Perfection or Perdition

By Charles H. Welch

As the epistle to the Hebrews urges its readers to "go on to perfection", and warns them of the dread alternative of "drawing back to perdition" , so we discover both "perfection" and the same Greek word that is translated "perdition" form the alternatives in the third chapter of the epistle to the Philippians.

The words "perfect", "perfection" and "finisher" that occur in Hebrews are the translations of teleios, teleiotes, teleioo, teleiosis and teleiotes, all derivatives of the root that gives us the word telos, "end". The idea of the word "perfect" here, is not so much "improvement" as the taking anything to its complete end. The root TEL enters into a number of words that have been brought over from the Greek, as TELescope, TELephone, TELegram and TELevision. In each case something at a distance is in view. The idea of "perfection" in Scripture is that of "running a race", of "finishing" a course, of reaching an "end".

Let us commence with this basic word telos.

  • "Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end" (Heb. 3:6).

  • "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end" (Heb. 3: 14).

  • "And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end" (Heb. 6: 11).

In Philippians the word telos occurs but once, and echoes the usage of the word in Hebrews 6:8:

  • "But that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected and is nigh unto cursing: whose end is to he burned."

  • "Whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things."(Philip. 3:19)

We shall have to return to these two references presently, but at the moment only seek to show that the word "perfect" has in view an end, disregarding, for the present, what that end may be. In Hebrews 5:14 we read that "strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age" (teleios, "perfect"), "even those who by ~ reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil". The epistle to the Philippians uses this same word when it says, "Let us, therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded" (Phil. 3:15).

In Philippians 3:12 we have the one occurrence of teleioo in that epistle: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also 1 am apprehended of Christ Jesus". This same word occurs nine times in Hebrews.

  1. It is used of Christ Himself.
    "To make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings" (Heb. 2:10).
    "And being made perfect, He became the Author of eternal salvation" (Heb. 5:9).
    "The Son Who is consecrated for evermore" (Heb. 7:28).

  2. It is used of His finished work.
    "For by one offering He hath perfected for ever, them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14).

  3. It is used of the believer.
    "That they without us should not be made perfect" (Heb. 11:40).
    "But ye are come unto Mount Sion. . . to the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:22-23).

  4. It is used of the Law which made no man perfect (Heb. 7:19; 9:9; 10:1).

To this list should be added "The Finisher", teleiotes (Heb. 12:2) in connexion (a) with running a race and (b) associated with Hebrews 2:10 where the word "Captain" is the translation of the same Greek word that is rendered "Author", and so by the use of these two words, "Author" and "Finisher" , emphasizing the double idea of beginning and end.

Over against the idea of "going on" (Heb. 6:1) the Apostle places the idea of "drawing back" (Heb. 10:39), the one to “perfection" the other to "perdition". The Oxford Dictionary says of "perdition", that theologically, it means "the condition of final damnation; the fate of those in hell, eternal death". Now, those addressed in Hebrews ten are believers, who had endured much, but were losing patience, and were exhorted to "cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward" (Heb. 10:32-37). The loss of possible reward is entirely in line with both the teaching of Hebrews, and the epistle to the Philippians, but the possibility that any redeemed child of God could draw back to "final damnation" is entirely opposed to the whole teaching of the Scriptures.

Turning to Philippians, where the same word occurs and is translated "destruction", we again perceive that it is impossible to believe that the Philippians needed a warning not to imitate those who were on the road to "final damnation". In Philippians three the Apostle is not dealing either with salvation or damnation, but with attaining or losing "the prize of the high calling". In Matthew 26:8 we find the word which is translated both "perdition" and "destruction" employed naturally, without the taint of theological prejudice. lt is employed by the disciples when they said "to what purpose is this waste?" The unfruitful field is "nigh unto" cursing, truly, but not actually cursed. lts end is to be burned, but such burning, while it destroys the crop of weeds, leaves the earth free even as the believer whose "works" may be burned up in that day, will himself be saved, yet so as by fire.

These two words, "perfection" and "perdition", are further enforced and illustrated by the figure of a race, a contest and a prize, figures that fit the main purpose of these two epistles, but which are foreign to the message of the Ephesian epistle.

The Race

  • "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1).

  • "I press toward the mark" (phil. 3: 14).

The Prize

  • ". . . looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2).

  • "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward" (Heb. 10:35).

  • "Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward" (Heb. 11:26).

  • "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3: 14).

The background of this exhortation is provided by the record of Israel in the wilderness. Of the great number that were redeemed out of Egypt, two only of all who were twenty years old and upward, were counted worthy to enter the land of promise, namely Caleb and Joshua. This historical background supplies the material for Hebrews three and four and no exposition of this epistle can be acceptable that does not take this background into account.

lt is recorded in Numbers 14:4 that Israel said, "Let us make a captain and let us return into Egypt". The word there translated "captain" is rendered in the LXX archegos, the very word used in Hebrews 2:10, "Captain", and in 12:2 "Author", the one related to "leading many sons to glory", the other to "running with patience the race", and both as we have already seen, associated with "perfecting". "Finisher" in Hebrews 12:2 is literally "Perfecter".

We have further parallels to record between Hebrews and Philippians.

  • "We remember," said the Israelites, "the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely" (Num. 11:5).

  • "Leaving . . . let us go on" (Heb. 6:1).

  • "Forgetting those things which are behind" (Phil. 3:13).

It is a true conception of the teaching of Scripture that is expressed in the saying, "no cross, no crown", and it will be discovered that the "cross" is referred to in Hebrews and Philippians in connexion with the "perfecting" and the "prize", while enmity to the cross is also associated with failure to go on to perfection and attain to the prize.

The Cross

  • "Let us run with patience, the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:1,2).

  • "He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him" (Phil. 2:8,9).

Enemies of the Cross

  • "It is impossible . . . if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame . . . whose end is to be burned" (Heb. 6:4-8).

  • "For many walk, of whom I have told you of ten, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction" (phil. 3:18,19).

Here in these references to Race and Prize, to pressing on and to drawing back, to the association of the cross with overcoming we have further links between the themes of Hebrews and Philippians. These links are integral, they are not the mere superficial likeness of words robbed of their contexts, they cannot be ignored or denied without loss and damage to both teacher and those taught.

The pressing on to "perfection" and the warning of the danger of drawing back unto "perdition" , which we have seen is the central theme of both the epistles to the Philippians and the Hebrews (PhiI3:12-19, Heb. 6:1, 10:39) borrow from the Greek sports their imagery, and speak of the believer running a race, and pressing on toward a prize.

Now in Philippians this prize is associated with a special resurrection, see OUT-RESURRECTION, and in Hebrews this is balanced by a "better" resurrection. Moreover, in both epistles, power for this conflict is derived in a marked manner from the risen Christ and is, moreover, linked with the "working out" of salvation, which is also a characteristic of both epistles.

The Better Resurrection

  • "Women received their dead raised to 1ife again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection" (Heb. 11:35).

The word "better" is an irregular comparative of agathos, "good", and cannot be used without comparison. This "resurrection" which involved "torture" was even "better" than that which restored those who had died to their loved ones. It is said of these that they would not accept "deliverance", the reason given being, "in order that a better resurrection they might obtain" .

The idea of "obtaining" does not fit the doctrine of grace in its simple and initial meaning. There is an element of "chance" (1 Cor.15:37) or "may be" (1 Cor.14:10) in the word, and the five passages that do translate tugchano "obtain", speak of something over and beyond that salvation which is "the gift" of God.

Let us see for ourselves:

  • "But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead . . . are equal unto the angels" (Luke 20:35, 36)

  • "Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day" (Acts 26:22).

  • "But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises" (Heb. 8 :6).

  • "That they might obtain a better resurrection" (Heb.11:35).

  • "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. . . . If we suffer we shall a1so reign with Him" (2 Tim.2:10-12).

In Philippians this "better resurrection" finds its parallel in what we must call "the out-resurrection".

"If by any means I may attain unto the out-resurrection, out from among the dead" (Phil. 3:11).

The Greek word employed here is exanastasis, not merely anastasis. A Pharisee believed in anastasis nekron, "the resurrection of the dead" (Acts 23:6). So did Martha for she said, "I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11:24).

It seems strange, therefore, to read of the very disciples that they questioned with one another "what the rising from the dead should mean" (Mark 9:10), for it is not reasonable to suppose that what was common to the faith of a Pharisee and even to Martha, was inexplicable to Peter, James and John. The solution of the problem of course lies in the recognition of a new factor, the introduction of the preposition ek, ek nekron anaste.

We have before us a booklet that analyses the different forms in which resurrection is presented in Scripture. The Out-Resurrection is, however, given short shrift. The presence of the preposition ek, instead of leading to the necessary comparison of spiritual things with spiritual and the words which the Holy Ghost uses, is dismissed as of little or no consequence, one solitary example of its use, namely Matthew 7:5, being all that the reader will know unless Berean-like he searches to see.

We are told that:

"No special significance can be attached to this double occurrence of out ( in Matt. 7:5) except that it makes the statement doubly emphatic. In view of this it is evident that we will be reading too much into Philippians 3: 11 if we make it teach a special resurrection of a special company".

We are amazed to read "in view of this", namely the doubtful effect of ek in Matt. 7:5, when all the time the presence of ek in Mark 9:10 is completely ignored.

When the Apostle used the words, "if by any means I might attain", he certainly would not forget their dread significance, for identical words are found in Acts 27:12, and on that occasion he knew only too well that the attempt ended in shipwreck. How could he use such a term of the blessed hope? How exactly it fitted the added prize.

He was not speaking of that resurrection which none can avoid, but a "better resurrection", one associated with "perfecting", with "attaining", with "apprehending", with salutary diffidence, with the "prize of the high calling", not the high calling itself. See the close of article, "PHILIPPIANS" for usage of "ek" with resurrection.

The Power of His Resurrection

  • "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ" (Heb. 13:20,21).

Here we have two features combined. The resurrection, and the doing of His will. These are found in Philippians:

  • "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the outresurrection, that which is out from among the dead"

  • (Phil. 3:10,11). "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12,13).

  • "Bearing His repro ach" (Heb. 13:13).

This is in line with the Apostle's desire to have "fellowship with His sufferings", being "made conformable unto His death". Not salvation, but those "better things" that accompany salvation (Heb. 6:9); working out, as God works in; a "better resurrection" in the shape of a "prize"; overcoming as did Caleb and Joshua; it is these things that characterize these epistles and unite them together.

The figure of race and prize which both Philippians and Hebrews associate with going on unto perfection, is further emphasized by the "athletic" terms that are found in both epistles. The "race" which was set before the Saviour is, in the Greek, agon and the word is used by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, where he says, "I have fought a good fight". So, in Hebrews 10:32, "great fight of afflictions", which the Hebrew believers had endured, is the translation of the Greek athlesis. So, too, the argument that is derived from Hebrews 12:1,2 uses the word antagonizomai, "striving against" sin (Heb. 12:4).

Even those who "subdued" kingdoms (Heb. 11:33) did so in this same spirit of contest, the word translated "subdue" being antagonizomai. When the Apostle opened his appeal to the Philippians in chapter :27 the word translated "striving together" which he used is sunathleo, a word repeated in Philippians 4:3, "laboured with". At the close of this section the Apostle refers to the "conflict", as being the same which they had seen in him, and now heard to be in him, and here he goes back to the word agona. None of these words has any place in the epistle to the Ephesians.

This conflict is epitomized and carried to its extreme in the cross of Christ-"Even the death of the cross" (Phi!. 2:8), He "endured the cross" (Heb. 12:2), and in both epistles the cross is brought in, not to speak of redemption from sin, but as an example in association with conflict and crown.

Closely linked with this theme is the majestic revelation of the Person of Christ, Who was originally in "the form of God" (Phil. 2:6), which is but another aspect of the truth set forth in Hebrews 1:3, where He is shown to be "the express image of His person". Where Philippians says that, at last, "every knee sha1l bow" (Phil. 2:10), Hebrews says, "Let all the angels of God worship Him" (Heb. 1:6). Where Philippians says "that Jesus Christ is Lord", referring to the end, Hebrews says, "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth". Where, with holy awe, Philippians tells us that "He made Himself of no reputation", Hebrews says, "He was made a little lower than the angels".

The reader will have noticed in these comparisons, that there is a greater height and depth in Philippians than in Hebrews. Where Hebrews is content to say of His humiliation, "a little lower than the angels", and of His exaltation to the right hand of God, "being made so much better than the angels" (Heb. 2:9, 1 :4), the theme of the Philippian epistle demands a greater sweep. There, He not only was made a little lower than the angels, but He "took upon Him the form of a slave" (Phil. 2:7). He was not subsequently made "better than the angels", but will yet be "highly exalted" so that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, of things in heaven, in earth and under the earth (Phil. 2:10,11).

Hebrews indeed speaks of the Saviour's "exaltation", "made higher than the heavens" (Heb. 7:26 hupselon) but Philippians uses the superlative term, huper upsoo, "highly exalted" (Phil. 2:9). A11 this is in conformity with the higher glory of the calling administered in the Philippian epistle. Hebrews ministers to the heavenly calling of those whose sphere of blessing is the heavenly Jerusalem, whereas Philippians holds out the offer of an added prize to those already "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3).

When speaking of the heavenly glory that awaited the overcomer, Hebrews says,

"For ye both had compassion on them that were in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance" (Heb. 10:34).

Now the word translated "goods" is huparxis, and the word translated "sub stance" is huparcho. So, when we read of the condescension and self-renunciation of Christ, the word "being" in the phrase, "Who being in the form of God" (Phil. 2:6), is huparcho. It was something that was His real property, a substance, something of value, that He willingly laid aside. Also, when we read at the close of Philippians three (after its references to "loss" willingly suffered by Paul), of the fellowship of His sufferings in the prospect of the out-resurrection as the prize, we find that the same word huparcho is employed when it speaks of "our citizenship existing as a fact in heaven". In addition to this, we remember that "perdition" or "destruction" are alternatives in both chapters, which in view of the "loss" or "gain" that is intimated, can be summed up in the language of Matthew sixteen:

"If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me . . . for what is man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul. . . He shall reward everyman according to his works" (Matt. 16:24-27).

"Let no man beguile you of your reward" (Col. 2:18).

For further items of importance, see BIRTHRIGHT, CROWN, HEBREWS, PHILLIPIANS.

An Alphabetical Analysis

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