Scriptures in Question:
“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1).
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
These two scriptures – Job 1:1 and Romans 3:23 – are loved by sceptics as they feel the two verses provide a “perfect” example of biblical contradiction. How, they ask, could Job be “blameless” (NIV, ESV, etc.) or “perfect” (as translated in the King James Version) – in other words, sinless – if, as Paul affirms, all have sinned?
Many Christians realize that when the New Testament uses the word “perfect” (as when Jesus tells his followers to “be perfect” – Matthew 5:48), the Greek word used means “mature” or “complete” (see “Does God Expect us to Be Perfect?” on our sister site, here). In the Old Testament a similar situation occurs. The Hebrew word tam translated in Job 1:1 as “blameless” or “perfect” (and again in Job 1:8, 2:3) has several shades of meaning. It comes from a root word meaning to be complete or finished (Genesis 47:18, Deuteronomy 31:24) and in a secondary sense to be morally sound or upright (Job 22:3, Psalm 18:26). Tam itself can be translated “complete,” “finished,” “blameless,” “innocent,” or “having integrity.” In Proverbs 29:10, for example, the word is used in the phrase “a person of integrity.”
This meaning – of having moral integrity or “uprightness” – that lies at the heart of what we are told in Job does not imply perfection as we might think of the word in modern English usage. In fact, the respected Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Abingdon, 1981) states categorically: “the words which are rendered in English by ‘perfect’ and ‘perfection’ [in the Hebrew Bible] denoted originally something other and less than ideal perfection.”
So although Job 1:1 records that Job was blameless, and in Job 1:8 and 2:3 God is said to have declared Job to be blameless, the Hebrew word translated “blameless” does not have to mean morally perfect and completely sinless. This can be seen in that the book itself shows Job’s failings. In 7:21 Job states “Why do you not pardon my offenses and forgive my sins?” and in 42:6 Job confirms his own sinfulness when he says: “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” When we take these facts into account, it is clear that being “blameless” or “perfect” before God in Job – and elsewhere in the Old Testament – means being morally upright, but it does not have to refer to some kind of sinless perfection.
Putting the scriptures together, then, there is no contradiction between what the Book of Job tells us and what Paul affirms in Romans. All humans, including Job, have sinned, as Paul stresses; but Job had attained a level of integrity or moral uprightness that God himself acknowledged as being remarkable – just as the Book of Job states.