His Without Reserve
Teaching Holiness

“Holy” in Greek and English

          This word study illuminates the meanings and spiritual value of words in the holiness vocabulary. This word group holds a central place in this website. Of much greater significance is the role these Hebrew and Greek words play in denoting an essential spiritual character trait to be found in those whom God calls “My people.” 

A. Holiness as essential in the Christian life
B. The “holiness” family of Hebrew and Greek words

C. Purity as a mark of the consecrated life

D. The wide scope of the holiness concept

E. A deeper look: the static and dynamic aspects of sanctification


A. Holiness as essential in the Christian life

          To pass over the words holy and holiness as found in the Bible is to leave much of the riches of the Christian faith unclaimed. To absorb the full meanings of these words into one’s daily life is to become one with Christ. Simply put, “holy” means “special for God.” It follows, then, that practicing holy thinking and living fits us for eternal life.  The Apostle Paul responded wholeheartedly to Christ’s call to holiness. He wrote of it as “the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

          For centuries some Christians have chosen to view “holiness” as being free of wrong-doing and having an accompanying spiritual “experience.” Such a point of view tends to be self-centered and leads to spiritual pride. When we employ the root meaning (set apart for God), our focus is not on ourselves but on magnifying God by doing His will from the heart. This website’s author believes that choosing to give oneself to Christ in full surrender is to expand His kingdom, to magnify Him, and to glorify Him–for His sake, not our own.

          In Greek the believer who chooses to belong to Christ is called a “holy one.” In English that is translated “saint.”

          In addition to this individual aspect of holiness, we find a parallel aspect that relates to God’s people as a whole. In fact, the principal characteristic of God’s people, as described in the Bible, is their separation from the ungodly ways of the world. In Old Testament times the Lord went to great lengths to build a people, a nation, of His very own. “Be holy,” He urged them. That is, be mine; be exclusively mine. Do not join with the nations around you. (Deut 14:2; Lev.  19:2.)

          That call sounds forth undiminished today. Our radical commitment to God fosters His grand plan of salvation. Our daily choice to pursue holiness means we are laying aside every weight in order to run well the race that is laid out for us (Heb. 12:1).

          Two experiences of faith define aspects of our salvation in Christ: justification (being reconciled to God) and sanctification (holiness: being fully loyal to God). Both are essential (Eph. 2:4-8; Heb. 12:14).

          Because unflinching loyalty to our Savior develops our fitness for heaven, we may rightly consider “holy,” “holiness,” “saint,” and “sanctification” to be among the most significant words in the vocabulary of Christianity.


B. The “holiness” family of Hebrew and Greek words

qodesh; qadash
          pertaining to things, persons, God
          separate, consecrated, set apart
          free of corruption
“Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane (Eze 22:26).

          separate from common condition and use
          dedicated, hallowed, holy
          pure, ceremonially or morally

“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”) (Luke 2:22-23).

         “set apart” is commonly given as a simple, one-phrase definition.

          holiness, sanctity
          sanctification, sanctity, holiness
          to separate, consecrate; cleanse, purify, sanctify
          sanctification, moral purity, sanctity; “set apartness”
“For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness” (1 Thess. 4:7).

(Sources: Strong’s Concordance; Young’s Concordance; Funk and Wagnalls Bible Dictionary; Interpreter’s Bible; Moulton’s Greek Lexicon)

          Example: 2 Cor. 6:15 to 7:1 provides an especially compelling example of these concepts occurring in a single paragraph:

          “What does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

          “‘I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be your father, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’

          “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.”

            Comment: Quoting from the Old Testament, Paul issues a vigorous call to separate from ungodly peoples and their uncleanness. Then in his own words he brings together the necessity of separation and of cleanliness, using “holiness” (being set apart) as the power word.


C. Purity as a mark of the consecrated life

          Purity is a significant feature of the holy life. God’s call to separate from the ungodly and their ways includes the call to purity. Paul wrote: “Be separate from them [the ungodly], says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be your father. . . . [So] let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 6:17, 18; 7:1). In addition, those who wait expectantly for the coming of Christ take special care to maintain purity of spirit and body. The apostle John wrote: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2, 3).

          In practice the more a Christian pulls away from the world’s evils and draws near to Christ, the purer he or she becomes. Other changes in character occur as well. The holiness that begins with “set apart” becomes the holiness of making sound moral choices. This transformation has given holy its secondary meaning, “morally pure.” When our focus is on daily consecration (setting oneself apart for God), the natural spiritual result will be increasing conformity to the will of God in thought and behavior. “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul wrote, “but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).        


D. The wide scope of the holiness concept

          The adjective “holy” is used to refer to things, places, human beings, and God.
         a. The items used in the wilderness tabernacle and the later temple were holy because they were used for sanctuary services and nothing else (Ex. 30:25, 35, 37).
         b. The Sabbath is holy because it was set apart (hallowed) from the other days of the week as a time to remember (commemorate) creation (Gen. 2;1-3; Ex. 20:8-11).
         c. The mountain on which Jerusalem was built was called “the holy mountain” (Isa. 27:13). The temple was holy and within it were the “holy place” and the “most holy place.” These rooms were highly specialized for the worship of God.
         d. Human beings who set themselves apart for Christ in the early Christian church were called “saints” or “holy ones” (Rom.1:7). To choose holiness is to position oneself in society as a child of God, a “patriotic” citizen of the heavenly kingdom.
         e. God is holy in that He is above all and has no equal (Isa. 45:22). As creator and therefore the originator of all things He is unequaled. He is the source of all concepts of separateness and their fulfillment in those who respond to Him through Christ.


E. A deeper look: the static and dynamic aspects of sanctification

          “A Word to the Reader” in the book Holiness: the Art of Letting Go makes this clarifying statement regarding the meanings of holy and sanctified: “This book employs the two principal meanings: (1) set apart from the common for God’s special use (consecrated), and (2) growing morally so as to reflect the character of Christ. The first is seen in the Christian’s daily consecration of himself to the will of God. The second is seen in the continuing growth of the Christian over a lifetime, growth in the knowledge of God and in possessing the attitudes and qualities of Christ.”

          Andrew C. Zenos, former professor of historical theology, Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Chicago, uses “static” and “dynamic” to designate these two aspects of qadash (Hebrew) and hagiazo (Greek) and their derivatives. He writes:

          “The agent of sanctification is the Holy Spirit (Ro 15:16). His indwelling, working from within outward, constitutes the essence of sanctification, which is, therefore, not a garment to be put on, but a spiritual principle; so that, even when one portion of the manhood is affected by it, it passes into and suffuses the whole. ‘If the root be holy, so are the branches’ (Ro 11:16). Sanctification is, then, neither a simple act nor a process which must be completed before it can be strictly called by that name. It is complete at the outset, and yet it is a process which admits of growth and increasingly nearer approximation to its ideal completion. How this apparent anomaly of thought arises is explained by the fact that the conception has had its static stage in its earlier form. In the O T it was the act of consecration that made the person or object holy. When the dynamic stage in the development of the conception came, it was understood as conformity to God’s character, rather than separation to His service. Whenever, therefore, the thought reverts to the static aspect of the conception, sanctification appears as an already complete thing. Hence believers are holy. They are saints (Ro 12:13; II Co 1:1; Eph 1:1, etc.), but whenever the idea points to the growing or dynamic side of the notion, sanctification is progressive (a work of God’s Spirit inwardly, changing the sinner into increasingly perfect conformity to God’s whole image).” (Jacobus, et al, Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Bible Dictionary, article “Sanctify, Sanctification”).