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Barnes' New Testament Notes
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THE GENERAL EPISTLE OF JAMES - Chapter 1 - Verse 17

Verse 17. 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. Everything that is good on the earth we are to trace to him; evil has another origin. Compare Mt 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 of knowledge, purity, happiness; and God is often represented as light. Compare 1 Jo 1:5; See Barnes on "1 Ti 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 over all 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 Jo 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, (see Barnes on "Mt 1:1,) as denoting that which is the source of anything, or that from which anything proceeds. See Barnes on "Isa 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 (parallagh) 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.

{a} "every good gift" Joh 3:27 {b} "with whom is no variableness" 1 Sa 15:29; Mal 3:6 {+} "gift" or, "benefit"

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