James 1:17Every 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. (ουκ ενι παραλλαγη η τροπης αποσκιασμα)
The literal Greek translation of “no variation” is not one parallege. Parallege is from two Greek words, one meaning to change allaso (ἀλλάσσω) and the other para meaning from, by, besides, or near. This refers to an orbit, in a circle the circumference is the change that happens measured as a fixed distance from the radius. The change in the night sky that happens can be measured mathematically because it is immutably certain every night.
The context is a metaphor. The Father of lights is God who created the lights as opposed to the heathens who worship the lights; the sun, moon and stars. These heathen lights pass immutably with precision across the sky and can be measured and mathematically predicted with certainty. Strabo (64/63 BC – c. AD 24) was a Greek philosopher and mathematician but he is renowned for his knowledge of geography in the ancient world. In speaking of this orbit of the sun which he calls parallege ( παραλλαγη) he is speaking of the immutability of the sun’s circuit across the sky.
The second reference is “shadow of turning.” ( τροπης αποσκιασμα) trope (τροπή) means turn like a revolution. Aposkiasma (ἀποσκίασμα) is a shading or an obscuration producing a shading effect. This is a reference to the shadow on a sun dial. In the horizontal sundial, the sun casts a shadow from a style (gnomon). The shadow correctly indicates the hours of the day from fixed marked with lines on the edges of the dial. If the sun moved randomly and its orbit was not immutably fixed, then it would be impossible to know the time of day.
The classical theologian will describe the metaphor as the random gods of the Sun moon and stars in comparison with the immutable God of the Bible. However the gods of the sun, moon and stars is not immutable. Their orbits are fixed and considered immutable by the heathens.
The immutable gods of the heathens are being compared to the mutable God of Scriptures.
James is saying we are very lucky not to have an immutable god who brings good gifts and persecutions on both the good and the evil. But we have a God who does something different than the expected. He brings good gifts on good people.
In the beginning of chapter one of James, he is comforting people suffering persecution. He encourages them not to doubt but to have faith. Apparently some of the persecutors are the rich people. He comforts the Christians with the thought that every one dies. There is a cycle to life like the Sun that rises burns the grass. So be comforted, your enemies will die like all things die in the unchanging cycle of life.
In order to give them hope, he says there is something different for you. You will not dies like the pagan do in the immutable cycle of life. A good and perfect gift is in store for you.
17 πασα δοσις αγαθη και παν δωρημα τελειον ανωθεν εστιν καταβαινον απο του πατρος των φωτων παρ ω ουκ ενι παραλλαγη η τροπης αποσκιασμα
The James 1:17 Enhanced Standard Translation from Craig Fisher.
Every good and every perfect gift is from above, from the Father of Lights, who is not bound like the sun in one orbit, unable to change the cycle of life, or who is not immutability bound to travel only on path and cast his shadow in the same way on good and evil.
God has done something different for you who lay aside all evil deeds and receive the implanted word which results in your salvation. Do not believe in the immutable pagan gods of the heathens who are trapped by their continuous orbits in the stalemate of the cycle of death. Believe in the God who can effect change and save your souls.
The traditional theologians would have us believe the reference to “no variation or shadow of turning” is a reference to immutability. This does not make any sense. How can we be assured that God gives good gifts because he is immutable? An immutable god can still be cruel or indifferent. Maybe this could be a reference not to his essence but just his goodness. His goodness does not change but everything else could change. The traditional understanding of James 1:17 should be rejected.