[This article was contributed by Apollos]
There is a Hebrew word for perfect. It is transliterated “tamiym”. It does not appear in the opening chapters of Genesis.
Our official theological view is that Adam and Eve were created perfect, and then lost that status. But nowhere is such an idea stated in the Bible.
At the end of each creative day God is said to have inspected his work, and He declared it “towb”. According to Strong’s lexicon this word means “good, pleasant, rich in value or estimation”. It is simply translated as “good” in the NWT.
After the sixth day God added a modifier to his previous assessments of creation. It was not just “towb”, but “m@`od towb”, or “very good”.
Is “very good” the same as “perfect”? No. It is evident that the latter describes something better.
The Rock, perfect is his activity,
For all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice;
Righteous and upright is he.
Note the context of this scripture. We often apply it to all creation from the outset. Certainly God is capable of making his creation perfect from the outset, but that is not what this passage says. His own activities are all perfect and just. But what of Adam and Eve?
It’s easy to assume that a perfect creator whose activities are all perfect is incapable of making anything less than perfect from the outset.
This is where we need to consider the true meaning of the word “tamiym”. It basically means “complete”.
God, through His Son, carried out the creation of the universe, the earth and its inhabitants in six creative days or time periods. At the end of each it was declared good (towb), but never perfect (tamiym).
Most Christians, including JW’s, accept that animals were created with the potential to develop further or experience micro evolution within their families of species. For life to be initiated in such a way, with the scope to adapt and improve according to its environment, is a beautiful example of Godly wisdom. Whether He intended an ultimate point of perfection (completion) that animal kinds were to reach at some point in their development is not stated in scripture. I see no reason to conclude that their development potential would reach some absolute point of completion, but that is not the primary point of this article.
Let us return to human perfection. The official JW doctrine is based upon the idea that “sinless” is synonymous with “perfect”. Is this true?
The first occurrence of “tamiym” (perfect) in the Hebrew scriptures is in Genesis 6:9, where Noah is described as “faultless” (NWT). Immediately therefore we know that this word cannot be equated with being free of sin, because Noah inherited sin.
As far as I know there is no word for sinless used within the Hebrew scriptures. Nevertheless we know that Adam was created sinless, since “through one man sin entered into the world” (Rom 5:12). The entry that sin made into the world is clearly recorded in Genesis chapter 3.
It seems quite easy to separate the concept of sinless from perfect, or complete, in this scenario. The earth itself was not complete according to the opening chapter of Genesis. If it was then there would have been no need for Jehovah God to give a commission to the first human couple to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:26).
God created mankind, the earth, and indeed the entire universe, with great potential. But potential has to be realized in order to reach completion or perfection. The state of something not yet being complete does not mean that it is flawed in some way. However, it would also be incorrect to describe it as perfect until its potential is realized.
Let me pause here to deal with the standard response I have heard in discussing whether perfection is distinct from sinless. The argument sometimes used is that perfection is a relative term. The scriptures say that we must “be perfect” just as our “heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Since we know we cannot achieve the perfection of the Almighty God, we conclude that this scripture is talking in relative terms, and therefore perfection itself is a relative term. But is that a reasonable conclusion? We do not treat the word “complete” in the same way. We understand the simple concept that something is either whole or it is incomplete. Things of differing value can be either complete or incomplete in their own right. Something inferior can be 100% as complete as something superior. Each is complete in relation to its own potential. The context of Matt 5:48 is that we must love our enemies as well as those who love us. Jehovah God does this. His love is not incomplete such that he only extends love to those loving him. Humans tend toward incomplete love by only loving their friends, but not their enemies. Jesus was telling us what is required to have a complete love just like his Father. We must love our enemies also. Perfection is not here being used to say we must be sinless, but rather that we must have complete love as does our heavenly Father.
If I’ve lost you at this stage and you are thinking that I’m just arguing semantics, then please let me assure you that I will soon be putting forward some reasons why the distinction matters, so I think it is worth trying to understand the point.
Consider the perfection of the “last Adam”, Jesus Christ, in his human form. We are told that he was made “perfect through sufferings” (Heb 2:8). The idea of Jesus as a child being perfect is nowhere stated in scripture. He was “without sin” (Heb 4:15), but we are told that his perfection was achieved or obtained, rather than being something that he was born with. He thus became the perfect sacrifice for our sins, since he gained not just that which Adam lost, but something that Adam himself failed to obtain. By so doing he becomes the perfect eternal Father that Adam never was. The value of his sacrifice was complete, whole and sound, just as prefigured by the animal sacrifices under the law covenant. This is not a value that Jesus could have presented as a child, even though he was sinless at that time.
Why does it matter?
Firstly it helps us to see that God’s purpose was not at any point “undone” by Satan. The idea that Satan was able to overturn Jehovah’s “perfect” creation is a confusing one in my opinion. It creates a conundrum because we rightly ask how Satan was able to pervert something that was created perfect. The appeal to “free will” only tells us that Adam and Eve had the capacity to choose what was wrong. It does not satisfactorily explain why perfect, flawless beings would make such a poor choice.
If however, we consider that humans were created sinless and with free will, and that God’s purpose was that they attain perfection over time, then the confusion goes away.
I like to think of it this way. Imagine a nut on a bolt thread, that can be tightened or loosened. There is a solid surface that it can be tightened against, and once it is in that fully tightened position it cannot be undone by hand. Think of Adam as the nut and his relationship with Jehovah represented by how tightly he becomes bound to that surface. Sure, God could have created him bound solid and unmovable right from the outset, so that neither Adam himself nor another party such as Satan could have moved him. In this scenario “free will” becomes nullified. Adam would have a perfect relationship with God, not by choice, but because God created him that way.
If however, Jehovah places the nut on the thread so that it is barely finger tight against the surface, he provides the latitude for humans to make a choice by free will. They could either turn themselves in one direction until they had tightened the bond to a point that it could not be undone, or they could turn in the other direction and move further from the relationship. Sadly our human parents chose the latter.
The “last Adam” did the opposite. Against all attempts to prevent him doing so, Jesus tightened his bond with his heavenly Father to the point of perfection.
Viewed this way it also answers the question of why those who survive the final test at the end of Christ’s millennial rule will not be in danger of sinning as Adam did. Our doctrine says that a legal precedent will have been established so anyone sinning will just be sent directly to the second death (Isa 65:20). But this “sword of Damocles” existing forever has always seemed unsatisfactory to me. Death is to be done away with, so even the potential of death would seem to be in opposition to that (1 Cor 15:22; Rev 20:14). If, in a billion years’ time, we are still only as perfect as Adam was at the outset, then surely there is a chance we will slip up at some point and disappear in a puff of smoke. But not so if we take the view that we will achieve the perfection that Adam never attained. Once we are bound by our own free will so tightly in our relationship with God, then we cannot be moved. We are neither robots, since we got to this point through our own free will, but neither are we capable of sinning any more. Jehovah himself has free will, and yet is incapable of doing bad. Whilst we will never be almighty like he, it seems that we can become perfect/complete in reflection of his goodness so that we would never be in a danger of doing bad. If not, then death can never be truly banished forever.
In the meantime I believe that this view also makes us more aware of our own accountability. If we see ourselves as being so different from Adam then it’s easy to blame all our bad choices on a loss of perfection. Indeed we are all sinners, but even in this system surrounded by sin, there is no reason for us to think we are so different from Adam that we cannot successfully work at achieving that which he did not.
It also helps us to appreciate Jesus’ faithful human life course even more. He was born without inherited sin, but the Bible does not describe him as living in a bubble of perfection. He still had to maintain his sinless course and attain perfection in order to become our savior.
I note that the lyrics of our kingdom song “God’s Own Book a Treasure” (no.114) has been amended slightly from the previous song book. “They also told how man at first was perfect” now reads “They also told how man at first was sinless”. You will note that it wasn’t done for reasons of rhyme or rhythm. Did someone come to similar conclusions as I have proposed here?
As always I welcome your comments.