God Tempted Abraham
This post provides my thoughts on an issue, and though I am not one hundred percent convinced of the explanation I am suggesting, I think some important points are raised.
Does the KJV get it wrong in Genesis 22:1 where it says, “God did tempt Abraham?"
James wrote: “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:” (James 1:13).
Is this a contradiction, as some propose? Is it a poor choice of words by the KJV translators? My suggestion is that the answer to both questions is no.
Many theologians and commentators assure us that the meaning of the word “tempt” in Genesis is different than the word in James. In Genesis, they say, it means to test. They come to this conclusion after referencing the Hebrew and Greek (most likely in a Concordance) and seeing that the source gives multiple meanings for a word. Are concordances and dictionaries infallible? Certainly not. In fact, they change over time. But in their attempt to rescue the scriptures from being contradictory, they claim the Bible is saying something that no one without the “benefit” of concordances, dictionaries, and modern Bible versions would assume. How would an English-speaking person reading the Bible 300 years ago react to reading Genesis 22:1 alongside James 1:13? Would they reject the Bible as contradictory? Would they think it could not be trusted? Can’t the words be taken as they are, and someone arrive at a proper understanding of what is going on? I think so, and again, I believe it is a theological matter rather than a mere translation matter.
Listening to preachers and reading Christian literature, we often hear or read that it is a sin to lust. The word lust, so they say, is a word that denotes evil action. It certainly can. But it doesn’t always. Instead of referring to extra-biblical sources, we can look to the scriptures to bear this out. Paul wrote this:
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7).
Here we clearly see the connection between the word lust and the word covet. Paul appears to see them as having equivalent meanings. To lust is to covet, to covet is to lust. Is it always a sin to lust or covet? We should look at what the Bible says instead of allowing others to define issues for us.
To the Galatians Paul wrote this: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” Galatians 5:17).
Clearly, the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit lusts against the flesh. The flesh can covet things that are contrary to holiness, and the Spirit covets that we walk in righteousness rather than being controlled by the appetites of the flesh.
Though the Bible says not to covet (Romans 13:9, Exodus 20:17), Paul told the Corinthians to “covet earnestly the best (spiritual) gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31) and to “covet to prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:39). Coveting is not wrong, it is neutral. It is only a sin for someone to covet something that is forbidden.
This is an example of neutral words in the scriptures being incorrectly used by many people to say that they only refer to evil conduct. In explaining this, we see that a concordance or Bible dictionary is not needed. I simply do not believe that referencing Hebrew and Greek is necessary to understand the scriptures, though I do not deny that knowing those languages would help us to better understand the original manuscripts. Those who spend the time to learn Hebrew and Greek may think they are better educated in the Word than those who do not, but sometimes they are better at creating confusion than clarity.
How does all of this relate to the passages in Genesis 22 and James 1? Just as the words lust and covet are neutral words, is it possible that the word tempt is also neutral? Setting aside the concept that the word tempt can mean test, must its use always be referring to a solicitation to commit sin?
James said that God cannot be tempted with evil, nor does he tempt any man. The logical understanding of this passage is not that God has not or will not tempt anyone in any way (that is not the subject of the verse), but that God does not tempt any man with evil. God did tempt Abraham. Who says there should be a difference in the meaning of the word? Can’t the difference be one of context? One might conclude that since God does indeed tempt, or incite to activity, but does not tempt with evil, that the word tempt is neutral. I do not deny that God was testing Abraham, but it seems to me that he was testing him by tempting him. Again, he was not tempting Abraham to commit sin, he was tempting him in the sense that he was inciting him to activity, that is, to sacrifice Isaac to prove his submission and trust. Why can’t the word mean the exact same thing, with the difference being found in the two contexts as to the purpose for the temptation? Why does everyone assume that temptation necessarily includes an enticement to sin?
Why did Christ tell us to pray “lead us not into temptation” if God tempts no man in any way? It seems that some people would be willing to say that Christ would have us pray for something unnecessarily, and still others would say the KJV has it wrong and we have to reference another Bible version. God may tempt us to perform a difficult task we do not understand (which we do not want to experience), to see how we will respond, but he will never tempt us to sin. One can covet something that is wrong and something that is not wrong, and perhaps temptation can involve something that is wrong and something that is not wrong. God will not tempt with sin, but he will tempt with a challenging directive to test us, that is, to prove our faith.
John Gill (1697 – 1771) did not see the need to change the word in Genesis 22:1 - “God did tempt Abraham; not to sin, as Satan does, for God tempts no man, nor can he be tempted in this sense; and, had Abraham slain his son, it would have been no sin in him, it being by the order of God, who is the Lord of life, and the sovereign disposer of it; but HE TEMPTED HIM, that is, he tried him, to prove him, and to know his faith in him, his fear of him, his love to him, and cheerful obedience to his commands.” (Emphasis in the original - https://www.studylight.org/commentary/genesis/22-1.html )
He tempted Abraham by commanding him to complete a difficult task. This was a trial of his faith.
It appears possible to me that the word temptation is wrongly considered to be a word that can only refer to the temptation to do wrong. I suggest that the word tempt simply means to incite.
The word incite means: to move to action, stir up, spur on, urge on (Merriam – Webster.com).
Tempt (verb): to endeavor to persuade; to induce; to invite; to incite; to provoke; to instigate
It might be that when someone speaks of temptation as being temptation to sin, the words “to sin” are an unnecessary automatic addition. Could it be that a person can be tempted (moved, stirred, spurred, urged) to sin (which God does not do), or a person could be tempted (moved, stirred, spurred, urged) to do something difficult and challenging for the purpose of proving his faith? Is the word tempt a neutral word like the word covet? If so, it seems like it would be accurate to say this issue is couched in a doctrinal misunderstanding and there is not a problem with the word selection of the KJV.
Though I did not find a source to back this up, I read the following statement from a commenter on a discussion board:
“The mistake I see here is that you are making a distinction between tempting and testing, however the Rabbis who translated the Septuagint - the Greek translation of the Old Testament which would have been used by James use the word πειράζω in Gen 22:1 - the same word (though different conjugation) as is used by James in 1:13. James clearly understood whatever he was referencing (tempting or testing) to be the same thing as what Abraham experienced.”
He seems to have made an argument similar to mine, though I considered the point by referencing only the KJV, and he referenced a translation in another language.
So if this understanding is correct, God does tempt us; he stirs us, urges us, spurs us to act (now through his word, not specifically like in the case with Abraham) on a difficult challenge that may not make sense to us, and it is to prove us. But God does not tempt us to sin.