Some have imagined a contradiction in the Scriptures regarding whether or not God can be tempted. These readers are confused when they compare passages such as the following:
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. (James 1:13)
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)
Since one passage states that God cannot be tempted and the other claims that God was tempted, how can Christians avoid a contradiction here?
We should also consider Deuteronomy 6:16, which instructs the Israelites to be careful that they do not to tempt the Lord. Likewise, Malachi 3:15 refers to the wicked who tempt God with their evil lifestyles. Jesus even quoted the Old Testament Scriptures when He warned others not to tempt the Lord (e.g., Matthew 4:7 and Luke 4:12).
Today we mostly use the term tempt specifically to mean to “solicit to do evil.” However, the term has not always been quite so narrowly interpreted. In the Bible this word conveys that idea at times, but at other times it means to “put to the test.” The context helps to determine which meaning is intended.
James clearly stated, “
God cannot be tempted by evil” (emphasis added). The phrase “by evil” is important because it highlights the point James was trying to make. This clearly indicates that God cannot be enticed to commit evil.
In the other passages above that referred to tempting God, the writers were using the term to mean we must not put God to the test. Here is the line of reasoning:
- God has said He will judge sin.
- When we sin, we are putting God to the test to see if He will respond to our sin by doing what He has said He will do.
- We must not “test” the extent of God’s grace but instead obey what He has told us to do.
Now, along with this question of whether or not God can be tempted, another potential dilemma arises, which is often stated like this:
- James 1:13 tells us God cannot be tempted by evil.
- According to Luke 4, Matthew 4, and Hebrews 4:15, Jesus was tempted by evil.
- Therefore, Jesus was not God or this is a contradiction.
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.
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.”
So could Jesus sin or not? This question has been debated by theologians for centuries, and although all true Christians agree that Jesus did not sin, they do not agree on whether or not He could have sinned. Other than agreeing that Jesus did not sin, Answers in Genesis does not hold a position on this debate. We would urge you to carefully and prayerfully study Scripture and consult with your local church on this subject.
There are three common views on the subject. Some hold the impeccability position (Latin non posse peccare). This view states that Christ could not have sinned, and thus was not even tempted, during the “temptations.” Others hold the peccability view (posse non peccare), meaning that He could have sinned. A third position attempts to find middle ground and is based on Christ having both a human nature and divine nature. This view says that in His human nature, He could have sinned, but in His divine nature, He could not.
The Bible does not contradict itself on these points. While God cannot be tempted to do evil, we are commanded not to put the Lord to the test. When it comes to the person of Jesus Christ, this issue may be more complex because He also had a fully human nature.