It is definitely true what they say about going through The Bible over and over and over. You always walk away with more than you did the previous times. It is also the case, as the late Old Testament scholar Michael Heiser has said; that “Bible Reading is not the same as Bible Study”. Recently, as I have started going through The Bible again, a passage stuck out to me that made me stop, use my Logos Bible Software, and pace around the room puzzling until my puzzler was sore.
The passage is Deuteronomy 6:16; “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.”
What’s the problem here that I’m trying to solve? The problem is that some have used this verse (which Jesus quotes during his temptations in Matthew 4) as a proof text for Fideism. That we are not to test God, not to question him, not to think critically about his word, and so on. While reading, there was something about the context which I thought painted this single verse in an entirely different light. If you read the verses that come before it and after it, (i.e if you look at the immediate context), it looks as though the “test” isn’t meant to be taken in the scientific sense. Rather, it’s in the sense of “Don’t try my patience.” Because the preceding and proceeding verses (verses 14, 15, 17, and 18) are commands to the Israelites not to worship other gods and not to disobey his commandments as they had done in the wilderness. Perhaps it has nothing to do with putting the Bible under historical scrutiny or anything like that after all.
Deuteronomy 6:13-18 says “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors,” (NIV)
So, the immediate context seems to show us that we are not to test God by sinning. God is patient, loving, slow to anger, (Numbers 14:18, Psalm 145:8, 2 Peter 3:9, John 3:16, 1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16), but we are not to take advantage of that. I’m sure many of us know the old joke “I asked God for a bike, but then I realized God doesn’t work that way, so I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.” We are not to take advantage of God’s patience and slowness to anger to do sinful things. and in Israel’s case, the sinful thing was worshipping other gods. One thing I have come to realize through my studies is that idiolatry is among the most heinous of sins one can commit. Sins … Continue reading
Indeed, the fideistic interpretation contradicts what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “test everything, hold onto the good” and Jesus’ command to not believe him unless he does the work of his father (John 10:37). And you have Malachi 3:10 in which God commands the Israelites to test him. If we take the command not to put the Lord to the test in Deuteronomy in a scientific or intellectual sense, the sense of confirming or verifying something, then there is a contradiction between that verse and these other verses that I have mentioned. However, again, the context seems to imply shows God is telling Israel not to try his patience by sinning against him. Do not put God to the test by breaking his commandments, worshiping other gods, and so on.
I wish I could have moved on from there. However, there is another problem. Jesus quotes and implicitly gives commentary on this issue during his temptations in the wilderness in Matthew 4. In Matthew 4:5-7, Satan quotes from Psalm 91:11-12 and says “If you’re The Son Of God, throw yourself from this building.” Jesus’ response seems to apply Deuteronomy 6:16 in an epistemological way rather than in the way described above. For the context is Satan asking Jesus to verify His identity by throwing himself from the roof of the temple. Satan’s argument from Psalm 91 is that God will rescue His anointed by sending angels to catch him “lest he dashes his foot against a stone.”
Saying that Jesus used this passage incorrectly is unthinkable since Jesus is God (see John 1:1-3, 14, John 10:30, John 8:58, Hebrews 1, Colossians 1, and lots of other passages). If we say that Deuteronomy 6:16 has multiple meanings (like Psalm 45 quoted in Hebrews 1 for example), then we preserve the deity of Christ, but we face another problem. Yes, it has two meanings, but the second meaning contradicts other places in scripture (see above). So what do we do? Is Jesus wrong? Or does The Bible contradict itself on whether or not we should test God?
I opened Logos Bible Software and turned to one of my commentaries to read what a biblical scholar thought about this.
D.A Carson writes “The second temptation (Luke’s third) is set in the “holy city” (v. 5), Jerusalem (cf. Neh 11:1; Isa 48:2; Dan 9:24; Matt 21:10; 27:53), on the highest point of the temple complex (hieron probably refers to the entire complex, not the sanctuary itself, which Jesus, not being a Levite, would not have approached; but see on 27:5). Josephus (Antiq. XV, 412 [xi.v]) testifies to the enormous height from the structure’s top to the ravine’s bottom. Late Jewish midrash says that Messiah would prove himself by leaping from the temple pinnacle; but apart from its lateness, it mentions no spectators. So it is unlikely that this was a temptation for Jesus to prove himself to the people as a new “David” who will again rid Jerusalem of the “Jebusites” (i.e., Romans—contra Kirk, “Messianic Role,” pp. 91–95).
Satan quoted Psalm 91:11–12 (Mt 4:6) from the LXX, omitting the words “to guard you in all your ways.” The omission itself does not prove he handled the Scriptures deceitfully (contra Walvoord), since the quotation is well within the range of common NT citation patterns. Satan’s deceit lay in misapplying his quotation into a temptation that easily traps the devout mind by apparently warranting what might otherwise be thought sinful. Psalm 91:11–12 refers to anyone who trusts God and thus preeminently to Jesus. The angels will lift such a person up in their hands like a nurse a baby (cf. Num 11:12; Deut 1:31; Isa 49:22; Heb 1:14). At the temple, the place where God has particularly manifested himself, Jesus is tempted to test his sonship (“If you are the Son of God”) against God’s pledge to protect his own. Deuteronomy 6:16 was Jesus’ reply.
Jesus’ hesitation came, not from wondering whether he or his Father could command the normal forces of nature (cf. 8:26; 14:31), but because Scripture forbids putting God to the test (v. 7). The reference alludes to Exodus 17:2–7 (cf. Num 20:1–13), where the Israelites “put the lord to the test” by demanding water. So Jesus was tempted by Satan to test God; but Jesus recognized Satan’s testing as a sort of manipulative bribery expressly forbidden in the Scriptures (cf. esp. J.A.T. Robinson, Twelve, pp. 54–56). For both Israel and Jesus, demanding miraculous protection as proof of God’s care was wrong; the appropriate attitude is trust and obedience (Deut 6:17). We see then, something of Jesus’ handling of Scripture: his “also” shows that he would not allow any interpretation that generates what he knew would contradict some other passage.1″ D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 113–114.
So, Jesus, if he had done what Satan had suggested, would have been trying to forcibly manipulate God’s hand in order to prove a point. That certainly does sound like sinful behavior, doesn’t it. However, it is still the case that Jesus seems to be saying that we shouldn’t seek verification from God that He is trustworthy. Now, granted, in the context of Deuteronomy 6:16, the event refferred at Massah was a point in which the Israelites had had more than enough evidence that God was on their side, that He would take care of them, that He was powerful enough to overcome their enemies. There wouldn’t have been any need to test God for a clear-thinking person. And moreover, as Michael Heiser points out on his podcast, for Jesus to actually perform this test would have provided Satan with information that could have thwarted the plan for salvation.
What I worry about is whether or not putting, say, the gospels to the test to see if they’re historically reliable is sinful. After all, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are in the canon. They are God’s word, right? So wouldn’t testing to see if we could believe what they say be indirectly putting God Himself to the test? Am I sinning in being a staunch evidentialist?
For one thing, I think it’s important to keep in mind the two kinds of belief; belief that and belief in. There’s belief that God exists, THAT Jesus claimed to be God, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, and then there’s belief in God. The former is assent to propositions, the latter is trust in a person. If you were to say to someone “I belief in Evan”, you would not be expressing your belief that I exist. You would know darn well that I exist by talking to me, seeing me, the online content I’ve produced etc. Rather what you would mean is something like “I have faith in Evan’s capabilities” or “I believe Evan can do X”. “Evan can get his degree. I believe in him.” You would either have faith that I can do it, that I will do it, or both. But it wouldn’t be expressing the proposition “I believe Evan exists.” Likewise, biblical faith is trust in God. I cover this in more detail in one of my earliest blog articles titled “Biblical Faith VS Blind Faith”. It may perhaps be the latter that Jesus is saying we shouldn’t test.
Unbelief In Spite Of Overwhelming Evidence
Think about it; if you know that a being like God exists, why wouldn’t you trust him? Say you are convinced by The Ontological Argument For God’s Existence. You would know that a Maximally Great Being exists in all possible worlds including the actual world. And since a Maximally Great Being is, by definition, a being who posesses all great making properties to their maximal extent, This Maximally Great Being would be all powerful, all knowing, and all good. This means, God has the power to, the knowledge to, and the will to work things for your good; to provide you eternal life (salvation from your sins) and take care of you as His child (cf. Matthew 6:25-34). Would it be rational to doubt that God would keep any promises He made? No. How is it rational to think that a morally perfect being would lie or deceive you. How would it be rational to think an all-powerful God couldn’t provide for your needs? How is it rational to think a loving God wouldn’t? Now, granted, that isn’t to say he won’t let us go through trials, but this would lead us into conversations about The Problem Of Evil which is beyond the scope of this article. … Continue reading To doubt God after concluding that He exists and knowing what type of being He is is unreasonable. And it is even more so if you’ve had a history of walking with God, building a relationship with Him, and you know His track record in your own personal life. In the case of the Israelites, they saw the plagues that God unleashed upon Egypt and her gods. They saw the parting of the Red Sea. They saw the manna which fell from Heaven every single day. Why would they need anymore epistemic justification of God’s trustworthiness after all that? To demand more is not only unreasonable, but it’s a slap in God’s face. It is also noteworthy that when Israel grumbled prior to leaving Egypt, God’s anger did not burn against them. A good example of this can be seen in Exodus 5:19-21. That generation at that time didn’t really know God and God hadn’t yet given them any evidence that he was trustworthy and was speaking through Moses. There isn’t even a hint that God is upset with them in Exodus 5:19-21 for saying what they said. But after they had seen all that they had seen, they had no excuse not to put their faith in The Lord.
Imagine if you’ve been in a relationship for many years. Your spouse has proven her trustworthiness to you time and time again. She is faithful. She treats you kindly. And she has done nothing to make you lose your trust in her. Imagine that you go to her one day and say “How do I know you’re not cheating on me? I demand proof!” despite the fact that there is NOTHING to cause even a hint of suspicion. It’s not like she’s been staying out really late multiple nights a week, there are no text conversations on her phone with another man, no raunchy pics of another guy, nothing. Zip. Nada. No reason to doubt her at all and every reason to trust her. Do you think she might be offended? Your demand for proof is not out of epistemic due dilligence, but out of paranoid. It is not mere doubt, it is unbelief. The Israelites in the wilderness weren’t anxiously wondering “I wonder if God will really come through for us?” No, they literally accused God of dragging them out into the wilderness to kill them (See Exodus 16:3, Numbers 14:3, Numbers 16:134)! This is far more than the kind of doubt that made Peter sink into the sea (Matthew 14:25-31). This is full-blown unbelief.
Turning to another commentary, this seems to be what John A. Thompson thinks of the verse. For he writes “
“The incident at Massah (Exod. 17:1–7), in which Israel put God to the test, is now recalled as another warning. To test God is to impose conditions on him and to make his response to the people’s demand in the hour of crisis the condition of their continuing to follow him. In the wilderness when the people needed water they proposed the production of water by Moses as a test to determine whether Yahweh was among them or not (Exod. 17:7). But such an act is an impertinence and contrary to faith, for it refuses the signs offered by God and proposes to substitute others which are acceptable to man. By doubting God’s sovereignty in the hour of need or crisis, the people sought to gain the initiative and to compel God to prove himself to them by spectacular deeds which they themselves had proposed (cf. 1:19–46). In his day Jesus refused to offer signs to the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 12:38, 39; 16:1–4; Mark 8:11, 12; Luke 11:16, 29, 30; cf. 1 Cor. 1:22).” J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1974), 141–142.
So, it would seem that the kind of “testing” Deuteronomy 6:16 has in mind is indeed the kind off audacious demand for proof that a man might pose to his spouse in the kind of illustration above. If Thompson is right, then either my initial conclusion through my own reading was wrong or the verse really does have multiple applications. Now, back to Jesus’ temptations. As D.A Carson pointed out, Jesus doesn’t seem to be doubting his own identity or God’s favor on him. Yet he still thinks this is a valid proof text to use against the devil. Why? Well, as I point out in my blog post “Is The Incarnation Coherent?” Jesus’ omniscience was largely subliminal. His knowledge of everything from auto mechanics to quantum mechanics was tucked away in His subconsious. Ergo, Jesus had a normal human consiousness. And I think philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig is right to say that Jesus felt the full force of Satan’s temptations, that he didn’t merely blow them away like smoke. And despite being divine and literally incapable of sinning, perhaps Jesus wasn’t aware of the fact that he couldn’t sin. Dr. Craig uses the analogy of a scientist who tells you that he has made a time machine, and he leaves the room, telling you not to touch it. The scientist is a quack and actually did not succeed in making a time machine. Nevertheless, suppose you believed him. In that case, you might be tempted to get in it, go on time traveling adventures, and come back. With a time machine, you could set the coordinates to return you mere seconds after you left. No one would be the wiser. Since you believe the scientist, you are genuinely tempted to do something even though you are incapable of actually going through with it. William Lane Craig, “Question Of The Week #73: Temptations Of Christ”, September 8th 2008, — https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/temptations-of-christ In the same way, Dr. Craig says, Christ may have believed he could have given into temptation even though, being the second person of the Trinity, he was literally incapable of doing so.
In this case, it may have been that Satan did cast a little bit of doubt in Jesus’ mind about his identity (contra D.A Carson). “Am I really the Son Of God?”. If this is the case, then if Jesus were to throw himself off the ledge of the temple roof, God would have either sent angels to catch him or resuscitated him from the dead. But what would Jesus have done in performing this action? Aside from alerting Satan to the fact that “Oh, I can’t kill this guy and I probably shouldn’t even try”, Jesus would have been expressing unbelief, testing God’s faithfulness, and committing the same sin that Israel did. Jesus had more than enough reason to believe he was messiah and God’s Son. The Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove from Heaven at his baptism and the Father said “This is my Son whom I love. I am pleased with him.” (Matthew 3:13-17), and I would find it hard to believe that his mother Mary just never brought up the extraordinary events surrounding his birth that Luke records in the first couple of chapters of his gospel. So, like Israel, Jesus would have had more than enough epistemic ground to trust in God The Father. No need to make The Father prove himself, as Jesus would have done if he threw himself down.
And here’s something else; Jesus’ entire time spent in the wilderness is a mirror to Israel’s time in the wilderness. As Walter Elwell explains; “The temptation of Jesus follows in 4:1–11. Jesus’ fast of forty days and forty nights (v. 2) in the Judean desert (cf. 3:1) recalls Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, and especially Moses’ fasts of forty days and forty nights on behalf of faithless Israel (see Exod. 34:28; Deut. 9:9, 18).” J. Knox Chamblin, “Matthew,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 727. Whereas Israel received bread after grumbling against God (Exodus 16:1-5), Jesus refused to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger (Matthew 4:2-4), for he was in the middle of fasting and being faithful to God was more important. Whereas Israel did test God after they had more than enough reason to trust Him (Deuteronomy 6:16), Jesus refused to do so (Matthew 4:5-7). Whereas Israel crafted a golden calf and worshipped it (Exodus 32:1-6), Jesus refused to give that honor to anyone other than Yahweh (Matthew 4:8-10). Both Israel and Jesus spent a period of 40 time units in the desert, but where the nation of Israel failed, Jesus Christ prevailed. Because Jesus fulfills the law we cannot keep (Matthew 5:17-18).
So, in conclusion; Deuteronomy 6:16 does not endorse a fideistic epistemology. It is not saying that someone who has no reason to believe God exists or that The Bible is a trustworthy collection of books cannot go on a Lee Strobel journey of looking into the evidence to see if these things are so. It also doesn’t mean that we can’t ask God for help when we have trouble trusting him. This verse, in its context, is directed to Israelites who believed God lead them into the desert to kill him, they had more than enough evidence, yet they demanded more. And this is exactly what Jesus would have done if he had listened to the devil in Matthew 4. It is clear that both Israel’s and Jesus’ circumstances are a lot different from a skeptic or doubter looking to see if The Bible’s historical books are historically reliable, or weighing the arguments for and against the existence of God. Therefore, Deuteronomy 6:16 and Matthew 4:7 are compatible with an evidentialist epistemology. It does not endorse blind faith.
|and in Israel’s case, the sinful thing was worshipping other gods. One thing I have come to realize through my studies is that idiolatry is among the most heinous of sins one can commit. Sins like murder, theft, adultery, and rape are heinous sins committed against other people. But idolatry is the ultimate sin against God. God commands worship not because He’s a narcissist or arrogant as skeptics of The Bible often charge. Rather, idolatry is a sin primarily because God is a Maximally Great Being. God is the greatest being in all of reality. He is “A being of which no greater can be conceived” as Anselm of Canterberry put it. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, morally perfect, and necessarily existent. He has all great making properties and has these properties to their maximal extent. He isn’t just powerful, but infinitely powerful (Job 42:2, Numbers 11:23). He isn’t just knowledgable, but all-knowing. God knows all things that could, would, and will happen. God even knows things that would happen under hypothetical circumstances that will never be actualized (see, for example 1 Samuel 23:10-13, Matthew 11:21-24) and He knows the future (Isaiah 41:23, Isaiah 42:9, Isaiah 44:6-8, Psalm 139:4, Psalm 139:15-16). He knows everything (John 21:17). God is morally perfect, (Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 18:30, Matthew 5:48, 1 John 1:5). As such, He is deserving of our worship. No other god is worthy of worship. There may be many lower case g gods, as I explain in my articles “What Is The Divine Council and Is It Biblical” and “Genesis 10-11: The Tower Of Babel, The Fall Of The gods, and The Divine Council Worldview”, but there is only one God with a capital G. To deprive God of worship is to deprive God of what He rightfully deserves. God is the highest good, so it’s only moral that God command people to worship Him. Just as the prophets and the psalmists command others to worship God. The human authors of the Psalms and the human prophets command people to worship God because He is the highest good. God is doing the same. If it is immoral to deprive someone of what they deserve, and God is deserving of worship, then it follows logically that God is deserving of worship. Moreover, it is logically impossible for God to be arrogant. To be arrogant is to think of yourself more highly than you ought to. If I were arrogant, I might think myself smarter, stronger, or more athletic than I really am. But God is omnipotent, omniscience, etc. If God thinks he is the smartest person in the universe, it isn’t arrogance. It is a true belief that corresponds to reality. I would love to spend more on this, but I think this footnote has gotten lengthy as is. I recommend the reader check out my article “Worship Me Or Burn: The Oversimplification Of An Atheist Meme”.
|D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 113–114.
|Now, granted, that isn’t to say he won’t let us go through trials, but this would lead us into conversations about The Problem Of Evil which is beyond the scope of this article. Interested readers should check out my articles “Why The Problem Of Evil Is A Failed Argument For Atheism”, “Super Hero Theodicies”, and “Anime and The Problem Of Evil” for a full discussion.
|J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1974), 141–142.
|William Lane Craig, “Question Of The Week #73: Temptations Of Christ”, September 8th 2008, — https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/temptations-of-christ
|J. Knox Chamblin, “Matthew,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, vol. 3, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995), 727.