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Perfection

People fall into error because of undefined words and expressions.  One of these words is “Perfect.” Just what is “Perfect”?  When and how is somebody “Perfect”?  What does the Bible mean when it says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”?  (Matthew 5:48).  Does God expect us to be completely without fault and sinless?
 
Let's first look at the English word "Perfect" and see what it means.
 
per·fect1   (pűr f kt)   adj.
  1. Lacking nothing essential to the whole; complete of its nature or kind.
  2. Being without defect or blemish: a perfect specimen.
  3. Thoroughly skilled or talented in a certain field or area; proficient.
  4. Completely suited for a particular purpose or situation: She was the perfect actress for the part.
    1. Completely corresponding to a description, standard, or type: a perfect circle; a perfect gentleman.
    2. Accurately reproducing an original: a perfect copy of the painting.
  5. Complete; thorough; utter: a perfect fool.
  6. Pure; undiluted; unmixed: perfect red.
  7. Excellent and delightful in all respects: a perfect day.
  8. Botany. Having both stamens and pistils in the same flower; monoclinous.
  9. Grammar. Of, relating to, or constituting a verb form expressing action completed prior to a fixed point of reference in time.
  10. Music. Designating the three basic intervals of the octave, fourth, and fifth.
 
Perfect does NOT mean:  Holy, Sinless.
 
Christians encounter theological difficulty when they wrongly use “perfect” to mean “holy” or “sinless.”
 
 
Jesus is called “perfect.”  How does that fit into our theology?
 
 
Hebrews 2:10
10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 2 and 3
 
 
 
 
Jesus, the “Author of our salvation,” was made perfect through suffering.  If “perfect” meant “sinless,” then how did Jesus become “perfect” (sinless) after he was born?  I thought he was born perfect (sinless).
 
 
In Bible studies, when a person gets into the meaning and definition of words, it is necessary to go to the original word.  Remember, the Bible was translated from another language into English.  If the translator picked a certain English word to convey a specific meaning but that English word has several meanings, then we need to determine just exactly what the original word means.
 
In the above scripture, Hebrews 2:10, the word “perfect” comes from the Greek,
 
 
 
Now let’s read what the scriptures say about Jesus’ suffering on the cross for us:
 
 
Luke
24:13-24
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them;  16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast.  18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;  21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.  22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning  23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.  24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
 
 
We see that Christ had to suffer beatings and crucifixion first before he could fulfill the scriptures and be our savior.  The scriptures say that in order for us to be saved, we need a savior who will suffer and die on our behalf (in our place).  Until Jesus suffered and died for us, he was not our perfect savior.  He did not fit the qualifications. 
 
Perfect, in this case, means “fit,” like a key in a lock.  Jesus is a key.  He is the only one that can release us from sin and bring us to peace with the father because he is the only one who matched the requirements to open the lock: he must be sinless and he must be sacrificed. 
 
“Perfect” in Hebrews 2:10 (above) does not mean “sinless” or “holy.”  It means “fit.”
 
 
Another use of the word teleo, (perfect).
 
 
When Jesus died on the cross he said:
 
 
John 19:30
Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:30
 
 
 
Jesus said, “It is perfect,” and bowed his head and died.  That is, it is complete, finished.  The task that God had assigned him had been completed.  Perfect here means “complete” and “finished.”
 
Jesus tells us to be perfect
 
 
Let’s read Matthew 5:48 in English and Greek
 
 
Matthew 5:48
48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
 
 
 
Jesus is talking in the Sermon on the Mount and he tells us to be perfect just as God the Father is perfect.  What does that mean?
 
 
Let’s read the whole context to find out what it means:
 
 
Matthew 5:43-48
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
 
 
We see then that God loves both the righteous and the unrighteous.  Think about it.  If God did not love unrighteous people, then he never would have died for us. We were unrighteous and unholy before Jesus died.  Jesus died for us in order to make us righteous before God.  We were all unrighteous, unclean and unholy.  That was why Jesus had to die, if he was to be our savior.  And just as God loved us while we were still unrighteous, God loves those who are still unrighteous.
 
We were unholy and ungodly when Jesus died for us.  After he died, we turned to him for salvation.  How it possible that we should hold a grudge against anyone who has not yet turned to him?  That is hypocrisy, to pretend that we are saved because we are so good, and they are not saved because they are not so good.
 
 
Romans
5:6-11
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
 
 
When we were [spiritually] powerless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God, that is when Jesus died for us.
 
And now Jesus tells us:
Matthew
5:44-48 (paraphrased)
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.  He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  46 If you only love those who love you, what reward will you get?  If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Even pagans do that.  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
 
 
Jesus is not saying here that we must be without sin.  He is saying we must be consistent in our love for others.  Instead of looking down our nose at unsaved people, thinking we are better than they are, we should be praying for them and taking the gospel to them, just as Jesus did for us.
 
“Perfect” here means unblemished and unmixed.  God loves the good and the bad.  He has mercy on both.  He expects us to do the same; our love should not be mixed, to love our friends and hate our enemies. 
 
Torah Perfection
 
 
What the Jews generally call “Torah,” Christians call the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.
 
In the Torah, God also calls upon people to be “perfect.”
 
 
Genesis
17:1
(KJV)
1And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.6
 
(NIV)
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.
 
 
Deuteronomy 18:9-14
(KJV)
9When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 10There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee. 13Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.  14For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.
 
(NIV)
13 You must be blameless before the LORD your God.
 
 
God commands both Abraham and the nation of Israel to be perfect.  But the NIV gives us a hint about what this word means, “blameless.”
The Hebrew word (without using the Hebrew font) is
 
 
8549 tamiym { taw-meem’} 7
AV - without blemish 44, perfect 18, upright 8, without spot 6, uprightly 4, whole 4, sincerely 2, complete 1, full 1, misc 3; 91
 
GK - 9459
1)   complete, whole, entire, sound
1a)  complete, whole, entire
1b)  whole, sound, healthful
1c)  complete, entire (of time)
1d)  sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, having integrity
1e)  what is complete or entirely in accord with truth and fact (neuter adj/subst)
 
You probably know the Tanach (Old Testament) was translated into Greek around 270 B.C. and called the Septuagint.  If we see how those scholars translated the Hebrew word tamiym, we have a clue as to how the ancients viewed its meaning.  So let’s do that.
 
 
Genesis 17:1
Deuteronomy 18:13
 
 
I find this interesting.  In the Hebrew, both words are tamiym but the Septuagint translates Genesis 17:1 as “blameless” (“a” = without and “memptos” = blame) and it translates Deuteronomy 18:13 as our old friend “perfect” ().
 
What do we do?  We forget the Greek and go back to the Hebrew, tamiym which means “whole” and “complete.”
 
 
In Genesis 17:1 God tells Abraham to be “complete” or “whole.”  To deduce what God meant, we should look at what had just happened to Abraham.  God called Abraham out of Ur, a pagan nation, and out of Teran, a pagan city, to go to Canaan, a pagan country.  In all this, Abraham was obedient, but he was still among pagans.  God told Abraham to focus only on God and have nothing to do with pagan religions.  God wanted Abraham to be wholeheartedly devoted to him.  None of this mixing religions.
 
 
In Deuteronomy 18:9-14 God tells Israel to avoid anything having to do with pagan religions but be wholeheartedly devoted to God.  No cultic or occult practices.  No witchcraft.  No divination.  No human sacrifices.  Nothing that has to do with worshipping another god. 
 
 
We find then that when God tells people to be “perfect,” it does not mean he expects them to be sinless.  Instead, he is commanding them to serve God only and no other person, thing or god.
 
 
Commandments 1 and 2 of the Ten:
 
 
Genesis
20:2-5
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  3 “You shall have no other gods before me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them;
 
 
How does that conclusion apply to us, a so-called Christian nation?  Christians do not serve several Gods.  If a person does worship several gods and calls himself “Christian,” he is lying.  That is not what Christianity (or Judaism) is.  So how can that command in the Torah help and instruct us today? 
 
 
I Corinthians 6:9-10
 
 
For one thing, understanding the Tanach (Old Testament) helps us understand the New Testament better, and it’s good instruction for new Christians.
 
 
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
(KJV)
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
 
(NIV)
9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders  10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
 
 
First let’s look at the differences of translation of various Greek words
 
 
Greek
KJV
NIV
unrighteous
wicked
fornicators
sexually immoral
idolaters
idolaters
adulterers
adulterers
effeminate
male prostitutes
abusers of them-selves with man-kind
homosexual offenders
thieves
thieves
covetous
greedy
drunkards
drunkards
revilers
slanderers
extortioners
swindlers
 
 
 
 
 
Apparently, there is no question about the translations of some of these words:  idolaters, adulterers, thieves, and drunkards.  Translators in 1984 agree with translators in 1611 that these are the meanings of those Greek words.
 
Some words are slightly different, but almost synonymous: 
Unrighteous - wicked
Fornicators - sexually immoral
Revilers – slanderers
Extortioners - swindlers
 
(planasthe), translated as “unrighteous” and “wicked,” means “to cause to wander,” or “to cause to go astray.”  “Causing to wander” is quite a bit different from what we commonly think of when we say “wicked.”  We think of murderers, kidnappers, and so on.  But that word means to stray off the proper path.  Hmmm.  I’ll leave it to you to apply it in a way that seems right to you.
 
(pornoi), translated as “fornicator” and “sexually immoral,” actually relates to prostitution.  Nowhere in the Bible does pornos mean anything other than prostitution, because that is the definition of the word.  It tells a lot about the mentality and attitude of Bible translators when they delight to translate everything they can as "fornication" or “sexually immoral.” 
 
You may say, "But, prostitution is fornication and sexual immorality."   True, but you don't understand.  The translator went from a specific to a general.  Let's try another word in place of prostitution to illustrate my point.  Let's suppose instead of prostitution the word said, "child rapists."  The scripture would read, "And we know that... child rapists... shall not inherit the Kingdom of God."  Now suppose the translator took that word and caused the scripture to read like this, "And we know that... sexually immoral people... shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.  Child raping may be sexually immoral, but that is not what the author is trying to say.  He's making a specific, important point, but the translator changed the words so the sentence would reflect the translators thoughts and not the apostle's thoughts. 
 
 
Strange Words
 
 
The real problem comes from the words translated as
 
Greek;
KJV
NIV
effeminate
male prostitutes
abusers of themselves
with mankind
homosexual offenders
 
Arsenokoitaes
 
 
The meaning of (arsenokoitaes) is unknown.  Two parts of the word are “male” and “marriage bed.”  We must be very careful when putting together two words.  Does “mankind” mean “good, gentle men” or does it mean “humanity”?  Does “ladykiller” mean a person who kills women or does it mean a man who woos women?  When you put two words together to form a single word, such as arseno-koitaes, we don’t really know what it means unless we have another contemporary source to tell us.
 
The next mention of arsenokoitaes in Greek literature came about a hundred or so years after Paul pinned that word.  It was written by a Christian theologian trying to figure out what it meant.  He figured it must mean “masturbation.”10  But in 1984 the NIV people quickly divined it must mean “homosexual offenders.”  I guess God must really hate homosexuals.  So much for the theory that God loved and died for everyone.  So much for the theory that God wants us to love everyone without discrimination.
 
I have no suggestion for what arsenokoitaes means in this context.  But I certainly would not use it to pursue a pet religious hatred by saying it shows God hates homosexuals.  I would call a person who does that , causing one to go astray.  In other words, wicked.
 
 
Malakos
 
 
(malakoi) means “softs.”  Notice the plural of soft?  It’s like says “softies” in our language.  Nowhere in the scriptures does “malakos” mean anything other than “soft,” “weak,” or “sickly.”  The KJV people tried to figure out how that word would apply in this context.  The NIV people apparently said, “Oh boy!  Let’s make it sexual!” 
 
What does (malakos) – “soft” – mean in this situation?  It would be presumptuous of me to claim I’m wiser than KJV and NIV scholars.  I don’t know more than they know.  I’m just saying that they differ in their opinion with each other of what malakos means in this context because they don’t know what it means.  But I do have a suggestion.
 
Why don’t we take the rest of the Bible into context to understand this word?  Let’s review the context of the Corinthians and see where they were coming from.  Then let’s take a similar context for another person and see what God said to that other person.  Then let’s compare the two and see if there is a correlation.
 
Corinth was a pagan city and Christians brought the gospel to it.  Corinthian Christians were once pagans; they worshiped many gods.  Now don’t you know and understand that when a person converts to Christianity from a pagan religion, he still have many ties to his old religion?  All his family and friends are still pagans.  He still wants to celebrate the birthdays of his family members.  He still wants to attend their funerals.  He still wants to go to family reunions.  He still wants to celebrate their “Christmases” with the family.  There is a very real possibility that this man will try to mix Christianity with his old religion.  There is a real possibility that he may try to hold on to both religions.
 
What about Abraham and Israel?  We’ve already seen that they both came out of a pagan situation and they were still living among pagan people.  God commanded them to be “perfect,” to be wholehearted in their devotion and worship of him.  There was to be no mixing of religions.
 
The same has got to hold true for new Christians.  God does not want Christians – beginners or mature – to mix religions.  We must be perfect, to hold on to God only and not to serve other gods in addition to God. 
 
What could this mixing of religions be called? 
 
 
Revelation 3:15-16
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
 
 
In this case, the Laodiceans were lazy in their religion.  They had it easy, were not being persecuted, and put religion as secondary importance in their lives.  Jesus said he expects us either to love him or hate him, not to be indifferent.  Therefore, unless they repented, he would reject them.
 
 
Remember, this is only a suggestion …
 
Could we not reasonable compare the words hard and soft to the words hot and cold?  If Jesus said we should be hot for him or cold against him but not lukewarm – indifferent – then can we not say we should be hard and complete in our adherence for him, and not soft in our commitment to him?  This is like saying perfect and imperfect.  Either we are wholly committed to Jesus or we are not.
 
When Paul used the word malakos (soft), I suggest he was telling the Corinthians that they must not mix religions.  They must be hard for Jesus, and not soft and pliable.
 
As I said, that’s only a suggestion.  But this suggestion makes more religious sense and conforms more to what the Bible says than to think it is saying “God hates gays.”
 
 
Conclusion
 
 
God wants us to be perfect, something that we ourselves can do.  We cannot make ourselves sinless; only Jesus can do that.  But we can be sincere and wholehearted in our allegiance to God.  That is what God means, wants and expects from us.
 
Being “perfect” is not being “sinless.”  It is holding to the Lord our God only and serving him only. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Footnotes
 
1The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.   Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. Return
2The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984. Return
3Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is taken from the NIV (see footnote 2 above). Return
4Liddell, H. G., and Scott, Abridged Greek-English Lexicon, (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 1992. Return
5Aland, Kurt, Black, Matthew, Martini, Carlo M., Metzger, Bruce M., and Wikgren, Allen, The Greek New Testament, (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft Stuttgart) 1983. Return
6The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769. Return
7Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1995. Return
8Septuaginta, (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft Stuttgart) 1979. Return
9ibid. Return
10Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, University of Chicago Press, 1981 Paperback edition, pages 341-342 Return

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