Temptation of Christ
The temptation of Christ is a biblical narrative detailed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. According to these texts, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the Judaean Desert. During this time, Satan appeared to Jesus and tried to tempt him. Jesus having refused each temptation, Satan then departed and Jesus returned to Galilee to begin his ministry.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews also refers to Jesus having been tempted “in every way that we are, except without sin.”
Mark’s account is very brief, merely noting the event. Matthew and Luke describe the temptations by recounting the details of the conversations between Jesus and Satan. Since the elements that are in Matthew and Luke but not in Mark are mostly pairs of quotations rather than detailed narration, many scholars believe these extra details originate in the Q Document. The temptation of Christ is not explicitly mentioned in the Gospel of John but in this gospel Jesus does refer to the Devil, “the prince of this world”, having no power over Him.
Discussion of status as parable
Discussion of the literary genre includes whether what is represented is a history, a parable, a myth, or compound of various genres. This relates to the reality of the encounter. Sometimes the temptation narrative is taken as a parable, reading that Jesus in his ministry told this narrative to audiences relating his inner experience in the form of a parable. Or it is autobiographical, regarding what sort of Messiah Jesus intended to be. Writers including William Barclay have pointed to the fact that there is “no mountain high enough in all the world to see the whole world” as indication of the non-literal nature of the event, and that the narrative portrays what was going on inside Jesus’ mind. Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas explained, “In regard to the words, ‘He showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,’ we are not to understand that He saw the very kingdoms, with the cities and inhabitants, their gold and silver: but that the devil pointed out the quarters in which each kingdom or city lay, and set forth to Him in words their glory and estate.”
The debate on the literality of the temptations goes back at least to the discussion of George Benson (d.1762) and Hugh Farmer.
A traditional Catholic understanding is that the temptation of Christ was a literal and physical event. “Despite the difficulties urged, …against the historical character of the three temptations of Jesus, as recorded by St. Matthew and St. Luke, it is plain that these sacred writers intended to describe an actual and visible approach of Satan, to chronicle an actual shifting of places, etc., and that the traditional view, which maintains the objective nature of Christ’s temptations, is the only one meeting all the requirements of the Gospel narrative.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
The Gospels speak of a time of solitude for Jesus in the desert immediately after his baptism by John. Driven by the Spirit into the desert, Jesus remains there for forty days without eating; he lives among wild beasts, and angels minister to him. At the end of this time Satan tempts him three times, seeking to compromise his filial attitude toward God. Jesus rebuffs these attacks, which recapitulate the temptations of Adam in Paradise and of Israel in the desert, and the devil leaves him “until an opportune time…” The temptation in the desert shows Jesus, the humble Messiah, who triumphs over Satan by his total adherence to the plan of salvation willed by the Father.
Use of Old Testament references
The account of Matthew uses language from the Old Testament. The imagery would be familiar to Matthew’s contemporary readers. In the Septuagint Greek version of Zechariah 3 the name Iesous and term diabolos are identical to the Greek terms of Matthew 4.Matthew presents the three scriptural passages cited by Jesus (Deut 8:3, Deut 6:13, and Deut 6:16) not in their order in the Book of Deuteronomy, but in the sequence of the trials of Israel as they wandered in the desert, as recorded in the Book of Exodus.Luke’s account is similar, though his inversion of the second and third temptations “represents a more natural geographic movement, from the wilderness to the temple”. Luke’s closing statement that the devil “departed from him until an opportune time” may provide a narrative link to the immediately following attempt at Nazareth to throw Jesus down from a high place, or may anticipate a role for Satan in the Passion (cf. Luke 22:3).
Matthew and Luke narratives
In Luke’s (Luke 4:1–13) and Matthew’s (Matthew 4:1–11) accounts, the order of the three temptations, and the timing (within or at the end of the 40 days) differ; no explanation as to why the order differs has been generally accepted. Matthew, Luke and Mark make clear that the Spirit has led Jesus into the desert.
Fasting traditionally presaged a great spiritual struggle. Elijah and Moses in the Old Testament fasted 40 days and nights, and thus Jesus doing the same invites comparison to these events. In Judaism, “the practice of fasting connected the body and its physical needs with less tangible values, such as self-denial, and repentance.” At the time, 40 was less a specific number and more a general expression for any large figure. Fasting may not mean a complete abstinence from food; consequently, Jesus may have been surviving on the sparse food that could be obtained in the desert. Although Mark, Matthew, and Luke combine Jesus’ fast of 40 days with his temptation, other Biblical passages suggest that Jesus’ fast was a test to be completed before his encounter with Satan.
Mark does not provide details, but in Matthew and Luke “the tempter” (Greek: ὁ πειραζων, ho peirazōn) or “the devil” (Greek: ὁ διαβολος, ho diabolos) tempts Jesus to:
- Make bread out of stones to relieve his own hunger
- Jump from a pinnacle and rely on angels to break his fall. The narrative of both Luke and Matthew have Satan quote Psalm 91:11–12 to indicate that God had promised this assistance.
- Worship Satan in return for all the kingdoms of the world.
These are the same three temptations one renounces at baptism: the World, the Flesh and the Devil.
Stones into bread
In response to Satan’s suggestion, Jesus replies, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'” (a reference to Deuteronomy 8:3) Only in Matthew is this entire sentence written.
Pinnacle of the temple
Most Christians consider that holy city refers unquestionably to Jerusalem and the temple to which the pinnacle belongs is thus identified as the Temple in Jerusalem. Gospel of Matthew refers to “the temple” 17 times without ever adding “in Jerusalem”. That Luke’s version of the story clearly identifies the location as Jerusalem may be due to Theophilus’ unfamiliarity with Judaism.
What is meant by the word traditionally translated as pinnacle is not entirely clear since the Greek diminutive form pterugion (“little wing”) is not extant in other architectural contexts. Though the form pterux (“large wing”) is used for the point of a building by Pollianus, Schweizer feels that little tower or parapet would be more accurate, and the New Jerusalem Bible does use the translation “parapet”. The only surviving Jewish parallel to the temptation uses the standard word šbyt “roof” not “wing”: “Our Rabbis related that in the hour when the Messiah shall be revealed he shall come and stand on the roof (šbyt) of the temple.” (Peshiqta Rabbati 62 c–d) The term is preserved as “wing” in Syriac translations of the Greek.
Gundry lists three sites at the Jerusalem temple that would fit this description:
- On the top of the temple’s main tower, above the sanctuary proper, some 180 feet above ground, the location that artists and others using the traditional translation generally set the story.
- Atop the lintel of the main gateway into the temple, the most prominent position where the pair could easily have been seen.
- A tower on the southeast corner of the outer wall that looks down into the Kidron Valley. In later Christian tradition this is the tower from which James the brother of Jesus was said by Hegesippus to have been thrown by way of execution.
“If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” (Luke 4:9–13) citing Psalms 91:12.
Once more, Jesus maintained his integrity and responded by quoting scripture, saying, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'” (Matthew 4:7) quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.
For the final temptation, the devil takes Jesus to a high place, which Matthew explicitly identifies as a very high mountain, where all the kingdoms of the world can be seen. The spot pointed out by tradition as the summit from which Satan offered to Jesus dominion over all earthly kingdoms is the “Quarantania”, a limestone peak on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Instead of a literal reading, George Slatyer Barrett viewed the third temptation as inclining to a doubt of Christ’s mission, or at least the methodology. Barrett sees this as a temptation to accept the adulation of the crowds, assume leadership of the nation to overthrow Roman rule, take the crown of his own nation, and from there initiate the kingdom of God on earth. The kingdoms Jesus would inherit through Satan are obtained through love of power and political oppression. Barrett characterizes this as “…the old but ever new temptation to do evil that good may come; to justify the illegitimacy of the means by the greatness of the end.”
The mountain is not literal if the temptations only occur in the mind’s eye of Jesus and the Gospel accounts record this mind’s eye view, as related in parable form, to the disciples at some point during the ministry.
Satan says, “All these things I will give you if you fall down and do an act of worship to me.” Jesus replies “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and only Him shall you serve.'” (referencing Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20). Readers would likely recognize this as reminiscent of the temptation to false worship that the Israelites encountered in the desert in the incident of the Golden Calf mentioned in Ex. 32:4.
Ministered to by angels
Gospel of Mark
The Mark (Mark 1:12–13) account is very brief. Most of the Mark account is found also in the Matthew and Luke versions, with the exception of the statement that Jesus was “with the wild animals.” Despite the lack of actual text shared among the three texts, the language and interpretations Mark uses draw comparison among the three Gospels. The Greek verb Mark uses in the text is synonymous with driving out demons, and the wilderness at times represents a place of struggle. The two verses in Mark used to describe Jesus’ Temptation quickly progress him into his career as a preacher.
Thomas Aquinas argued that Jesus allowed himself to be tempted as both an example and a warning. He cites Sirach 2: “Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation.” Following this, he cites Hebrews 4:15: “We have not a high-priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin.”
Gospel of John
The temptation of Christ is not found in the Gospel of John. However some readers have identified parallels inside John which indicate that the author of John may have been familiar with the Temptation narratives in some form.
- Stones into Bread → John 6:26,31 to make bread in the wilderness.
- Jump from the temple → John 2:18 to perform a Messianic sign in the temple.
- Kingdoms of the World → John 6:15 to take the kingdom by force.
In the Lord’s Prayer, the clause “Lead us not into temptation” is a humble and trusting petition for God’s help to enable us to overcome temptation when His Fatherly Providence allows us to experience the allurements of evil. Prayer and watchfulness are the chief weapons against temptation. God does not allow man to be tempted beyond his strength. Like Adam, Christ (the second Adam) endured temptation only from without, inasmuch as His human nature was free from all concupiscence; but unlike Adam, Christ withstood the assaults of the Tempter on all points, thereby providing a perfect model of resistance to mankind’s spiritual enemy, and a permanent source of victorious help.
In the first three Gospels, the narrative of Christ’s temptation is placed in immediate connection with His baptism and then with the beginning of His public ministry. The reason for this is clear. The Synoptists regarded the baptism of Christ as the external designation of Jesus from [the Father] for Christ’s Messianic work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The first three Gospels agree concerning the time to which they assign the temptation of Christ, so they are at one in ascribing the same general place to its occurrence, viz. “the desert”, whereby they [probably] mean the Wilderness of Judea, where Jesus would be, as St. Mark says: “with beasts”.
“The Biblical meaning of temptation is ‘a trial in which man has a free choice of being faithful or unfaithful to God’. Satan encouraged Jesus to deviate from the plan of his father by misusing his authority and privileges. Jesus used the Holy Scripture to resist all such temptation. When we are tempted, the solution is to be sought in the Bible.”
In the temptations, according to Benedict XVI, Satan seeks to draw Jesus from a messianism of self-sacrifice to a messianism of power: “in this period of “wilderness”… Jesus is exposed to danger and is assaulted by the temptation and seduction of the Evil One, who proposes a different messianic path to him, far from God’s plan because it passes through power, success and domination rather than the total gift of himself on the Cross. This is the alternative: a messianism of power, of success, or a messianism of love, of the gift of self.”
Jesus was tempted three times. The temptations were hedonism (hunger / satisfaction), egoism (spectacular throw / might) and materialism (kingdoms / wealth). John the Evangelist in his epistle calls these temptations “in world” as “lust of eyes” (materialism), “lust of body” (hedonism) and “pride of life” (egoism). Temptations aim to mislead and pervert three main human characteristics; to think, wish and feel which are inside mind, soul and heart as Jesus alludes in Greatest Commandment. These are related with transcendentalsor ultimate ideals in three areas of human interests; science (truth), arts (beauty) and religion (goodness). Christians are called to search for divine virtues; faith, hope and love that relate them directly to God who Himself is Truth, Beauty and Goodness.
- fortitude (courage) when his life was in danger because he was very hungry after fasting for 40 days and rejected devil’s proposition to make “bread” (“hedonism”),
- prudence (caution) when rejected proposition to make sign of conceit and might, a “spectacular throw” (“egoism”),
- temperance (self-control) when rejected alluring offer to receive “kingdoms of world” (“materialism”).
|(1 Jn 2:16)
|“pride of life”
|“lust of eyes”
|“lust of body”
The Temptation of Jesus is evidence opposing the divinity of Jesus according to Muslims. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet and messenger of God, but not divine. God is As-Samad (الصمد), meaning perfect in all of His attributes and the One upon whom all depend, but who is free of need from anyone or anything. God Himself cannot be tempted by sin, commit sin, nor desire sin, since God defines morality and created the Law, and a sin is defined as “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” God Himself cannot fall into immorality nor transgress against His own laws, which would violate His perfect attributes.
James 13:1 states: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” Therefore, Muslims conclude, Jesus cannot have been God since God cannot be tempted nor sin.
Matthew 4 states: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”” Satan is God’s creation and God banished him from the Garden of Eden. Now Satan is telling Jesus to worship him and then Satan will grant him all the kingdoms of the world. If Jesus is God, how could Satan offer God authority and power when God already owns everything and is the supreme authority over everything?
Thus the possibilities according to Muslims: 1. This event never happened, but was contrived by later authors. 2. This event happened, but the actual details are lost to time. 3. This event happened, but in the context that Jesus is not divine.
- Matthew 4:1–11, NIV
- Mark 1:12–13, NIV
- Luke 4:1–13, NIV
- Hebrews 2:18, 4:15, Common English Bible
- John 14:30
- Fairbairn, Andrew Martin. “The Temptation Of Christ”, Studies in the life of Christ 1876 V. “How is the Temptation of Christ to be understood? …was its reality actual, a veritable face-to-face, with personalities no less real that they represented universal interests, and, by their conflict, determined universal issues?”
- Evans, William. Epochs in the life of Christ 1916 “Sometimes the temptation narrative is looked upon as being parabolic… that Jesus was simply stating His inner experience in the form of a parable.”
- Cadbury, HenryJesus: what manner of man 1947 “…the temptation narrative is often selected as autobiographical.”
- Mercer, Samuel Alfred Browne and Lewis, Leicester C., Anglican Theological Review, Vol. 12, 1930 “…looked upon himself as Messiah ; hence the problem of the temptation narrative is “what sort of Messiah did he think himself to be?”
- Barclay, Discovering Jesus p. 22.
- Aquinas, Thomas (1920). Fathers of the English Dominican Province, ed. “Summa Theologica”. New advent. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
- Farmer, Hugh. An inquiry into the nature and design of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, p. 133.
- Gigot, Francis (19 October 2015), “Temptation of Christ”, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 14, New York: Robert Appleton.
- “Catechism of the Catholic Church”. Usccb. §538. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
- “Catechism of the Catholic Church”. Vatican. §566. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
- Hagner, Donald A., “Matthew 1–13”, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 33a, 1993
- Gibson, Jeffrey B., Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity2004
- “Matthew”. NAB. USCCB. Retrieved 2010-01-07.
|chapter=ignored (help), footnotes 1 through 5
- Collins, Raymond F., The Temptation of Jesus, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 1992
- Luke 4:13, English Standard Version
- Nolland, John. “Luke 1:1–9:20”, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 35a, 1989
- Conzelmann, Hans. The Theology of St. Luke, (trans. G. Buswell), New York, 1960 p.28
- “USCCB – NAB – Luke 4”. Retrieved 2010-01-07., footnotes 1 through 5
- Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981
- “Practicing Piety in Medieval Ashkenaz: Men, Women, and Everyday Religious Observance on JSTOR”.
- Clarke, Howard W. The Gospel of Matthew and its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.
- France, R.T. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
- Gundry, Robert H. Matthew: a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
- Matthew 4:3
- Jones, Alexander. The Gospel According to St. Matthew.London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1965.
- Green, Joel B. (1997-10-02). The Gospel of Luke. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN9780802823151.
- Fleming, J. Dick (1908-08-01). “The Threefold Temptation of Christ: Matt. 4:1–11”. The Biblical World. 32 (2): 130–137. JSTOR3141888.
- “Deuteronomy 8:3 NIV – He humbled you, causing you to hunger”. Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
- Matthew 4:4, New American Bible
- Joseph A. Fitzmyer The Gospel According to Luke I-IX: Introduction, Translation, and Notes The Anchor Bible, Vol. 28, Doubleday 1982
- LSJ entry pterugionArchived 2009-12-02 at the Wayback Machine
- # Pollianus Epigrammaticus 7.121, 2C AD in Anthologia Graeca.
- Rivka Ulmer, A Synoptic Edition of Pesiqta Rabbati Based upon All Extant. Manuscripts and the Editio Princeps. South Florida Studies in the History of Judaism 155, 1995
- Shlomo Pines – “The Jewish Christians of the Early Centuries of Christianity According to a New Source” – Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Vol. II, No. 13 1966 – Footnote 196 If the last solution were allowed, it would perhaps mean that, as far as this word is concerned, the quotation from the Gospel given in our text was translated from an Aramaic (i.e., most probably but not certainly a Syriac) rendering of the Gospel, which was not translated from the Greek.” …The Peshitta, which seems mindful of the etymology of the Greek Term, renders this by the word kenpa whose first meaning is wing. However, an older Syriac translation (The Four Gospels in Syriac Transcribed from the Sinaitic Palimpsest [edited by R.L. Bensley, J. Rendel Harris & F.C. Burkitt], Cambridge 1894) has — while using in Matthew iv : 5 (p. 7) the same word as the Peshitta — in Luke iv:9 (p. 145) the translation qarna, a word whose first meaning is horn, but which also means ‘angle’. There is accordingly a possibility of a second solution, namely, that the Arabic q.r.ya should be read (the emendation would be a very slight one), qurna, which signifies ‘projecting angle’.”
- Robert H. Gundry A Survey of the New Testament: 1994 4th Edition 2009 “… But Jesus resists these temptations, and the third temptation as well, by citing Scripture. … the temple courts dropping off into the Kidron Valley, to the lintel atop the temple gate, or to the roof of the temple proper.”
- of Caesarea, Eusebius. Church History Book II Chapter 23. The Martyrdom of James, who was called the Brother of the Lord. www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
the Scribes and Pharisees placed James upon the pinnacle of the temple, and threw down the just man, and they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall. And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head.
- Akin, Jimmy. “9 things you need to know about the mysterious temptation of Jesus”, National Catholic Register, February 14, 2013
- “Barrett, George, Slatyer. ”The Temptation of Christ”, Macniven & Wallace, Edinburgh, 1883″. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
- Watkins, P. The Devil, the Great Deceiver, Birmingham 1971
- Matthew 4:10, New American Bible
- 1 Kings 19:4–9
- “Mark on JSTOR”. JSTORj.ctt9m0t6h.8.Missing or empty
- Emerson, Matt. “Why Did Christ Allow Himself to be Tempted?”,America, February 23, 2015
- Whittaker H.A., Studies in the Gospels, Biblia, 1996 p319
- Mutholath, Abraham. “Jesus Overcomes Temptation”, St. Thomas SyroMalabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, February 11, 2018
- “General Audience”. Vatican.va. 2012-02-22. Retrieved 2014-05-16.
- https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+2%3A16&version=KJ21 1 John 2:16
- “1 John 2:16 – For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world”. Biblestudytools.com. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
- “Matthew 4:1–11 NKJV – Satan Tempts Jesus – Then Jesus was led”. Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
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