"Nothing more impressive than an intellectual and spiritual approach to seeking truth and a willingness to embrace it unconditionally."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why Did the Devil Tempt Jesus If He Could Not Sin?

"If Jesus could not sin then why did Satan tempt him?" This is a question that is frequently asked by the Peccability camp. I am going to make an argument that when Satan tempted Jesus he was not fully convinced that he was the Son of God. I will make this argument based on how the devil addresses Jesus before and after the wilderness temptation.


"If thou be the Son of God," is the question Satan asked during his temptation of Christ (Matthew 4:3, 6). What does this phrase mean? We are going to examine it from two perspectives: 1. How is it used else where in scripture? 2. How does Satan address Jesus post temptation?

I will first show you how this kind of language is used in scripture. It will be clear that this phrase is used from a position of unbelief. The scoffers and unbelievers at the cross said, "If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross (Matt 27:40)." One of the soldiers MOCKED him saying, "if thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself (Luke 23:37)." Again, one of the malefactors RAILED on him saying, "if thou be the Christ, save thyself and us (Luke 23:39)." It is clear that this type terminology is always used from a position of unbelief.

The second thing that I want to point out is how Satan's language changes from, "if thou be the Son of God," to, "I know thee who thou art," after the wilderness temptation. The devil never again says, "if thou be the Son of God," when addressing Jesus.

Notice the difference in language:

Satan's next recorded conversation with Jesus in Matthew, after the wilderness temptation, goes something like this, "what have we to do with the, Jesus, thou Son of God (Matthew 8:29)?"

After Mark's account of the wilderness temptation Satan's next recorded words to Jesus are, "Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God (Mark 1:24)."

Luke records is exactly as Mark does, "Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God (Luke 4:34)."

It appears that Satan leaves wilderness having been totally convinced that Jesus is the Son of God. Never again does he ask, "if thou be the Son of God." There was something that changed in Satan's mind after the wilderness experience. Perhaps Satan was testing Jesus as he had all of the false Christs that had came before him; he found all of those others to be weak and frail, but not this man Jesus, for had had done what no other had done, resisted the "wiles of the devil."

If you argue, "no, Satan knew exactly who he was," then the question is moot. For if Satan knew exactly who he was, then he would have also known that he would not fail (Isaiah 42:4). Tempting a Jesus that you know for sure will not fail is as equally a waste of time as tempting a Jesus that cannot fail. For all practical purposes the result is the same. So I ask, "If Satan knew Jesus would not fail, why tempt him?"


  1. Joel Lollar makes a great parallel as to how or why the Devil would tempt Jesus knowing that he could not succeed: "If it was a waste of time to tempt Jesus if satan knew He couldn't fail, then it was a waste of time for him to try to overthrow Him in Heaven."

  2. I think the question is genuine, not rhetorical. I believe the Greek would point this out as well. I think the question of the peccability camp also assumes that Satan has omniscience or can know all things. This is an attribute of God alone.

  3. @ JN ANDERSON: If I am reading you right your are agreeing with my premise in this post. I like it!

  4. @ ANDERSON: I certainly appears to be the majority view among the commentators that there was uncertainty on the part of Satan.

  5. Well, we agree that Jesus could not sin. I believe that this is easily prove by the very identity of Jesus though. Jesus is God, God cannot sin, therefore Jesus could not sin. Jesus was also entirely submitted to the will of the Father. I look at the actual temptations themselves. I don't use this passage that way though.

    I have heard a Oneness scholar (Treece) refer to it this way as a second class condition. I haven't found that to be the case. Other trinitarian scholars like A.H. McNeile held to a similar view as well. All the Greek texts I have suggest "if" conditional clause is first class and is repeated in vs. 6 and assumed in vs 9. The question has been prepared for this point by Matthew in the baptism narrative, where the divine Identity of Jesus is revealed, as the true Son of God. It seems that Satan to call int into question whether or not Jesus, as a man, was totally dependent upon the will of the Father.

    I don't think Satan suggests doubt though. The situation here is similar to the account of the demons in the man at the Synagogue(Mark 1:24) where even the demons possessing the man have an intuitive knowledge of the true identity of Jesus.

    It is possible, as a result of the first class condition, to translate εἰ here as "since". I think Satan assumed what was true in order to provoke Jesus. I believe that Jesus was tempted, with genuine temptations; however, I have yet to find where He was indeed tempted with an immoral or "with sin" temptation. No, I do not believe Heb. 4 suggests Jesus was tempted with everything we do today. Jesus was not tempted to eat the McRib. lol He was tempted, just LIKE we are in every way - without sin. Shedd, Schaffer and other scholars also suggest these temptations were without sin as well.

    I hope this makes sense? I have lots of notes on impeccability somewhere I could send you. Some of it was a dialog with myself and Jason Dulle over the course of several weeks. He and I both agree that Jesus could not sin. He has done a good job on this argument as well at onenesspentecostal.com

  6. @ ANDERSON: You said, "I don't think Satan suggests doubt though. The situation here is similar to the account of the demons in the man at the Synagogue(Mark 1:24) where even the demons possessing the man have an intuitive knowledge of the true identity of Jesus."

    Mark 1:24 is AFTER the wilderness temptation. What the different language? During the temptation Satan says, "if thou be the Son of God;" after the temptation he always says "I know thee who thou art."

  7. @ ANDERSON: Do you understand the other "if thou be" texts the same way you understand it the wilderness temptation?

  8. No, the use of the conjunction in first class conditional does not suggest doubt. You would have to make an argument from silence to suggest the devil's relayed the message to each other or etc. Mark and Matthew have something in mind by using the stories in such a way. I believe the demons as well as satan here know not only that God is one (James 2:19) but that they could recognize the spiritual nature of Christ's identity as God in the flesh. Jesus is citing the Israelite's desert experience (Matt. 3:9, Ex. 17:1-7) and this is why Jesus responds to all three temptations with Deuteronomy esp 8:3. The same words are also used in Matthew 27:40 so I doubt the actual chronological order makes that much difference.

    The word If here is better translated “Since you are God’s Son,” “In that you are God’s Son,” or “You are God’s Son, and therefore ....” However, it is also possible to understand him to be saying “If you are God’s Son, prove it by ....”

    Some scholars recommend "Since you are God’s Son,"; "In that you are God’s Son," or "You are God’s Son, and therefore ...." However it is possible to understand him to be saying "If you are God’s Son, prove it by ...."

    Jesus was not there to simply perform miracles. He was the genuine divine son of Man, the Son of God. He was there on a mission and to fulfill a plan. In John 6 the crowd wanted to make Jesus King by virtue of his miracles of feeding the crowds.

    I didn't see you use this text yet but some have. 1 Cor. 2:8 to suggest that Satan did not know as well.

  9. I believe these to be more like "if, then" statements where even we use them today while assuming or knowing what is reality or true.

  10. John, I would also add that it was necessary for Christ to be perfect in order to be the perfect sacrifice, and Christ would have to be sinless in order to be perfect. To suggest that Christ was peccable necessarily makes His perfection contingent upon both being tempted by Satan and overcoming temptation. The perfection of God is not contingent but is absolute; it is an immutable aspect of the nature of God. Trinitarians inadvertently do this when they suggest that since God is love He must also have an object, a second person, pre-existent with Him as well in order for their to be meaningful love. They overlook the fact that God has eternally love us even before He made us. He loved the church and the Son of God before the foundations of the world. God is contingent then by virtue of his own attributes.

  11. ""If" suggests a doubt, and, perhaps, a taunt" Peoples New Testament

    "Or, a son of God, υιος του Θεου. υιος is here, and in Luk_4:3, written without the article; and therefore should not be translated The Son, as if it were ὁ υιος, which is a phrase that is applicable to Christ as the Messiah: but it is certain, whatever Satan might suspect, he did not fully know that the person he tempted was the true Messiah. Perhaps one grand object of his temptation was to find this out." Adam Clarke

    John Gill suggest it as a possibility:

    "either doubting of his divine sonship, calling it in question, and putting him upon doing so too; wherefore it is no wonder that the children of God should be assaulted with the like temptation:"

  12. Is this "condition in the first class" being used by the malefactor, the soldier and the others in the references cited?

  13. Here is what Daniel Wallace says, Luke 4:3 eipen dev aujtw/' oJ diavbolo": eij uiJoV" ei tou' qeou', eijpeV tw/' livqw/ touvtw/ i{na gevnhtai a[rto".

    The devil said to him, "If you are God's Son, tell this stone to become bread.

    The force of this is If--and let us assume that it's true for the sake of argument--you are God's Son, tell this stone to become bread. Apparently, the devil was from Missouri (the Show Me state)!"


  14. Daniel Wallace: Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996)

    Just in case someone does not know who Daniel Wallace is. He teaches Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary.

  15. I believe Jesus really and truly could have sinned but chose not too..If it was not real genuine temptation then it was a charade..

  16. @ Anonymous: Go to this post to see my view on the temptation of Christ. Nothing about temptation demands possibility.


    I will be happy to continue this discussion with you.

  17. @ Anonymous: Was Jesus ever "drawn away of HIS OWN lust?"

  18. Jesus was tested in all respects..being tempted is not a sin..it is giving into to temptation that is a sin. Satan tried hard to tempt him when he was hungry...even peter tried to tempt him to back off of going thru the torture and death h...

  19. Jesus could NOT sin? then it was all a charade..Scripture says He(Jesus)was tempted in ALL points..There is no testing unless there was the option..I reckon when you have a dual nature man with the god mode to escape to then yeah Jesus could not sin.

  20. 'Why did the Devil tempt Jesus if he could not sin?' Because he didn't know who Jesus was. It sounds like this portrayal of the temptation of the Christ is more about whether Satan understood the true identity of Jesus focusing on the mind of the 'Great Deceiver' rather than the actual luring or temptation of the Christ. This is a pretty fair explanation when you consider the sentence structure of the Devil. An interesting point, for when we look for confirmation by Jesus' own cousin John we find that he too was not entirely convinced of the Christ's station. Matthew 11:1-3 attests to this. Notice also that in both instances doubt is cast on Jesus' earthly station, his Messiah-ship, and not his heavenly station of deity.