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Temptator Divinis or The Divine Tempter

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The Divine Tempter, Part I
 Parallels are often drawn between the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the temptation of Jesus Christ, as it is recorded in the Gospels.  These and other threads that run throughout the length of Scripture are helpful in observing the continuity of divine revelation.  However, as the title of this post suggests, I would argue that there is at least one such thread that has been neglected in our observations of the temptation of Adam and Eve.  That thread, while tied securely to the temptation in the garden described in Genesis, leads us not to the temptation of Christ in the wilderness as narrated by the synoptics but to a temptation by Christ depicted in the Gospel of John.
           A word here about my choice of language: I fully recognize that referring to our Lord as “the divine tempter” brings with it a host of dangerous misunderstandings.  We are told in no uncertain terms in the epistle of James that “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (Jas. 1:13).  This being true for God himself, it is certainly also true for the incarnation of God, Jesus Christ.  It is not my intention to refute this fact, nor is it my desire to be unnecessarily provocative.  In no way does Christ tempt any person to sin.  By way of explanation then, it might prove helpful to recall the etymological origins of our English word, “tempt.”  It derives from the Latin word, temptare, which is variously translated, “to try, to prove, put to the test.”  In setting himself against our adversary, the devil, in continually wooing us away from Satan’s pallid promises with the allure of his superior delights, Christ acts as a tempter par excellence.  In the battle against sin we would be well served to remember that there are always two temptations laid out before us: one leading to ultimate destruction, the other to ultimate delight; one built upon deception, the other on devotion; one issuing forth from the diabolic, the other from the divine.
            There are five points of contact between Satan’s discourse with Eve in Genesis and Christ’s discourse with the Samaritan woman in John 4.  We will address the first three of these points of contact in this first of two posts and cover the final two in the second.
THE DIABOLIC TEMPTER
 The Question of the Goodness of God         
The first thing to note in Genesis 3 is that Satan casts doubt on God’s goodness.  “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1).  The force of this question is found in its implication.  Satan is subtly leading Eve to agree with him that God is miserly, small-minded and paranoid.  His commands are extreme and intolerable.  The seed of this lie bears fruit in the verses that follow.
 The Claim to Knowledge of the Divine Mind           
 Second, the serpent claims to know the mind of God.  The woman, in correcting the beast’s misquotation of God’s command in verses 2 and 3, reveals the divine warning that was attached to disobedience: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die’” (Gen. 3:2–3).  Upon hearing the pronounced doom of transgressors to the divine law, the devil again scoffs: “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4–5).  In saying this, he buoys up his previous implication that God’s motives in the command are suspect, he unequivocally denies the revealed word of God and he dangles a tantalizing prospect in front of his hearer(s): potential godhood.  All of these facets of his temptation hinge, nevertheless, upon an assumption, which, when questioned, becomes transparently untenable: that the serpent has access to the inner thoughts of an ineffable God.  Satan says to Eve, “…God knows….”  Beyond this statement of what he supposedly knows God knows is the implication that he understands God’s motives: “God doesn’t want you to become like him, knowing good and evil.”  To the extent that Satan here presumes to mediate to the woman the mind of God, he allocates to himself the role of priest, a role which, as we will see in the next post, had been conferred on Adam.
 The Satisfaction of Deepest Desire
 Third, the serpent claims that what he has to offer will satisfy the deep-seated longing of Eve’s heart—namely, to be godlike.  This is the temptation proper, as it were, where the actual item of desire is held out for contemplation and possession, for a price.  In this case, godhood is to be sold in exchange for a minor act of disobedience.  The strength of the devil’s temptation is felt most in our vicarious experience of Eve’s contemplation of the desired thing.  She “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6).  The language of longing piles up here: “…the tree was good…it was a delight…to be desired….”  The first couple proceed to take the fruit and eat, thereby demonstrating their belief that their desires would be satisfied by heeding the tempter’s counsel and disobeying God.
There is more here, of course, but these first three aspects of the temptation will allow us to begin to draw a parallel between this temptation and that offered by the Lord Jesus in John’s Gospel.  Let’s follow that thread forward then to the story of Jesus Christ, seated by a well near the Samaritan town of Sychar in John 4.
THE DIVINE TEMPTER
 The story proceeds as follows:
 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water.  Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)  The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  (Jn. 4:7–10)
 After an initial contact and rebuff by the Samaritan woman, Jesus proceeds in precisely the opposite direction as Satan in Genesis.  All three of the aspects of the devil’s temptation which we have so far outlined are here emphatically reversed.
 The Question of the Goodness of God
 First, he reaffirms the goodness of God.  While the diabolical serpent had cast doubt on God’s goodness, Christ asserts it in no uncertain terms.  He does this by identifying God as a gift-giver: “If you knew the gift of God….” (Jn. 4:10).  The exact nature of the gift of God seems a bit vague.  John Calvin, in his Commentary on the Gospel According to John offers up the presence of Christ himself as the gift.  Others prefer more simply to identify the gift as the “living water” to which Jesus is about to call the woman’s attention.  In either case, the nature of God as a gift-giver is put forward and confirmed by Christ’s insistence that he would generously give “living water” upon being asked.  There is a subtly strong reversal here of the slander spewed out by the serpent in the Garden.  He had insinuated that God was petty, miserly and paranoid about preserving the exclusivity of his divinity.  Here Jesus asserts God’s great generosity and even prodigality.  He is portrayed as a deity who willingly shares his very life with all who will trouble themselves to ask.
The Claim to Knowledge of the Divine Mind
Second, whereas the serpent in the Garden of Eden made a tacit claim to knowing the mind of God, part of the thrust of the entire Gospel of John is that Jesus is the one who, as the Word made flesh, is actually the incarnation of the mind of God.  This reality comes out in various passages leading up to Christ’s discourse with the Samaritan woman in John 4.  In the prologue, John calls Jesus, “the Word” (Jn. 1:1) which some commentators feel is an attempt to capture the eternal Son’s role as the personal self-expression and self-disclosure of God.  John himself goes on to say that, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (Jn. 1:18).  Not only is Satan incapable of understanding or articulating the mind of God, the Samaritan woman is now confronted with the only being who is able to make the mind of God known.  In his commentary, The Gospel According to John, D.A. Carson goes so far as to suggest that, based on John’s use of the Greek word exegeseto for “made known,” “we might almost say that Jesus is the exegesis of God”!
            In the discourse of John the Baptist immediately preceding the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we hear John saying this of Christ:
He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.  He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.  Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.  For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. (Jn. 3:31–34)
When John says that Jesus “bears witness to what he has seen and heard” he is referring to those “heavenly things” of which Jesus, as the eternal Son, has personal knowledge.  This comment by John the Baptist seems to have been added by the evangelist partly as a further explanation of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus earlier in that chapter: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except him who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (Jn. 3:12–13).  Since only the Son of Man has come from heaven and from God, only he has the ability to “utter the words of God” (Jn. 3:34).  The Samaritan woman is confronted with the only person who truly knows the mind of God; Eve interacted with a being who claimed to know the mind of God but who was and is, in the Johannine sense and to quote the Baptist, “of the earth, belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way” (Jn. 3:31).
The Satisfaction of Deepest Desire
 Third, Jesus claims that what he has to offer the woman will satisfy her deepest desire.  He promises her that, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14).  This is a temptation indeed!  Accepting the offer of this stranger will result in having her deepest longings satisfied in such a way that she will never desire any further satisfaction.  The parallels between Christ’s offer here and the offer of Satan in Genesis 3 are stunning.  Just as the demoniac serpent offers Eve the fruit of the forbidden tree as a means of potential godhood (“…you will be like God, knowing good and evil…”) so here the divine tempter offers the Samaritan woman a true share in the life of God: an internal “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  What can this be but a reference to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God, already spoken of in the previous chapter to Nicodemus?  Rather than presenting the meager hope of some kind of usurping deification, as had the serpent, the Messiah holds out the certainty of a true and satisfying union with God.
            In these three ways, Jesus counters the archetypal temptation of Satan:  He eternally answers the question of the goodness of God; he satisfies the claim to knowledge of the divine mind; and he provides the true satisfaction of deepest desire.  Jesus shows himself to be the bearer of a much more enticing offer than Satan.  In my next post I will outline two final parallels between the dialog of Eve and Satan in Genesis 3 and that of the Samaritan woman and Jesus in John 4: The nature of the created order and the ongoing mission to expand the kingdom of God around the globe.
Next week I will post the conclusion to this study of John 4.
  1. Tim Bredamus says:

    Thanks for this, Andrew. Can’t wait for Part 2!

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