Word Study: The English word “temptation” in Matthew 6:13
“…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:13, ESV)
King James Version translates the Greek word as “temptation”
New King James translates the Greek word as “temptation”
New American Standard Bible translates the Greek word as “temptation”
Revised Standard Version translates the Greek word as “temptation”
New International Version translates the Greek word as “temptation”
Young’s Literal Translation translates the Greek word as “temptation”
Bible in Basic English translates the Greek word as “temptation”
Holman Christian Standard translates the Greek word as “temptation”
The New Living Translation translates the Greek word as “temptation”
In all of these translations the translators decided to stay with the English word “temptation” rather than seek a suitable synonym or different meaning.
If we accept the integrity of these translators and translations, we can initially conclude that included in a model prayer for believes is the petition that God would not lead a believer into temptation, or into an opportunity which would lead to or result in sin.
Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (1969) defines temptation as: 1: the act of tempting or the state of being tempted esp. to evil: ENTICEMENT 2: something tempting: a cause or occasion of enticement.
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (p. 1003) shows that temptation appears again (in the KJV text) in:
Matthew 26:41 – “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”(KVV)
Zondervan New American Standard Bible Exhaustive Concordance (p. 1094) shows that temptation appears again (in the NAS text) in:
Matthew 26:41 – “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (NASB)
The Crossway Comprehensive Concordance of the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (A Comprehensive Concordance of Biblical Words Providing Easy Access to Every Verse in the Bible) shows that temptation appears again in:
Matthew 26:41 – “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (ESV)
Please note that the word for temptation is used in other writings by New Testament writers. However, we are looking at how Matthew used this word. The other writers may have used it in a way that has no direct bearing on Matthew 6:13. Normally a writer will use the same word in the same way in the same writing.
New Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (p.499) tells us that temptation in Matthew 6:13 translates the Greek word πειρασμος (peirasmos - pi-ras-mos’). Thayer’s defines this word as an experiment, attempt, trial, proving. A. a universal trial or proving. B. specifically the trial of man’s fidelity, integrity, virtue, constancy.
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (p.56) tells that temptation comes from the word peirazo, a putting to proof by experiment or experience by adversity.
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (p. 622) gives us some additional insight into our word. Vine’s states it is used of 1) “trials” with a beneficial purpose and effect and 2) of “trial” definitely designed to lead to wrong doing, “temptation.”
It seems that our word πειρασμος (peirasmos - pi-ras-mos’) can mean either “a proving by an experience of trial or adversity and a solicitation to do evil, or sin. Our context must govern our choice and selection of how we translate it.
Word Studies in the New Testament (Vincent, p. 43) tells us “It is a mistake to define this word as only solicitation to evil. It means trial of any kind without reference to its moral quality. We cannot pray God not to tempt us to sin, “for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” (James 1:13, KJV)
A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament says (p. 54) “bring or lead” bothers many people. It seems to present God as an active agent in subjecting us to temptation, a thing specifically denied in James 1:13. The word here translated temptation means originally “trial” or “test” as in James 1:2 and Vincent so takes it here.
Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (p.18) defines πειρασμος (peirasmos - pi-ras-mos’) as either “test” or “temptation.”
Barnes on the New Testament writes (p.68) the word temptation sometimes means “trial, affliction”, or anything that “tests” our virtue. If this be the meaning, as it may be, then the import of the prayer is, “Do not afflict or try us.” It is not wrong to pray that we may be saved from suffering if it be the will of God.
The Gospel of Matthew, Vol 1 (Barclay, p. 224-225) states, “To modern ears the word tempt is always a bad word; it always means to seek to seduce into evil. But in the bible the verb πειρασμος (peirasmos - pi-ras-mos’) is often better translated by the word test than by the word tempt. In the New Testament usage to tempt a person is not so much to seek to seduce him into sin, as it is to test his strength and his loyalty and his ability for service.”
The lexical sense or usage of our word πειρασμος (peirasmos - pi-ras-mos’) is that of “test” or “try.” It is not in this case used to infer a solicitation to do evil. This would be inconsistent with the context.
It seems that Jesus when he gave this model prayer or example of a prayer for his disciples told his disciples it was permitted to ask God, their Father, to not lead them into trials, tests, adversities designed to prove their faith, loyalty, or sincerity because frail as they were, they feared falling into the power of the Satan, the evil one.
The disciples knew their weakness and propensity to succumb to the pressure of the adversity of the evil one. Peter knew only too well. Although God tested or proved them in many adversarial occasions, they were permitted to pray that he might not prove them in such a way.
Ultimately, Jesus gave permission for the disciples to pray that God might not lead them into adversity in order to try their loyalty or test their sincerity since they knew how weak they really were and how powerful Satan was so that they might not fail and enter into sin. They were not instructed to pray that God would not lead them into any temptation that would cause them to sin.
Therefore, you and I today, even though we know that God will test and try us through trials and circumstances, it is permitted to ask God not to do so if at that moment it would be pleasing to him and in accordance with his will for our lives.