Does God Tempt Man or Not?

The Bible states: “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). On the other hand, the New Testament says that “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1:13). Is this not a contradiction?

These passages, as they stand in the King James translation, do constitute a difficulty. If the reader will consult the American Standard Version on Genesis 22:1, however, the confusion disappears. The better rendition is: “And it came to pass after these things that God did prove Abraham….”

The original terms, rendered “tempt” in the KJV, are from nasah (Hebrew) and peirazo (Greek), respectively. These words may be employed in different senses, depending upon the context in which they are found. For instance, one meaning of tempt is “a solicitation to sin, an enticement to evil.” It is an action designed to entrap a victim, hence, to bring about his fall. A holy God (cf. Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 7:14) never could be guilty of such a base activity, and this is the thrust of James’ description of this matter in the passage cited above.

On the other hand, these terms may be used in other ways. The Hebrew nasah can denote putting something to the test, proving it. Observe, for instance, that David refused to use Saul’s armor in his conflict with Goliath since he had not “proved” those implements (1 Samuel 17:39). Again, note how those Hebrew lads in Babylonian captivity challenged Nebuchadnezzar to “prove” them with a ten-day diet test, thus contrasting their appearances with those who lustily consumed the king’s dainties (Daniel 1:12-13). It is in this sense that Moses employed nasah of Jehovah’s action towards Abraham. The Lord put Abraham to the test in order to develop trust in the patriarch, and to demonstrate that Heaven’s promise concerning the Messianic seed was unfailing (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). Even the KJV of Hebrews 11:17ff. notes that Abraham “was tried.”

Similarly, James suggests that the Christian ought to rejoice when he falls into manifold “temptations” (James 1:2). Clearly, “enticement to evil” is not in view here. Rather, the inspired writer speaks of “various trials” (NKJV ), i.e., the tests that come to the Christian as a consequence of his godly living. In these one is to rejoice, knowing that the “proving” (dokimion) of his faith works patience (James 1:3). When properly understood, there is no conflict between Genesis 22:1 and James 1:3.


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