Biblical Perfection

Are we sure that the modern translation of the Greek of the word "perfect", in Matthew 5:48 --as "complete" is fully correct or even correct at all?

In context, it would seem that God is telling us to be perfect as that word in English would imply. Now, we know no one can be perfect all the time and therefore be completely sinless like our Lord. But, it is my understanding that we can be perfect for moments and even longer than moments. I believe that.

I suspect revisionists got their hands on the Greek manuscripts or the translations of the Greek manuscripts in past centuries to avoid an accurate rendering of the word "perfect".

In context, it would seem that God is telling us to be perfect, as that word in English would imply. I mean aren't we more "perfect" than "complete" when we are striving against sin and toward righteousness, by hoping not to be paid back on a loan, turning the other cheek when punched meanly, loving our enemy, etc.? Complete can fit but it seems weaker.

There are various Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as perfect in the King James Bible. I find it best to stay with the English and find the unity of thought and meaning there.

In one form or another, the word perfect is found 129 times in 124 verses in the Bible. The first reference is to Noah who is “perfect in his generations” (Genesis 6:9). The last reference is in Revelation 3:2 where the message to the angel to the church of Sardis is that Christ has not found their works to be “perfect before God.”

The word perfect came into the English language in the thirteenth century (from the French parfit which came from the Latin perfectus. Etymologically, it means something that is completely made or finished (per- meaning completely and facere meaning to do or make, as in factory).

Perfect has a broad range of meaning in the dictionaries. The Oxford English Dictionary gives fifteen different meanings for the noun with numerous sub-meanings. Included are the following: thoroughly made or formed, fully accomplished, completely prepared, in the state of compete excellence, free from any flaw or imperfection of quality, of supreme moral excellence or righteous, and fully answering to what a name implies.

Although these definitions begin to give a feel for the meaning of the word, the scriptures themselves must be the final authority for the meaning of a word. First of all, we can know with assurance that the word perfect does not refer to sinlessness. Hebrews 2:10 speaks of Jesus Christ being made “perfect through sufferings” and Hebrews 5:9 speaks of Him “being made perfect” through the things He suffered. Since Christ was always sinless, He could not have been made sinless. Therefore the word speaks of something other than sinlessness.

We will look at the built-in dictionary of the Bible and see what it will reveal about the meaning of the word.

  • According to Leviticus 22:21, an offering was “perfect” when it had “no blemish.” “And whosoever offereth a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD to accomplish his vow, or a freewill offering in beeves or sheep, it shall be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no blemish therein.”
  • According to 2Chronicles 8:16, the temple was “perfected” when it was “finished.” “Now all the work of Solomon was prepared unto the day of the foundation of the house of the LORD, and until it was finished. So the house of the LORD was perfected.”
  • According to Psalm 139:16, a child in the womb that is not fully formed is as “yet being unperfect.” “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” So to be perfect is to be fully formed.
  • Romans 12:2 links perfection with that which if good and acceptable. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
  • Colossians 4:12 seeks that we “may stand perfect and complete.” “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”
  • In 2Timothy 3:17, the man of God who is “perfect” is one who is “throughly furnished unto all good works.” “That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”
  • In James 1:4, the Christian who is “perfect” is also “entire, wanting nothing.” “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

Therefore, we see that to be perfect is to be finished, fully formed, complete, throughly furnished, and entire, without blemish and wanting nothing. Spiritually, it is connected with some other key words.

  • Just – the weights and measures were to be perfect and just.  Deuteronomy 25:15 “But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
  • Upright – the perfect man was an upright man.
    • Job 1:1 “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.”
    • Psalm 37:37 “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.”

More light on God’s concept of perfection can be seen in the references to the kings who were perfect or not perfect with Him. 1Kings 11:4 states, “For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.” Perfection here does not refer to sinlessness. For although David was certainly not sinless, his heart was perfect with the Lord his God. However, Solomon’s heart was not perfect because he turned to “other gods.” Therefore, in this context, perfection refers to an unwavering devotion to the true God. Even though sin may come in for a time, the perfect man will never desert the true God for a false one.

So, can we be perfect today? The answer is mixed. To understand this, we need to look at a passage in Philippians.

Philippians 3:12 “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”

Notice the two uses of the word perfect. In verse 12, Paul admits that he has not already attained (unto the resurrection) and is not already perfect, but seeks to apprehend that which Christ has for him. However, in verse 15, he refers to himself and others as being perfect. We must understand that, as with other words and concepts that deal with sanctification, perfection can be looked at in three modes: positional, practical, and prophetic. That is, all who are in Christ are made positionally perfect in Him; those who live upright and are throughly furnished unto all good works are practically perfect; and at that time that we are taken up to be with the Lord and given our glorified bodies we will be perfectly perfect. Even Christ said of His own resurrection that “the third day I shall be perfected” (Luke 13:32). Consider these scriptures:

  • We are positionally perfect in Christ Jesus. Colossians 1:28 “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”
  • We are practically becoming perfect in our lives. 1Peter 5:10 “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”
  • We will prophetically become perfect in the future. Ephesians 4:13 “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”

The Bible also gives our standard and guide for perfection. Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Jesus included Himself as the standard of perfection when He taught in Luke 6:40, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” To be perfect, we must be like our Master. Certainly, Jesus Christ is our Master. Of course, this cannot refer to an absolute likeness to God. Rather, it refers to a like kind of perfection. That is, if you want to know what perfection is and how to live a perfect life, look to the Father and the Son and follow them.

The concept of perfection is greater than can be given in any of the words that are used as substitutes in the other English versions of the Bible. To use one of the synonyms (like complete) is to lose much of the depth and richness of the meaning. Perfection includes the idea of completion, but it includes much more as well. Only a full study of the word as used in scripture can begin to open the fullness of this wonderful word.

David Reagan
Daily Proverb

Proverbs 16:20

He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he.