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13. Jesus the Only Perfect Man

Chapter 13

Jesus the Only Perfect Man

This final chapter, “Jesus the Only Perfect Man,” takes as its title the main title of the book, plus one word. Its subject-matter has been touched on in the previous chapters and interwoven here and there with our earlier discussions on the humanity of Jesus, the exaltation of Jesus, and God’s work in Jesus. This final chapter serves as a continuation of what we have already said about Jesus the only Perfect Man. It is part continuation of, part summary of, and part conclusion of the theme “Jesus the only Perfect Man,” the complement of “Yahweh the only true God.”

 

Ever since the Genesis creation and the fall of Adam and Eve, there has been “none righteous, not even one” among all the human beings who have ever lived on the face of the earth (Rom.3:10). Eliphaz invoked this truth to reject Job’s claim to innocence: “What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?” (Job 15:14) Jesus was of course the sole exception to this general statement.

In the Old Testament of some Bibles, a few people are said to be perfect, but in these cases, the Hebrew word rendered “perfect” is more appropriately understood as “blameless,” a rendering that is seen in some other Bibles. In the Old Testament, the term “perfect” or “blameless” or “wholly committed” is used of a few rare individuals (e.g. Noah in Genesis 6:9 or Asa in 1Kings 15:14). But the perfection they achieved falls well short of God’s absolute standards. No human being apart from Jesus has ever attained to absolute perfection, yet we could still say that these blameless men and women have attained to a relative perfection or a relative blamelessness in comparison to mankind in general.

But when we speak of Jesus as the only perfect man, we are talking about absolute sinlessness, absolute love, absolute righteousness—an absolute perfection with no ifs or buts. This amazing achievement is the greatest miracle Yahweh God has ever done, for no one can ever attain to absolute perfection unless Yahweh empowers him every moment of his life. The other side of the coin is that Jesus lived every moment of his earthly life in total obedience to his Father.

The Scriptures mention a few outstanding men of God. Moses came closer to perfection than have most of the godly people in the OT, yet he still failed grievously on one occasion (Num.20:7-12). The great prophet Isaiah, when granted a vision of Yahweh, confessed that he was a man of “unclean lips” (Isa.6:5).

There is “none righteous, not even one” (Rom.3:10). But not being righteous is not the same as being wicked, so Paul is not saying that all humanity is wicked as we understand that term, but that no one has ever attained to absolute righteousness and an unbroken record of obedience to God.

Can man arrive at perfect righteousness in his own strength and will power? The Bible’s dire record of human history shows that this is impossible. Hence Jesus’ being the perfect man is a most astonishing and unprecedented miracle. But as trinitarians, we weren’t really interested in his humanity or perfection, for our dogmatic interests were focused on proving that he is God. In theory we accepted the idea of Jesus’ perfection, but in practice we didn’t give it much thought, for we simply assumed that Jesus is perfect by his deity, not realizing that the divine God-man of trinitarianism is not human in the way that every human being is human.

Obeying God: The Garden of Eden

Let’s begin with Genesis. What did God require of Adam in terms of obedience? Why was it even necessary to impose requirements in the first place? And wasn’t there only one requirement for Adam and Eve, namely, that they shall not eat the fruit of a tree called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, located in the middle of the Garden of Eden (Gen.2:8,9, 17)?

We are not told how big the garden was, but we can surmise that it was not like the average home garden that we see in places like North America. It was evidently an immense garden because the Bible says that it was situated between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates.

Why are we talking about the size of the garden? Because if it was a small garden containing a few dozen or even a few hundred trees, that forbidden tree would be in regular view of those who walked around in the garden. But that would not be so if the garden was a vast stretch of land planted with thousands and thousands of trees, and populated with every species of animal that God had created and brought to Adam to name.

In a vast forested land containing thousands of trees and thousands of animals, we might think that the power of temptation posed by this lone forbidden tree would be proportionally reduced by the vastness of the garden. The point is that in this test of obedience, God had made it as easy as possible for Adam and Eve to stay away from temptation. Yet it was also necessary that man’s obedience be tested in order that he may learn to obey God. In placing Adam in the garden, Yahweh in His mercy did what He had to do in order to teach him obedience and moral responsibility, yet at the same time He made it as easy as possible for him. In this thoughtful arrangement for Adam, Yahweh’s wisdom and compassion are clearly displayed.

But the problem of sin and evil existed long before Adam, as seen in the fact that the serpent (the devil, Rev.12:9; 20:2) was already present in the garden (Gen.3:1,2,3). Paul speaks of creation’s bondage to corruption (decay), yet also of the future glorious hope of emancipation: “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom.8:21, ESV).

Obeying God: The Law given to Israel

The next time in the Bible we see Yahweh imposing commands is in relation to a nation of slaves that had been held captive in Egypt for four centuries. They had been living under constant oppression, and were groaning for freedom. In an act of grace, Yahweh chose the people of this slave nation, who had by then experienced much suffering, to make them His own people and “special possession” (Ex.19:5; Dt.7:6).

In Egypt and other ancient civilizations, slaves were at the bottom rung of society. They had no social standing and enjoyed no rights or special protection; they could be bought and sold like livestock. Yet it was this very nation of slaves, the “non-entities” of society, that Yahweh had chosen from among all the peoples of the earth to be His own people. He established a covenant with them and gave them the Ten Commandments as the moral basis of the covenant.

Whereas Adam had only one command to obey, the standard was raised to ten for Israel. But it is important to see what these commandments have in common: With one or two exceptions, they are all of a negative character and begin with the words, “You shall not”. An exception to this is the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” which does not contain a negative. Although the fourth commandment, “Keep the Sabbath day holy,” does not conform to the negative formulation of the other commandments, it is still essentially a negative commandment because it prohibits all regular work on the day of rest; the Sabbath was a prescribed holiday for the people to rest from the work of their regular occupations.

It is in the Sabbath commandment that the word “holy” appears for the first time in the Ten Commandments. But how does one become holy by not doing any work? The point, of course, is that on the day of rest, everyone is to turn his or her attention wholly to Yahweh. With this comes the call to “be holy as I am holy” (Lev.11:44).

This people—an erstwhile nation of slaves whom God had called out of slavery, a people with no earthly piece of land to call their own—God had called to become a holy people wholly dedicated to Himself. Yahweh called to Himself the nobodies of the world to become His special people.

In view of the laws that Yahweh had given the people of Israel, but also in view of the largely negative formulation of these laws, it would seem that as in the case of Adam, Yahweh had made it as easy as possible for the Israelites to be holy, because what was required of them was not the attainment of high and lofty moral goals but merely abstaining from doing certain things. Even so, like Adam they failed. They could not even keep the negative laws, that is, they could not refrain from doing the things they were forbidden to do. It would appear that the things prohibited or forbidden by God are precisely the things that man wants to do.

We cannot simplistically assume that the commandments given in negative form, such as the one given to Adam or some of the Ten Commandments given to Israel, are any easier to obey than those stated in positive form. A command that forbids one from doing what one desires is not any easier to keep than a command to do what one doesn’t want to do. Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and found it irresistibly attractive, and this led to an act of disobedience that proved fatal for her, for Adam, and for mankind.

Is the commandment, “You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Dt.6:5; Mk.12:30), any easier to keep? When we reflect on it, we will see that in practice, this commandment is no easier to keep than the others, as seen in the tragic fact that Israel and all mankind in general have found themselves unable to keep both the positive and the negative commandments. Given the mostly negative formulation of the Ten Commandments, it would seem that it should not be very difficult to be blameless. Yet it is also evident that it is impossible for man to be perfect, and this is because of his human nature.

The immense challenges that Jesus faced

It is against this backdrop of Israel’s and mankind’s long history of spiritual failure that we strive to understand the challenges Jesus faced when Yahweh sent him into the world to become the perfect man and the perfect sacrifice for mankind’s salvation. The more we think about his mission in the context of mankind’s moral failure as reflected in the words “there is none righteous, not even one” (Ps.14:3; Rom.3:10), the more we will wonder how it was even possible that Jesus could have triumphed when no one else could.

Not even the great prophets of old could claim perfection. Probably no Old Testament prophet is more esteemed than Isaiah. Yet when he received a vision of Yahweh, he contritely confessed, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isa.6:5) What Isaiah meant by “unclean lips” is not explained, but anyone who has ever tried to live a holy life would have an idea of what he meant. One wrong or inappropriate word makes us unclean and negates perfection. If we imagine perfection as a spotless white sheet, that sheet would become imperfect as soon as a tiny speck lands on it.

The one who bridles his tongue is a perfect man (James 3:2). Few can bridle their tongues for a day, refraining from saying a wrong word for 24 hours, much less a stretch of 30 years as in the case of Jesus. The amazing fact that Jesus attained perfection—even allowing for Yahweh’s sustaining power in him (which is also available to all believers through God’s indwelling presence)—is beyond the powers of our imagination to envisage.

The perfecting of Jesus is Yahweh’s greatest miracle, exceeding the splendor of the creation of the universe. Dealing with inanimate things such as quarks and neutrinos cannot compare with relating to a living being who has his own will and the freedom of choice.

Jesus’ perfection was attained after the Fall which had brought sin and death into the world, creating a hostile spiritual environment inimical to righteousness and perfection. What Adam and Eve failed to attain in a favorable environment, Jesus attained in a hostile one. Not surprisingly, from the time of Adam to the time of Jesus, no one had ever attained perfection. The stupendous fact that Jesus became the perfect man for the salvation of the world makes the trinitarian Jesus, the God-man, pale by comparison.

Apart from Jesus there has been no perfect man among the billions who have passed through the world, not even among the great servants of God. Abraham, despite his outstanding qualities and his standing as “God’s friend” (2Chr.20:7; Isa.41:8; James 2:23), was not an exception (cf. the conflict surrounding Sarah and Hagar). Moses, regarded by many as the greatest of God’s servants, was not allowed to enter the land of promise because of an outburst of anger (Num.20:7-12).

How difficult is perfection? That is not even the right question to ask, for it is simply impossible to attain to perfection in this life. Yet that was what Jesus achieved through a mutual indwelling with Yahweh: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn.14:10). This relationship with the Father is meant to be inclusive, not exclusive, for we are to live in the world as Jesus lived (“as he is, so also are we in this world,” 1Jn.4:17).

Jesus’ perfection: a model for God’s people

The picture of a lifelong and arduous process of attaining perfection—to which every believer born of the Spirit is called—is drawn out in great detail in the New Testament. On the other hand, the Jesus of trinitarianism, who is intrinsically perfect because he is God, is not a model that we can follow in our striving for the perfection to which we have been called: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt.5:48).

What does Jesus mean by “be perfect”? It is explained in the Sermon on the Mount and illustrated in Jesus’ teaching. He is the very example and model of the perfection of which he speaks. And has he ever told us how he attained perfection? Yes he has, and in detail! But blinded by trinitarian dogma, we failed to see the spiritual dynamics of how Jesus functioned in relation to the Father all through his life in the attainment of perfection. The fact is that Jesus has already told us how he lived in relation to the Father, and in such a way that we can follow in his steps and live as he lived.

Jesus has made many statements to the effect that the things that are true of him are also true of his followers. Just as he was born of the Spirit of God (Lk.1:35; Acts 10:38), so everyone must be born of the Spirit (Jn.3:5,6,8) and of God (1Jn.3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18); hence Paul’s constant emphasis on life in the Spirit (Rom.8:9; Eph.6:18; Phil.2:1; Col.1:8). Just as Jesus did nothing of his own will (Jn.4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:28), so every believer is to do God’s will (Mt.7:21; Jn.8:51; 14:21; 1Jn.5:3). Believers are to abide in Jesus and in the Father in the way that Jesus abides in the Father and in believers (Jn.15:1-10; 1Jn.2:24,27; 4:13). Just as the world hated and rejected Jesus, so the world will hate and reject us his followers (Jn.15:18-19). Just as Jesus will be glorified, so those in Christ will be glorified with him (Jn.17:1,5,10; Rom.8:17).

These spiritual dynamics come from the spiritual union that Jesus repeatedly speaks of: the Father is “in me” (Jn.10:38; 14:10,11; 17:21), that is, the Father lives in him and does His works through him (Jn.14:10). Jesus is Yahweh’s temple (Jn.2:19) as are his believers (1Cor.3:16-17; 6:19). The way Jesus lives in relation to the Father is exactly how the believer is to live.

A thought exercise: a sinless and perfect society

Because there has never been a sinless person in humanity apart from Jesus, it would be hard for us to understand what is sinlessness. We know that it is by definition the absence of sin, but that is a negative definition. What then are the positive qualities of a sinless character? It would certainly include purity and perfection, but these are also abstract concepts to us.

It may help to think of a country in which there is no crime, no discord, and no corruption. It would be an ideal country, a utopian state. But how would such a country be established and governed? A crime-free country would probably have an economic system in which there is near equality of wealth and in which no one is compelled to steal out of the distress of poverty. But stealing and robbery are not always motivated by poverty, but often by the desire to possess something that is obtainable only by crime, perhaps a work of art that is not for sale. The root problem is not poverty but greed and selfishness.

A perfect country cannot be established merely with a good economic system in which there is near-equal distribution of wealth because such a society would still require in each citizen an excellence of character that would eliminate the common malaise of selfishness, greed, and lust. In short, nothing less than the inner moral purity of each citizen is required. A perfect crime-free country would require that each citizen be sinless. Thus it comes back full circle from the external conditions of a nation to the moral state of the individual.

This thought exercise shows that establishing a sinless society takes more than the containment or elimination of what is negative; it requires a range of positive qualities needed for establishing sinlessness: the wisdom to discern right from wrong, the courage to do what is right in the face of what is wrong, and adhering to righteousness when the pull or attraction of unrighteousness is strong.

All these qualities are found in Yahweh and ultimately in Him alone. Yet He generously makes them available to all who would obey and follow Him. This has been fully realized in Jesus Christ, and so far in him alone. When it is said that Jesus is without sin, the absence of sin is not something stated in negative form, but signifies that every positive spiritual quality exists in him in perfect completeness.

In the New Testament, the hope of a perfect, crime-free country is not a pipe dream but a reality that Jesus proclaimed as the kingdom of God. The kingdom is a central theme of Jesus’ teaching in the synoptic gospels. The proclamation by both Jesus and John the Baptist is, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt.3:2; 4:17), that is, God’s kingdom is about to be established. It is this high goal that Jesus has in view, notably in the call, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt.5:48). A perfect kingdom, preeminently God’s kingdom, can be established only if every one of its citizens is perfect.

In God’s plan, Jesus’ becoming the perfect man is not the end of the matter but only the start, in order “that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom.8:29). The brothers coming after him are to be perfected just as he had been perfected. The same verse says that all believers are to be “conformed to the image of His Son.” This is another way of saying that they are to attain to the “stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph.4:13). To make this a reality, Yahweh appointed Jesus the Messiah to be the king of His kingdom. That Jesus is king in God’s Kingdom is seen for example in Mt.25:34: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”

The deceitfulness of sin

To appreciate the magnitude of Jesus’ attainment of sinlessness, we notice that not even the mighty angels are immune to sin. Jude 1:6 speaks of angels who had left their proper station, and are now kept in eternal chains awaiting judgment. The meaning of “left their proper station” is not explained, but it is clear that the angels had encroached on, or attempted to take possession of, something they were not entitled to.

The most shocking display of this is seen in Revelation 12 which says that as many as one third of the angels in heaven will be enticed by that old enemy of God—the dragon or Satan, the “deceiver of the whole world” (v.9)—into fighting Yahweh the Most High (Rev.12:4,7-9). The consequences of their madness could only be imagined or perhaps not imagined.

It is baffling that one would choose to sin even when he is aware of the terrifying consequences. Why does he do it? Is it because there is something reckless in the psyche of every person? Or the misguided belief that one might just get away with it? Did the angels who rebelled against God believe that they could defeat Him because of their strength in numbers? Or were they bewitched by Satan’s enchanting powers as in the case of the Galatians (Gal.3:1)? These are the questions that come to mind when we read news reports of mindless deeds of violence for which there is no rational explanation.

We are baffled that a cultured and generally well-intentioned people like the Germans could have been enticed by Adolf Hitler, a charismatic madman, into committing themselves inextricably to a course of action that proved fatal to themselves and the countless victims of their dreadful deeds. As human beings, we know full well that this kind of irrationality could happen to any people and not just the German people.

The Scriptures speak of “the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13) which can entrap anyone who is not alert. Not even the mighty angels, great in knowledge and power, are immune to the deceitfulness of sin. Paul probably had in mind this frightening aspect of sin when he wrote, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil.2:12). But the popular teaching of “eternal security” in the church will only encourage believers to throw all caution to the wind, believing that once they have become Christians, they are eternally secure no matter how they live.

To attain sinless perfection, Jesus had to battle the many fearsome aspects of sin and above all its deceitful aspects which have caused the downfall of many Christians. And because of its deceitfulness, sin has been given a free run in ensnaring its victims long before they realize what has happened to them. We now see ever more clearly the need for wisdom and discernment in the battle against sin. The magnificence of Jesus’ triumph over this multifaceted enemy now stands out, bringing salvation to mankind.

Sin is not confined to humanity but is something that operates in the entire cosmos of living beings, human and angelic. Jesus’ triumph over sin has immense consequences not only for mankind but the entire cosmos. With anticipation and groaning, the whole creation awaits the salvation to come (Rom.8:22).

The root cause of sin, as Paul points out, is not God’s commandments but man himself. Man acknowledges that God’s commandments are good but our fundamental problem is the one portrayed in Paul’s poignant words: “the good I want to do, I don’t do; the evil I don’t want to do, I do” (Romans 7:19). Paul teaches that the root of sin lies in man’s “flesh”. This does not imply any intrinsic sinfulness of the physical body but that our thinking is influenced by desires, which in turn are controlled by “bodily lusts”. These cover many elements of the human psyche, starting with needs and appetites, whether for food or sexual gratification, and then moving on to a greed for power as a means of gratifying these desires, which often begin as something legitimate but is pushed to depraved extremes. When a desire reaches this state, it can grow into a greed or covetousness that compels man to get what he wants by robbery or murder and, on a wider social scale, by wars and acts of aggression, many of which fill the pages of history.

If man is enslaved to his flesh, how will he ever attain to the good, let alone the perfect? But there is hope.

Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel

The concept of holiness runs through the Old and New Testaments, and is seen in the repeated affirmation that Yahweh is holy. He is called “the Holy One of Israel” 25 times in Isaiah alone. The shorter form, “the Holy One,” is used of Yahweh in verses such as Isa.40:25; Hab.1:12; 3:3; Prov.9:10 (cf. 1Jn.2:20). In fact, only Yahweh is holy in the absolute sense: “For you alone are holy” (Rev.15:4).

Yahweh’s holiness is also derived from His uniqueness as God: “There is none holy like Yahweh; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God” (1Sam.2:2; cf. Isa.40:25). Verses such as Dt.4:35 and Isa.45:21-22; 46:9 similarly bring out Yahweh’s uniqueness that sets Him apart from false gods.

Jesus is called “the holy one of God” (Mk.1:24; Lk.4:34; Jn.6:69) and the “holy and righteous one” (Acts 3:14).

Jesus’ perfection and sinlessness

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

The reality of sin and temptation that confronts us every day is brought out in the book of Hebrews in the striking statement that Jesus is a high priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses, for he too had been tempted in every respect as we, yet without having ever sinned. His sympathetic understanding stands in sharp contrast to the condemning attitude of the religious leaders towards an adulterous woman, and is summed up in a statement about the pervasiveness of sin: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

Jesus’ sympathetic understanding is all the more admirable in view of the contrast between his sinlessness and our sinfulness, the latter of which is brought out in Romans 3:10, a verse derived from Psalm 14:1-3:

Romans 3:10 “None is righteous, not even one.”

Psalm 14:1-3 They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. (ESV)

In contrast to our sinfulness is Jesus’ sinlessness, righteousness, and innocence, as seen in the following verses (all ESV):

John 8:46 Which one of you convicts me of sin?

John 14:30 the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me.

2 Corinthians 5:21 … he made him to be sin who knew no sin

Hebrews 4:15 (quoted)

Hebrews 7:26 … a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.

Hebrews 9:14 … the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God

1 Peter 1:19 … with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

1 Peter 2:22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.

Jesus is called “holy” or “the holy one” in Acts 2:27 and 13:35, both of which are quotations of Psalm 16:10:

Acts 2:27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.

Acts 13:35 Therefore he says also in another psalm, “You will not let your Holy One see corruption.”

Psalm 16:10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

Jesus, who is perfect and sinless, will bear the sins of many and make them righteous:

Isaiah 53:9-12 ... he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of Yahweh to crush him; he has put him to grief … Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities … he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (ESV, “Yahweh” in the original Hebrew restored)

Jesus’ attainment of perfection through suffering is crucial for our salvation because the atonement requires that he be the perfect sacrifice and the perfect high priest. In the Law, no sacrifice is acceptable to God unless it is perfect and without defect or blemish:

Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be acceptable for you. And when a man offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to Yahweh … it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it. (Lev.22:20-21; cf. Dt.15:19,21; 17:1)

Christ is the perfect and sinless sacrifice: “you were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1Pet.1:18-19). He is not only a perfect sacrifice but “a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb.5:10). In the Law, the high priest, too, has to be perfect: “No man of the descendants of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s food offering” (Lev.21:21, ESV).

Perfection in reality

We sinners can hardly fathom what it is like to be sinless. It might help if we could try for one day! Then imagine what it would be like to be sinless for some 20 years of adulthood (from the ages of 13 to 33, in Jesus’ case). Little wonder that at the age of thirty, Jesus looked like a man approaching fifty (Jn.8:57). Although he maintained communion with God every moment of every day, the mere thought that the salvation of the world could be lost in one careless second must have been heavy to bear. It is this suffering above all else, even the relatively brief suffering on the cross, that constitutes the true suffering he took up for the sake of our salvation.

The perfection of Jesus is the greatest miracle Yahweh has ever done. Jesus Christ is Yahweh’s new creation, the pinnacle of God’s glorious work from all eternity, the likes of which has never been seen and will never be surpassed in all eternity. For this reason God has exalted Jesus “above the heavens” (Heb.7:26) to a position at His right hand.

By comparison, the trinitarian fiction of Jesus the God-man is unmarvellous. The Jesus of trinitarianism is God Almighty who created all things whereas the Jesus of the New Testament possesses nothing that came from himself. Even his name “Jesus” was given to him by Yahweh. If the key word for the trinitarian Jesus is homoousios, the key word for the biblical Jesus is obedience.

The Jesus of trinitarianism, with his supposed coequality with God, cannot secure mankind’s salvation; only the obedience of the biblical Jesus, the Lamb of God, can secure it. It is “the obedience of the one man” that makes the many righteous (Rom.5:19).

That obedience must be perfect, not partial. James expresses it from another angle: “For whoever keeps the whole law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all” (James 2:10). The one who has broken one commandment has broken all ten.

Jesus the perfect man fulfilled the law perfectly, notably the law of love, for “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10). He did not abolish the law or teach anyone to do so, but in fact said that “not one jot or tittle of the law shall pass away until all is fulfilled” (Mt.5:18). He came to fulfill the law, and as perfect man “gave his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45).

In our trinitarian days, we thought of Jesus’ perfection as a byproduct of his deity. But the notion that one can be perfect or sinless by a hypostatic union—a concept found in some forms of mysticism—is a myth that even few practicing mystics would believe. In real life there is no shortcut to perfection. Just as Jesus was perfected through suffering all his life and not just in the final week, so perfection for the believer is a life-long process. Not even Paul saw himself as having attained perfection (Phil.3:12). He wrestled with pride to the extent that the Lord had to place a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from being proud (2Cor.12:7).

We now appreciate the immense achievement of Jesus the perfect man. His final three years were the most difficult. The 40 days of temptation in the wilderness without food, intensified by Satan’s relentless attacks, would exceed what most people can endure for one day. This was followed by two or three years of slandering by the religious leaders who accused him of just about everything. He was labelled a rabble-rouser, a false messiah, a blasphemer, and a man who functioned by the power of the chief of demons. It seems that no one is more adept at slander and character assassination than the religious people, especially religious leaders whom the people learn from by emulation. Little wonder that many turn away from religion. We need only go to the Internet to see the slandering that some religious people excel in. Jesus warned his disciples about such zealots, who will kill you for what they think will glorify God.

Jesus’ attainment of perfection is beyond imagination even given God’s indwelling presence in him. And God has made that indwelling available to all believers! It is those who have tried with all their hearts to live righteously who understand how amazing is Jesus’ attainment of perfection. Such people will grow in their love and devotion to him, acknowledging him as their Lord and Savior.

 

The crime of trinitarianism is the obscuring of the marvel of Jesus the sinless and perfect man, reducing this wonderful truth to the superficial and trite notion that since Jesus is God, he is automatically sinless, his perfection being a result of his deity.

Instead of marvelling at the stupendous wonder of the perfect man, trinitarians sidetrack the issue with lengthy discussions on whether the divine Jesus is capable of sinning. It is hard to understand why this question is even raised, for if Jesus is God, then obviously he cannot sin. In fact he cannot even be tempted (“God cannot be tempted by evil,” James 1:13). The real reason for their question is that they cannot deny that Jesus wrestled with sin to the point of appearing to sweat drops of blood (Lk.22:44). This has caused some trinitarians to hold back from concluding that Jesus could not have sinned. But this is a contradictory position to take, for a God who can be tempted to sin is not the God of the Bible.

In trinitarianism, Jesus’ perfection comes packaged with his deity. Since Jesus is God, and God is perfect, therefore Jesus’ human nature is perfect through the hypostatic union with his divine nature. But can divine qualities such as holiness and wisdom be transferred? Can anyone be perfected in the blink of an eye, bypassing a long and arduous process of spiritual growth and learning?

No one, not even Jesus, is born or created perfect, for we are talking about moral perfection. Hebrews says that Jesus became perfect through suffering (2:10), learned obedience through suffering (5:8), and was made perfect (5:9). When Adam was created by God, he was perfect in every sense physical and mental. He was sinless in the sense that he, like an infant, hadn’t yet had occasion to sin. But the fact that Adam soon failed is clear evidence that he was not created morally perfect.

When did Jesus begin walking on the road to perfection?

When did Jesus begin to live a life of obedience to the Father? We don’t have a precise answer to the question because the Bible provides no record—apart from one incident—of his “hidden years,” that is, the period from his infancy to the time he burst onto the scene in Israel at around the age of thirty.

There is one notable exception to the silence of those years: the account in Luke 2:41-50 of 12-year-old Jesus who visited Jerusalem with his family for the Passover. At the conclusion of the feast, his family started returning home only to discover, after having travelled some distance, that Jesus was not with them. So they returned to Jerusalem to look for him, and eventually found him in the temple engaging in deep discussions with the learned men there.

Asked to account for what he had done, Jesus simply said, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk.2:49). Most modern Bibles (ESV, NASB, NIV) have “my Father’s house” rather than “my Father’s business” (KJV, NKJV), but this would make his statement superfluous, for was it not precisely the temple (“my Father’s house”) to which his parents returned in searching for him? With neither “house” nor “business” appearing in the Greek text, the statement is translated more literally as: “Did you not know that I must be in those (things) of my Father?

After this incident, the Bible is silent on the next 18 years of Jesus’ life. So why was this solitary event recorded in Luke’s Gospel? Because it reveals not only Jesus’ precociousness in his understanding of the Scriptures at a young age, but also that he had already seen himself as being involved in, and committed to, his Father’s work. This was undoubtedly part of the whole process of his being perfected.

In Judaism, a boy is not considered accountable before the Law until he becomes Bar Mitzvah [1] (“son of commandment”) on his 13th birthday plus one day. From then on, he is morally responsible to keep the commandments.

When we grasp the significance of Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem at the age of 12, we can give a more precise answer to the question, When did Jesus begin his life of obedience to his Father? Before he reached the age of 13, he had already been engaged in his “Father’s business.” How much earlier he had been doing this is not recorded for us; he may have started earlier. But one thing is clear: From the moment Jesus was capable of responsible obedience to the Father, he had always lived to please Him. This carried on to the end when he hung on the cross and said with his last breath, “It is finished” (accomplished).

Jesus, made perfect

Jesus’ perfection was not derived from his supposed deity but something he had learned through suffering:

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 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 5:7-10, ESV)

Jesus attained perfection by Yahweh’s indwelling presence, but not without “loud cries and tears” (v.7). Scripture does not teach an inherent or automatic perfection, or that Jesus was born perfect. It was with loud cries and tears that he offered up prayers and supplications to God. His fragile humanity is displayed for all to see. As trinitarians we ignored this verse because we found it problematic, yet it cannot be swept under the carpet so easily because it is located in the middle of a crucial discussion on God’s appointment of Jesus as high priest.

Jesus came from the tribe of Judah, not the priestly tribe of Levi, so how could he have been appointed a high priest? It is crucial to note that it was only after Jesus had “learned obedience through what he suffered” (v.8) and only after he had been “made perfect” (v.9) that he was “designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek” (v.10). Little is known of Melchizedek beyond that he was “king of Salem, priest of the Most High God” (Heb.7:1; Gen.14:18). Because Melchizedek’s priesthood answers directly to Yahweh the Most High God, it is a spiritual priesthood. Similarly, Jesus “has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible (perfect) life” (Heb.7:16).

With loud cries and tears, Jesus prayed to God to save him from death. It was not physical death that he feared, for his aim was to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt.20:28). We can be sure that he would never pray for the nullification of this glorious mission. What he truly feared was the death that comes from disobedience, for that would nullify and destroy God’s plan of salvation for mankind. Hence he prayed to God with such intensity that it was expressed in loud cries and tears.

Obedience to God must be voluntary, for what is coerced or compelled is not obedience. True obedience comes from the moral decisions made by one’s own free will, as was the case with Jesus when he said, “I lay down my life of my own accord and nobody takes it from me” (Jn.10:18). His commitment was powerfully expressed at Gethsemane when he was facing suffering and death. There he said to his Father, “Not my will but yours be done” (Lk.22:42), even as he was pondering the horrific things that lay ahead of him, and his heart shuddered at what he saw. But he voluntarily offered himself as the sacrificial Lamb of God for the blood atonement that secures mankind’s salvation. So it could truly be said that this was done out of love: “The Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal.2:20).

Jesus was “made perfect” (Heb.5:9), indicating that his perfection was acquired. This cannot be true of the trinitarian Jesus who, as God the Son, is inherently perfect and doesn’t have to be “made perfect” or “become perfect” (both meanings are valid in the Greek text of v.9).

Jesus’ prayers and supplications were “heard because of his reverence” (v.7). Here the Greek for “reverence” is eulabeia, defined by BDAG as “reverent awe in the presence of God, awe, fear of God. [2] Because reverence is something expressed to God, it is a human rather than a divine quality. KJV gives an alternative rendering of eulabeia in Heb.5:7:

Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared. (Heb.5:7)

Here the word “feared” (eulabeia) means reverent fear and awe in God’s presence. Exegetical Dictionary of the NT explains the meaning of this word in Hebrews 5:7 (Greek transliterated):

Thus eulabeia (fear) in v.7 involves a “once-for-all” (cf. 4:15) devotion to God or piety. Because of this he was heard by God and as teleiōtheis (perfection) was made the basis of salvation and true high priest for all obedient persons (vv.9f.).

EDNT is saying that Jesus, with a perfection derived from his piety and fear of God, was “made the basis of salvation”.

Whereas Jesus’ perfection includes the fear or reverence of Yahweh, this attitude is woefully rare in North American society today. “God!” or “O my God!” or worse exclamations and expletives are often heard in restaurants, schools, and television programs. It is not hard to see their corrupting effect on children who grow up in this ungodly environment. “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom.3:18; Psa. 36:1).

What is the fear of God? “To fear Yahweh is to hate evil” (Prov.8:13). It doesn’t mean that we hate evil people. Jesus hates evil yet gave his life to save every evildoer who repents and trusts in him for salvation.

Jesus’ prayers were heard because of his fear and reverence. If our prayers are not heard, we do well to ask ourselves whether we have an attitude of reverence to God. I have heard many “prayers” that make me shudder. I recently heard a pastor “pray” with loud demands to God to do this and do that, treating God as his servant and not his Master!

Perfection is stressed in the Scriptures

Perfection is a completeness beyond which there is nothing more to attain because nothing is lacking. It is the end (telos) of attainment, the pinnacle of achievement; beyond this one cannot go because there is nothing beyond it.

1 Corinthians 13:10 draws a contrast between the perfect and the partial: “When the perfect (teleios) comes, the partial (meros) will pass away.” Verse 9 says, “We know in part (meros)”—that is, our knowledge at this time is incomplete.

Among believers there are spiritual infants who, being spiritually immature, need to grow up to maturity and to Christ’s perfection:

… until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

Here the term “perfect man” (andra teleion) refers to Christ because of the reference to “Son of God” and “Christ” in the same sentence. Here the word is not anthrōpos, the general word for a human being, but anēr, the word for a male human being. Hence it is invalid to render “perfect man” in a generalized way as “mature manhood” as is done in ESV and RSV (but not HCSB, NASB, NIV). It is lexically invalid to reduce anēr to the abstract concept of “manhood,” a rendering that has no lexical support in any of the standard Greek-English lexicons. Believers are not called to an abstract manhood but specifically to the “perfect man” who is Jesus Christ. This is stated two verses later: “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph.4:15). Paul reiterates this vital truth in Col.1:28: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (NIV)

The perfection of the believer is an unfamiliar concept to most Christians. Could this be the result of the church’s unbalanced emphasis on grace? The average church minister doesn’t know what he needs to do to “present everyone perfect in Christ”. Yet this is the supreme goal of Paul’s ministry, as seen in the next verse: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col.1:29).

The church is not on the same wavelength as Paul. Have we ever heard a sermon on perfection in Christ? The lopsided stress on being saved by the death of Christ has made our perfection in Christ redundant. But the stress in Paul’s teaching and the New Testament is different: Christ’s death is meant to cleanse us from sin and to “purchase” (redeem) us for God so that we may be holy. “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb.12:14). Yet we are taught in much of Protestantism that we need only believe that Jesus died for us and we will be saved; and once we are saved, we are always saved. With this kind of teaching, who needs perfection or holiness?

Paul’s intense concern that Christ’s perfection should take shape in the believer’s life is expressed by the imagery of the pain of childbirth: “My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal.4:19) The parallel between this verse and Col.1:28-29 is seen in the correspondence between “Christ in you” and “Christ is formed in you”.

“Perfect” in the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old Yahweh appeared to him and said, “I am El Shaddai (Almighty God). Live in my presence, be perfect” (NJB)

Deut.18:13 “Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God.” (KJV)

In the latter verse, KJV preserves the word “perfect” whereas most other Bibles use the weaker word “blameless,” revealing a reluctance in modern Bibles to use the word “perfect”. This makes it harder for the reader to know what the text is saying. There are 99 occurrences of “perfect” in KJV and only 41 in ESV. There are 36 in NIV, about one-third the number in KJV; of these 36 occurrences, only a few refer to the perfection of people, yet these few instances are significant (the following are from NIV 1984):

Colossians 1:28 … that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

Hebrews 2:10 …it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.

Hebrews 5:9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Hebrews 7:28 … the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

Hebrews 10:14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The familiar statement, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48) is not found in the Old Testament. Instead there is the parallel command, “Be holy for I am holy”:

Leviticus 11:44-45 I am Yahweh your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy … I am Yahweh who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (ESV, “Yahweh” in the Hebrew restored; also Lev.20:26)

Similarly, the New Testament calls us to be holy and blameless (all ESV):

Ephesians 1:4 … that we should be holy and blameless

Ephesians 5:27 So that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

1Peter 1:15-16 But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

These verses, notably in the light of Hebrews 10:14, show that “perfect” and “holy” share common meaning.[3]

The parallel between “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” and “be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Mt. 5:48; Lk.6:36) shows that perfection also includes mercy and compassion (cf. Ex.34:6, Yahweh is merciful and gracious). These are the constituents of love, and God in His nature is love (1Jn.4:8; 2Cor.13:11; Eph.2:4).

The following verses show what perfection is like and therefore what Jesus is like:

Perfection as endurance: “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4)

Perfection as spiritual perception: “But solid food is for the mature (perfect), for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb.5:14)

Perfection as self-control and control of the tongue: “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” (James 3:2)

Perfection as being meek and lowly in heart: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt.11:29)

 

Jesus’ weakness exposes the falsity of trinitarianism

The Bible characterizes man as weak. Paul speaks of “the weakness of the flesh” (Rom.6:19), a statement that “denotes the weakness of human nature” (Thayer, astheneia) and “the frailty to which all human flesh is heir” (BDAG, astheneia 2b).

Jesus himself “was crucified in weakness” (2Cor.13:4). On this statement, BDAG says that “he was crucified as a result of his weakness (his vulnerability as a human being)”. Like all human beings, Jesus has no inherent power of life but depends on his Father for his existence: “I live because of the Father” (Jn.6:57); “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (Jn.5:26). On John 6:57, C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, says, “he has no independent life”.

Because the Bible depicts man as innately weak, the elevation of Jesus to God Almighty is a denial of this fundamental attribute of his humanity. If Jesus is God, how could any weakness be ascribed to him?

Human beings don’t have a choice as to be weak or strong despite the delusion of strength that one may have when he is tall, or healthy, or intelligent, or rich, or esteemed in society. Human weakness and helplessness is the reality of human existence in the present age though the situation will change in the age to come when we will be “clothed” with a new body in such a way that the “body of our humiliation” (Phil. 3:21, NRSV) will be changed into an immortal body.

How can a divine Jesus be weak? If he is God, he is strong and omnipotent. If he is weak, he is not God, for God cannot dispose of His attributes. They are inherent to His very person as God; they define what He is. If He lacks even one of His attributes, He would not be God. Again the falsity of the trinitarian doctrine of Jesus’ deity is exposed.

Trinitarians argue that Jesus as God has chosen to put on a human body with its limitations. That he had such an choice in the first place shows that he was not a human being. In deifying Jesus, trinitarians have put him outside the pale of humanity, being neither God nor man.

The argument of Jesus’ voluntary self-limitation doesn’t make sense because God is not like a boxer who has one hand tied behind his back as a handicap against a weaker opponent. The argument that Jesus put aside his divine power in order to depend on God’s power doesn’t make sense either, for how can one who is innately omnipotent and infinitely powerful, but then suppresses his own divine power, be called weak in any real sense? If I refrain from exercising my great power, does that make me weak? No, I am still strong and powerful—actually and inherently.

In trinitarianism, Jesus is the omnipotent second person of the Godhead who is coequal with the Father. His acquiring a human body does not reduce his omnipotence by one iota, for how can flesh suppress omnipotence if omnipotence is by definition infinite power? In trinitarianism, Jesus is not just God but “fully God” even while he was on earth.

The Jesus of the 4th-century trinitarian creeds does not match Yahweh’s signature and is therefore false. The biblical Jesus, on the other hand, is weak and can do nothing of his own. He carries Yahweh’s signature that marks him as one who is wholly dependent on God and has no extraordinary human abilities that are not already available to other human beings.

The Bible does not say that Jesus was a different kind of man from other human beings. He was born into an ordinary Jewish family. Some scholars think that his family may have been among the poorest of the Jews because artisans such as carpenters generally owned no land, and were financially worse off than those who owned land. (In general, landowners would not take up carpentry as a trade, but would derive their livelihood from agriculture which has the dual advantage of ensuring their own food supply and, in a good season, of having a surplus crop that could be sold or traded.)

Paul says of believers that not many are wise by human standards, or powerful, or of noble birth, for God has chosen the foolish in the world to shame the wise, and the weak to shame the strong (1Cor.1:26-27). The most significant of Paul’s statements that express this truth is 2Cor.12:9 in which he recounts what the Lord had said to him: “My power is made perfect in weakness”.

This statement calls for deep reflection. It plainly says that, contrary to human thinking, any strength in man will hinder God’s power from manifesting itself in perfection. A moment of reflection tells us that if Jesus is the perfect man as Scripture declares him to be, how could his total perfection have been attained except through total weakness? We now understand what Jesus meant when he said, “The Son can do nothing by himself” (Jn.5:19). This is not a statement of modesty but a declaration of solid fact, that without Yahweh’s power Jesus would not be able to function at all.

This brings us to the crucial event of Gethsemane [4] where Jesus’ heart-wrenching struggle exposed his utter weakness and anguish as the gripping reality of his imminent death on the cross loomed before him. He did not face the cross like a heroic warrior rushing headlong into the thick of battle. There are many heroes in the history of empires and civilizations, but Jesus was not empowered by human courage or driven by a desire for earthly acclaim. He did not seek out death, much less engineer his own death as some scholars believe, suggesting that he was motivated by the figure of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 whose death brought atonement to God’s people. The plan to redeem the “many” (Mt. 20:28; Mk.10:45) came originally from Yahweh and not from Jesus. In the following verses, we see the intensity of the Gethsemane event:

Luke 22:44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (ESV)

Hebrews 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (ESV)

The intensity of Jesus’ anguish shortly before his death for mankind could hardly be more poignantly displayed. Surely this is not the way a hero is portrayed in biographies. A hero is supposed to stand tall and meet death head-on, but Jesus is presented as utterly weak. Paul’s enigmatic statement that Jesus “was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God” (2Cor.13:4) makes sense only in the light of a fundamental principle that the Lord had given to Paul: “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor.12:9). This is the principle by which all believers are to live. Paul himself says, “For when I am weak, I am strong” (v.10; cf. v.9b).

The words “my power is made perfect in weakness” cannot be true of the trinitarian Jesus because as God he cannot be weak. How can God Almighty be weak? To argue that Jesus made himself weak is a case of special pleading. We are talking about true and actual weakness, not the appearance of weakness. At Gethsemane, did the trinitarian Jesus only appear to be weak when in fact he was infinite and omnipotent? Are we dealing with make-belief acting? If not, then a vital element in the perfection of Jesus is his utter human weakness by which God’s power was made perfect in him.

Jesus’ utter weakness is seen in details such as that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Lk.22:44), and that he was so weakened that he had to be strengthened by an angel (v.43). Just how utterly human Jesus can be is seen in his blood, sweat, and tears (“loud cries and tears,” Heb.5:7). Jesus’ greatness lies not in his supposed deity but in his weakness and helplessness of such a degree that it took nothing less than God’s power to carry him through to victory just when he was in danger of collapsing.

All in all, the Gethsemane portrayal of Jesus collides with the trinitarian portrayal of Jesus as God omnipotent and Almighty.

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46; Mk.15:34) is another statement I wrestled with in my trinitarian days but without arriving at a resolution. It is impossible for God to forsake God (in trinitarianism this can only be done by dividing their essence), so why did Jesus shout out the words of anguish found in Psalm 22:1? Whereas the words of Psalm 22:1 (“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”) cannot apply to a divine Jesus, they are eminently applicable to the man Jesus in his utter weakness on the cross. At the cross, Yahweh’s power sustained Jesus’ spirit and upheld him through this dangerous crisis, to achieve the victory by which Jesus could declare that his work is “finished”—successfully completed.

God’s signature by which God’s works are recognized as His

God’s way of doing things in the human world is stated in 1Cor.1:27: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong”. This principle runs through what is called salvation history (Heilsgeschichte) which spans the Old and New Testaments. Instance of this principle are too numerous to cite exhaustively, but we can mention a few.

God the creator of heaven and earth, in His plan of salvation, chose a particular nation for the redemption of mankind that had fallen into sin and death through the failure of Adam and Eve. Yahweh did not choose a world power such as the culturally advanced nation of Egypt that by comparison made Israel look like a nation of primitive tribes, nor did He choose the great empires of Mesopotamia. The relics of these ancient civilizations now on display in the great museums still kindle awe and admiration.

Yet none of these great and advanced nations was chosen by Yahweh. Instead He chose an obscure nation of twelve tribes that were in frequent conflict with one another. The nation of Israel did not originally have the advanced weaponry such as war chariots that their formidable neighbors to the southwest, the Egyptians, wielded in vast numbers, nor did Israel attain to anything like Egypt’s cultural and organizational achievements. It comes as no surprise that this tiny nation of relatively primitive hill tribes ended up being enslaved in Egypt for some 430 years (Ex.12:40-41). In the end, how did God rescue Israel, a nation enslaved by a great world power for so many generations?

The story of Moses is well known and will not be repeated here except in outline. Moses, whose mother was an Israelite slave woman, was providentially plucked out of the Nile and adopted by one of Pharaoh’s daughters (Ex.2:1-10). Years later, Moses saw an Israelite being beaten by an Egyptian guard; he impulsively killed the guard and had to flee from Pharaoh as a fugitive (2:11-15). He took refuge in the desert mountains of Midian where he married a daughter of Jethro, the local priest and tribal chief, and became a sheep herder (2:16-21). He lived many years in the wilderness and became acquainted with the ways of the desert, accumulating knowledge and experience that would later prove valuable for leading the Israelites out of Egypt. During the long preparatory years in the desert, Yahweh was building up his character and preparing this otherwise ordinary man (who had not attained to any distinction in Egypt apart from acquiring some education) to become someone with whom Yahweh could communicate, starting from their encounter at the burning bush (Exodus 3).

Here we see God’s signature in His choosing an insignificant and enslaved people, and then choosing from them a leader in the person of Moses who apart from having a meek and righteous character is not portrayed as having any outstanding ability or characteristic.

In both the Old and New Testaments, God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the strong. In this world, meekness is not regarded as a trait of the strong but of the weak. Do slaves have a choice other than to be meek before their masters, as any display of assertiveness could cost them their lives?

The way God chooses people is seen again and again at significant moments in biblical history. When Yahweh sent Samuel the prophet to Jesse to appoint one of Jesse’s sons king of Israel, Yahweh had in mind an unlikely candidate, a young David who was overlooked even by his own parents (1Sam.16:1-13). Yet David was chosen by Yahweh in a choice that is consistent with His way of doing things, indeed consistent with God’s signature.

Perfection and suffering

The New Testament teaches a lot about suffering, not only that of Christ but also of believers in Christ, and imbues it with spiritual meaning. Just as Jesus was made “perfect through suffering” (Heb.2:10), so those in Christ who have suffered in the flesh have “ceased from sin” (1Pet.4:1).

The gospels seldom mention Jesus’ age, but when they do, they offer insight into his life and even his sufferings. Jesus began his ministry at around the age of thirty (Lk.3:23), yet some Jews estimated his age to be nearly fifty (Jn.8:57). In an era in which the male life expectancy was around 35 years, a man approaching 50 would be considered old. Why did the Jews think that Jesus was close to 50 when he was about 30? He obviously looked older than his age. The gospels nowhere suggest that he was in poor health or had a disease that made him look older than normal for his age.

Jesus’ aged appearance may reveal something about the years prior to his public ministry. We know that suffering, especially inner suffering, can age a person rapidly. The intensity of his suffering at Gethsemane was of a depth that is hard for us to fathom, yet this was surely not his only occasion of suffering. The life-and-death issue that confronted him at Gethsemane was not a new or unfamiliar one, but was the culmination of his lifelong struggles; and now he was about to “drink of the cup” (Mt.20:22; Jn.18:11).

Jesus had earlier said, “For this purpose I have come to this hour” (Jn.12:27). The mission to be the sacrificial Lamb of God must have been on his mind ever since John the Baptist announced it at the start of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus probably knew about his role even earlier, though we don’t know how much earlier. So he must have struggled with his will for a considerable time until his final declaration of assent: “Not my will but Yours be done”. The intense suffering in his heart and mind shortly before his being “made sin who knew no sin” (2Cor.5:21) can hardly be imagined. It would be incorrect to suppose that his suffering for the salvation of humankind was confined to the few hours on the cross, or the few days preceding it. On the contrary, Jesus went through a lifetime of suffering, excluding perhaps the years prior to his attaining adulthood at the age of 13.

Do we likewise have a role in the work of salvation by following in his steps and enduring sufferings to “make up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of his body” (Col.1:24)? This is not to suggest anything inadequate in the atoning efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice. Yet that doesn’t rule out further sufferings for the body of Christ, the church, to bear. Whereas Paul says that Christ “our Passover lamb has been sacrificed” (1Cor.5:7), he also says of himself that he has been “poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice of your faith” (Phil.2:17). One chapter earlier, Paul says:

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Phil.1:29-30)

Jesus’ call to us to take up our cross and follow him (Mt. 16:24; Mk.8:34; Lk.9:23) is a call to suffer for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Most Bibles do not convey God’s perfecting work in Luke 13:32

And He said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’” (Luke 13:32, NKJV)

KJV and NKJV correctly translate the last words of this verse as, “I shall be perfected”. Here “perfected” (a passive form of teleioō, to perfect) is a divine passive: It is implicitly God who brought to completion His perfecting work in Jesus at the cross.

Modern Bibles render “I shall be perfected” as something else, usually by changing the passive into an active: “I finish my course” (ESV), “I reach my goal” (NASB), or “I attain my end” (NJB). These fail to convey Yahweh’s perfecting of Jesus through suffering (Heb.2:10), an unfortunate omission given that Jesus’ death on the cross was the climax and completion of his sufferings, the event where his perfection was achieved and completed.

“Faith in Jesus Christ” or “Faith of Jesus Christ”?

In our search for a deeper understanding of Jesus’ perfection, sooner or later we will have to confront the striking fact that Paul would sometimes speak of “the faith of Jesus Christ”—that is, the faith exercised by Jesus Christ. This unusual wording collides with trinitarian dogma by implying that Jesus put his faith in God. This would be inconceivable if Jesus is himself God as he is in trinitarianism. This would explain why trinitarian Bibles such as ESV have chosen to render the phrase as “faith in Jesus Christ” rather than “faith of Jesus Christ”.

Already in my student days when I was a trinitarian, I noticed an unusual translation in several verses in KJV: “the faith of Jesus Christ” (Rom.3:22; 3:26; Gal.2:16a; 3:22) or “the faith of Christ” (Gal.2:16b; Phil.3:9) or “the faith of the Son of God” (Gal.2:20); Gal.2:16 is listed twice here because it has two such occurrences. These unusual KJV renderings are in fact correct and literal translations of the Greek. These verses are also translated correctly in the NET Bible, the Complete Jewish Bible, and the International Standard Version. Here are the relevant verses from KJV/NET/CJB:

Rom.3:22 

  • by faith of Jesus Christ (KJV)
  • through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ (NET)
  • through the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah (CJB)

Rom.3:26

  • the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus
  • the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness
  • righteous on the ground of Yeshua’s faithfulness

Gal.2:16a

  • by the faith of Jesus Christ
  • by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ
  • through the Messiah Yeshua’s trusting faithfulness

Gal.2:16b

  • by the faith of Christ
  • by the faithfulness of Christ
  • on the ground of the Messiah’s trusting faithfulness

Gal.2:20

  • I live by the faith of the Son of God
  • I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God
  • I live by the same trusting faithfulness that the Son of God had

Gal.3:22

  • by faith of Jesus Christ
  • because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ
  • Yeshua the Messiah’s trusting faithfulness

Eph.3:12

  • by the faith of him
  • because of Christ’s faithfulness
  • through his faithfulness

Phil.3:9

  • through the faith of Christ
  • by way of Christ’s faithfulness
  • through the Messiah’s faithfulness

The literal rendering—“faith of Christ”—is called the subjective genitive (Christ is the subject who exercises faith) whereas “faith in Christ” is called the objective genitive (Christ is the object of faith). The NET Bible, in a footnote on Romans 3:22, offers a strong reason for choosing “faith of Jesus Christ” over “faith in Jesus Christ”. The following quotation may be skipped on a first reading:

Noteworthy among the arguments for the subjective genitive view is that when πίστις (pistis, “faith”) takes a personal genitive it is almost never an objective genitive (cf. Mt.9:2,22,29; Mk.2:5; 5:34; 10:52; Lk.5:20; 7:50; 8:25,48; 17:19; 18:42; 22:32; Rom.1:8;12; 3:3; 4:5,12,16; 1Cor.2:5; 15:14,17; 2Cor. 10:15; Phil.2:17; Col.1:4; 2:5; 1Thess.1:8; 3:2,5,10; 2Thess.1:3; Titus 1:1; Phlm 6; 1Pet.1:9,21; 2Pet.1:5).

This explanation may seem technical but its point is straightforward. Take the case of Matthew 9:29, one of the verses listed here. In Mt.9:29, Jesus says to some blind men who were about to be healed: “It shall be done to you according to your faith” (“faith of you”; pistin humōn, personal genitive). What is this faith? It is obviously the faith that the blind men had exercised (subjective genitive), not the faith that others had put in the blind men (objective genitive). In other words, the blind men were healed because they trusted in Jesus, not because the onlookers trusted in the blind men!

For a discussion on this issue from a grammatical perspective, see Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, pp.115-116, which says that “the grammatical argument for the objective genitive, then, has little to commend it,” and that “grammatical considerations seem to be in favor of the subjective genitive”.

In my student days, the unusual words “the faith of Jesus Christ” in KJV left a question in my mind, but being extremely busy at the time, I could only leave it to a later date to examine the question. Some years later, a book appeared with the title The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11, by Richard B. Hays, an eminent NT scholar at Duke Divinity School. His work, which argues for the faith of Jesus Christ, immediately caught my attention.[5]

It has been noted that prior to the 1970s, pistis Iēsou Christou was almost universally understood to mean “faith in Jesus Christ” (objective genitive), but in recent decades many scholars have argued that it should be rendered literally as “faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (subjective genitive). [6] A scholar who himself prefers the objective genitive admits that the subjective genitive (the faith of Jesus Christ) has become the majority view among NT scholars.[7]

The issue is not over whether Jesus is the object of saving faith (this is not denied) but whether Jesus himself also exercised faith in God in his salvific work. If the answer is yes, then the believer’s exercise of faith would be a most significant act of following in the steps of Jesus, who himself also exercised faith. What is crucial here is that faith is not just a believing in Jesus but also a believing with Jesus; it is a vital step of identifying with Jesus in our relationship with God and the pursuit of perfection. The exercise of faith then binds us into a deeper fellowship with Jesus when we follow him as his disciples. Salvation is not just creedal belief in Christ but participation with Christ, both in his faith and in his sufferings, for we are called not just to believe in Christ but also to “suffer for his sake” (Phil.1:29) and to participate in the “fellowship of his sufferings” (3:10).

But the problem for me when I was a trinitarian was that if Jesus is God, then Jesus wouldn’t need to have faith, for he himself is the object of faith. Was Jesus so utterly human that he needed to have faith? Why would the human part of “God the Son” need to have faith in God when his divine part does not? It was a hopeless contradiction as is the case with many other things in trinitarianism. Many of these issues are addressed in Hays’s detailed work but those without basic theological training may find his book difficult to read.

Because the Jesus of trinitarianism doesn’t need to have faith as humans do, he is denied a most vital element of the spiritual life. How then could Jesus have been tested “in every respect” as other humans when our most severe trials are precisely the test of our faith? What then was the test that Jesus endured in Gethsemane if not the test of faith and obedience? What were the loud cries to God that were heard because of his fear of God? What about the impending death that caused him to cling to God in faith—the faith of Jesus Christ?

 

In discussing faith, we need to see its inner connection to obedience. This is brought out in the account of Adam’s disobedience. If death is the outcome of disobeying Yahweh, why did Adam and Eve disobey God despite having been told of the consequences (Gen.3:3, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die”)? What could account for their actions but that they did not believe God’s word? Had they believed God, they would not have taken the forbidden fruit. But in ignoring God’s warning, they showed contempt for Him and regarded Him as a liar and a weakling. How could they not have believed God given that they were not stupid or irrational? Obviously someone was clever enough to convince them that God didn’t mean what He said. They not only thought that they won’t die, but that they would become like God, knowing good and evil (Gen.3:4-5). Adam and Eve believed the serpent (the devil) and disobeyed God.

This shows the nexus or inner connection between obedience and belief, and similarly between disobedience and unbelief. Adam did not believe what God had told him but believed the devil, hence the fatal consequences. Adam’s death was not immediately apparent because it was not primarily on the physical level.

But Jesus obeyed God with an absolute obedience rooted in faith. In our trinitarian days, the faith of Jesus was not something that crossed our minds, for if Jesus is God, why would he need to have faith? Or submit to anyone? But if he is man, he would certainly need to believe in God and obey Him. If it was by Adam’s unbelief and disobedience that all men died, then it was by Jesus’ faith and obedience that “the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Here we see the crucial importance of the faith of Jesus Christ, but trinitarianism has suppressed this truth.



[1] Article “Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah” in Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol.3, p.164: “term denoting both the attainment of religious and legal maturity as well as the occasion at which this status is formally assumed for boys at the age of 13 plus one day… Upon reaching this age a Jew is obliged to fulfill all the commandments… According to Eleazar b. Simeon (second century C.E.), a father was responsible for the deeds of his son until the age of 13. For example the vows of a boy 13 and a day old are considered valid vows (Nid.5:6). From then on a person can perform acts having legal implications, such as… buying and selling property.”

[2] The word is used in Heb.12:28 and Prov.28:14 of the believer’s reverence. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom.”

[3] BDAG defines hagios (holy) as: “of human beings consecrated to God, holy, pure, reverent”; BDAG explains that consecrated to God means “dedicated to God, holy, sacred, i.e. reserved for God and God’s service”.

[4] Mt.26:36-45; Mark 14:32-41; Luke 22:39-44 (cf. Jn.18:1-12).

[5] See also The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Pistis Christou Debate, Michael F. Bird and Preston M. Sprinkle, ed. The 17 essays in this book represent both sides of the debate. See also “2 Corinthians 4:13: Evidence in Paul that Christ Believes,” Douglas A. Campbell, JBL, vol.128, no.2, 2009, pp.337–356.

[6] Commentary on the NT Use of the OT, on Galatians 2:16.

[7] The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Pistis Christou Debate, p.34. Also Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p.115: “more and more scholars are embracing these texts as involving a subjective genitive (thus, either ‘Christ’s faith’ or ‘Christ’s faithfulness’)”.

 

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