Testing or Temptation?

This coming Sunday is the 17th Sunday in Lectionary Cycle C. We have been exploring some details about the Lord’s Prayer. One question that always arises in Bible studies is the meaning of the familiar form used in our liturgical settings where we are quite used to praying, “lead us not into temptation.” But note that the Lucan version in our gospel reading is and do not subject us to the final test.” The underlying Greek word is peirasmos? Its normal meaning is “test” or “temptation” – not necessarily always with a religious connotation. In the LXX we find the ordinary senses (cf. 1 Sam. 17:39) However we also find the use of peirasmos with a religious use: divine testing, in relation to temptation to transgress God’s commands, and in regards to the human tempting of God. Here are some examples:

Human Temptation. Here peirasmos carries the sense of “that which tries to learn the nature or character of someone or something by submitting such to thorough and extensive testing,” namely, “examination, testing.”

  • The best example of divine testing is in Gen. 22:1ff., where Abraham meets the test. In Ex. 20:20 the law is a test of the people, and Dt. 8:2 views the desert experience as a test. In Judg. 2:22 God tests the people’s obedience by not driving out the heathen who are still in the land. Here God uses history to test the people’s faith and obedience.
  • The story of the fall describes human temptation that comes, not from God, but from the adversary, who forces Adam and Eve to decide for or against God. Satan also appears in Job 1. The temptation is here allowed by God as a test. Job meets the test because, even in incomprehensible suffering, he is ready to count on God and commit himself to him.
  • There are many references to testing in the Wisdom writings (cf. Sir. 2:1; 33:1), but here the testing is largely educational. All the life of the righteous is a test, and to pass it one should model oneself on Abraham etc.
  • In Dan. 12:10 the last tribulation will be a final testing and sanctifying (a theme prevalent among the Essene and Qumran writings of a later age)

Tempting God. This word group is used for Jesus’ temptation by Satan. It is also used for the “testing” of Jesus by other people.

  • The OT offers many instances of human tempting of God. In Ex. 17:2 Moses asks why the complaining people are putting God to the test. Num. 14:22 contains God’s judgment on those who put him to the proof. To tempt God is to fail to accept his power or his will to save. It is to challenge him in doubt and unbelief. True love of God rules out the testing of God (Dt. 6:16-17). The strong tradition that one must not tempt God explains the reasoning of Ahaz in Is. 7:12, although in this case the prohibition does not apply, for God offers a sign.
  • Wis. 1:2 shows that faith does not tempt God. Putting God to the test is not belief in him but questioning his power and love.

What is clear is that peirasmos understood as meaning “the endeavor or attempt to cause someone to sin,” (i.e., temptation) does not apply to God as James 1:13-14 asserts that God tempts no one. The devil tempts us to sin, not God. God protects us from the hour of temptation/trial (Rev 3:10). However one understands peirasmos (temptation now or subject to the final test of end times), temptation and testing do reveal one’s character.  We are to encourage in ourselves and others an attitude, the attitude that flees from temptation (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Christians recognize their weakness and the ease with which they give way to the temptations of the world. So we pray to be delivered from them all.


Luke 11:4 the final test: Jewish apocalyptic writings speak of a period of severe trial before the end of the age, sometimes called the “messianic woes.” The word “final” does not appear in the Greek text. Rather the word is offered here as the translators have given a priority of meaning to the eschatological tone of the prayer. Some manuscripts have the addition “but deliver us from the evil one.” This is not attested is the better manuscripts.


  • R. Allen Culpepper Luke, vol. 9 in New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN.: Abington, 1995)
  • Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gorden Fee (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997)
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes”
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC.

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