Series: Word Studies in New Testament Greek #1 – Testing: for Good or Evil?
James wrote, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” In verse 12 of the same chapter he wrote, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. However, a problem arises when the next verse is read, because it says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one’” (James 1:2,12-13).
On the one hand it seems that temptations are sent to us from God and we are to consider it a privilege to pass through them, but on the other hand we are told that God does not tempt any man.
In order to understand these verses, it is necessary to know the meaning of the words that are translated “trial” and “tempted.” The same Greek word is used in all three of the verses quoted from James (vv. 2,12-13). Yet there are different shades of meaning intended by the author. The word is used in its noun form in verses 2 and 12 and its verb form in verse 13. The noun is peirasmos and the verb us peirazo. The root word of these forms has such meanings as “test,” “try,” and “prove.”
The matter of significance about peirazo is that it is used in both a good sense and a bad sense It can have the idea of testing with the purpose of bringing out that which is good, or it can have the idea of testing with the purpose of bringing out that which is bad.
When the word is used in regard to Satan, it has the bad sense of brining out that which is evil or soliciting to evil. Satan himself is known as “the tempter” (Matthew 4:3a). Satan thought he could get Christ to respond to evil, but because Christ is God, there was nothing in Him which answered to evil. Christ told Satan, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matthew 4:7). Satan was not trying to bring out that which was good in God but was endeavoring to solicit Him to evil.
When Ananias and Sapphira lied about the amount they had received for their land, Peter asked Sapphira, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” (Acts 5:9). They were not trying to bring out that which was good in the Lord, so the word is used in its bad sense in this context.
The word peirazo is used in 2 Corinthians 13:5, where Paul told the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” In this context the Corinthians were obviously to look at the good as well as the bad in their lives. So the word is also used in a good sense. This, in the Book of James, the “trials of various kinds” have a good purpose in view—to bring out that which is good in the believers. This is also true regarding James 1:12. However, the word is used in its negative sense in verse 13, as is evident from the words, “for God cannot be tempted with evil.” In the phrase “and he himself tempts no one,” it is with reference to “with evil.” Therefore, God never solicits a person to do evil but rather He brings tests into a person’s life that will bring out that which is good in him.
First Corinthians 10:13 uses both peirasmos and peirazo in their good sense: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” God sends tests and trials into our lives to bring out that which is good in us, and He always provides the strength necessary to bear up under the tests.
Another Greek word was frequently used when the writer wanted to emphasize a testing with the purpose of bringing out that which is good. This word is dokimazo. Whereas peirazo could be used in either a good or bad sense, dokimazo is used only in a good sense. In this regard it has to do with “proving” or “examining.” In fact, of the 23 times dokimazo is used in the New Testament, it is translated “prove,” “examine,” or “discern” ten times (depending on the English translation).
One such occurrence is Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern (dokimazo = “prove,” or “examine,”) what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Dokimazo is also translated “examine” in Luke 14:19: “And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ The excuse this person used for not attending the great supper was that he wanted to try out his yoke of oxen to see how good they were.
In 1 Corinthians 3, which tells of the Judgment Seat of Christ, dokimazo is translated “will test” in verse 13: “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” This helps us to see that at the Judgment Seat of Christ the emphasis will be on discovering that which is good so it might be rewarded. Only those who have received Jesus Christ as Savior will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. The purpose of the judgment will be, not to condemn, but to reward that which is good. The believer has been delivered from all condemnation through faith in Christ.
The understanding of this Greek word also helps us to see what God’s purpose is in sending trials of our faith. 1 Peter 1:7 says, “so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The word “tested” is a noun form of dokimazo. Thus we see that the purpose for the trials of our faith is that God might bring out that which is good and that it might become mature Christians.
Because peirazo has both good and bad meanings, it can be used in regard to both God and Satan. However, dokimazo can never be used for Satan because he never tests to “prove, discern, or examine” that which is good but rather to solicit to evil.
About the Author:
Harold J. Berry specialized in Theology and Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary and graduated in 1960 with his Th.M. He was for many years the personal assistant to Dr. Theodore H. Epp (the Bible Teacher of the Back to the Bible Hour before Warren W. Wiersbe became its primary teacher). He was known as an outstanding professor of Greek in various Institutions. The Word Study above was adapted from a publication by Berry entitled “Gems From The Original” published by Back to the Bible Broadcast in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1972. The outdated language has been updated where necessary, and the more familiar ESV has been used instead of the KJV.