By Charles H. Welch
We have dealt with the prayer ‘lead us not into temptation’ under the heading of LORD’s PRAYER, and at the moment we are not concerned with temptation in general, or with the temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4), but with the specific reference in Hebrews 4:15 where we read that Christ was ‘tempted in all points like as we are’. How are we to interpret the words ‘in all points’? How are we to understand the sequel ‘yet without sin’? How does this passage influence our understanding concerning the sinlessness of the Man, Christ Jesus?
There have been those who have argued that the presence of the words ‘in all points’, implies the inclusion of every temptation which besets mankind, and, in consequence, have been driven by the irresistible force of logic to affirm that He must therefore have had a ‘fallen nature’, even though He actually ‘did no sin’. The seriousness of the subject therefore will be felt by all. To most of our readers, the teaching that the Saviour had a ‘fallen’ nature would come as a shock. Moreover, the believer himself is involved, for he cannot be unmoved at the moral consequences that arise out of the examination of the words ‘tempted in all points like as we are’.
In order therefore to discover the scope of the argument that contains these pregnant words, we propose an examination of the passages in the epistle to the Hebrews where temptation is the theme and, following that, an examination of other passages where the words ‘tempt’ and ‘temptation’ are used, so that if possible we may arrive at a Scriptural understanding both of the range of temptation indicated in Hebrews 4:15 and the meaning, origin, and different forms of temptation that are indicated by the usage of the word in Hebrews and in other parts of the New Testament.
The scope of any passage of Scripture is indicated by its literary
structure, and our readers already possess the structure of the epistle to
the Hebrews, which is set out in the article Hebrews2. For our present
purpose we will lift out two corresponding members only, because in them are
found every occurrence of the words ‘tempt’ and ‘temptation’ in the epistle.
There can be no question but that these two sections very closely
correspond with one another, and if they contain all the occurrences of ‘tempt’ and ‘temptation’ that are to be found in the epistle to the Hebrews,
then those temptations must be intimately related to the two ideas of
‘perfection’ and ‘perdition’; with ‘going on’, or with ‘drawing back’. When
we come to consider the first portion of Hebrews that contains the passage
under review, we discover that its historic background is the story of
Israel’s failure in the wilderness; a failure to ‘go on unto perfection’,
with which the words ‘tempt’ and ‘temptation’ are closely interwoven.
It will be seen that Hebrews 4:15 is an integral part of this larger context, and no interpretation is therefore valid that ignores or contravenes the general direction of the teaching of this context. A ‘profession’ is in view; something to ‘hold fast’; something involving trial and self -denial; something that may be lost. Further, with the structure before us, it is impossible to isolate Hebrews 4:15; we must ever keep in mind the temptation mentioned in chapter 3.
‘Your fathers tempted Me’ (Heb. 3:9), said God. Now whatever questionable views we may entertain concerning the temptations to which our Lord was subjected in the days of His flesh, no such thoughts are possible when we consider the words ‘Your fathers tempted Me’. It is not only repugnant to common sense, but contrary to positive Scripture that God can, by any possibility, be ‘tempted’ to or by evil. ‘God cannot be tempted with evil’ is the categorical statement of Holy Writ (Jas. 1:13); consequently we are immediately faced with a fact concerning ‘temptation’ that must influence our views of Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15.
If we had continued the quotation of Hebrews 3:9 we should have read, ‘when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years’. ‘Proved’ is dokimazo, ‘to test, try, as a metal’. This meaning is borne out by the passages in Hebrews 11, ‘by faith Abraham, when he was tried (peirazo, "tempted"), offered up Isaac’ (Heb. 11:17). Shall we say that God tempted Abraham to sin when He made the great demand concerning Isaac? God forbid! not only because Scripture positively declares that God never tempts man to sin (Jas. 1:13), but also because a reading of Genesis 22 reveals that this ‘tempting’ was a ‘testing’ of Abraham’s faith, ‘now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from Me’ (Gen. 22:12).
The contexts of the references to temptation in Hebrews 2 and 4 introduce such words as ‘succour’, ‘sympathy’ (‘cannot be touched with’), ‘infirmities’, but we can scarcely speak of ‘sympathy’ and ‘infirmities’ when we speak of ‘sin’ as it appears in Scripture.
The word translated ‘succour’ (Heb. 2:18) and ‘help’ (Heb. 4:16) occurs once more in Hebrews 13:6, ‘so that we may boldly say, The Lord is my Helper’. This is associated, not with ‘sin’ or ‘forgiveness’, but with the promise that the believer would never be forsaken and in connection with ‘what man shall do’ unto us, not what we might inadvertently do ourselves.
Another word which occurs in Hebrews must be included in our examination and that is the word peira. This occurs twice in Hebrews:
In neither passage can the idea of ‘tempting’ be discovered. In the first passage ‘attempt’ gives good English and incidentally reveals that, in our mother-tongue, the word ‘tempt’ means a ‘trial’ or an ‘ATtempt’. The other reference (Heb. 11:36) is but a variant of the word translated ‘tempted’, and needs no comment.
To complete the tale of occurrences of peirazo in Hebrews, one more reference must be included. In Hebrews 5:13 we find the negative, apeiros, where it is translated ‘unskilful’, which accords with the classical rendering ‘untried’ and ‘inexperienced’ and with the LXX usage:
The reader will recognize the influence of this LXX rendering in Hebrews 5:13,14, where the unskilful ‘babe’ is contrasted with the ‘perfect’ (A.V. full age), who discerns ‘good and evil’.
As they stand, the words ‘yet without sin’ in Hebrews 4:15, suggest to the English reader ‘yet without sinning’, as if our Lord was actually tempted to steal, to murder, to commit adultery, but resisted. We only allow ourselves to write this in order to bring this doctrine and its consequences into the light, for there is no necessity so to translate or interpret the words choris hamartias. In his Lexicon, choris is rendered by Dr. Bullinger ‘apart, asunder, apart from’. It comes from chorizo, ‘to put asunder’, ‘to separate’, as in Matthew 19:6 and Romans 8:39. In Hebrews itself we read, concerning the Saviour, that He was ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, separate(chorizo) from sinners’ (Heb. 7:26).
Dr. John Owen quotes the Syriac Version of Hebrews 4:15 as reading ‘sin being excepted’. J. N. Darby reads ‘sin apart’ and Rotherham reads ‘apart from sin’.
The positive witness of the epistle to the Hebrews as a whole, and of this expression in particular, is that the temptation referred to in the words ‘tempted in all points’ refers to the testings and trials of the pilgrim on his journey through the wilderness of this world, as he presses on to perfection; it does not refer to, or include, temptations to sin, but rather to the testings and trials of faith.
Our examination of the usage of the words ‘tempt’ and ‘temptation’ in the epistle to Hebrews leaves us with no doubt but that the apostle had in mind the temptations that beset ‘pilgrims and strangers’ in maintaining their ‘confession’ or ‘profession’, and that the words ‘tempted in all points like as we are’ are limited to that aspect of truth. It would be neither fair nor sound exegesis however to suppose that there is no other aspect of this subject in the Scriptures. In order, therefore, to present the teaching of the Word as completely as possible, let us consider further aspects of this theme.
As we have commenced with an epistle addressed to the Hebrews, let us continue with the epistles of the Dispersion, namely, that of James and those of Peter, and see whether these introduce a different line of teaching from that of the epistle to the Hebrews.
It would be strange indeed if the believer who fell into all manner of temptations to do evil, should count it ‘all joy’, but it is clear that temptation of this kind is far from the mind of James, for he immediately goes on to say ‘knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience’ (Jas. 1:3); and, like the epistle to the Hebrews, associates this tempting, or trying, with ‘perfection’ -- ‘Let patience have her perfect work’ (Jas. 1:4).
After speaking of a double -minded man, who is unstable in all his ways, and of the danger of pride, he uses a figure that takes our minds back to the Gospels, ‘for the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass’ (Jas. 1:11), a passage that recalls the parable of Luke 8:13; ‘they on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away’. The withering of the burning heat of the sun (Matt. 13:6; Mark 4:5,6), is likened to ‘affliction or persecution for the Word’s sake’ (Mark 4:17). This being the case, we are prepared to find, and do find, a reference to temptation similar to that found in Hebrews:
The introduction of the words ‘approved’ and ‘crown’ brings the passage into line with the epistle to the Hebrews, which also urges the believer to endure and to run with patience the race set before him, and which more than once speaks of reward for such conduct.
James now turns to the aspect of temptation that arises from, and leads to, sin.
If these words be taken literally, we are immediately faced with a problem, for we get the two contrary statements, ‘neither tempteth He any man’ (Jas. 1:13), and ‘God did tempt Abraham’ (Gen. 22:1). But this is the case only if the words be taken literally, for the reader of the Scriptures will probably be aware that throughout the Old and New Testaments there appears a figure of speech called Ellipsis, or ‘Omission’, and that in many passages the sense is found by supplying by repetition a word that has already gone before. If in James 1:13 we repeat the governing clause, ‘with evil’, all will be clear. ‘Let no man say when he is tempted (to do evil things), I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man (with evil)’. This, however, is negative; the positive follows, ‘but every man is tempted (to do evil things), when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed’ (Jas. 1:14).
That these two aspects of temptation are in mind in the epistle of James is evident, for he could not teach, ‘my brethren, count it all joy when ye shall fall into divers temptations’, and are led away by your own lusts, and enticed, bringing forth as it does sin and ending in death (Jas. 1:2,14,15), yet such must be the implication of James 1:2 if there be no difference between that testing which comes from God, and is associated with going on unto perfection, and those temptations that spring from our own depravity.
Returning to the positive teaching of James 1:14, let us note its bearing upon the text, ‘He was tempted in all points like as we are’. It is one thing for a congregation to stand and say, ‘we are all miserable offenders’, and quite another for one member to stand and publicly confess that he is a ‘thief’.
In the same way it is one thing to quote the passage from Hebrews 4 which says that Christ was tempted in all points like as we are, and quite another to be specific and say that Christ was actually tempted to steal. What is it that causes the presence of an unprotected pound note to be a temptation to a man? Is it any outside temptation, or is it something within? It is difficult, without a feeling of irreverence, for us to bring our Lord into this controversy: let us therefore take a step down and cite two fellow-beings as examples. First, the ‘chief of sinners’, Paul, the apostle. Is it conceivable that, had Paul entered a synagogue and found the place unattended, the presence of a piece of money lying uncollected would be the slightest temptation to him? Our answer must be ‘no’. The second example, dear reader, is yourself. Were you to come into the Chapel of the Opened Book and discover that the offering had not been taken charge of by the Treasurer, would that be a temptation to you to steal? You rightly repudiate the thought. Why? Because the grace of God and the gift of the new nature make temptation of that kind virtually impossible.
So we return to the Lord Himself. As He had no corrupt and depraved nature, He could never be ‘led away’ by lust and enticed and, that being the case, no amount of emphasis upon the words ‘in all points’ can ever teach the evil and destructive doctrine we have been examining. He, the Saviour, could mingle with publicans and sinners and remain undefiled. Contrary to law, He could touch a leper and remain immune. We might as well consider that a sunbeam gathers contamination by shining on a rubbish heap as that, even in the presence of the most gilded opportunity, Christ could be tempted to sin.
It is possible that the reader’s mind may have turned back to Genesis 3 and questioned how far all that we have said would apply there. For the moment, our answer is that the word ‘tempt’, ‘temptation’ and ‘tempter’ are never once used of the fall of man, in either the Old Testament or New, and, therefore, believing in the inspiration of all Scripture, we must abide by this fact and exclude the passage from our present considerations.
Turning to the other circumcision epistles we find that Peter alone uses the word peirasmos, translated ‘temptation’, and that three times.
Let us note that these tempted believers are, at the same time, ‘greatly rejoicing’ in salvation; the temptations are ‘for a season’ and ‘if need be’, and as a result they are ‘in heaviness’, or as the word is elsewhere translated, ‘grieved’ (Eph. 4:30); ‘sorrowful’ (2 Cor. 6:10). It sounds a contradiction to say that a believer who thus rejoiced, and who was thus grieved, could at the same time be yielding to or tempted to actual sin. But we have no need to interpose our own conjectures, for Peter himself goes on to expand and explain his meaning, ‘that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet. 1:7). Here, the word ‘that’ means strictly ‘in order that’; ‘trial’ is to dokimion, ‘the proof after testing’, and the result of the trial, ‘praise and honour and glory’ at the appearing of the Lord. It is utterly impossible to import temptation to sin into 1 Peter 1:6. It is the trial of faith that is in view. If it were needed, the fullest confirmation of this interpretation is contained in 1 Peter 4:12.
This passage is so eloquent in the distinction which it makes between temptation as a test and temptation to sin that we add no word of our own, except to say that the ‘trial’ here, which is called ‘fiery’ and is a partaking of Christ’s ‘sufferings’ (not being led away by evil things), is the translation of the Greek word peirasmos.
The only other reference is that of 2 Peter 2:9,
The context of this statement speaks of the deliverance of ‘just Lot’, who escaped the overthrow of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha, which overthrow was an ensample of the fate that awaits the ungodly. It is clear by this examination that the epistles of the circumcision use the word ‘temptation’ consistently, and always in the sense of trial; not in the sense of enticement to sin.
Before we can come to a Scriptural conclusion, we shall have to consider the teaching of the apostle Paul in his epistles, the Acts, the Gospels and the Book of the Revelation. What we have already seen, however, is truth, and must ever be in mind when we stress the words of Hebrews 4:15, ‘tempted in all points like as we are’. So far, our studies in the epistles to the Hebrews and by James and Peter reveal the fact that the character of ‘temptation’ as there found is the testing and proving of the believer on his way to perfection, not temptation to sin, whether by Satan or by self.
We turn next to the remaining epistles of Paul to see how far this presentation of the Truth obtains there, and what other phases are brought forward. Adopting what we believe to be the chronological order of the epistles, we commence with Galatians. There are two references, one concerning Paul himself and the other spiritual believers.
In verse 13 the apostle speaks of the ‘infirmity of the flesh’ in connection with his preaching. A literal rendering of the verse suggests that the apostle had preached the gospel while he was passing through a period of sickness or infirmity and that in spite of the fact that this ‘temptation’ or ‘trial’ (apparently ophthalmia, verse 15) had rendered him despicable and loathsome in appearance, the Galatians had received him as ‘an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus’. It is beyond belief that, had this ‘temptation’ in the flesh had any connection with sin, the Galatian Christians would have so received him.
We pass on to the second and only other occurrence in the epistle:
Ignoring the chapter division and reading this first verse as a continuation of the subject of the previous chapter, we shall find that ‘meekness’ is a ‘fruit of the Spirit’, and the ‘spiritual’ brethren of Galatians 6:1 are exhorted to restore a fallen brother in the ‘spirit of meekness’. What this spirit involves is made evident by the words, ‘considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted’. It is evident that the ‘temptation’ against which these brethren are here warned is one of pride and confidence, as they contrast themselves with the erring brother; not a test of faith, but a temptation to spiritual pride, which is sin. This, then, is the first passage we have met that uses the word in this sense. But is it the teaching of Scripture that our Saviour ever needed this warning against spiritual pride? Surely the words, ‘God forbid!’ arise in most minds at such a thought.
We must next examine 1 Thessalonians. Paul was solicitous for the believers left at Thessalonica, and had sent Timothy to comfort them concerning the faith, his object being ‘that no man should be moved by these afflictions’, for he had himself warned them that ‘we are appointed thereunto’, and that ‘we should suffer tribulation’. It is in this context that we meet the only occurrences of peirazo.
There is no thought here of temptation to commit sin (to steal, to lie, to commit adultery); it is a temptation relating to the Faith.
Macknight expands the passage as follows:
This idea, together with the reference to being ‘moved by afflictions’ and the inevitableness of tribulation, shows that it was the fear of their yielding under great external pressure, not to internal lust and desire, that had aroused the apostle’s concern.
The next occurrences are found in the epistles to the Corinthians.
They are five in number and we will cite them together.
It is not our immediate purpose to give a detailed exposition of every use in these passages. What we are primarily concerned with is the question that arises from the statement that Christ was tempted in all points like as we are. So far as 1 Corinthians 7:5 is concerned, no point arises. The passages cited in 1 Corinthians 10 deal with the provocation in the wilderness already examined in connection with Hebrews 3 and 4. In 1 Corinthians 10:9 the word ‘tempt’, in the opening phrase, ‘neither let us tempt Christ’, is ekpeirazo, ‘to try out’, and is used in the New Testament always in a bad sense (only other occurrences Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12; 10:25). By no method of interpretation can the call of the apostle to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 13:5 ‘to examine’ themselves be made to refer to what we commonly understand by ‘temptation’, so we pass on to the remaining occurrence in Paul’s epistles, which is 1 Timothy 6:9,10.
Timothy is urged to ‘flee these things’, and reminded that he had ‘professed a good profession’, and also of ‘Christ Jesus, Who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession’. While Timothy would be strengthened as he kept before him the constant and unswerving integrity of the Saviour, there is not a word that would suggest that he would find comfort in the thought that even his Lord, at times, was tempted by riches and the love of money! Truly, the Saviour was ‘pierced through with many sorrows’, but these were for sins ‘laid on Him’, not for any ‘love’ of hurtful things within Him.
The word translated ‘to pierce through’ is the Greek peripeiro, used by Josephus in his record of the Wars of the Jews in the sentence, ‘they were pierced through on all sides with Roman darts’. Here it will be seen that the ‘temptation’ of verse 9 becomes the ‘probe’ of verse 10, and sheds further light upon the primary meaning of all the words translated ‘tempt’.
Temptations to sin arise from within. Money, the external thing, is useful and innocuous; the ‘love’ of it is resident, not in the money itself, but in the heart. In themselves riches are useful and of value, but he who ‘wills to be rich’ falls into a temptation and snare; it is the ‘will’, not the riches; the ‘love’, not the money, that constitutes the snare.
It is contrary to the teaching of Scripture to affirm that when a Christian falls into such temptations he can count on the ‘sympathy’ of the Saviour. In such circumstances he needs not sympathy and succour, but correction, forgiveness and restoration. To expect sympathy after being ensnared by hurtful lusts is to hold a very low estimate of the enormity of sin or of the attitude of the Saviour towards it. In the temptations that assail the believer in his journey through the wilderness that intervenes between initial conversion and the attainment of ‘perfection’, he will always receive sympathetic help, for it was temptation of this character that the Saviour shared and endured.
We now have the Gospels, the Acts, and the Revelation to examine, and then every occurrence of ‘temptation’ will have been surveyed. In the light of all that we have learned on the subject it will then be our responsibility to entertain sound conceptions of this most important subject; important, because it affects both the doctrine of the Saviour’s unfallen and sinless humanity, and the nature of the temptations that come from God.
While we read at the end of the threefold temptation in the wilderness that ‘the devil leaveth Him’ (Matt. 4:11), we gather from His words in Luke 22:28 that His whole life on earth could be considered as one long ‘temptation’, ‘ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations’. There can be no doubt as to the character of these, for ‘reward’ is immediately connected with this ‘continuance’: ‘and I appoint unto you a kingdom, as My Father hath appointed unto Me’ (Luke 22:29). There are, scattered throughout the Gospels, a number of passages which speak of men approaching the Lord and ‘tempting’ Him, as did the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who, ‘tempting, desired Him that He would show them a sign from heaven’ (Matt. 16:1). With this passage can be read Matthew 19:3; 22:18,35, and the parallels in the other Gospels.
There remain the references to temptation that relate to the Agony in the garden:
‘Weakness’ there may be, and temptation is strong, but that presents a different aspect from ‘temptation’ by and to evil.
Three more occurrences complete the references in the New Testament ‘thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars’ (Rev. 2:2). ‘Temptation’ cannot be substituted here. ‘The devil shall cast some of you into prison that ye may be tried’ (Rev. 2:10). The sequel, ‘faithful unto death’, and the ‘crown of life’, provides sufficient evidence to establish the meaning of this reference. Revelation 3:10 we have already considered when dealing with the hour of temptation which is coming upon the world ‘to try’ the earth dwellers.
The word peira, which lies at the root of the words translated ‘tempt’, ‘temptation’, ‘try’ and ‘prove’, means a point, or an edge, or, as we would call it, a ‘probe’. It is a well -known phenomenon in language for ‘b’ and ‘v’ to be interchangeable, consequently we are not surprised to learn that the verb ‘to prove’ comes from probare, ‘to test as to its goodness’, which in turn comes from the word probus, ‘good’. So we find such words as ‘probable?’, ‘probate’, ‘probation’, ‘probity’, all coming from the same root, and having the basic meaning of ‘testing for goodness’.
The word ‘probe’ means either an instrument, or the act of searching, exploring and trying. In the great majority of the passages where ‘tempt’ and ‘temptation’ occur in the New Testament, the meaning is just this ‘probing to discover whether goodness is present’, and only in a few passages can the popular idea of ‘tempting to commit sin by solicitations and an appeal to evil desires within’ be discovered.
We return therefore to the original verse that caused this examination, and rejoice to know that in all the ‘probing’ and ‘testing’ that must be undergone on the way to glory, we have both the sympathy and the succour of Him Who was tempted in all points like His brethren, ‘sin excepted’. Where temptation issues in sin, not sympathy succour and infirmity, but forgiveness and restoration are needed and forthcoming, but in such experiences the Son of God can have no part. He needed not forgiveness, He was never deflected, He needed not to be restored.
In conclusion we would draw the reader’s attention to the equivalent word used in the Old Testament. First, those in the A.V.
Tromm lists a few various readings, none of which make any difference to the results already obtained. They are too complicated to set out here, and indeed the reader who is so far advanced as to be able to follow any such attempt would already be independent of our help; these articles not being written for such.
May we count it all joy that we are counted worthy of being tested, and flee all solicitations of the ‘old man’ within us. Realizing that the one form of temptation but ‘probes to discover the good’ that has been implanted by the new nature, we can recognize that the other but seeks to accomplish our downfall by stimulating the desires of the old nature. In the former the Saviour has shared; From the latter the Saviour was separated, but For them He suffered on the tree.