James 1:13-15 – God Cannot Be Tempted By Evil

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POSTED 28 JANUARY, 2018

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume II

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

In issuing an admonition to his audience to resist the lure of sin, James the Just makes it quite clear that a temptation to sin does not originate with God. As he communicates, “He himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is dragged away and enticed by his own desire. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is full grown, it brings forth death” (James 1:13b-15, TLV). Even with demonic forces a likely factor in tempting people to sin, the enemy can only have success when people themselves want to sin, and crave something that is contrary to the will and commandments of God. When people fall into sinful behavior, all it can do is lead them into death, and into a state of being where they are separated or distanced from their Creator.

In discussions over the nature of Yeshua, it cannot go overlooked that sometimes James 1:13a is used by proponents of a low Christology, as proof against the Divinity of Yeshua, as the Messiah was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). James 1:13a says, “God cannot be tempted by evil,” the adjective apeirastos meaning, “incapable of being tempted by a thing” (LS).[1] The logic of many who hold to a low Christology, is that since Yeshua was clearly tempted by Satan, that He cannot be God. Such a method of argumentation, however, is severely flawed. It cannot be avoided how the Holy Scriptures record the fact that God the Father was tempted by the Ancient Israelites:

“He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD [they tempted the LORD, KJV], saying, ‘Is the LORD among us, or not?’” (Exodus 17:7).

“Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times [and have tempted me now these ten times, KJV] and have not listened to My voice” (Numbers 14:22).

In the course of human history people have doubtlessly tempted God to inappropriate action, placing Him in the situation of being tempted. This often takes place via absurd claims such as, “If God truly exists, I demand that He now enact revenge on my enemies who have wronged me!” Yet, because God may be situationally tempted, it does not all of a sudden make Him something less than an Eternal and Supreme Creator. The point of James 1:13 is not that God cannot be in the situation of being tempted by some party; the point is that God can never succumb to temptation. Motyer’s observations are excellent:

God cannot be tempted with evil. The divine nature is of such unmixed holiness that it is impossible for him to be enticed to plot to harm us. There is nothing within his whole nature to which that or any other temptation could appeal, or which would respond to that or any other base suggestion. Secondly (and consequently) he himself tempts no one. He is of such unmixed goodness in his attitudes and actions that there is no room in motive, will or deed for that which would bring disaster, great or small, on any of his people. To be sure, he places tests in our pathway…But there is never an ulterior motive in all this, for his holiness offers no lodging-place for evil within his nature; neither is there the least impulse to trip us up, for his goodness forbids that he should seek our hurt. When he tests, it is so that we may pass the test and inherit the blessing. When the reverse happens, the blame lies elsewhere than in the God of all grace.”[2]

No honest reader of the Apostolic Scriptures can avoid the fact that Yeshua the Messiah was situationally tempted. However, the character of Yeshua the Messiah is representative of a being whose perfect and sinless nature is revulsed at temptation. As Erik Thoennes summarizes in the ESV Study Bible,

“Jesus experienced human temptation: ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb. 4:15; cf. Luke 4:1-2). While Jesus experienced every kind of human temptation, he never succumbed to sin (John 8:29, 46; 15:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5).”[3]


NOTES

[1] H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 91.

[2] Motyer, James, 51.

[3] Erik Thoennes, “Biblical Doctrine: An Overview,” in Wayne Grudem, ed., ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 2517.