James 1:17

Monday, 17 June 2019

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17

James has been talking about evil desires and how they produce sin; sin in turn produces death. Now he abruptly changes his angle and speaks of the good and perfect gifts which come down from the Father of the heavenly lights. This is done to contrast the death which we have earned through being enticed to sin. No such thing is to be found in that which comes from Him.

The first words of this verse form a hexameter. Some suppose that because of this, the words are part of an ancient poem. Or, it could be that James was purposefully forming them in this way on his own. Either way, he starts this thought with this hexameter, “Every good gift and every perfect gift.” Two different words are both translated as “gift.” The first is a verb which indicates the act of giving. The second is a noun which refers to the gift itself. A more literal and understandable translation would be, “Every good giving, and every perfect gift” (YLT).

In this, the contrast is made. Man falls into temptation through his own desires. He is enticed by them, and by them he sins. However, God only gives that which is beneficial and His act of giving is inherently good. And what He gives is perfect, meaning it is complete in all its parts and it lacks nothing. Such gifts from God are (as James tells us) “from above.”

Though God is omnipresent, He is always considered above. In this, the imagery is that of a Father presenting gifts to His children who eagerly wait for them with outstretched arms. With this idea developed in the mind with the words “from above,” James then confirms it by saying, “and comes down from the Father of lights.”

The verb is a present participle. It reads, “and is coming down.” It speaks of something which is continuously repeated. God habitually provides that which is good and perfect because He is the “Father of lights.” The Greek has a definite article here. It reads, “Father of ‘the’ lights.” It is speaking of the sun, moon, and stars as heavenly bodies. In the Greek translation of the Psalms and Jeremiah, the term is used when referring to the Lord. He is the Creator of them, and the One who sustains them even now.

James then describes the heavenly Father by saying, “with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” James had to pull out his science book to make this description, because the terms he uses here are technical in nature. The word translated as “variation” is parallagé. It is found only here in Scripture and it signifies a parallax. This is the effect “whereby the position or direction of an object appears to differ when viewed from different positions, e.g. through the viewfinder and the lens of a camera” (Online Dictionary).

The word describes a transmutation of phase or orbit. If you hold your thumb out in front of you and close your left eye first, and then your right eye, the position of your thumb will change slightly. This is a trigonometric parallax, or simply a parallax. The author seems to have chosen this word specifically for his audience to make it completely clear that there is no “shift” or “change” in God – even in the slightest.

A parallax will occur when a reference changes even minutely – such as in the atomic level. But in God there is simply no parallax at all. This is why the description “Father of lights” is chosen. If our field of view changes in the slightest, our view of the stars will change. But with God, who created and sustains the stars, there is no change at all. No matter how we view God, there will never be any change in Him.

This is further described by James with “shadow of turning.” As lights move, shadows will move in accord with the source of light. As heavenly bodies move, there will be eclipses of other bodies. However, there is no such change in, or obscuring of, the glory of God. His radiance is not in any way affected by the creation. Rather, His glory transcends the creation because He is omnipresent.

This unchangeable nature of God is confirmed by several other verses of the Bible, such as Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8. This is also confirmed by philosophic considerations about God. As He created time, space, and matter, He is outside of those things. They have no bearing on Him. Therefore, He must be One (monotheism), and He must be unchanging.

Life application: If you sometimes have doubts or questions about your faith in the Christian God, don’t! The Bible absolutely confirms God’s nature; a nature we can determine from reason alone. You are on exactly the right path when you call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – He is the image of the invisible God and our only path of restoration to our infinite, unchanging, and glorious Creator.

Lord God Almighty, You who alone are unchanging and beyond our ability to comprehend – thank You for every good and perfect gift in our lives. Thank You for our Lord Jesus Christ also. He who came to reveal You to us. May we never forget that He is the greatest expression of Your unfailing love for the fallen sons of Adam. In His name we pray. Amen.

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