Why does Hebrews say that Jesus needed to be “made perfect”?

Q.  The book of Hebrews says that “in bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God . . . should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”  How much more “perfect” could Jesus (the pioneer) have been made, if he was already without sin?

Here’s what I have to say about this question in my study guide to Deuteronomy and Hebrews:

“Jesus . . . didn’t need to be made perfect in any moral sense.  But he did need to be perfected for his work as a high priest, and that required sharing the same experiences of suffering as the ‘brothers,’ ‘sisters,’ and ‘children’ he was going to represent.”

The wider context in Hebrews makes clear that what is in view is “perfection” in the sense of equipping Jesus for his work as high priest.  The passage goes on to say, “Since the children have flesh and blood . . . he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

According to Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, the Greek word in this passage that’s often translated “to perfect,” τελειόω, can also mean “to make successful,” that is, “to equip for success.”  Walter Bauer’s lexicon says similarly that the verb can refer to bringing something “to its goal in the sense of the overcoming or supplanting of an imperfect state of things by one that is free from objection.”  In other words, by sharing our human experiences and sufferings, Jesus became a high priest that no one could object to, because he can effectively and successfully represent us before God.

The New Living Translation captures this sense well when it says, “It was only right that [God] should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring [many children] into their salvation.”  The Amplified Version speaks similarly of Jesus being “perfectly equipped for His office as High Priest.”

In my study guide, after explaining this meaning, I ask:

“What experiences have you had that have equipped (‘perfected’) you to sympathize better with others as you come alongside them in the trials and sorrows of their lives?” 

What would you say in answer to that?

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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