James 1:17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no ficklenss, neither shadow of turning.
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(17) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.—This beautiful sentence, more musical still in the Greek, is thought to be the fragment of some Christian hymn. Two words are translated by our one “gift”; the first is rather the act of giving, the second the gift itself, and the effect of both together is a climax to the statement of God’s benevolence. The difference between the two is observed in the Genevan version of 1557. “There are diversities of gifts” (1Corinthians 12:4), even as “one star differeth from another star in glory” (1Corinthians 15:41), but “the same Spirit” is the giver of all. Where in St. John’s Gospel (John 3:1) we read, “Except a man be born again,” the most probable meaning is “from above,” expressed exactly as in the present case; and thus we know whence is the true birth of the soul.

Cometh down from the Father of lights.—Great difference of opinion is found concerning these “lights,” whether the term be figurative, as of goodness or wisdom; or a reference to the mysterious Urim (Exodus 28:30, et seq.) which flamed on the breast of Aaron; or spiritual, as of grace and glory; or material, viz., the “lights” set “in the firmament of heaven” (Genesis 1:14-15) “when the morning stars sang together” (Job 38:7). It were not amiss to take the whole of these interpretations, for they, and perhaps others, the purport of which we as yet can barely guess, are included in this Scripture. “God,” remarks Bishop Wordsworth, “is the Father of all lights—the light of the natural world, the sun, the moon, and stars, shining in the heavens; the light of reason and conscience; the light of His Law; the light of prophecy, shining in a dark place; the light of the gospel shining throughout the world; the light of apostles, confessors, martyrs, bishops, and priests, preaching that gospel to all nations; the light of the Holy Ghost shining in our hearts; the light of the heavenly city; God is the Father of them all. He is the everlasting Father of the everlasting Son, who is the Light of the world.” But that the mind of the sacred writer was mainly on the lights of the material universe may be seen from his next thought.

With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.—The phraseology is almost scientific. There are changes, literally “parallaxes,” of the heavenly bodies themselves, and eclipses one of another by shadows projected through space, but no such variableness with God, nor changing of faintest shade. And even further, the greatest and most marvellous of His works on high “must be dissolved” (2Peter 3:11), “the sun darkened, the moon not give her light, the stars fall from heaven” (Matthew 24:29), and the heavens themselves “be rolled together as a scroll” (Isaiah 34:4). But if “the things which are seen are temporal, the things which are not seen are eternal” (2Corinthians 4:18). “I am the Lord,” is the burden of His latest prophet; “I change not” (Malachi 3:6).

1:12-18 It is not every man who suffers, that is blessed; but he who with patience and constancy goes through all difficulties in the way of duty. Afflictions cannot make us miserable, if it be not our own fault. The tried Christian shall be a crowned one. The crown of life is promised to all who have the love of God reigning in their hearts. Every soul that truly loves God, shall have its trials in this world fully recompensed in that world above, where love is made perfect. The commands of God, and the dealings of his providence, try men's hearts, and show the dispositions which prevail in them. But nothing sinful in the heart or conduct can be ascribed to God. He is not the author of the dross, though his fiery trial exposes it. Those who lay the blame of sin, either upon their constitution, or upon their condition in the world, or pretend they cannot keep from sinning, wrong God as if he were the author of sin. Afflictions, as sent by God, are designed to draw out our graces, but not our corruptions. The origin of evil and temptation is in our own hearts. Stop the beginnings of sin, or all the evils that follow must be wholly charged upon us. God has no pleasure in the death of men, as he has no hand in their sin; but both sin and misery are owing to themselves. As the sun is the same in nature and influences, though the earth and clouds, often coming between, make it seem to us to vary, so God is unchangeable, and our changes and shadows are not from any changes or alterations in him. What the sun is in nature, God is in grace, providence, and glory; and infinitely more. As every good gift is from God, so particularly our being born again, and all its holy, happy consequences come from him. A true Christian becomes as different a person from what he was before the renewing influences of Divine grace, as if he were formed over again. We should devote all our faculties to God's service, that we may be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.Every good gift and every perfect gift - The difference between good and perfect here, it is not easy to mark accurately. It may be that the former means that which is benevolent in its character and tendency; the latter that which is entire, where there is nothing even apparently wanting to complete it; where it can be regarded as good as a whole and in all its parts. The general sense is, that God is the author of all good. Every thing that is good on the earth we are to trace to him; evil has another origin. Compare Matthew 13:28.

Is from above - From God, who is often represented as dwelling above - in heaven.

And cometh down from the Father of lights - From God, the source and fountain of all light. Light, in the Scriptures, is the emblem ot knowledge, purity, happiness; and God is often represented as light. Compare 1 John 1:5. Notes, 1 Timothy 6:16. There is, doubtless, an allusion here to the heavenly bodies, among which the sun is the most brilliant. It appears to us to be the great original fountain of light, diffusing its radiance overall worlds. No cloud, no darkness seems to come from the sun, but it pours its rich effulgence on the farthest part of the universe. So it is with God. There is no darkness in him 1 John 1:5; and all the moral light and purity which there is in the universe is to be traced to him. The word Father here is used in a sense which is common in Hebrew (Compare the notes at Matthew 1:1) as denoting that which is the source of anything, or that from which anything proceeds. Compare the notes at Isaiah 9:6.

With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning - The design here is clearly to contrast God with the sun in a certain respect. As the source of light, there is a strong resemblance. But in the sun there are certain changes. It does not shine on all parts of the earth at the same time, nor in the same manner all the year. It rises and sets; it crosses the line, and seems to go far to the south, and sends its rays obliquely on the earth; then it ascends to the north, recrosses the line, and sends its rays obliquely on southern regions. By its revolutions it produces the changes of the seasons, and makes a constant variety on the earth in the productions of different climes. In this respect God is not indeed like the sun. With him there is no variableness, not even the appearance of turning. He is always the same, at all seasons of the year, and in all ages; there is no change in his character, his mode of being, his purposes and plans. What he was millions of ages before the worlds were made, he is now; what he is now, he will be countless millions of ages hence. We may be sure that whatever changes there may be in human affairs; whatever reverses we may undergo; whatever oceans we may cross, or whatever mountains we may climb, or in whatever worlds we may hereafter take up our abode, God is the same. The word which is here rendered "variableness" (παραλλαγὴ parallagē) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means change, alteration, vicissitude, and would properly be applied to the changes observed in astronomy. See the examples quoted in Wetstein. The phrase rendered "shadow of turning" would properly refer to the different shade or shadow cast by the sun from an object, in its various revolutions, in rising and setting, and in its changes at the different seasons of the year. God, on the other hand, is as if the sun stood in the meridian at noon-day, and never cast any shadow.

17. gift … gift—not the same words in Greek: the first, the act of giving, or the gift in its initiatory stage; the second, the thing given, the boon, when perfected. As the "good gift" stands in contrast to "sin" in its initiatory stage (Jas 1:15), so the "perfect boon" is in contrast to "sin when it is finished," bringing forth death (2Pe 1:3).

from above—(Compare Jas 3:15).

Father of lights—Creator of the lights in heaven (compare Job 38:28 [Alford]; Ge 4:20, 21; Heb 12:9). This accords with the reference to the changes in the light of the heavenly bodies alluded to in the end of the verse. Also, Father of the spiritual lights in the kingdom of grace and glory [Bengel]. These were typified by the supernatural lights on the breastplate of the high priest, the Urim. As "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1Jo 1:5), He cannot in any way be the Author of sin (Jas 1:13), which is darkness (Joh 3:19).

no variableness … shadow of turning—(Mal 3:6). None of the alternations of light and shadow which the physical "lights" undergo, and which even the spiritual lights are liable to, as compared with God. "Shadow of turning," literally, the dark "shadow-mark" cast from one of the heavenly bodies, arising from its "turning" or revolution, for example, when the moon is eclipsed by the shadow of the earth, and the sun by the body of the moon. Bengel makes a climax, "no variation—not even the shadow of a turning"; the former denoting a change in the understanding; the latter, in the will.

Every good gift; Greek, giving; and so it may be distinct from gift in the next clause; to show, that whereas men sometimes give good gifts in all evil way, and with an evil mind, God’s giving, as well as gift, is always good; and therefore when we receive any thing of him, we should look not only to the thing itself, but to his bounty and goodness in giving it. Or, it may be rendered as our translators do, gift, and so the word is sometimes used by profane writer’s themselves; and then, though it may be implied, that all good gifts, and of all kinds, of nature and of grace, are from God, yet the apostle’s design in this place being to prove that God is not the author of sin, good gifts may most fairly be understood the best gifts, those of grace, (spiritual blessings, Ephesians 1:3), such being contrary to sin, and destructive of it, in one of which he instanceth, viz. regeneration, Jam 1:18.

And every perfect gift; the highest degree of good gifts, those that perfect us most; to intimate, that all the parts and steps of spiritual life, from the first beginning of grace in regeneration to the consummation of it in glory, are of God.

Is from above; i.e. from heaven, John 3:27,31; and heaven is put for God that dwells there, Luke 15:21.

And cometh down from the Father; the Creator, Author, or First Cause, as Hebrews 12:9; it is spoken after the manner of the Hebrews: see Genesis 4:20,21.

Of lights; God is the author of all perfection, and so of corporeal light; but here we are to understand spiritual light, the light of knowledge, faith, holiness, as opposed to the darkness of ignorance, unbelief, sin; of which he cannot be the author.

With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning: he here sets forth God as essentially and immutably good, and the Father of lights, by allusion to the sun, the fountain of corporeal light, and makes use of terms borrowed from astronomy. The sun, though it scattereth its beams every where, yet is not without its changes, parallaxes, and diversities of aspects, not only sometimes clear and sometimes eclipsed, but one while in the east, another in the south, then in the west; nor without its turnings in its annual course from tropic to tropic, (to which the Greek word here used seems to allude), its various accesses and recesses, by reason of which it casts different shadows: but God is always the same, like himself, constant in the emanations of his goodness, without casting any dark shadow of evil, which might infer a change in him. Every good gift and every perfect gift,.... Whether of nature, providence, or grace, and especially the latter; spiritual gifts given along with Christ, or spiritual blessings in him; every such gift is; as the Vulgate Latin version reads, the "best" gift; better than those which only relate to the present life: and is "perfect" such as the gifts of righteousness, remission of sins, adoption, regeneration, and eternal life. The Jews say (k), that the good things of this world are not truly good, in comparison of the good things of the world to come, and are not , "a perfect good." And every such an one is from above; is not from a man's self, from the creature, or from below, but from heaven, and from God who dwells there:

and cometh down from the Father of lights; or author of lights; of all corporeal light; as the sun, moon, and stars; of all natural, rational, and moral light, in angels and men; of all spiritual light, or the light of grace in regenerate persons; and of eternal light, the light of glory in the spirits of just then made perfect:

with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning: as there is in that great luminary, the sun in the firmament, which has its parallaxes, eclipses, and turnings, and casts its shadow; it rises and sets, appears and disappears every day; and it comes out of one tropic, and enters into another at certain seasons of the year: but with God, who is light itself, and in him is no darkness at all, there is no change, nor anything like it; he is changeable in his nature, perfections, purposes, promises, and gifts; wherefore he being holy, cannot turn to that which is evil; nor can he, who is the fountain of light, be the cause of darkness, or admit of any in him; and since every good and perfect gift comes from him, evil cannot proceed from him, nor can he tempt any to it.

(k) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 23. 2, 3.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the {o} Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither {p}shadow of turning.

(o) From him who is the fountain and author of all goodness.

(p) He goes on in the metaphor: for the sun by his many and various kinds of turning, makes hours, days, months, years, light and darkness.

Jam 1:17. The sentiment in this verse, introduced by Jam 1:16, is designed for the complete rejection of ἀπὸ Θεοῦ πειράζομαι; the good comes from God, therefore πειράζεσθαι cannot come from God. The idea of the good is indicated by two synonymous expressions: δόσις ἀγαθή and δώρημα τέλειον. By δόσις, which has here not an active, as in Php 4:5 (Bouman, Lange), but a passive signification (as frequently in classical Greek and in the Apocrypha), and by δώρημα, the same thing is indicated—in contrast to ἰδία ἐπιθυμία, Jam 1:14—as something given and presented, which thus proceeds not from man himself. By δώρημα τέλειον the idea already contained in δόσις ἀγαθή is heightened, δώρημα more definitely indicating the gift (δόσις) as a free present (which Gunkel incorrectly denies; see Romans 5:16, where δώρημα is parallel with χάρισμα), and τέλειον the idea of the good (ἀγαθή) as morally perfect[75] It is arbitrary to refer the two expressions to different gifts, and by δόσις to understand the gifts of the kingdom of nature or of the present life, and by ΔΏΡΗΜΑ those of the kingdom of grace or of the future life. Also ἈΓΑΘΉ is not, with Didymus, to be restricted to the idea of the useful. Several interpreters (Raphelius, Stolz, Rosenmüller, Bengel, Augusti, Pott, Hottinger, and others) put an exclusive force on Πᾶς, as if it were = non nisi, “nothing but;” but the thought is weakened thereby. James designs to say not only—in contrast to the derivation of πειράζεσθαι from God—that only good (thus not evil) gifts come from Him, but likewise that good gifts all come only from God (thus from none else) (Stier); πᾶς is accordingly to be taken in its usual meaning; but ἈΓΑΘΉ and ΤΈΛΕΙΟΝ are to be emphasized. Schneckenburger arbitrarily explains it as if James had written: ΠᾶΣΑ ΔΌΣΙς ΚΑῚ ΠᾶΝ ΔΏΡΗΜΑ ἌΝΩΘΕΝ ΚΑΤΑΒΑῖΝΟΝ ΤΈΛΕΙΌΝ ἘΣΤΙ.[76]

ἄνωθεν] = οὐράνοθεν (Acts 14:17; Acts 26:13; ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, John 6:32-33), is put first for the sake of emphasis.

ἐστι καταβαῖνον] are not, with Wolf, Bengel, Kern, Bouman, and others, to be separated, so that ἐστι is to be joined to ἄνωθεν, and καταβαῖνον is added as an epexegesis; but to be united, and are put instead of καταβαίνει, only that by the participle the quality of the verbal idea is more brought out; see chap. Jam 3:15; so also Wiesinger and A. Buttmann, p. 266 [E. T. 310]; Winer, p. 311 [E. T. 438], and Schirlitz, p. 317, on the other hand, regard the expression as entirely equivalent to καταβαίνει.

The expression καταβαῖνον is explained from ἄνωθεν. The explanation of Laurentius: non cadens, sed descendens, quia ordinarie bona sua dona dat, is far-fetched.

ἀπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς τῶν φώτων] an epexegesis to the preceding. By τὰ φῶτα is to be understood neither spiritual light, whether knowledge (Hornejus), or joy (Michaelis), or goodness, wisdom (Wolf: omnis perfectio, bonitas, sapientia et prosperitas), or something similar, nor the spirits of light (Schol. ap. Matt.: ἤτοι τῶν ἀγγελικῶν δυνάμεων· ἢ τῶν πεφωτισμένων ἀνθρώπων; Lange: “the whole series of organs of revelation from Abraham to Christ, as the representatives of all good spirits”). Nor is there here any allusion to the Urim and Thummim of the high priest (Heisen); but by it are meant, as almost all modern expositors recognise, the heavenly bodies (see LXX. Psalms 135 :(136)7; Jeremiah 4:23) = φωστῆρες, LXX. Genesis 1:14. God is designated as the πατήρ of these, because He is their Creator and Preserver. This designation, for which Job 38:28 cannot be appealed to, is surprising, as it is without analogy either in the O. or N. T. (otherwise with profane writers and Philo). It has, however, its ground in this, that James considers the light of the heavenly bodies as a reflection of the essential light of God. Since God is the Father of light, the symbol of the holy ones (Wiesinger), so He Himself must be light, and thus nothing dark (consequently not πειράζεσθαι), but rather only all that is light, can proceed from Him. As the Father of lights, God, however, outshines these: their light is changing; His, on the contrary, is without change. The following words: with whom there is no variation nor shadow (in consequence) of change, express this idea; i.e., whilst with the stars a παραλλαγή or τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα occurs, there is nothing similar to this with God.[77] According to Grotius, with whom various expositors agree, these expressions are termini technici of astronomy. But, in opposition to this, it is to be observed that παραλλαγή never occurs as an astronomical term (see Gebser in loco), and the astronomical signification of τροπή = solstitium, solstice (ΤΡΟΠΑῚ ΘΕΡΙΝΑΊ and ΧΕΙΜΕΡΙΝΑΊ; comp. Wis 7:18 : ΤΡΟΠῶΝ ἈΛΛΑΓΆς), is not here suitable, as the sun is not mentioned specially, nor is an ἈΠΟΣΚΊΑΣΜΑ effected by the solstice. James here uses not the language of astronomy, but that of ordinary life (Wiesinger).

ΠΑΡΑΛΛΑΓΉ is to be understood quite generally, variation. James adds to this general idea, in order to bring prominently forward that the essential light of God is not, as is the case with the stars, obscured by anything, the more definite idea τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα. ἀποσκίασμα has not an active (de Wette: “casting a shadow”), but a passive signification, being shaded (so Brückner); and τροπῆς assigns the reason (ἈΠΟΣΚΊΑΣΜΑ quae oritur e ΤΡΟΠῇ, Schneckenburger): thus the shadowing of the stars, which is effected by their changeable position:[78] for that James has founded his idea in a change in the stars themselves is not probable.[79] Luther’s translation: “the change of light and darkness” (similarly Stolz: “changing obscuration”), is only justified if it were said ΤΡΟΠῊ ἈΠΟΣΚΙΆΣΜΑΤΟς. Deviating entirely from the above explanation, the Greek interpreters take ἈΠΟΣΚΊΑΣΜΑ = ἼΧΝΟς; Oecumenius: ἈΝΤῚ ΤΟῦ· ΟὐΔῈ ΜΈΧΡΙς ὙΠΟΝΟΊΑς ΤΙΝῸς ὙΠΟΒΟΛΉ; Suidas: ἈΝΤῚ ΤΟῦ· ἈΛΛΟΙΏΣΕΩς ΚΑῚ ΜΕΤΑΒΟΛῆς ἼΧΝΟς· ΚΑῚ ὉΜΟΊΩΜΑ ΦΑΝΤΑΣΊΑς; and following them several recent writers; Morus: ne tantillum mutationes; Rosenmüller: no shadow of change; so Hensler and others. But in this signification ἈΠΟΣΚΊΑΣΜΑ never elsewhere occurs; also the here essential idea of obscuration (Bengel: ἀποσκίασμα, opponitur luminibus) would be lost.

The form ἔνΙ (besides here in the N. T. in 1 Corinthians 6:5; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11) is not, with Buttmann, II. 375; Winer, p. 74 [E. T. 96]; Schirlitz, 171, and others, to be taken as a peculiar form of ἘΝ, but is the abbreviation of ἜΝΕΣΤΙ (A. Buttmann, p. 64 [E. T. 72]); comp. 1 Corinthians 6:5 : ΟὐΚ ἜΝΙ ἘΝ ὙΜῖΝ ΣΟΦῸς ΟὐΔῈ ΕἾς (see Meyer in loco). ἔνι, however, is not, with Pott, to be explained as precisely equivalent with ἘΣΤΙΝ, yet the meaning of the preposition ἘΝ is so weakened, as the verb could be construed with any other preposition, as here with the preposition ΠΑΡΆ, which here, as frequently in the N. T., stands for “what spiritually belongs to another, is in another’s possession;” Demosthenes, de cor. p. 318, 13: εἰ δʼ οὖν ἐστι καὶ παρʼ ἐμοί τις ἐμπειρία τοιαύτη.

[75] Whilst de Wette finds the emphasis only in the adjectives, Theile correctly remarks: Et substantiva et adjectiva differunt ita, ut posterius priore sit definitius ideoque majus. So also Wiesinger and Brückner. Lange by δώρ. τέλ. understands “the gift of God completed in Christianity;” and by δόσ. ἀγ. “everything which served to prepare this completed gift, especially in the old covenant.”

[76] On the accidental hexameter which the words πᾶσατέλειον form, see Winer, p. 564 [E. T. 798].

[77] Flatt (Spicil. observatt. ad ep. Jacobi): Auctor siderum nitidorum ipsis etiam nitidior et nitoris, nullis unquam tenebris interrupti, majori constantia fulgens. Similarly it is said of Wisdom: ἔστι γὰρ αὕτη εὐπρεπεστέρα ἡλίου, καὶ ὑπὲρ πᾶσαν ἄστρων θέσιν, φωτὶ συγκρινομένη εὑρίσκεται προτέρα, Wis 7:29.

[78] Incorrectly Lange explains the expression: “of the obscuration of the earth effected by the diurnal phenomenal revolution of the sun, moon, and stars.” And the proper idea which James has in view is, according to Lange, that God “makes no revolution with the Old Testament which would cast a night-shadow on the New, nor does He suffer the New Testament to cast a night-shadow on the Old!!”

[79] Without reason, Baumgarten, Schneckenburger, and others assume that James here alludes to the astrological superstitions of the Jews.Jam 1:17. The following saying of R. Chaninah (first century, A.D.) is preserved: א״ר חנינא אין דבר רע יורד מלמעלה׃ (“R. Chaninah said, ‘No evil thing cometh down from above’ ”.). On the possible connection between this verse and the preceding section, see Introduction IV., § 1.—πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δώρημα τέλειον: Mayor remarks on this: “It will be observed that the words make a hexameter line, with a short syllable lengthened by the metrical stress. I think Ewald is right in considering it to be a quotation from some Hellenistic poem.… The authority of a familiar line would add persuasion to the writer’s words, and account for the somewhat subtle distinction between δοσ. ἀγ. and δω. τελ.”. In Theodotion’s version of Daniel 2:6, occur the words: … δόματα καὶ δωρεὰς …, which represent מתנן and נבזבה in the corresponding Aramaic (the Septuagint has another reading); the distinction between these two is perhaps that the former refers to gifts in the ordinary sense, while the latter is a gift given in return for something done, i.e., a reward; but it cannot be said that the Greek reflects this distinction, though it is worthy of note that Philo makes a special distinction between them, “inasmuch as the latter noun is much stronger than the former, and contains the idea of greatness and perfection which is lacking in the former; Philo, De Cherub., 25; and so De Leg. Alleg., iii. 70, where he applies to the latter noun the same epithet ‘perfect’ as in the Greek of the verse before us” (Knowling).—ἄνωθέν ἐστιν: it is a question whether one should read: “Every good gift … from above comes down from …,” so the Peshiṭtâ; or “Every good gift … is from above, coming down from …”; Mayor thinks that on the whole “the rhythm and balance of the sentence is better preserved by separating ἐστι from καταβαῖνον”.—ἀπὸ τοῦ πατρὸς τῶν φώτων: Cf. on the one hand, Sir 43:9, Κάλλος οὐρανοῦ, δόξα ἄστρων, κόσμος φωτίζων, ἐν ὑψίστοις Κύριος; and, on the other 1 John 1:5, ὁ Θεὸς φῶς ἐστιν καὶ σκοτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὔκ ἐστιν οὐδεμία. There can be no doubt that in the passage before us this double meaning of light, literal and spiritual, is meant.—παραλλαγή: only here in the N.T., and in 4 Kings 9:28 (Septuagint); it is rendered שוחלפא in the Peshiṭtâ, a word which is used variously of “change,” “caprice,” and even “apostasy” (see Brockelmann, Lex. Syr., s.v.). In Greek, according to Mayor, the word may be taken “to express the contrast between the natural sun, which varies its position in the sky from hour to hour and month to month, and the eternal source of all light”.—τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα: neither of these words is found elsewhere in the N.T., and the latter does not occur in the Septuagint either; the former is used in the Septuagint of the movements of the heavenly bodies, Deuteronomy 33:14 : καὶ καθʼ ὥραν γενημάτων ἡλίου τροπῶν …; cf. Job 38:33. The meaning of the latter part of the verse before us is well brought out by Luther: “Bei welchem ist keine Veränderung noch Wechsel des Lichts und Finsterniss”. If, as hinted above, there is a connection between this verse and the section Jam 1:5-8, the meaning may perhaps be expressed thus: When, in answer to prayer, God promises the gift of wisdom, it is certain to be given, for He does not change; cf. for the thought, Romans 11:29, ἀμεταμέλητα γὰρτὰ χαρίσματα καὶ ἡ κλῆσις τοῦ Θεοῦ.17. Every good gift and every perfect gift] The two nouns are different in the Greek, the first expressing the abstract Acts of giving, the second the gift as actually bestowed. The perfection of the one flows from the goodness of the other. The “perfect gift” carries our thoughts beyond all temporal blessings which, though good, have yet an element of incompleteness, to the greater gifts of righteousness and peace and joy; the gift, i. e. of the Holy Spirit, which is the crowning gift of all. Singularly enough, the axiom, if we may so call it, falls into the cadence of a Greek hexameter, and it is conceivable that it may have been a quotation from a poem, or possibly from an early Christian hymn. Like instances of metre are found, besides the direct quotations in 1 Corinthians 15:33, Titus 1:12, in the Greek of Hebrews 12:13 and Revelation 19:12. The whole passage reminds us once more of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:11) and of the parallel promise in Luke 11:13.

is from above] The perfect gifts come then, as the new birth of the soul comes, from Heaven, not from Earth (comp. John 3:3, as in the margin), as does the true wisdom (chap. James 3:15; James 3:17). The prominence of the word and the thought in the Epistle is one of the links that connect it with the Gospel of St John, in which a like prominence is traceable (John 3:7; John 3:31; John 19:11).

from the Father of lights] The plural is used to express the thought, that light in all its forms, natural (as in the “great lights” of Psalm 135:7), intellectual, spiritual, is an efflux from Him “who is light, and in whom is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). This axiom as to the Divine Nature was also common to the two great teachers of the Church of the Circumcision, as it was to the teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles, when he describes the children of God as being also “children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). There may possibly be a reference to the Urim and Thummim, the “lights” and “perfections” which symbolised God’s gifts of wisdom in its highest forms (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Deuteronomy 33:8). Comp. also Psalm 48:3.

with whom is no variableness] The noun is primarily a scientific term (our English parallax presents a cognate word) as expressing the change of position, real or apparent, of the stars. Here it is apparently suggested by the word “lights,” which primarily conveyed the thought of the heavenly bodies as the light-givers of the world. They, St James seems to say, have their changes, but not so their Creator and their Father.

shadow of turning] i.e. shadow caused by turning. The latter word, from which we get our “trope,” and “tropic,” is applied, as in the LXX. of Job 38:33; Deuteronomy 33:14, to the apparent motion of the lights of heaven, and so to any changes. The former is also a quasi-scientific term, applied to the effect produced on the sun’s disc by the moon in an eclipse. St James does not appear to use the terms with any very strict accuracy, but the fact that he employs them at all, and that they occur nowhere else in the New Testament, is in itself interesting as connecting him with the form of wisdom described in Wis 7:17-20, which deals with “the alterations of the turning of the sun” (the two terms are nearly identical with those which St James uses) and “the change of seasons.” Science, he seems to say, deals with the mutability of phænomena. Faith, and therefore Wisdom, rest on the immutability of God.Jam 1:17. Πᾶσα, every[11]) The connection of the discourse is evident, when thus resolved: δόσις, a “gift” (a giving), which is altogether good; δώρημα, a boon, which is altogether perfect. No evil things come from above, but only things good and perfect. The words “good” and “perfect” form the predicate of the sentence; “gift” and “boon” are the subject.[12] “Every,” in both clauses, if the meaning is considered, belongs to the subject.[13] Comp. “all,” Jam 1:2, note.—δόσις, a giving, a gift) A “good gift,” as opposed to “sin,” denotes those things which, from the beginning and by daily increase, tend to righteousness and piety. Aperfect boon,” as opposed to “when it is finished” and “death,” denotes those things which relate to perfection of character and a happy life: comp. 2 Peter 1:3.—ἄνωθέν ἐστι καταβαῖνον) is that which descends from above. Comp. “descending,” Jam 3:15.—ἀπὸ, from) namely, “from the Father of lights.” The expression, from above, is hereby explained.—τοῦ Πατρὸς τῶν φώτων, the Father of lights) The title of Father is here used with great propriety. There follows, in the next verse, ἀπεκύησεν, “He begat us.” He stands in the place of father and mother. He is the Father even of spiritual lights in the kingdom of grace and glory. Much more then is He Himself “Light1 John 1:5. Immediately on mention of “light,” there is added, as usual, mention of life, by regeneration, Jam 1:18.—πὰρ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα, with whom is no variableness, or shadow of turning) Παραλλαγὴ denotes a change in the understanding (see 2 Kings 9:20,[14] Septuagint); τροπὴ, a change in the will. In each word there is a metaphor taken from the stars, and used with singular propriety in this passage, where mention is made of lights. Παραλλαγὴ and τροπὴ occur in nature (see τροπὰς in Job 38:33), which has a daily vicissitude of day and night, and has at one time a greater length of day, at another time a greater length of night; but there is nothing of this kind in God. He is pure, unsullied [nothing but] Light. Παραλλαγὴ and τροπὴ, variation and change, if they take place at all, take place in us, and not in the Father of lights. Ἀποσκίασμα sometimes has the meaning of ὁμοίωμα, likeness: for so Hesychius explains it; whence Gregory of Nazianzus uses as synonyms, τὸ τῆς ἀληθείας ἴνδαλμα καὶ ἀποσκίασμα, the appearance and likeness of the truth; and in Cicero, as Budæus observes, the outline of an object is opposed to its perfection. But in this passage it is opposed to lights, and is therefore used more correctly; so that ἀποσκίασμα τροπῆς is the first casting of a shadow, which is accompanied by a revolution. The same Hebraistic use of the genitive occurs shortly after in Jam 1:21, superfluity of naughtiness, from which we may infer, that there is an opposition between the words variableness and good gift; just as shadow of turning is opposed to the expression, perfect boon. Παραλλαγὴ denotes something greater: hence there is a gradation in the negative sentence: not even the shadow of turning. This at length [this, and this only] makes up perfection; the former is good. He is more perfect who has not even the shadow of turning.

[11] πᾶσα seems to be used like the Latin merus, in the sense of nothing but. See Raphelius on the passage.—T.

[12] By δόσις, we may understand the gift or act of giving; by δώρημα, the fulness of the benefit bestowed.—T.

[13] “The giving and gift that comes from above is all perfect;” not as Engl. Vers.—E.

[14] ἐν παραλλαγῇ ἐγένετο, is used to denote the violence of Jehu’s driving.—T.

Δόσις, the Acts of giving, the gift in its initiatory act: δώρημα, the thing given, the boon when perfected.—E.Verse 17. - Every good gift, etc. The words form a hexameter verse, though this is probably accidental, and no sign that they are a quotation. Δόσις and δώρημα should be distinguished. "Every kind of gift that is good, and every one that is perfect in its kind" (Dean Scott). Δόσις and δῶρον occur together in the LXX. in Proverbs 21:14. They are expressly distinguished by Philo, who says that the latter involves the idea of magnitude and fullness, which is wanting to the former (see Lightfoot on 'Revision,' p. 77) "Every good gift and every perfect boon, R.V. The Father of lights (ἀπὸ τοῦ Πατρὸς τῶν φώτων). The word must refer to the heavenly bodies, of which God may be said to be the Father, in that he is their Creator (for "Father," in the sense of Creator, cf. Job 38:28). From him who "made the stars also" comes down every good and perfect gift, and with him "there can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning." These last words appear to fix the meaning of φῶτα, as τροπή is used in the LXX. as in classical writers for the changes of the heavenly bodies (see Job 38:33; Deuteronomy 33:14; Wisd. 7:18). Οὐκ ἔνι, "there is no room for." It negatives, not only the fact, but the possibility also (cf. Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11). The first words of this verse form a hexameter line, thus:

Πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ καὶ πᾶν δῶρημα τέλειον.

Such verses, or parts of verses, occur occasionally in the New Testament. Sometimes they are quotations from the Greek poets; sometimes the writer's words unconsciously fall into metrical form. Poetical quotations are confined to Paul, Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12.

Every good gift and every perfect gift (see Greek above)

The statement that these gifts are from God is in pursuance of the idea that God does not tempt men to evil. The gifts of God are contrasted with the evil springing from man's lust. Two words are used for gifts. Δόσις occurs only here and Philippians 4:15; there in an active sense; but here passive, as in Proverbs 21:14: (Sept.). Δῶρημα is found Romans 5:16. It enlarges slightly upon the other word in emphasizing the gift as free, large, full; an idea which is further developed in James 1:18, of his own will. The Rev., rather awkwardly, endeavors to bring out the distinction by the word boon, for which the American Revisers insist on retaining gift. Boon originally means a petition; favor being a secondary and later sense, as of something given in response to a petition. The word is of Scandinavian origin, and the meaning favor seems to indicate a confusion with the Latin bonus, good; French, bon.


Enlarges upon good, bringing out more distinctly the moral quality of the gift.

And cometh down (καταβαῖνον)

A present participle, to be construed with ἄνωθεν ἐστιν, is from above. Lit., is coming down, from above. As usual, this union of the participle with the finite verb denotes something habitual. Render, descendeth from above. Compare James 3:15.

Father of lights (τοῦ πατρὸς τῶν φώτων)

Lit., the lights, by which are meant the heavenly bodies. Compare Psalm 135:7 (Sept.); and Jeremiah 4:23 (Sept.). God is called "the Father of the lights," as being their creator and maintainer. Compare Job 38:28; Psalm 8:3; Amos 5:8.

Is no variableness (ἔνι)

Abbreviated from ἔνεστι, is in. Stronger than the simple is, and denoting inherence or indwelling. Rev., can be.

Variableness (παραλλαγὴ)


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