order of rational beings that He has created. This test has consisted of proof of perfect trust and obedience. A test in itself is not a cause of sin. Only the action of the one tested can turn it into an occasion to sin. . . . Adam and Eve faced a test of obedience, and disobeyed and fell. Christ, in order to redeem men, faced testing, and came out victorious (Hebrews 5:7-9) (Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, Charles Pfeiffer, Howard Vos, and John Rea, eds., Moody, 1975, p. 1680).

Summary

There are various meanings for the word temptation. Usually it means either an enticement to sin or a test or trial. God never entices anyone to sin, but uses testing to reveal his justice and challenge believers to faithfulness (2 Corinthians 13:5-8).

answers.org/theology/is_god_tempted.html


#4

Jesus was Tested, learning obedience. Just as we are to learn obedience to him.

Romans 5:19
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Hebrews 5:8
Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered


#5

Follow-up question:

When Satan tempted Jesus with the “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matthew - Chapter 4), how could that be a temptation to Jesus, considering he is the Co-creator of the whole universe?

www.biblegateway.com


#6

It’s probably that at this time, Satan didn’t know Jesus is God Incarnate. Satan himself is not all knowing, so I presume he thought that Jesus was a regular prophet with no divine gifts. Satan didn’t know Jesus is God until the final temptation in the desert.


#7

I am open to being proved wrong, but I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one, Manny. I’ve always read the passage as Satan’s being fully aware that Jesus is God Incarnate, and that he is trying to trip Jesus up by appealing to common human frailties - because Jesus is fully human as well as fully God. Satan, I think, is hoping to ruin Jesus - and thus conquer God - which he has attempted, catastrophically for himself, once before. Satan’s not the kind to stop trying.

I believe, BTW, that it’s a mistake to focus exclusively on the Godhead without focusing also on the humanity. That gets perilously close to Monophysitism. No, I’m not accusing anyone of being a Monophysite. But Jesus could be tempted because He was man. In order to be fully human, He had to have the capacity to be tempted.


#8

Explain this then:

“When Satan tempted Jesus with the “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” (Matthew - Chapter 4), how could that be a temptation to Jesus, considering he is the Co-creator of the whole universe and indeed the Co-creator of Lucifer?”

But Jesus could be tempted because He was man. In order to be fully human, He had to have the capacity to be tempted.

Can you really be tempted if you don’t have the ability to sin?


#9

Is Satan all knowing? Nope. I don’t think he knew who Jesus was until the last temptation in the desert.

I believe, BTW, that it’s a mistake to focus exclusively on the Godhead without focusing also on the humanity. That gets perilously close to Monophysitism. No, I’m not accusing anyone of being a Monophysite. But Jesus could be tempted because He was man. In order to be fully human, He had to have the capacity to be tempted.

I do not held Monphysitism belief. I don’t know where you implied that I held that belief. I only said that Satan was not aware that Jesus is God until the later fact.


#10

Sorry if I wasn’t clear that the comment was not directed at you. I was tired last night when I posted. The comment was really directed at the OP’s initial question. I just think that we have to be careful in discussing the Divine nature that we don’t forget the Human nature.

I didn’t say he was all knowing. But note that we are both saying “I think.” So far as I know, neither one of our interpretations is authoritative. It has always been my understanding that he was going after God in going after Christ. But I would be interested in seeing what the Fathers have to say about Satan’s purpose in the temptation.


#11

Yes, He is Co-creator of the whole universe, co-creator of Lucifer, co-creator of everything. At the same time, He condescended to become a man - fully a man. The Incarnation is not kabuki theater. Jesus became fully human, with all that being human implies. The relationship between His human nature and divine nature is explained in the Catholic doctrine of the Hypostatic Union - 2 natures, 1 divine person. According to Catholic doctrine, Jesus’ divine nature did *not *subsume His human nature. Consequently, the temptation is not a farce. The agony in the garden is not a farce. Jesus’ human nature was truly tempted in these situations. But Jesus obeyed His divine nature.


#12

Romans 8:3 with Phil 2.

Basic answer, Satan took dominion of the earth from Adam when Adam fell, sinned. Jesus on the cross took dominion away from Satan. So, when Satan was offering dominion of this world to Jesus, it would be a temptation, test to take the quick way to rulership. Jesus choose to follow his Father’s will, and thus on the cross Col 2:15 took dominion away from Satan.

Ephesians 2:2
in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

Ephesians 6:12
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the **authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil **in the heavenly realms.

Colossians 2:15
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

2 Corinthians 4:4
In whom the** god of this world** hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

1 Corinthians 2:8
None of the **rulers of this age **understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.


#13

I strongly agree. Jesus, in his human nature, was fully capable of being tempted, and was tempted, probably more than any man had been tempted before. But He overcame, thus providing us with a true example to follow. If Jesus was simply incapable of being tempted or of sinning, and waltzed through His mission with ease, the Incarnation would have been a farce, a sham.


#14

Daniel, how did Jesus need to “learn” obedience? Wasn’t he an expert already at that so to speak? I mean He never disobeyed God before the Incarnation. Why did He need to learn something that was already part of His nature, or wasn’t it?

This is quite a plausible interpretation, Daniel. Especially when you look at the verse below.

Colossians 2:15
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.


#15

Why would the mission be “a sham”? He came to redeem the world. Only God knows how to do that. I think maybe you mean the feelings or reactions to the temptations would be pretend. Unless, the temptations or the various “trials by ordeal” Jesus felt was to fulfill a certain prophecy that I don’t know about.

Also, I want to add: if satan knew Jesus was God, how would He dare to even be near Jesus, or even “take him up” the mountain? Especially, when the demons that Jesus exorcised during His mission were terrified of Him, weren’t they?


#16

Daniel, how did Jesus need to “learn” obedience? Wasn’t he an expert already at that so to speak? I mean He never disobeyed God before the Incarnation. Why did He need to learn something that was already part of His nature, or wasn’t it?


#17

Ummm… Satan tried to overthrow God from His throne in heaven. He’s not exactly scared or unambitious. He’s a fallen Archangel. And even after he fell, he challenged God the Father in heaven concerning Job. He’s not your average demon, quaking before God. It is absolutely within Satan’s character to dare to be near Jesus, even if he knew Jesus is God.


#18

I think that His mission was mutifaceted. At the least, He came to
a)be killed as an atoning sacrifice for man’s sins;
b)proclaim the coming Kingdom to Israel and found the Church and the new Covenant;
c)glorify mankind by becoming one of us;
d)fulfill the prophecies of the OT (often in unexpected ways)
e)clarify the purpose of the old Law, and teach a moral code of radical love
f)provide an example for us of perfect love, humility, and fidelity in face of massive temptation
g)etc.

There was no doubt much more as well. We could argue over which aspects were more important (if any), but you get the idea. In any event, I think the Lord’s agony in Gethsemane proves more or less conclusively that He could be and was tempted, big time.


#19

I’m reading Jesus of Nazareth by B16. He goes into this in detail. Let’s see if I remember it…this is a summary off the top of my head.

Jesus is the new Moses. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, 40 years in the desert for purification, and almost but not quite to the promised land. Along the way, the Moses and the Israelites were tested 3 times and failed all 3 tests.

Jesus spent 40 days in the desert being tempted, and passed the same 3 tests that the Israelites failed. Jesus is a better Moses. He leads his nation to a new promised land.

I’ve also read separately that the Jesus as the new Adam had to pass the same 3 tests that Adam failed ( I think that was from A Father Who Keeps his Promises by Scott Hahn).

The book is absolutely intriguing. Can’t put it down.


#20

If you want a good explanation of this, Pope Benedict has a chapter on the temptation narratives in his new book “Jesus of Nazareth.” It is quite good and would probably answer many of your questions.


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