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Perfect; Perfection (Heb. תָּמִים tamim; Gr. τέλειος teleios) has the sense of being complete and with defect or blemish. It can also refer to a person who is blameless (תָּם tam) or innocent. This is being morally good, and guiltless of a sin or wrongdoing. The terms can be used in an absolute sense (God is perfect); however, they are not always used in such a way when it comes to humans after the fall (Matt. 5:48). In the Scripture, “perfect” and “perfection” are often used in a relative sense. The Hebrew and Greek Bible words translated “perfect” regularly mean “complete,” “mature,” “full-gown,” “adult,” or “faultless” according to standards set by the Word of God. Imperfect humans at this time fall short of the perfection of Adam and Eve before the fall. However, God makes allowances for this falling short and, better still, has offered his Son as a Ransom to cover these human weaknesses. Being “perfect” at this time means that we are to remain clean spiritually, morally, mentally, and physically. If we fall short, we repent, and the ransom sacrifice of Christ covers our shortcomings. – Matt 5:48; Phil. 3:15; Matt 20:28; Rom. 5:12-21; 1 John 2:1.
Brief overview of Matthew 5:48 with context
Stuart K. Weber writes,
5:43–48. The first part of Jesus’ quote in 5:43, Love your neighbor, is one of the central commands of the Bible (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:34–40). But the mistaken thinking came with the second portion, and hate your enemy. Here again, the human inclination is retaliation or revenge. To human thinking, this might seem like a logical corollary flowing out of the first statement. But the reality is that “hate your enemy” is far removed from God’s intended meaning in “love your neighbor.” In the parallel passage in Luke (10:25–37), Jesus explained through the parable of the good Samaritan that every human in our sphere of influence is our neighbor. Therefore, by definition, Christians are to love everyone and hate no one.
Jesus used a different approach to make the same point. He emphasized two principles to urge his followers to love all people. First, he urged them to follow the example of their Father in heaven. The Father gives gifts (sun and rain) to good and evil alike, and so we, as believers, ought to love and pray for our enemies (Luke 23:34; Rom. 5:8). By this we will show ourselves sons of your Father in heaven. He teaches us to love everyone because God does.
The ultimate expression of this pattern is the command to imitate the Father in 5:48, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Jesus used teleios, a Greek word that means “having reached its end, mature, complete, perfect.” The goal for the kingdom servant is to behave like his Father, and so to reach the mature level of supernatural transformation.
Second, Jesus urges us to show ourselves distinct from the rest of the world, the citizens of the earth. This is actually the flip side of the first argument, to be like the Father. If we show partiality and if we love only those who love us, we are like unbelievers. If, on the other hand, we show love impartially, guided by grace and mercy, then we show ourselves distinct, and we shine before the world (5:14–16), bringing glory to the Father.
All six examples are striking in their implications, but this one in particular stands out as a pinnacle exemplifying mercy and grace, the supernatural qualities of God’s kingdom servants.
J. T. France writes,
(g) Summary (5:48). The ‘greater righteousness’ demanded in v. 20 has been illustrated in vv. 21ff., and is now summed up (therefore) in one all-embracing demand. The demand is that disciples (you is emphatic, in contrast with the tax collectors and Gentiles of vv. 46–47 and the scribes and Pharisees of v. 20) must be perfect (teleioi). This is the ‘more’ required in v. 47. Cf. 19:20–21, where again teleios (its only other use in Matthew) indicates God’s requirement which goes beyond legal conformity. (There too Lev. 19:18 is superseded by this more radical demand.) Teleios is wider than moral perfection: it indicates ‘completeness’, ‘wholeness’ (cf. Paul’s use of it for the spiritually ‘mature’ in 1 Cor. 2:6; 14:20; Phil. 3:15), a life totally integrated to the will of God, and thus reflecting his character. It is probably derived here from the lxx of Deuteronomy 18:13, which, with the repeated formula of Leviticus 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:26 (‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’), is echoed in Jesus’ words. The conformity to the character of God, to which Israel was called in their role as God’s special people (see especially Lev. 20:26), is now affirmed as the goal of the disciples of Jesus. It is an ideal set before all disciples, not a special status of those who claim to have achieved ‘sinless perfection’ in this life; neither here nor in 19:20–21 is there a suggestion of a two-level ethic for the ordinary disciple and the ‘perfect’. (Cf. TIM, pp. 96–97.)
Craig Blomberg writes,
5:48 The paragraph begun in v. 43 closes with a command that may equally summarize all six antitheses. “Perfect” here is better translated as “mature, whole,” i.e., loving without limits (probably reflecting an underlying Aramaic tamim). Jesus is not frustrating his hearers with an unachievable ideal but challenging them to grow in obedience to God’s will—to become more like him. J. Walvoord rightly observes, “While sinless perfection is impossible, godliness, in its biblical concept, is attainable.” But such godliness cannot be comprehensively formulated in a set of rules; the ethics of the sermon are suggestive, not exhaustive. The parallel passage in Luke (6:36) uses synecdoche (the use of a part for the whole) to capture the essence of God’s image in which we are being renewed, namely, mercy (cf. Exod 34:6–7a). Even as God sets higher standards in his new covenant than in the law, he reveals himself as more forgiving of our failures.
Leon Morris writes,
48. Jesus ends this part of his discourse with a future normally understood as a command: You shall be (for this construction see on v. 21). This is surely correct: there is a command here. But may we not also see something of a promise? Jesus puts his command in such a way that disciples may look for divine help as they press toward God’s goal for them. His therefore relates this future to what has gone before: because of the importance of showing in their lives that they are doing more than is required of people in general, more than the tax collectors or the Gentiles do, more than they themselves do when they greet one another, they must look for perfection. You is emphatic. Jesus is not saying what the Gentiles ought to be or the Jews who do not follow him. He is referring to his followers; they must be That their standard is to be the highest possible (“no limit to your goodness,” REB) is shown by the words that follow: even as your heavenly Father is perfect. When Matthew uses the adjective heavenly it always refers to God (he has the word 7 times out of its 9 New Testament occurrences). In this he contrasts with Luke, who uses it of the heavenly host (Luke 2:13) and of the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19). Matthew thus employs the term to stress the difference between God and others, just as Father brings out his nearness and his love. To set this kind of perfection before his followers means that Jesus saw them as always having something for which to strive. No matter how far along the path of Christian service we are, there is still something to aim for. There is a wholeheartedness about being Christian; all that we have and all that we are must be taken up into the service of the Father.
Luz, Matthew 1–7: A Commentary, EKK (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 349–51, has a profound summary of the significance of Jesus’ exacting demands, particularly with respect to enemy-love. For example, “such unconditional signs of God’s yes to the human being cannot and are not meant to answer the questions of the strategy to be applied in the struggle for social justice or concerning the survival of humankind. Their legitimacy and strength lie on a different level.… They are necessary in a fundamental sense and stand alongside of and before all realistic strategies of ‘intelligent’ love.” For possible models of application to Christian living in community, see esp. S. Hauerwas and W. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989).
John Nolland writes,
5:48 This verse rounds off both the final antithesis and the whole set of antitheses, but it also, with its call to be thoroughgoing and uncompromised, marks the transition to the next block of the Sermon, 6:1–18, which will continue the theme of the contrast between the behaviour called for by Jesus and that practised by certain others (this time ‘the hypocrites’).
Jesus appeals to the Father/son relationship in a manner which echoes v. 45. The shape of this appeal to be like God may well have been inspired by Lv. 19:2 (‘You shall be holy, as/because I, Yahweh your God, am holy’), but if so, the content has been developed to suit the Gospel writers’ purposes and to point more clearly to the specific nature of what is being called for.
The future ἔσεσθε (lit. ‘you will be’) is imperatival, as was the future with which the antithesis begins (‘You shall love your neighbour’), and as is the case at the beginning of the first, second, and fourth antitheses (ἔσεσθε is rendered in translation above as ‘you shall be’—in the sense ‘you are to be’—to conform to the translation pattern in these other cases).
Luke’s οἰκτίρμονες (‘compassionate’) (6:36) sustains thematic unity in a more obvious manner than Matthew’s τέλειοι (lit. ‘perfect’), but the obvious link with the appeal to the example of God in v. 45 indicates that the Matthean thought is broadly along the same lines. τέλειοι, however, offers a number of advantages for Matthew. Important as love of enemies (or compassion) is for the antitheses, it cannot sum up the whole set. The LXX uses τέλειος to translate tmym, which has a basic meaning of ‘whole/entire’ and in relation to human behaviour before God points to wholeheartedness and lack of compromise with pagan practices. Dt. 18:13 has, ‘You shall be tmym/τέλειος with Yahweh/the Lord your God’. For Matthew the antitheses have been calling for unalloyed commitment to the will of God as expounded by Jesus. More specifically, in the case of each antithesis, what has purported to be what God conveyed to his ancient people has turned out on closer examination to be a rather foreshortened version of what God really desires of his people, or even quite a distortion of it. The call is to go all the way with the will of God, now seen with fresh clarity. The completeness here answers to the fulfilling promised in Mt. 5:17 and to the sense in vv. 18–19 that nothing should be missing from obedience to the whole claim of the Law. One must go all the way in obeying the will of God; one cannot be content with some circumscribed version of obeying God’s will, as witnessed to in the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew will use τέλειος again in 19:21 to distinguish between a conventional and limited keeping of the commandments and the full reach of the command of God as represented in the call of Jesus.
William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker writes,
Jesus summarizes this entire paragraph (verses 43–47) by saying: 48. You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. This, too, was in harmony with the law: “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy, for I Jehovah your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). “You shall be perfect before Jehovah your God” (Deut. 18:13). See also Lev. 11:44; 20:7, 26; Eph. 5:1; and 1 Peter 1:15, 16. Does this mean that Jesus was a perfectionist in the sense that he taught men that they could reach sinlessness before death? Not at all, as the beatitudes clearly show and as the petition that he taught his disciples to pray, namely, “And forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12) reaffirms. He never even hinted that there might be a time before death when this petition could be omitted! Against perfectionism in the sense indicated see also 1 Kings 8:46; Job 9:1; Ps. 130:3, 4; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:10; 7:7–16; Gal. 5:16–24; James 3:2; and 1 John 1:8.
If the question be asked, “Then why even try to become perfect?” the answer would be, “Because that is what God commands,” as has been shown. Also, a follower of Jesus cannot do otherwise. He, with Paul, yearns for perfection (Phil. 3:7–16). Even here and now he has received the righteousness of imputation. Also the righteousness of impartation (see above, pp. 273, 274), but the latter is not complete in this present life. The struggle for perfection also in the latter sense will not go unrewarded. It is exactly to those who strive to attain the goal that the victory is assured. When they reach the glorious shores of eternity their ideal will be realized. It will be God’s gift to them (Ps. 17:15; Phil. 1:6; 3:12b; 2 Tim. 4:7, 8; Rev. 21:27, cf. 7:14).
In the present connection, however, “perfect” means “brought to completion, full-grown, lacking nothing.” Jesus is saying to the people of that day, as well as to us now, that they and we should not be satisfied with half-way obedience to the law of love, as were the scribes and Pharisees, who never penetrated to the heart of the law. Though in a sense Jesus is here repeating the admonition implied in verse 45 (“that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven”), he now (here in verse 48) indicates even more definitely that it is the Father’s perfection that we should strive to imitate; that is, perfection here specifically (as the preceding context indicates) in the love he shows to all. Is he not the One who causes his sun to rise on evil and good, and sends rain on righteous and unrighteous? Is he not also the One who gently admonished Cain (Gen. 4:6, 7)? The One who all the day spread out his hands toward a disobedient and contrary people (Isa. 65:2; Rom. 10:21)? Similarly, therefore, the love of all those for whom his words were intended must not stop short of embracing everybody, including even the haters and persecutors! Not only that, but in its quality or character, too, it must be a love patterned after the Father’s; for example, in patience, tenderness, earnestness, etc.
Let it be granted immediately that the love of even the most mature believer is and will always remain finite, whereas God’s love is infinite. Let it be added, therefore, that such finite love can never be anything more than a shadow of his marvelous love. This kind of finite love is, nevertheless, attainable. How do we know? Because of the very fact that he is our heavenly Father, who will, for that very reason, not withhold this gift from his children.
Between chapters 5 and 6 there is a close connection. This is evident especially from two facts: a. Jesus continues to speak about the righteousness of the kingdom (cf. 5:6, 10, 20 with 6:1); and b. he continues for a while to contrast genuine righteousness with that which he associates with the scribes and Pharisees (5:20), the hypocrites (6:2, 5, 16).
Nevertheless, there is also a definite transition to a new subdivision. In chapter 5 true religion was contrasted with that which the scribes and Pharisees, on the basis of rabbinical tradition, were teaching; in 6:1–18, it will be contrasted with what they were practicing. Beginning with 6:19 the hypocrites recede into the background. Though it would probably be wrong to say that they drop from view entirely, in this sermon they are no longer specifically mentioned.
Beginning with 6:1 and continuing through 7:12 Jesus, more positively than before, directs the attention of his audience to what is meant by the righteousness of the kingdom. Briefly, living the righteous life consists in spontaneous obedience to the rule, “Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself.” Note the two parts: a. love God; b. love the neighbor. Chapter 6 deals chiefly with the first of these two; 7:1–12 with the second. As to chapter 6, in it Jesus demands the sincere devotion of the heart to God (verses 1–18), and undivided trust in this heavenly Father amid all circumstances (verses 19–34); for, if man is to love the Father sincerely, then to him he will surrender everything, and from him he will expect everything.
The gradual shift of attention, away from scribes and Pharisees, and toward “your heavenly Father” is clear from the fact that while this appellation or the similar “your Father who is in heaven” occurs only three times in chapter 5 (verses 16, 45, and 48), in the considerably shorter chapter 6 the Father is mentioned no less than a dozen times, in slightly varied ways (“your Father,” “your Father,” and “our Father”). See verses 1, 4, 6 twice, 8, 9, 14, 15, 18 twice, 26, and 32. The transition from chapter 5 to chapter 6, also in this respect, is gradual, as 5:45, 48, and 6:1 indicate.
Donald A. Hagner writes,
48 This verse confirms the argument of v 45 and properly forms the conclusion of the pericope. The disciples (ὑμεῖς, “you,” is emphatic) are to be “perfect” (τέλειος)—that is, they are to be like their Father in loving their enemies. This view is supported by the context as well as by the Lukan parallel (Luke 6:36), which employs the word οἰκτίρμων, “merciful” or “compassionate,” in place of Matthew’s τέλειος. There is a sense, however, in which this verse also serves as the logical conclusion to all the preceding antitheses. The righteousness of the kingdom, which altogether exceeds that of the Pharisees, involves a call to be like the Father.
τέλειος is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word תָּמִים (tāmîm), used often in the OT to refer to perfection in the sense of ethical uprightness (e.g., Gen 6:9; 17:1; 2 Sam 22:24–27; frequently in the Psalms and in the Qumran scrolls) and animals without blemish (esp. Leviticus, Numbers, and Ezekiel). The word can also have the connotation of completeness (e.g., Lev 23:15, 30; Josh 10:13). τέλειος here may have the connotation of “whole” or “total” (thus Delling, TDNT 8:74), as it does elsewhere (cf. 19:21; and Col 4:12; Jas 1:4), but it should be emphasized that in the sphere of ethics this entails perfection. This call does not differ from that in the OT: “Be holy for I, the Lord God, am holy” (Lev 19:2; cf. 1 Pet 1:16). The LXX even uses the same word (τέλειος, translating תָּמִים) at one point (Deut 18:13): “Be perfect before the Lord your God.” The perfection here is the fulfillment of the Mosaic law (pace Guelich, Sermon), but now according to its definitive interpretation by the Messiah who brings the kingdom. Love for God and one’s neighbor (and particularly, love of one’s enemies) will be described by Matthew as the commandments upon which thus all the law and the prophets depend (22:40). For Matthew, to be τέλειος means to fulfill the law through the manifestation of an unrestricted love (including even enemies) that is the reflection of God’s love. This unrestricted love preeminently embodies ethical perfection. This perfection, and nothing less, is that to which Jesus calls his disciples. As the kingdom Jesus brings is “of heaven” (see on 3:2), so also the Father in Matthew is οὐράνιος, “heavenly,” i.e., transcendent. This way of referring to God as ὁ πατὴρ ὁ οὐράνιος is unique to Matthew in the NT (see 6:14, 26, 32; 15:13; 18:35; 23:9) and again reflects Matthew’s Jewish milieu. The expression beautifully combines God’s divine transcendence (“heavenly”) with his immanence in love and grace, which can only be described adequately in the intimate term “Father.”
The final, climactic antithesis turns to the great love commandment of the OT. Jesus, interpreting the law in the light of the dawning kingdom, extends the application of that commandment so as to include even one’s enemies. The love he describes, of course, is not an emotion (pace Carson) but volitional acts for the benefit and well-being of others, even those we may dislike. In this love that knows no boundaries, the disciples are to reflect the generosity of God, who sends blessing upon both the righteous and the unrighteous and who has brought the kingdom to the unworthy. Through the coming of the kingdom, the disciples are thus called to be “perfect” as their Father is perfect. The righteousness of the kingdom can be satisfied by nothing less. And as the disciples live out this righteousness, they confirm their identity as “children of the heavenly Father.” This is an ethic that will startle those who experience it; it is an ethic that will inevitably shine like light in a dark place and cause the Father to be glorified (v 16). It should be added that the perfection in view here is a goal toward which disciples are called to strive, but not one they will fully achieve in this life. The Christian will thus always have occasion to pray for the forgiveness of sins, as Jesus taught his disciples to pray (6:12). The call to perfection is quite like the Pauline call for Christians to be what they are in Christ. Here it is a matter of being children of the Father.
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 Stuart K. Weber, Matthew, vol. 1, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 69–70.
 R. T. France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 1, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 134–135.
 Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 115.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 133–134.
 John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 270–271.
 William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 317–319.
 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1–13, vol. 33A, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1993), 135–136.