Peirasmos: Is It from God or from Satan?

Word of the Week

February 17, 2024

Peirasmos: Is It from God or from Satan?


Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials . . .

James 1:2 NASB


We were beginning to suspect that spring was coming early this year.  The irises on the side of our house have already grown a couple of inches and the tulips out front are poking their heads above the ground.  However, a surprise snow landed yesterday, dumping three inches and leaving parking lots with a treacherous layer of hardened ice.

Is it a tragedy?  No, but it definitely interfered with my plans for the day.  It could have been worse.  A few years ago, a bigger storm hit on a Sunday morning and forced our church to cancel services.

James 1:2 seems appropriate on days like these.  Missing the chance to take a long walk or losing the opportunity to gather for worship are disappointments.  Even if they are milder than an earthquake or a diagnosis of cancer, they can tempt you to be discouraged. That’s exactly why James tells us to consider such trials as joy, because they provide opportunities to strengthen our ability to withstand inconveniences.

Today is a fitting moment to take a closer look at the Greek word translated “trials” in this verse, because it offers an insight that will help you deal with all the hard moments in your life.

The word is peirasmos, which occurs over 20 times in the New Testament.  Sometimes it is translated “trials” and sometimes it is translated “temptation.”  The corresponding verb is peirazō, “to test or tempt,” appearing nearly 40 times.

NOTE:  We will concentrate on the noun peirasmos for the moment, but you will get the greatest benefit from studying the verb as well.

As you will see, both words have a dual meaning.  On the one hand, they can refer to a “trial,” a difficult situation which God allows as a way of strengthening our faith.  On the other hand, both can describe a “temptation,” something that Satan uses in an attempt to lure us into sin.

You can see the two usages for yourself in the following examples:

  1. Trials
  • Paul recalls the “trials” that happened to him through the plots of hostile Jews (Acts 20:19).
  • The writer of Hebrews warns against hardening one’s heart like the Israelites who provoked the Lord “in the day of trial in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:8).
  • James 1:2 clearly refers to trials as God’s way of building endurance, and a few verses later he pronounces a blessing on the person “who perseveres under trial” (James 1:12)
  • The book of 1 Peter was written to Christians who were suffering. They were “distressed by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6) and they were in the path of a “fiery trial” (1 Peter 4:12).

See also Luke 22:28; 2 Peter 2:9; Rev 3:10.

The context of all these verses clearly shows that we are talking about difficult circumstances which test a person’s endurance.  They don’t sound like the devil trying to lure you into sin.

  1. Temptation
  • After the account of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness, Luke 4:13 says, “And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.”
  • In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus encouraged his disciples to ask, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil [or, the evil one] (Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4).
  • Paul warns that those who want to get rich “fall into temptation” (1 Timothy 6:9).

These verses obviously fall into the category of Satan soliciting us to sin.

How do I tell whether I am reading about a trial or a temptation?  Follow the Golden Rule of Bible study and examine the context of each verse.  Is the peirasmos designed to help you become stronger or is it intended to make you stumble?  Is it sent from God or Satan?

The guidelines for word study start with the idea that a word has multiple meanings, but only one meaning is intended in a particular context.  However, I believe that this is a case where you should keep both meanings in mind as you apply these verses to daily life.

You see, a single peirasmos can function as either a trial or a temptation simultaneously.

Suppose you are stopped at a red light.  The light turns green and you pause for a fraction of a second before you hit the gas.  And in that second, the driver behind you hits you with an angry horn blast.

That’s the peirasmos.

At that moment, you could calmly move ahead without getting angry, without honking back.  You could even pray for the fellow behind you, asking God to keep him safe until he calms down.  You have just experienced a (small) trial which God has allowed to give you an opportunity to practice the valuable quality of self-control.

Or you could allow your anger to flare up.  You could purposely drive slowly enough to irritate the guy, expressing your resentment with a honk or a clenched fist, and stewing about it for the next three miles.  That’s what Satan is hoping you’ll do, making this a temptation to lose your self-control.

One experience, two possible responses.  God offers you a chance to do right; Satan gives you an opportunity to do wrong.  The choice is yours.


Study Hint:

To complete your study of this concept, you can look at peirazō, the matching verb.  You can look up all the passages where it appears, making notes about what you learn from each verse.  Here are the 34 verses that I found: Matthew 4:1, 3; 16:1; 19:3; 22:18, 35; Mark 1:13; 8:11; 10:2; 12:15; Luke 4:2; 11:16; John 6:6; 8:6; Acts 5:9; 9:26; 15:10; 16:7; 24:6; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 10:9, 13; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 6:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:5; Hebrews 2:18; 3:9; 4:15; 11:17; James 1:13, 14; Revelation 2:2, 10; 3:10.


Word Study Micro-Course

Studying a New Testament word in English is good, but viewing the Greek word used in the original text is even better!

Last week we introduced two Web sites that offer easy access to the Greek for people who don’t know any Greek.

I have noticed that the first step in understanding a new skill is often the most confusing.  People are reading a verse in their English Bible and they wonder, “What does that say in Greek?”  But they’re stymied, because they don’t even know what Greek word to look up.

I have written a simple instruction sheet that you can use to jump over that hurdle.  It’s titled “How to Find the Greek Word in 1 Minute,” and it tells you how to use the Blue Letter Bible phone app to locate the Greek word you want in only a few finger taps.

How can you get this tool?  Send an email to and simply ask for it.  It’s free and there is no obligation, no membership required.  It’s my gift to anyone who wants it.  I will send it with a personal reply, so it might take a day to receive it.


Coming Up

Have you ever received an inheritance?  Perhaps your great aunt passed away and left you her car – or her cat!  Christians have the promise of an amazing inheritance, and we will take time next to discover the details by looking at the Greek word for inheritance.

©Ezra Project 2024


One Response

  1. These studies are such a blessing! Please continue in this good work that many may bear fruit and increase in the knowledge of God.

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