Saturday, August 28, 2010
Be Ye Therefore Perfect
3 Nephi 12:46-48
Therefore those things which were of old time, which were under the law, in me are all fulfilled.
Old things are done away, and all things have become new.
Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.
John W. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount: A Latter-Day Saint Approach p.57-60
Although it is possible that the word "perfect" has only a straightforward ethical or religious meaning here, reflecting perfect or "undivided obedience to God" and "unlimited love," there is a stronger possibility that the word carries a ceremonial connotation in this particular text. It seems to me that, in this verse, Jesus is expressing his desire that the disciples now advance from one level to a next level, to go on to become "perfect," "finished," or "completed" in their instruction and endowment. In addition to the ritual context of the Sermon—the context usually determining the sense in which the intended "completeness" consists—several reasons support this understanding.
First, the Greek word translated into English as "perfect" in Matthew 5:48 is teleios. This important word is used in Greek religious literature to describe the person who has become fully initiated in the rituals of the religion. Teleios is "a technical term of the mystery religions, which refers to one initiated into the mystic rites, the initiate." The word is used in Hebrews 5:14-6:1 to distinguish between the initial teachings and the full instruction; and in Hebrews 9:11 it refers to the heavenly temple. Generally in the Epistle to the Hebrews, its usage follows a "special use" from Hellenistic Judaism, where the word teleioo means "to put someone in the position in which he can come, or stand, before God." Thus, in its ritual connotations, this word refers to preparing a person to be presented to come before God "in priestly action" or "to qualify for the cultus." Early Christians continued to use this word in this way in connection with their sacraments and ordinances...
Moreover, the cultic use of the Hebrew term shalom may provide a concrete link between the Nephites and this Greek and Christian use of teleios. John Durham has explored in detail the fundamental meanings of shalom, especially in Numbers 6:26 and in certain of the Psalms, and concludes that it was used as a cultic term referring to a gift or endowment to or of God that "can be received only in his Presence," "a blessing specially connected to theophany or the immanent Presence of God," specifically as appearing in the Temple of Solomon and represented "within the Israelite cult" and liturgy. Buruch LeVine similarly analyzes the function of the shelamim sacrifices as producing "complete," or perfect, "harmony with the deity . . . characteristic of the covenant relationship as well as of the ritual experience of communion."