Monday, December 03, 2018

Is It Possible for Imperfect Humans To Be Perfect?

Perfect in the appropriate sense of the word is not that hard to define or understand within a biblical context. Something/someone can be absolutely perfect or relatively perfect; absolute means to be fully complete/mature without qualification. Only Jehovah God is absolutely perfect in the fullest sense. On the other hand, relative perfection means something/someone is well suited for the task at hand; that is, perfect to a degree, with qualifications.

Noah was relatively perfect. He led an overall righteous life, but he once got intoxicated, thereby becoming in some way exposed because of his error (Genesis 6:9; 9:20-27; Hebrews 11:7). Job was "perfect" (Job 1:1 KJV). However, Job had to repent in dust and ashes since he committed mistakes by overly defending his righteousness instead of God's (Job 42:6). John the Baptist's parents were perfect in a relative sense because they were Torah-observant Jews (Luke 1:5-6). Yet only God is perfect in the absolute sense without qualification. These words from J.A. MacDonald (Pulpit Commentary) are worth consideration:

"The power of man is formative. He can mould, he can combine, he can disjoin. He cannot create. He cannot destroy, God can create. He can reverse the act of creation."

As for Jesus, he was fully human (both Trinitarians and non-Trinitarians agree on that point). Yet he was separated from sinners, without sin, and morally unblemished: "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth" (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22-23). Furthermore, Jesus was the unique/only-begotten Son of God (John 1:18; 3:16).

Regarding Matthew 5:48, much has been written on the verse, even by the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. The simple answer is that Jesus was encouraging his disciples to be perfect (mature, complete) in love as Jehovah is perfect in love. Analogies don't presuppose that both things being compared are exactly the same. For instance, when Jesus states that his disciples should be one as he and his Father are one; the oneness in each case does not correspond exactly 1:1 (see John 17:21-23).

I think Jesus was perfect insofar as he was sinless just like Adam initially was. Christ was sinless, but that does not mean he was incapable of sinning--those are two very different things.


Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

When I think of relative perfection in the Hebrew Bible, shalom might be one concept that comes to mind, but primarily for me, it's tam as in Job 1:1. The Greek equivalent would be amemptos per Luke 1:5-6.

Duncan said...

Leviticus 11:44-45 and Deuteronomy 18:13 strike a chord with Matthew 5:48.

One comment I found:-

"The word perfect in Matthew 5 v 48 has the meaning of " inclussive ". The context of the word perfect is found when we read in Matthew 5 that God sends rain and sunshine on the good and the bad. In other words the meaning of perfect is to be inclusive. If we are to be Holy like God and PERFECT we are to be inclusive of all men."

Edgar Foster said...

Thanks for sharing, Duncan, and I don't want to seem unappreciative, but the word "perfect" in Mt 5:48 cannot mean "inclusive." I'm almost certain of that. I get the import of what the commenter is saying, but teleios does not mean "inclusive" in ancient Greek.

Robertson's Word Pictures for Mt 5:48: "Perfect (τελειοι — teleioi). The word comes from τελος — telos end, goal, limit. Here it is the goal set before us, the absolute standard of our Heavenly Father. The word is used also for relative perfection as of adults compared with children."

Bengel's Gnomon of the NT: "τελέιοι, perfect) sc. in love towards all.

Edgar Foster said...

So to be clear, the word does not mean "inclusive" in Mt 5:48, but rather "perfect or "complete." However, Jesus is exhorting his followers to be perfect by imitating God's love toward the righteous and the unrighteous.

Duncan said...

I think the quote may be referring to relations between the community rather than the individual, which does include the individual.

GJohn 17:22 & GJohn 17 in general may be important here so using the term "complete" is still inline with the overall understanding of shalom as part of a community. Being tam, one must be shalom or being shalom, one must be tam.

So it could be tam but shalom is still implied.

Edgar Foster said...

To be clear, I agree that the connotation of inclusivity might be present in Mt 5:48, but I'm questioning the semantics/denotation proferred by the author you quoted.

Tam and shalom possibly intersect while maintaining their respective domains. When it comes to "blamelessness" (completeness, etc), we can look at the quality from an individual or communal perspective. The examples I cited from Tanakh and Nt were all individual, but Peter and James exhort 1st century Christians to be spotless/blameless before God and Christ.

Edgar Foster said...

Jacob was also described as being "blameless." To your point, Ps. 37:37 depicts the person of God as tam, but says his end/telos will be shalom. So they're connected and intersect, but represent two distinct domains. Furthermore, the worshiper of God is tam, but comes to have or experience shalom.

Duncan said...

Doctor Leslie fuller :-

As an Old Testament professor, I find it gratifying that a Hebrew word has passed into Christian currency. “Shalom” basically means wholeness or completeness. An important extended meaning is “peace,” which is also the meaning people generally attribute to the word. But the cognate adjective, shalem, is used of whole, uncut stones used for building an altar in Joshua 8:31. It is also used to describe commercial stone weights of the correct size, not reduced to cheat customers, in Deuteronomy 25:15. A shalem heart refers to an undivided attitude of wholeheartedness, for example in 2 Kings 20:3. This sense of wholeness throws light on that daunting command Jesus gave in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect,” as God is perfect.1 The Greek adjective teleios employed there is used in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament to render shalem and its Hebrew synonyms tam and tamim. Moreover, in the Hebrew Bible they and a related verb are sometimes followed by the preposition “with” to indicate an inclusive relationship, such as in Deuteronomy 18:13 and 1 Chronicles 19:19. Inclusiveness is the very point being made in the Gospel passage for which this command is the climax. We have to include bad people as well as good ones in our loving, just as God does in sending sunshine and rain on both. That is why the New Jerusalem Bible renders “You must therefore set no bounds to your love,” while the Revised English Bible (REB) states, “There must be no limit to your goodness.” Wholeness of a certain kind is in view.


Duncan said...

“Shalom” can be used generally to describe the well-being of persons or communities, and “peace” is a particular and common development of that sense. There is “a time for war, and a time for peace [shalom],” Ecclesiastes 3:8 tells us. A related meaning is physical health: in Isaiah 53:5 it is used in this sense as a metaphor. So the REB translates: “The chastisement he bore restored us to health.” Matthew 8:17 takes literally the previous verse, 53:4, about “our infirmities” and “our diseases,” and applies it to the healing ministry of Jesus. In Hebrew narratives there is a colloquial question one asks a newcomer: Hashalom? At 2 Kings 9:11 the King James Version (KJV) renders this “Is all well?” Updating a little, the New Revised Standard Version and New International Version (NIV)2 both translate it as “Is everything all right?” A type of unimpaired completeness belongs to the idiom here. What I want to do in this article is to apply the idea of wholeness to aspects of the Bible. The Bible has its own shalom, a wideness we ignore to our peril if we try to cut it back.


Edgar Foster said...

Also from John Goldingay's OT Theology, page 279:

"Admittedly the difference is expressed here in a puzzling way. Jacob is described as tam. The word usually comes in wisdom literature to mean 'having integrity,' but elsewhere the word for that is tamim (cf. Gen 6:9; 17:1). As a description of Jacob one would have to
take this as a redactor’s conventional epithet rather than the obvious implication of his story. Even then, one would have expected the usual tamim. But it is difficult to imagine how the most respectful of redactors could have offered this value judgment in the context of the story in Gen 25—27. On the basis of the description being set over against that of Esau as the outdoor type, a man of the wild, traditionally it has been taken to mean 'plain' (KJV) or 'quiet' (NRSV)."

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, just quickly parsing some things in the quote. Shalom is used as a noun; shalem is an adjective. That is why I said one experiences shalom but tam is characteristic of the person.

It's a good poiunt that teleios is used for shalem, tam, and tamim with the latter terms being synonyms for shalom. Yet what does it mean for the words to be synopnymous? Is there a 1:1 correspondence between tam/tamim and shalom or do they simply overlap in meaning at times?

Fromm what I also read above, Fuller never says that teleios "means," or denotes "inclusiveness." Making that claim would result in conflating sense and reference or denotation/connotation.

Edgar Foster said...

William Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary:

Old Testament

Adjective: תָּמִים (tāmîm), GK 9459 (S 8549), 91x. Most often tāmîm describes animals or crops intended for sacrificial offerings as “unblemished” or “whole.” Elsewhere, this word is used to describe God as “perfect” (2 Sam. 22:31), both in terms of his knowledge (Job 37:16) and his law (Ps 19:8). See unblemished.

New Testament

Verb: τελειόω (teleioō), GK 5457 (S 5048), 23x. teleioō refers to attaining an end or purpose, in the sense of being complete or perfect. See end.

Adjective: τέλειος (teleios), GK 5455 (S 5046), 19x. teleios conveys a range of meanings: “perfect, mature, complete.” It can refer to something of the highest standard (i.e., “perfect” Jas. 1:4a, 17, 25) or fully developed, “perfect” or “complete” in a moral sense (Mt 5:48; Jas. 1:4b; 3:2). See end.

Edgar Foster said...


c) teleios (21x) usually means complete, sound; the stress lies on being whole, perfect, intact. It is used of the heart that is wholly turned toward God (1 Ki. 8:61; 11:4) and of the one who is bound wholly to God (Gen. 6:9; cf. Deut. 18:13). The thought of totality is also shown in the mention of a total depopulation (Jer. 13:19) and in the fact that whole offerings can be called teleiai (Jdg. 20:26; 21:4).

(d) teleioō (25x) has likewise the idea of being perfect and whole: to show oneself perfect, i.e., blameless (2 Sam. 22:26); to make beauty perfect (Ezek. 27:11). It is used 9x times in the Pentateuch as a religious term meaning to consecrate for the cult (e.g., Exod. 29:9, 29). But this word also means to bring to its conclusion (2 Chr. 8:16; Neh. 6:16).

(e) teleiotēs (only 6x) signifies perfection or integrity (Jdg. 9:16, 19; Prov. 11:3).

(f) teleiōsis (17x) occurs mainly in connection with cultic usage, occurring chiefly in connection with the consecration of priests.

(c) Among the Synoptics, the adj. teleios occurs only in Matt. In 5:48 is the summons to be perfect, as the heavenly Father is perfect. In the light of the context, this is a command to be compassionate, to love friend and foe (cf. Lk. 6:36). To serve God with an undivided heart can also mean to sell one's possessions and give them to the poor (Matt. 19:21).

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

Duncan, earlier I wrote (with typos):

"It's a good poiunt [sic] that teleios is used for shalem, tam, and tamim with the latter terms being synonyms for shalom. Yet what does it mean for the words to be synopnymous [sic]? Is there a 1:1 correspondence between tam/tamim and shalom or do they simply overlap in meaning at times?"

As the link above illustrates, synonymous usually means "overlapping relation." Words are not usually 1:1 correspondent in meaning.

Back in March 2016, I wrote:

"Linguistically speaking, one word can be used to express many different concepts (polysemy) and one concept can be expressed by many different words (synonymy or overlapping relations)."

See also

Edgar Foster said...

Here's another source:

"Words are semantically related when they have similar or opposite meanings. We may distinguish three types under the former category. Overlapping Relations (proper synonymy). Statements about synonymy often lack precision and so this section begins with some important distinctions. A number of scholars have sought to classify types of synonyms in detail, but the following three categories are basic: objective, emotive, sociological."

"Thus, while we could, for the sake of convenience, say that pneuma and psyche may be synonymous, we are not in fact referring to the words themselves (symbols) but to one of the senses of pneuma and one of the senses of psyche; the sense ‘corpse’ for psyche (Lev. 19:28 LXX) is obviously not synonymous with any of the senses of pneuma. Even more important, particularly when dealing with synonyms, is the need to avoid confusion between senses and referents."

Silva, Moisés. Biblical Words and Their Meaning (Kindle Locations 1532-1535). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Silva, Moisés. Biblical Words and Their Meaning (Kindle Locations 1531-1532). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Silva, Moisés. Biblical Words and Their Meaning (Kindle Locations 1493-1494). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Silva, Moisés. Biblical Words and Their Meaning (Kindle Locations 1491-1493). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Duncan said...

Agreed, so that question is, why did he say it and what does he mean?

Edgar Foster said...

Those are questions that require expanded answers (IMO, but Matthew 5:48 needs to be set against its immediate context, as we've been discussing, wherein the subject is God's agape for the righteous and unrighteous. Jesus even commands that Christians love their enemies in 5:44. So it would make sense that the perfection under consideration involves love. Furthermore, I'm reminded of Ephesians 5:1 and 1 Peter 1:14-16: both set of passages exhort Christians to imitate God, especially when it comes to love and holiness. But I see Jesus as giving the command to show the kind of love that Jehovah shows.