Does God Tempt People? (Genesis 22:1 Vs James 1:13)

Genesis 22:1 says that God "tempted" Abraham, but James 1:13 says that God does not tempt anyone. Learn the solution to this alleged contradiction.
Bible "contradictions"
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Quick Answer

The Hebrew word, nissâ, can be translated as either "test" or "tempt." To determine which translation to use, context is key. For clear contextual reasons, nissâ should be translated as "test" in Genesis 221:1 and as "tempt" in James 1:13. Thus, there is clearly no contradiction.

The argument

Some argue that the Bible is contradictory concerning whether God tempts people. Below are the relevant verses. For the first verse, both the ESV and KJV translations are provided to help clarify the argument.

God tempts people

Genesis 22:1 (ESV) - After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.”
Genesis 22:1 (KJV) - And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

God does not tempt people

James 1:13 - Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

The solution

nissâ has more than one meaning

Here are the possible meanings and definitions of the Hebrew word nissâ, according to the Enhanced Strong's Lexicon:

  1. to test, try
  2. to attempt, assay, try
  3. to test, try, prove, tempt

Likewise, the first two definitions for nissâ in Brown, Driver, and Briggs's Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament is "to test, to try."

The Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament simply defines nissâ as "to test.[1]

The Theological DIctionary of the Old Testament says that the Hebrew word is best translated, whether in secular or theological contexts, as "testing."[2]

This argument assumes only one translation for the Hebrew word

This argument rests upon the ridiculous assumption that the Hebrew word can only be translated as "tempt," which is absurd, considering that the first two definitions for the word are not "tempt," but rather "test."

Essentially every modern translation, including the NKJV, NASB, ESV, NIV, and RSV, uses the word "test" in Genesis 22:1, which completely eliminates the alleged contradiction.

But how do you know which translation to use?

Here, determining which translation to use is simple. We simply need to determine what the author certainly intended.

In James 1:13, it is obvious that God has tested people before in Scripture, and so here, the author certainly intends the Hebrew word to mean "tempt."

In Genesis 22:1, it makes no sense to say that God was tempting Abraham, which implies sin on God's part, and so the author certainly intends the Hebrew word to mean "test" here.

Unless you assume that the authors were stupid, which is entirely unreasonable and unfair, we should simply interpret the Hebrew word in these contexts according to what makes the most sense.

References

  1. Jenni and Westermann, 1997, 2:741-742
  2. Botterweck, et al., 1998, 9:443-455

"I don't buy that explanation"

Some people have trouble accepting possible explanations to alleged contradictions in the Bible, especially ones that they consider a stretch. For example, Dan Barker, president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, says this:

I have received numerous replies from Christians who think that these contradictions are either trivial or easily explained. Yet not a single "explanation" has been convincing.

Fact vs Opinion

The fact is that there are plausible explanations for every alleged contradiction in the Bible. That there is a plausible explanation for an alleged contradiction does not mean that it is definitely the correct explanation for the alleged contradiction.

However, as long as a possible explanation has been suggested, then it has been objectively demonstrated that there is no necessary contradiction regarding the Bible verses and passages brought up.

When people like Dan Barker say that they don't find a particular explanation for a contradiction "convincing," then that is merely their opinion. A plausible explanation has been suggested that eliminates the necessary alleged contradiction. They simply don't like it, which is not at all a relevant argument against the explanation.

Additional Resources

To read more about solutions to Bible contradictions and difficulties, check out Norman Geisler's The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation. While we do not agree with some of Geisler's theology, particularly concerning his view of predestination, this book is still an excellent resource. It is thorough and filled with research.

Another book to check out is Tim Chaffey's Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions: Exploring Forty Alleged Contraditions, which also answers many alleged contradictions in the Bible.

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