Some Disorienting Thoughts About Spiritual Maturity

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

Jack and Marie came to faith in Christ as young people, attended a Bible college, got involved in missions work, and raised their children to love the Lord. Their dedication to God along with their commitment to “righty divide the word” brought them respect from others. They were considered “spiritually mature” by many. They even felt that way themselves as they discipled others in the faith. Now as they entered their mid-60’s, struggling in frustration with their church, with their own spiritual hunger, and with feelings of aloneness, they wondered how spiritually mature they really were. 

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Have you ever met a Christian who considered themselves spiritually mature? Have you ever considered yourself to be spiritually mature? 

I just spent a few days in the scriptures exploring every mention of the word “mature.” Here are a few observations from my exploration.  

  • Depending on the translation, the Greek word, teleios is rendered “perfect” or “mature” (sometimes “complete”).
  • “Mature” is a modern English translation of the Greek word, teleios
  • Older translations (KJV, etc.) always translate teleios as “perfect”. 
  • It is possible, therefore, for the term “mature” to never show up in the Bible. 
  • The Greek word for “mature,” orimos, is not used in scripture. 
  • The Greek word for “perfect,” teleios, is used in scripture. 
  • Apparently, translators can translate teleios as they please. 
  • The phrases “spiritually mature”  or “spiritual maturity” do not appear in scripture.
  • To be “spiritually mature” or possess “spiritual maturity” seems to be a phantom notion.
  • No one characterised as “spiritually mature” appears in the Bible.

This exploration got me thinking. “So, how did the term ‘mature’ start being used as a translation of teleios?” 

From what I can find, the word “mature” came into use in the early to mid-15th century. It was not in use, as we know it, when the scriptures were written. When the authors of scripture used the word teleios, they meant “perfect” not “mature.” 

Mature means: “To complete in natural growth or development; ripe; fully developed in body or mind, as a person; pertaining to an adult who is middle-aged or older.”  

Yet, in classic Greek, teleois has the meaning: “brought to its end, finished; lacking nothing necessary to completeness; perfect.” And so it means in every place it is used in the 19 occurrences in scriptures. 

Any definition of “mature” carries an element of development or growth included in the definition. 

Therefore, “mature” is a poor translation of teleios. Mature and perfect do not have the same meaning and should not be used interchangeably. 

Jesus teaches that God is perfect. The idea of God being mature is nonsense. God did not develop or grow. Jesus, as a human, “matured” physically, intellectually, and relationally as we all do (or should do). But, the Triune God is Perfect Perfection.

Jesus invites you and me to “be perfect (telioi) as your heavenly Father is perfect (teleios)” (Matthew 5.48).  

We’ve got to be real about what this means. We cannot reduce its impact with the notion of maturity. 

Stay tuned for more observations in future posts. 

What do you take away from these observations? Share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K