The thought of perfection is expressed through Hebrew terms drawn from such verbs as ka·lalʹ (perfect [compare Eze 27:4]), sha·lamʹ (come to completion [compare Isa 60:20]), and ta·mamʹ (be completed, come to perfection [compare Ps 102:27; Isa 18:5]). In the Christian Greek Scriptures the words teʹlei·os (adjective), te·lei·oʹtes (noun), and te·lei·oʹo (verb) are used similarly, conveying such ideas as bringing to completeness or full measure (Lu 8:14; 2Co 12:9; Jas 1:4), being full grown, adult, or mature (1Co 14:20; Heb 5:14), having attained the appropriate or appointed end, purpose, or goal (Joh 19:28; Php 3:12).
Importance of Correct Viewpoint. For correct Bible understanding one must not make the common error of thinking that everything called “perfect” is so in an absolute sense, that is, to an infinite degree, without limitation. Perfection in this absolute sense distinguishes only the Creator, Jehovah God. Because of this Jesus could say of his Father: “Nobody is good, except one, God.” (Mr 10:18) Jehovah is incomparable in his excellence, worthy of all praise, supreme in his superb qualities and powers, so that “his name alone is unreachably high.” (Ps 148:1-13; Job 36:3, 4, 26; 37:16, 23, 24; Ps 145:2-10, 21) Moses extolled God’s perfection, saying: “For I shall declare the name of Jehovah. Do you attribute greatness to our God! The Rock, perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” (De 32:3, 4) All of God’s ways, words, and law are perfect, refined, free from flaw or defect. (Ps 18:30; 19:7; Jas 1:17, 25) There is never any just cause for objection, criticism, or faultfinding regarding Him or his activity; rather, praise is always due Him.
Other perfection relative. Perfection of any other person or thing, then, is relative, not absolute. (Compare Ps 119:96.) That is, a thing is “perfect” according to, or in relation to, the purpose or end for which it is appointed by its designer or producer, or the use to which it is to be put by its receiver or user. The very meaning of perfection requires that there be someone who decides when “completion” has been reached, what the standards of excellence are, what requirements are to be satisfied, and what details are essential. Ultimately, God the Creator is the final Arbiter of perfection, the Standard-Setter, in accord with his own righteous purposes and interests.
As an illustration, the planet Earth was one of God’s creations, and at the end of six creative ‘days’ of work toward it, God pronounced the results “very good.” (Ge 1:31) It met his supreme standards of excellence, hence it was perfect. Yet he thereafter assigned man to “subdue it,” evidently in the sense of cultivating the earth and making the whole planet, and not just Eden, a garden of God.
The tent, or tabernacle, built in the wilderness at God’s command and according to his specifications served as a type or small-scale prophetic model of a “greater and more perfect tent,” the Most Holy of which is Jehovah’s heavenly residence into which Christ Jesus entered as High Priest. (Heb 9:11-14, 23, 24) The earthly tent was perfect in that it satisfied God’s requirements, served its appointed end. Yet when God’s purpose concerning it was accomplished, it ceased to be used and passed out of existence. The perfection of that which it represented was of a far higher type.
The city of Jerusalem with its hill of Zion was called “the perfection of prettiness.” (La 2:15; Ps 50:2) This does not mean that every minute aspect of the city’s physical appearance was supremely attractive, but rather, it relates to its use by God, the city’s beauty resulting from the splendor that he conferred upon it, making it the capital of his anointed kings and the site of his temple. (Eze 16:14) The wealthy commercial city of Tyre is portrayed as a ship whose builders, those working in behalf of the city’s material interests, had ‘perfected its prettiness,’ filling it with luxury products of many lands.
Thus, in each case the context must be considered to determine in what sense or relation perfection is meant.
Perfection of the Mosaic Law. The Law given to Israel through Moses included among its provisions the establishment of a priesthood and the offering of various animal sacrifices. Though from God, and hence perfect, neither the Law, its priesthood, nor the sacrifices brought perfection to those under the Law, as the inspired apostle shows. (Heb 7:11, 19; 10:1) Rather than bring freedom from sin and death, it actually made sin more evident. (Ro 3:20; 7:7-13) All these divine provisions, nevertheless, served the purpose assigned them by God; the Law acted as a “tutor” to lead men to Christ, forming a perfect “shadow of the good things to come.” (Ga 3:19-25; Heb 10:1) Hence, when Paul speaks of “an incapability on the part of the Law, while it was weak through the flesh” (Ro 8:3), he is evidently referring to the inability of the fleshly Jewish high priest (who was appointed by the Law to be in charge of the sacrificial arrangements and who entered the Most Holy on Atonement Day with sacrificial blood) to “save completely” those whom he served, as Hebrews 7:11, 18-28 explains. Although the offering of sacrifices through the Aaronic priesthood maintained a right standing for the people before God, it did not completely or perfectly relieve them of consciousness of sin. The apostle refers to this in saying that the atonement sacrifices could not “make those who approach perfect,” that is, as regards their conscience. (Heb 10:1-4; compare Heb 9:9.) The high priest was unable to provide the ransom price needed for a true redemption from sin. Only Christ’s enduring priestly service and effective sacrifice do accomplish this.
The Law was “holy,” “good,” “fine” (Ro 7:12, 16), and anyone who could fully live up to this perfect Law would prove himself a perfect man, worthy of life. (Le 18:5; Ro 10:5; Ga 3:12) For this very reason the Law brought condemnation, rather than life, not because the Law was not good but because of the imperfect, sinful nature of those under it. (Ro 7:13-16; Ga 3:10-12, 19-22) The perfect Law made their imperfection and sinfulness especially evident. (Ro 3:19, 20; Ga 3:19, 22) The Law in this respect also served to identify Jesus as the Messiah, for he alone was able to keep the Law in every respect, proving himself a perfect man.
The Bible’s Perfection. The Sacred Scriptures constitute a perfect message from God, refined, pure, and true. (Ps 12:6; 119:140, 160; Pr 30:5; Joh 17:17) Though thousands of years of copying have evidently brought some variations from the original writings, these variations are admittedly very minor, so that, even if our present copies and translations are not absolutely flawless, the divine message conveyed is.
Individuals may find the Bible a more difficult book to read than many, one requiring greater effort and concentration; they may find much they do not understand. Some critical persons may insist that, to be perfect, the Bible should be free of even superficial differences or what appear, according to their standards, to be inconsistencies. None of these things, however, detract from the perfection of the Sacred Scriptures. For the real gauge of its perfection is its measuring up to the standards of excellence set by Jehovah God, its accomplishing the end or purpose that he, as its true Author, appointed for it, as well as its being free from falsehood, as the published Word of the God of truth. The apostle Paul points up the perfection of “the holy writings” in saying: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2Ti 3:15-17) What the Hebrew Scriptures did for the nation of Israel when they observed them, what the completed Scriptures did for the Christian congregation in the first century, and what the Bible can do for persons in the present, is convincing proof of its qualities as an ideal instrument of God to accomplish his purpose.
The whole tenor of the Scriptures, including the teachings of God’s Son, is to the effect that the gaining of understanding of God’s purposes, the doing of his will, and the attaining of salvation to life are dependent primarily upon the individual’s heart. (1Sa 16:7; 1Ch 28:9; Pr 4:23; 21:2; Mt 15:8; Lu 8:5-15; Ro 10:10) The Bible is unique in its ability to “discern thoughts and intentions of the heart,” revealing what the person really is. (Heb 4:12, 13) It is clear from the Scriptures that God has not made knowledge of himself something to be acquired without effort. (Compare Pr 2:1-14; 8:32-36; Isa 55:6-11; Mt 7:7, 8.) It is also evident that God has caused his purposes to be revealed to humble ones and hidden from haughty ones, because ‘to do thus came to be the way approved by him.’ (Mt 11:25-27; 13:10-15; 1Co 2:6-16; Jas 4:6) So, the fact that individuals whose hearts do not respond to the Bible’s message can find things in the Scriptures that, in their opinion, justify their rejection of its message, its reproof, and its discipline does not show any imperfection on the part of the Bible. Rather, it illustrates the Scriptural points just made and hence demonstrates the perfection of the Bible in the view of its Author, whose view alone is decisive. (Isa 29:13, 14; Joh 9:39; Ac 28:23-27; Ro 1:28) The things relating to God’s Word and way that the worldly-wise deem “foolish” or “weak” are proved by time and test to be of superior wisdom and strength compared to the theories, philosophies, and reasonings of human detractors.
Faith remains an essential requirement for the understanding and appreciation of God’s perfect Word. The individual may feel that certain details and explanations should be in the Bible, revealing why, in specific cases, God gave approval or disapproval or why he took a particular course of action; the individual also may feel that other details found in the Bible are superfluous. Yet he should realize that if the Bible conformed to human standards or criteria, such as his own, this would not prove it divinely perfect. Exposing the falsity of such an attitude, Jehovah declares the superiority of his thoughts and ways to those of humans, and he assures that his word will “have certain success” in the fulfillment of his purpose. (Isa 55:8-11; Ps 119:89) That is what perfection means, as the definitions in the initial portion of this article show.
Perfection and Free Will. The foregoing information aids in understanding how perfect creatures of God could become disobedient. To view this as incompatible with perfection is to ignore the meaning of the term, substituting a personal concept that goes contrary to fact. God’s intelligent creatures are granted free moral agency, the privilege and responsibility of making a personal decision as to the course they will take. (De 30:19, 20; Jos 24:15) It is evident that this was the case with the first human pair, so that their devotion to God could be subject to test. (Ge 2:15-17; 3:2, 3) As their Maker, Jehovah knew what he wanted of them, and from the Scriptures it is clear that he wanted, not an automatic, virtually mechanical obedience, but worship and service that sprang from hearts and minds motivated by genuine love. (Compare De 30:15, 16; 1Ch 28:9; 29:17; Joh 4:23, 24.) If Adam and his wife had lacked the ability to choose in this matter, they would not have met God’s requirements; they would not have been complete, perfect, according to his standards.
It must be remembered that perfection as it relates to humans is a relative perfection, limited to the human sphere. Though created perfect, Adam could not go beyond the limits assigned him by his Creator; he could not eat dirt, gravel, or wood without suffering ill effects; if he tried to breathe water instead of air, he would drown. Similarly, if he allowed his mind and heart to feed on wrong thoughts, this would lead to entertaining wrong desires and finally bring sin and death.
That the creature’s individual will and choice are determining factors readily becomes evident. If we were to insist that a perfect man could not take a wrong course where a moral issue was involved, should we not also logically argue that an imperfect creature could not take a right course where such moral issue was involved? Yet some imperfect creatures do take a right course on moral issues involving obedience to God, even choosing to suffer persecution rather than change from such a course; while at the same time others deliberately engage in doing what they know is wrong. Thus not all wrong actions can be excused by human imperfection. The individual’s will and choice are deciding factors. In the same way, it was not human perfection alone that would guarantee right action by the first man but, rather, the exercise of his own free will and choice as motivated by love for his God and for what was right.
The first sinner and the king of Tyre. Human sin and imperfection were, of course, preceded by sin and imperfection in the spirit realm, as Jesus’ words at John 8:44 and the account in chapter 3 of Genesis reveal. The dirge recorded at Ezekiel 28:12-19, though directed to the human “king of Tyre,” evidently parallels the course taken by the spirit son of God who first sinned. The pride of “the king of Tyre,” his making himself ‘a god,’ his being called a “cherub,” and the reference to “Eden, the garden of God,” certainly correspond to Biblical information concerning Satan the Devil, who became puffed up with pride, is linked to the serpent in Eden, and is called “the god of this system of things.”
The anonymous king of Tyre, residing in the city claiming to be “perfect in prettiness,” was himself “full of wisdom and perfect [adjective related to Heb. ka·lalʹ] in beauty,” and “faultless [Heb., ta·mimʹ]” in his ways from his creation onward until unrighteousness was found in him. (Eze 27:3; 28:12, 15) The first or direct application of the dirge in Ezekiel may be to the line of Tyrian rulers rather than to any one specific king. (Compare the prophecy directed against the anonymous “king of Babylon” at Isa 14:4-20.) In that case, the reference may be to the early course of friendship and cooperation followed by the Tyrian rulership during the reigns of Kings David and Solomon, when Tyre even contributed toward the building of Jehovah’s temple on Mount Moriah. At first, therefore, there was no fault to be found in the official Tyrian attitude toward Jehovah’s people Israel. (1Ki 5:1-18; 9:10, 11, 14; 2Ch 2:3-16) Later kings, however, departed from this “faultless” course, and Tyre came in for condemnation by God’s prophets Joel and Amos, as well as Ezekiel. (Joe 3:4-8; Am 1:9, 10) Aside from the evident similarity of the course of “the king of Tyre” with that of God’s principal Adversary, the prophecy illustrates again how “perfection” and “faultlessness” can be used in limited senses.
How could imperfect servants of God be termed “faultless”?
Righteous Noah proved himself “faultless among his contemporaries.” (Ge 6:9) Job was “blameless and upright.” (Job 1:8) Similar expressions are made regarding other servants of God. Since all were descendants of the sinner Adam and hence sinners, it is clear that such men were “faultless” and “blameless” in the sense of measuring up fully to God’s requirements for them, requirements that took into account their imperfection and disability. (Compare Mic 6:8.) Even as a potter would not expect the same quality when molding a vase from common clay as he would when forming one from special refined clay, so Jehovah’s requirements take into consideration the weakness of imperfect humans. (Ps 103:10-14; Isa 64:8) Though committing errors and wrongs because of their fleshly imperfection, such faithful men nevertheless manifested “a complete [Heb., sha·lemʹ] heart” toward Jehovah. (1Ki 11:4; 15:14; 2Ki 20:3; 2Ch 16:9) Thus, within the limits possible for them to attain, their devotion was complete, sound, satisfying the divine requirements in their case. Since God the Judge was pleased with their worship, no human or spirit creature could rightly find fault with their service to Him.
The Christian Greek Scriptures recognize the inherent imperfection of mankind descended from Adam. James 3:2 shows that a person would be “a perfect man, able to bridle . . . his whole body,” if he could bridle his tongue and not stumble in word; but in this “we all stumble many times.” (Compare Jas 3:8.) Nevertheless, certain relative perfections are set forth as attainable by sinful humans. Jesus told his followers: “You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) Here his reference was to the matter of love and generosity. He showed that merely to “love those loving you” constituted an incomplete, defective love; hence his followers should perfect their love or bring it to full measure by loving their enemies also, thereby following God’s example. (Mt 5:43-47) Similarly, the young man who questioned Jesus on the way to gain everlasting life was shown that his worship, which already included obedience to the Law’s commandments, was still lacking in vital points. If he ‘wanted to be perfect’ he must bring his worship to full development (compare Lu 8:14; Isa 18:5) by fulfilling these aspects.
The apostle John shows that God’s love is made perfect in Christians who remain in union with Him, observing the word of his Son and loving one another. (1Jo 2:5; 4:11-18) Such perfect love casts out fear, grants “freeness of speech.” Here the context shows that John is speaking of “freeness of speech toward God,” as in prayer. (1Jo 3:19-22; compare Heb 4:16; 10:19-22.) The one in whom God’s love reaches full expression can approach his heavenly Father in confidence, not feeling condemned in his heart as if hypocritical or disapproved. He knows he is observing God’s commandments and that he is doing what pleases his Father, and he is therefore free in his expressions and petitions to Jehovah. He does not feel as if under restriction by God as to what he is privileged to say or to ask for. (Compare Nu 12:10-15; Job 40:1-5; La 3:40-44; 1Pe 3:7.) No morbid fear inhibits him; he does not come to “the day of judgment” conscious of some ‘black mark’ against him or desirous of hiding certain things. (Compare Heb 10:27, 31.) As a child does not fear to ask his loving parents for anything, so the Christian in whom love is fully developed is sure that “no matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us. Further, if we know he hears us respecting whatever we are asking, we know we are to have the things asked since we have asked them of him.”
Thus, this “perfect love” does not cast out fear of every kind. It does not eliminate the reverential and filial fear of God, born of deep respect for his position, power, and justice. (Ps 111:9, 10; Heb 11:7) Neither does it do away with the normal fear that causes a person, where possible, to avoid danger or to protect his life, nor with the fear caused by sudden alarm.
Also, full unity is achieved through the “perfect bond” of love, causing true Christians to be “perfected into one.” (Col 3:14; Joh 17:23) Obviously the perfection of this unity is also relative and does not mean that all differences of personality, such as individual abilities, habits, and conscience, are eliminated. When attained, however, its fullness does lead to unified action, belief, and teaching.
The Perfection of Christ Jesus. Jesus was born as a perfect human
The “Perfecter of our faith.” Jesus is called “the Chief Agent [Chief Leader] and Perfecter of our faith.” (Heb 12:2) True, long before the coming of Jesus Christ, Abraham’s faith was “perfected” by his works of faith and obedience, so that he gained God’s approval and became party with God in an oath-bound covenant. (Jas 2:21-23; Ge 22:15-18) But the faith of all those men of faith living prior to Jesus’ earthly ministry was incomplete, or imperfect, in the sense of their not understanding the then unfulfilled prophecies regarding him as God’s Seed and Messiah. (1Pe 1:10-12) By his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection to heavenly life, these prophecies came to fulfillment, and the faith about Christ had a strengthened foundation, one filled out with historical facts. Thus, faith in this perfected sense “arrived” through Christ Jesus (Ga 3:24, 25), who thereby proved to be the “leader” (AT), “pioneer” (Mo), or Chief Agent of our faith. He continued to be the Perfecter of the faith of his followers from his heavenly position, by pouring down holy spirit on them at Pentecost and by imparting revelations that progressively filled out and developed their faith.
“Not Made Perfect Apart From Us.” After reviewing the record of faithful men of the pre-Christian period from Abel onward, the apostle says none of these got “the fulfillment of the promise, as God foresaw something better for us, in order that they might not be made perfect apart from us.” (Heb 11:39, 40) The “us” here clearly refers to anointed Christians (Heb 1:2; 2:1-4), “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb 3:1) for whom Christ “inaugurated . . . a new and living way” into the holy place of God’s heavenly presence. (Heb 10:19, 20) That heavenly calling includes service as heavenly priests of God and of Christ during Christ’s Thousand Year Reign. “Power of judging” is also granted them. (Re 20:4-6) Logically, then, the heavenly life and privileges that the called ones receive is the “something better” that God foresaw for such anointed Christians. (Heb 11:40) The revealing of them as they go into action from heaven with Christ to destroy the wicked system, however, is to open the way for bringing liberation from enslavement to corruption for those of creation reaching out for “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Ro 8:19-22) Hebrews 11:35 shows that faithful men of pre-Christian times maintained integrity under suffering “in order that they might attain a better resurrection,” evidently one better than that of the “dead” referred to at the start of the verse, persons who were resurrected only to die again. (Compare 1Ki 17:17-23; 2Ki 4:17-20, 32-37.) For these faithful men of pre-Christian times, therefore, their being “made perfect” must relate to their resurrection, or restoration to life, and thereafter their being “set free from enslavement to corruption” by the services of the priesthood of Christ Jesus and his underpriests during the Millennial Rule.
Mankind’s Return to Perfection on Earth. According to the prayer, “Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth,” this planet is due to experience the full force and effect of the execution of God’s purposes. (Mt 6:10) The wicked system under the control of Satan will be destroyed. All faults and defects will be removed from survivors who continue obediently to demonstrate faith, so that what remains meets God’s standards of excellence, completeness, and soundness. That this will include perfection of earthly conditions and of human creatures is evident from Revelation 5:9, 10. There it is stated that persons ‘bought for God’ (compare Re 14:1, 3) become “a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.” Under the Law covenant not only did the priests have the duty to represent persons before God in the offering of sacrifices but they also were charged with guarding the physical health of the nation, officiating in the cleansing of those who were defiled, and judging when healing had taken place in cases of leprosy. (Le 13-15) More than this, the priesthood was responsible to aid in the mental and spiritual uplift and health of the people. (De 17:8-13; Mal 2:7) Since the Law had “a shadow of the good things to come,” it is to be expected that the heavenly priesthood under Christ Jesus functioning during his Thousand Year Reign (Re 20:4-6) will perform similar work.
That redeemed mankind will experience the removal of tears, mourning, outcry, pain, and death is guaranteed by the prophetic picture at Revelation 21:1-5. Through Adam, sin, and consequent suffering and death, entered the human race (Ro 5:12), and these are certainly among “the former things” due to pass away. Death is the wages of sin, and as “the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing” through Christ’s Kingdom rule. (Ro 6:23; 1Co 15:25, 26, 56) For obedient mankind this means a return to the perfect state enjoyed by man at the beginning of human history in Eden. Thus, humans will be able to enjoy not only perfection as to faith and love but perfection as to sinlessness; they will measure up fully and faultlessly to God’s righteous standards for humans. The prophecy at Revelation 21:1-5 likewise relates to the Thousand Year Reign of Christ, since the “New Jerusalem,” whose “coming down out of heaven” is linked with the removal of mankind’s afflictions, is shown to be Christ’s “bride,” or glorified congregation, hence those composing the royal priesthood of Christ’s Millennial Rule.
Mankind’s perfection will be relative, limited to the human sphere. Yet it will certainly afford those gaining it the ability to enjoy earthly life to the fullest degree possible. “Rejoicing to satisfaction [to the full] is with [Jehovah’s] face,” and God’s ‘tenting with mankind’ shows that obedient mankind is meant, those toward whom Jehovah’s face turns with approval. (Ps 16:11; Re 21:3; compare Ps 15:1-3; 27:4, 5; 61:4; Isa 66:23.) Perfection does not mean an end to variety, however, as persons often assume. The animal kingdom, which is the product of Jehovah’s ‘perfect activity’ (Ge 1:20-24; De 32:4), contains enormous variety. Perfection of the planet Earth is likewise not incompatible with variety, change, or contrast; it allows for the simple and the complex, the plain and the fancy, the sour and the sweet, the rough and the smooth, the meadows and the woods, the mountains and the valleys. It embraces the stimulating freshness of early spring, the warmth of summer with its azure-blue skies, the loveliness of autumn colors, the pure beauty of freshly fallen snow. (Ge 8:22) Perfect humans will thus not be stereotypes of identical personality, talents, and abilities. As the initial definitions have shown, this is not a necessary meaning of perfection.