We serve an upright and just God “…who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are
able; but will with the temptation
make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Also,
“[l]et no man say when he is
tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no
man…” (James 1:13, emp.
added). But how, some skeptics may ask, can James be correct if Genesis 22:1 says that God “
tempted” Abraham into sacrificing
Isaac? The passage reads:
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said
unto him, “Abraham”: and he
said, “Behold, here I am” (KJV, emp. added).
And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him,
“Abraham.” And he said,
“Here am I” (ASV, emp. added).
After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he
said, “Here am I” (RSV, emp. added).
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “
Abraham!” And he said, “Here
I am” (NKJV, emp. added).
Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “
Abraham!” And he said, “Here
I am” (NASB, emp. added).
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I
am,” he replied (
NIV, emp. added).
Out of the six common translations listed, only the King James Version says that God tempted
Abraham. The Hebrew word
nissâ, which the King James renders as “tempt,” is defined as
“test” in both the Theological
Lexicon of the Old Testament (Botterweck, 1998, 9:443-455) and the Theological Dictionary
of the Old Testament (Jenni, 1997,
2:741-742). The American Standard Version, which many consider the most accurate translation of
the Bible currently in print, and the
New King James Version do not render nissâ as “tempt.” In fact, four out of
the five other translations given
use “test” for nissâ, which fits with both the context of the verse and the
Hebrew word used. As Wayne Jackson
[O]ne meaning of tempt is “a solicitation to sin, an enticement to evil.” It
is an action designed to entrap a
victim, hence, to bring about his fall. A holy God (cf. Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 7:14) never
could be guilty of such a base activity,
and this is the thrust of James’ description of this matter in the passage cited above (1987,
p. 14, parenthetical items in
The case of God tempting Abraham is no more than a mistranslation by the seventeenth-century
authors of the King James Version.
So why did God command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? The simple reason is given in the verse
itself: God was testing Abraham’s
obedience. Isaac was the only son of Abraham and Sarah, and the heir to God’s promise of
a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3), so
how else would God test Abraham’s loyalty to Him than by asking Abraham to give up what was
perhaps his greatest possession (cf.
Hebrews 11:17-19). God, by keeping Abraham from completing the sacrifice, seemingly never intended
for Isaac to be killed, but merely
wished to see if Abraham would obey.
Botterweck, G. Johannes, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry (1998), Theological
Dictionary of the Old Testament
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 9:443-455
Jackson, Wayne (1987), “Questions and Answers,” Reason & Revelation,
Jenni, Ernst and Claus Westerman (1997), Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament
(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson), 2:741-742.
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