You may have heard it said that “God tests, but does not tempt.” Such conviction is usually based on a well-known verse: “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13 NRSV). Is there really a difference between “testing” and “tempting”? Can we even say that God only tests but never tempts?

In Genesis 22:15, God tests Abraham with a command to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. The Hebrew verb for “test” is נָסָה (nasah), which also can be translated to “tempt,” to “try,” or even to “train.” The verb represents a “process of verifying if something is true or not”; an “attempt to determine something’s veracity or quality.”

In Exodus 20:20, Moses tells the people, “God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you, so you do not sin.” God wants to test the faithfulness of Israel, and ascertain whether they will obey or disobey. But there the Torah uses another Hebrew word for “test” here: בָּחַן (bachan). This term is very close in meaning to נָסָה (nasah) and often means to “examine” or “scrutinize.” בָּחַן seems to imply a more invasive testing–a kind of experiment to test a certain outcome. The same verb is used when Joseph when decides to see what his brothers would do in a tough predicament (see Genesis 42:16). Are these all examples of “testing” or “tempting” or something else?

The Judeo-Greek equivalent of these Hebrew terms is the verb πειράζειν (peirazein). Matthew’s Gospel uses this term when Jesus is tested (or tempted?) in the wilderness by the devil (see Matt 4:1-11). The same word appears when Yeshua is tested by tricky questions (e.g., Matt 16:1; Luke 10:25).

Returning to James 1:13, the pertinent Greek verb (peirazein, πειράζειν) comes up several times in the same sentence. And in this case, it is hard to translate it exclusively as “testing” and avoid the connotation of “tempting.” In fact, the term means both! When James says that God “tempts (peirazei; πειραζει) no one,” the text does not mean that God never tempts anyone under any circumstances. Based on the broader witness of the Bible, God indeed tests, tries, examines, tempts, and scrutinizes people, and there is no sharp difference between these ideas in the original languages. What is true, however, is that “God does not do tempt anyone with evil things” (James 1:13). The verse denies that any evil that constitutes a temptation comes “from God” (apo tou Theu; απο του Θεου). The emphasis of the teaching is to show that God is never the source of evil, not that God never ever tempts.

God may use people, circumstances, or even Satan to administer tests, but the Lord will not entice people with “evil” (Greek: κακός; kakos/ Hebrew: רָע; ra) because that is not the divine nature. God is not tempted by evil, and human beings were made in God’s image. The purpose of tempting is not to cause failure, but rather to see whether one will choose the good and overcome evil. Thus, humans made in God’s image must emulate the Maker in passing any of life’s tests or trials (cf. Leviticus 11:44-45; 3 John 1:11).

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73 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for your translation of the Hebrew & Greek of tempting vs testing! I’ve always believed that God knows everything about me so I don’t need to be tested! But I see that often to test is for me, not God!
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  2. I do not totally agree,

    My reservation is that God do not tempt only Satan do.
    Temptation is luring someone by enticing them and it leads Into Bondage.

    God tests or examine which can only lead to failure of promotion spiritually.

    Thanks.
  3. Read the first chapter of the book of JoB and you see that the devil challenged God in the council, God said"from where do you come?"and the devil answered "I come from up and down from the earth and from east to west" . Read who is the culprit.
  4. 🙏 We're living in an "educative climate box", being punished for abuse and being rewarded for making good use of other beings. Our final "karma account" is qualifying us for the next existence. The amount of possible injustice enabled by abuse is restricted, the one of possible justice is not.
  5. Wow! Dr. Pinchas, this is another eye opening coming from you. If God tempts someone, lets say the person fails the test, will it not be a prove that God has tempted the individual with evil?
    • No, not at all. Failing demonstrates where we need to develop. If I test you by handing you a stone that weighs 10 kilos and you cannot hold it, all it reveals is that you are not strong enough to hold 10 kilos and probably need to exercise your muscles. If I did not do that, you may never know this about yourself. There is no evil in me revealing your inability to do something.

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  6. The more pertinent question is: Why it is necessary for an omniscient God to test or tempt—or both—his creatures. Such a God does not need to "see whether one will choose the good and overcome evil"—he knows from the beginning, and such a motivation would make him a sadist.
    • A more satisfactory explanation would be that our wrestling with temptation builds character and moral strength. It gives us an opportunity to exercise our moral muscles, which will atrophy if we are never called upon to struggle with vexing moral decisions. In NT language, adversity is for our "edification".

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    • Obviously, the goal of testing is not knowledge, but actualization. And perhaps more for our sake than God's
  7. I have to take issue with the simplistic view of God presented here. Is. 45:7 and other OT passages leave no doubt that the OT God does "create evil". The separation of good and evil was a post-Exilic development in Judaism, borrowed from the metaphysical dualism of Zoroastrianism.
    • James was deliberately contradicting the OT view of God, living as he did in post-Exilic times and consequently seeing God in very different terms. For NT writers, the devil was the adversary, the roaring lion seeking to devour, who needed to be vanquished by the redemptive death of Jesus.

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    • I agree there is dualism in post-exilic Jewish thought and no doubt time spent in Babylon can be blamed, but this fact does not expain everything. As far as simplicity you note, it is deliberate. This publication is meant for non-specialists, for an average person who dares to think about what is most worthy.

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  8. Thank you. I cherish these emails Currently, Im not in a place to sign up for continuous study. i always feel so blessed To read your emails and want to bless you in return. I feel typically Judeo- Christians miss out on so much.
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