Genesis 3 indicates that there were three distinct aspects of the temptation of Eve:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6 ESV

Jesus was also tempted in three ways in Matthew 4:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, "'He will command his angels concerning you,' and "'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'" Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. Matthew 4:1-11 ESV

Additionally, Jeremiah 9:23-24 speaks of three different things of which men must not boast:

Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD." Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV

1 John 2:15-17 also speaks of three things not to love in the world:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 ESV

Finally, in the parable of the sower, there are three things that choke the word and make it unfruitful:

but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. Mark 4:19 ESV

So, each of these identifies three things. I've wondered if they are all speaking of the same three things, perhaps 1) What I have, 2) What I do, and 3) Who I am.

Is there any historical perspective from church history or any modern commentaries on these three specific aspects of temptation or sin?

  • You might be interested in the evangelical counsels. In that answer, there are three more temptations we should avoid. – Richard Oct 25 '11 at 16:23
  • Jesus was tempted more than merely 3 times - they are merely representative of the entire 40 day period – warren Oct 26 '11 at 12:58

1 Thessalonians 5:23 KJV
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Shameless "copy and paste" from here:

1: The BODY. This is your PHYSICAL component of being. It is flesh made from a collection of unremarkable mineral elements (but is mostly water) and is in harmony with the nature and spirit of this world. It grows, matures, begins to deteriorate, eventually dies, and then decomposes back into its constituent elements and remains a part of the dust of the world. The body is a part of you but is NOT ALL of what defines who YOU are.

Proverbs 5:11 KJV And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed,"

2: The SOUL. This is who YOU are; it is a part of your SPIRITUAL component. This is your individuality, your "I AM" so to speak (made in God’s image), your "heart." Although your individual soul did not exist before your mother and father procreated you, it will exist forever. It cannot be killed by man:

Matt. 10:28 KJV And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

When your body dies your soul (YOU) will leave the body of flesh:

Genesis 35:18 KJV And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin."

3: The SPIRIT. This is the source of power and control for both your body and soul; it is either evil or good, darkness or light, unholy or Holy, unclean or clean, of Satan or of God:

Luke 9:55 KJV But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of."

Why all that explanation? Well, the Eve's temptation and Jesus temptation are similar:

         Eve                        Jesus
Body   - good for food            - stones to become loaves of bread
Soul   - delight to the eyes      - all these I will give you
Spirit - desired to make one wise - If you are the Son of God...

(Sorry the formatting, Markdown has not tables)

Satan tempted in all aspects possible both Jesus and Eve - Body, Soul and Spirit.

Finally, not all scholars accept that kind of theory, because consider "Soul" and "Spirit" to be equivalent, or different terms that refers to same subject.

  • 1
    +1. Nice setup, and good comparison at the end. It shows the similarity clearly. I'd never thought much of it before, but this is a good answer and makes sense doctrinally! – David Stratton Oct 26 '11 at 4:02

The three virtues of the tree are an instance of what is called the “rule of three”, a literary device which engages the hearer using a pattern that is easy to commit to memory. The significance of three seems to be that the hearer cannot be expected to see a pattern in fewer things. You will find the rule of three used heavily not just throughout the Bible but in any kind of storytelling.

Christopher Booker points out that there are four basic variations on the rule of three: simple, progressive, contrasting, and dialectical.

Using Booker’s organizing principle, we can call the virtues of the tree a progressive three because of the pattern – each is more valuable than the last. This makes it easy to remember the tree and how tempting it was.

The temptations of Christ are another progressive three; the three virtues in Jeremiah and the three worldly desires in 1 John are simple threes.

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