At first glance this text is a puzzling one. Not only is it rather wordy, but it also seems to imply that Jesus was at some stage ‘not perfect’. This would conflict with the idea that Jesus was the sinless sacrifice when he was crucified. Texts like this can be troubling. We might ask; Was Jesus not sinless? Are the biblical authors conflicted? Are they simply wrong?
Two steps can help us resolve the problem here.
For a start, it is helpful to reduce a long sentence like Hebrews 2:10 down to its essentials. If you look carefully, you will see in this sentence that there are the basic components of a sentence, as well as add-ons to those components.
The three basic parts to a sentence can all be seen in this verse.
- There is the verb or ‘action’: made perfect.
- There is the subject or ‘doer’ of the action: He (i.e. God).
- There is also the object to which the action is done: Jesus, who is described here as ‘the Founder’.
Boiling a text down like this helps us see its core message. The extra stuff is important, but for a wordy sentence we need to first identify its ‘backbone’. Here, it is that:
‘God made perfect the Founder’.Hebrews 2:10, boiled down to the subject-verb-object.
The second thing to do is to pay attention to the actual words that are used. Two words in this verse are important to consider more carefully.
First, the verb ‘perfected’ need not carry the idea of ‘moral perfection’ as we might be used to using that word. ‘Perfected’ can carry the sense of ‘completion’ or ‘finished and ready’ (the Greek word teleioō at times is used this way, as in John 4:34; Luke 13:32; 1 John 4:18). Words sometimes carry a slightly different idea to what we might at first think – especially when it comes from a different language to our own.
Second, Jesus is not referred to by name. That matters. Instead, he is referred to by the role he took on: Founder. He is described to as ‘the Founder of salvation for many sons.’ This is important – it is highlighting something about Jesus that is relevant for what the writer wants to say here. Jesus was perfected or ‘made ready’ for his role as the Founder of salvation. Not perfected ‘full stop’ but perfected in a particular way – perfected as in completely prepared for a job he was to do.
Jesus was perfected because he suffered. If he had not suffered, he could not have established the salvation that the book of Hebrews goes on to describe. In light of the way he is described in Hebrews chapter one that might be surprising. But, suffer he must if he is to become the ‘Founder of their salvation’.
Difficult texts that say unexpected things are worth a harder look. Closer inspection can allay apprehension and uncover a richer perspective on the faith. When you come across troubling verses in the Bible, I encourage you not only to worry, but also to think about it, read around, ask others, and pray for light.