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Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17, NIV)

According to scripture & academics, what is considered to be a 'good and perfect gift'? Is it considered to be a material gift like a dog, career, spouse – or is it considered to be a spiritual gift?

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James Hardy Ropes says, of Jm 1:17 (page 158):

πᾶσα, “every”. Various commentators assign here the meaning "only," "nothing but" (see note on πᾶσαν χαρὰν, v 2). But this is not necessary to the sense here, and is rendered almost, but not quite, impossible by the order of words πᾶσα δόσις ἀγαθὴ. πᾶς with the sense of "only" (Ger. lauter) should stand next to the adjective to which it logically belongs, and usually stands directly before it.

δόσις, "gift", either the act of giving or the thing given. Here the parallelism to δώρημα makes the latter sense probable. Cf. Ecclus. 1117 2614 3211. The word is very common in Ecclesiasticus.

ἀγαθή. On this word lies strong emphasis, in contrast to the evil πειρασμός which ἡ ἰδία ἐπιθυμία and not God brings to man. The omission of the writer to make the implied complementary statement, that bad gifts do not come from God, adds to the rhetorical effect.

δώρημα, "present,", "donation," "benefaction"; cf. Rom. 516. A mainly poetical word. Not quite happily rendered by R.V. "boon."

τέλειον, cf. 14, 25 32. "Perfect" in this case (note parallel to ἀγαθή) excludes any element of evil in the gift. Cf. 32 τέλειος ἀνήρ (...)

So according to him, the words used (δόσις and δώρημα), and principally the fact that this expression stands in contrast to πειρασμός "temptation" which comes from ἡ ἰδία ἐπιθυμία "his [man's] own concupiscence" from 1:13-15, mean that the sacred author is speaking of spiritual gifts more than physical ones. This analysis is fairly typical on Catholic and most mainline Protestant theologians.

  • Very concise and understandable. Thank you for your input :) – Oliver K Feb 16 '17 at 22:48
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The perfect gift is Jesus Christ.

James is telling us that God is a generous God, a God which gave many gifts to mankind, but the greatest gift all is the "perfect gift", his only begotten son Jesus Christ. God by Jesus sacrifice, provided the ransom required to free mankind from the bondage of sin and death,so that those exercising faith in Jesus Christ, can have everlasting life . John wrote :

NRSV John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

James 1:17(NRSV)

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Paul also made reference to God's generosity, that words cannot fully describe.

2 Corinthians 9:15

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable free gift."

NRSV Romans 5:15-17

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.

16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.

17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

  • I think your answer depends on the giving and the gift being singular while James speaks of "every act of giving" and "every good gift". I think it okay to apply this to the singular gift but not to exegete it that way. God gives other gifts. -1 – Ruminator Mar 24 at 12:43
  • Ruminator :True as you said, God, gave many gifts to mankind, but the greatest of all is," Jesus", Jesus said: (John 3:16)“For God so loved the world, that He gave His [a]only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." – Ozzie Nicolas Mar 24 at 18:17
  • The context under consideration has πᾶσα ("every") good and perfect gift, meaning it is a group of things, not just one gift. IE: Consider Pentecost. Consider: [Luk 11:13 KJV] (13) If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? Also, "gave" in John 3:16 is not as in "a gift" but rather "gave" as in "delivered to be slaughtered". And "world"... not what people think! And..., in Romans 5, the gift is "righteousness" (IE: the forgiveness of sins). – Ruminator Mar 24 at 18:26
  • In view of what it accomplishes, there is no doubt that God’s gift of the ransom, which makes everlasting life possible, is the greatest gift of all. – Ozzie Nicolas Mar 24 at 18:31
  • Okay, thanks. I guess the question was worded to allow that. I took off the -1. Peace. – Ruminator Mar 24 at 18:48
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The πάσα δόσις αγαθή and παν δώρημα τέλειον stand here in a hendyadioin couplet, that is to say, two expressions standing for basically one notion. That which is from "above" ἄνωθεν is heavenly and imperishable as distinct from the earthly and perishable, just like in the opposition of the "heavenly wisdom" that "is pure and peace-loving" (James 3:17) against the "earthly wisdom" that nurtures "selfish ambitions" and is "unspiritual" (ibid 3:14-15). Now, the spiritual gift is more precisely the gift of Holy Spirit which a believer receives and should cultivate in his heart to bring His, the Spirit's, fruits, which are "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23), and since those fruits are fruition of God's Spirit dwelling in us as in living temples (1 Cor. 6:19), so bearing them makes us divine, and we become channels of God's Spirit in our lives and human history, but also after death we retain and even multiply those gifts so that we have the life in Spirit "in excess" (John 10:10), that is to say, in infinite growth from "power to power" (Psalm 84:7).

A more down-to-earth, but still possibly valid interpretation would be if "perfect gift" is taken in a more relativistic terms; that is to say, according to differences of human beings and their spiritual/intellectual/moral preparedness God dispenses to all "perfectly", that is to say, optimally to this condition. For a clarifying instance, in this understanding, a "perfect gift" for a man who is talented in athleticism and finds joy in winning tournaments, would be to provide him with a good coach, equipment etc., but for a man who is bored of such a lower sort of joy, like winning tournaments, and aspires to something higher, the "perfect gift" would be a good course in philosophy, in which he can read many interesting books and discuss them with fellow-scholars, participate in conferences etc. Thus, both are good gifts from God, but dispensed according to what is joyfully and freely acceptable to both. Thus, indiscreet parents often torment their children asking from them more than they can or are talented to fulfil, whereas God's gift for them would have been more enjoyable and creativity-provoking, for His "yoke is sweet and his burden - light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

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Disclaimer: I have no formal training in the biblical languages.

Q. What does James 1:17 mean by 'perfect gift'?

The Greek word translated "gift" can refer to both of these:

  • the act of giving: "donate"
  • that which is given: "donation"

It seems to normally be taken as referring to just the latter, the gift itself by most but I believe the actual referents are both the act of giving itself AND the thing given. Therefore, to answer the question, no, it does not refer to "stuff" nor does it refer to "spiritual gifts". I think the Berean Literal Bible nailed it:

Berean Literal Bible Every good act of giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of shifting.

Only God is free from any hidden agenda; God and those who are born of God, because true generosity = love and love is from God, only those who are born of God can truly love:

[1Jo 4:7-8 NLT] (7) Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. (8) But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

John says that love (IE: benevolence, unmixed goodness) is inborn:

[1Jo 3:9 NLT] (9) Those who have been born into God's family do not make a practice of sinning, because God's life is in them. So they can't keep on sinning, because they are children of God.

James says that it was God's intention and accomplishment that the believer live out the life of God, as Jesus did:

[Jas 1:18, 21-22 NLT] (18) He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. ... (21) So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. (22) But don't just listen to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.

The word translated "planted" (ἔμφυτος) refers to that which is "inborn" or "congenital".

Only those born of God are capable of loving generosity.

In fact, if you know the tastiness of the fruit you can induce the quality of the tree. [I insert some bracketed text to show the different Greek words used]:

[Mat 7:17-18 KJV] (17) Even so every good [IE: "valuable"] tree bringeth forth good [IE: "tasty"] fruit; but a corrupt [IE: "worthless"] tree bringeth forth evil [IE: "nasty"] fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. [Luk 6:43 KJV] (43) For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. [Mat 12:33 KJV] (33) Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.

So the believer's inner life is on display in the value of their actions.

NLT Matthew 5: 43“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’r and hate your enemy. 44But I say, love your enemies!s Pray for those who persecute you! 45In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47If you are kind only to your friends,t how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

The idea of worthless plants is repeated oft:

[Mat 15:13 KJV] (13) But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.

And the valuable, fruitful trees of the LORD are repaid:

[Isa 61:3 KJV] (3) To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.

Related:

[Gal 5:22 KJV] (22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

[Eph 5:9 KJV] (9) (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)

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The good and perfect reside in the Giver. He has plans we know not of. He uses the best of times and the worse of times, for HE alone is good. When we end our pursuit, HE begins. Something is being promised here of The Father, for our welfare! We may have to wait and see, what He has plans for us. Both the good and perfect gift comes from the Giver. Our trials cause us, to look to Him, in assurance, that He intercedes in our behalf!

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