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Temptation

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

    Temptation

    In biblical traditions, temptation is generally a test or trial to which the tempter subjects another person, often by confusing what is good with what is evil. Along with strength of will, the capacity to discern good is being tested, and the tester is usually the God of Israel or occasionally the adversary, Satan. Less frequent is the understanding of temptation as the conscious desire of individuals to do what they know to be wrong, though this does occur (Gal. 6.1; James 1.14).

    In the Hebrew Bible, the most famous example of God setting a specific trial for an individual is the testing of Abraham (Gen. 22; See Aqedah). Another is God's permission to Satan to put Job to the test (Job 1.6–12). In the New Testament, God is likewise the ultimate initiator of the temptation of Jesus (see next entry), for it is the Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness, where Satan's offers would serve as a maximum test of Jesus' discernment and courage (Mark 1.12–13; Matt. 4.1–11 par.). Similarly, God is pictured as setting tests for Jesus' followers (Luke 22.28; James 1.2; 1 Pet. 1.6).

    The Bible also speaks of putting God to the test. Israel presumes that because God has delivered it from earlier crises, he will do so again (Exod 17.2–7; Num. 14.20–25; Deut. 6.16; Pss. 78.18; 95.9). Evildoers challenge God to punish them, but they escape unscathed (Mal. 3.15). The same language is used in the New Testament, where Jesus refuses to test God (Matt. 4.7; cf. 26.53); Christians may test him by their improper conduct (Acts 5.9; 15.10; 1 Cor. 10.9).

    A larger role is assigned to Satan in the New Testament than in the Hebrew Bible. God uses Satan to tempt people; Satan uses them to tempt God. The afflictions believers suffered because of their faith were often understood as an opportunity for the tempter (Mark 4.14–17 par.; 1 Thess. 3.4–5). This provides a background for interpreting the climactic petitions designed by Jesus for his followers as they faced persecutions (Matt. 6.13). These petitions can be understood as asking, “Father … do not bring us to the time of trial by the Evil One, but rescue us from his power” (See Lord's Prayer). It was because Jesus had also been tempted that he was able to help those struggling against the same foe (Heb. 2.14–18; 4.15).

    Paul S. Minear

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