I. Old Testament
A. Vocabulary. According to T. C. Vriezen the idea of holiness is the one most typical for the OT faith. It is revealed chiefly in a series of Heb. words derived from the root קדשׁ, חֵ֫רֶמ֒, H3051, and its cognates will not be considered since the underlying connotation of the ban is largely negative. While ḥrm is of native Heb. origin, qds is prob. Canaanite. The vocabulary stemming from the root qds with which we are concerned is as follows: qōdes, noun, “holiness,” “sacredness”; qädōs, adjective, “holy,” “sacred”; qädas, verb, “to be set apart,” “consecrated”—Pi’el qidas, “to sanctify,” “consecrate”; miqdär, noun, a “sacred place,” “sanctuary”; qädes, noun, “a male temple prostitute”; qedeshäh, noun, “a female temple prostitute,” “a harlot.” Forms of the root appear some 830 times in the OT, about 350 of them being in the Pentateuch. The Aram. qädis, “holy,” occurs thirteen times in Daniel. Qädes and qedeshäh are used in connection with heathen cults, but otherwise the derivatives of qds invariably are related to God as Himself holy, or to people, times, places and objects made holy because of their association with Him. “No thing or person is holy in itself, but becomes holy as it is placed in relation to God” (H. Ringgren, The Prophetical Conception of Holiness , p. 9).
W. W. Graf von Baudissin followed H. L. Fleischer in pointing to the basic קָדַשׁ, H7727, “to divide,” and concluded that the essence of qds is separation from the secular. The root would then signify “to cut off,” “to withdraw,” “to set apart.” The nuances of “to deprive” and “to elevate” also have been attached. Among those who have favored this interpretation are R. Asting, J. Skinner, A. B. Davidson, W. R. Smith, O. C. Whitehouse and J. Muilenberg. N. H. Snaith accepts Baudissin’s main argument while challenging the view that the term was altogether devoid of moral content. It has been claimed that whenever this root appears in the OT, the meaning of separation is permissible, and in many cases demanded. Ringgren on the other hand believes that “the idea of withdrawal, or separation, is not always very prominent” (op. cit., 6).
To meet those who have objected that such a derivation provides an unduly negative presentation of holiness, proponents of this theory emphasize the dual nature of separation, as implying not only being cut off from the secular, but positively devoted to and destined for the service of God. W. Eichrodt considers that this latter reference is primary. O. R. Jones concludes that holiness involves separation, but rarely is to be understood as equivalent to it. Things are separate because they are holy, not holy because they are separate. Only in virtue of its relationship to God did anything become holy and thus be regarded as separate.
U. Bunzel carried this further by stressing the element of purity involved in brightness. Procksch considers that טָהﯴר, H3196, “pure,” is most closely related materially to qōdes as ἁγνός, G54, to ἅγιος, G41, in the NT. While qōdes is the basic cultic term, tähōr is the ritual. Yet, he adds, “there is always an energy in the holy which is lacking in the pure or clean” (TDNT, 89).
It was no doubt with these apparently divergent theories in mind that J. Pederson decided that “a consideration of this root...affords no insight into the nature of holiness, since nothing is known about it except the very fact that it is used about what we call holiness” (Israel, Its Life and Culture, III-IV , 264). Since the etymology of the word remains obscure, its actual employment in the OT itself determines its significance. An examination of its occurrences in context suggests that the factor of separateness is basic, but that this does not necessarily exclude the further elements of radiance and purity.
C. Holiness of God. Qōdes is a distinctly religious term, and is used exclusively in relation to God. It refers either to God Himself, or to what has been sanctified by Him. Primarily, however, it is God who is holy (
Vriezen sees holiness as the central idea of the OT faith in God. Some scholars treat the entire doctrine of God in the OT under this head (e.g., J. Hänel).
The holiness of God, however, was proclaimed long before the period of the prophets. It is implicit from the earliest times. “The concept of God’s sanctity is proper to Mosaic religion from its very inception as well as to pre-Mosaic religion. The prophets only stressed this truth to a greater extent in their denunciation of a cult that was wholly external” (P. Heinisch, Theology of the OT , 69).
It also manifests itself in His attitude to sin. God’s holiness denotes not merely His separation from sin in the perfection of His own being, but His abhorrence of it and hostility to it. As “a God of faithfulness and without iniquity” (
Such judgment will be visited on nations as well as on individuals, and for the same reason. This takes place both during the course of history and at the end of history. The Holy One of Israel is like a flame which burns and devours the thorns and briers of Assyria in one day (
The supreme manifestation of God’s holiness, however, is in His love. In this the OT prepares the way for the fuller disclosure of the divine nature in the NT. It is in the prophecy of Hosea that “the concept of holiness takes up into itself as the fulness of deity the thought of love” (TDNT, 93). The prophet’s own domestic tragedy becomes a parable of God’s predicament in face of man’s waywardness and sin. Hosea’s readiness to love his wanton wife and restore her to himself mirrors the immeasurably more comprehensive love of God for His lost children. As Procksch brings out, the opposition between the holiness of God and all that is human still remains, but is absorbed into the deeper opposition of holy love to unholy nature. What God in virtue of His holiness may do to love unholy nature, no man may do, and therefore the antithesis between God and man consists in the very love which overcomes it (TDNT, 93).
Moses was commanded to announce to the assembled people of Israel: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (
The remainder of the Holiness Code has to do with cultic regulations. These, however, must not be dismissed as of minimal importance. The ceremonial sanctity of God’s people was an expression of devotion to Him. When linked, as in Leviticus, with the call to personal righteousness it had its place in the development of the religious ideal. What the prophets later repudiated was a ceremonial divorced from justice. The holiness of God’s people was derived from their relationship to Him, and was originally both cultic and ethical. The two meanings are often scarcely distinguishable (cf.
E. Holiness of times, places and things. These are regarded as holy because of their association with God. They possess no inherent sacredness. They are consecrated through contact with Him.
No doubt this repeated emphasis in the OT on the holiness of times, places and things belongs to the realm of the cultic rather than the moral. It is never altogether easy to disentangle these elements. While such a materialization of the holy might lend itself to abuse, in that such times, places and things could be considered to possess some sanctity in themselves apart from the presence of the living God, this danger seems largely to have been avoided when His people remained faithful to Him. The spreading contagion of uncleanness is not paralleled by any such uncontrolled dissemination of holiness (cf.
While the ethical content in the OT conception of holiness must not be underrated any more than the cultic, it is to be remembered that the overriding and determinative factor is that holiness comes from the Lord. “The uniqueness of the OT definition of holiness,” declares Eichrodt, “lies not in its elevated moral standard, but in the personal quality of the God to which it refers” (Theology of the OT I , 276).
II. New Testament
Holiness in the NT is expressed chiefly through the adjective ἅγιος, G41, which recurs some 230 times. Το ἅγιον, “the holy,” “what is holy,” occurs as a pure substantive. It is used of sacrificial meat (
Τα ἅγια, lit. “the holies,” is used for the sanctuary (
In LXX ἅγιος, G41, is invariably utilized to render the Heb. קֹ֫דֶשׁ, H7731. The fact that the Gr. term was appropriated wholly in the interests of the OT view of holiness is determinative for NT usage.
B. Meaning. The hagios family of words is of major significance in understanding the NT representation of holiness, and we shall therefore concentrate on these, beginning with the adjective itself.
1. ̔́Αγιος. This is the least used of five synonyms in classical Gr. The term “holy” had to be filled with fresh content; hence, as H. Cremer saw, hagios “is one of the words wherein the radical influence, the transforming and newly fashioning power of revealed religion is most clearly shown” (Crem, 35). It has a history similar to the Heb. qōdes. Originally it was a cultic concept, indicating that which is consecrated or devoted to or qualified to approach a deity (Arndt, 9). Its earliest established attestation is in Herodotus where it is used in close association with the sanctuary (5.119). It is also applied to the gods. But hagios does not appear to have been related to man in connection with the cultus, hagnos being preferred (TDNT, 89).
2. ̔Αγιάζω. The verb is rare in extra-Biblical usage. In the LXX it is the usual rendering of the root קדשׁ, in its verbal forms. In the NT hagiazō is used of things in the sense of setting aside or rendering them suitable for ritual purposes (cf.
The three NT occurrences are all in the Pauline epp. In
4. ̔Αγιασμός. The KJV renders this five times as “holiness” and five times as “sanctification.” The ASV trs. it uniformly as “sanctification” and RSV uniformly as “holiness.” As we have seen, the verb hagiazō is derived from the same stem as the adjective hagios. In a further development, hagiasmos is produced from hagiazō as an active verbal noun. It is distinguished both from hagiōsunē and hagiotēs, since its construction implies sanctifying rather than sanctification either as a condition (hagiotēs) or as a quality (hagiōsunē). Hagiasmos when used in a moral sense (as it is invariably) denotes a process or on occasion the result of a process. It is infrequent in the LXX and has no specific Heb. equivalent (TDNT, 113).
In the NT it is confined to the epistles and occurs mainly in the context of Gentile Christianity. Hagiasmos is the will of God for the believer (
The source of hagiasmos is God. Only God is holy and only He can sanctify. This He does in Christ whom He has made to be our hagiasmos as well as our wisdom, righteousness and redemption (
5. ̔Αγιότης. Rendered as holiness in KJV, ASV, RSV. This is another rare word (found only in
The other NT occurrence of hagiotēs is less certain, since a textual problem is involved. In 2 Corinthians KJV reads ἁπλότητι, “in simplicity,” but ASV, RSV, and NEB prefer ἁγιότητι, “in holiness.” It may well be that this more difficult reading (in view of the fact that Paul does not elsewhere use hagiotēs), is in fact, correct. If so, holiness is matched with godly sincerity (εἰλικρινία). The gen. is not necessarily possessive as Procksch assumes (TDNT, 114); it may be one of origin, indicating that holiness and sincerity in the believer spring from the working of God’s grace. In this case a qualitative element is also implied (cf. G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the NT, 3rd ed. , 5).
C. Holiness of God. In the OT the holiness of God is trebled in the praises of the seraphim: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (
1. God the Father. The number of passages in the NT in which holiness is directly attributed to God the Father is not large. It is not to be supposed that the NT regards the holiness of God the Father as of less importance than the OT, or that there is any discrepancy between what is revealed in the OT, and what is revealed in the NT. On the contrary, it is in the harmony of the Testaments that one sees the reason for the comparative paucity of references. The OT itself had sufficiently established the personality and holiness of the Father. It remained for the NT to focus on the Son and the Spirit.
The context in which this expression is used is most instructive. Jesus pleaded with His holy Father to keep His men who were to be left in the world. The basic element in God’s holiness is His separation from this present evil world. “Where the burden of prayer is deliverance from the evil power of the world (
Three times in Acts—once in Peter’s speech in Solomon’s portico and twice in the prayer of the believers after Peter and John had been discharged by the Sanhedrin—Jesus is referred to as God’s Holy Servant (
The Holy One in
The Lord of the churches is described as “the holy one, the true one” (
The two vv. in Acts where Christ is described as “the Holy One” (ὁ ὅσιος) are both quotations from
The holiness of the Son is exhibited in His character. He loved righteousness and hated iniquity (
3. God the Spirit. The holiness of the Spirit is indicated by the frequent attachment of the predicate hagios to His name. It is not for nothing that the NT describes Him predominantly as the Holy Spirit. This title occurs only three times in the OT (
It is used in the first instance to distinguish Him from other spirits, esp. those which are evil. “The adjective here is not merely qualitative: it is adversative” (VB, 172). Gentile Christians in particular were in danger, not of confusing Him with other spirits, but at least of comparing Him with them. The NT emphasis on the Spirit as holy marks Him out as altogether unique and incomparable (
The qualitative aspect of the title cannot, however, be overlooked. It implies that the third Person of the Trinity shares the holiness of the godhead. The essential nature of deity belongs to the Spirit, as well as to the Father and the Son. In view of the fact that in the NT holiness is invariably personalized, the use of hagios in connection with the Spirit is further evidence that the Spirit is regarded as a Person rather than merely an influence.
His holiness is implicit in the fact that He is described as the Spirit of Christ (
The teaching of Jesus concerning the Spirit sufficiently substantiates His holiness. There has been a tendency on the part of some more radical scholars to discount this evidence on critical grounds. As C. K. Barrett insists, however, the comparative sparseness of reference is to be accounted for in terms of
We have seen that in the OT the holiness of God is a synonym for His power. This is made markedly apparent in the NT with reference to the Holy Spirit. T. W. Manson maintained that the Power in
D. Holiness of the Church. This is implicit throughout the NT, although the ekklēsia is never specifically designated as such. The phrase “holy Church” does not occur. The personal factor remains uppermost, since in the NT the Church is not regarded as an organization as much as a fellowship of those who are in Christ. There is “no holy ‘It,’ above all no holy collective, no holy institution” (E. Brunner, Dogmatics, III , 125). Nevertheless, “the idea of holiness remains basically communal and ecclesiastical” (VB, 168). The believer is born again into the family of God and only in that family will he grow in grace. O. Cullmann can go so far as to define holiness in these terms simply as “the fact of belonging to the saints” (Baptism in the NT , 53).
The holiness of the Church is the NT equivalent for the holiness of Israel as God’s people in the OT. The community of Christians constitutes the New Israel (
Holiness is much more than a secondary feature of the Church. On the contrary, it defines its very essence. Its importance is reflected in the frequency of references in the NT. The holiness of the Church is alluded to in fourteen NT writings and in seven others parallel expressions occur. As being holy, the Church is the creation and possession of God. Both its inception and its survival depend on His gracious activity. The community of Christians is “a people only because he dwells within them and moves among them” (P. S. Minear, Images of the Church in the NT , 69).
The idea of separation, so prominent in the OT, is carried over into the NT doctrine of the Church (
The eschatological dimension of the Church’s holiness must not be overlooked. As we have seen, in OT apocalyptic the holy are those who have been delivered from the domain of darkness and participate in the glory of the Messianic age. According to the NT, Christians have even now entered into the first-fruits of this blessing. They enjoy the seal of the Spirit which is the guarantee of their inheritance until they acquire full possession of it (
The eschatological, however, is never divorced from the ethical. In view of what lies in store for the Church at the end, the purpose of God is “to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (
E. Holiness of the Christian. This already has been dealt with in expounding the meaning of hagios and its cognates. We have also noted that in the NT as in the OT, it is the intention of the holy God that His children should be holy as He is. It is the function of the Holy Spirit to effect this sanctification by conforming believers to the image of Christ. The personal manner in which the Church is presented in the NT as the fellowship of Christians means that it is holy as its members are holy. We need do no more than summarize the evidence.
Holiness is ultimately to be interpreted in terms of the complementary experiences of our being in Christ and Christ being in us. These two are inextricable. In the NT to be in Christ is at the same time to have Christ in us (
The supreme mainfestation of holiness is in love. There is at once a eulogy of Christian agapē and a delineation of Christian holiness (
Bibliography W. W. Baudissin, Studien zur semitische Religionsgeschichte, II (1878); E. Issel, Der Begriff der Heiligkeit im Neuen Testament (1881); E. H. Askwith, The Christian Conception of Holiness (1900); F. J. Leenhardt, La Notion de Sainteté dans l’Ancien Testament (1929); R. Asting, Die Heiligkeit im Urchristentum (1930); J. Hänel, Die Religion der Heiligkeit (1931); J. Pederson, Israel, Its Life and Culture, III-IV (1940), 198-295; N. H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament (1944), 21-50; C. T. Craig, “Paradox of Holiness: the New Testament Doctrine of Sanctification,” INT, VI (1947), 147-161; H. Ringgren, The Prophetical Conception of Holiness (1948); Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros, ed. L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, (1953), 825-828; J. G. Davies, “The Concept of Holiness,” London Quarterly Review, CLXXXV (1960), 36-44; S. Neill, Christian Holiness (1960); W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, I (1961), 270-282; O. R. Jones, The Concept of Holiness (1961); O. Procksch, TDNT, I (1964), 88-115; J. Muilenberg, “Holiness,” IDB, II, in. loc.
(qadhosh, "holy," qodhesh, "holiness"; hagios, "holy"):
I. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT MEANING OF THE TERM
1. The Holiness of God
(1) Absoluteness and Majesty
(2) Ethical Holiness
2. Holiness of Place, Time and Object
3. Holiness of Men
(2) Ethical and Spiritual
II. IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: THE CHRISTIAN CONCEPTION
1. Applied to God
2. Applied To Christ
3. Applied To Things
4. Applied To Christians
(1) As Separate from the World
(2) As Bound to the Pursuit of an Ethical Ideal
I. In the Old Testament Meaning of the Term.
There has been much discussion as to the original meaning of the Semitic root Q-D-SH, by which the notion of holiness is expressed in the Old Testament. Some would connect it with an Assyrian word denoting purity, clearness; most modern scholars incline to the view that the primary idea is that of cutting off or separation. Etymology gives no sure verdict on the point, but the idea of separation lends itself best to the various senses in which the word "holiness" is employed. In primitive Semitic usage "holiness" seems to have expressed nothing more than that ceremonial separation of an object from common use which the modern study of savage religions has rendered familiar under the name of taboo (W.R. Smith, Religion of the Semites, Lect iv). But within the Biblical sphere, with which alone we are immediately concerned, holiness attaches itself first of all, not to visible objects, but to the invisible Yahweh, and to places, seasons, things and human beings only in so far as they are associated with Him. And while the idea of ceremonial holiness runs through the Old Testament, the ethical significance which Christianity attributes to the term is never wholly absent, and gradually rises in the course of the revelation into more emphatic prominence.
1. The Holiness of God:
As applied to God the notion of holiness is used in the Old Testament in two distinct senses:
(1) Absoluteness and Majesty
First in the more general sense of separation from all that is human and earthly. It thus denotes the absoluteness, majesty, and awfulness of the Creator in His distinction from the creature. In this use of the word, "holiness" is little more than an equivalent general term for "Godhead," and the adjective "holy" is almost synonymous with "Divine" (compare
(2) Ethical Holiness
But, in the next place, holiness of character in the distinct ethical sense is ascribed to God. The injunction, "Be ye holy; for I am holy" (
2. Holiness of Place, Time and Object:
From the holiness of God is derived that ceremonial holiness of things which is characteristic of the Old Testament religion. Whatever is connected with the worship of the holy Yahweh is itself holy. Nothing is holy in itself, but anything becomes holy by its consecration to Him. A place where He manifests His presence is holy ground (
3. Holiness of Men:
The holiness of men is of two kinds:
A ceremonial holiness, corresponding to that of impersonal objects and depending upon their relation to the outward service of Yahweh. Priests and Levites are holy because they have been "hallowed" or "sanctified" by acts of consecration (
(2) Ethical and Spiritual
II. In the New Testament: The Christian Conception.
The idea of holiness is expressed here chiefly by the word hagios and its derivatives, which correspond very closely to the words of the Q-D-SH group in Hebrew, and are employed to render them in the Septuagint. The distinctive feature of the New Testament idea of holiness is that the external aspect of it has almost entirely disappeared, and the ethical meaning has become supreme. The ceremonial idea still exists in contemporary Judaism, and is typically represented by the Pharisees (
1. Applied to God:
In the New Testament the term "holy" is seldom applied to God, and except in quotations from the Old Testament (
2. Applied to Christ:
In several passages the term is applied to Christ (
3. Applied to Things:
In keeping with the fact that things are holy in a derivative sense through their relationship to God, the word is used of Jerusalem (
4. Applied to Christians:
But it is especially in its application to Christians that the idea of holiness meets us in the New Testament in a sense that is characteristic and distinctive. Christ’s people are regularly called "saints" or holy persons, and holiness in the high ethical and spiritual meaning of the word is used to denote the appropriate quality of their life and conduct.
(1) As Separate from the World
No doubt, as applied to believers, "saints" conveys in the first place the notion of a separation from the world and a consecration to God. Just as Israel under the old covenant was a chosen race, so the Christian church in succeeding to Israel’s privileges becomes a holy nation (
(2) As Bound to the Pursuit of an Ethical Ideal
But though the use of the name does not imply high ethical character as a realized fact, it always assumes it as an ideal and an obligation. It is taken for granted that the Holy Spirit has taken up His abode in the heart of every regenerate person, and that a work of positive sanctification is going on there. The New Testament leaves no room for the thought of a holiness divorced from those moral qualities which the holy God demands of those whom He has called to be His people.
Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, Lects. iii, iv; A. B. Davidson, Theology of the Old Testament, 145 ff; Schultz, Theology of the Old Testament, II, 167 ff; Orr, Sin as a Problem of Today, chapter iii; Sanday-Headlam, Romans, 12 ff; articles "Holiness" in HDB and "Heiligkeit Gottes im AT" in RE.