Sunday, September 2, 2012

Father of lights

The phrase is found in the letter by James, the brother of the Lord. He states: “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. (James 1:17)1

At first glance the words ‘father of lights’ sound mysterious; a journey through the scriptures, however, illuminates the phrase in all its richness. What is the significance of ‘light’; and why and how is it used in the biblical text?

We don’t have to go far into the scriptures to encounter that God’s first recorded words were: “let there be light”. ‘And God saw that the light was good’. Then He separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4) Some rightly ask the question: what was the source of that first light prior to the creation of the sun and moon on the fourth day? Those who are familiar with the association of light with the presence of God point out that the Creator Himself was the source of that first light. Just a few steps further into Genesis, we see the lights appointed to rule upon each day and night (v 16). This off course is a description of the how light, literally as we know it came to be through God’s spoken word. And yet, from then on scripture associates light with the Divine presence.

For instance, God appears to Moses in a burning bush. We also observe that when the plague of darkness was over Egypt… ‘…all the children of Israel (God’s people) had light in their dwellings.’ (Exod 10:23)2 - and God gave them light in a pillar of fire as they journeyed on – again, this was the indication that the presence of God was amongst them (see also Neh 9:12, 19). Later in their journey, God instructs the children of Israel to set seven lamps in the temple and the lamps were to burn continually (Exod 25:37, Num 8:2, Lev 24:2). This again symbolises God’s eternal presence, never to be extinguished.

The messianic age, the arrival of the Messiah, is ushered in by the entrance of light. Matthew refers to this when he writes: ‘the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.” (Matt 4:16) – here Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah (cf Is 9:1, 2; see also Luke 1:79, 2:32).

The theme of the Divine light is particularly prominent in the writings of the Apostle John. Indeed, the opening of his gospel is marked by the entry of the light into the world (being the person of the Messiah): ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.’ (John 1:4, 5, see also to v9). It is doubtful that it is a mere coincidence that the Apostle’s prologue appears to mirror the opening of Genesis 'and God said: “Let there be light”. The Divine presence as light is also affirmed where the Apostle states: ‘This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all’ (1 John 1:5).

This theme is made manifest in Jesus’ own words of himself: ‘And the judgment is based on this fact: God's light came into the world, ...’ (John 3:19 see also to v 21) Jesus asserts: "I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life." (Jn 8:12) and he continues to refer to himself as the light (Jn 9:5, 11:9, 12:35, 12:36, 12:46).

As we have seen earlier, this theme is not novel to the New Testament writings, without a doubt it finds its roots in the scriptures of the Old Testament. Job contrasts the way of the righteous who has light, to ‘those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths” (Job 24:13).3 The psalmist speaks of the Almighty: ‘For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light’ (Ps 36:9); ‘He wraps himself in light as with a garment’ (Ps 104:2a); often referring to the light of God’s countenance’ (see Ps 44:3, 90:8).

The prophets spoke the language of light. Isaiah entreats Israel: ‘Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD!’ (Isa 2:5) He later refers to God as the ‘Light of Israel’ (Isa 10:17); the prophet Micah states: ‘Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light’ (Mic 7:8). Daniel the prophet affirms of the God of heaven: ‘He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.’ (Dan 2:22).

The Apostle Paul also reflects this thought when he writes of the Almighty: ‘God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see (1 Tim 6:15b-16a). Note that the Apostle Paul when witnessing the glory of the Lord identifies the glory as a great light – (see Acts 22:11, 26:23).

Looking to the journey ahead, the prophet Isaiah was given the words of a wonderful promise that one day "No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the LORD your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory (Isa 60:19).

This vision is again renewed by the revelation given to the Apostle John, the beautiful vision of the New Jerusalem: ‘And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light.’ (Rev 21:11) ‘The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp (v23). The nations will walk by its light…’ (v 24); What an amazing vision! just as when before the sun and moon were spoken into existence, the Light was shining, so it will be without need for another. In the last chapter of the book - Revelation 22:5 - ‘And there will be no night there - no need for lamps or sun - for the Lord God will shine on them.' Amen.


1 The New Living Translation renders the partial phrase as ‘…God our father who created all the lights in the heavens’. The interpretation of ‘lights’ to mean the lights in the heavens here, I believe is unwarranted and a bit of a liberal stretch given the context. Most other Bible translations render the phrase ‘father of lights’ in line with the Greek text ‘patros ton photon’. Consider also the context in the statement of the verse directly following (v 18) ‘He (God) chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.’

2 see also Ester_8:16 ‘The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour.’

3 compare to John 3:19-20



  1. Thank you for the time you took to put this together and then share it with the onlookers here! It was a great help to me.

    1. You are most welcome, glad it was of help!
      - God Bless

  2. Good teaching. You are bless

  3. Good teaching. You are bless.