From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

IDEAL. —The word ‘ideal’ does not occur in Authorized and Revised Versions of the NT, nor is there any term in the Gr. text which exactly corresponds to the general notion of the English word.* [Note: The translators of the Twentieth Cent. ST render  Ephesians 4:13 b ‘until we reach the perfection of manhood and that degree of development of which the ideal to be found in the Christ is the standard.’ But this is a paraphrase rather than a translation of the original.] The subject of the highest good or moral ideal, however, is one that is constantly present in the teaching of Christ, and is wonderfully illuminated by His own character and life and influence in human history. An ideal may be defined as a mental conception taken as a standard of absolute perfection. The word is used with regard to various kinds of excellence. There are intellectual and aesthetic ideals as well as those which are properly to be described as moral. But it is to the realm of moral worth that the notion of the ideal is peculiarly appropriated, and it is with the moral ideal alone that we are at present concerned.

In the history of Ethics, discussion has always centred in this question of the ideal, the summum bonum , the ‘chief end of man.’ Aristotle begins his Nicom. Ethics (1. i. I) by describing the good as that at which all aim, and he goes on to say (i. ii. 2): ‘And, like archers, shall we not be more likely to attain what is right if we have a mark (σκοπός)?’ This σκοπός, the target or goal of human endeavour, is just the ideal. Aristotle takes the human σκοπός to be happiness, which he defines as ‘the active exercise of man’s living powers, according to their highest virtue, in a life affording full room for their development’ (i. vii. 15). It is a striking coincidence that the only occasion on which the word σκοπός is found in the NT is in the saying of St. Paul, ‘I press toward the mark (σκοπός) for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ ( Philippians 3:14). The Christian ideal of St. Paul was very different from the pagan one of the Stagirite. But the Apostle, no less than the philosopher, recognized the necessity of an ideal, and its power to shape the whole conduct of life.

It would be interesting to discriminate the various ideals or ultimate moral aims which, in the progress of the world’s history, have been advocated by the representatives of the leading religious or philosophical systems. These ideals, however, do not directly concern us here. It will be sufficient in the course of the article to refer to them in passing, when they serve, by way of contrast, to bring more clearly into view the distinctive features of the Christian ideal. Applying ourselves to a special consideration of the latter, we shall deal with it (1) as it is set forth in the teaching of Christ, (2) as it is embodied historically in His own person, (3) as it is made real in human experience through His constraining power.

i. The Ideal as set forth in the teaching of Christ.—One great fault of all non-Christian, or pre-Christian, or imperfectly Christian ideals is their narrowness or one-sidedness: they ignore whole departments of the kingdom of moral worth, and do justice to one part of human nature at the expense of the rest. In contrast with this, the Christian ideal, as we meet it in Christ’s teaching, strikes us by its comprehensiveness and perfect balance. A consideration of the following particulars may serve to bring out this rounded symmetry of the Christian conception of the highest good.

1 . It is an ideal of blessedness attained through perfection of character .—Pope invokes happiness as ‘our being’s end and aim … for which we bear to live, or dare to die’ ( Epistle , iv. 1 ff.). And Herbert Spencer, in his Data of Ethics (p. 46), affirms that ‘no school can avoid taking for the ultimate moral aim a desirable state of feeling, called by whatever name—gratification, enjoyment, happiness.’ Newman Smyth criticises Spencer’s statement as a confusion between the form and the substance of the moral intuition ( Christian Ethics , p. 86 f.). But if the conception of happiness is enlarged so as to include the appropriate Christian contents, if blessedness (wh. see), in other words, is taken as the NT synonym of happiness, little fault can be found with the language of either the poet or the philosopher. The Westminster Divines were very far from being mere Eudaemionists, but in the first question of the Shorter Catechism they define ‘man’s chief end’ as consisting in this—‘to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.’ If happiness is not the very substance of the Christian ideal, it is none the less, as Dr. Smyth himself says, ‘its natural result and its necessary form’ ( op. cit. p. 119). By beginning His Sermon on the Mount with His great series of Beatitudes ( Matthew 5:1 ff., cf.  Luke 6:20 ff.), Jesus places the ideal of blessedness in the forefront of His teaching. So far, therefore, we may say He is on the side of the Eudaemionists as against all who have sought to set up a hard abstract ideal of duty as the moral aim. But note the content of Christ’s ideal, and it will be seen at once how far removed it is from ordinary Utilitarianism. The blessedness of which He speaks belongs to a character distinguished by meekness, mercy, purity of heart, and similar spiritual qualities ( Matthew 5:3-12)—a character which finds its standard not in human perfection merely, but in nothing less than the perfection of the Heavenly Father Himself (v. 48). In its form of blessedness, happiness is to be desired by Christ’s disciples; but only through perfection of character can this happiness come. No man will find delight in that vision of God which Jesus promises (v. 8), no man will ‘enjoy God,’ unless a resemblance to the perfection of the ‘Father which is in heaven’ has been growing up within his heart.

2 . It is an ideal of natural as well as spiritual good .—Even when it is fully recognized that blessedness belongs to the Christian ideal, this blessedness is sometimes conceived of too narrowly. Not only is the spiritual set above the natural, as it ought to be, but the natural is ignored or despised and then refused its proper rights. This is the inherent fault of all ascetic ideals, whether pagan or Christian. Now Christ certainly exalted the spiritual above the natural. He made blessedness depend, as we have seen, upon inward qualities. Moreover, He taught that His disciples must be ready to make any sacrifice—to cut off hand or foot, to pluck out the right eye—for the sake of entering into life ( Matthew 5:29-30;  Matthew 18:8-9, ||  Mark 9:43 ff.), and that a man was nothing profited if he gained the whole world and lost his own soul ( Matthew 16:26). But the blessedness He holds before His followers is by no means a purely spiritual thing. The Beatitude of the meek is that they shall inherit the earth ( Matthew 5:5). The petition for daily bread is enshrined in the very heart of the Lord’s Prayer ( Matthew 6:10-11). And when Jesus comes to speak more particularly of food and raiment, the very things which are most fundamental to our natural life in this world, while He forbids anxiety regarding them, the reason given is not that they are unworthy of a Christian’s thought and care, but that ‘all these things shall be added’ unto those who seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness ( Matthew 6:25-33).

3 . It is an ideal of social well-being attained through individual worth .—That the ideal of Jesus was a social one it is impossible to doubt. Deeply as He impressed upon His hearers the unspeakable value of the individual life or soul ( Matthew 10:30 f.,  Matthew 16:26,  Luke 15:4 ff. etc.), He never said anything to justify a religious individualism which concerns itself only with personal salvation. The very fact that ‘the kingdom of God’ (wh. see) is the phrase by which He most frequently refers to His moral ideal, shows that it was an ideal of social good. In this He was coming, so far, into touch with the prevalent Jewish conceptions of His time; for it was a social, not an individual good for which Israel looked. But whereas the Jews conceived of this social good on purely national lines, Jesus enlarged the bounds of the blessed society so as to make room in it for men of all nations. ‘They shall come,’ He said, ‘from the east and west, and from the north and south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God’ ( Luke 13:29,  Matthew 8:11). Yet while His moral ideal takes not only a social form, but one of universal breadth, He always taught that it must be through making its power felt in the individual heart that the Kingdom of God would be realized upon earth. This was where His teaching differed so greatly from the contemporary Jewish expectation, and from the thoughts of many in modern times who have been seized by the greatness of Christ’s social purposes without grasping the individuality and spirituality of His methods. The Kingdom of God in popular Jewish hope was an exaltation of Israel brought about by deeds like those of Judas Maccabaeus. The Kingdom of God in the vision of many earnest dreamers and workers of our own days is the result of a social revolution brought about by political activity. According to Christ’s teaching, the Kingdom of God can come only through the regeneration of individual hearts. ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation,’ He said, ‘… for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you’ ( Luke 17:20-21). That this, and not the marginal readings ‘among you’ [Authorized Version], ‘in the midst of you’ [ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885], is the proper rendering, seems to be confirmed by the second of the ‘New Sayings of Jesus’ discovered by Grenfell and Hunt (cf. p. 770b below). And He summed up the whole matter when He set a little child in the midst and said, ‘Except ye turn and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven’ ( Matthew 18:3 ||; cf.  John 3:3).

4 . The ideal is at once a reality in the present and a promise for the future .—There are those who look for their summum bonum in the present hour, and whose philosophy of life was long ago summed up in the saying, ‘Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die’ ( 1 Corinthians 15:32, cf.  Isaiah 22:13). There are others again who have, not unjustly, incurred the charge of ‘other-worldliness,’ because they have despised God’s present mercies and neglected their own urgent duties, while fixing their thoughts upon the hope of future blessings and rewards. But in the teaching of Jesus the ideal good is at once realized in the present and consummated in the future. On the one hand, He proclaims that the Kingdom of God is not merely coming, but already come ( Matthew 12:28, cf.  Mark 1:15); it is set up here and now within the individual heart ( Luke 17:21); its Beatitudes are present realities ( Matthew 5:3-11; note not only the recurring ‘Blessed are they, ye,’ etc., but  Matthew 5:3;  Matthew 5:10 ‘theirs is [ἐστίν] the kingdom of heaven’). On the other hand, He constantly taught His disciples to look to the future for the complete and perfect form of the Kingdom and its blessedness. His use of the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’ as an alternative expression for ‘kingdom of God’ (and the evidence of the First Gospel points to the former as being the more habitual term on His lips), though it refers primarily, no doubt, to the spirituality of the Kingdom as coming from above and having its true home in the supersensible world, is surely not without its future reference. This Kingdom, which is heavenly in its origin and aims, is and must be heavenly also in its end. Christ’s whole eschatological teaching, and especially everything that gathers round the thought of the Parousia, when all that is evil shall be cast out of the Kingdom ( Matthew 13:41 f.,  Matthew 13:49 f.,  Matthew 22:13,  Matthew 25:30), and the faithful servant shall enter into the joy of his Lord ( Matthew 25:21;  Matthew 25:23), points to the same conclusion. And if we are not to reject the evidence of the Fourth Gospel, with respect even to its testimony as to the leading ideas in our Lord’s teaching, the fact that in it ‘eternal life’ takes the central place which in the Synoptics is held by ‘the kingdom of God’ points once more to a future reference in Christ’s ideal. For though futurity and everlastingness are not the fundamental conceptions in the category of eternal life, they are certainly necessary for the completeness of that life which Jesus promised to His disciples as their highest good.

ii. The Ideal as embodied historically in the Person of Christ.—So far, we have been thinking of the Christian ideal as set forth in our Lord’s teaching. But now we must notice the fact that Jesus not only expounded an ideal, but realized it historically in His own person. It is here that the Christian ideal differs specifically from the loftiest ideals of the philosophers and moralists; it is an ideal which was once made actual in a human life. Jesus not only taught, but was . He brought down the ideal out of the region of dreams, and hopes, and words into the world of positive realities. In His own history He showed how blessedness might be attained through moral perfection; how the life of highest spirituality might prove to be the life of widest social beneficence; how it was possible, while enjoying all natural blessings as gifts from the heavenly Father’s hand, to place obedience to the Father’s will above everything else; how the narrow path of present duty might be illuminated by the splendours of the eternal world, while the assurance of something yet more glorious than now appeared might thrill the heart of the faithful wayfarer.

1 . Jesus Christ is the Ideal Man .—His character is not merely perfect in some aspects, but perfect in all—so rounded and complete as to become an ideal for the woman as well as for the man, for the Greek as well as for the Jew, for the modern as well as for the ancient world. He is not merely free from flaws, but full of vital and creative forces; His perfection is that not of a marble image, but of a living spirit. This is the verdict of history, the verdict of all who simply read and ponder the records of His life. Even those who do not believe Him to be more than man join without demur in the universal chorus of acclamation. They acknowledge that Jesus stands alone in His moral grandeur as the incarnation of personal human worth, and that the historical Christ is the ideal of humanity.

2 . As an Ideal, Christ becomes an Example (wh. see).—For whatever it may be in other spheres, in the moral world, at all events, ideals, from the nature of the case, are not merely standards of an abstract perfection, but goals after which we must strive,—targets, to use Aristotle’s figure, at which we aim and shoot those arrows of the soul which are the living energies of our moral being. Jesus never set Himself before men’s eyes as a beautiful but impossible ideal. He claimed to be an example ( Matthew 11:29;  Matthew 20:26-28 ||  Luke 22:27,  John 13:15;  John 13:34;  John 15:12). As such He was taken by His first disciples ( 1 Peter 2:21). And St. Paul, who saw the perfect and ideal man in the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ ( Ephesians 4:13), never doubted that the perfection of manhood which was found in Christ was something to be personally striven after. That was the σκοπός of the long race. On that the Christian must fix his eyes, towards that he must constantly press, if he would attain to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus ( Philippians 3:13 f.). See also Perfection (of Jesus).

iii. The realization of the Ideal through the constraining power of Christ.—We have seen that Christ in His teaching holds up an ideal, that He embodies this ideal historically in His own person, and sets it before us as an example which we must strive to follow. But to weak and sinful men and women this presentation by word and deed of a perfect moral ideal would be little else than a mockery, if Christ did nothing more than offer us an outward standard after which we were to strive. It is in a far deeper sense than this that He is the Christian ideal. In his famous theory of Ideas, Plato conceived of the Ideal Good as an archetypal essence which becomes an efficient cause, imparting to individuals a share of its own being, as the sun imparts ‘vitality, growth, and nutriment’ to the creatures on which its rays fall ( Rep . vi. 509). And it is in this vital and archetypal manner that Jesus becomes the moral ideal of the human race. He gives what He commands, and so has a right to command what He wills. We have constant illustrations in the Gospels of this constraining power of the Ideal Goodness as it is presented to men and women in the person of Christ. The sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee ( Luke 7:36-50), Zacchaeus, the grasping publican of Jericho ( Luke 19:1-10), Matthew, leaving the receipt of custom to become an Apostle ( Matthew 9:9 ||), may serve as examples. The author of the Fourth Gospel sums up the whole matter for us when he says: ‘As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God’ ( John 1:12). And to St. Paul, who brooded much over this mystery of Christ as it had been revealed to him in a profound personal experience, the secret of spiritual life and growth presented itself as an unfolding of the Christ-nature implanted by the agency of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s soul. ‘Christ in you,’ he says, ‘the hope of glory’ ( Colossians 1:27); and again, ‘I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me’ ( Galatians 2:20). And when in another place he describes believers as ‘foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren’ ( Romans 8:29), he suggests a figure which helps us to understand how Christ the ideal is not merely an outward type but an inward archetype. The younger brothers of a house are conformed to the likeness of the firstborn not so much by personal imitation as by the operation of secret and vital forces which spring from the very fact of their birth as members of a particular family, and which lie far deeper than the workings of the individual will. And so it is as between Christ and His people. ‘For both he that sanctifieth,’ says another NT writer, ‘and they that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren’ ( Hebrews 2:11).

Literature.—Besides the particular references given in the art., mention may be made of Newman Smyth, Chr. Ethics , pt. i. chs. i.–vi.; Martensen, Chr. Ethics , i. 147–343; Green, Prolegomena , bks. iii.–iv.; Shairp, essay on ‘The Moral Motive Power’ in Studies in Poetry and Philosophy .

J. C. Lambert.

Webster's Dictionary [2]

(1): ( a.) Existing in idea or thought; conceptional; intellectual; mental; as, ideal knowledge.

(2): ( n.) A mental conception regarded as a standard of perfection; a model of excellence, beauty, etc.

(3): ( a.) Imaginary.

(4): ( a.) Teaching the doctrine of idealism; as, the ideal theory or philosophy.

(5): ( a.) Existing in fancy or imagination only; visionary; unreal.

(6): ( a.) Reaching an imaginary standard of excellence; fit for a model; faultless; as, ideal beauty.