Problem: God doesn't tempt people, but tempted David
Verses: 2 Samuel 24:1, James 1:13; Status: Minor

This is 2 Samuel 24:1:

Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go, number Israel and Judah." (ESV)

However, this is James 1:13:

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. (ESV)

Now, this certainly seems like a problem. God has tempted David to do something for which he is later punished. However, 1 Chronicles 21:1 tells us that actually, it was Satan who tempted David, not God. I examine that contradiction elsewhere. There's a remaining problem though: if it's true that God incited David, then what James says is not true. I'll emphasise this with the following dilemma:

Question: 1 Chronicles 21:1 tells us that God allowed Satan to tempt David. Does this imply that God himself tempted David?

  1. Yes (so James 1:13 is wrong)
  2. No (so 2 Samuel 24:1 is wrong)

I suppose you could try to be slippery and say that "inciting" is not the same as "tempting". I don't see the difference though. You could also say that James only means God never directly tempts anyone, though he can indirectly tempt someone in the sense intended in 2 Samuel (by allowing Satan to act). I find the idea of God using loopholes like this very irritating though.

Finally, you could just deny that 2 Samuel means what it says. This actually seems to be the standard reply. According to The Apologetics Press, "what God permits, He is said to do". I find this reply a bit odd, since it means that the statement "God did X" means nothing more than "X happened", in which case you might as well not mention God at all. Surely when a writer says that God did something, he means rather more than that.

But I don't know. It's just about possible to see James as talking about a fundamentally different sort of event from what the Books of Samuel and Chronicles are describing.

Updated: Summer 2008

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