Monday, August 15, 2011

Lead us not into testing

This always surprises Greek students. A word often translated as "temptation" can also be translated as "test." The word is peirosmos, and it shows up in some famous passages (Lord's Prayer, James' teaching about "pure joy," promise to the Philadelphia church). The difficulty, of course, is sorting out the difference. When does peirosmos mean "temptation" and when does it mean "testing"?

Imagine how strange some familiar verses would sound if we inverted the conventional translations:

"Lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one." "Count it all joy when you fall into various temptations." "Let no one say, 'I am being tested by God,' for God cannot be tested by evil and he himself tests no one." "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength."

How can these things be? How could one word carry both connotations? Perhaps the answer is found in the role of Satan. He started out as a divine servant, charged with the job of testing the faithfulness of humanity. But, Adam couldn't handle the challenge; testing resulted in temptation. Maybe Satan went too far in his zeal for "proof." (After all, the "bad cop" always lies to catch the accused in their guilt.) Indeed, this is Satan's modus operandi: The father of lies tries to turn every test into a temptation--the opportunity for sin.

So, this is our lot. Embedded in every test is a temptation; and every temptation is a test. But, sorting out who's to blame (is this a test from God or a temptation from Satan?) is a difficult as translating peirosmos. Maybe it's our response that reveals the difference.


Darryl Schafer said...

Ex eventu translation! ;-)

I remember coming across this in class and thinking that this was a convenient way for God to save face. (My sarcasm was in full swing back then.)

Aaron Allison said...

I definitely think you answered your own question at the end; I would surmise that it is our response that makes a difference.

Just for grins, as I am not a Greek scholar, what about the greek rendering of John 6:6? Is peirosmos used there for the word 'test' as well? If so, what if Philip and the other disciples had caved in to the pressure of feeding the crowds, and just given up instead of trying to find food of any kind?

The task must have been daunting; perhaps they, like cartoonist Gary Larson and his 'Far Side' comic, were wary of the power that is held by large groups of people. What if the mob had demanded sustenance from them? When the going got tough, was it not in their character to run away, as would eventually happen later in the gospel account?

That 'test' was clearly from God (Jesus), but the temptation to give up (although we don't know for certain) would have come from Satan. Rationalizing out a profitable outcome for our individual selves is exactly what the father of lies would like us to do. Refusing to yield, even when we don't understand how God will provide that 'way of escape,' is what we should strive for.

Who knew that five loaves and two fish could feed so many? The answer: Jesus knew. He always does. We just need to trust Him.

JD said...

the responses to those situations certainly do tell a lot.

we see that over and over again in the life of moses and the exodus.