The Chapel of Christ
409 West Marion Street, Shelby
Sunday mornings at 10:30

Examining a Belief

Sometimes we believe stuff that we’ve always heard, things we’ve always been told we’re supposed to believe.  We don’t really think about it.  We hear a certain thing said over and over again; virtually everybody, we think, believes it, and so we assume it’s got to be true.

One of those things is the belief that God won’t put on us more than we can bear.  I bet I’ve heard that a million times in my life—God won’t put on you more than you can bear.  It came up just a week or so ago.

That is a belief that many Christians have—God won’t put on you more than you can bear.  Sometimes God sends bad things on you in order to test you, just to see what you'll do, but God won't send so many bad things on you that you can't bear them.

We just have that belief.  We hear that belief repeated, and we think it’s true.  But where does it come from?  Does the Bible say that?

There is a verse that’s used to support that belief.  It comes from First Corinthians 10: 13.  It reads this way in the New King James Version: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

From that, the idea developed that God sends bad things on you in order to test you, but God won't send so many bad things on you that you can't bear it.  But this verse talks about temptation, not God testing someone.  Where did the idea come from it's about testing?

Some versions translate this verse differently.  The New Revised Standard Version has it like this: “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

See the difference there.  Instead of “tempted” and “temptation,” some versions use “tested” and “testing.”

This verse is where the idea comes from that God won’t give you more than you can bear—this one verse.  The idea that God won’t give you more than you can bear comes from this verse when it’s translated using the word “test” instead of the word “tempt.”

From that, people develop the belief that God sometimes sends bad things on you in order to test you, but that He will not send more bad things on you than you can bear.

So we see one very popular Christian belief, that many people repeat and just assume is true, and it hinges on the translation of one word in one verse.  So we need to consider:  Does this verse say that God sometimes sends bad things on you in order to test you, but that He won’t send more bad things on you than you can bear?  Does this verse actually say what so many Christians think it says—that God won’t put more on you than you can bear?

It hinges on one word, so let’s look at that word.  It’s the Greek word “peirasmos.”  There is disagreement among Christians as to the proper translation of that word, what that word means.  But that shouldn’t surprise us.  After all, the Greek that the New Testament manuscripts were written in is an ancient form of Greek that has long been obsolete, so it’s not always easy to determine the exact meaning of a word. 

Some say it should be translated as “temptation;” others say it should be translated as “testing;” still others say it can be translated as either “temptation” or “testing,” depending on the context.

Which is right?  Or can we even determine it?

I’ve spent a lot of time researching this, and I’ll give you my opinion on it.  The first thing I do when trying to figure out what something in the Bible actually says is go back to what we’ve talked about in here before—the context.  If we look at the context this verse appears in, we see that it is talking about people in the past who did wrong.  They engaged in things like idolatry, sexual immorality, and other general bad things.  And then it says those people should be an example to us; we should be careful that we, too, do not fall.

So from this context, we see that Paul is talking about people who have fallen to temptation, yielded to temptation.  That’s one clue.

From the context, we have an indication that this verse is talking about what we would refer to as temptation.

But there’s something else I like to do when faced with a difficult verse.  I like to go back as far as I can in Christian history and see how people back then dealt with it, how it was seen back then.  After all, that’s closer to the time of Jesus, and there had been less time for things to get twisted around.

When we go back as far as we can with surviving Christian writings, which is to the late 100’s in this case, we see that this word peirasmos was associated with Satan, with the devil. 

We see something else.  We see that by this time, in general, secular Greek usage, the word peirasmos had been replaced by other words.  That word had become “out-of-date,” in other words, a word no longer in general usage.  We have English words like that.  We don’t say “automobile” anymore.  We don’t say, “I washed my automobile yesterday.”  We say “car.”  We say, “I washed my car yesterday.”  “Automobile” has been replaced by “car” in general usage.

In the same way, by the time the New Testament scriptures were written, peirasmos had been replaced by other words and was no longer in common usage in ancient Greek.  However, some Christians, in their writings, revived it and used it to connote something the devil does.  In early Christian writings, the usage of that word periasmos meant something identified with the devil.

So now we’ve got two clues.  We’ve got the context of the passage, which is talking about temptation.  And we’ve got the usage of the word peirasmos in early Christian writings, which connotes something identified with the devil.

But we can also add something else.  We can go back to early Christian writings and see what they thought about temptation.  As far back as we can go, we see that they believed God does not tempt anyone.  The book of James, chapter one verse thirteen, flatly says that God tempts no one.  So this idea that God does not tempt people is found in the New Testament, and it is also found in early Christian writings.  The belief, which we find from earliest Christianity, is that tempting comes from the devil.  God does not tempt people.

However, we do find, both in the Bible and in early Christian writings, that temptations from the devil are sometimes referred to as “testings.”  We find the idea that the devil tests us, which means that the devil sends things our way to see if we will remain faithful to God, sends things our way to try to get us to turn from God.  We find this idea, that the devil tries to get us to turn away from God, both in the New Testament and in early Christian writings.

Now we’ve done a lot of background work, so we can go back to our verse from First Corinthians, and with all that in mind that we’ve found out, see what we need to do with this word peirasmos.  From what we’ve seen, we would say that what we saw in the New King James Version is the most accurate translation.  It reads like this, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

From what we’ve seen from ancient Greek usage in New Testament times, and from what we’ve seen from early Christian writings on temptation, we can say that God is not sending the temptation.  The devil is.  And so this verse from First Corinthians is addressing temptations that are sent by the devil, and it’s saying that God will make it possible for us to avoid temptation.  Although the devil is there, always working to try to make us turn from God, always trying to lead us astray, God is also there, always working to make sure we are able to stay on the right path, always working to make sure the devil’s way is not the only way open to us.

That’s what this verse is saying, as best we can determine.  It is not, in any way, saying that God sends bad things on us to test us but won’t give us more than we can bear.  It’s not talking about that at all.  People might have said that’s what that verse is talking about, but when we really examine it, we see that it’s not.

But even when you read something like the New Revised Standard Version, which translates it as “test” rather than “tempt,” you still can get the true meaning of the verse if you pay close attention.  Remember, the New Revised Standard Version has it like this, “God is faithful, and He will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing He will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

Notice that it says, “He will not let you be tested…”  Those words, “let you,” obviously mean that God is not the one sending the testing.  They also do not mean God is letting the devil do the testing, because in the next phrase what it says is this, “He will also provide the way out.”  So this verse, either way it’s translated, is not saying God lets the devil tempt or test you.  Doesn’t say that at all and doesn’t mean that.  It says that in spite of what the devil does, God will provide a way so that you can endure it.

You see how you have to really read things in the Bible carefully?

The important thing I want us to see today is that the verse that many people use to support the idea that God sometimes sends bad things on you to test you, but that He won’t send more bad things on you than you can bear, does not actually say that.  It also doesn’t say that God lets the devil tempt or test you.

We might have been told that verse says those things.  Or, we might have just been told that there’s somewhere in the Bible that says that.  But there’s not.  The Bible doesn’t say either one of those things.

How does all the confusion come in?  Well, one place it comes from is that people don’t read scripture closely and see what it actually says and, most importantly, what it does not say.  But, in addition to that, I think a lot of times, when we read the Bible, we fall into a trap.  We see an English word, and of course, some English words can have a variety of meanings.  And so when we read the Bible and see an English word that can have a variety of meanings, we think we can use that whole variety of meanings, that whole range of meanings, for what the Bible says.

That’s what happens here, I think.  Let’s go back to the New Revised Standard Version, which uses the word “testing.”  The translators obviously were talking about testing coming from the devil, because after all, they used “God won’t let you be tested.”  But we see “tested,” and we just skip over the “let you” part, and assume that God’s doing the testing.what other people would call “temptation.”  That’s what you mean when you translate it.

But then someone comes along and sees “tested,” and they just skim over the “let you” part and assume God’s doing the testing.  They think of all the variety of meanings the English word “testing” might have, and from that, they get the idea that that testing is different from temptation.  They know God doesn’t “tempt,” because the Bible says that, but the Bible doesn’t specifically state that God doesn’t “test,” in the sense of one of the English meanings of the word, so they read this verse and think the testing comes from God.  And then from there, they follow it on out and come up with the belief that God sometimes sends bad things on us to test us, but that He won’t send more bad things on us than we can bear.

That illustrates the danger of taking an English word we see in the Bible that has a range of meanings and projecting that range of meanings on the word was translated from the biblical text.

Now I know this has been a complicated study to follow, but I hope you’ve been able to follow it.  And I also hope that you’ve seen how careful we have to be when we read the Bible, to not project things on it that it does not say.

So, does the Bible say that God sometimes tests us by giving us bad things in our life but will not give us more bad things than we can bear?  No, it does not.  It never says that.  Does the Bible say that God lets the devil tempt us, or that God lets the devil test us?  No, it does not.  It never says that, either.  Those are things that people have projected onto the Bible.

Those are just a couple of the beliefs that many people have, that many people have always heard, but that the Bible itself does not say.

It all boils down to what kind of God you believe in. 

Is this the kind of God you believe in?

God's up in heaven.  You are down here.  God sometimes zaps you with bad things just to test you, just to try you out and see what you'll do.  Sometimes God sends really bad things on you, really bows you down, strikes you bad.  Just to see what you'll do, whether you'll remain faithful to Him or not.  But He won't send so much that it'll break you.  He'll bow you down bad but not break you.

What kind of a God is that?

I bet there's not a parent in here who would treat their children like that.  I bet there's not a person in here who would treat their dog or cat like that.

So why do we think God would treat us like that?