Doug Knighton is a retired Air Force chaplain and edits for Dr. Daniel Fuller.
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The Correct Approach to Trials
James 1:12-20
Trials test our love for God. We should not think incorrectly about these good gifts, nor should we become angry when we experience them.
Published July 19th, 2019
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Main point summary
Main point summary
Main point summary
Since succeeding in God's trials yields LIFE, we should retain our composure when they occur.
1. James 1:12-20 is part of the larger unit 1:12-27. It addresses the mental care we must take as we encounter various trials; verses 21-27 contain some additional instructions regarding how to live righteously. 2. The quotation marks in most English texts are misplaced. At least all three clauses following "Let no one say" are being banned, because 1) the word translated "tempt" is the same word rendered "test/trial" in 1:12; Jeffrey Gibson has argued persuasively that PEIRASMOS always indicates a test or trial of reliability or faithfulness, never an enticement to do evil; thus the test/trial in view in 13 is the same one in view in 12; 2) the third clause is not true; God does indeed test people--see Genesis 22:1 & Hebrews 11:17 for one example. 3) in the NT the standard preposition indicating agency with PEIRAZW is hUPO not APO. In this text we should apply the preposition's usual meaning of separation. Thus we should understand James to argue that when we experience a trial/test, we should not think that God has abandoned us or that he is not part of the process. 3. The taxonomy of 14-15 is wrong; therefore these verses should also be included inside the quotations marks of what we should not say to ourselves when undergoing trial/testing. The first clause should be rendered: "Each one is tested by his own desires/lusts in that he is lured and trapped, or as he is lured and trapped." This rendering makes clear that in this taxonomy testing occurs in the process of being entrapped in a downward spiral that ends in death. In this taxonomy testing leads inevitably to death. But James has already affirmed that testing is good for us (1:2-4) and that it can be negotiated successfully (1:12). 4. Thus verses 13-15 provide two negative frameworks which Christians should not incorporate into how they respond to tests/trials of faith. These two frameworks (thinking we are being tested apart from God, and thinking that being tested is the equivalent of sinning) prohibit us from orbiting our lives around the goodness of God's work in our lives through his word. Verse 16 summarizes the double-sided prohibition.
Main point summary
Since succeeding in God's trials yields LIFE, we should retain our composure when they occur.
James 1:12-20
Blessed/happy/fortunate are those who endure testing;
Μακάριος ἀνὴρ ὃς ὑπομένει πειρασμόν,
for after having passed the test, they will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.
ὅτι δόκιμος γενόμενος λήμψεται τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς ὃν ἐπηγγείλατο τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν αὐτόν.
When we are tested, we should not say:
Μηδεὶς πειραζόμενος λεγέτω ὅτι
“I am being tested apart from God;
ἀπὸ θεοῦ πειράζομαι•
for God cannot be tested by evil, and he himself does not test anyone.”
ὁ γὰρ θεὸς ἀπείραστός ἐστιν κακῶν, πειράζει δὲ αὐτὸς οὐδένα.
[Nor should we say:] “Each person is tested by his own desire
ἕκαστος δὲ πειράζεται ὑπὸ τῆς ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας
in that he is drawn away and trapped;
ἐξελκόμενος καὶ δελεαζόμενος•
then when desire conceives, it produces sin;
εἶτα ἡ ἐπιθυμία συλλαβοῦσα τίκτει ἁμαρτίαν,
and when sin’s gestation is complete, it is born as death.”
ἡ δὲ ἁμαρτία ἀποτελεσθεῖσα ἀποκύει θάνατον.
[In other words] do not stray from the truth , my beloved brothers.
Μὴ πλανᾶσθε, ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοί.
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον ἄνωθέν ἐστιν καταβαῖνον ἀπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς τῶν φώτων, παρʼ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα.
In the exercise of his will he brought us forth by the word of truth,
βουληθεὶς ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς λόγῳ ἀληθείας
so that we would be a kind of first fruits among his creatures.
εἰς τὸ εἶναι ἡμᾶς ἀπαρχήν τινα τῶν αὐτοῦ κτισμάτων.
Therefore, knowing all of this, my beloved brothers, everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger ;
Ἴστε, ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοί• ἔστω δὲ πᾶς ἄνθρωπος ταχὺς εἰς τὸ ἀκοῦσαι, βραδὺς εἰς τὸ λαλῆσαι, βραδὺς εἰς ὀργήν•
for human anger does not accomplish the righteousness God desires.
ὀργὴ γὰρ ἀνδρὸς δικαιοσύνην θεοῦ οὐ κατεργάζεται.
The preposition here does not indicate agency. The standard way to do this with PEIRAZW is to use hUPO.
According to Genesis 22:1 and Hebrews 11:17 (and many other texts), God does indeed test/try his people. Therefore this clause must be included in what must not be said when undergoing a test.
In 1997 Jeffrey Gibbson demonstrated from a search of all Greek literature of the the day that PEIRAZW (and its nominal cognate PEIRASMOS) never denotes/connotes "entice(ment) to do evil." Rather it always indicates a trial or testing of one's faith or faithfulness. James' readers would never have leaped from that meaning in vs. 2 & 12 to some other meaning in vs. 13.
Disclaimer: The opinions and conclusions expressed on this page are those of the author and may or may not accord with the positions of Biblearc or Bethlehem College & Seminary.