Holiness (in the Bible)

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Holiness is the English word for qōdeš, derived from the Hebrew root qdš, common to all Semitic languages and having essentially the same meaning. The concept of holiness is not established etymologically from the root; it comes from the sense in which its derivatives are used. Hence it signifies "separateness" from the nonholy or profane. What is "clean" or "pure" is also related to "holy" in a ritual sense, i.e., free from defilement by the profane and in a potentially holy state. The profoundest sense of holiness is that proper to God, absolute holiness consisting in His "otherness" or His uncreated transcendence and majesty, a meaning related to His glory. Dependent on this is holiness in the cultic and moral senses. In the cultic sense, it is a quality of an object that is withdrawn from the profane and consecrated to God; in the moral sense, it can be ascribed, to God, to angels, or to men.

Holiness in the Old Testament Unlike those religions that attach the term "holy" to cultic objects and seldom to the diety, the OT authors often use it of God.

Sanctity of God. "Holy" in an absolute sense is used exclusively of God's "otherness" or uncreated and inaccessible majesty in relation to which all else is unholy: "Who shall be able to stand before the Lord, this holy God?" (1 Sm 6.20). The canticles of Moses and of Anna depict God's holiness as something unattainable and beyond all creatures: "Who is like to you among the gods, O Lord? Who is like to you, magnificent in holiness? O terrible in renown, worker of wonders" (Ex 15.11); "There is none holy as the Lord is; for there is no other besides thee, and there is none strong like our God" (1 Sm 2.2; see also Is 6.3). God's name is holy, as He Himself is holy: "Let them praise your great and awesome name; holy is he" [Ps 98 (99).3; see also Lv 11.44; 19.2;20.26; Is 40.25; etc.]. In comparison to Him none is holy, neither angels nor men: "If in his holy ones God places no confidence, and if the heavens are not clean in his sight, how much less so is the abominable, the corrupt: man, who drinks in iniquity like water!" (Jb 15.1516). God's holiness can be considered as His infinite omnipotence manifesting itself exteriorly in glory: "Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord" (Dn 3.43).

The moral aspect of God's holiness, which He allows man to share, is totally opposed to man's sinfulness. This aspect did not evolve only with the Prophets, even though they strongly stressed it. It preceded them and was applied to God in Gn 6.3, 57, as well as in the story of Sodom and Gomorra (Gn 18.1619.29), which was later used by the Prophets (Is 1.9; Jer 49.18; Am 4.11). In His appearance to Moses, God revealed His holiness as opposed to Moses' sinfulness (Ex 3.56); when He made His covenant, He demanded holiness of His "kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Ex 19.37). The Prophets stressed both the moral aspect of God's holiness, and His holiness in the absolute sense. God's holiness demands that man be free from sin and share in God's justice (Is6.37). His holiness is the very reason for the people's holiness (Lv 19.2). God by His holiness is above sin in spite of the infidelities and sins of His own people (Am2.7). Because of His sanctity Yahweh abhors sin: "For you, O God, delight not in wickedness; You hate evildoers" (Ps 5.5). The justice of the Holy One of Israel is coupled with redemptive mercy and love: "Fear not, O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel; I will help you, says the Lord; your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel" (Is 41.14;43.3, 14; Hos 11.9).

Holiness of Men. Man's holiness finds its reason and norm in that of God: "Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy" (Lv 19.2; cf. 11.44; 20.26). Yahweh demands holiness of His people, since they are bound to Him by the Covenant. They are to live according to His word, avoiding any contact with pagan idols (Is 52.1). Israel must be holy because Yahweh has made them "a people peculiarly his own"(Dt 7.6).

To safeguard and develop moral holiness, cultic holiness was prescribed. It was the duty of the priest to foster external and material holiness; he was to distinguish the sacred from the profane (Lv 10.10). The priests especially had to be holy. Whoever and whatever was consecrated to God was separate and holy: the nazirites by their vows (Nm 6.121); places, like the heavens, God's abode; the Meeting Tent (Ex 28.43), especially the Holy of Holies (Ex 26.33); certain times, such as the Sabbath (Gn 2.3) and feasts (Ex 12.16; Lv 23.4; etc.).

Holiness in the New Testament. In the NT the ritual or cultic aspect of holiness disappears; what is left is type and figure (Heb 8.5). The emphasis is on the personal, moral aspect of holiness; material objects still have their role, especially in the Sacraments, but on a spiritual level. The NT does use, however, the doctrine and vocabulary of the OT. God is the Holy Father (Jn 17.11); His Name (Lk 1.49), His Law (Rom 7.12), and His Covenant (Lk1.73) are holy. Holy too are His angels (Mk 8.38), His Prophets (Lk 1.70; Mk 6.20); holy is His new temple, the people of God, and the New Jerusalem (1 Cor 3.17; Rv 21.2). His elect are to be holy (1 Pt 1.1516). The holiness of His Name ought to be manifested in the coming of His Kingdom (Mt 6.9). Pentecost and the manifestation of the "Holy" Spirit brings the specifical holiness of the NT.

Holiness of Christ. Christ's holiness is based on His divine sonship and the presence of the Spirit of God in Him; He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and will be called the Holy One, the Son of God (Lk 1.35; Mt 1.18). At His Baptism the beloved Son is anointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 10.38; Lk 3.22). Jesus drives out unholy or unclean spirits from men while they proclaim Him "the Holy One of God" (Lk 5.3335); Christ manifests Himself through His works, miracles, and signs of His holiness.

As the "holy servant" of God (Acts 4.27, 30), who suffered death even though He was the author of life, He is uniquely consecrated and holy. For this reason God has exalted Him (Phil 2.9); "in keeping with the holiness of his spirit," by His Resurrection, He is revealed as God's Son (Rom 1.4). He is not of this world (Jn 17.11). Seated at the right hand of the Father, He is the Holy One, like Yahweh (Rv 3.7). The holiness of Christ is then far beyond that of the holy persons of the OT, and the same as that of His Father. Its manifest effects are the same spiritual power and miraculous events. He loves His own and communicates to them the glory He received from the Father by sacrificing Himself for them: "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth. And for them I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth Father, I will that where I am they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; in order that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world" (Jn 17.1619, 24).

The Holy Spirit. The term "holy" is used of God primarily because it is His specific function to make the Christian "holy" as He made Christ holy in His conception and His baptism. As the unique possession of the Christian community (Acts 2.4; 4.31), He sanctifies the faithful (Rom 15.16; 2 Thes 2.13); He makes them one in His Spirit's holiness and unity (Eph 3.16; 4.34). His presence is permanent, making Christians "temples of the Holy Spirit," "temples of God" (1 Cor 6.11, 1920;3.1617); "For whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Rom 8.14); "And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying Abba, Father"' (Gal 4.7).

Holiness of Christians. Christians are the new people of God, the worshipping community of the new covenant, the new creation, newly born of water and the Holy Spirit, with a new heart, no longer encumbered with detailed external ritual but worshipping in spirit and truth. They are a "chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people" (1 Pt 2.9). No longer limited by nationality, the holy people are united through the ministry of Christ (Rom 15.712), sanctified in Him (1 Cor 1.2), and in fact, "saints" by vocation (1 Rom 1.7; 15.25). To be holy means to be separated from the world of sin, darkness, and the devil by faith in the Lord Jesus (Acts 26.18), to be "God's chosen ones, holy and beloved" (Col 3.12), and to inherit the riches of His glory (Eph1.18).

Upon reception into the new community, personal holiness comes with the forgiveness of sins (1 Cor 6.11) and reconciliation with the Holy One (Rom 5.511; 2 Cor5.18) by means of faith (Rom 3.2131) and Baptism (Eph5.2527). Thus the Christian partakes of Christ's own holy life, His Passion, Death, and Resurrection: "Do you not know that all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, have been baptized into his death? just as Christ has risen from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life" (Rom6.34). It follows that the Christian must die to sin and live to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6.11).

Through the Holy Spirit, who is given, the Christian participates in true divine holiness. As a member of the "holy people" and the royal priesthood, a membership making him a temple of God and the Holy Spirit, he renders God true cult in offering himself with Christ a "holy sacrifice": "I exhort you to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to Godyour spiritual service" (Rom 12.1; cf. 15.16; Phil 2.17).

The NT, with its special emphasis on personal purity, has a more spiritual and moral character than OT holiness. In the sermon on the Mount Jesus proclaims: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5.8). A pure heart is demanded of Christians (1 Tm1.5; 2 Tm 2.4). Sanctification is the purification in which Christian life consists: "Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and of the spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor 7.1).

The vocabulary of holiness indicates the religious quality of the NT concept: γιασμός; is not only the process of becoming holy, but also the state of being holy (Rom 6.19, 22; 1 Thes 4.7; Heb 12.14); γιότης is the state of holiness proper to God that man shares by moral purity [2 Cor 1.12 (variant reading); Heb 12.10]; γιωσύνη is rather the dynamic quality of holiness than a mere state (proper to St. Paul: Rom 1.4; 2 Cor 7.1; 1 Thes 3.13).

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 101218. j. muilenburg, The Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible, ed. g. a. buttrick (Nashville, Tenn. 1962) 2:616625. j. hastings and j. a. selbia, eds. Dictionary of the Bible (New York 1963) 387388. x. lÉondufour et al., Vocabulaire de théologie biblique (Paris 1962) 981987.

[j. lachowski]