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Perfection in Hebrews

Perfection in Hebrews

One of the most pertinent themes to the book of Hebrews is the concept of perfection. The word teleioō (G5048) is used nine times through the book. Most of these uses are to describe the shortcomings of the Mosaic order and believers (Heb 7:19; 9:9; 10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:23). In most cases the translation of “perfect” or “made/make perfect” is theologically fitting and not difficult to reconcile to the main arguments of the epistle. But the use of this word with reference to Jesus Christ is a little more challenging (Psa 2:10; Heb 5:9; 7:28). This of course begs for a look at a uniformed theological interpretation about each and every reference of the word in the text. Though the word does not need to mean the same throughout the epistle, the question should be asked if it could possibly conform to such a usage. So what would it mean? And what would the author of Hebrews be trying to communicate? Are believers perfected (Heb 10:14) the same way Christ was (Heb 5:9)? And what does this mean in reference to salvation and the new covenant? This is a time where the King James Version and its “literal interpretation” comes in handy,

28 For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore. – Hebrews 7:28 (KJV)

Instead of the word “perfect” the KJV chose to use a word with a Levitical back story. Hebrews is a book with deep insight into and exposition of the temple practice and priestly service. And it is from evaluating the LXX’s use of this Greek word that breaks open a fuller understanding of what is being said in the book of Hebrews,

32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated (τελειώσουσιν) as priest in his father's place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments. – Leviticus 16:32

Here in the description of anointing and consecrating a priest the imagery is clear. There is sonship and atonement themes that are also familiar to the epistle of Hebrews. This very consecration of a high priest makes him capable of bringing the atonement. The idea of consecration and this Greek verb is used multiple times in the LXX OT (Exo 29:9, 29, 35; Lev 21:10; Num 3:3; etc.). And within the context of Hebrews, the assumptive arguments of Jesus Christ being the greater priest makes sense of the author's usage of this verb. He is bringing to light the consecration language and applying it to Jesus Christ. Though Hebrews 2:10 does not contain any clear Levitical themes, Hebrews 5:9-10 is a perfect example of how this concept fits the paradigm,

9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 5:9-10

Christ’s perfection is not a justification. It is not a cleansing from sin. It is an introduction into the priestly order. In fact, it is Him being ordained as the great high priest to make atonement for sins. Hebrews 7:28 (quoted above) also makes this point clear. The consecration, or "perfection," of Jesus Christ is of priestly origins. And the reality of the argument in Hebrews is that nothing else can accomplish this consecration. So that when the author of Hebrews arrives at the covenant communities' “perfection” there are serious questions of interpretation,

14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Hebrews 10:14

What is to be made of this perfection? Is it to be read as the permanent removal of sins? Or is this simply another way of saying what is said elsewhere about the church’s priestly position in the New Covenant (1 Pet 2:9; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6)? Many reading the immediate context of Hebrews 10 argue for the former. The author of Hebrews at this point brings in the prophecy of Jeremiah and the “forgiveness of sins” (Heb 10:18). But there is plenty of reason to believe that Jeremiah is a covenantal washing to bring the people into the Promised Land (a theme in Hebrews). In fact, the inclusion of covenant and sanctification here only stirs more examination of correlated references in Hebrews,

29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? – Hebrews 10:29

What is to be made of the argument the author is making? Is the deliberate sinning described even possible for a believer (Heb 10:26)? Is this warning pertinent to the church and New Covenant believers? It is here that the Old Testament prophets bring clarity,

37 I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. 38 I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord. – Ezekiel 20:37-38

If the New Covenant of Jeremiah is part of a tight tapestry of Old Testament prophecy, then the prophet Ezekiel has already set the stage for interpreting Hebrews. There are two stages to the New Covenant. There are all those consecrated with the sprinkling of water and one new heart (Eze 36:25-26) but not all will enter the Promised Land. For the author of Hebrews all of the land “has drunk the rain” but those that don’t bear fruit will burn (Heb 6:7-8). This rain is the blessing of the New Covenant and the sharing of the Holy Spirit (Heb 6:4). This paradigm of Levitical consecration, the consecration of New Covenant believers, and the fearful expectation that the church can trample on the blood of Christ leads the author of Hebrews to offer a profound warning revolving around the Promised Land.

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