The traditional way of rendering this passage from the Greek is “lead us not into temptation.” However the NRSV translates it, “And do not bring us to the time of trial.” The Greek word translated alternately “temptation, testing, or trial” is peirasmos, from which we get our English word “peril.” Which is the better translation – “lead us not into temptation” or “do not bring us to the time of trial”?
That is a theological question as well as a grammatical issue. The clear New Testament consensus is that temptation has the goal of causing harm and that God is never the author of temptation. In his Letter, James (1:13) writes, “No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.” By contrast God does “test” the faithful – not in order to damage or destroy, but to strengthen our faith. Appropriately in Scripture, Satan is often called “the Tempter” but never God!
So while God never tempts us, God does test us, wanting to strengthen our faith and help us mature in obedience. In his Letter James (1:2-4) gives us helpful guidance, “Whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
For me, school was mostly a positive experience. Still, some exams seemed like temptations with deceptive questions designed to mislead and confuse. However, show the instructor what they knew, rather than what they didn’t know! Most teachers wanted to see their students succeed and to encourage them! Do you see the difference now between a temptation and a test? By far the better translation renders the phrase using the word “test or trial” vs. temptation, because while God in Christ never tempts, God does occasionally test our faith.
Jesus could avoid neither temptations from the Evil One or God-inspired tests of his faith. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks about Jesus’ own experience of testing and temptation. We read in Hebrews (2:17-18), “Therefore he (Jesus) had to become like his brothers and sisters, in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those being tested.” Because no authorship is assigned this “testing” or “temptation” we’re not certain whether the author has in mind the destructive temptations sent by Satan, or tests sent by Almighty God. What this passage tells us is that Jesus shares our experiences “in every respect” with regard to both temptation and testing. “Because he himself was tested (and tempted) by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested (tempted).” A bit later in Hebrews (4:15-16) we get this comforting message. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested (and tempted) as we are, yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” That is the comfort Christ provides toward which this phrase in Jesus’ model prayer points.
Published on November 3, 2021