James 1:16-18 16 Do not err, my beloved brethren. 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. 18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. — KJV
James 1:16-18 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. — NIV
James 1:16-18 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. — ESV
Greek Transliteration of James 1:16 with [Strong #] and brief definitions:
me  not, no, none, never planao  to roam, go astray, wander, err, deceive, seduce adephos  brother, sibling (connected by womb, literal or figurative) mou  I, me, my agapetos  beloved, dear
1.16.0 Introduction to James 1:16
Verse 16 is one of the shortest and seemingly most simple verses in the book of James. Naturally it will yield more questions for our study than most. This verse is generally brought into English as the first sentence of a paragraph consisting of verse 16 to 18. In the broader context it could also be applied as a follow-up to the preceding paragraph and broader still the overall theme of the chapter and book. It is a clear directive intended to grab and hold your attention. It is this directive and its meaning that will yield these next several questions.
1.16.1 What is the mood of this statement?
This question is admittedly subjective. However, there are clues. First, consider who is writing and who is being written to. A Spirit filled church leader, James the half brother of Jesus, is believed to be the author. Fellow believers whom James refers to as beloved brothers are the audience. The warning indicates a concern for the welfare of the audience. Concern demonstrates compassion. If James was willing to go to the trouble of writing a warning, framing it with love, he must have been passionate about the message he was trying to convey. In James 1:1 he refers to himself as a servant. This sense of humility is also seen in Verse 16. This statement is a directive, but you can almost feel James pleading with the reader to take to heart this message. Most other New Testament writers took a similar overall approach with their message, speaking with humility of self while still carrying the authority of Christ (ref 1 Cor 1:4; Heb 1:13-14; 2 Pe 1:2; 1 Jo 1:4; Jude 3). Jesus himself simultaneously exuded both humility and authority as he passionately sought to bring the message as well as the act of redemption.
Although James 1:16 is a brief verse and an incredible amount can be gleaned from this simple statement, taken in the broader context of James’ letter this statement stands out as powerful and important by virtue of its passion.
1.16.2 Who is James warning?
James uses the term “brother” 4 times in ch 1, three of those with beloved (or similar language). It was established in the study of the very first verse that James is specifically addressing his letter to fellow believers in Christ. Fellow believers are brothers. We may not always get along with our brothers, but they are still family.
1.16.3 What is deception?
The Greek word here is planao. According to Strong’s (KJV) it is used 27 times and the majority of the time it is translated as some form of deceive, but also as err, go astray, seduce and wander. Planao is defined as causing to lead astray as to lead from the right way where physically it means leading away from the correct path or wander about; metaphorically meaning to lead away from truth, to cause err, and lead toward sin.
In English synonyms include deceive, betray, mislead, beguile, delude, dupe, hoodwink, bamboozle, double-cross.
James 1:17-18 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Most translations put James 1:16 as the first phrase of a paragraph which also includes James 1:17-18. It is important to see the context to fully understand and appreciate how emphatic James is being and why. The implication here is that obviously there are those out there preaching that not all good gifts are from God, that God isn’t perfectly consistent, or that he didn’t bring us forth by the word of truth to be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. We know that false doctrines were everywhere in those days – just as they are today. James was fundamentally warning fellow believers not to be suckered by false teaching and gave some specific examples, not just in the next two verses, but throughout his letter.
1.16.4 Who is the source of deception?
Jn 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. In this passage Jesus was speaking to some Pharisees. The Pharisees were mere men, but Jesus charged them with doing Satan’s bidding. Men may execute deception, but Satan’s will is the true source of deception.
1.16.5 Does God deceive?
Titus 1:2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began* (*or before times eternal) By definition a deception implies intentional misleading or, more bluntly, it is a lie. God does not lie and therefore does not deceive.
1.16.6 If God doesn’t deceive, then what about these verses?
There are many seeming contradictions people point to in the bible in an effort to prove it wrong and, by extension, to destroy the faith of those who believe the bible to be true and accurate. What follows are four passages used for that purpose which at first appear to contradict Titus 1:2 and similar verses. With each verse is an attempt to explain logically how these verses are misinterpreted, misunderstood, or taken out of context.
1 Ki 22:20-23 and the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ Now therefore behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the Lord has declared disaster for you.” This passage is an excerpt from a story about a messenger named Micaiah who was – in these verses – telling the king what God had told him. The events that followed showed the prophesy was true. Perhaps this is only a technicality, but it is important to note from this passage that God himself used a willing spirit to go and lie. God didn’t personally lie, though he did allow a lie. This should not be viewed as unreasonable or unusual since he allows us to lie all the time. We do not know the nature of the spirit God used.
2 Thess 2:11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, The Greek for delusion in this sentence is Plane, a form of the word translated err or deceived in James 1:16. Since God doesn’t lie this is difficult to reconcile. One interpretation might follow 1 Kings 22, particularly since it is stated that God sends the delusion. It doesn’t say God delivers or even authors the delusion. Perhaps he only is controlling the routing of a lie and not actually creating it. Another interpretation would suggest that the purpose of the delusion is to prove for the public what God himself already knows about the hearts of the people described in the context.
Rev 17:17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. In this passage no technicality can rescue God. Of course with God no technicality is actually required, but that’s beside the point. First of all, notice that God had previously said he would do something and now he must fulfill what he said. This shows God will keep his earlier promise. Next, examine this verse in context. It falls within an angel’s explanation of the vision of the great prostitute and the beast. Those who would have it “put into their hearts” to submit to the beast, at least for a certain time, are people who were already being presented with a lie by the beast. In actuality God is merely withdrawing from those men so that they would follow their own natural inclination to follow the beast.
Eze 14:9 And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. This passage is included in the text describing a test of sorts. In the greater context God is telling his prophet that some Israelites were worshiping idols, but was offering a chance for them to come to his prophet and seek God’s council via that prophet. The Lord goes on to say he will listen and answer. Eze 14:9 is essentially saying if the prophet gets deceived he’s really a false prophet and will die. In following verse God warns that both the false prophet and those who sought council from the false prophet will die.
1.16.7 How important is it to avoid being deceived?
1 Jo 3:7-8 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. There are numerous passages like this, warning us to be on guard against deception. Here are a few such key verses, each to be read in context: 2 Thes 2:3, 2 Tim 3:1-7, Jude 17-18, 2 Jo 7, Heb 13:9, 2 Pe 2:1. The shear frequency of similar statements should indicate relative importance. In the passage from 1 John 3:7-8 we are warned that the purpose of the appearance of the Son of God was to destroy the works of the devil. The very purpose of Jesus was to nullify the very work of Satan from the very beginning, in the garden. Death comes by sin and sin by the devil, but life comes by Jesus Christ.
1.16.8 What kind of people deceive?
3 Jo 9-10 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. Diotrephes is an example of a person who deceives by putting himself above authority. Read the verse again and observe this man’s character for yourself.
The book of Jude talks addresses false teachers at length and provides colorful character descriptions for those who listen to and do the bidding of the father of lies, Satan. There are many more examples, such as 2 Peter 2, you can also use to find out more about the nature of people who deceive.
1.16.9 Why is deception such a threat?
Mt 12:30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Christ gives a clear warning. Anyone who deceives is against Christ. Anyone who accepts a lie is pulled away from Christ and, according to this verse, stands against Christ.
Rev 3:16-17 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Believers who listen to deceptions become ineffective and lukewarm. The ultimate result is rejection. Those who are deceived are ones who say they’ve made it, whether physically or spiritually, but who are in fact seriously lacking by God’s standard.
1.16.10 How does deception begin?
2 Pe 1:20-21 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. According to Peter, deception begins with the will of man, in his own mind, conceiving his own twisted view of scripture. From within himself comes false prophesy, for genuine prophesy comes only from God through the Holy Spirit.
Jas 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James tells us that words without application leads to deception.
1.16.11 How do you recognize one who deceives?
2 Tim 3:2-5 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. This passage provides a pretty good description of description of what you would automatically recognize as bad, right up to the point where it describes them as having the appearance of godliness but denying its power. This passage could describe many church leaders, orthodox or otherwise. It also describes many false religions, some touting themselves as denominations. Some of the characteristics described here aren’t as obvious in clergy because they tend to cloak themselves well and worse, people tend to overlook their flaws even when those flaws are extreme. Is it any wonder they are hard for many to recognize without training?
Mt 15:8-9 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Jesus describes deceivers as those who talk a good game, but their heart isn’t in it. The way to discern the deception is to look into what is being preached and see if it is the Word of God or the word of man.
1 Thess 5:19-22 Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Those who deceive have no use for real prophesy and the Spirit, because they will do nothing but expose and destroy the deceiver. We are told to test everything and only keep what is good. It doesn’t say be sure to keep what is good when you’re keeping things, it says to keep the good and abstain from every form of evil.
1 Tim 1:3-4 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. Look for a different doctrine. If it doesn’t match the gospel it is false. This passage is a little different from those above because it gives examples of some of the things false teachings would have you get involved with. In this case examples include devotion to myths, obsession with personal history, and promoting speculation rather than the firm facts of the bible. A steward is a manager and any instruction to poor management is a false doctrine.
Gal 6:3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Sometimes you have to look in the mirror to see the source of deception. Satan is the father of lies. Do not allow yourself to be adopted into his family. If Satan believes his own rhetoric then he, too, has deceived even himself.
1.16.12 How can you avoid being deceived?
Jas 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. You have to want to avoid deception. If you aspire to more, if you feel called to more, then you must live up to more. If it isn’t real, don’t try or you will only be digging your grave deeper and faster.
Jas 3:3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. If we shut up we can listen. If we listen to God he will speak to us. If he speaks to us we need to tell others what he gives us to say. If we don’t control our tongues we won’t be able to do this. As our tongues go, so goes our whole being.
Mt 10:16 Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. This advice given from the mouth of Jesus is simple and direct. The advice is to be skilled, knowing the word and knowing how to apply it. All the while we are to keep our noses clean in the process. This passage seems to dovetail well with the one that says we are to be in the world yet not of the world.
1.16.13 What specific deception is James warning us about?
James 1:12-15 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. In the verses leading up to James 1:16, James talks about steadfastness and the promised crown of life for those who love God. He warns us not to fall into the temptation of thinking God tempts and reveals to us that temptation plays upon our own desire. He explains how our desire, coupled with temptation, leads to death. Even though verse 16 is generally considered the start of the next paragraph, it could certainly be considered a resounding epilogue for the preceding paragraph.
James 1:17-18 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. I once heard a US Treasury agent explain how to detect a counterfeit bill. He said the best way to determine if a note is fake is to know the real thing so intimately you can immediately detect a flaw. James is essentially saying the same thing. Be convinced of the absolute accuracy of God’s Word, that God is 100% consistent, and to be steadfastly certain of His plan for us. Don’t be suckered by false teaching.