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1 Corinthians 13:8-12 (ESV):

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Philippians 3:12-21 (ESV):

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV):

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV):

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

  • In 1 Corinthians 13:10 Paul talks about a perfection that hasn't come yet.
  • In Philippians 3:12 Paul talks about a perfection he hasn't attained yet.
  • In 2 Timothy 3:17 Paul talks about a kind of perfection/completeness facilitated by inspired Scripture, and the verse is phrased in a way that makes it sound like this kind of perfection is attainable in this life (or is it?).
  • In Ephesians 4:13 Paul talks about a kind of perfection that applies corporately to the whole body of Christ, facilitated by the appointed offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.

Questions

  • Does Paul have different types of perfection in mind?
  • When are/were/will these different types of perfection (be) actualized?
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  • I don't see the words "perfection" or "perfect" in either 2 Timothy 3:17 or Ephesians 4:13. Perhaps you should limit your question about "perfection" to the passages that actually, you know, contain the word "perfection". Just a suggestion. :/
    – Rajesh
    Apr 6 at 17:35
  • How is this different from hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/66550/… ??
    – Dottard
    Apr 6 at 20:17
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    All this revolves around the meaning of a single Greek word, "telios" which has been discussed numerous times here.
    – Dottard
    Apr 6 at 20:21
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    @Rajesh 3 of the 4 passages contain forms of τέλειος, and 2 Tim uses the somewhat-but-not-quite synonymous ἄρτιος, both of which can be translated as "perfect" or "complete". Apr 7 at 3:30

1 Answer 1

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Complete

If we grant that (in the Greek words used) "perfect" and "complete" carry the same meaning, Paul is simply referring to different entities becoming "complete".

(3 of the 4 passages contain forms of τέλειος, and 2 Tim uses the somewhat-but-not-quite synonymous ἄρτιος, both of which can be translated as "perfect" or "complete")

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Knowledge

In 1 Cor 13 Paul speaks of knowledge becoming complete (see vss. 9,12).

Although the timing is not given, the reference to face-to-face suggests a future appearance before God (judgment day?), and the passage echoes the thoughts of the millennarian prophecy in Isaiah 11:9, see also Habakkuk 2:14)

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Paul himself

Paul acknowledges in Philippians that he is a work in progress. God has called him to be something more and will help him get there, but the master craftsman isn't done working on Paul just yet.

Paul appears (here & elsewhere) to have in mind a prize beyond this life.

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The work of the kingdom

Paul suggests that the scriptures equip people for the work God intends them to do--note that the verb ἐξαρτίζω is used in parallel with the adjective ἄρτιος, suggesting the man who avails himself of the scriptures will be fully equipped.

There is no need to suggest that this level of preparedness is beyond mortal reach.

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The church

Paul speaks of the body of Christ attaining a state of perfection or completion, and that God has given tools to get them there, but they aren't there yet. This passage could be read as a response to the question "why do we need apostles & teachers?".

If we accept the NT symbolism that the church is the bride being prepared for the bridegroom (similar motifs are found in the OT), and the wedding is at or after a future coming of Christ, this hasn't happened yet either.

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Conclusion

Various people/entities can become complete in different ways. Paul speaks of most of these processes of development as things that are still a work-in-progress.

Lest we try to water-down the weight of "perfection" too much though, consider the following thought experiment:

Let's say God sets some very high standard ("perfection", "completion") for where He wants His children to be. The exact height of the standard is irrelevant to the thought experiment, as long as we are aware that it's beyond anything we'll get to in a ~75 year mortal sojourn. Does this mean we'll never reach that standard?

Hardly. For those willing to fully embrace not my will but Thine be done: if Almighty God has all eternity to work with them, why in the world wouldn't He be able to get them to the goal He has set?

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