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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Perfect Perfection

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In the apostolic writings ‘perfect’ is the EV_ rendering of three different Greek words, namely, ἀκριβής, ἄρτιος, and τέλειος (the only exception is Revelation 3:2 [AV_], where the RV_ rightly renders πληρόω: ‘I have found no works of thine fulfilled before my God’).

1. 1 Thessalonians 5:2 is the only passage in which the RV_ retains ‘perfectly’ as the rendering of ἀκριβῶς. When St. Paul says ‘ye know perfectly’ he uses an oxymoron, for he is insisting on the accuracy of the information given to the Thessalonian Church as regards the uncertainty of the day and the hour of Christ’s coming. The true meaning of ἀκριβής and cognate words is well brought out in the RV_ by such translations as ‘accurate,’ ‘careful,’ and ‘exact’ (cf. Matthew 2:7 ff., Luke 1:3, Acts 18:25 f., Acts 22:3, Acts 23:15; Acts 23:20, Acts 24:22, Acts 26:5, Ephesians 5:15).

2. In 2 Timothy 3:17 the RV_ substitutes ‘complete’ for the AV_ ‘perfect’ as the rendering of ἄρτιος. The repetition of the same word brings out the connexion between ἄρτιος and ἐξηρτισμένος: ‘that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work. In early Christian writings ἄρτιος is found opposed to ‘lame’ and to ‘mutilated’; it is explained by Calvin ‘in quo nihil est mutilnm.’ When perfection, in this sense, is predicated of the natural man, it is implied that no essential element of human nature is lacking. Similarly, St. Paul’s ideal of the man of God includes his possession of every gift of grace necessary for the discharge of the duties of the Christian calling. ‘If we ask ourselves under what special aspects completeness is contemplated in ἄρτιος, it would be safe to answer that it is not as the presence only of all the parts which are necessary for that completeness, but involves further the adaptation and aptitude of these parts for the ends which they were designed to serve’ (R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the NT11, London, 1890, p. 78). From the same root (ἄρτιος) is derived, with a strengthening prefix, the causative verb καταρτίζειν, which in the RV_ is rendered (a) ‘restore’ in Galatians 6:1; 1 Peter 5:10 RVm_; (b) ‘make perfect’ in 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Hebrews 13:21; (c) ‘perfect’ in 1 Corinthians 1:10, 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Peter 5:10. The cognate nouns are translated ‘perfecting’ in 2 Corinthians 13:9, Ephesians 4:12.

(a) When there has been deterioration or fracture, wear or tear, the idea of ‘perfecting’ includes that of repairing. Hence in Matthew 4:21 καταρτίζειν is used of mending nets, and in Galatians 6:1 it has the ethical significance of restoration to the right way. It denotes ‘re-adjustment,’ and ‘indicates the correction of an offender with a view to his restoration’ (F. Rendall, in EGT_, ‘Galatians,’ London, 1903, p. 188f.). The word has probably the same significance in 1 Corinthians 1:10. St. Paul deplores the existence of splits or schisms in the Church at Corinth; he therefore desires that its members may be ‘well and surely adjusted’ (coagmentati, Bengel); cf. G. G. Findlay (in EGT_, ‘1 Corinthians,’ London, 1900, p. 763), who quotes, with approval, Alford’s note: ‘the exact word for the healing or repairing of the breaches caused by the σχίσματα.’ According to this interpretation, the Apostle is anxious for the restoration of the Church to complete harmony. T. C. Edwards (1 Corinthians2, London, 1885, p. 17) blends this meaning with that of the perfecting of individual Christians: ‘Their dissensions were beginning to tell injuriously on their spiritual condition. There were not only σχίσματα in the Church, but personal ὑστερήματα. “Let them, therefore, be fully equipped in grace, that so they may be reconciled to one another.” ’ But even if the two meanings are not mutually exclusive, the primary appeal is for reconciliation, in order that the personal perfecting in grace of the members of the Church may not be hindered.

(b) and (c). The idea of ‘completeness,’ understood as implying the complete equipment of the individual believer and the harmonious co-operation of the members of the community, is dominant in the passages enumerated above. For the Thessalonians’ ‘faith to God-ward’ (1 Thessalonians 1:8) St. Paul gives thanks, yet he is solicitous for the perfecting of that which is lacking in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10). In the same spirit the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews prays (Hebrews 13:21): ‘Now the God of peace … make you perfect in every good thing to do his will.’ Westcott’s note (Hebrews, London, 1889, p. 449) on this verse applies to all the NT passages in which this aspect of perfection is described: ‘The word … includes the thoughts of the harmonious combination of different powers and of the supply of that which is defective.’

3. In the NT ‘perfect’ is most frequently the rendering of τέλειος. Much misunderstanding would be prevented if due weight were always given to the root-meaning of this Greek adjective. It is derived from the substantive τέλος, which ‘does not, as is commonly supposed, primarily denote the end, termination, with reference to time, but the goal reached, the completion or conclusion at which anything arrives, either as issue or ending, and thus including the termination of what went before; or as result, acme, consummation.… “It never” (according to Passow) “denotes merely an end as to time, a termination in and for itself; for this, τελευτή is always used” ’ (H. Cremer, Bibl.-Theol. Lex. of NT Greek, Edinburgh, 1880, p. 541).

In three important passages the RV_ renders τέλειος ‘full-grown,’ twice in the text (Ephesians 4:13, Hebrews 5:14), and once in the margin (1 Corinthians 2:6). Mature Christians are contrasted with babes in Christ, as in 1 Corinthians 14:20, where, however, τέλειοι is translated ‘men’: ‘howbeit in malice be ye babes, but in mind be men.’ The significance of this antithesis is clearly stated by Westcott in his note on Hebrews 5:14 : ‘A man is said to be τέλειος who has reached the full maturity of his powers, the full possession of his rights, his τέλος, his “end.” This maturity, completeness, perfection, may be regarded generally or in some particular aspect. As compared with the child, the full-grown man is τέλειος physically, intellectually, socially (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:10 f., Galatians 4:3); as compared with the fresh uninstructed convert, the disciplined and experienced Christian is τέλειος (1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 14:20, Ephesians 4:13, Philippians 3:15, Colossians 1:28; Colossians 4:12, James 1:4).’

The maturity of the Christian character is evidenced by the complete and harmonious development of moral virtues and spiritual graces; each must have its full fruition. The faith of Abraham attained its end in his actions, which were at once the proof of its energy and the means of its perfecting (James 2:22). In order that faith may abide the test, the Christian has need of patience; so long as he fails in endurance he lacks what is essential to his perfecting (James 1:3 f.). Moreover, as often as he stumbles in word he makes it manifest that he has not yet reached the goal; self-control is a sign of maturity and of the putting away of childish things (James 3:2). In Hebrews 6:1 (cf. Hebrews 5:14) the forward movement towards perfection is conceived as advance in the knowledge of Christ.

Much more than the maturity of a single grace is implied in St. John’s teaching concerning the perfecting of love. Perfect love is the best definition of Christian perfection; and how love is perfected is plainly taught in the First Epistle of St. John (John 2:5; John 4:12; John 4:17-18). ‘In the phraseology of this Epistle, “perfected” love signifies, not love in a superlative degree, but love that is consummated in action. Bearing fruit in actual obedience, Love has been perfected: it has fulfilled its mission, has reached its goal.… The conception common to “keeping His word” and “loving one another” is the embodiment of Love in actual conduct.… The idea is that, not of qualitative, but of effective perfection: and τετελείωται might be translated more unambiguously by “fulfilled” or “accomplished” than by “perfected.” That is τετελειωμένον which has reached its τέλος, has achieved its end, has run its full course. And the end of God’s Love to us is attained in our loving one another’ (R. Law, The Tests of Life, Edinburgh, 1909, pp. 212 f., 286 f.).

In Philippians 3:15 St. Paul includes himself among the τέλειοι: ‘Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded’; but in Philippians 3:12 he says: ‘not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect’ (τετελείωμαι). It is improbable that τέλειοι is a reminiscence of the technical term used in the mysteries to denote the initiated (cf. H. A. A. Kennedy in EGT_, ‘Philippians,’ London, 1903, p. 457). The difference between the two words, notwithstanding their derivation from the same root, must be taken into account. ‘In Philippians 3:12 the Apostle is speaking of absolute perfection, such as would relieve him of the necessity of further striving. In Philippians 3:15 he is speaking of relative perfection’ (M. R. Vincent, ICC_, ‘Philippians and Philemon,’ Edinburgh, 1897, p. 112). Here, as elsewhere, the apostolic teaching in regard to Christian perfection unfolds the implications of our Lord’s great saying: ‘Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48). The context shows that the perfection which Christ exhorts His disciples to strive after is not the absolute perfection of God, but the perfected sonship which manifests itself in love for enemies and prayer for persecutors, and generally in such actions as are becoming in those who are sons of the Father in heaven, who ‘maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust’ (Matthew 5:45).

The high tone of the apostolic teaching is sustained by Clement of Rome, who says (Ep. ad Cor. 49 f.): ‘In love were all the elect of God made perfect.… How great and marvellous a thing is love, and there is no declaring its perfection.… They that by God’s grace were perfected in love dwell in the abode of the pious.’

Literature.-In addition to the works referred to in the art._ see W. B. Pope, A Compendium of Christian Theology2, iii. [London, 1880] 56 ff.; O. A. Curtis, The Christian Faith, do., 1905, p. 373 ff.; W. A. Brown, Christian Theology in Outline, Edinburgh, 1907, p. 411 ff.; L. Lemme, ‘Vollkommenheit’ in PRE_3 xx. [Leipzig, 1908] 733 ff.; J. A. Beet, ‘Christian Perfection,’ in Exp_, 5th ser., v. [1897] 30 ff., 134 ff., 211 ff.

J. G. Tasker.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Perfect Perfection'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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