A quick survey of the Bible references to "tempt" and its various forms shows that a majority of the references deal with tempting either the Lord or Jesus Christ. This involves about forty references (it is hard to know how to count some of them). Are all of these references wrong? Did the King James translators make such a translation error over and over? Of course not. Here are some thoughts.
The base meaning of the word "tempt" is to test or to try. This is the first definition given in the "Webster's New World Dictionary." This dictionary also points out that this was the original meaning of tempt.
- This meaning is the most common meaning of "tempt" in scripture. This meaning can be demonstrated by comparing Genesis 22:1, which states, "God did tempt Abraham," with its parallel verse in Hebrews 11:17, which says, "Abraham, when he was tried." As in other examples, scripture defines scriptural terms.
Temptation is always some form of a test or trial. Sometimes, that trial comes in the form of a drawing to sin (our more common use of the word today). But often, the trial may come in the form of troubles, afflictions, discouragement, etc. When we study a passage in scripture, we should always pay attention to see how to apply it to our lives. Here are some applications of this understanding.
Men do tempt the Lord. To tempt God means to put Him to the test, to presume on his mercy or patience. It means to see how far you can go with Him and get away with it. In a sense, it means to provoke Him, to defy Him. Men certainly do tempt the Lord. And, I know of no better way to say it. In Exodus 17:2, the New International Version says, "Why do you put the LORD to the test?" Yet, I would argue that it is good to put God to the test. God tells us to prove Him (Malachi 3:10). That is putting Him to the test. But the Bible says that the Israelites tempted God. They provoked Him to anger by their presumptuous demands and public denials of His power. They are an example to us of what to avoid (1 Corinthians 10:9).
Understanding the meaning of "tempt" broadens our understanding of other verses. Most people are familiar with 1 Corinthians 10:13 - "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." Most teachers apply this verse solely to those things that draw us to evil. But consider the broader meaning of temptation--trials and afflictions, for instance. Every statement of this verse fits them as well and can be rightly applied. The trials we face are common to man. God never allows us to face a trial that we cannot bear with His help. He also enables us to bear each trial. What a blessing this would be if we could see it in its fullness.
Other verses must be understood in a more narrow sense one way or the other. James 1:2-3 calls upon the believer to rejoice when they fall into divers temptations. These temptations are then called "the trying of your faith." These temptations are trials and afflictions. Later in the chapter, we are told that God cannot be tempted with evil (James 1:13). Why does it say "with evil" unless there are other ways to be tempted? And, as you study this passage (v.13-14), temptation with evil is certainly in view.
I hope this helps demonstrate the beautiful tapestry of biblical terminology. We cannot start changing these words in one place without messing up a connection somewhere else. What a wonderful gift God has given us!