Can God Be Tempted?

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 44

Some people think that there is a contradiction concerning the topic of whether God can or cannot be tempted. Look at the following verses:

1)      Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” So Moses said to them, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Lord?” (Exodus 17:2)

2)      “You shall not tempt the Lord your God as you tempted Him in Massah.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

3)      “So now we call the proud blessed, for those who do wickedness are raised up; they even tempt God and go free.’” (Malachi 3:15)

4)      Jesus also quoted the Old Testament when He said that no one should tempt the Lord (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12).

However, take a look at James 1:13.

1)      Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

Is there a contradiction?

In today’s world, we typically think of the word “tempt” as trying to get someone to do something evil. However, “to tempt” also has another meaning: “to test” someone. In fact, the NIV Bible translates Exodus 17:2 as “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” It also translates Matthew 4:7 as “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

In the Old Testament and Gospel verses above, the idea is that we should not put God to the test. For instance, God tells his people not to sin. When we do sin, we are putting God to the test to see if He will punish us like he said he would. We must not put God to the test like this. However, the context of James 1:13 is different. James specifically says that God cannot be tempted by evil. Although God can be tempted (tested) to punish sin, he cannot be enticed to commit sin himself. God cannot sin; He cannot do evil.

But what about the temptation of Jesus by Satan

If God cannot be tempted by evil, then Jesus cannot be God in the flesh since He was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13; also see Hebrews 4:15). I’ll quote Chris Russell at length:

“Off the cuff, Jesus was tempted by Satan, not evil. We need to keep in mind that Satan and evil are different. Though Satan is exceedingly evil, he cannot be interchanged with the term. Furthermore, there are two keys to understanding this mystery. First, we must keep in mind the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ. That’s a pretty fancy way of saying that Jesus was fully man and fully God at the same time. Jesus had a fully human nature (but sinless), and He had the nature of God. Second, it is important to understand the difference between internal enticement and external enticement. When Jesus was tempted, His temptation came from an external source: Satan (Luke 4:2; Matthew 4:1). When we are tempted, this comes right from within our own hearts due to our own sinful natures, although the temptation to sin can be kindled by something external. James 1:14 tells us, ‘But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.’”[1]

To summarize: Jesus cannot be tempted by an internal source since He does not have a sinful nature. He was tempted by something outside of himself: Satan.

The alleged contradiction that some see on this topic is just that: alleged.

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[1] Chris Russell. “Can God Be Tempted?” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions Volume 2. Ken Ham, Bodie Hodge, and Tim Chaffey eds. Green Forest: Master Books, 2011. Pg. 159-160.

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