Several Hebrew words and one Greek word family are usually translated as perfect. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew words often convey what we typically think of as perfection, although not necessarily 100% flawlessness in every way. In the New Testament, the Greek words are better expressed as complete (not lacking anything), finished, or mature.

In the Old Testament, the word tamam and its derivatives are often translated perfect. In describing animal sacrifices, it meant they must be healthy (also translated unblemished). In describing people, it referred to someone who was spiritually healthy (also translated blameless). In describing God and God’s ways, it meant lacking nothing. Leviticus 22:21; Job 1:1; Psalm 18:30

In the New Testament, the most common word family translated as perfect is telos, which means the end of something. Several words derived from telos indicate accomplishment, fulfillment, and maturity (or the actions leading to such ends). A few of the derivatives mean death. John 17:4; 2 Timothy 4:7; Luke 22:37; Hebrews 5:14-6:1; Acts 7:15

Older English translations used perfect more frequently, because its common usage was wider then. Now, perfection is associated mostly with flawlessness, and this can cause confusion for modern readers, especially when people are described as perfect. In such cases, the meaning is that the people are either (1) innocent because God has forgiven them, or (2) they are whole-heartedly trying to be faithful. Modern translations often use other words to better convey the Biblical thoughts in contemporary English.

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 NASB

~ SR

Ruhmann, Scott. “Word of the Week: Perfect.” 27th Street Church of Christ. Access date: .