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Old Testament


According to T. C. Vriezen the idea of holiness is the one most typical for the Old Testament faith. It is revealed chiefly in a series of Hebrew words derived from the root קדשׁ, חֵ֫רֶם, H3051, and its cognates will not be considered since the underlying connotation of the ban is largely negative. While ḥrm is of native Hebrew origin, qds is probably 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 Old Testament, about 350 of them being in the Pentateuch. The Aramaic 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 [1948], 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 Old Testament, 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 טָהוֹר, H3196, “pure,” is most closely related materially to qōdes as ἁγνός, G54, to ἅγιος, G41, in the new Testament. 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” (TDnew Testament, 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 [1940], 264). Since the etymology of the word remains obscure, its actual employment in the Old Testament 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.

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 (Exod 15:11; Isa 6:3). There is no holiness unassociated with Him. Holiness is not a human quality, nor is it an impersonal concept. Its divine provenance is everywhere insisted on in the Old Testament.

Vriezen sees holiness as the central idea of the Old Testament faith in God. Some scholars treat the entire doctrine of God in the Old Testament under this head (e.g., J. Hänel). Hosea 11:9 supplies the most succinct declaration of God’s holiness found in the Old Testament: “for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.” This pregnant statement lays stress (a) on the “otherness” of God, His majesty and incomparability with any created being; and (b) on His nearness and involvement in the affairs of His people, His persistent love and graciousness (cf. HDB rev., 386). To equate God’s holiness with His transcendence and to dissociate it from His immanence, is to fall short of the Old Testament revelation. Ringgren, who interprets qds in terms of the wholly other, nevertheless recognizes that it includes the divine beneficence. The Holy One is also the kindly God who has chosen Israel and has mercy on His people.

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 Old Testament [1955], 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” (Deut 32:4), He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” and cannot “look on wrong” (Hab 1:13). He is concerned for His holy name which He cannot allow to be profaned (Ezek 36:20-22). He vindicates His own holiness by showing His hatred of sin and cleansing His people from it (Ezek 36:23-25). It is in the presence of God’s holiness that man becomes aware of his sin (Isa 6:3-8).

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 (Isa 10:17). As He summons every kind of terror to destroy the forces of Gog in the final age, He will thereby demonstrate His greatness and holiness (Ezek 38:23).

The supreme manifestation of God’s holiness, however, is in His love. In this the Old Testament prepares the way for the fuller disclosure of the divine nature in the new Testament. 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” (TDnew Testament, 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 (TDnew Testament, 93).

Holiness of God’s people

Moses was commanded to announce to the assembled people of Israel: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). As M. Noth points out, the expression leaves it undecided whether this is a statement or a demand. Perhaps it might be concluded that with reference to Israel’s position it is a statement, but with reference to Israel’s character it is a demand. This dual aspect has an important bearing on the developed revelation of holiness in the new Testament as it applies to God’s people. Israel’s holiness in the first place lies in the fact that she has been set apart by God and for God, in order that she might become the instrument of His purpose in the world. She is positionally holy since she belongs to God and has been called out from among the nations to be a chosen people for His glory (Exod 19:4; Ezek 37:27; Hos 2:23). In virtue of this relationship, ratified in the covenant, Israel is to exhibit an actual holiness in forsaking sin and following the commandments of the law. To this end the whole body of ceremonial, legal and moral requirements was designed.

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. 2 Kings 4:9). The first requires the second. Cultic sanctity is imperfect without ethical sanctity. Cultic purity itself demands personal purity (TDnew Testament, 92). As over against Mowinckel, who denies that the word “holy” has any predominant ethical reference in the Old Testament, a growing consensus of scholarly opinion today is inclined to re-emphasize this element, while at the same time recognizing the spiritual value of the cultic.

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 Old Testament 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. Lev 6:27; 22:1-9; Num 19:11-13). When Haggai asked the priests of the return: “If one carries holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and touches with his skirt bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any kind of food, does it become holy?” they were able to answer quite correctly, “No” (Hag 2:12).

While the ethical content in the Old Testament 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 Old Testament 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 Old Testament I [1961], 276).

New Testament


Holiness in the new Testament 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 (Matt 7:6) and the earthly sanctuary (Heb 9:1).

Τα ἅγια, lit. “the holies,” is used for the sanctuary (Heb 8:2; 9:24, 25; 13:11), for the holy place or outer court of the Temple (Heb 9:2), and for the heavenly sanctuary (Heb 9:12; 10:19).

In LXX ἅγιος, G41, is invariably utilized to render the Hebrew קֹ֫דֶשׁ, H7731. The fact that the Greek term was appropriated wholly in the interests of the Old Testament view of holiness is determinative for new Testament usage.


The hagios family of words is of major significance in understanding the new Testament 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 Greek 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 Hebrew 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 (TDnew Testament, 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 new Testament hagiazō is used of things in the sense of setting aside or rendering them suitable for ritual purposes (cf. Matt 23:19; the altar makes the gift sacred [1 Tim 4:5], what is received with thanksgiving is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer). It is used also of profane things made holy by contact with the sacred (cf. Matt 23:17; the temple makes the gold sacred). With reference to persons, the verb may signify to “consecrate,” “dedicate,” “make holy,” i.e. “include in the inner circle of what is holy, in both religious and moral uses of the word” (Arndt, 8). It is so used of the Church which Christ sanctified and cleansed “by the washing of water with the word” (Eph 5:26), and of Christians consecrated by baptism (1 Cor 6:11).

The three new Testament occurrences are all in the Pauline epp. In Romans 1:4, “according to the Spirit of holiness” is contrasted with “according to the flesh” (v. 3). Some take this to be an exact rendering of the Hebrew רוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ, “Holy Spirit” (Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10), but the antithesis with flesh would rather imply that it is Christ’s own spirit. In 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul urges his converts to cleanse themselves from everything which can defile, either flesh or spirit, and thus to “make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (NEB “complete our consecration”). The ethical character of hagiōsunē is obviously prominent here. This is equally the case in 1 Thessalonians 3:13, where Paul’s prayer for his readers is that the Lord may make their hearts firm so that at the Parousia they may stand before God the Father “unblamable in holiness.”

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 Hebrew equivalent (TDnew Testament, 113).

In the new Testament it is confined to the epistles and occurs mainly in the context of Gentile Christianity. Hagiasmos is the will of God for the believer (1 Thess 4:3). It is manifested in the sphere of sexual morality as he learns how to hallow and honor his body (NEB) or his wife (ASV, RSV). The opposite of hagiasmos is “uncleanness” (4:7). The body, which was once employed in the service of impurity and lawlessness, now must be yielded to God in the service of righteousness, with hagiasmos (“a holy life” NEB) as the goal in view (Rom 6:19). In this emancipation from sin in the service of God, the return (lit. “fruit”) he gets is holiness (Rom 6:22). Hagiasmos is linked with modesty (1 Tim 2:15).

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 (1 Cor 1:30). Hagiasmos is said to be by or in (en) the Spirit (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2). Without it no one will even see the Lord when He returns (Heb 12:14). Hence, it is to be aimed at and striven for as the goal of Christian life (Heb 12:14).

5. ̔Αγιότης. Rendered as holiness in KJV, ASV, RSV. This is another rare word (found only in Heb 12:10, and perhaps 2 Cor 1:12). It occurs in 2 Maccabees 15:2, and in Psalm 28:2 in one tr. of the Hexapla. Its meaning is sanctification rather as a condition or state as distinct from sanctifying as a process (hagiasmos). Hagiotēs is an essential attribute of God which He shares in measure with His children, so that it can be said that they “share his holiness” (Heb 12:10). This is virtually equivalent to “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). Although this state is only consummated and perfected in glorification, the implication of Hebrews 12:10 seems to be that already in this life believers partake of God’s holiness.

The other new Testament 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 (TDnew Testament, 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 new Testament, 3rd ed. [1937], 5).

Holiness of God

In the Old Testament the holiness of God is trebled in the praises of the seraphim: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isa 6:3). The trisagion is repeated in the new Testament as John in his vision is permitted to hear the living creatures which surround the heavenly throne singing in ceaseless antiphon: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:8). This threefold reiteration, however, is not merely impressive in its effect. It is related to the trinity of persons in the Godhead, and this factor, implicit in the Old Testament, is made explicit in the new Testament. The Son addresses the Holy Father (John 17:11); He is Himself the Holy Servant or Child (Acts 4:30); and the third Person of the Godhead is the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). Holiness is not reserved for one but belongs to each.

God the Father

The number of passages in the new Testament in which holiness is directly attributed to God the Father is not large. It is not to be supposed that the new Testament regards the holiness of God the Father as of less importance than the Old Testament, or that there is any discrepancy between what is revealed in the Old Testament, and what is revealed in the new Testament. On the contrary, it is in the harmony of the Testaments that one sees the reason for the comparative paucity of references. The Old Testament itself had sufficiently established the personality and holiness of the Father. It remained for the new Testament 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 (v. 15), the thought of God as wholly separate from that evil is specially appropriate. The Father is asked to grant to the disciples his own immunity from evil.” (W. Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel [1945], 318). In the conjunction of holiness and Fatherhood, the transcendence and immanence of God, already implied in the Old Testament revelation of holiness, is further emphasized.

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 (Acts 3:13, 14; 4:26, 30). The word in Greek is παι̂ς, G4090, which also can mean a child. It significantly identifies Jesus with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, and at the same time asserts His divine Sonship. Both as Servant and Son, He is holy.

The Holy One in 1 John 2:20, by whom believers are anointed, is clearly to be regarded as the Son. If this unction is not directly connected with the Holy Spirit, but with the Lord’s own Messianic consecration at His baptism, now shared by all who belong to Him, as C. H. Dodd believes, the identification is confirmed.

The Lord of the churches is described as “the holy one, the true one” (Rev 3:7), a title which reappears in 6:10 as appertaining to God the Father, and is thus a tacit acknowledgement of the Son’s divinity. Jesus is He “whom the Father consecrated (ἡγίασεν) and sent into the world” (John 10:36). The holiness of the Son as it is manifested to the world is derived from that of the Father.

The two vv. in Acts where Christ is described as “the Holy One” (ὁ ὅσιος) are both quotations from Psalm 16:10 (Acts 2:27; 13:35). F. F. Bruce takes the reference in Hebrews 7:26 to reflect this same usage.

The holiness of the Son is exhibited in His character. He loved righteousness and hated iniquity (Heb 1:9). Both the positive and the negative factors are essential to holiness. He refrained from evil and pursued the good. He committed no sin of any kind (1 Pet 2:22). Atlhough He was tempted in every respect as all men are, yet He remained entirely without sin (Heb 4:15). It was because of the holiness of His nature that He was thus enabled to triumph over the evil one. His testimony was that He always did what was acceptable to His Father (John 8:29). It was only by virtue of His holiness that the Lord was equipped to make the one sufficient sacrifice on the cross which would save men from their sins. Because His abhorrence of sin was so acute, He willingly turned His back on heavenly glory in order to redeem lost humanity. Only the one who knew no sin could be made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). Only the perfectly righteous could suffer and die for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (1 Pet 3:18).

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 new Testament describes Him predominantly as the Holy Spirit. This title occurs only three times in the Old Testament (Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10, 11), but is found no less than ninety-one times in the new Testament. In the Old Testament He usually is designated as “the Spirit,” “the Spirit of the Lord,” or “the Spirit of God.” In the new Testament He appears simply as “the Spirit” forty-six times, as “the Spirit of God” eighteen times, and as “the Spirit of the Lord” four times. The title “Holy Spirit” is by far the most common.

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 new Testament emphasis on the Spirit as holy marks Him out as altogether unique and incomparable (Matt 12:32; Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 6:19; Eph 2:18; 2 Tim 1:14).

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 new Testament 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 (Rom 8:9; Phil 1:19; 1 Pet 1:11; cf. Gal 4:6). His work is to glorify the Son (John 16:14; cf. 15:26). He fixes attention on the Savior. It is His function to cause the living Christ to dwell within the heart of the believer. As F. D. E. Schleiermacher recognized, the fruit of the Spirit is nothing less than the virtues of Christ. It is the Spirit who makes possible such conformity to the Master’s image: He can only do so by reason of His holiness. None but the Holy Spirit can be the Spirit of Christ. He is holy in Himself and also makes believers holy by renewing them in the likeness of their Lord.

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 John 7:39—“as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Even as it stands, the Lord’s teaching about the Spirit clearly demonstrates His holiness. There could be no blasphemy against any but a Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-30; cf. Matt 12:31, 32; Luke 12:10). None other than a Holy Spirit could eject demons, acting as “the finger of God” (Matt 12:28; Luke 11:20). Baptism into the name of the Holy Spirit, as well as of the Father and of the Son, implies that the Spirit’s name is holy (Matt 28:19).

We have seen that in the Old Testament the holiness of God is a synonym for His power. This is made markedly apparent in the new Testament with reference to the Holy Spirit. T. W. Manson maintained that the Power in Matthew 26:64 and Mark 14:62 simply means God. The close association of the Spirit with power would seem to suggest that in Him this Power is brought directly down to earth and made available for the purposes of godly living.

Holiness of the Church

This is implicit throughout the new Testament, although the ekklēsia is never specifically designated as such. The phrase “holy Church” does not occur. The personal factor remains uppermost, since in the new Testament 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 [1962], 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 new Testament [1950], 53).

The holiness of the Church is the new Testament equivalent for the holiness of Israel as God’s people in the Old Testament. The community of Christians constitutes the New Israel (Gal 6:16; Eph 2:12; Heb 8:10). This is not merely a matter of continuity: indeed if this were the sole consideration it is doubtful whether the phrase New Israel should be used at all. But the determinative factor is that Christians are heirs of the new covenant in Christ Jesus, the true Messiah, in whose advent the kingdom had arrived. Living in the last days under the rule of God and awaiting the return of Christ as judge, Christians were identified with the saints or holy ones of Daniel 7:18, 22 and 1 Enoch 38:4, 5 who lived in expectation of the end. It is in this sense that the Church is regarded in the new Testament as the New Israel. As such it shares in the holiness of God’s people.

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 new Testament. The holiness of the Church is alluded to in fourteen new Testament 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 new Testament [1961], 69).

The idea of separation, so prominent in the Old Testament, is carried over into the new Testament doctrine of the Church (2 Cor 6:14). However, the positive aspect of being set aside for God to be utilized in His service prevails over any negative exclusivism. The Old Testament conception of property as forming an extension of personality finds its loftiest expression in the relationship between God and His people. In the new Testament this is intensified in respect of the Church and of the Christians who compose it. The Church as the body of Christ belongs to God and becomes the vehicle of His activity in the world (1 Cor 12:27; Col 1:18). Similarly the Church as a dwelling place of God in the Spirit exists solely to further the ends of redemption (Eph 2:22; 3:5, 6). In order to prove an effective instrument of the Gospel, the Church must be holy.

The eschatological dimension of the Church’s holiness must not be overlooked. As we have seen, in Old Testament 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 new Testament, 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 (Eph 1:13, 14). But the riches of Christ’s glorious patrimony still lie in the future (Eph 1:18). Being holy, the Church is continually waiting for and hastening toward the coming of God’s great day (2 Pet 3:11, 12). Its members are being built up by the word of God’s grace, which is able to give them “the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

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” (Titus 2:14). It was for this that Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her....that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27). The Church is betrothed to Christ, and at the Parousia she is to be presented “as a pure bride to her one husband” (2 Cor 11:2; cf. Rev 19:7, 8; 21:9).

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 new Testament as in the Old Testament, 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 new Testament 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 new Testament to be in Christ is at the same time to have Christ in us (Eph 3:17). Any alleged union with Christ which fails to produce the image of Christ within is exposed as false (Rom 8:9).

The supreme mainfestation of holiness is in love. There is at once a eulogy of Christian agapē and a delineation of Christian holiness (1 Cor 13). It is perfectly realized only in the man Christ Jesus. It remains nevertheless as the criterion by which the believer’s growth in grace is to be assessed. The essence of the divine nature is holy love. It is in this above all that as He is so are we to be in the world (1 John 4:17).


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,” Inew Testament, 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, TDnew Testament, I (1964), 88-115; J. Muilenberg, “Holiness,” IDB, II, in. loc.

Additional Material

Source 1

HOLINESS, HOLY. Usually translations of words derived from a Hebrew root qadash and Greek hag-. The basic meaning of qadash is “separateness, withdrawal.” It is first applied to God and is early associated with ideas of purity and righteousness. Long before the prophetic period the ethical content is plain. Greek hag- is an equivalent of qadash, and its history is similar. Beginning as an attribute of deity, the hag- family of words developed two stems, one meaning “holy,” the other “pure.” The use of words of this family in the LXX to translate the qadash family resulted in a great development of their ethical sense, which was never clear in classical Greek. What became increasingly evident in the Old Testament is overwhelmingly explicit in the new Testament: that holiness means the pure, loving nature of God, separate from evil, aggressively seeking to universalize itself; that this character is inherent in places, times, and institutions intimately associated with worship; and that holiness is to characterize human beings who have entered into personal relationship with God.

Summary: The idea of holiness originates in the revealed character of God and is communicated to things, places, times, and persons engaged in his service. The ethical nature of holiness grows clearer as revelation unfolds, until the holiness of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; of the church as a body; and of individual members of that body fills the new Testament horizon. Holiness is interwoven with righteousness and purity. To seek holiness apart from the other qualities of a Christlike life is to wander from the way of holiness itself.

Bibliography: R. Otto, The Idea of the Holy, 1946; H. Ringgren, The Prophetical Conception of Holiness, 1948; S. Neill, Christian Holiness, 1960; O. R. Jones, The Concept of Holiness, 1961; O. Prochsch, TDnew Testament, 1:88-115.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(qadhosh, "holy," qodhesh, "holiness"; hagios, "holy"):


1. The Holiness of God

(1) Absoluteness and Majesty

(2) Ethical Holiness

2. Holiness of Place, Time and Object

3. Holiness of Men

(1) Ceremonial

(2) Ethical and Spiritual


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 Da 4:8,9,18; 5:11). Yahweh’s "holy arm" (Isa 52:10; Ps 98:1) is His Divine arm, and His "holy name" (Le 20:3, etc.) is His Divine name. When Hannah sings "There is none holy as Yahweh" (1Sa 2:2), the rest of the verse suggests that she is referring, not to His ethical holiness, but simply to His supreme Divinity.

(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" (Le 11:44; 19:2), plainly implies an ethical conception. Men cannot resemble God in His incommunicable attributes. They can reflect His likeness only along the lines of those moral qualities of righteousness and love in which true holiness consists. In the Psalmists and Prophets the Divine holiness becomes, above all, an ethical reality convicting men of sin (Isa 6:3,1) and demanding of those who would stand in His presence clean hands and a pure heart (Ps 24:3 f).

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 (Ex 3:5). The tabernacle or temple in which His glory is revealed is a holy building (Ex 28:29; 2Ch 35:5); and all its sacrifices (Ex 29:33), ceremonial materials (30:25; Nu 5:17) and utensils (1Ki 8:4) are also holy. The Sabbath is holy because it is the Sabbath of the Lord (Ex 20:8-11). "Holiness, in short, expresses a relation, which consists negatively in separation from common use, and positively in dedication to the service of Yahweh" (Skinner in HDB, II, 395).

3. Holiness of Men:

The holiness of men is of two kinds:

(1) Ceremonial

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 (Ex 29:1; Le 8:12,30). The Nazirite is holy because he has separated himself unto the Lord (Nu 6:5). Above all, Israel, notwithstanding all its sins and shortcomings, is holy, as a nation separated from other nations for Divine purposes and uses (Ex 19:6, etc.; compare Le 20:24).

(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 (Mr 7:1-13; Lu 18:11 f). But Jesus proclaimed a new view of religion and morality according to which men are cleansed or defiled, not by anything outward, but by the thoughts of their hearts (Mt 15:17-20), and God is to be worshipped neither in Samaria nor Jerusalem, but wherever men seek Him in spirit and in truth (Joh 4:21-24).

1. Applied to God:

2. Applied to Christ:

In several passages the term is applied to Christ (Mr 1:24; Ac 3:14; 4:30, etc.), as being the very type of ethical perfection (compare Heb 7:26).

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 (Mt 4:5), the Old Testament covenant (Lu 1:72), the Scriptures (Ro 1:2), the Law (Ro 7:12), the Mount of Transfiguration (2Pe 1:18), etc.

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 (1Pe 2:9), and the Christian individual, as one of the elect people, becomes a holy man or woman (Col 3:12). In Paul’s usage all baptized persons are "saints," however far they may still be from the saintly character (compare 1Co 1:2,14 with 5:1 ff).

(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.

See Sanctification.


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.