James: Perfection / Wholeness in James

The Greek teleios is often translated as “perfect,” but it means “perfect” in the etymological sense of being whole, complete, and completely finished (per + facere), rather than being completely free of error. James’ diction shows that perfection is a key concept in the epistle: teleiosJas 1:4 (2X); Jas 1:17; 1:25; 3:2; teleioôJas 2:22; teleôJas 2:8; apoteleôJas 1:15; telosJas 5:11

The following passages are notable:

  • Perfection (completion) is a divine gift. Every perfect gift is from God (Jas 1:17).
  • The complete person is single-minded and master of his passions. Thus, in Jas 1:4, the perfect person is one in whom the virtue of perseverance is complete. The whole person lacks none of the virtues, including wisdom (Jas 1:5). This whole person is integral and single-hearted—the opposite of the double-minded person (Jas 1:6–8). In Jas 3:2, the perfect person is one who is able to control his tongue and his passions.
  • Perfection (Completeness) and the Law. The “perfect law of freedom” is the eschatological law, the Torah of the Kingdom, namely the Torah as interpreted and fulfilled through Jesus’ teaching (Jas 1:25). A person fulfills (teleô) the law through love (Jas 2:8). The perfect person is one who follows this law of the Kingdom (cf. Mt 5:48). 
  • Faith is completed and “perfected” through action (Jas 2:22). 

Divine Wholeness and Demonic Division

Beyond the specific vocabulary related to the tel- word group, one can analyze the entire letter as structured on the contrast between wholeness (a divine characteristic) and division (an earthly, demonic force cf. Jas 3:15). This contrast plays out at both the individual and the community level.

At the community level, James condemns the divisions into rich and poor (Jas 2:1–12; 5:1–6) and bickering factions (Jas 3:16; 4:1–5; 11–12). This lack of wholeness in the community derives from a lack of wholeness within the individual (Jas 4:1–8). This lack of wholeness in the individual is manifested in a double-minded, unstable character (Jas 1:6–8) and in the inability to control one’s passions (including the tongue Jas 3:1–12). See also →James: Judging.