Simplicity of Holiness
Dan Kraemer, based on the book by Matthew T. Wilson1
of holiness appears more than one thousand times throughout the Bible. But what
exactly does it mean? What is your definition of “holy”? Have you ever tried to
concretely define it? Or is it a little vague, or defined by other words that
you’re not really sure what they mean, like consecrated and sanctification? Let
me give you one theologian’s answer that typifies what I mean.
“To be holy is to be consecrated to God, or, to become sacred . . . the concept
of holiness as righteousness . . . relates to the righteousness of God’s holy
character wherein righteousness is one of the major expressions of God’s moral
you got it now? Well, I didn’t and that’s probably because the statement is
little more than circular reasoning. His answer is, Holy means to be
consecrated and consecrated means to be sacred and sacred means to be holy. So,
what else do you need to know? But the problem is this, the words consecrated,
sanctified and holy, all come from the same Hebrew root word. They are all
defined as making holy. So it really explains nothing.
be fair, he says the word relates to “righteousness” but that is thrown in here
not as a definition but only as somehow related. It somehow “expresses” God’s
holiness but it is not holiness. Pray tell then, what is holiness?
English word holy is derived from an older English word that came from the
German word, heilag, which basically means Wholeness. Well, that is an
interesting start. At least I can understand “wholeness”. But how does
wholeness help define holy? Does holy have something to do “wholeness”? Is
there an ancient reason why, “wholly” with a W, and “holy”, with an H, sound
the same? Do they have a related meaning? Being that we understand the word
wholeness, might it be that, “completeness” is part of that meaning? And is it
possible that, Righteousness, Purity and Set Apart, are actually throwing us
off course, and have little or nothing to do with its meaning?
Hebrew forms of “holy” found in the Bible are many. I looked up the Hebrew word
in Wikipedia and found a list of 13 different forms of the word. The main three
are, kadesh, kadash, and, kadosh.
They are the noun, the verb, and the adjective forms but there are also male
and female, proper noun, and other forms of it.
used as a noun we translate, the holy, or, the holiness, or, the sanctuary.
verb form translates, to Make
holy, or in a single word we say, to “sanctify”, or, to “consecrate”.
adjective form translates, “holy”.
we could use holy as verb, noun, and adjective in one sentence and say,
priest makes holy the bread in place of holiness and it becomes our holy
instead we say
priest consecrates the bread in the sanctuary and it becomes our sanctified
we can mix the words again and say,
priest sanctifies the bread in the holy of holies and it becomes our
point is they are all different forms of the same word. So the meaning of the
English words, holy, holiness, sanctify, sanctification, sanctuary, consecrate,
and even saint, are all derived from the same Hebrew root word. As they are, in
effect, the same word, it is redundant to use any of these words to help
explain the others.
situation is similar in the New Testament. In Greek, the root word is hagios.
It, and its derivatives, are translated into the same English words as just
described for the Hebrew Kadesh.
if we can figure out the meaning of the root word, the rest should be easy.
is often done by using etymology, which means finding the ancient original
meaning of the word. But the problem is, no one is sure what that is. One
theory is that in ancient Mesopotamia, it was connected to a word meaning, “to
cut”. And this is used to support the idea that it means, to separate, or, set
apart, - that which is holy from that which is common.
other method by which to understand a word, and which is more reliable, is by
its context. As the word is used hundreds of times, its meaning should become
obvious IF we can forget our traditions and open our minds to new
possibilities. Not that I am going to suggest anything drastic but it may be
started, the first question might be, what’s wrong with our current mainstream
definition? What’s wrong with “set apart” along with the thought that this
separateness involves purity, sinlessness and righteousness? Doesn’t this
concept work perfectly well? Well, let’s see.
turns out there have been a lot of books written on the subject of holiness but
when the authors try to define it for us, and they come up with a lot more than
just “set apart”. Jerry Bridges, the author of The Pursuit of Holiness, says,
be holy is to be morally blameless. It is to be separated from sin and
therefore, consecrated to God. End quote.
often list the multiple meanings for a word when there is more than one simple
meaning, and holy is no exception. Strong’s concordance and Webster’s both
list, “set apart” as its primary meaning and then go on to list several other
Sproul in a well-known modern classic book on the subject titled, The Holiness
of God, agrees. Let me summarize a lengthy quote from him. He writes, “the
difficulties involved in defining holiness are vast. There is so much to
holiness . . . the word holy is used in more than one way . . . it has been
customary to define holy as “purity, free from every stain, wholly perfect and
immaculate in every detail . . . purity is the first word most of us think of .
. . but the primary meaning is
separate . . . it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is
so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us.” End
theological dictionaries describe it similarly as, both understandable and
elusive, set apart from everything else . . . God in a class by Himself . . .
good and pure and right . . . God’s transcendence, His divine essence, His
supreme otherness . . . His separation from sin, His moral purity and
a bit of an additional and darker variance, others believe there must be a
sense of dread and fear associated with God’s holiness to more accurately
understand it. And no doubt, many Christians can relate to this concept when
they were taught about God in their youth. Martin Luther and Saint Augustine
influenced and promoted this idea. But let us continue.
far we have only considered holy as it relates to God. We can all agree God is
separate, perfect, pure, sinless and righteous, and His judgments are to be
feared, but holy is also used to describe many different things, including
objects and people. How can holy, defined as we just did, ever be applied to
us? And yet, in both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible often uses it in
referring to His followers. And even God commands us, Be holy, for I am holy,
at Lev. 11: 44-45 and which Peter quotes at 1Peter 1:16:
now, with all this confusion, what are we to think? Were we commanded to try to
attain the unattainable? Has God left us in the dark? Were the prophets and
Apostles confused as well? Did they not understand exactly what God meant? Or,
does it mean something that really is attainable? And is its meaning simpler
than we think?
back to the first couple centuries of the Church, I think Clement of Alexandria
was getting closer to the truth when he wrote that holiness is the service of
God. But then, if holy is the service of God, how then is God holy?
so, this is why theologians struggle in their attempts at a definition and end
up with, separateness, purity, righteousness, fear and service. They admit the
difficulty with a simple definition because they know any one of these ideas will not always fit the varied contexts. How can
God command us to be perfect like He is perfect? Or to be separate from the
world like He is separate? Or pure, or righteous, or free from all immorality
and corruption? With definitions like that, how can we feel anything but
hopeless when we read, “Be holy for I am holy”? If there is any axiom we all
know to be true, it is that no one is perfect! So, by these definitions, no one
can be holy. So, is God really
asking something from us that He knows we are unable to attain? Or, is our
definition wrong? As with several other words, such as eternal, hell, soul and
spirit; that we have studied in depth over the years, this one also merits our
question becomes, what definition of holy make sense in every case? And so,
first of all, what does it mean in the Old Testament?
start with four simple inanimate objects that are called holy; garments,
places, days and incense. We will see that “set apart” does not work too badly
but the idea of sinlessness or righteousness doesn’t make any sense at all.
You will make holy garments for Aaron, your brother, for glory and for
The curtain will separate for you between the holy place and the holy of
Hence you will keep the sabbath, for it is holy to you.
Yet the incense which you shall make by (this) recipe you shall not make for
yourselves. Holy shall it be to you for Yahweh.
in other words, HOLY SMOKE!
you ever used that expression? It’s a funny thing for me now that I have
studied this, because I have used that expression all my life. I got it from my
father, but when I was young I never had any idea where it came from, or why
smoke should be holy. Then when I started studying the Bible I figured it must
be in regards to the smoke that arose from a burning sacrifice because we often
find the expression, “and it shall be a sweet savour, (or aroma), onto the
Lord” in the Old Testament. But in studying it now even more closely, I find
that although the sacrifice is called holy, the smoke from it is not.
now I finally have my answer. Here I find, that it is the unique incense that
is called holy and therefore it follows that the smoke from the incense would
also be holy. Now, having solved my childhood mystery after 60 years, I will
return to the subject at hand,
so there we have four examples where we can see that defining holy with any
sense of morality or sinlessness is absent from the verses. They are all amoral
objects, places, time periods or smells. Therefore this idea of perfect
righteousness, purity and sinlessness cannot be used here. And if this sort of
definition cannot be used here, why should we be able to force it onto other
holy things, like people, or even God? Not that God isn’t perfect but only that
the word holy is not the word we
should use to define sinless. Let’s take a look at some holy people and you
will see what I mean.
you know that the Bible describes prostitutes as holy? I am going to be reading
from the Concordant Literal Version of the Old Testament. This again, is one of
those cases where the CLV is especially good because of its consistency in
may remember the story of Judah and his three sons. The oldest married a woman
named Tamar but the God killed him as he was evil. Then, as per the custom,
Tamar is married to the second son but God also kills him. Again, as per the
custom, Tamar should be married off to the third son but Judah, fearing the
worst, is very hesitant to oblige her. So after many years of waiting, Tamar
tricks Judah into getting herself pregnant by him by veiling herself and
pretending to be a prostitute. They agree to sex for the price of a kid goat to
be delivered to her later. And so we read a little later when Judah’s servant
is taking the goat and looking for that prostitute. Let’s first read it in the
Gen 38:21 KJV Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot,H6948 that was openly by the way side? And they said,
There was no harlotH6948 in this place.
And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the
place said, that
there was no harlotH6948 in this place.
word we are interested in is harlot. It is Strong’s #H6948, and although the
word harlot does get across the
intent of the original author, it does
not accurately translate the Hebrew word being used here. Other versions
use the term “prostitute” which is no better. But other versions are a little
more accurate by using the two-word term, “temple prostitute” or, as in Young’s
Literal version, it uses “separated one”.
Concordant version also uses a two-word term but instead of “temple prostitute”
it uses a very interesting phrase that, as I suggested, you might find
extremely unusual and even shocking. It uses the word “hallowed”, to describe
her, or, in other words, she is called a holy harlot. Let’s read it.
Gen 38:21 CLV And asking is he the mortals of her place, saying,
"Where is the hallowed harlot, she at the springs, on the way? And saying
are they, "No hallowed harlot came to be in this place.
And returning is he to Judah and saying, "I did not find her. And,
moreover, the mortals of the place say, `No hallowed harlot came to be in this
how do we explain this? Simple, the Hebrew word used here is one of those
various Hebrew word forms for holy. That is why some translations use the word,
“temple” here instead of “holy”. Here again, we have strong and in context
evidence, that the word, kadosh, does NOT indicate a sense of moral purity,
righteousness, or divinity. It would also be hard to make the case that kadosh
here means, “set apart from the world” in any good moral character sense
did the writer of Genesis, write that this supposed prostitute (even though
Tamar was not one) was “holy”? We’ll find out but it is no wonder all of the
other translations substitute the word, temple, or, don’t use the word “holy”
in these verses. It’s because it would ruin everyone’s idea that holy means
purity, perfect righteousness and sinlessness.
let’s get into some more verses where this same word is used in its female and
Deu 23:17KJV There shall be no whoreH6948 of the daughters of Israel, nor a
sodomiteH6945 of the sons of
of whore, other versions use the term, “cult-prostitute” for both the daughters
and sons of Israel.
way, the same Hebrew word is being used here as in Genesis 38 but the word for
holy is either ignored altogether or “cult” is substituted. Not that it matters
but for some unknown reason, this time the King James uses the word “whore”
instead of “harlot”. And to my dismay, even the Concordant version this time is
inconsistent as they use the term, “cult prostitute” instead of hallowed harlot
as they did in Genesis. Young’s Literal changes gears as well, changing from
“separated one” to “whore” for the woman and “whoremonger” for the men.
so now let me get to the crux of this whole mystery and the best single word to
word for Whore here is Strong’s H6948. It is the Feminine form of the word, but
“whore” taken in isolation, is again somewhat misleading. Strong states that
the actual basic definition is simply, a female devotee (as in, one who is devoted).
is the same story for the word translated, Sodomite. The basic definition is
“devotee”. It has nothing, necessarily, to do with sex. Permit me to use air
quotes to indicate how Strong knows this but he muddies the definition when he
adds much to the definition but placed in brackets. He says it means:
(quasi) sacred person, that is,
(technically) a (male) devotee
(by prostitution) to licentious idolatry: end of quote.
although his long definition gives you the idea that its meaning has to do with
both prostitutes and sodomites, its true basic meaning has nothing,
necessarily, to with these. When you take out all the brackets in his
definition, it only has to do with one who is a devotee, meaning a devoted
person. Now admittedly, from the context, one can tell they are devoted to this
“licentious” idolatry, and so it is translated as, harlot, whore and
prostitute, but that is not its primary root meaning.
am guessing that, in this kind of context, this was an understood Hebrew idiom,
but regardless, the simple basic meaning is still, “devotee”. Perhaps this is a
little bit similar to our idiom “hooker”. There are several theories why we use
the term hooker but the simplest is that a prostitute bates herself on a corner
and then hooks her prey. So although the basic meaning of hook has got nothing
to do with prostitution, we all know, in context, “hooker” regards licentious
back to the main root of both these words. It is Strong’s # H6942,
kodash. This is the main word translated as, holy. It is found 171 times in the
Old Testament. Strong, in his attempt to boil its meaning down to one word,
comes up with, to be “clean”, but it is never translated as “clean”. Almost 90%
of the time it is translated as a form of “sanctify”, or, “consecrate”, or
“holy”. But getting closer to my new explanation here, even the King James
translates it as “dedicated” 9 times, and this is where we finally get away
from the mysterious religious language and closer to a word we regularly use
and easily understand. We can also easily see the connection between dedicate
and devotee. A devotee is dedicated to something. They wholly, spelled with a
W, give something their devotion. And that, it seems to me, is where the word
Holy with an H has its roots. W, Wholly, and, H, Holy, both have to do with
completely, with dedicated, and with devoted.
so, although further explaining may need to be done to fully defend this
position, let me skip to my conclusion right now. If you want to simply,
correctly and consistently understand the various forms of the Hebrew “kodesh”,
the Greek “hagios” and the English, holy, hallow, consecrate, sanctify, and
dedicate, just do this. Every time you read the word
Sanctify, or, to Consecrate, or, to make Holy, substitute:
or, Sanctification, substitute:
you will find that the verses in question will be better understood.
may all be familiar with the expression, “He’s a holy terror” perhaps regarding
a little boy screaming and running uncontrolled around your house wreaking
havoc. Did you ever question the phrase? Did you think he was a righteous
sinless saint, or a brat seemingly devoted to terrorizing your peace?
if we have refuted the idea of holy meaning pure, sinless and righteous, we now
have to deal with the idea of separateness being correct or not. The point I
want to make here is not that set apart is completely wrong, but that it is
misleading, as it is not the essence of the word. The important concept is not
that something IS set apart but WHY something is set apart. If we primarily
think of something as set apart, we might think of it as removed, but removed
is not the focus, being DEVOTED is the focus. Things that are devoted will
likely stand out, and be treated with special care because they are used for
an extraordinary purpose, that is why they are holy. Being set apart may be one
of the results of being holy but just setting it apart does not make it holy.
It has to be devoted.
it is true that being set apart is an important Biblical concept but it is not
to be confused with being holy. Let’s look at some verses where the two
concepts overlap. Then we can compare and see how they differ.
Num 6:2 KJV Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto
them, When either man or woman shall separateH6381
themselves to vow
a vow of a Nazarite,H5139 to
separateH5144 themselves unto the
this one verse where we really do have three different words that Strong all
defines as having to do with setting apart. Again, the CLV does a better job
than the King James. Without getting into a lot of the nitty-gritty, the first
separate means, to distinguish. The CLV uses the word, “extraordinary” there.
The second separate means, to hold aloof and to abstain. The CLV uses the word,
“sequester”. And the third one, Nazarite, is a transliteration but also means
to separate and as Strong states, it has to do with an unpruned vine. (This, as
another aside, is another whole story that helps explain why Jesus was a shoot
of Jesse and called a Nazarene but yet was distinguished from being a
continuing a few verses down,
Verse 5 CLV All the days of his Nazarite vow no razor shall pass
over his head; until the days are fulfilled in which he is sequestering himself
to Yahweh he shall come to be holy, letting the locks of the hair of his head
All the days of his sequestration he is holy to Yahweh.
that the Nazirite is called to be separate and is said to be holy all the days
of the vow. That begs the question: if the Nazirite was only holy all the days
of his vow, then what was he before and after the vow, unholy? Meaning, sinful?
I don’t think so. Once again then, holy, as used here, cannot mean morally
blameless or sinless and neither is the word holy used to describe his
separateness. Those other three words are used to describe that. Do we need a
continuing at the end of verse 11,
. . Then he will hallow his head on that day.
If hallow means to
separate, is God commanding the Nazarite to separate his head from his body? Of
course not, and this is a perfect example of why these theologians struggle to
define what holy means. But now we can understand that the Nazarite dedicates
his head in an outward physical manner. As it was explained, he does not shave
his beard nor cut his hair all the days of his vow, until the time of his
special dedication, or devotion, is fulfilled.
ancient Israel first moved into the Holy Land and conquered Jericho, they were
ordered to slaughter every man, woman, child and animal. This ensured they
would be separate from every pagan influence. Yes, the Israelites were called
to be holy but is this slaughter what God means by making holy? No.
problem with, Set Apart is that it is too vague. Presumably, we are to be set
apart from the world, but how exactly? Are we to literally live in a set apart
colony or country? Like the Amish do today? Perhaps living nearby but as
separate as possible? Is this to prevent us from being tempted and infected by
the world? Or, are we to live within the world and to be a light for it? Do we separate ourselves from everyone who
doesn’t behave as we behave? I hope you can see the problems that are
developing. Where do we draw the line between setting ourselves apart from this
world, and yet living in it and influencing it?
ourselves apart can suggest that holiness is static, passive and divisive,
whereas Biblical holiness is just the opposite. It is dynamic, active and
binding. How is one commanded to go out to the ends of the world if one is
supposed to separate oneself from the world?
biggest problem with Set Apart as the definition is that it does not always
fit, and that is why theologians have created multiple unrelated definitions
for the word, but that automatically creates inconsistencies, difficulties and
But being devoted causes
no problems. Being devoted does not necessarily mean being separate.
God has called us to holiness, to devotion to him,
as a husband seeking a devoted bride. And like a husband seeking a bride, God
is not looking for a perfect person to enter into a covenant with. God is
looking for a devoted and loving person, even with flaws. God is seeking for
himself a man or woman after His own heart. That was King David, warts and all.
What made David special? He was devoted with all his heart.
That doesn’t mean one can flagrantly be practicing
sin and claim to be devoted to God, but the Bible gives examples of devoted
people who do commit sin. It is not that they desired to sin, or thought that
they had a license to sin, but, as Paul said,
Rom 7:19 For I do not do the good that I desire; but the evil which I do
not will, that I do
And this is important to understand and counter
intuitive. We have always thought that holiness comes after obedience to God,
but instead, holiness precedes it. Doesn’t that only make sense? A servant’s
forceful obedience to his master does not lead to his devotion of him, but if a
new servant is devoted to a good and generous master, it will lead to more and
more willing obedience on behalf of the servant.
We should not expect that every Christian we know
will live a life of perfect obedience and that one day we will all get to the
top of the ladder where we will finally be declared “holy”. No. The kind of
holy I am talking about is not being holier than thou. We will never be perfect
but we can strive to be devoted. Husbands and wives do not expect their spouses
to be perfect, but they should strive to be devoted to each other. And being
devoted means striving to give oneself completely or wholly to the other. To be
loving and faithful to all the promises they gave to each other at their
marriage. A couple does not start off with a perfect relationship nor does it
continue to be perfect through out their marriage. But a new couple can declare
their devotion to each other knowing that neither of them is perfect. They know
there will be problems along the way, but they resolve to remain committed and
dedicated to each other and to work all things out over time.
Did you ever wonder why we use the term holy
matrimony? I could not find the phrase in the Bible but nevertheless I think it
perfectly fits our new understanding.
No marriage is perfect or sinless or separated from
the world. Marriage is just the opposite. It makes much more sense to think of
marriage as a union of the two instead of a separation from their families and
even other men and women. Certainly, they leave their families and are
monogamous to each other, but the emphasis is on their union and devotion.
Teaching your children about Devoted Matrimony will probably make a lot more
sense to them than Holy Matrimony. They can relate to devoted but might not
have any idea what holy means.
I said a lot more needs to be said to fully justify
this definition. If I had time I would get into what it means when, God speaks
of His holy name, Why He will prove Himself holy among Israel and in the sight
of the nations, Why He swears by His own holiness, Why His way, and, His law,
is holy, and Why God is the holy One of Israel.
It would also be beneficial to understand the
opposite of holy. What is unholy? And to understand what common or profane
means and the difference between these terms and the terms clean and unclean,
and the two classes of clean and unclean, - the physical and the spiritual, and
how something becomes defiled and how someone or something is cleansed or
atoned for by water or by blood, but let me finish with this.
Being devoted to God is something you can start now.
You don’t need to become pure, sinless, and righteous first in order to be
holy. No, what this means is your holiness starts with your devotion. It’s that
simple. And there is even more good news, God has promised to give His Devoted
Spirit to you to help you as you move through this life, to teach you what
being devoted is all about, to strengthen you and to discipline you. That is
what the Holy Spirit really is.
Or, did you think of God’s Holy Spirit as some kind
of separated Spirit? Or do you think of it as his perfect sinless spirit? Maybe
so, but isn’t it more personal to us to think of God as sending us his Devoted
Spirit? This is not an impersonal separated perfect spirit, but one that has
been sent to us by such a loving Saviour that He went our of His way to devote
Himself to us and send His Devoted Spirit to be with us at all times so that we
can always feel His devotion. Do we fully realize what this means? It really is
astounding. This means He has completely and wholly dedicated Himself to us.
And He wants the same from us. Not perfection but devotion. Clement was on
track when he wrote that holiness was to be in service to God because to be of
service is to be devoted. It works both ways.
The Bible calls us saints, and saints means holy
ones. The apostles never addressed the Believers as saints-in-progress, but
only as saints. There is no life long process to becoming a saint. You either
are a saint or you are not. You are either devoted or are not. Were the
Apostles calling the Believers, perfect? Or, telling them to separate
themselves from all other imperfect people? No, they were simply calling the
Believers dedicated. We can’t grow in perfection and we can’t separate
ourselves from the world but we can grow in devotion.
Our Father’s and our Saviour’s holiness is not
demonstrated by thunder, lightning and earthquakes sent from on top a mountain.
Despite Luther and Augustine, it is not something to fear. It is just the
opposite. It is something to embrace. His holiness, His devotion, is something
to cherish. It should be one of the most important and wonderful aspects of
God’s love, for each and everyone, of us. Amen.
Harvest Publishing, 2016; P.O.Box
702 Woodland Hills, California 91365 www.YeshuasHarvest.org