By James R. Strange, Ph.D.
Professor of biblical and religious studies, Samford University
The Source of Temptation
It is no surprise many biblical authors have something to say about dealing with temptation. Over the next six weeks, our lessons take us to James, Deuteronomy, Matthew, Psalms and Ephesians.
Read all of chapter 1. The passage begins with a beatitude, a device Jesus made famous in Matthew 5:3–12, but also found in places like Psalm 1:1, 1 Kings 10:8 and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
James uses a word translators render as “tempt” or “try”/“trial.” He first combines this idea with testing in 1:2, and in 1:3–4, he uses the metaphor of growth from endurance to wisdom, that is, the progression of life. Temptation leads to death.
God does not tempt anyone to sin. (13)
James makes it clear God has no part in temptation. God cannot be tempted, and He does not tempt. Christians might respond that, in contrast to God, the devil tempts. But even in Genesis, temptation comes from within, and in the wilderness, what was tested was Jesus’s willingness to obey the Father.
Temptation begins with our own sin nature. (14–15)
In Genesis, the snake told Eve the truth about the consequences of eating the fruit: She would become like God, knowing good from evil. Her temptation, however, was internal. She saw the fruit “was a delight to the eyes” and “was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6). The appeal of what the fruit offered was greater than her desire for the life God offered in the garden.
James’ language evokes sexual enticements that draw one away from one’s spouse: luring and enticing. But desire or even lust can apply to any longing. If I desire happiness, peace or security more than anything else, I do not desire God more than anything.
This kind of desire is the opposite of endurance. James turns the metaphor of birth on its head — as in the garden, so now. Desire, once it has conceived, bears sin; sin, when it has come to term, gives birth to death.
Everything good comes from God, including the Word of truth. (16–18)
The verb translated “be deceived” is the root of the English word planet. It means to cause to wander and so belongs to the semantic range of the words lure and entice.
James again uses the imagery of creation. God is “the Father of lights” (a phrase also found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Gen. 1:3–4, 14–19) from whom comes, not temptation, but every good gift and each perfect favor.
James speaks of God’s unchanging faithfulness. God gives life, and He never stops giving it. The mixed parental images are deliberate: God is Father — He “gave us birth.”
James likens the first life at creation to the new life God gives those who are faithful (John 3:5–6), who are both hearers and doers of the Word (James 1:22).
He plants the “Word of truth” within, where it can grow to bring salvation (see Matt. 3, Mark 4 and Luke 8 as examples).
Pay attention to the phrase “by His own choice.” God’s will is life. This is why God has not given us temptation but what we need to endure temptation — the Word of truth that, if we allow it to grow within us, can lead us to salvation.