Bible teaching about temptation

In order to understand how the Bible uses the words "devil" and "satan", we need to look at what the Bible tells us about what makes us rebel (or sin) against God.

What does the Bible mean by temptation?

Looking at the Young’s Concordance entry for temptation, you will see that temptation means "a trial" or "proof". It tests our sincerity and commitment. In some modern versions, including the New King James Version which we are using in this course, the Old Testament Hebrew word "nasah", translated "tempt" in the Authorised Version, is translated "test", as you will see in the examples we will look at.

Genesis 22:1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."

Reading the rest of the chapter you will see that God was testing Abraham to see if he would be prepared to kill his own son if God asked him to.

Exodus 16 v 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not."

Here we see God using circumstances to test the Jews to see if they would obey Him or not.

2 Chronicles 9 v 1 Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test Solomon with hard questions …

In this passage we can see that the Queen of Sheba was testing Solomon to see if the reports of his great wisdom were true or not.

We can see the same idea in the New Testament:

Luke 8 v 13 "But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away."

This verse from the parable of the sower is talking of those who give up following Jesus when circumstances become difficult. The problems show that they are not really committed to following Jesus.

So we see that temptation comes from circumstances which prove a person’s sincerity or commitment to God. The situation causes us to make our minds up whether we are really committed to obeying God or not.

Temptation in the Old Testament

We will go right to the beginning of things and see what the Bible tells us.

Read Genesis 3 v 1 to 6

This is the first recorded test of commitment and sincerity.

What does the record say about the temptation of Adam and Eve?

  • The serpent suggested to Eve that it might be advantageous to disobey God
  • Eve thought about the suggestion and decided that she would disobey God
  • Adam then did the same

Genesis 3 v 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

So we can see that the first temptation or test of mankind was a suggestion that was thought about and then acted on. There was no coercion: Eve had the choice, and decided to disobey. She "saw", she "desired", she "took". Eve’s motivation for the rebellion was the attraction of what rebelling could do for her. The circumstances made Eve have to decide whether she would obey God or not, when an attractive alternative was presented.

Notice that the serpent plays a minor role in the narrative. We are not told much about it or anything about its motives. The record is concerned with the reaction of Adam and Eve to the circumstances rather than the circumstances themselves.

Deuteronomy 8 v 2 and 3 "And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord."

Here again we see that difficult circumstances make people make their minds up whether they are really committed to obeying God or not. The physical hunger of the Children of Israel was the cause of their having to think and decide how to respond to the situation. God was interested in what motivated them as a result of these situations. There are many instances in the early books of the Old Testament which show that God was not in people’s thoughts when they reacted to these difficult circumstances. Here is one example:

Numbers 11 v 4 Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: "Who will give us meat to eat?"

The people’s reaction showed that they doubted God’s ability to feed them. In fact they were putting God to the test, as the Psalms tell us:

Psalm 106 v 14 But [they] lusted exceedingly in the wilderness,
And tested God in the desert.

We will now look at some echoes through the Old Testament regarding the motivation of men and women when presented with difficult situations. These echoes are just a few of the references in the Old Testament that show that God’s principles do not come naturally to our minds:

 Motivation of our thoughts


Genesis 6 v 5; 8 v 21;
Deuteronomy 15 v 9;
Psalm 58 v 2;
Proverbs 6 v 18; 12 v 20;
Jeremiah 16 v 12; 17 v 9;
23 v 16 and 17.

All of these echoes show that God’s principles will not naturally be in our thoughts when we are presented with tests of our obedience to God.

Note again that the record is mainly concerned with the wicked thoughts and reactions of men to their circumstances. Note that in Deuteronomy 15 v 9 the cause of the wicked thoughts was the approach of the year of Jubilee, which shows that our wickedness can be aroused by circumstances which are not wicked in themselves. There are many more echoes in the Bible where bad thoughts are caused by circumstances that are not bad in themselves:

 Wicked thoughts caused by innocent circumstances


Genesis 37 v 4;
Jeremiah 38 v 1 to 4;
Daniel 6 v1 to 4.

  • Joseph’s brothers had wicked thoughts as a result of the love Joseph’s father had for him
  • The princes in Jeremiah’s time had wicked thoughts against him because they disliked God’s message which Jeremiah had given them
  • Daniel’s contemporaries had wicked thoughts about him because the king thought more of Daniel than of them

So we can see that we do not need bad influences from outside ourselves to produce wicked thoughts and desires.

Temptation in the New Testament

What does the New Testament tell us about what motivates our thoughts?

Matthew 15 v 19 "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies."

This verse shows clearly that Jesus was in agreement with Old Testament teaching that God’s principles are not naturally in our thoughts. There are several echoes of this in the New Testament:

Motivation of our thoughts


Matthew 12 v 35;
Mark 7 v 21 to 23;
Luke 6 v 45;
James 1 v 13 to 15;
4 v 1 and 2.

The New Testament agrees with the Old that the motivation to do wrong comes from within ourselves when we have to decide whether to obey God or not. Again we see that it is our thoughts and actions that are important, not the circumstances that cause the thoughts and actions - in most of these passages the circumstances that trigger the evil thoughts are not mentioned.

Summary of Bible teaching on temptation

  • Temptation tests our sincerity and commitment to God
  • Temptation occurs in circumstances that make it seem desirable to disobey God
  • We can have rebellious thoughts as a result of circumstances that are not necessarily ungodly in themselves
  • The Bible is concerned about how we react to these thoughts, because God’s principles will not naturally be in our thoughts when we are presented with tests of our obedience to God
  • The circumstances that cause the thoughts are of minor importance - they trigger the disobedience but cannot be described as the cause of it