Viewpoint:  What Does the Word “Perfect” Mean in Scripture?

 

     The word “perfect” is used in some form, over one hundred times in the Bible.  Because of its frequent use, I believe God wants us to understand its full meaning.  I have heard many people, including preachers, express different opinions regarding this subject.  Many say that Jesus was the only perfect being and that no one can obtain perfection.  The Catholic Church states that the saints were perfect.  However, the apostle Paul says that everyone sanctified in Christ Jesus is called a saint.  Furthermore, Noah, Job and Abraham were each described as being “perfect.”  By using the scriptures, and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we hope to find an answer to these puzzling differences.

 

     To begin with, let us get a definition of the word.  Webster’s dictionary defines “perfect” in many different ways.  As an adjective, it is defined as:  a) being entirely without fault, b) accurate, c) expert, proficient, d) pure, total, and e) mature.  As a verb the definition is:  “to bring to final form.” The definitions of the Hebrew and Greek translations of “perfect” are very similar.  In the New Testament, the Greek word predominantly used meant “complete” or “mature.”  In the Old Testament the Hebrew word, tam, was frequently used.  Its definition is unique and means “morally pious.”  Another frequently used Hebrew word “shalen” meant, “without defect or blemish.”  Based on these definitions we can read and understand the literal truths of the Scriptures.

 

     In the Old Testament, Noah, Abraham, and Job were each described as “perfect.”  The original Hebrew word used here was tam and as we know this word meant “morally pious.”  Some of the newer translations of the Bible don’t even use the word “perfect,” but instead, use the word “blameless.”  Also in 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles, this same definition is used to describe the hearts of men.  At that time and age, idol worship was extensive.  Therefore, the author’s intent was to describe to the reader how these men rejected idolatry and remained steadfast in their belief and worship of the one and only true God, Yahweh.  In Deuteronomy, we find the word “perfect” describing the sacrificial lamb. This lamb was to be complete, having all its legs, ears, eyes, feet and to be without blemish or defect.  The reason for this was very significant.  Whoever was sacrificing this lamb placed all their sins onto this perfect lamb (the animal being typical of our perfect Savior who would anti-typically come to die and take away our sins).  This innocent, perfect lamb now bore all of their (Israel’s) sins. 

 

     Once the lamb was slain, the sins of the people typically died with the lamb, and the person making the sacrifice was now considered (typically) perfect.  This was a picture of what Jesus would eventually accomplish for all mankind when He, the only truly perfect man, died on the cross.  He took all of our sins onto His perfect body, giving His life as a sacrifice, so that we might obtain eternal life.  Thank you Jesus!

     The book of Psalms gives us a glimpse into how a new definition of the word would take form.  Psalm 19:7 states, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”  The “law of the Lord” is embodied in the Ten Commandments, but the “conversion of the soul” really could not be fully understood until the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus brought this to light.  Since no man was able to live up to the standard of the Ten Commandments perfectly, Jesus became the “once for all” perpetual sacrifice; and in doing this He established a New Covenant.  This New Covenant is defined in the words of Matt. 22:37-40 and Mark 12:30, 31.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment; and the second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.”  These verses define the “law of the Lord” concisely and were spoken by Jesus Himself.

 

     Jesus’ most well known sermon is probably the Sermon on the Mount.  When Jesus gave this sermon, His message was not to bring lost people to salvation, but to instruct His people on how to live within the Kingdom. In Matthew 5:43-48 we are given a precise roadmap to kingdom living and perfection.  Jesus states, “You have heard it said, ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you…therefore, you shall be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  In other words, God does not require perfection to enter the kingdom of heaven, but rather His love will perfect or convert our soul as we live out His law in our hearts, minds and actions.

 

     The Bible is God’s spoken Word given to us by His servants.  The Old and New Testaments complete or perfect each other.  By the same token, the Old standard of “perfect” and the new version of “perfect” also complete each other. Hebrews chapter 10 brings everything together.  In verses 1-4, the author explains how the blood of animals could never (actually) take away sin and will no longer (typically) perfect the people by offering them in sacrifice.     Chapter 10 vs. 14 states it best,      For  by one  offering  He  has  perfected

 

forever those who are being sanctified.”  Jesus, the perfect man, lived the perfect life and finally gave His life as the perfect sacrifice so that we could be forever saved and sanctified.  Verse 26 tells us as long as we do not willfully sin (or as some translations put it, “deliberately keep on sinning”) His sacrifice will forever remain for us.

 

     Our goal as a Christian is to be Christ-like.  In my opinion, the Apostle Paul was the best example of a Christian, aside from our Lord Jesus Himself.  Paul states in Philippians 3:12 that he had not attained perfection but continued to strive or to press on.  Only in death, when our earthly bodies will be dissolved and we receive the promised glorious new bodies like the Lord (1 John 3:1-3), will we be actually made perfect.  However, as Christians, the Holy Spirit dwells in us and if we abide by the spirit of His law (Romans 8), we are in the process of being perfected.  Through Jesus’ sacrifice, and His love working through us, and not by our own works, we can be “perfect.”

                                                                                        Stewart Eden

“In The Beloved”

Eph. 1:6

 

                        “In the Beloved,” accepted am I,

                        Risen, ascended, and seated on high;

                        Saved from all sin thro’ His infinite grace,

                        With the redeemed ones accorded a place.

 

                        Chorus

                        “In the Beloved,” God’s marvelous grace

                        Calls me to dwell in this wonderful place;

                        God sees my Savior, and then He sees me,

                        “In the Beloved,” accepted and free.

 

                        “In the Beloved,” how safe my retreat,

                        “In the Beloved” accounted complete:

                        Who can condemn me?  In Him, I am free,

                        Savior and Keeper forever is He.

 

                        “In the Beloved” I went to the tree,

                        There, in His Person, by faith I may see

                        Infinite wrath rolling over His head,

                        Infinite grace, for He died in my stead.

                                                           

                                                                   Civilla D. Martin