Can God Be Tempted?

If Jesus is fully God, how can He be tempted? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was in a JW discussion group on Facebook recently and one of them shared about how in James, it says that God cannot be tempted, but in Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted. Well, that seems to be a problem. If Jesus is God, how can He be tempted?

Let’s right off say that when someone says Jesus is God, they are using theological shorthand. We are not saying Jesus is the Trinity or Jesus is the Father, something 99% of the arguments in this group are unaware of. We are saying that Jesus fully partakes of the divine substance.

We can say also that Jesus in His deity cannot be tempted, but in His humanity that is a different matter. That would be enough to settle the matter. However, there is another nuance I want to bring to this.

When James talks about temptation, he is talking about temptation from within. Where do our struggles ultimately come from? They come from within because of wrong desires we have within us. James is saying that God is not tempted from within.

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, in Psalm 105:14 and 77:41 (Psalm 106 and 78 for us), both of them use the exact same word for tempted that James uses to describe what Israel did to God in the wilderness. My opponent in the group had said that temptation is tempted when I tried to explain the different temptations. The problem with this is that if you play that route, then you will have a contradiction. After all, if that is the case, then James is wrong and God was tempted.

James is not wrong. James is saying that the Israelites were trying to get God to do something and God wasn’t having it. It was completely ineffectual. After all, what could you tempt God with anyway? Can you make some kind of threat to Him? Can you offer Him anything that He needs? It’s nonsensical.

If anything, we could even perhaps see a parallel here. Israel tempts God in the wilderness. The devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness. This is not saying Israel is the devil, but both of them were playing roles of tempting the deity. Neither of them were successful.

The problem with anti-Trinitarian arguments like this and so many others is that they are basically lazy arguments. There is no attempt to look and see if anyone in 2,000 years of church history has ever answered such a question before. This is what I largely see from Jehovah’s Witnesses, unfortunately. They don’t know what their opponents believe and most of their arguments are against modalism.

The other sad news is that many Christians are unaware of this and will fall for weak arguments because they were never taught about what is really meant by the doctrine of the Trinity. We need to do better. We have a unique doctrine of a unique God and we need to be able to better defend that and show what a difference it makes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)