Why I don’t think Jesus was perfect

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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.

16 thoughts on “Why I don’t think Jesus was perfect

  1. Even though Jesus may not have been “perfect/complete” until his work of salvation was done, he surely DID lead a perfect life and provide for us a perfect example.

      1. Let me turn that question back to you – what makes you think he didn’t lead a perfect life? The only conclusion really supported by your argument is that he wasn’t “perfect” (ie complete) until he had completed his atoning sacrifice and fulfilled his role as Savior. The fact that his mission want complete yet doesn’t mean he wasn’t perfect in all that he did up to that point.

          1. Uh, yeah you did. Read your first couple sentences. You said you don’t agree with a certain “common idea” often expressed in church – the “idea that Jesus led a perfect life.” You clearly state “I don’t agree with it.”

  2. I guess I don’t understand the point of this post and why you would title it so provokingly “Why I don’t think Jesus was perfect.” It has an air of dismissiveness, as though somehow Jesus is “over-rated.”

    1. Jesus led a perfect life by being in perfect accordance with the will of His Father – at all times, every hour of everyday. If it were not do, he would not have been able to offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice. A perfect sacrifice which required a perfect lamb. Nothing you cite in your post contradicts the notion that he led a perfect life. Yet that is the assertion you made. Your arguments don’t support your conclusion.

  3. Thank you for exploring the background behind the use of “perfect” in this context. Whether or not Christ was sin-free or complete, it is interesting and thought-provoking to contemplate how either or both interpretations could apply to us. At this point in my life, with the temptations of *major sins* long past, the notion of completeness and this injunction to us is especially compelling.

    1. Good point. The fact that he progressed from grace to grace until he had received a fullness encourages me in my efforts to become better. It also assures me that he truly understands our mortal trials.

  4. What is different between the Palestine Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple in the Americas is the resurrection. The resurrection is what completed Jesus making Him, perfect, complete and finished.

  5. Obviously the Resurrection is not the only difference but it the icing on the cake. Perhaps working out the Atonement perfected and completed Jesus too, just as his Atonement and it’s enabling grace perfect us. But the Resurrection takes away the last remaining difference between Jesus and His Father. He now has an immortal and perfect body like His Father. So in 3 Nephi He can truly say… I want you to be perfect just like me and my Father whereas in Matthew he could only ask us to be perfect like His Father. Having become become exactly like His Father the teleios you referred to is now complete.

    1. I’ve thought in the past about how much of a role the resurrection played in changing him from an imperfect person in Matthew to a perfect one in 3 Nephi. I, too, think it played a significant role, but I also think he wasn’t just referring to a physical completeness.

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