From: Jeffrey Gibson (
Date: Mon Jun 30 1997 - 01:24:15 EDT

On Sun, 29 Jun 1997, Jack Kilmon wrote:

> I certainly agree, Jeff. I mentioned the "wrongful thinking"
> metaphor not asan exegesis of the Greek translation, PEIRASMON, but as a
> possible interpretation
> of the Aramaic NISYONA which also, according to Lamsa, idiomatically
> refers
> to opulent living and "worldy" living...something that tempts all of our
> minds from
> time to time.
> Given the "Enochian apocalyptic/messianic" bent of pre-Hellenic
> Yeshuine
> Judaeism, I accept the "final testing" interpretation of PEIRASMON over
> the
> "day to day" interpretation and trust that the Greek of the author of
> Matthew and
> Luke (whose own translation of the Aramaic idiom indicates he knew
> Aramaic)
> accurately reflects the original Aramaic idiom.
> The transition of the Aramaic idiom to Greek translation is an area
> I find very
> interesting givem the "cultural gap" between the two languages.

I want to reply to your posting by doing several things:

(1) respond to several of your remarks.

(2) lay out for all who have been responding to Jonathan's question
what I think are the critical issues surrounding Matt. 6:13//Lk.
11:4, and make some comments upon them.

(3) reproduce the data on PEIRASMOS that I have been able to garner
from the TLG D disk

(4) and then go on to share with you some musings on the semantic
range of this term which were oringinally part of my dissertaion on
the temptation narratives, and which I am now revising as part of
a separate monograph on the semantic range of PEIRAZW. EKPEIRAZW,

This last bit will be longish, and I beg the list's indulgence for
taking up so much bandwidth. But
the data which might help us decide the question Jonathan raised is
there, and a presentation of all the data is, I think, a good thing. At
any rate, I hope some might find it useful.

(1). My responses to Jack's post (snipped above).

a. Lamsa and the meaning of Peirasmos.
I should very much like to see where Lamsa gets his data for his
conclusion that NISYONA means (idiomatically or otherwise) "opulent
living and "worldly living" that tempts our minds (presumably to
evil) from time to time. Can he show contemporary instances of the
the word being used with this sense. It's Hebrew cognate certainly
never bears it.

Moreover, Lamsa (and for that matter Ben Crick) seems to interject
a moral notion into NISYONA/PEIRASMOS that (with the possible
exception of James ) the Greek term and the Hebrew terms it is
used to translate never possessed, namely that the one under
PEIRASMOS is being enticed, seduced, and is closed to sin (our
modern sense of "temptation"). But PEIRASMOS and the Hebrew terms
for which it stands as equivalent in the LXX and Intertestamental
writings always have the meaning of "test" and their is little or
nothing of the idea of "enticement" attached to them. There were
perfectly good words in both Hebrew and Greek to suggest what
"temptation" now connotes, and PEIRASMOS/NASSAH is not one of them.

b. Even if we assume an "enochian apocalyptic/messianic" bent of
pre-Yeshuine Judaism (and I must confess I have very little clue as
to what this Judaism is), it does not mean that every thing that in
Aramaic idiom (let alone the translations based upon it) were
apocalyptic in nature. More importantly, to make the case that it
the Aramaic term supposedly undelying the Greek term PEIRASMOS
meant "the final testing" and that this meaning was carried over
into Matthew and Luke's use of its Greek equivalent, you have to
show not only that the Greek term meaning "the final testing" was
was a regular and recognized concept for Matthew and Luke's readers
(otherwise they would not "get" what Matthew and Luke purportedly
understood), but, more importantly that the Aramaic term did indeed
bear this particular sense. What is your evidence that it did?
Where are the instances of the word in Aramaic literature
contemporary with the NT that show that NISYONA meant what you
claim it means?

(2). The issues involved in interpreting the petition of Matt
     6:13//Lk 11:4

a. Who is it that is envisaged as potentially subjected to

   Is it, as a majority have thought, (1) belivers?
   Or is it (2) God?

b. What is the "testing" refered to?

   Barring the idea that it is a seduction to evil, is it:

   (1) a test that can occur now?
   or is it
   (2) the so-called final testing that is supposedly to occur
   at the end of the age?
c. the meaning of the expression KAI MH EISENEGKHS hHMAS

   If the testing is of believers, does the expression mean

   (1) "do not let us ever become subjected to PEIRASMOS (either
        present or end time)"
   (2) "once we are "in" (subjected to) peirasmos, do not let us
       fail in the test.

Against B(2) stands the evidence of the formal and thematic
parallel to the petition found at Mk 14:38, in which, just as at
Matt 6:13//Lk 11:4 Jesus tells his disciples that they should "pray
that you do not enter into temptation". Here the PERIRASMOS that
God is to be petitioned to help keep the disciples from "entering"
is not the final testing, but one occuring long before the complete
arrival of the new age.

Against C(2) stands the evidence that the text does not seem to
bear this sense. KAI MH EISENEGKHS hHMAS is a petition against
being *brought into* a condition, not beingh preserved while under

So it is a present test that the petition speaks of and asks for
help in avoiding. The question remains as to whether what belivers
are to pray to have help in avoiding is their being tested by God
[a(1)] or their own duplication of the Massah event and testing God
[a(2)]. Against a(1) is the fact that "testing" is something that
is an unavoidable part of of a believer's experience. For a(2) is
Jesus own acknowledgement in Matt 4:7//Lk 4:12 that what a
believer/Son of God must guard against is "testing God".

(3). Occurences of PEIRASMOS before the 3rd cent C.E.
So far as we know, except for its use by Dioscorides (Mat. Med.
Praef. 5.12), and Aelius Herodianus (Partitiones 110.5) and its
appearance in Syntipas (Ed. V. Jernstedt and P. Nikition, Memories
de l'Academie Imperiale des Sciences de St. Petersbourg, 8me Serie,
Classe des Sciences historico-philologique, Tome XI. No. 1. (1912),
p. 124) and in the Cyranides (cf. F. de Mely and C.-E Ruelle, Les
Lapidaries de l'antiquite et du moyen age, II: Le Lapidaries grecs,
(1898) Sec. 40.24), the noun PEIRASMOS, "a trial", is entirely
confined before the end of the second century C.E. to literature in
the Greek biblical tradition (so H. Seesemann, "PEIRA, KTL." TDNT
6 (1968), pp. 23-36, esp. p. 24. The instance from Aelius
Herodianus seems, however, to have escaped Seesemann's notice).

It occurs thirteen times in the Septuagint translation of the
Hebrew Scriptures (Ex. 17:17; Deut. 4:34; 6:16; 7:19; 9:22;
29:3(2); Ps. 94(95):8; Eccl. 3:10; 4:8; 5:2, 13; 8:16, accepting as
authentic the reading of Alexandrinus in Eccl. 3:10; 4:8; and 8:16,
of Sinaiticus in 5:13, and of the three main textual witnesses in
5:2) seven times in the Apocrypha of the Septuagint (Sir. 2:1;
6:7; 27:5, 7; 36(33):1; 44:20; 1 Macc. 2:52), once in the
Pseudepigrapha (Test. Jos. 2:7), once in the extant fragments of
non-Septuagintal Greek versions of the Hebrew Scriptures
(Symmachus, Gen. 44:15), and, outside of the two occasions in
which the noun is used by Luke with reference to Jesus (Lk. 4:13;
22:28), twenty times in the New Testament (Matt. 6:13; 26:41; Lk.
8:13; 11:4; 22:40; 46; Acts 15:26 (D E), 20:19; 1 Cor. 10:13
(twice); Gal. 4:14; 1 Tim. 6:9; Heb. 3:18; James 1:2, 12;; 1 Peter
1:16; 2 Peter 2:9; Rev. 3:10).

PEIRASMOS is also used once in the Didache (Did. 8:2), once in
Hermas (Hermas Man. 9:7), twice in the Acts of John (cf. 21.13 in
the main text and 16.6 in the Recension), eight times in the
writings of Clement of Alexandria (Protrepticus 9.84.3; Stromata
1.9.44; 1.17.86; 4.6.41; 4.7.47 (a quotation from 1 Peter);
4.20.129 (a quotation of 1 Peter); 7.12.76; Excerpta ex Theodoto
4.84.1), and nine times in the Clementines (2 Cor. 39.7; Epistle
of Clement to James 2.3; 14.3; Hom. 2 39.1; Hom. 16 13.2; 13.5;
21.4; Hom. 18 20.2; 20.4. The noun also appears once in the Epitome
Prior (145.10) and once in the Epitome Altera (146.6). Both of
these instances are reduplications of Epistle of Clement to James

(4) the use and meaning of PEIRASMOS
a. the use and meaning of PEIRASMOS in non-biblical Greek

As I have noted above, in extant non-biblical literature the noun
PEIRASMOS is employed only four times: by Pedanius Dioscorides, a
first century C.E. physician and pharmacologist [On Dioscorides,
see N.G.L Hammond and H.H. Scullard, The Oxford Classical
Dictionary, 2nd. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), p. 307], in
the Cyranides (BIBLOI KURANIDES or KOIRANIDES), a first century
C.E. work on magical curative powers of plants, stones, and animals
2. [on this, see D. Kaimakis (1976), by Aelius Herodianus, a
first century Alexandrian grammarian [Partitiones 110.5], and in
Syntipas, a first century C.E. Arabian nights.

Dioscorides uses the noun PEIRASMOS to denote a medical experiment
he conducted with drugs to see what effects they would have on an
illness. [The text of Mat. Med. Praef. 5.12 reads: KAI DOTI DUNATAI
FARMAKWN GNWSEWS. (It [pharmacology] can also continue to extend
its range of preparation and mixtures and its trials on patients,
for the knowledge of each individual drug has a great deal to
contribute (trans. Scarborough and Nutton).]

In the Cyranides it is used of the dangers (KINDUNOI) on land and sea
and from demonic forces which determine a person's mettle

Aelius Herodianus notes that a PEIRASMOS it something that is related
linguistically and conceptually to hH APOPEIRA, "a test", that is,
"a trial by which one experimentally ascertains the condition of

And in Syntipas the noun is used for the afflictions of life which
tend to crush those who do not possess great inner fortitude (hUPO

On the basis of these instances, we may deduce that in non-biblical
Greek the meaning of PEIRASMOS was "a trial which puts (someone or
something) to the proof", revealing, in the case of objects, a
thing's utility or value, and in the case of human beings, the
nature and extent of a person's reliability, fortitude, or strength
of character.

With respect to the question of the meaning that PEIRASMOS bore in
non-Biblical Greek, the evidence points to the conclusion that the
noun signified "a test", "a trial" or more specifically "that which
puts to the proof".

b. the use and meaning of PEIRASMOS in Greek Biblical and related
(1) the use and meaning of PEIRASMOS in the Septuagint version of
the Hebrew Scriptures

As I have noted above, the noun PEIRASMOS occurs thirteen times in
the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Scriptures. To insure that we
understand the sense(s) with which it is used in these instances,
let us enquire into the nature of the phenomena that it serves to
denote in each of them.

In four of these instances (Ex. 1:17; Deut. 6:16; 9:22; Ps.
94(95):8) PEIRASMOS both denotes a place in the Sinai wilderness
and serves as a description of events that transpired there. But
what are these events? According to Ex.17:1-7 they were the
"proving" at Rephidim of the faithfulness of God when, thinking
they were abandoned by God and brought into the Wilderness only to
die, the Israelites demanded that God protect them as he had
promised he would and provide them with water. And so Moses

     named the place Temptation (PEIRASMOS) and Reviling
     (LOIDORHSIS) because of the reviling of the children of
     Israel, and because they tempted the Lord (DIA TO
     PEIRAZEIN KURION) with their question "Is the Lord among
     us or not?" (Ex. 17:7).

In these instances, then, the noun PEIRASMOS is intimately bound up
with the idea of an experience of "probing", and "putting to the
proof", especially the degree or extent of one's faithfulness to
given religious obligations. It therefore signifies not only a
"test" but one specifically involved with determining how
religiously faithful the one subjected to the "test" actually is.
     In four other instances (Deut. 4:34; 7:19; 29:2 [twice])
PEIRASMOS denotes one or all of the ten plagues God sent against
Egypt and Pharaoh during the time of the Exodus. Now it should be
noted that of the many objectives these plagues were thought to
have, the most prominent of them all was the revelation of the
character and disposition of Pharaoh (S.R. Driver, Deuteronomy
(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1895), p. 75). So here, too, PEIRASMOS
is bound up with the notion of a specific kind of "test", namely
one that determines the mettle and intentions of the one who
experiences it.
     In the remaining five instances (Eccl. 3:10[A]; 4:8[A]; 5:2[A
B S], 13[S]; 8:16[A]) PEIRASMOS stands for certain of the "hard
times" or "difficulties" or the "troubles" of life that plague an
individual Israelite throughout his existence. In each of these
instances the travails of life referred to are a specific kind of
adversity, one which, as G. von Rad notes, was "not caused by an
recognizable sin, that is, [one] which affected men for apparently
no comprehensible reason ... '(Von Rad, Wisdom In Israel (London:
SCM, 1972), p. 200). and, therefore, unlike others, was one with
an especial potential either to purify or corrupt (on this, see
C.L. Blomberg (1988) 904). They thus reveal what a man "is made
of", and more specifically, whether in the face of adversity he
will still affirm his belief in God's existence and continuing
providence (see von Rad (1972) 200-203). They, too, therefore, are
"tests of faithfulness".

Conclusions: the meaning of PEIRASMOS in the LXX of the Hebrew

In the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, PEIRASMOS,
then, is used consistently with the meaning "a test" and signifies
something that "probes" and "puts to the proof". But it does not
denote any "test". PEIRASMOS is not, for instance, used for
attempts to assess someone's strength or knowledge. The kind of
"test" to which PEIRASMOS refers is, in Septuagintal usage, a
probing only of character and integrity or of faithfulness or

(2) the use and meaning of PEIRASMOS in the Apocrypha

In the Apocrypha PEIRASMOS denotes "trials" of two specific types:
those that God gives his chosen or allows them to be subjected to
(Sir. 2:1; 36(33):1; 44:20; 1 Macc. 2:52) and those which all who
"fear the Lord" are instructed to engage men in when seeking
companionship (Sir. 6:7; 27:5, 7). Both types have the objective of
ascertaining something. For the challenges from God this is the
authenticity of the faith and practices of one who would serve the
Lord, whether or not his purported willingness to obey God'
commands is genuine (cf. Di Lella (1981) 150). For the challenges
from men it is whether or not those they look upon as potential
companions have a disciplined, trained, and upright mind and can be
trusted as a friend (Di Lella (1981) 356). The meaning of
PEIRASMOS, then, is "a test" which reveals a person's loyalty or

(3) the use and meaning of PEIRASMOS in the Greek Pseudepigrapha

In the one instance in which PEIRASMOS appears in the Pseudepigrapha
(Test. Jos. 2:7), the noun is clearly used in the sense of "a test"
and specifically "a test which determines religious faithfulness".
In the first place, the "trials" referred to there are presented as
those which God gives his chosen (cf. vs. 4) to discover (EIS TO
DOKIMASAI) whether or not they actually fear him (cf. vs. 6). In
the second place, they are phenomena which, once experienced and
successfully endured, result in God proclaiming the one subjected
to them, in this case Joseph, "approved" (DOKIMON). To be DOKIMON
is to have been "tested" especially with regard to one's
faithfulness [On this, see W. Grundmann 'DOKIMOS, KTL.', TDNT Vol.
II (1964), pp. 255-60, esp. p. 262. See also S. Brown, Apostasy and
Perseverance in the Theology of Luke (Rome: Pontifical Biblical
Institute, 1969), pp. 33-34]. And, thirdly, the virtues noted here
as necessary to face these "trials" successfully are perseverance
(hH MAKRPQUMIA) and endurance (Hh hUPOMONH) (cf. vs. 7), virtues
associated with "tests of faithfulness" [On this, see J.H. Korn,
PEIRASMOS: Die Versuchung des Glaubigen in der greischischen
Bible (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1937), 87; Brown, Apostasy and
Perseverence, 48; A. Di Lella, The Wisdom of Ben Sira (Garden
City: Doubleday, 1981), pp. 188, 356].

(4) the use and meaning of PEIRASMOS in the extant fragments of the non-
Septuagintal Greek versions of the Hebrew Scriptures

PEIRASMOS appears only once in these texts, in the translation by
ANQRWPOS OIOS EGW]). Here the meaning of the noun is obviously "a
test" in the sense of something which "puts to the proof a person's
character or integrity", for, as we have seen above, the PEIRASMOS
referred to here is directed toward men and, once applied, reveals
whether or they are forthright and without guile or perpetrators of

There is, then, from long before the time in which the writings of
the New Testament were composed and up through the era of their
composition, a consistency of usage throughout all Greek literature
of the noun PEIRASMOS. It was "a trial which puts (someone or
something) to the proof", revealing, in the case of objects, a
thing's utility or value, and in the case of human beings, the
nature and extent either of a one's reliability, fortitude, or
strength of character or one's dedication and willingness to remain
faithful or obedient to given religious/cultic obligations.

(5) the use and meaning of PEIRASMOS in the New Testament and early
Christian literature

The question that one must ask when attempting to establish the meaning
PEIRASMOS has in early Christian writings is not whether on any or
on what occasion the noun bears the meaning "a test" and more
specifically a "test or trial of faithfulness", but whether in any
instances of its use there it bears any other meaning. According to
Seesemann there are, excluding for the moment Lk. 22:28 (where the
Lucan Jesus uses the noun in reference to himself), three in which
this is the case: Acts 15:26 DE; 20:19; 2 Peter 2:9. Here, he
argues, PEIRASMOS means no more than "dangers" [Seesemann (1968)
29, n. 35].
     Certainly "dangers" is one meaning that PEIRASMOS has in these
texts. But it is by no means the only meaning it bears there. For
that which is signified by the noun in each of these texts is
thought of as a particular type of adversity: one which is
experienced only by the "pious", and one which reveals how
dedicated to God those experiencing it really are. In Acts 15:26 (D
E) those subjected to PEIRASMOS are Paul and Barnabas. The
that they are portrayed as having undergone are things that showed
that these apostles were men who could be trusted in all
circumstances not to be swayed from any apostolic mission (cf. vs.
25). Acts 20:19 links with Paul. These, the text notes,
were persecutions administered specifically to get Paul to shrink
from fulfilling his divine commission to proclaim the Gospel of
"repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ" (vs. 21).
And, finally, encountered only by "those who have attained ...
faith ..." (1:1) and are "established in the truth" (1:12), the
PEIRASMOS referred to in 2 Peter 2:9 is that which has the effect
of sorting out the "godly" (EUSEBEIS) from the "unrighteous"
(ADIKOUS). So here, too, PEIRASMOS is used to convey the idea of a
"test" and more specifically a "test of faithfulness and
     The evidence of New Testament and other early Christian usage
of PEIRASMOS - not including the evidence of instances where
PEIRASMOS is linked with Jesus - indicates that Christian writers
of the first and second centuries C.E. viewed the noun as having a
very narrow range of meaning. When they employed it they did so to
denote not only the idea of a "test", that is "something which puts
to the proof", but more specifically a "proving by which a person's
faithfulness and obedience to given covenantal obligations would be
revealed". In distinction from the practice of other Greek biblical
writers, and when focusing on instances where the noun is used with
reference to someone other than Jesus, there is no indication that
PEIRASMOS was ever used by authors of early Christian literature to
convey, or was ever thought by them to bear, a meaning other than
a "test of a person's character or integrity".

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