Jesus is tempted by the devil

Question 3 from Mark 1:12-13:

3. Jesus was tempted by Satan. What does it mean for Jesus — a perfection of the human — to be tempted? That even he hears these voices, and must struggle against them?

At first, I thought, well there are two ways of being tempted into sin (let’s use eating a cream cake as an example of sin). One is when someone comes to you prompting you to sin (as in, “Look at this delicious cream cake, … take it, … you know you want it!”), and you may or may not be moved by their urging; the second is when, regardless of any external stimuli, part of you wants to indulge (thinks: “Look at the delicious cream cake, … no I shouldn’t have it, … mmm but I’m quite peckish, …don’t! … I want it!!, etc.”). I thought, surely the tempting of Jesus by the devil was the first of these, and Jesus was impervious to the devil’s promptings.

But, now I’m not so sure that there is a difference between these two types of temptation. As the jokey examples show, the second is a kind of internalisation of the first. This fits with Spinoza’s definition of passion as a desire or emotion for which we are not an “adequate cause”, in other words, an emotion which is at least partly caused by something outside us.

Here is Spinoza’s definition from the Ethics, part 3:

I. By an adequate cause, I mean a cause through which its effect can be clearly and distinctly perceived. By an inadequate or partial cause, I mean a cause through which, by itself, its effect cannot be understood.

II. I say that we act when anything takes place, either within us or externally to us, whereof we are the adequate cause; that is (by the foregoing definition) when through our nature something takes place within us or externally to us, which can through our nature alone be clearly and distinctly understood. On the other hand, I say that we are passive as regards something when that something takes place within us, or follows from our nature externally, we being only the partial cause.

III. By emotion I mean the modifications of the body, whereby the active power of the said body is increased or diminished, aided or constrained, and also the ideas of such modifications.
N.B. If we can be the adequate cause of any of these modifications, I then call the emotion an activity, otherwise I call it a passion, or state wherein the mind is passive.


Much of Spinoza’s Ethics is concerned with how to dissolve our passions in the light of reason and the love of God.

If the struggle against temptation, or against sin, is part of the life of the perfect human, then this struggle is surely an essential part of what it means to be human. The struggle against temptation and sin is not something we can or should wish to put behind us, as long as we remain human.

What I think sin is will have to wait for another day.

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