Does the Bible teach sinless Perfectionism? By Jack Kettler
“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” (1 John 5:18 KJV)
Is the Bible in this verse, teaching that a believer born of God no longer sins? What does “sinneth not” mean? Lexical and commentary evidence will be consulted to answer this question. The Greek word for “sinneth not” is ἁμαρτάνει.
What is sinless Perfection?
Christian perfection is the name given to various teachings within Christianity that describe the process of achieving spiritual maturity or perfection. The ultimate goal of this process is union with God characterized by pure love of God and other people as well as personal holiness or sanctification. Various terms have been used to describe the concept, such as Christian holiness, entire sanctification, and perfect love, the baptism with the Holy Spirit, the second blessing, and the second work of grace. Wikipedia
Churches that teach sinless Perfectionism:
Wesleyan Pentecostal denominations such as the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, and the United Holy Church of America teach variant forms of sinless perfectionism.
From Strong’s Lexicon:
Does not keep on sinning,
Verb – Present Indicative Active – 3rd Person Singular
Strong’s Greek 264: Perhaps from the base of meros, properly, to miss the mark, i.e. to err, especially to sin.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on 1 John 5:18 comments are short and concise:
“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not – Is not habitually and characteristically a sinner; does not ultimately and finally sin and perish; cannot, therefore, commit the unpardonable sin. Though he may fall into sin, and grieve his brethren, yet we are never to cease to pray for a true Christian: we are never to feel that he has committed the sin which has never forgiveness, and that he has thrown himself beyond the reach of our prayers. This passage, in its connection, is a full proof that a true Christian “will” never commit the unpardonable sin, and, therefore, is a proof that he will never fall from grace. Compare the notes at Hebrews 6:4-8, Hebrews 10:26. On the meaning of the assertion here made, that “whosoever is born of God sinneth not,” see the notes at 1 John 3:6-9.
Keepeth himself – It is not said that he does it by his own strength, but he will put forth his best efforts to keep himself from sin, and by divine assistance he will be able to accomplish it. Compare the 1 John 3:3 note; Jude 1:21 note.
And that wicked one toucheth him not – The great enemy of all good is repelled in his assaults, and he is kept from falling into his snares. The word “toucheth” (ἅπτεται haptetai) is used here in the sense of harm or injure.” (1)
A general introduction on the words Perfect and Perfection from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
pûr´fekt , pẽr – fek´shun (שׁלם, shālēm, תּמים, tāmı̄m; τέλειος, téleios, τελειότης, teleiótēs):
1. In the Old Testament:
“Perfect” in the Old Testament is the translation of shālēm , “finished,” “whole,” “complete,” used (except in Deuteronomy 25:15, “perfect weight”) of persons, e.g. a “perfect heart,” i.e. wholly or completely devoted to Yahweh (1 Kings 8:61 , etc.; 1 Chronicles 12:38 ; Isaiah 38:3 , etc.); tāmı̄m, “complete,” “perfect,” “sound or unblemished,” is also used of persons and of God, His way, and law (“Noah was a just man and perfect,” the Revised Version margin “blameless” (Genesis 6:9 ); “As for God, his way is perfect” (Psalm 18:30 ); “The law of Yahweh is perfect” (Psalm 19:7 ), etc.); tam, with the same, meaning, occurs only in Job, except twice in Psalms (Job 1:1 , Job 1:8; Job 2:3, etc.; Psalm 37:37 ; Psalm 64:4 ); kālı̄l, “complete,” and various other words are translated “perfect.”
Perfection is the translation of various words so translated once only: kālı̄l ( Lamentations 2:15 ); mı̄khlāl, “completeness” (Psalm 50:2); minleh, “possession” (Job 15:29, the King James Version “neither shall the prolong the perfection thereof upon the earth,” the American Standard Revised Version “neither shall their possessions be extended on the earth,” margin “their produce bend to the earth”; the English Revised Version reverses this text and margin); tikhlāh, “completeness,” or “perfection” (Psalm 119:96 ); takhlı̄th (twice), “end,” “completeness” (Job 11:7 , “Canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?” Job 28:3, “searcheth out all” the Revised Version (British and American) the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) “to the furthest bound”; compare Job 26:10, “unto the confines of light and darkness”); tōm, “perfect,” “completeness” (Isaiah 47:9, the King James Version “They shall come upon thee in their perfection,” the Revised Version (British and American) “in their full measure”). The Revised Version margin gives the meaning of “the Urim and the Thummim” (Exodus 28:30. etc.) as “the Lights and the Perfections.”
2. In the New Testament:
In the New Testament “perfect” is usually the tr of teleios, primarily, “having reached the end,” “term,” “limit,” hence, “complete,” “full,” “perfect” (Matthew 5:48, “Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”; Matthew 19:21, “if thou wouldst be perfect”; Ephesians 4:13, the King James Version “till we all come … unto a perfect man,” the Revised Version (British and American) “full-grown”; Philippians 3:15, “as many as are perfect,” the American Revised Version margin “full-grown”; 1 Corinthians 2:6; Colossians 1:28, “perfect in Christ”; Colossians 4:12; James 3:2 margin, etc.).
Other words are teleióō. “to perfect,” “to end,” “complete” (Luke 13:32, “The third day I am perfected,” the Revised Version margin “end my course”; John 17:23, “perfected into one”; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 3:12, the Revised Version (British and American) “made perfect”; Hebrews 2:10, etc.); also epiteléō, “to bring through to an end” (2 Corinthians 7:1, “perfecting holiness in the fear of God”; Galatians 3:3, “Are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” The King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) “perfected in the flesh,” margin “Do ye now make an end in the flesh?”); katartı́zō “to make quite ready,” “to make complete,” is translated “perfect,” “to perfect” (Matthew 21:16, “perfected praise”; Luke 6:40, “Every one when he is perfected shall be as his teacher”; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11, “be perfected”; 1 Thessalonians 3:10 ; 1 Peter 5:10 , the Revised Version margin “restore”); akribṓs , “accurately,” “diligently,” is translated “perfect” (Luke 1:3, “having had perfect understanding,” the Revised Version (British and American) “having traced … accurately”; Acts 18:26 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) “more accurately”). We have also ártios , “fitted,” “perfected” (2 Timothy 3:7, the Revised Version (British and American) “complete”); pleróō , “to fill,” “to make full” (Revelation 3:2, the American Standard Revised Version “perfected,” the English Revised Version “fulfilled”); katartismós, “complete adjustment,” “perfecting” (Ephesians 4:12, “for the perfecting of the saints”).
Perfection is the translation of katártisis “thorough adjustment,” “fitness” ( 2 Corinthians 13:9 , the Revised Version (British and American) “perfecting”); of teleiósı̄s (Hebrews 7:11 ); of teleiotess (Hebrews 6:1, the Revised Version margin “full growth”); it is translated “perfectness” (Colossians 3:14 ); “perfection” in Luke 8:14 is the translation of telesphoréō, “to bear on to completion or perfection.” In Apocrypha “perfect,” “perfection,” etc., are for the most part the translation of words from télos, “the end,” e.g. The Wisdom of Solomon 4:13; Ecclesiasticus 34:8; 44:17; 45:8, suntélia “full end”; 24:28; 50:11.
The Revised Version (British and American) has “perfect” for “upright” (2 Samuel 22:24, 2 Samuel 22:26 twice); for “sound” (Psalm 119:80 ); for “perform” (Philippians 1:16); for “undefiled” (Psalm 119:1, margin “upright in way”); for “perfect peace, and at such a time” (Ezra 7:12), “perfect and so forth”; for “He maketh my way perfect” (2 Samuel 22:33), “He guideth the perfect in his way,” margin “or, ‘setteth free.’ According to another reading, ‘guideth my way in perfectness’”; “shall himself perfect,” margin “restore,” for, “make you perfect” (1 Peter 5:10); “perfecter” for “finisher” (Hebrews 12:2); “perfectly” is omitted in the Revised Version (British and American) (Matthew 14:36 ); “set your hope perfectly on” for the King James Version “hope to the end for” (1 Peter 1:13).
3. The Christian Ideal:
Perfection is the Christian ideal and aim, but inasmuch as that which God has set before us is infinite – “Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ) – absolute perfection must be forever beyond, not only any human, but any finite, being; it is a divine ideal forever shining before us, calling us upward, and making endless progression possible. As noted above, the perfect man, in the Old Testament phrase, was the man whose heart was truly or wholly devoted to God. Christian perfection must also have its seat in such a heart, but it implies the whole conduct and the whole man, conformed thereto as knowledge grows and opportunity arises, or might be found. There may be, of course, a relative perfection, e.g. of the child as a child compared with that of the man. The Christian ought to be continually moving onward toward perfection, looking to Him who is able to “make you perfect in every good thing (or work) to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:21).” W. L. Walker (2)
The Two Sources of Perfectionism by Benjamin B. Warfield:
“THE historical source, from which the main streams of Perfectionist doctrine that have invaded modern Protestantism take their origin, is the teaching of John Wesley. But John Wesley did not first introduce Perfectionism into Protestantism, nor can all the Perfectionist tendencies which have shown themselves in Protestantism since his day be traced to him. Such tendencies appear constantly along the courses of two fundamental streams of thought. Wherever Mysticism intrudes, it carries a tendency to Perfectionism with it. On Mystical ground—as, for example, among the Quakers—a Perfectionism has been developed to which that taught by Wesley shows such similarity, even in details and modes of expression that a mistaken attempt has been made to discover an immediate genetic connection between them. Wherever again men lapse into an essentially Pelagian mode of thinking concerning the endowments of human nature and the conditions of human action, a Perfectionism similar to that taught by Pelagius himself tends to repeat itself. That is to say, history verifies the correlation of Perfectionism and Libertarianism, and wherever Libertarianism rules the thoughts of men, Perfectionism persistently makes its appearance. It is to this stream of influence that Wesleyan Perfectionism owes its own origin. Its roots are set historically in the Semi-Pelagian Perfectionism of the Dutch Remonstrants, although its rise was not unaffected by influences of a very similar character and ultimate source which came to it through the channels of Anglo-Catholicism. Its particular differentiation is determined by the supernaturalization, which it shares with the whole body of modifications introduced by Wesley into his fundamental Arminianism, from which Wesleyanism, in distinction from the underlying Remonstrantism, has acquired its Evangelical character.” (3)
Another gem from Warfield on the error of Perfectionism:
“There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be trust as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest.” (4)
Scriptural problems for the sinless perfection doctrine:
“Surely, there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV)
“For we all stumble in many ways. 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 ESV)
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8 ESV)
The text in 1 John 5:18 means that the person who has been born again does not practice sin or habitually sin. It is inexcusable after John says in 1 John 1:8, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” to misinterpret 1 John 5:18. As seen, ἁμαρτάνει means does not keep on sinning or continue to practice sin. During this life, one born of God has an acute awareness of their sin by the Holy Spirit and continually asks God for grace and mercy. Those who claim to have reached a state of sinless perfection are, as John says, deceived, and the truth is not in them.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
1. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, 1 John, Vol. 3 p. 4893.
2. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for ‘Perfect; Perfection’. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 2320-2321.
3. Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Perfectionism, Part 1, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Publishing, reprint 2003), p. 3-4.
4. Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Perfectionism, Part 1, vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Publishing, reprint 2003), p. 113.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Christian apologetics in the marketplace of ideas
For more study:
Studies in Perfectionism (eBook) by B. B. Warfield
The Heresy of Perfectionism by R.C. Sproul