In elders quorum this week, someone mentioned the idea that Jesus led a perfect life. It’s a common idea I have heard expressed often in the church.
I don’t agree with it.
At the end of Matthew 5, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said the following:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
When we hear the word “perfect”, we normally interpret it to mean “without fault”. In the context Jesus used it, however, it likely means something else. In the original Greek version of Matthew 5:48, the word we translate as “perfect” was teleios.
This word means something less like having no defects or faults and more like complete in all its parts, full-grown, or mature. It is derived from the Greek telos, which means the end, completion, or product.
It seems, then, that Jesus isn’t instructing us to be spotless, without blemish, or defect free. It seems that he was telling us to be something else.
If he were telling us to be without fault, then why use only God as the one to whom we should look as the ideal? Why exclude himself? After all, Peter taught us in 1 Peter 2:22 that Jesus “did no sin”.
On that note, notice the Sermon at Bountiful (3 Ne. 12:48), where Jesus addressed the Nephite multitudes, and where he modified his counsel by including himself:
Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
This seems to imply that even Jesus didn’t consider himself perfect when he started his ministry.
Something must have happened between the start of Jesus’s ministry and when he visited the Nephites to prompt him to include himself.
In D&C 93, we learn from John the Beloved that even though Jesus was full (or complete) of grace and truth, he did not start out that way. In fact, verse 13 says that he “continued from grace to grace until he received a fulness.”
Also, we learn in Luke 2:52 that between the ages of 12 and 30 (when he began his ministry), Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and man. This is inline with D&C 93, strengthening the idea that he improved himself in stages.
While certainly Jesus was sinless—as I stated above—that doesn’t mean he was perfect. Perfection is something else entirely, and I believe that the scriptures are clear in saying that while Jesus was free of blemish, he was not perfect.