One question regarding scripture has been bugging me for a long time; namely, in the account of Jesus’ temptation by Satan (Matthew 4, Mark 1, and Luke 4), how exactly have we learned about these events? In Luke and Matthew we get very similar accounts. Here’s Luke:

And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered. And the devil said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread. And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down from hence: For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. And when the devil had ended all the temptation, he departed from him for a season.

My question: where do all these details come from? If it’s safe to assume that Jesus and Satan were alone out there in the desert, the account of this dual must have originated from Jesus himself. Or is there a tradition of duels with Satan by prophets that perhaps Luke and the others were drawing from? I ask because (as I have asked elsewhere), I wonder whether it isn’t important to understanding that part of the Lord’s Prayer in which we pray, “Lead us not into temptation”. Well, I never would have thought to worry about God leading me into temptation. Shouldn’t we pray to God to keep us from temptation? But that’s not how Jesus tells us to pray. And no, the original Greek is no help. Nor is Pope Benedict, with whom I took up the issue here.

Another example, of course, is the story of the immaculate conception and in fact the whole narrative surrounding Mary and Joseph. And of course the finding in the temple (Luke 2:42ff), which may well not, probably did not come from Jesus himself. So these stories come to us from the very earliest community, indeed a community that predates the one that was built up around Jesus’ ministry as an adult. Can anyone recommend a good book about the sources for these narratives and how they are woven together with the (much more prevalent) narrative threads of his later life? Are there apocryphal accounts of Jesus’ life before his ministry? Or is all this a fool’s errand?


  1. Rufus McCain says

    Short answer vis-a-vis sources: the Holy Spirit.

    As far as “lead us not into temptation” — I don’t see that we have to read into this that it logically follows that if we don’t ask not to be led into temptation then, by God, God is gonna lead us there. Could Christ be recognizing our own frailty and sin? That we need to say, “Lead us not into temptation” — not because God will lead us into temptation but because we are so easily led into temptation.

  2. The Long answer is to start with the Jerome Biblical Commentary, and go from there.

    Since there exist no autograph copies of the gospel texts, and we can’t ask the original authors where they got their source material we must rely on the best minds in the biblical scholarship community (within the teaching authority of the church, just to play it safe).

    This sounds like a Masters or Doctoral Thesis topic.

    The other way to answer is:

    it is a Mystery and you just have to take it on faith that it is the Truth even if the fact that it was true can’t be proven.

  3. John C. Wright says

    Duels with Satan, not Duals.

  4. Rufus McCain says

    Right, we’re not talking about a Doppelganger here.

  5. Briefly, a more accurate translation would be: do not carry us into trial (or temptation). It is simply a request that God not test us. It is reminiscent of the agony in the garden. And when combined with the next request, “deliver us from evil,” the two petitions certainly teach us that we are to ask God to protect us and save us. But “thy will be done” preceeds both and is integral to the entire prayer.

  6. Quin Finnegan says

    Thanks for all that – especially catching the unfortunate ‘dual’ typo, and all the sinister theological implications that follow. I’ll correct it accordingly.

  7. Rufus McCain says

    Read Mark Shea’s response here.

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