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In Matthew there are 2 instances where Jesus said "to be perfect" (both rendering the Greek word τέλειοι).

  1. Matt 5:48: Sermon on the Mount about loving our enemies, directed to the whole audience:

    "Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect."

  2. Matt 19:21: Jesus replying the rich man who asked Him how to get everlasting life:

    "Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me."

In my understanding of the Catholic tradition, the 1st one is a "precept" (binding for every Catholic) but the 2nd one is a "counsel", only for those called to a religious life taking the vows of povery, chastity, and obedience. (See the Catholic Encyclopedia article Evangelical Counsels).

While I understand the logic behind the teaching (which I happen to agree personally), what is the exegetical warrant for the two different interpretations & applications of the same word? Isn't perfect supposed to be the same for everyone?

Possibly relevant: Protestant's objections to the "two-tiered system".

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  • The perfection spoken of in the fifth chapter does indeed overlap with the one mentioned in the nineteenth (5:40-42), but it is not identically equal. We find similar crescendos in other passages, such as Matthew 19:8-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 7:7-9. – Lucian Jul 14 '20 at 9:50

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