Was Jesus Always Perfect?

There are plenty of verses in the Bible that we can take to mean that Jesus was perfect (“a lamb without blemish”, etc), but the Bible doesn’t say outright that Jesus was always perfect. On the contrary, Hebrews implies that Jesus was not always perfect, but rather became perfect at some point. Hebrews 5:7-9 (NIV) says:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him

According to this passage, Jesus was not the source of salvation until after he was made perfect. This has important ramifications. It means that people who lived before Jesus was made perfect, did not have a source of salvation. Without a source of salvation during their lifetime, God’s most faithful servants, like Moses, King David, King Solomon, and the prophets, went to hell when they died. It also means that if Jesus was always God then God isn’t necessarily perfect. Alternatively, it means that Jesus wasn’t always God (because God is always perfect).

There is good evidence that the author of Hebrews didn’t believe that Jesus was God, at least not in a way that makes the Father and Jesus one and the same. Here is a good presentation of the evidence: www.prudentialpublishing.info/hebrews_view_of_Jesus.htm

Which do you think is true…

1) Jesus was always God but God can be imperfect
2) Jesus became God after he became perfect
3) Hebrews is not the Inerrant Word of God

…and why?


7 Responses to Was Jesus Always Perfect?

  1. A better translation of verse 9 kai teleiOthesis is “having been made perfect”. Using the NASB when exegeting the Bible would be preferable if you are not familiar with Koine Greek, it is a more literal translation of the original language.

    Either way, –being made perfect/once made perfect– refers to the completion of the death and resurrection, the fulfillment of the plan. It is not a reference to Jesus qualitative properties.

    Additionally, if Christians do describe Jesus as perfect, I am not certain they mean what you mean. If Christians reference Jesus as perfect, by that they mean sinless, not that He never misspoke, or dropped something on the ground, or stubbed His toe.

    And no, Jesus the Son is not the same as the Father, that is the trinitarian view of the Godhead. 1 God in 3 distinct co-eternal persons. You should also note that the site you referenced in regards to Hebrews does not represent conventional thought and they make large infrences which the text does not support.

    • The Atheist says:

      That’s an excellent observation! Thanks for pointing out a flaw in my 3 choices (“What do you think is true”) – I left off a 4th choice: 4) The verse in Hebrews is mistranslated.

      In fact all of the Greek terms in the NT that mean “perfect” or “complete” are somewhat interchangeable (akribos, artios, katartizo, & teleios). This should come as no surprise since our English words, “complete” and “perfect” are also very tightly interrelated. The English word, “perfect” derives from the Latin, per-facere – to make complete.

      This is not so with the Greek word, teleios, the term we are most interested in here. Teleios derives from telos, which meant a target for an arrow. The Greek word used to describe the act of failing to hit the telos (the target) is “hamartia” (error). Hamartia is the word that is translated into English as “sin” in the NT. Teleios then is closer to what we mean today by “perfection”. Teleios is the absence of failure or error (or the absence of sin in theological contexts). However I agree that the term teleios finally came to be used to mean either perfection or completion.

      If we recognize that teleios can mean either perfection or completion, we should consider a few things when exegeting this passage: 1) the choice of the term, teleios, which has it’s roots in telos which is related to the absence of error, and 2) the context in which the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus “learned obedience”. If Jesus had to learn obedience (5:8) and if Jesus is not perfect without perfect obedience (5:9?), then our best understanding of the writer’s meaning would be that Jesus was not always perfect. In 5:5, the writer quotes the Father saying “You are my Son, today have I begotten you.” In other words, Jesus was not always God’s Son (and no one but God is perfect). Looking at an even broader context, the writer of Hebrews views Jesus as subordinate to the Father. In Hebrews 1, Jesus is the appointed heir (not the original owner or lord), Jesus is better than angels (vs. Jesus is God), the Father never told any angel “today I have begotten you” like he told Jesus (again, Jesus is better than angels, but not God).

      Though we could translate Heb 5:9 as “once made complete” and understand the “completion” to be Jesus’ death, the best translation (based on Hebrews as the widest context) seems to be “once made perfect.”

  2. You seem to also equivocate the difference from perfection per se and moral perfection. Moral perfection was what is necessary as far as salvation is concerned.

    Yes, you are recognizing the economic trinity, there is a hierarchy, father, Son, Holy Spirit. However we cant forget/ignore/grant no significance to the notion that the Son is eternal, yet at a point in history took on a human nature being given a human body. Jesus was a man born under the Jewish law as well as being the second person of the trinity. As a Jewish man He was required to be obedient to the Law. As a child He needed to be taught, which is not a liability.

    telos describes the end of a goal-oriented process. It signifies a purpose, ei, the teleological argument for the existence of God deals with the notion that there is purpose behind the intricacies of the laws of the physical world. I think you may be thinking of the word for sin (hamartia), which indicates a missing of a target.

    • The Atheist says:

      I’m not equivocating the difference (moral perfection is one type of ‘perfection per se’), I’m simply dealing with the more general case. I might guess that the writer of Hebrews is talking about moral perfection in 5:9, but my point doesn’t depend on that assumption. I can just as easily make my point with the more general case. Let me know if you disagree and if you still see an equivocation. My point is that 5:9 implies a time when Jesus was imperfect, whether morally or in some other way.

      Hebrews falls short of promoting the economic Trinity. It seems implausible that one who writes this dialog between the Father and Jesus, “…God, your God, has set you above your companions …” (1:9), also maintains that the Father and Jesus are equally God. This and other passages in Hebrews provide a context for exegeting 5:9. If Hebrews views Jesus as a subordinate to the Father who was not always a God, then a statement that Jesus wasn’t always perfect is consistent.

      I’m not sure if you are agreeing with me or not in your last paragraph. You seem to be repeating what I said earlier about telos and hamartia (except you didn’t interact with my explanation of why teleios is better understood as “perfect” rather than “complete”). Were you simply reiterating what I said and agreeing?

  3. chicago dyke says:

    hey good atheists!

    if i may go off topic: i came here via The Friendly Atheist; Hemant is one of my favorite blogger ever and he asked for our support of your new show that isn’t on TV but now on AM radio etc. fine! you have it! but i want to complain. i understand that the PNW area is lacking in black folk. but you have some asians out there, right? women? like, one or two?

    i was just defending the argument the other day, so this is ironic for me to say, and i don’t believe that race and gender should play a huge role in the “atheist movement” however you want to define it. but i have to tell you: when i saw his post with you guys talking about this website and your new show, the very first thing that popped into my mind? the fact that you all look exactly the same, as it were. one of you must know a female atheist? maybe a gay atheist? an atheist of color? i don’t mean to be all uber-PC n sh*t, but it is a problem. there is serious, important work to do in communities of people who don’t look like you all. indeed, i can make a heavy argument about why that matters as much, if not more so, as it does to promote atheism in the dominant community. but please! get a drag queen on your show, or a woman with some tats and an attitude, or someone who can handle a lot of summer sun. just sayin.

    thanks for tolerating this comment, sorry to be such a pedant but i guess that’s what people like me have to do. luv, Chicago dyke (a nicely browned female)

    • The Atheist says:

      Hey, cd. Sorry to take so long to respond. I read this earlier but I didn’t realize at the time you meant “me” when referring to the producers of the TV and radio shows. Wrong atheist! :) Those aren’t my shows.

  4. Paul says:

    Hello, im not a bible scholar or any other type for that matter. But, i do read the bible and am a Christian. The topic of this discussion popped into my mind as well, so of course i googled it. And here i am. So an idea occurred to me that maybe God took the form of a human, but not just in body but also to some degree, the mind and weaknesses of one (such as any disregulating human emotions, maybe Jesus, in the begining of his life on earth did not know everything). It’s kind of like a professional boxer taking on amateurs with one hand tied behind his back, to try to make it even. So, maybe it’s God’s way of showing us that living perfectly can be done by us too. Also, maybe despite “handicapping” himself, he overcame that obsticle and became just like he was before, perfect. Just a thought. Thanks!

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