Despite its superficial appearance as a simple historical record, the Synoptic account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness¹ has often been interpreted as symbolic or parabolic of Jesus’ experiences, since the early Christian era.² The popularity of this interpretation waxed and waned throughout history; Origen understood the account as a dramatized parable,³ and although Aquinas opposed those who interpreted the temptations as visionary,⁴ the view was common among early Reformers, finding its way into the marginal commentary of early printed Bibles.⁵ Current scholarly commentary typically treats the wilderness temptation account as a visionary experience,⁶ symbolic description,⁷ or dramatization of events throughout Jesus’ ministry,⁸ and commentaries advise against reading the account as literally historical.⁹
Rather than being read as historical narrative, the temptation account is generally understood to take the form of haggadic midrash¹⁰ (non-historical commentary used to illustrate interpretations of the sacred text ).¹¹ Thus the aim of the temptation account is to explicate the relevance of Biblical passages to Jesus’ messianic mission rather than simply recount historical events (though it may do so in the process).
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Bible reference(s): Matthew 4:1-11, , Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2-13
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