Does God really tempt man to commit a sin? Will God ever directly tempt a man to do evil? Furthermore, can God ever be tempted? Those are great questions, aren’t they? Skeptics assert that the Bible contradicts itself on this matter. James 1:13 says that God tempts no man (nor can He be tempted with evil), yet Genesis 22:1 tells us that God tempted (some translate it as “tested”) Abraham. Furthermore, several Bible passages tells us that people (or even Satan) has tempted or “tested” God.
How is the new Bible student (or skeptic) supposed to reconcile this apparent contradiction?
Short answer: This is not a contradiction at all. God tempts no man with evil, and God Himself cannot be tempted. The answer to this alleged discrepancy lies within the context itself, as well as the meaning of the Hebrew word used for “tempt.” God will “test” or “prove” us to reveal our true character or faith. But He will never “coerce” us to do evil for evil’s sake–that’s Satan’s agenda. Each passage in question is referring to two different types of “tempting:” One means to test or prove, whereas the other means to coerce to do evil.
As Adrian Rogers used to put it, “Now God will test you, and God will prove you, but God will never induce you to do evil. God gives us tests to make us stand; Satan gives us temptations to make us stumble.”
James 1:13 verses Genesis 22:1
Here are the two passages for comparison:
(James 1:13-14) Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
(Genesis 22:1) And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.
In the first passage, James is speaking of being tempted to sin. We often try to blame everyone else for our sin. We blame God, we blame Satan, we blame others, etc. However, James tells us that we should never blame God for our sins. He never tempts us to do evil. Satan will tempt us to do evil, but even so, the desire to do evil is already in the heart of man. We have a sin nature. When we sin, we might or might not be tempted of Satan, but we are always tempted by our own lusts!
Did God “Tempt” Abraham?
Now, let’s examine the meaning of the word tempt in the passage for Abraham, because it is being used in a different context.
The Hebrew word used for “tempt” in Genesis 22:1 is “nasah.” This word means to test or to try, or to put through a trial. When King Saul offered David his armor, David refused, saying that he had not “proved” it. That same word “nassah” is used in that passage. In other words, David hadn’t “tempted” or “tested” the armor. Therefore, he didn’t trust it.
It is this sense in which God ‘tempted’ Abraham. God wanted to see an example of Abraham’s faith in action so that he could prove Abraham’s faith. So God asked Abraham to do the unthinkable: Sacrifice his beloved son, through whom God had promised to make Abraham a great and mighty nation. Would God have ever let Abraham do this evil, at His own suggestion?
Of course not!
God hates human sacrifice, so God had an angel on standby to prevent Abraham from doing evil. God merely wanted to reveal Abraham’s mighty faith, which is an incredible example to us today. God would never–ever, ever, ever–coerce a man or woman to do evil for evil’s sake. That goes against God’s own character.
Satan will tempt us to do evil for evil’s sake, but God never will. Interestingly, God sometimes withdraws His protective “hedge” from us, and He will allow Satan to tempt us or sift us so that we may be chastised or judged for sins. But never will God directly tempt us to do evil for evil’s sake.
Can God Be Tempted to Do Evil?
God, in His glorified state, can never be tempted (coerced) to do evil. However, God can be “tested” or “proved” by us. Consider these passages where the Israelites “tested” the Lord:
(Numbers 14:22) Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice;
(Exodus 17:70) And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?
(Psalm 78:18) And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
These passages clearly show that the Israelites “tempted” the Lord. The word “tempted” here does not mean that they coerced God to do evil, but rather, they tested His patience. They tested His holiness. God warns us against testing Him in this way:
“Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16).
However, in Malachi 3:10, God tells the Israelites that they can “prove” Him by tithing. Revealing God’s faithfulness is a type of “testing” or “proving” we are allowed to do, especially when it comes to finances:
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10, emphasis mine).
So God can clearly be “tested,” which is a sin if used in a bad way. We can also “prove” God, which refers to His faithfulness in blessing us when we honor Him with our finances. But God cannot be “tempted,” meaning coerced to sin or do evil for evil’s sake.
But Wasn’t Jesus Tempted?
This brings me to the last issue: Jesus is God, and God cannot be tempted with sin. However, the Bible clearly tells us that Satan tempted Jesus to sin (Luke 4:11). In fact, the Bible goes on to say that Christ was tempted at all points, yet was without sin:
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15, emphasis mine).
The point to keep in mind in this passage is that Christ, in His incarnation, took the form of a man and dwelt among us. Jesus was still 100% God, but he “emptied Himself” of His former glory, and He gave up some of His divine privileges so that He could take the true form of a man:
“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
In other words, Christ relinquished some of His divine attributes and clothed Himself with flesh so that He could relate with our infirmities, and that includes the temptation to sin. However, God, in His eternal and glorified state, cannot be coerced to commit sin. And even though Christ was tempted by Satan, He clearly resisted the temptation to sin. He was the sinless lamb of God, and His shed blood covers the sins of whosoever believes on Him.
Conclusion: God Cannot Be Tempted, Nor Does He Tempt Others
God will never tempt humans to do evil for evil’s sake, but Satan will. God, in His glorified state, can never be tempted to sin. Sin is against the very nature of a Holy and eternal God. God hates sin.
But we can test God’s patience, and He can be proved by us, and God even encourages us to test His faithfulness to us when we are faithful with our finances. Finally, Satan may have tempted Jesus in the flesh, but only because Jesus humbled Himself so that he may suffer all that we suffered. Jesus was still 100% God, but he “emptied Himself” and gave up some of His divine privileges so that He may take the true form of a man (Philippians 2:7), enduring temptations in the process.
Thus, there is no contradiction whatsoever when examining the meaning of the word “tempt” in the context of each passage in question. As always, the Bible is God’s Word. God tempts no man, and no man tempts Him.