The Bible in Its Traditions

James 1:13–18

Byz Nes S TR

13  Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

13  No one should say, when he is tempted, that he was tempted by God. For God does not entice toward evils, and he himself tempts no one.

Byz Nes TR

14  But each [one] is tempted by his own lusts, being drawn away and being seduced [by them].

14  Yet truly, each one is tempted by his own desires, having been enticed and drawn away.

14  But every man is tempted by his own lust; and he covets and is enticed.

14f sin, desire, death Rom 7:8-10
Byz S TR
Nes TR

15  Then lust, when it conceives, gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

15  Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin: and the sin, when it is fullgrown, bringeth forth death.

15  Thereafter, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin. Yet truly sin, when it has been consummated, produces death.

Byz Nes

16  Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.

16  And so, do not choose to go astray, my most beloved brothers.

16  Do not err, my beloved brethren.

Byz Nes S TR

17  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.

17  Every excellent gift and every perfect gift is from above, descending from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor any shadow of alteration.

Byz Nes TR

18  Exercising His will He begat us by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

18  For by his own will he produced us through the Word of truth, so that we might be a kind of beginning among his creatures.

18  It is he, who begot us of his own will with the word of truth, that we should be the firstfruits of his creatures.

18 first-fruits Lv 2:12; Rom 11:16; Rom 16:5; Rv 14:4



16 Do not be led astray Transitive or Intransitive Meaning? The present middle form used here can be translated:

  • as a transitive passive verb: "Do not be led astray!"
  • as a reflexive verb: "Do not deceive yourselves!"
  • as an intransitive verb: "Do not go astray!"


13f tried Polysemous Verb See (Vocabulary 1:2).

14 dragged away Hapax NT The Greek verb exelkô "to drag away" is not found anywhere else in the NT; it is present in G; e.g. Madianites dragging Joseph in Gn 37:28.


Biblical Intertextuality

16 do not be led astray Images and Connotations

  • In the Synoptic tradition, Jesus warns about not being misled (planaô) in the last days (Mk 13:5)
  • The image of sinners as sheep going astray (planaô) is found, e.g., in 1Pt 2:25 (cf. G-Is 53:6).


Literary Devices

17b Father of lights Characterization of God as (Source of) Light While never directly comparing God with light, James describes an image of God as pure light in which there is no darkness (Vocabulary Jas 1:17c; Grammar Jas1:17c).


Jewish Tradition

14 desire Connection with the Rabbinic Concept of the “Evil Inclination” in Humanity? Some commentators identify epithumia with the rabbinic concept of the evil inclination (yṣr hrʽ) placed by God in the human heart :

This teaching  developed from the "two ways" tradition :

Given James' strong emphasis that God gives only good gifts (Jas 1:17), this identification is not very plausible (Jewish Tradition 1:8; Peritestamental Literature 1:8).

For example, →b. Sûk. 52a compares the righteous winning their struggle against temptation to one who conquers a mountain; →b. Sûk. 52b advises that one can melt and smash the evil urge by engaging in Torah study. God will help defeat it.


12–18 Use in Lectionary RML : Tuesday, Week 6, Year 2

17–27 Use in Lectionary RCL : Proper 17, Year B

17–21 Use in Lectionary RML (1570) : 4th Sunday after Easter


Literary Devices

13ff desire Repeated Theme: The Danger of Desire James' criticism of unrestrained desire (epithumia) and passion in the community recurs in Jas 4:1–5. There James blames the vices of envy and strife on selfish desires,  using the closely related term hêdonê (desire for pleasure) and the verbal form epithumeô (Jas 4:2).


13b cannot be tried by evil Active or Passive? The verbal adjective apeirastos is a cognate of the verb peirazo "to try." It may have an active (“one who does not tempt”) or passive (“one who cannot be tempted”) sense. James' use of the contrastive particle de indicates that the word should be taken as passive, in contrast to the active sense in the following clause, “He himself tempts no one” (Comparison of Versions 1:13-15).

Another possible translation is, “God ought not to be tested by evil [people].” If this is the sense, James may be thinking of passages such as Dt 6:16: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (cf. Marginal References 1:13).

Literary Genre

13a Let no one say Diatribe: Imaginary Opponent or Objection James directly quotes an imaginary opponent of his own theological position, who insists "I am tempted by God." This literary technique is common in the "diatribe" genre, wherein an imaginary opponent presents a position that is then corrected by the author. In 1 Corinthians, for example, Paul introduces his imaginary opponent, "But someone may say, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?'" (1Cor 15:35), allowing Paul to respond with the correct teaching on the resurrection body (→James: Diatribe Style and James).

The technique however, is also used in Jewish wisdom literature, e.g., Sir 5:3–6: "Do not say, 'Who can prevail against me?' for the Lord will exact punishment. Do not say, 'I have sinned, yet what has happened to me?' for the Lord is slow to anger! Do not be so confident of forgiveness that you add sin upon sin. Do not say, 'His mercy is great; my many sins he will forgive.' For mercy and anger alike are with him; his wrath comes to rest on the wicked."

Literary Devices

14f by his own desire + when desire has conceived: Sorites James again uses the device of sorites to highlight the continuity of action: having conceived, desire gives birth to sin, sin when fully grown gives birth to death (Literary Devices 1:3-5).

14 dragged away and lured Fishing Imagery an Ancient Topos The verb deleazô literally refers to baiting or luring an animal or fish; exelkô can refer to reeling in a fish (Ancient Texts 1:14; Christian Tradition 1:14).


Peritestamental Literature

14 dragged away and lured Passion Controlling a Person Philo parallels James' vocabulary and imagery in several passages:

  •  Philo Prob. 159 describes a soul that is driven by desire (pros epithumias elaunetai), or enticed by pleasure (huph' hêdonês deleazetai) as an enslaved soul (Colson 1941, 9:101–2). 
  •  Philo Agric. 103 "For there is no single thing that does not yield to the enticement of pleasure (ho mê pros hêdonês deleasthen), and get caught (heilkustai) and dragged along in her entangling nets, through which it is difficult to slip and make your escape" (Colson 1930, 3:160–61).



15b when it is fully grown Etymology and Connotations: A Perfect Sin Our translation renders here a single word: the passive participle apotelestheisa, from the verb apoteleô. With its tel root and the prefix ana it conveys the sense of "perfection" or completion, namely "an accomplished sin", "fully matured sin." Its positive connotation, therefore, contrasts the negative meaning of the whole phrase (Literary Devices 1:15b). 

16 Do not be led astray Astronomical Connotations The verb planaô in an active form literally means "to cause to wander" or "to lead astray;" in a moral context it has the sense of leading one away from the truth or the right path; James clearly uses this sense in Jas 5:19a: "if anyone among you strays away from the truth" (Grammar 1:16).

The verb was applied to heavenly bodies which appear to "wander" in their paths across the sky (hence the English word "planets;" see e.g., Plato Leg. 822a). It is possible that James intended his readers to hear an echo of this sense, since the following verse is charged with astronomical allusions (Vocabulary 1:17c).

Textual Criticism

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Various Attempts to Clarify James’ Meaning The vocabulary of this phrase is obscure, giving rise to a number of variant readings. The two best supported:

  • The reading parallagê hê tropês aposkiasmatos, witnessed by א and B, which seems to mean "variation consisting of the turn of the shadow." 
  • The reading parallagê ê tropês aposkiasma, read in this translation, is supported by the second corrector of א and A (Vocabulary 1:17c).


Biblical Intertextuality

17b Father of lights Allusion to the Creation of Heavenly Lights James here likely refers to biblical passages in which God is portrayed as the creator of the sun, moon, and stars  (see Gn 1:14–18, Ps 136:7–9; Sir 43:1–10). See also Christian Tradition 1:17b.

Peritestamental Literature

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Unchangeable Nature of God Philo often contrasts the unchangeability of God with the changeability of creation (cf. Ancient Cultures 1:17c, Ancient Texts 1:17c):

  •  Philo Leg. 2.33: “Now every created thing must necessarily undergo change (trepesthai), for this is its property, even as unchangeableness (atrepton) is the property of God" (Colson 1929, 1:246).
  •  Philo Cher.   87–90 contrasts God’s unchangeable nature with the changeability of all things, including the heavenly bodies.
  •  Philo Deus 22 concludes: "For what greater impiety could there be than to suppose that the Unchangeable (atreptos) changes?" (Colson 1930, 3:20).


Comparison of Versions

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Attempt to Clarify James’ Meaning Copt. Sah. reads: "[there is not any] shadow or change or variation."


17c no alternation or obumbration of change Eternal, Immutable Nature of God The Catholic Catechism cites this passage in its description of the unique, eternal nature of God (Christian Tradition 1:17c):

  • CCC 212 "Over the centuries, Israel's faith was able to manifest and deepen realization of the riches contained in the revelation of the divine name. God is unique; there are no other gods besides him. He transcends the world and history. He made heaven and earth: 'They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment.…but you are the same, and your years have no end' (Ps 102:26-27) In God 'there is no variation or shadow due to change' (Jas 1:17) God is 'HE WHO IS', from everlasting to everlasting, and as such remains ever faithful to himself and to his promises."


Literary Devices

17a every good giving, every perfect gift Frequent Parallelism Some interpreters have argued that James seeks to contrast two types or aspects of gifts or giving (G: dosis and dôrêma), but most likely this is simply another example of James' fondness for pairing close synonyms. This device may reflect an attempt to emphasize a point or simply for stylistic variation. For example, see


Biblical Intertextuality

14 lured The Lure of Desire 2Pt 2:18 echoes James' vocabulary, speaking of false teachers luring (deleazô) people through desires (epithumiai; Literary Devices 1:14; Peritestamental Literature 1:14).

14 desire Epithumia: Good and Bad Desire

In the Septuagint

  • Epithumia is a neutral term that can refer to a good or bad desire: Ws 6:20 speaks of the “desire for wisdom”; the desire of the righteous is all good (Prv 11:23).
  • At times, it refers to ungodly desires (e.g., G-Ps 105:14): the Israelites "craved with craving" (epethumêsan epithumian) in the wilderness and "put God to the test" (peirazô; NETS). In the Ten Commandments, the cognate verb epithumeô is used for prohibiting the unlawful desire for neighbor's wife, house, field, animals or other possessions (Ex 20:17).

In the New Testament 

Natural, Positive 

In the NT, epithumia may refer to a natural desire (e.g., of a hungry man for food at Lk 16:21) or a positive desire: "If anyone aspires to the position of a bishop, he desires a good work" (1Tm 3:1).


Generally, however, it refers to the desire for a negative object (e.g, Eph 2:3: "desires of the flesh") or is simply characterized as negative in itself (e.g., Tt 3:3; 1Pt 4:3).

  • The object of negative desire is generally possessions (cf. Paul's statement, "I have never wanted (epithumeô) anyone's silver or gold or clothing" (Acts 20:33; cf. Ex 20:17a: neighbor's house) or sexual desire (e.g., Ex 20:17, coveting the neighbor's wife; or Jesus' teaching on the Sermon on the Mount: "everyone who looks at a woman with lust (ho blepôn pros to epithumêsai) has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:28).
  • Also relevant is the close connection of epithumia with the standards of "the world" (kosmos) in 1Jn 2:15–17; cf. Jas 4:4.

Opposed to God's Law and God's Will

  • Particularly relevant for James is the NT's emphasis on desire as a violation of God's law (Rom 7:7; 13:9), where "do not covet" is summarized as a general commandment without an object. For James, a person's epithumia is opposed by the "implanted word" (Jas 1:21), a natural law whose written form is the Law, presumably the Torah (Jas 1:22–25). 
  • 1Pt 4:2 contrasts human desires with following the will of God; cf. Jude 18. Tt 2:12 also equates godlessness (asebeia) with worldly desires  (kosmikai epithumiai; cf. James' [Jas 4:4] understanding of kosmos as the anti-God realm).

15b sin birth to death: Connection between Sin and Death The connection between sin and death is a consistent biblical theme. 

  • In the archetypical account in Genesis, Adam is warned that eating from the tree will result in death (Gn 2:16).
  • Rom 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death." Paul also links desire, sin, and death in Rom 7:8–10: "But sin... produced in me every kind of covetousness (epithumia).…but when the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me."

See also Ez 18:4; Ws 2:23–24; Rom 5:12,21; 1Cor 15:21,56.

Peritestamental Literature

14 desire Epithumia a Negative Passion  The Jewish Hellenistic tradition in general takes desire (epithumia) as a destructive passion, not neutral desire:

  • Ws 4:12 “roving desire (rhembasmos epithumias) perverts the innocent mind" (noun akakon; RSV).
  • 4 Macc. 3:2: “none of you can eradicate (ekkopsai) that kind of desire, but reason (logismos) can provide a way for us not to be enslaved by desire” (NRSV).

Paralleling James Philo Decal. 142 sees desire as intrinsic to the person: desire is the worst of the passions, for other passions seem to be involuntary and attack the sould from the outside, but epithumia  “alone originates with ourselves, and is voluntary" (tên archên ex hêmôn autôn lambanei kai estin hekousios; Colson 1937, 7:76–79).

Sexual and Birth Imagery

James' use of sexual and birth imagery for desire is paralleled in Philo,

  •  Philo Praem. 117; Philo Cher. 71 desire (epithumia) and desire for pleasure (hêdonê) are "mistresses" (despoinai) who treat the soul badly.
  •  Philo Spec. 4.80 : epithumia gives birth to (entiktô) "fierce and endless yearnings" (Colson 1939, 8:56–57).
  •  Philo Leg. 75–76: When caught up in love of money, glory, and pleasure (hêdonê), the soul is in labor, but cannot give birth, "for the soul of the worthless (phaulos) man has not by nature the power to bring forth any offspring."  Rather it produces only "wretched abortions and miscarriages, devouring half of its flesh, an evil tantamount to the death of the soul" (Colson 1929, 1:196–97).

15a desire...bears sin Desire as the Source of Sin Second Temple texts agree with James in identifying epithumia as the primary source of sin:

  •  Philo Spec. 4.84 identifies epithumia as “the fountain of all evils" (apantôn pêgê tôn kakôn). For plunderings and robberies and repudiations of debts and false accusations and outrages, also seductions, adulteries, murders and all wrongful actions (adikêmata)…from what other source do they flow?” (Colson 1939, 8:58–61; cf. Philo Decal. 142–53);
  • L.A.E. / Apoc. Mos. 19.3: Epithumia is the evil poison (ios tês kakias) that the serpent sprinkled on the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The text comments further, "epithumia is the origin of every sin." (The critical text reads: epithumia gar estin pasês hamartias; some mss. specify that epithumia is "head" (kephalê) of every sin, while another ms., that it is the root and source (riza kai archê) of every sin (OTP 2:279; Tromp 2005, 144). Cf. the later Christian tradition in Herm. Mand. 12.2.2: "this evil desire (epithumia ponêra) is the daughter of the devil" (Ehrman 2003, 2:294–95).


Christian Tradition

14 dragged away and lured Amplification: The Bait of Pleasure

  •  Erasmus Iac. Par. in his paraphrase describes pleasure as "enticing on the outside and giving promise of something sweet, conceals a deadly hook under the bait of pleasure" (voluptatis; Bateman 1993, 141; Bateman 1997, 127). Cf. Vocabulary 1:14.

17a Every good giving Introduction to the Celestial Hierarchy  Ps.-Dionysius Cael. Hier. 1.1 begins with a quotation of Jas 1:17 (and possibly a liturgy related to Basil of Caesaria Lit. Bas.; cf. Liturgies 1:17). Ps.-Dionysius understands the gift as God's illuminating light which enlightens humans and draws them towards union with God.


15b sin …death: Connection of Sin and Death  Conc. Vat. II. Gaud. Spes 18 cites this passage in support of the teaching that humans would have been preserved from bodily death if they had not sinned.

17a every good giving Proof-text for the Necessity of Grace Before Faith The conclusion (redacted by Caesarius of Arles) to the canons of the Second Council of Orange, addressed against Pelagianism, quotes Jas 1:17ab in support of the Council's teaching on grace:

  • →Conc. Arausc. II "free will has been so distorted and weakened by the sin of the first man that thereafter no one could love God as was required, or believe in God, or perform for the sake of God what is good, unless the grace of the divine mercy first attained him" (nisi eum gratia misericordiae divinae praevenerit; DzH 396); cf. a similar use of the passage in Caesarius of Arles Serm. 226.6 (Christian Tradition 1:17a).


17 Every good giving ...coming down from the Father of lights: Allusion in The Divine Comedy

  •  Dante Div. Comm. Par. 25.29–30 likely alludes to this passage when he has Beatrice address James, "Illustrious living soul, you who wrote of the abundant gifts of our heavenly court" (la larghezza de la nostra basilica).


Literary Devices

18b first-fruits Cultic Purity Language James' language is full of allusions to Israel's worship and Israel's concept of purity. Here James calls church members, “a sort of first-fruits” (aparchê) of his creatures,” alluding to the first portion offered in a sacrifice. James employs purity language elsewhere:

  • Jas 1:27:  religion that is “pure (katharos) and undefiled” (amiantos) consists in caring for orphans and widows and keeping oneself “unstained” (aspilos) from the world;
  • Jas 3:6c: [the tongue] "defiling (spiloô) the whole body";
  • Jas 3:17b: the “wisdom from above” is called “pure” (hagnos);
  • Jas 4:8bc:  “Cleanse (katharizô; cf. kathoros in Jas 1:27) [your] hands, you sinners, and purify (hagnizo; cf. agnos in Jas 3:17) [your] hearts, you double-minded.”

Even the pervasive concept of "wholeness" (expressed especially with the word teleios: see Jas 1:4,17,25; 3:2; cognates and verbal expressions in Jas 1:15; 2:8,22; 5:11) is cultic, alluding to the requirement that a sacrifice should be whole (teleios; cf. Literary Devices 1:27; Ancient Cultures 1:18b).


Biblical Intertextuality

18a word of truth Possible Referents of “the word of truth”  The term "word of truth" (logos alêtheias) may refer to several concepts found in Scripture. Its meaning is closely connected with how the exegete understands the phrase: "he gives birth to us." Does the "us," refer to (1) all humanity, (2) Israel, or (3) Christians? 

  • (1) The word by which God created all humans. Cf. Gn 1:26–27: God creates through speaking and Jon 1:1–3: God creates all humans and all things through his Word.
  • (2) The Torah. The Law is called a “word of truth” in Ps 119:43. In this case, the reference is to the word of the Torah “giving birth” to the people of Israel as the “first fruits” of creation—a people set apart and specially dedicated to God. If this is the meaning, then the interpreter must decide if the reference to Israel applies literally to Jews or in an extended sense to followers of Jesus.
  • (3) The gospel message. “Now you too, in him, have heard the message of the truth (logos alêtheias)  and the gospel of your salvation.” (Eph 1:13, cf. Col 1:5; 2Tm 2:15). In this case, the language of “giving birth” refers to God “giving birth” to the Christian in baptism (cf. Jn 1:13; 3:3–5; 1Pt 1:23–25; cf. Paul’s image of giving birth to members of his churches: 1Cor 4:15 and Gal 4:10).

The three options as not necessarily mutually exclusive. In the Hellenistic Jewish-Christian context presupposed by the Letter of James, one could well understand the word (logos) as the rational power through which the cosmos was created and is upheld, the Torah as the written expression of that cosmic logos, and the Christian message as the Lord Jesus' interpretation of the Torah (Christian Tradition 1:18a).

Peritestamental Literature

18a Of his own will God’s Free Creation Philo uses the same participle (the passive of boulomai) to express God's careful planning of his creation:

  •  Philo Opif. 16 "When he willed (bouletheis) to create this visible world, He first fully formed the intelligible world, in order that He might have the use of a pattern, wholly God-like and incorporeal" (Colson 1929, 1:14–15).

See also Opif. 44 wherein God willed to create the cyclical patterns of nature (Ancient Texts 1:18a).

18a word The Role of God’s Logos in Creation, Especially of Humans

 God's Creation through the Word

Philo Migr. 6 teaches that God used his logos as an instrument (organon) to fashion the world (Colson 1932, 134–35).

God's Word is the Model for the Human Soul

  • Philo Opif. 139 ( cf. Philo Leg. 3.96): God's creation of the human soul is particularly associated with his logos: "for the Creator, we know, employed for its making no pattern (paradeigma) taken from among created things, but solely, as I have said, creation,  his own Word" (logos). This special creation through the Word is connected with humans being made in the "likeness and imitation" (apeikonisma kai mimêma) of God (Colson 1929, 110–11).

The human mind is thus in contact with divine reason:

  • Philo Opif. 146 "Every man, in respect of his mind is allied to the divine reason (kata tên dianoian ôᵢkeiôtai logôᵢ theiô); having come into being as a copy or fragment or ray of that blessed nature" (Colson 1929, 114–15).


Christian Tradition

18a by the word of truth Identify of the Word? The tradition offers several possibilities concerning the identify of “the word of truth.”

The Pre-existent Word through Whom the World was Created

The Incarnate Word

The Word of the Gospel (= Acceptance of the Christian Message)

Other Interpretations

Cornelius à Lapide lists several other interpretive options, including a sacramental sense: it refers to the “word” spoken in the sacraments (e.g., in baptism, “I baptize you,” in penance, “I absolve you,” or the words of consecration during Mass). This refers to Scholastic sacramental theology, wherein a specific verbal formula is necessary (along with proper matter and intention) to effect the sacrament. 

Here is the moral sense:

  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. “The moral sense (moraliter) of the passage is that it teaches about the divine sonship in which Christians become heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, sharers of the divine nature. God is the father, the seed is prevenient grace, breathed upon through the passion and merits of Christ, the mother is our will, whose seed is the consent to the grace and vocation of God: the offspring is the new person (homo novus) living a life of grace” (20:70).

18a Of his own will He gave us birth God's Unmerited Election Commentators, both Catholic and Protestant, find here a reference to God's unmerited grace in salvation:

  •  Bede Ep. cath. ad loc.: God begets a new person in baptism "not because of our merits (non nostris meritis) but because of the generosity of his will" (Hurst 1983, 189; Hurst 1985, 17); similarly Augustine of Hippo Enarrat. Ps. 67.12; Augustine of Hippo Ep. 149.6.
  •  Gloss. Ord. ad loc. "Every good is from God, and you have not come to this through your merits, but only through the grace of the divine will" (sola gratia divinae voluntatis; col. 1271).
  •   Calvin Comm. Iac. "But this passage teaches us, that as our election before the foundation of the world (nostra electio ante mundum conditum) was gratuitous (gratuita), so we are illuminated by the grace of God alone as to the knowledge of the truth so that our calling (vocatio) corresponds with our election" (Owen 1849, 292; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 392).
  •  Lapide Comm. "without our merit, he mercifully called, elected, justified, and regenerated…we are born from him by his certain plan, deliberation, proposition, and predestination" (certo consilio, deliberatione, proposito et praedestinatione Dei; 20:70).

Reformation Debate on Free Will

  •   Luther Serv. arbit. 5 holds that this text proves that human free will has absolutely no role in becoming a new creature in God's Kingdom—this is completely due to God's working: God's grace gives birth, and the human is passive (LW 33:243; WA 18:754).
  • In reply Erasmus Hyper. insists that a human must have some positive role in cooperating with God's grace in becoming a new creature; "Of his own will He gave us birth" simply means that salvation is a free gift of God that cannot be earned by humans, but it does not preclude the free will to cooperate or not cooperate with that grace" (Miller 2000, 622–25).

Other Interpretations

Bernard of Clairvaux Serm. Cant. 16.4 connects the passage with the Christian's ability to call on God as Father.

18b first-fruits Identity of the “First-Fruits” The tradition offers two main options for the identity of the “first fruits.”

Human Beings are the First Fruits of God’s Creation

Several authors interpret “first fruits” as humanity; in particular, “first fruits” refers to humanity’s privileged place over the rest of creation.

Christians are the First Fruits

  • Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. sees the reference to giving birth (v. 18a) as a reference to baptism: “he has changed us from sons of darkness into sons of light through the water of regeneration” (Hurst 1983, 189; Hurst 1985, 17).
  • Aquinas ST 3.23.2 applies this passage to spiritual re-birth (regeneratio spiritualis; English Dominicans 1947, 4:2142).
  • Calvin Comm. Iac. “For as man excels among all creatures, so the Lord elects some from the whole mass and separates them as a holy offering, to himself” (segregat sibi in sanctam oblationem; Owen 1849, 293; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 392); cf. also Luther Lect. Heb. ad 3:14.
  • Baptist Statement 2 refers the passage to the new birth in Christ (CCFCT 3:810).

Similarly: Augustine of Hippo Ep. 140.62.

Distinction between “Giving Birth” and the Father’s Begetting the Son

In referencing this passage, the tradition is careful to distinguish the “giving birth” of Christians from God’s begetting of his Son: Augustine of Hippo Cons. 2.3.6 (Weirich 1903, 87); Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. (Hurst 1985, 17); Ps.-Andreas Catena ad loc.; Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. Jac. ad loc. (col. 465); Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 2.1 (Preus 2008, 1:156).

  • Aquinas ST 3.23.2 “There is this difference between an adopted son of God and the natural Son of God, that the latter is “begotten not made”; whereas the former is made (filius Dei naturalis est genitus non factus, filius autem adoptivus est factus), according to Jn. 1:12: “He gave them power to be made the sons of God.” Yet sometimes the adopted son is said to be begotten, by reason of the spiritual regeneration which is by grace, not by nature (spiritualem regenerationem, quae est gratuita); wherefore it is written (Jas 1:18): ‘Of His own will hath He begotten us by the word of truth’” (voluntarie genuit nos verbo veritatis; English Dominicans 1947, 4:2142).


Ancient Texts

14 desire Desire (Epithumia) in Greco-Roman Philosophical Traditions


In Plato Resp. 4 [440–41], Plato divides the soul into three "parts": the "appetitive" ( epithumêtikon), the "spirited (thumoeides), and the rational (logistikon); cf. Philo Conf. 21. Desires (epithumiai) are generally associated with the lower part of the soul, the epithumêtikon. Plato Resp. 8 [558 D–559], however, also speaks of "essential" (or "necessary": anagkaiai) and non-essential desires. The necessary desires are desires for food and good health; the unnecessary are desires which go beyond these natural, healthy desires.


 Aristotle Eth. Nic. 2.5 [1105 B] classes epithumia as one of the passions (pathê), along with anger (orgê), fear (phobos), envy (phthonos), joy (chara) and others. A person cannot be praised or blamed for his passions, since they are not a matter of choice. People go astray (hamartanô) when they pursue desires in excess or in the wrong way (Aristotle Eth. Nic. 4.11 [1118b]).

Stoic Tradition

  • For the Stoics, desire (epithumia) is one of the four primary passions  (pathê), along with fear (phobos), distress (lupê), and pleasure (hêdonê; →SVF, 3.378 [92]); Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.111). A passion is a "movement of the soul that is irrational (alogos) or disobedient to reason and contrary to nature (para phusin), "something that happens contrary to the right and natural reason" (para ton orthon kai kata phusin logon). Epithumia is an irrational desire for something that appears to be good (Long and Sedley 1987, 410–12; →SVF 3.378, 389, 394).
  •  Within epithumia, the Stoics included several subcateories: "anger (orgê; cf. Jas 1:19–20) and its species....intense sexual desires, cravings and yearnings, love of pleasure (philêdoniai) and riches (philoploutiai) and honours (philodoxiai), and the like" (Long and Sedley 1987, 412; →SVF 3.394 [96]). Cicero Tusc. 4.7.16 classes the following states of mind under the heading of “desire” (libidinus): anger (ira), rage, hatred (odium), enmity, greed (discordia) and other similar states of mind (King 1927, 344–45).
  • For the Stoics, according to Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.116–17, the opposite of desire is wishing (boulêsis). The good feelings associated with boulêsis are “benevolence, friendliness, respect and affection" (agapêsis; Hicks 1925, 220–21). Epithumia is passive, an emotion that controls the person. The wise person seeks to become dispassionate (apathê)—not to be confused with the usual connotations of "apathy"—and to live a life grounded in reason.

James, then, concurs with the Stoic tradition's understanding epithumia as a negative passion that leads to sin, strife, and ultimately death. 

13c he himself tries no one God Is Not the Cause of Evil Greek philosophical tradition parallels James in rejecting the claim that the divine can be the source of evil:

  •  Plato Resp. 2 [380b] "We must resist at all costs anyone in his own state saying that god is the cause of anyone’s evils" (kakôn de aition phanai theon tini gignesthai; Adam 1902, 1:206-7). 
  • Marcus Aurelius Med. 6.1 "The Universal Substance is docile and ductile; and the Reason that controls it has no motive in itself to do wrong (kakopoiein). For it has no wrongness and does no wrong, nor is anything harmed by it" (Haines 1916, 130–31).

14 dragged away and lured Fishing Imagery an Ancient Topos The words exelkô, deleazô, and their cognates are frequently combined:

  • Aelian Nat. an. 5.3 "when the worm is secured on the hook and has swallowed the bait (delear), the men haul" (anelkousi; Scholfield 1959, 1:290–91);
  • cf. Herodotus Hist. 2.70 on baiting and hauling in a crocodile.

See also:

  • Plato Phaedr. 14 [238A] "desire irrationally drags us towards pleasures" (epithumia alogôs helkousê epi hêdonas; Fowler 1913, 444–45)
  • Plato Tim. 69d notes that the desire for pleasure (hêdonê) is "a mighty lure to evil" (megiston kakou delear; Bury 1925, 180–81).

13b God cannot be tried by evil The Divine Has No Connection with Evil James' claim is supported by Greek philosophers:

  •  Plato Tim. 29E "He [the constructor—dêmiourgos—of the kosmos] was good (agathos), and in him that is good no envy arises ever concerning anything" (Bury 1925, 54–55)
  • Epicurus apud Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 10.139 "A blessed and eternal being (makarion kai aphtharton) has no trouble himself and brings no trouble upon any other being; hence he is exempt from movements of anger and partiality" (Hicks 1925, 662–63).

Biblical Intertextuality

18b first fruits Literal and Metaphorical Meanings

Literal Meanings

  • According to the commandments of the Torah, the “first fruits” (Hebrew: bkkwrym or r’šyt; Greek: aparchê) refers to the first ripe grain and fruits (e.g., Ex 23:16; Lv 23:10) and the first pressings of wine and oil (e.g., Dt 18:4), which were offered in sacrifice to God. 
  • The first-born of animals and humans was also dedicated to God as sacred (e.g., Ex 13:2–16). 

Metaphorical Meanings, Especially the Holy Community as “First Fruits”

  • The term is applied to Israel as the “first fruits” of the Lord’s harvest (Jer 2:3). 
  • The NT’s use of aparchê is exclusively metaphorical. The Holy Spirit is the “first fruits” of the new life in Christ (Rom 8:23). 
  • The 144,000 in Revelation “have been ransomed as the first-fruits of the human race for God and the Lamb” (Rv 14:4). 
  • The term applies to the first members who join a Christian community (Rom 16:5; 1Cor 16:15). 
  • Paul also uses the word to refer to those of Israel who accept the Gospel (Rom 11:16). 
  • Christ, as the first to overcome death, is called the “first fruits” of those who will rise from the dead (1Cor 15:20–23). 


Literary Devices

16 Do not be led astray Rhetorics: Elocutio

Diatribe Style

The phrase mê planasthe is used to focus the listener's attention on what is to follow, a rhetorical technique used in many genres and forms, including the diatribe style (→James: Diatribe Style and James).

  • 1Cor 6:9: "Do not be deceived, neither fornicators nor idolaters…will inherit the kingdom of God."
  • 1Cor 15:33: "Do not be led astray: 'Bad company corrupts good morals.'" Paul uses the formula to introduce a quotation from Menander.
  • Gal 6:7: "Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows."

See also Epictetus Diatr. 4.6.23, "Men, be not deceived…" (Oldfather 1928, 2:353).

Word Choice: Contrast with God’s Immutability

In choosing the verb planaô (to wander aimlessly; to be led astray) James may intend to contrast  human waywardness with God's unchangeable nature, referred to in Jas 1:17, especially since both verses use vocabulary that has astronomical connotations (Vocabulary 1:16; Vocabulary 1:17c; Peritestamental Literature 1:17c; Christian Tradition 1:17c).

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Preciosity: Three NT Hapax Legomena Enhancing Divine Transcendence  In this one phrase alone, James uses three nouns which do not occur anywhere else in the NT: aposkiasma "shadow;" parallagê "change, variation;" tropê "turn, turning, change." This suggests that James may be employing a more specialized vocabulary—in this case, terms used in astrological writings (Vocabulary Jas 1:17c).


Christian Tradition

15 conceived …gives birth to sin…fully grown: Stages of Temptation and Sin

Stages of Temptation

The tradition focuses on the developmental sense of James' passage, identifying stages of temptation.

  •  Bede Ep. cath. ad loc. (Hurst 1985, 15; Hurst 1983, 188) uses the three stages of temptations described by  Gregory the Great Hom. ev. 16 (14).1 and applies them to James: "Temptation is carried out in three ways, by suggestion (suggestio), by delight (delectatio), by consent" (consensus; Hurst 1983, 102; PL 76: 1135).

Bede's commentary describes the process.

  • Suggestio: Temptation begins with the suggestion of "the enemy" (i.e., the devil). A person resisting this suggestion can attain the crown of life (Jas 1:12). For example, Joseph was tempted at this level by Potiphar's wife, but did not give in to the next two stages.  Gregory the Great Hom. ev. 16 (14).1 writes that Jesus experienced only the first stage of suggestion.
  • Delectatio: This involves "taking delight in" the suggestion of sin; "we offend by taking delight (delectando quidem offendimus) but we do not yet incur the death penalty." For example, David was tempted by the sight of Bathsheba (stage 1), and succumbed to stage two, by being dragged away and lured by his own desire (Jas 1:14).
  • Consensus: consenting to and doing the evil action. Thus David consented and committed adultery. This final stage results in the spiritual death of the person. Cf. Bede Hom. Ev. 2.12.201–12. The Gloss. Ord. ad loc. gives a version of Bede's teaching (attributed to Augustine) (col. 1269).

Erasmus Iac. Par. also describes different stages.

  • The first stage is attributed to the consequences of original sin: "A certain propensity to vicious behavior has been implanted (insita) in our souls from the vice of our first parents. This propensity is, as it were, the seed of sin."  
  • "If this seed has been admitted into the soul and taken root, the mind has now, so to speak, conceived sin"
  • "If the vicious desire (viciosa cupiditas) is not weeded out of the soul, that evil foetus gradually becomes larger and stronger until birth is given to a mortal sin (capitale peccatum), which…produces the worst offspring of all, namely, eternal death" (Bateman 1993, 141; Bateman 1997, 126–27).

The same stages are evident in other authors.

  •  Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad 1:2: "temptations are produced in three modes (tribus modis temptationes fiunt): persuasion, delight, and consent (suasione, delectatione, consensu). The devil persuades, the flesh (caro) delights, and the soul (animus) consents" (col. 63).
  •  Thomas à Kempis Imit. Chr. 1.13.5 also describes this psychological process: "Tempation, at first, is but a simple thought (cogitatio) in the mind; the imagaination then embellishes it and it takes on the appearance of something quite desireable (delectatio); then follows a powerful attraction and finally the will's consent" (assensio; Tylenda 1998, 17; St. John 1902, 24).
  • Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 16.3.2 cites the traditional exegesis of James as referring to the stages of sin (including references to Isidore and Peter Lombard) with approval (Preus 2008, 2:1274).

Compare Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 20th century explication of James.

  •  Bonhoeffer Versuchung, "desire in itself does not make me sinful.…Desire conceives by the union of my 'I' with it.…As long as desire remains untouched by my self, it is in 'It.' But sin occurs only through the 'I.' Thus the source of temptation lies in the epithumia, the souce of sin is in my self, and in my self alone. Therefore I must acknowledge that mine alone is the guilt and that I deserve eternal death when in temptation I succumb to sin" (Downhaim 1955, 27).

Distinction between Venial and Mortal sins 

  • Catholic authors identified sin when it is first "conceived" as venial sin; the sin that is fully grown and results in death is mortal sin, e.g., Erasmus Iac. Par. ad loc. So too Dionysius the Carthusian En. jac., commenting that mortal sin (peccatum mortale) involves full consent (plenus consensus) to the temptation, either in act or thought (560–61); cf. Lapide Comm. ad loc. (20:57–58). Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 16.2 agrees with this interpretation (Preus 2008, 2:1270-71)
  •  Francis de Sales Love 4.2, "The sin however, though sin indeed, does not always beget the death of the soul, but then only when it is complete in malice, and when it is consummate and accomplished, as Saint James says. And he here establishes so clearly the difference between mortal and venial sin, that it is strange that some in our age have had the temerity to deny it" (Mackey 1883, 169; Mackey 1894, 220)

Is Desire (Concupiscentia) a Sin?: Reformation Debate

  • Conc. Trid. Pecc. orig. 5 (DzH 1515) teaches that concupiscense (concupiscentia), defined as an inclination towards sin, remains in a person after baptism. Admitting that Scripture ocassionally calls this desire "sin" (e.g., Rom 7:7), Trent declared, "The Catholic Church has never understood that it is called sin because it would be sin in the true and proper sense in those who have been reborn, but because it comes from sin and inclines to sin" (ex peccato est et ad peccatum inclinat); cf. Erasmus Iac. Par., "A certain propensity (proclivitas) to vicious behavior has been implanted in our souls from the vice of our first parents. This propensity is, as it were, the seed of sin" (seminarium peccati; Bateman 1993, 141; Bateman 1997, 126).
  • Although Trent does not quote Jas 1:15 in support of this teaching, Calvin's commentary on this passage (Calvin Comm. Iac.; cf. Calvin Inst. Rel. 3.3.13) claims that Catholics use this passage to deny the label of sin to the early stages of temptation ("the Papists ignorantly lay hold on this passage, and seek to prove from it that vicious, yea, filthy, wicked, and the most abominable lusts are not sins, provided there is no assent (modo ne accedat consensus; Owen 1849, 290; Reuss and Erichson 1896, 391).
  •  Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 7.8.4, however, sees distinctions of sin in this passage. When desire (concupiscence) is aroused, this pertains to original sin. "But concupiscence is actual sin when the desire is added and also the consent" (Preus 2008, 1:574–75).
  • The Reformed confessions also cite Jas 1:15: WCF 6.4: "From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil; do proceed all actual transgressions" (CCFCT 2:614; Carruthers 1937, 101); cf. WLC Q. 95.

The Moral Lesson

The moral lesson (moraliter) of James' teaching here, writes Lapide Comm., is that desires are to be resisted at the earliest stage of temptation; the most efficacious remedy against temptation is prayer (20:58). Augustine also refers to this passage in exhorting his listeners to fight against desire (Augustine of Hippo Serm. 59.9; Augustine of Hippo Serm. 77A.3)


13ff he himself tries no one ...tried by his own desire: Temptation and the Cause of Evil

God is Not the Cause of Sin 

CCC 2846 references Jas 1:13 in its insistence that the petition in the Lord's Prayer ("lead us not into temptation") does not imply that God actively tempts anyone to sin—rather sin always involves a free choice. The petition means, "We ask him not to allow us to take the way that leads to sin" (Christian Tradition 1:13-14).

Different Types of Temptations

Following a clear line in the tradition (Christian Tradition 1:2), CCC 2847 distinguishes between trials that can be spiritually beneficial and temptations towards sin. "The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials, which are necessary for the growth of the inner man (referencing Lk 8:13–15; Acts 14:22; Rom 5:3–5; 2Tm 3:12) and temptation, which leads to sin and death (referencing Jas 1:14–15).


Literary Devices

18a gave birth to us Birth Imagery The Greek verb—apokueô—literally denotes the act of giving birth. In its metaphorical use, it is similar to the English "engender."

Contrastive Echo

James' use of birth imagery contrasts strongly with his previous use of that imagery:

  • Jas 1:15b: [sin] "gives birth (tiktei) to death";
  • Jas 1:18: [God the Father] "gave birth to us by the word of truth."

Feminine Imagery Applied to God

Having just described God as the Father of lights (Jas 1:17), James' use of a feminine methaphor is striking.


Ancient Cultures

18b first fruits Cultic Terminology In ancient Greek religion, "first fruits" (aparchê) is a technical term referring to the first part of a religious sacrifice or offering; it also refers to the first portion of anything that was held sacred or consecrated to the gods before the rest was put to secular use  (see Herodotus Hist. 1.92, 4.71; see also Biblical Intertextuality 1:18a, Peritestamental Literature 1:18b).

Ancient Texts

18a word The Rich Philosophical Background of Logos  Logos has a rich variety of meanings in ancient Greek philosophy, all occuring within the general semantic field of language and reason (→James: Philosophical Background of Logos ).

Biblical Intertextuality

18–21 Drawing on a Common Christian Baptismal Exhortation?

James and 1 Peter

Jas 1:18–21 and 1Pt 1:23–2:2 have several parallels: 

  • 1Pt 1:23: “You have been born anew” (anagegennêmenoi) || Jas 1:18: “Of his own will, He gave us birth by the word of truth.” 
  • 1Pt 1:23: “through the living and abiding word of God” (dia logou zôntos theou) || Jas 1:18,21: “gave us birth by the word of truth (logôᵢ alêtheias)…receive the implanted word” (emphuton logon).
  • 1Pt 2:1: “Rid yourselves (apothemenoi) of all malice” || Jas 1:21: “put away (apothemenoi) all sordidness”; cf. 1Pt 3:21: “not a removal of dirt (apothesis rhupou) from the body.” 
  • 1Pt 2:2: reference to salvation (sôteria) || Jas 1:21: reference to saving (sôsai) your souls.

Some scholars explain these parallels by suggesting that Peter and James draw on a common Christian teaching associated with the spiritual renewal of life at baptism. Other posit some literary relationship between Peter and James.

Other Parallel Uses of "Putting Away"

One should also note other NT uses of the verb "to put away" (apotithêmi) which may originally have been baptismal exhortations. All passages refer to "putting away" one's old sinful life; many specify sinful vices (e.g., anger, slanderous speech) that James also warns against. Several also parallel James' use of "all" and "every", emphasizing the exhortation to make a complete change of life.

  • Rom 13:12: "let us then throw off the works (erga) of darkness."
  • Eph 4:22: "that you should put away the old self of your former way of life."
  • Eph 4:25: "Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another."
  • Col 3:8: "But now you must put them all away: anger (orgê), fury, malice (kakia), slander, obscene language."
  • Heb 12:1:  "let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us."



18 Lectionary Reading RMLJas 1:18 is the basis for the Alleluia for the 8th and 22nd Sundays in Ordinary Time (Cycle B).

Christian Tradition

13–18 Divisio Textus

  • In Ps.-Andreas Catena, Jas 1:13–18 is presented under the heading, "Concerning the burning desire (purôsis) in us and the passions [that arise] from it: that the cause is not from God (ou para tou theou to aition). For if there is anything good (agathon) in us, it is from him" (Cramer 1844, 8:5).
  •  Langton Comm. Iac. labels Jas 1:13–18, "To encourage the imperfect so that they resist interior trials" (ut resistant temptationibus interioribus; Arnold 2013, 83).

See further →James: Medieval Divisio Textus.

Suggestions for Reading

18–27 Exhortation to Doing the Word

Thematic Structure 

Although some interpreters see Jas 1:19 as a thematic statement developed in Jas 1:20–27, the following thematic flow of thought is evident:

  • Vv. 18–21: An example of God's good gift: "the word of truth." God implants (Jas 1:21)  a "word of truth" (Jas 1:18), the natural law of right and wrong, within each person. This law exhorts one to bridle his speech and his passions (such as anger). 
  • Vv. 22–27: One must not only hear this law, but act on it. Bridling one's tongue (Jas 1:19; 26) and caring for widows and orphans (Jas 1:27) are two specific ways of living out this law.

Interpretive Issues

  • Jas 1:18–21: One interpretive crux is clarifying the identity of the "word of truth" and the "first-fruits of his creatures" (Jas 1:18) together with the "implanted word" (Jas 1:21). One strand takes the "first fruits" as Christians, and thus the "the word of truth" and the "implanted word" as the gospel message of salvation through Jesus. Another strand, in contrast, takes the "word" to be God's word at creation, and thus the "first-fruits" to be humanity in its pre-eminence over the rest of creation (Christian Tradition 1:18b; Christian Tradition 1:21a).
  • Jas 1:19: James' advice on controlling anger renewed a classical ethical debate on whether anger should be rooted out as a wholly negative vice, or whether controlled anger has a place in the struggle to attain justice and the good (Ancient Texts 1:19c ; Christian Tradition 1:19–20). 
  • Jas 1:23–25: The word of truth is identified with the Torah. Comparing the "word of truth" to a mirror in which a human can see a reflection of his original, God-given nature (Jas 1:23–24, James then identifies the mirror with the "perfect law of freedom," the Torah as interpreted by Jesus (Jas 1:25). 
  • Jas 1:26: James' advice to bridle the tongue is situated within a rich Greco-Roman ethical tradition that valued brevity of speech and self-control; many biblical parallels are also apparent (Ancient Texts 1:26bLiterary Devices 1:26b; Biblical Intertextuality 1:26b).
  • Jas 1:27:  James' admonition to care for orphans and widows develops a common scriptural topos (Biblical Intertextuality 1:27). The tradition understood James' admonition both literally and as referring to the care of the poor and vulnerable in general (Christian Tradition 1:27; Christian Tradition 1:27b).


Literary Devices

15b when it is fully grown An Ironic Use of Perfection / Wholeness The participle apotelestheisa, conveys the basic sense of "perfection" or completion (→James: Perfection / Wholeness in James). Here the sense of becoming fully grown is primary. In this instance, James' usual practice of identifying "perfection" and "completeness" as qualities associated with God and virtue is reversed: sin is "perfect" and "complete." 

The prefix apo- is repeated in the next word, apokuei, creating assonance and adding to the rhetorical insistence of the sentence.


Biblical Intertextuality

13c he himself tries no one Parallels in Sirach

  • Sir 15:11-12: "Do not say, 'On account of the Lord (dia kurion), I fell away,' for what he hates, he will not do. Do not say, 'It was he who led me astray,' (me eplanêsen) for he has no need of a sinful man" (NETS). Sirach thus concurs with James in teaching that God can in no way be the cause of sin. 
  • Sir 15:14-15a goes on to emphasize the reality of human free will, "It was he who from the beginning made humankind, and left him in the hand of his deliberation (en cheiri diabouliou autou). If you want to (thelêᵢs), you shall preserve the commandments" (NETS). 

See also →James: Peirazô / Peirasmos (Temptation and Trials).

Peritestamental Literature

13c he himself tries no one Humans, Not God, the Source of Sin and Evil

  •  1 En. 98.4, like James, attributes sin to humans: "I swear to you, sinners, that it was not ordained <for a man> to be a slave, nor was <a decree> given for a woman to be a handmaid; but it happened before of oppression. Thus lawlessness was not sent upon the earth; but men created it by themselves, and those who do it will come to a great curse" (OTP 1:149).
  • So too Philo Det. 122 "For Moses does not, as some impious people do, say that God is the author of ills (ton theon aition kakôn phêsi). Nay, he says that 'our own hands' (hêmeteras cheiras) cause them, figuratively (sumbolikôs) describing in this way our own undertakings (egcheirêmata), and the spontaneous [or "free"] movement of our minds to what is wrong" (hekousious tês dianoias pros to cheiron tropas; Colson 1929, 2:282–85).

Philo often describes God using a via negativa, insisting that God does not share in any human suffering, misfortune, or evil:

  •  Philo Cher.   86 "He is without grief or fear or share of ill (alupos esti kai aphobos kai akoinônêtos kakôn) without faintheartedness or pain or weariness" (Colson 1929, 2:60–61).

Suggestions for Reading

13–17 Teaching About That Which Does (not) Come from God

Thematic Contrast


Ancient Texts

18a Of his own will Willing in Greek Philosophy Although the verb boulomai is common; its use here may have a background in Greek philosophy.

One of the Three Good Emotional States

The Stoics identified the cognate noun boulêsis as one of the three good emotional states (eupatheia) that are the opposite of the vices. According to  Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.116:

  • joy (chara; Ancient Texts 1:2) is the opposite of pleasure (hêdonê; Ancient Texts 4:1; Ancient Texts 4:1b);
  • caution (eulabeia) is the opposite of fear (phobos);
  • wishing / willing (boulêsis) is the opposite of desire (epithumia; Jas 1:14–15).
  • Similarly, Aristotle Rhet. 1.10 [1369a] refers to wish (boulêsis) as a rational desire (logistikê orexis), while epithumia and anger (orgê) are irrational desires (alogoi orexeis).

Depending Virtues

Under the heading of boulêsis, the Stoics grouped the following virtues. Each one promotes good relationships between humans, while the vice of epithumia leads to conflicts.  Thus for Diogenes Laërtius Vit. Phil. 7.116 these are:

  • benevolence (eunoia);
  • friendliness (eumeneia);
  • respect (aspasmos);
  • affection (agapêsis).

James thus uses the verb boulomai to emphasize God's free choice to create (i.e., he did not create out of necessity; Peritestamental Literature 1:18a).


Christian Tradition

17b Father of lights Frequent Allusions Christian writers, attracted by the beauty of the passage, frequently allude to Jas 1:17 by incorportating images and vocabulary without direct quotation:

  •   John of Damascus Fid. orth. 90 [4.17] "[Scripture] sets our mind (dianoia) on the gold-gleaming, brilliant back of the divine dove, whose bright pinions bear up to the only-begotten (monogenês) Son and Heir of the Husbandman of that spiritual Vineyard and bring us through Him to the Father of Lights" (NPNF2 9:89b; Kotter 2010, 209–10).
  • Symeon the New Theologian Hymn. 12.54–55: "For God is in all things and everywhere, in whom there is not at all a shadow of change (tropês aposkiasma), or presence of night" (Koder 2003, 1:246).
  • Augustine of Hippo Conf. 3.6.10 "But I was hungering and thirsting not for those primary works but for you yourself, you who are Truth, in whom is no variation or shadow of turning" (non est commutatio nec momenti obumbratio; Hammond 2016, 1:106–7).

Visual Arts

1:1–5:20 James Depictions of the Author Depictions of James, the author of the epistle, in paintings, statues, manuscript illustrations, engravings, woodcuts, and embroidery on liturgical vestments are particularly prominent in the Middle Ages. A common consensus of the artists is that the author of the epistle is James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem church; he is typically further identified with James, son of Alphaeus, one of Jesus' Twelve (Mk 3:18), and "James the Less" (Mk 15:40). The iconography of James draws particularly on accounts of James recorded in Eusebius of Cesarea Hist. eccl. 23 and Jerome Vir. ill. 2, who in turn draw on accounts from Clement of Alexandria and Hegesipus. See also →James: Introduction

Several prominent features of these portrayals may be noted:

  • Following the tradition that he was the first bishop of Jerusalem, James is often portrayed anachronistically in bishop's vestments.
  • James is often portrayed holding a fuller's club, alluding to the tradition that James was beaten to death with a such a club. Variations show him holding different types of clubs. Another related tradition shows James holding a bow such as one used by hat-makers of the Middle Ages.
  • James bears a striking physical resemblance to his brother Jesus.
  • One artistic tradition, based on accounts found in the preface to the Gloss. Ord. and de Voragine Leg. aur., portrays the infant James as part of a large extended family. According to this legend, St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary, had three children named Mary with three different husbands. James and his brothers Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude (cf. Mk 6:3) are the sons of Mary (daughter of Anne and Cleophas; cf. Jn 19:25) and Alphaeus (cf. Mk 3:18). James and his brothers are thus cousins of Jesus (son of Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim) and of St. John the Evangelist and James the Greater (sons of Mary, daughter of Anne and Salomas).

The following images are noteworthy:

  • A painting of James in the Armenian Sts. James Cathedral, Jerusalem: James is dressed in episcopal robes, wears a miter and holds a crozier (Gowler 2014, 54).
  • Blessed James Apostle. In the Stav. Bib. (1093-97) illuminations of the apostle James are at the introduction to the Catholic epistles (f. 197 r→) and at the beginning of his epistle (f. 197 v→.). The apostle stands, holding a book.
  • Apostle James the Less, statue, south portal of Chartres Cathedral, early 13th century.

Anonymous, James Among Other Apostles (sculpture on limestone, early 13th c.),  South Portal, Chartres Cathedral, France

© D.R. Photo Mary Ann Sullivan→ 

James holds a club.

  • Leonardo da Vinci (1495-98), The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan. 

Giampietrino (1495–1549), The Last Supper (oil on canvas, ca. 1520, after Leonardo da Vinci [1452–1519], The Last Supper [1495-1498]),  298 cm x 770 cm

Royal Academy of Arts, London, exhib. Magdalen College, Oxford

Public Domain © Wikicommons→ 

James, who resembles his brother Jesus, is second from his left. This full-scale copy was the main source for the— unfortunate—twenty-year restoration of the original (1978–1998). It includes several lost details such as Christ's feet, the transparent glass decanters on the table, and the floral motifs of the tapestries that decorate the room's interior.  It was first mentioned in 1626 by the author Bartolomeo Sanese as hanging in the Certosa di Pavia, a monastery near Pavia, Italy, but it is unlikely that it was intended for this location. At some point, the upper third of the picture was cut off, and the width was reduced. Giampietrino is thought to have worked closely with Leonardo when he was in Milan. A very fine, full-size copy of this painting, before it was cut down, is installed at Tongerlo Abbey in Westerlo, near Antwerp, Belgium. 

  • Lucas Cranach the Elder (1509), Infant Saint James among his relations, a triptych in the Stadelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, Germany. The infant Jesus, his mother Mary, and Mary's mother St. Anne are portrayed in the center. To the right is St. Anne's other daughter Mary, her husband Zebedee, and sons John the Evangelist and James the Greater. To the left is another of St. Anne's daughters named Mary with her husband Alphaeus; their children James, Joses (Joseph), Simon, and Jude are in the left and center panels.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553), The Holy Kinship, (mixed media on lime, Wittenberg, 1509), Altarpiece, central panel: 100.4 × 121.1 cm; wings: 40 × 120 cm

Städel Museum — 1398, Frankfurt am Main

Public Domain © Wikicommons→

The side and central panels describe a a great hall with blue grey walls and three-colored tiles. In the side panels are depicted the half sisters of Virgin Mary, called after their fathers Mary Cleophas (left) and Mary Salome (right) together with their husbands.

Left panel: St. Mary Cleophas and Alphaeus (with the features of Friedrich the Wise with their two sons, the Apostles St. James the Less (at her breast) and Joseph Justus, called St. Barnabas, as annunciator of the Gospel of Matthew depicted with a book.

Central panel: Joseph, who seems to seems to sleep, the Virgin, dressed in blue with yellow lining, Anna and the Christ Child on her knee, who is stretching out his hand towards an apple given to him by Virgin Mary. Anna's three husbands following de Voragine Leg. aur. are shown in the background in the matroneum: on the left Joachim, who is attracted by the holy women in front of him and whose relation is also shown by the corresponding blue and yellow color of his dress, Cleophas (with the physiognomy and chain of Emperor Maximilian I and Salomas, with the physiognomy of Sixtus Oelhafen von Schöllenbach, secretary of Friedrich III, Maximilian I and Karl V), who are talking to each other. There is an architectural structure by a great stone bench in the foreground of the central panel with two marble columns on the sides, over which is strectched a cloth of gold. On the right column is a tablet with date and signature: [LVCAS CHRONVS FACIEBAT ANNO 1509. The parapet of the matroneum is decorated by a sculptured frieze with dancing putti holding six escutcheons with the six fields of Electorate of Saxony. In the hall are shown the 17 members of the Holy Kinship. In the central panel are shown two more children of Mary Cleophas and Alpheus, the Apostles Simon, patron saint of weavers, dyers, tanners and saddlers and Jude, who went on mission and suffered their martyrdom together and therefore are regularly depicted together.

Right panel: St. Mary Salome and Zebedee (with the features of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, and his brother Herzog Johann der Beständige). St. Mary Salome, dressed in gold with dark red lining, is combing her son Saint James the Greater and while Saint John the Evangelist is hiding in her dress.

  • Paolo Veronese (Caliari) James as Bishop (1500s). Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK. The Bridgeman Art Library. James with crozier and miter, holding a book.

Paolo Veronese Cagliari (1528-1888), Saint James, (oil on canvas, ca. 1578), 200 X 85 cm, One of the volets of the organ of the church of San Jacopo, Murano, Venice — the other is a portrait of St. Augustine.

Burghley House Collection, Lincolnshire, UK, © A Graduate of Pomona→

  • Saint James the Less, painting by El Greco (c. 1612), Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain. 

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El Greco (Domenikos Theotokópoulos) 1541-1614, The Apostle James the Greater, (Oil on canvas, 1610-1614), 100 cm X 80 cm

 Museo de El Greco→ (Toledo, Spain), © Wikicommons, 

James is shown holding a Bible, symbolizing his status as a scriptural writer, in one hand. James is depicted in the Mannerist style with elongated form and without any of the traditional iconographic symbols

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Nicolò Bambini (1651-1736), San Giacomo Minore (Oil on canvas, 1722-1723), Communion of St James (Series of the Twelve Apostles), Presbytery: right wall, center, Saint Stae,Venezia, © Chorus Venezia→ 

The risen Jesus appears to James and breaks bread with him (based on an account recorded in Jerome Vir. ill. 2, said to be drawn from the Gospel according to the Hebrews).

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Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – 1715), Jacobus Minor (Sculpture on marble, 1710-1711), Gli Apostoli, (h: 424 cm), Nef, San Giovanni in Laterano, Roma, © Wikicommons

James holds a book and club.

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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902), James the Lesser, (Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, 1886-1894), 30.6 x 23.5 cm, Brooklyn Museum, 00.159.237, © Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008

James, resembling Jesus, prayers on his knees with outstretched arms. It perhaps reflects Hegesippus' statement that James spent so much time in prayer that his knees were as hard as a camel's.

Eastern Orthodox traditions

  • James the Just, Russian icon, 16th century. Novgorod. James is depicted in episcopal robes and holds a book.

Anonymous, James the Just, (pigments on wood, mid. 16th c.), icon, Novgorod or Moskow, Novgorod

Public Domain © Wikicommons→,

The inscription bearing the name of the saint has disappeared, but the iconography—facial features and beard shape —suggest that the icon is of James. Byzantine art places him among the founding fathers of the Church. As the creator of the first liturgy containing memorial services and the author of the message, which speaks of the healing power of prayer (Jas 5:14-16), he was also worshipped in ancient times as a healer. In Novgorod, James is prayed for the end of the epidemics. In sacred iconography, the representations of James of Jerusalem alone are very rare. We know the icons of Novgorod in which he is represented with other saints: Nicholas the Thaumaturgist, James the brother of God, Ignatius the bearer of God, end of the 15th c.; James the brother of God, Cosmas and Damian, 2nd quarter of the 16th c. The icon comes from the best workshops in Moscow or Novgorod.

  • Martyrdom of James the Just. Illustration from the Menologion of Basil II. (PG 117:6-612). Late 10th, early 11th c. AD. Vatican Library. 1613. Image 131.→  

For discussion of visual depictions, see Gowler 2014, 53-62; Bedford 1911.



17c alternation or obumbration of change Technical Astronomical Vocabulary


The noun parallagê (from parallassô) has the general sense of variation or a changing motion, especially alternating motion. It can also have a more specific astronomical sense (cf. the technical term "parallax"):

  • Strabo Geogr. 17.3.10 "the swiftness of its [the sun's] course" (tachos tês parallagês; Jones 1917, 8:176);
  • Cat. Cod. Astr. 8/3: 113: describes the changing motion of stars.


The noun aposkiasma is a hapax legomenon. It comes from the verb apo-skiazô "to throw a shadow from one object upon another" (cf. epi-skiazô "to throw a shadow upon" and kata-skiazô "to throw a shadow down upon"). James alludes to how shadows are cast by the apparent movement of the sun.

Change: Seasons of the Astronomical Year?

The noun tropê means "turning" or "change." It is frequently used in astronomical contexts. The "change" of the sun, e.g., winter or summer solstices:

  • Hesiod Op. 479: êelioio tropês (Most 2007, 126);
  • G-Dt 33:14 : the sun's changes: (hêliou tropôn);
  • Ws 7:18b: "The beginning and the end and the midpoint of times, the changes (tropôn) in the sun's course and the variations of the seasons."
  • See also Aristotle Cael. 2.14 [296b]: the turnings of the fixed stars.

See also Grammar Jas 1:17c.


17c obumbration of change Genetivus Explicativus?  The unclear expression can be understood as "shadow caused by change." James would here allude to how shadows change (lengthening or shortening) accordingly to the position of the sun which changes with the seasons (Vocabulary Jas1:17c).

  •  Ps.-Oecumenius Comm. Ep. Cath. ad loc. takes "shadow" in a metaphorical sense: James says poetically that in God there is not the slightest hint or suggestion of change (col. 464d).

Literary Devices

15a when desire has conceived PERSONIFICATON: Sexual Imagery James personifies the forces of desire, sin, and death (see Rom 7:10–11). His feminine imagery may allude to the portrayal in Prv 5 of folly as a woman who seduces a young man away from the righteous path. The sexual imagery also builds on the sexual connotation of epithumia ("desire"). E.g., Ex 20:17: "You shall not covet (epithumeô) your neighbor's wife").


Ancient Texts

17c no alternation or obumbration of change Unchangeableness of the Divine The unchangeableness of the divine is a standard assumption in much of Greco-Roman philosophy:

  • Aristotle Cæl. 1.9 [279A] "in the more popular philosophical works, where divinity is in question, it is often made abundantly clear by the discussion that the foremost and highest divinity (to theion) must be entirely immutable" (ametablêton; Guthrie 1939, 92).
  • Aristotle Phys. 8.5 [258b] "the prime mover is unmoved" (to prôtôn kinoun akinêton;Wicksteed 1957, 336).
  • Plato Resp. 2 [381C] "it is impossible for a god to even want to change" (Adam 1902, 1:210); cf. also Ancient Cultures 1:17c.

Peritestamental Literature

17a every perfect gift Perfection of God’s Gifts Philo teaches similarly:

  •  Philo Migr. 73 "But God bestows (charizetai) on those who obey Him no imperfect boon (ouden ateles). All His gifts are full and complete" (plêrê de kai teleia panta; Colson 1932, 4:172–73)
  •  Philo Post. 80 "God's gifts are all good" (dôreai d' hai tou theou kalai pasai; Colson 1929, 2:372–73); cf.  Philo Somn. 1.103: speech as the most excellent of God's gifts. See also Christian Tradition 1:17a.


Comparison of Versions

13ff God cannot be tried Active or Passive? V takes the Greek apeirastos in an active sense, "God is not a tempter of evil things/ bad people" (intemptator malorum); S take it as a passive expression: "God is not tempted by the evil (things)" (l’ mnsy bbyšt’; Grammar 1:13b).


17 A Favorite Liturgical Text

Christian Tradition

13f tried by his own desire Proof-text for Free Will and a Unified Human Nature

A Proof-text for the Reality of Human Free Will

  •  Augustine of Hippo Grat. (2) 3 writing to refute the belief that God's grace takes away true free will, comments on Jas 1:13–15 and other passages, "Look, we see most clearly expressed the free choice of the human will" (liberum humanae voluntatis arbitrium; Teske 1999, 72; PL 44:883); cf. also Jerome Adv. Jov. 2.3.  
  •  Augustine of Hippo Pecc. merit. 2.4: The petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation," is a call to God to help us overcome the temptation of our own desire (concupisence) that remains in every person due to original sin; it is not a temptation from God (Jas 1:13;Teske 1999, 83; Urba and Zycha 1902, 73); cf. Augustine of Hippo Serm.  58.9.
  •  Aquinas ST 1-2.9.2): "It is written (Jas 1:14): 'Every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured.' But man would not be drawn away by his concupisence, unless his will (voluntas) were moved by the sensitive appetite (appetitus sensitivus), wherein consupiscence resides." Thomas explains that a person can allow his free will to be dominated by a passion.
  • Erasmus lib. arbit. cites Jas 1:13–15 as proof of free will in his debate with Luther (Macardle 1999, 43; Walter 1910, 43). On the Lutheran side, Chemnitz Loc. Theo. 6.1 refers to the same passage in his nuanced understanding of free will, "When we say that the will is free in evil things…we have in mind Jas 1:14, Prv 2:14, Rom 1:28, Eph 4:18" (Preus 2008, 1:416).
  • WCF 9.1: Cited as a proof-text for the doctrine, "God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to do good or evil" (CCFCT  2:618; Carruthers 1937, 109).

A Proof-text for a Unified Human Nature

  •  Augustine of Hippo Contin. (7) 18 cites this text against the Manichean postition that two natures or principles, one good and one evil, are at war within each human. Rather, human nature is created good, but through human fault became corrupted: healing comes when the original goodness is restored with God's help. James clarifies that a person is tempted by his own desire, not by an alien nature (Kearney 1999, 203-4; Zycha 1900, 162)

15a bears sin Providing an Example and Specifying the Metaphor

  •  Fulgentius of Ruspe Ep. 1.12 applies James' description to his discussion of women who desire to marry after they have vowed celibacy (Bachelet 2004, 92).
  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. specifies James' metaphor: "Desire is the mother of sin; the father is free will" (libera voluntas; 20:62).

15b gives birth to death Earning Eternal Death

Parallel structure

 Bede Ep. cath. points out the parallel in James' thought.

  • The one who endures temptation will receive the crown of life (Jas 1:12)
  • The one who is overcome by temptation earns death (Jas 1:15; Hurst 1983, 189; Hurst 1985, 15–16).

Eternal Death

The interpretative tradition understands James' reference as a spiritual death:

  • Palamas Hom. 32.13: James refers here to "eternal (aiônios) death, the departure (chôrismos) of God from the soul on account of sin" (dia hamartian); for those who do not repent, this spiritual death is followed by eternal damnation (Veniamin 2009, 256–57).

16 Do not be led astray Error of Thinking that God Tempts Humans A consensus of patristic and medieval commentators understood this verse to apply to the error of thinking that God tempts people:

17a every good giving Identify of the “Good Gift”

God's Gift of Grace

The tradition sees here a reference to God's freely given grace. The passage then became a focus on debates about the relationship between God's grace and human free will.

  • Arguing that even faith is undeserved gift from God, Augustine of Hippo Ep. 186.10 writes: "For this reason even the merit of a human being is a gratuitous gift (ipsum hominis meritum donum est gratuitem), and no one merits to receive anything good from the Father of lights, from whom every best gift comes down, except by receiving what he does not merit" (Teske 2005, 3: 214; Goldbacher 1923, 57: 53–54). Cf. also Augustine of Hippo Ep. 194.21 where Augustine applies the passage to righteousness: it is God's gift, not earned.
  •  Augustine of Hippo Pat. 12 quotes this passage to teach that true patience (patientia) is a gift of God, not a virtue that one can attain through free will, as some erroneously believe.  Such thinking, Augustine asserts, again quoting James, is "not a wisdom from above, but an worldly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom" (Jas 3:15; NPNF1 3:531; Zycha 1892, 676).
  •  Cassian Coll. 13.3.5 gives the example of a farmer who produces a bountiful harvest. The harvest is due in part to is hard work, but he could not have achieved his success without God's grace in the form of God's gifts of timely rain, bodily strength, etc. "From this it is clear that the torigin not only of good acts but even of good throughts is in God (non solum actuum verum etiam cogitationum bonarum ex deo esse principium). He both inspires in us the beginnings of a holy will  (qui nobis et initia sanctae voluntatis inspirat), and grants the ability and the opportunity to bring to fulfillment the things that we rightly desire (virtutem atque oportunitatem eorum quae recte cupimus tribuit peragendi): for 'every good gift and every perfect benefit is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.' He it is who begins what is good and carries out and fulfills it in us" (qui et incipit quae bona sunt et exsequitur consummat in nobis; Ramsey 1997, 468; Petschenig 1886, 364; cf. Augustine of Hippo Conf. 3.16; Cassian Inst. 12.10).
  •  Fulgentius of Ruspe Ep. 4.6, explicating Jas 1:17ab, "There is no human who is able either to conceive or to do anything good, unless he is aided by the free gift of divine help" (nisi fuerit munere gratuito divinae opitulationis adiutus; Bachelet 2004, 212–13). Fulgentius's interpretation is quoted in the Gloss. Ord. (V) (col. 1270).
  • Maximus the Confessor Quae. Thal. 59.3 applies the passage to the grace of the Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets (Laga and Steel 1980, 2:47; Constas 2018, 413).
  • John of the Cross Cánt. Esp. 30.7 says similarly that that all good gifts are from God (quoting Jas 1:17ab, but notes that "still they enter into no soul without that soul’s concurrence and consent" (Kavanaugh and Rodríguez 1991, 347).
  •  Baptist Statement 25 "That there is not, neither ever was any man endued with any abilities and power to do the revealed will of God, but it was given him from above" (citing Jas 1:17; 3:95; Theology 1:17a).

Reformation Debate on Free Will and God's Grace

  • The Reformer Carolstadt Leip. Dis. asserts that the phrase "every good gift comes down" shows that free will cannot merit anything for itself independent of God's grace [27]).
  • Eck Ench. 31 cites Jas 1:17 as a text used by the "heretics" for their positions on free will (Fraenkel 1979, 319). Eck's response: "We believe that our merits are gifts from God, and given by God preveniently, cooperatively, and subsequently (data a Deo praeveniente, cooperante, et subsequente), but we do not deny that through this free will collaborates actively in a meritorius way" (non negatur per hoc liberum arbitrium concurrere active ad merita; Fraenkel 1979, 322).
  • Erasmus lib. arbit. Pt. 3 cites Jas 1:17 in a discussion on scriptural passages that seem to deny free will. The good gift of free will should indeed be understood as God's grace, but God's grace as the ultimate source of goodness. "These verses too aim to prevent us from claiming anything for ourselves and to make us attribute everything to the grace of God (ne quid arrogemus nobis, sed omnia referamus accepta gratiae divinae), who called us when we had turned away from him, purified us through faith, and enabled our will to be the co-worker with his grace (qui hoc ipsum donavit, ut nostra voluntas possit esse sunergos illius gratiae), even though grace alone is more than sufficient for everything and has no need of any assistance from human will" (Macardle 1999, 68; Walter 1910, 71).

Distinction Between the "Good Thing Given" and the "Perfect Gift."

The Latin tradition distinguishes between "every good thing given" (omne datum optimum) and the "every perfect gift" (omne donum perfectum).

  •  Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. gives two specific identifications: omne datum optimum: baptism; omne donum perfectum: penance; omne datum optimum: virginity; omne donum perfectum: continence (col. 66).

Eriugena, in his commentary on Ps.-Dionysius' Celestial Hierarchy, associated the datum with the goodness of nature, the donum with God's grace:

  • Eriugena Exp. Ier. Cael. 1.1 "everything that exists participates in the divine goodness in two ways (duobus modis divinam participat bonitatem), the first is seen in the creating of nature (in conditione nature), the other in the distrubution of grace" (in distributione gratie). Omne datum optimum (Eriugena prefers to render it as omnis datio optima) refers to every created thing, since Genesis states that God created all things good. Every thing good by nature reaches its perfection through God's grace which is given from above (Barbet 1975, 1–2; Rorem 2005, 180–81).

Eriugena's distinction is followed in much of later medieval tradition:

  • Gloss. Ord. ad loc.: the datum refers to nature (natura); the donum to grace (gratia); the Glossa clarifies that good of nature is also from God. The Glossa also associates the datum with the virtues and the donum with the performance of the virtues (executiuum ipsarum virtutuum) and the perfection of eternal life. In the context of baptism, the datum refers to baptismal grace, and the donum perfectum is the giving of the Holy Spirit (cols. 1269–70).
  • Langton Comm. Iac., noting that V uses the superlative optimum, concludes that this implies a ranking of goods in the datum: temporal goods are good, goods of the body are better, and goods of the soul are the best (Arnold 2013, 88). Hugh of St. Cher Post. offers a variation: temporary goods are good, natural goods (naturalia) are better, the best in this life are the virtues and gifts (gratiae; 313).
  • Dionysius the Carthusian En. jac. ad loc. comments that the datum includes the superior characteristics of humans (memory, intellect, and will), while the donum includes the infused, supernatural virtues (563).

Sexual Purity as God's Gift

  •  Jerome Adv. Jov. 1.39 believes that in this passages James, who was himself celibate, teaches in a "mystical sense" about virginity (mystice virginitatem docet). "Every perfect gift comes down from above, where marriage is unknown" (NPNF2, 6:377; PL 23:278).

Jerome quotes Jas 1:17–18 together, perhaps seeing in verse 18's reference to God giving birth to us by the word of truth a reference to virginity. Augustine of Hippo Ep. 188.6 also quotes this verse in writing of sexual purity as a gift of God's grace. Ps.-Hilary of Arles Tract. Iac. ad loc. identifies the "good giving" (omne datum) with virginity (col 66).

Other Interpretations.

 John of Damascus Fid. orth. 88 [4.15] alludes to this passage in citing the efficacy of intercessory prayers to saints (NPNF2, 9:87; Kotter 1975, 204).

Lapide Comm. does not distinguish between the good giving (donum) and the perfect gift, as did the earlier tradition. He offers a variety of interpretations of the good or perfect gift from the tradition:

  • wisdom and patience;
  • love (cf. 1Cor 13);
  • the perfect strengthening given in the sacrament of confirmation (20:65–67).

God Sends Both Good and Bad

  • Didymus the Blind Ep. can. ad loc. comments that some interpreters take this verse to mean that only good things come from God. But in light of passages such as Mi 1:12 ("But evil has come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem"), it clear that the judgments of God come to people as both pleasant and sad. Both are involved in the whole providence of God (cuncta providentia Dei; Zoepfl 1914, 4).
  • From a different perspective, Eckhart Serm. (D) 4 teaches that for those who love God, everything that occurs to them, including illness or poverty, is the best gift, because it is God's will (Quint 1958, 1:60–74; Tobin 1986, 247–9).

All Good Things are from God

  • Lapide Comm. ad loc. : every good thing given is from the giving God; every truly bad thing given is not from God, but either from a demon or from our desire (concupiscentia; 20:63).
  • Ris Menn. Art. 6 "we must here carefully distinguish between what God works directly…(It is of the highest importance to note this distinction, wherefore James says, 'Do not err' (Jas 1:16). God does not bring about the evil of sin, but permits, yet limits and overrules it"  (CCFCT, 3:159; Ris 1766, 16-17); cf. the citation of Jas 1:17 in the article on God's Providence in Presbyt. Conf. 6  (Christian Tradition 1:13-14).


14 desire Concupiscense V and the Latin tradition translate desire (epithumia) with concupiscentia

  • CCC 2515 elaborates on the meaning of concupiscense: “Etymologically, 'concupiscence' can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite (motus appetitus sensibilis) contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the 'flesh against the 'spirit' (cf. Gal 5:16,17,24; Eph 2:3). Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man's moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins" (cf. Conc. Trid. Pecc. orig., [DzH 1515]; Christian Tradition 1:14).