James 1:17

James 1:17  (see also 1st John 1:5)
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lightswith whom there is no variation or shifting shadow

This verse should be interpreted from within vv.13-17, in which God does not tempt anyone.” 

James 1:13-16: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

The point is that temptation comes from within man, and not from God. Although God tests (with the desire that people pass), the devil tempts (with the intention of getting people to fail). The climax to this argument is a statement that expresses God’s holiness: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above.” The implication is that only good gifts come from God, as a follow-up to the fact that God never tempts, since God is completely good, and that there is no variation from His goodness.

4-Point Calvinist, William MacDonald: “It is not unusual for people who fall into sin to blame God instead of themselves. They say, in effect, to their Creator, ‘Why have you made me this way?’ But this is a form of self-deception. Only good gifts come from God. In fact, He is the source of every good and every perfect gift.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, p.2221, emphasis mine)

George Bryson: “If the Calvinist is right, then James could and perhaps should also have said: Every good and bad gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights and darkness.”  (The Dark Side of Calvinismp.372, emphasis mine)

For 5-Point High Calvinists, if God thought up the idea of sin, ordained it, and decreed the Fall accordingly, and rendered it certain, in having scripted whatsoever comes to pass, then it is difficult to argue with Bryson’s conclusion.

​Calvinism teaches that God created a class of the “non-elect” [i.e. The Others], purely out of necessity, to be bred for the use of the “elect.”

John Calvin: “Hence Augustine, having treated of the elect, and taught that their salvation reposes in the faithful custody of God so that none perishes, continues: The rest of mortal men who are not of this number, but rather taken out of the common mass and made vessels of wrath, are born for the use of the elect.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.107, emphasis mine)

  • A God who needs evil to accomplish good is not a perfectly good being.

  • A God who uses evil to accomplish good is an altogether different matter.

That’s a very important distinction to make, because one very common defense that Calvinists like to make is simply to say that whatever is a problem for them, is a problem for you too, and therefore you can’t use whatever argument that you are making. But such is not the case, when you consider the important distinction.

John Calvin: From other passages, in which God is said to draw or bend Satan himself, and all the reprobate, to his will, a more difficult question arises. For the carnal mind can scarcely comprehend how, when acting by their means, he contracts no taint from their impurity, nay, how, in a common operation, he is exempt from all guilt, and can justly condemn his own ministers. Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases, and employs their iniquities to execute his Judgments. The modesty of those who are thus alarmed at the appearance of absurdity might perhaps be excused, did they not endeavour to vindicate the justice of God from every semblance of stigma by defending an untruth. It seems absurd that man should be blinded by the will and command of God, and yet be forthwith punished for his blindness. Hence, recourse is had to the evasion that this is done only by the permission, and not also by the will of God. He himself, however, openly declaring that he does this, repudiates the evasion. That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture. (The Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 18, section 1, emphasis mine)

​​Question: What about all aspects of the occult, witchcraft and 
demonic activity? Is that also by the “secret instigation of God”? 
Do we wish to say that those things originated from the creative 
mind of God?

Answer: That seems to be the logical conclusion of Determinism.

John Calvin: “Certain shameless and illiberal people charge us with calumny by maintaining that God is made the author of sin, if His will is made first cause of all that happens. For what man wickedly perpetrates, incited by ambition or avarice or lust or some other depraved motive, since God does it by his hand with a righteous through perhaps hidden purpose--this cannot be equated with the term sin.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.181, emphasis mine) 

Why not? Because you say so?

The Calvinistic, Westminster Confession of Faith: “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.” (Of Providence, emphasis mine)

So God scripted sin, but is not the author of sin. How so?

The Westminster Confession of Faith: “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” (Of God’s Eternal Decree, emphasis mine)

A second cause merely extends the crime to an additional party, rather than alleviating it.

The simple fact of the matter is that James 1:17 proves that Calvinism is incompatible with Scripture.

Arminian, Josh Thibodaux: “On the question of God ordaining evil, one reference that struck me as relevant to the topic was 1 John 1:5: ‘This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.’ It’s clear that John is speaking of spiritual darkness (evil). It seems impossible that even as a means to a good end that a Being in whom there is no spiritual darkness can decree (and therefore be the sole primary cause of) evil, much less have such an action be in His heart and mind from all eternity.” (In Death or Life)

This quiz highlights the problem with Calvinistic Determinism. If there is an all-encompassing Script, in which all creation acts out its divinely assigned part, in which God is portrayed as an author writing a novel, such as J.R.R. Tolkien authoring Lord of the Rings, then the creative mind of God is the source of wickedness, which is contrary to His holy nature. The Determinist may have answered the quiz questions one way, but in honestly dealing with the matter, the need for consistency may necessitate that they revise some of their answers, which of course, will reveal the ultimate problem with Determinism.

This touches upon the #1 most common criticism against Calvinism, and #1 most common reason for rejecting it, which is how it affects the character of God. The complaint is that Calvinism sucks the goodness out of God, by making Him the “Author of Sin.” Calvinists vehemently deny this charge, but Arminians and non-Calvinists alike have always been puzzled as to how, and the ultimate answer given is that it’s a “mystery.”

​Question: Calvinists believe in absolute power, sovereignty and meticulous control, and now combine that with a world that has gone bad, and what do you get? 

Answer: The result is that the world must be exactly the way that a sovereign God wants it to be. Thus, to a Calvinist, bad must actually be somewhat good, especially if bad serves to magnify that which is good. But bad is never good, and so Calvinists must be conflicted. This is why I think that Calvinists are subconsciously afraid of God being good, because it would otherwise conflict with their reality of a sovereign God in a world that has gone bad, but it is not bad because of God, but because of sinful men, which God has sovereignly permitted, not because He desires bad, but tests, desiring that we do good, and form good moral character. Therefore, I think that Calvinists are left trying to deny that bad is really bad, since evil is nothing more than a by-product of God’s greater good, and you witness this kind of Calvinist thinking whenever something bad happens, and they deal with it by interpreting it as being somehow ultimately good. 

One Calvinist explains: “17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.....I agree with this verse completely, but where in this verses does it say that no evil comes from His hand? It just makes the statement that every good gift comes from Him of which I absolutely agree. This verse simply does not state that ONLY good gifts come God. But we know from other Scripture that many not good at all things also come from God. Amos 3:6 Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? Job 2:10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.”


Fact #1: Verse 17 is the climax for verses 13-16, and therefore to get v.17 right, you need to first consider the argument from which it is developed. 

Fact #2: Verses 13-16 explicitly states that God “does not tempt anyone,” and instead that temptations to do bad comes from within ourselves, and our own lusts. 

Fact #3: Verification that the bad, which we are tempted to do, and which is unique to ourselves, and not from God, is the fact that God is the source of every “good” thing given and every “perfect gift.” This is why Calvinist, William MacDonald comments: “It is not unusual for people who fall into sin to blame God instead of themselves. They say, in effect, to their Creator, ‘Why have you made me this way?’ But this is a form of self-deception. Only good gifts come from God. In fact, He is the source of every good and every perfect gift.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, p.2221)

Fact #4: The fact that God is good, and set apart from our bad, is not a temporary situation, but a permanent situation, in which there is no alteration of God’s exclusivity toward goodness.

Fact #5: If temptations do not come from God, because He is good, then it would be inconsistent to say that He is the source of all gifts, both good and bad.

Fact #6: For the Determinist, God is the origin of all gifts, both good and bad, but that’s not the point that James is making, as he is not talking about God giving bad gifts, especially since the reinforcement that God does not tempt is because He is good.

Fact #7: If God was the giver of all gifts, both good and bad, then it is superfluous for James to highlight that “good” gifts come from God, instead of just saying: “Every gift [period] is from above.”

As for Isaiah 45:1-7, in terms of God “forming light and creating darkness,” this is explained in the following clause, in terms of God “causing well-being and creating calamity,” which speaks not of God decreeing wickedness, but of delivering Judgment, which “calamity” of Judgment is also echoed at Amos 3:5-6. Even Calvinists acknowledge that this is speaking of calamity, rather than of causing wickedness. Calvinist, William MacDonald, comments: “The rendering calamity is much better in context.” (Believer’s Bible Commentary, p.993) No argument here.

As for Job 2:10, Job was mistaken several times, in thinking that God had it out for him, and was attacking him, and God corrected Job’s error at the end of the Book of Job, as one who speaks words without understanding, though not to degree of error as his friends. Job states: “If I should wash myself with snow and cleanse my hands with lye, yet You would plunge me into the pit, and my own clothes would abhor me.” (Job 9:30-31) The reality is that God was defending him, and allowed Job to enter a trial, in which the devil was tempting him, meaning that from God’s perspective of a trial, God wanted him to pass (after having praised Job’s character), while the devil was tempting Job, with the hope that he would fail, and curse God. Although Job never cursed God, he did waver, in thinking that God had it out for him, rather than being his defender. The fact that God took responsibility for what happened to Job is evident from Job 2:3, but only from the perspective that God permitted the devil to make his challenge. However, from the Determinist’s perspective, God caused every thought, caused the devil’s challenge, caused Job to waver, blamed Job for wavering, and thus makes nonsense of the entire body of Scripture, which I believe means little to the Determinist, as long as the most important thing of all is preserved: Determinism.

For additional discussion, consider the following article here.

Determinism Quiz

Question:  Do you believe in Determinism?

a. Yes
b. No

Question:  Is God holy?

a. Yes
b. No

Question:  Are wicked thoughts and intentions opposed to the holy nature of God?

a. Yes
b. No

Question:  Can what is inherently opposed to God’s holy nature ever be considered holy?

a. Yes
b. No

Question:  Likewise, the thoughts and intents originating in God’s mind, are they holy as well?

a. Yes
b. No

Question:  Speaking not of the mind itself (which originates from God), but of that which proceeds from the minds of created beings specifically: From whose mind and will did such wicked thoughts and intents initially originate? 

a. The will and mind of one or more created beings, independent of any necessitation by God.
b. The will and mind of God, which He deliberately necessitated in created beings.