Philippians 3:15 NASB

Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you…

What does Paul mean here when he addresses a group of people as “perfect”? The original greek seems to imply perfection, a certain completeness of one’s likeness to Christ, which doesn’t exactly seem to make sense in this passage? Is anyone perfect while on earth? Paul does not seem to think he himself is in this chapter. Is anyone able to shine light on this? Thank you!

  • @RayButterworth thanks for pointing out the typos: yikes!! Voice dictation was not my friend. The older version of NASB (which is the one I have and use) does actually use the word "perfect" in its translation. Dec 1, 2022 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


Actually, the current version of the NASB has this translation:

Therefore, all who are mature, let’s have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that to you as well;

[The OP appears to be quoting an older edition.]

The operative word here is τέλειος (teleios) which BDAG defines as follows:

  1. pertaining to reaching the highest standard, (a) of things, perfect, eg, James 1:4a, 17, 1 John 4:18, etc
  2. pertaining to being mature, full-grown, mature, adult, eg, Eoph 4:13, 1 Cor 14:20, 2:6, Heb 5:14
  3. pertaining to being a cult initiate, initiated, eg, Phil 3:15, Col 1:28
  4. pertaining to being fully developed in a moral sense
  • (a) of humans, perfect, fully developed, eg, James 3:2, Matt 19:21, 5:48a, James 1:4b
  • (b) of God, perfect, eg, Matt 5:48b

Given these shades of meaning of this word τέλειος (teleios), it is arguably a poor choice to imply that the meaning in Phil 3:15 is simply "perfect". As the most recent edition of NASB suggests, "mature" might be a better translation. Other versions often have something similar:

  • NIV: mature
  • NLT: spiritually mature
  • ESV: mature
  • BSB: mature
  • BLB: mature
  • NKJV: mature
  • Amplified Bible: mature [pursuing spiritual perfection]
  • CSB: matuire

... and so forth. Ellicott offers these comments about Phil 3:15 -

(15) Perfect.—The word is apparently used with a touch of irony (as perhaps the word “spiritual” in Galatians 6:1), in reference to those who hold themselves “to have already attained, to be already perfect.” It is, indeed, mostly used of such maturity in faith and grace as may be, and ought to be, attained here (Matthew 5:48; 1Corinthians 2:6; 1Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 1:28; Colossians 4:12; Hebrews 5:14). But, strictly speaking, this life, as St. Paul urges in 1Corinthians 13:10-11, is but childhood, preparing for the full manhood, or “perfection” of the next; and his disclaimer of perfection above suggests that this higher meaning should in this passage be kept in view. The prospect of being “perfect” in indefectible faith or grace is the Christian’s hope; the claim to be already “perfect” is always recurring in various forms—all natural but unwarrantable anticipations of heaven on earth. St. Paul, by a striking paradox, bids those who hold themselves perfect to prove that they are so by a consciousness of imperfection. If they have it not, he says, they have something yet to learn. “God will reveal even this unto them.” The conviction of the Holy Ghost unites inseparably the “conviction of sin” and the “conviction of righteousness.” The “judgment” of absolute decision between them is not yet.


Considering the context of v12:

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect [τετελείωμαι], but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (NAS1995)

and the language in v15:

Let us therefore, as many as are perfect [τέλειοι], have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; (NASB1995)

Paul seems to be using irony here. In v17 Paul even tells those who are perfect to follow his not yet perfect example. Self-righteousness is not just a Jewish problem. Before the Gospel of John has Jesus dealing with this, there is the passage:

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man (John 2:23–25, NASB1995)

Thus, self-righteousness is a human problem, not a Jewish one.

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