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Question:

If 'Holy', (ἅγιος at Biblehub.com, and at logeion.uchicago.edu), is interpreted as 'separated unto', 'consecrated', 'dedicated to', or 'sacred', then in what sense can God be considered Holy?

Is this a contradiction if God is not actually 'separated' or 'apart from'?

NKJV, Ephesians 4:6 - one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in [you] all.

What sense of the word 'holy' would apply to both God and people?

And you shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. (Leviticus 20:26 NKJV)

For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. (Leviticus 11:45 NKJV)

because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16 NKJV)

Traditional Interpretations:

Something that is holy can also be impure:

NKJV: Ezekiel 43:7 - And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name…

NKJV: Exodus 30:35 - You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, (טָה֥וֹר), and holy, (קֹֽדֶשׁ).

Holiness seems to mean something distinctly different from "Righteous":

NKJV, Revelation 22:11 - He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous, (δικαιοσύνην) still; he who is holy, let him be holy, (ἁγιασθήτω) still.”

The traditional presupposition is that 'holiness' is synonymous with 'righteous, (lawful)', and 'pure, (clean)'. But, these words seem to have very different purposes and meanings in Scripture, (otherwise the authors wouldn't use them in the same contexts and even sentences).

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    The meaning you quote is not the primary meaning of agios 'holy'. See Thayer Biblehub - meaning 1.. 1. properly reverend, worthy of veneration: τό ὄνομα τοῦ Θεοῦ, Luke 1:49; God, *on account of his incomparable majesty,* Revelation 4:8 (Isaiah 6:3, etc.), Nevertheless, up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 9, 2023 at 18:31
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    I’m struggling to understand how this is confusing. A husband separating his wife makes them both holy to and for each other. The man, husband to be has never given himself to anyone else and by marriage covenant he separates one woman to be holy with him, now both of them are holy and separate from everyone else. God is not everyone’s, only those He chooses can be holy separated for Himself if they accept His conditions, one of which is exclusivity or holiness. Jan 9, 2023 at 19:44
  • @NigelJ - You are right, It is definitely more helpful to include references from where the definition was coming from. Updated. Jan 9, 2023 at 20:01
  • @elikakohen in the sense of being completely devoid of sin and even an ontological possibility for sinning. None of the creatures is such, only the Holy Trinity Jan 9, 2023 at 21:24
  • @NihilSineDeo - I hope you can see how the concept of the question can be confusing by the answers given below. None of them speak of holiness in terms of relationships as you suggest. Personally, I think your answer is stronger and probably acceptable as the chosen answer, (if given sufficient scriptural basis). The other answers, (and comments), conflate 'holiness' with 'purity', which doesn't seem to have any linguistic or contextual basis. Jan 11, 2023 at 3:25

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There are three Hebrew words that are (correctly) translated "holy" or "sacred", viz:

  • קָדוֹשׁ (qodosh) = Holy/Sacred as an adjective
  • קֹדֶשׁ (qodesh) = holy/sacred object as a noun
  • קָדַשׁ (qodash) = sanctify/make holy as a verb

In the last case of the verb, God is never described as being made holy because God is already Holy. However, we have numerous case cases of God making things holy/sacred.

The fundamental meaning of all of these words is that the object or person is set apart from common use and dedicated for special service/duty. God is already supremely holy/sacred because God is already set apart from common things by virtue of being God; He is also distinct and quite separate from His creation. He is also morally pure, kind, loving etc. We find this assertion of God being holy many, many times in the Bible especially Leviticus such as: Lev 11:44, 45, 19:2, 20:26, 21:8, etc. See also Jer 3:12, Eze 20:41, 28:22, 36:23, 38:23, 39:27, etc.

The whole point of the Israelite covenant was to create a holy people, like the God they served, Ex 19:6, Lev 20:26, Deut 7:6, 14:2, Isa 62:12, etc.

Ex 19:5, 6 - Now if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you will be My treasured possession out of all the nations—for the whole earth is Mine. And unto Me you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to speak to the Israelites.”

This idea was carried directly into the new covenant as declared by 1 Cor 1:2, 1 Thess 3:13, Col 3:12, 1 Peter 1:15, 16, 2:9, Rev 22:11, etc. This is why the NT calls Christians, "saints" = sacred people.

1 Peter 2:9, 12 - But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. ... Conduct yourselves with such honor among the Gentiles that, though they slander you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.

The book of Leviticus defines why this is true -

  • Lev 11:44 - I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. [See also Lev 11:45, 46, 21:8, etc.]
  • 1 Peter 1:15, 16 - But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Jesus, in His sermon the mount, expressed the same idea in a different way:

Matt 5:16 - In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Thus, our conduct and action as God's holy people (= dedicated to being God's people) are to display God's holiness, that is, His goodness, kindness and grace, in such a way as to bring glory to God.

David heinous crimes with Bathsheba and Uriah provide a perfect counterexample of the above. We note that, despicable as David's crimes against Bathsheba and Uriah were, the greatest crime was his crime against the holiness of God when the prophet Nathan pronounced the following:

2 Sam 12:14 - However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.” (NKJV)

APPENDIX - God's Holiness

One of the purposes of the Israelite covenant in creating a "holy nation", was to demonstrate the difference between the true God of holiness - different from the pagan gods of might and power. That is, while the true God of heaven was "Almighty God", his primary quality was to His "lovingkindness" Ps 63:3, 92:2, 48:9, Isa 63:7, 1 John 4:8, 16. That is, the essential characteristic of God, the LORD is His love, grace and kindness.

That this Israelite Covenant was a covenant of transforming grace is confirmed by several ideas:

  • The Old Covenant was a covenant initiated entirely by God alone, to save Israel. God alone set out the requirements and blessings. God makes it clear that they were selected as the chosen people, NOT because of any Israelite merit, but simply because God wanted to. Deut 7:7, 9:5, 6, 10:15.
  • The Old Covenant was a matter of the “heart” (Deut 6:5, 10:12, 16, 11:18, Ps 40:8, Jer 24:7, 31:33, 34, 32:38-40, Eze 11:19, 18:31, 36:26) and NOT mere regulations (1 Sam 15:22, Ps 40:6-8, 51:16, 17, Prov 15:8, 21:3, Isa 1:10-17, Jer 6:3-6, 20, Hos 6:6, Micah 6:6-8). These references make it clear that the Old Covenant did not really include the animal sacrifices, and that they could not define nor atone for sin. (Heb 9:9, 10:4, Ps 51:16, 17, 1 Sam 15:22). The animal sacrifices and the sanctuary ritual were part of the Levitical covenant which acted as teaching device that anticipated, and was a type of, the High Priestly ministry of Messiah.
  • The Ark of the Covenant, containing the Covenant stone tablets of the 10 Commandments, was constructed in a highly symbolic way. The 10 Commandments were inside the box and the “atonement cover” or “mercy seat” was placed above them. Ex 25:17-22, 26:34, 30:6, 31:17, 37:9, 40:20, Lev 16:13; see also Heb 9:5. This arrangement was placed in the Most Holy Place, in the sanctuary, and always remained at the center of God’s Covenant people.
  • In Solomon’s prayer of dedication, he describes the (Israelite) Covenant as God showing “lovingkindness”, or, “steadfast love”, to people. 1 Kings 8:23, 2 Chron 6:14, See also Neh 1:5, 9:32, Ps 89:28, 33, 34, 103:17, 18, 111:4, 5, 9, Isa 54:10, 55:3. This suggests that the Law of God, or the Moral Law, is an expression of God’s love and is just as eternal.
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  • I have voted on your response but I might consider my own response if time permits. Jan 9, 2023 at 21:06
  • I +1'ed because you addressed topic, saying: 'God is already… holy… set apart from common things… and quite separate from His creation.' How is this reconciled with Ephesians 4:6, (that God is not separated from creation)? How holiness can apply to people are really not necessary/off-topic. So my question still is, "If God has not separated himself, or has been separated, then in what sense is God 'Holy'? Jan 11, 2023 at 3:21
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    @God is distinct from His creation and already holy. We are of this creation but become holy by being "in the world but not of the world". John 18:36, 8:23, 1 Cor 5:10, 7:31, Rom 12:2, etc.
    – Dottard
    Jan 11, 2023 at 3:31
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The meanings of holy (קֹ֫דֶשׁ) is very extensive in BDB. I stopped with Piel. The main basic meaning is separate or apartness. From the standpoint of God's holiness, it emphasizes that God is separate from creation. For people and objects of worship it means set apart for God. As Lev. 20:26 says, it means God's possession.

Note idolatry making gods out of created things:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:21–23, ESV)

BDB Lexicon entry:

קֹ֫דֶשׁ ... apartness, sacredness... 1. apartness, sacredness, holiness, of God:... 2. of places set apart as sacred by God’s presence:... 3. consecrated, tabooed...

Niph. ... 1. shew oneself sacred, majestic: ... 2. be honoured or treated as sacred ... 3. be consecrated, dedicated, by

Pi. ... 1. set apart as sacred, consecrate, dedicate: ... 2. observe as holy, keep sacred: ... 3. honour as sacred, hallow: ... 4. consecrate by purification: ...

Brown, F., Driver, S. R., & Briggs, C. A. (1977). In Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (p. 871-873). Clarendon Press.

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  • Thanks! I am not sure what you mean by adding the verse, "and exchanged the glory of the immortal God"... Are you using that verse to say that God should be perceived apart from anything like created things? Like, are you saying that "God being holy means that God can't be described in natural terms." Is that what you mean by God's separatedness? Great lexicon references! Jan 11, 2023 at 2:57
  • @Elika -- That is to show that idolatry made gods out of created things.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 11, 2023 at 10:52
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“Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭3‬:‭5‬ ‭

Holiness has to do with purity, yes. It’s the act of not mixing. It’s by implication separate, sacred, sinless.

When God tells Moses to remove his sandals, if the removing of the sandals meant merely to do away with the uncleanliness then unless there was a non dirt floor around the burning bush, Moses would still be touching dirt and his feet would become dirty upon the removal of his sandals. But the reason God asks Moses to take off his sandals is because THIS particular ground is NOT the same as the other grounds Moses has touched. By removing his sandals Moses was removing the foreign dust and dirt on the sandals from interacting with the burning bush dust and dirt that was holy. There was an act of separation involved.

By implication holiness means pure or sinless, or uncontaminated because provided there is no mixing something holy takes on all these qualities as a byproduct. When a man remains a virgin until marriage, he is pure. When he marries his wife and separate her from all the other women, he, by definition will be pure and undefiled because he does not mix with other women. He also sanctifies her provided she doesn’t mix with other men. The husband has the expectation that the wife will be holy toward him, meaning exclusively his and his alone. No one else, no foreigner will come and mix within the marriage. A mixed marriage or an open marriage is not a holy thing and thus given marriage is a sacred act, an open marriage is an oxymoron, it’s technically not a marriage.

When at the temple the utensils were consecrated to the Lord, this meant that their whole use was limited to the temple. The priest could not make an exception and bring some home for a day because he was short a few spoons. In doing so they would cease to be holy. They would no longer be purely and exclusively for the temple, they would be thus contaminated.

Going back to the burning bush, when something common touches something sacred, it takes on the properties of the sacred, provided the sacred is not being desecrated.

Example of desecration using the marriage example. If the wife has an affair she is no longer holy to her husband but the husband is still holy. Desecration would mean the husband is forced to sleep with another woman and he does. Like wise the altar doesn’t become desecrated until its use is deliberately used for unholy purposes, like deliberately burning a pig on the altar. If the pig touched the altar it doesn’t desecrate the altar, although a legalistic priest would contend with the idea.

“And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭23‬:‭18‬-‭20‬ ‭

By Moses keeping his shoes on, all his past visited places would become sacred and holy but of course God wasn’t going to rubber stamp Moses’ prior walks on the territories of the other gods assigned to the nations Deu32:8ESV,DSS,LXX

When a man who is a virgin takes a woman, even if that woman was promiscuous prior, by entering into the covenant with the man she is now sanctified through him, provided she remains exclusive and faithful.

When God who is Holy, uncreated, Holy, undefiled, Holy, uncontaminated, accepts someone in a covenant with Him, God is expecting that person to remain exclusively His. Even when He subjects them to the test, they must only appeal to Him and not to the fallen sons of God assigned to the other nations.

There was the holy place at the tabernacle and the holy of Holies. In the HH only one person, once a year could enter. Even the Holy place was restricted. Holiness is about access. God is not accesible except as He deems fit.

The king in Israel was not allowed to offer sacrifices, it was restricted to the priesthood. Saul lost his kingdom, another became a leper. Holiness is about exclusivity. Exclusivity is about access. Access is restrictive.

The firstborn of livestock or the first fruits were holy into the Lord. They were not for anyone else. They were exclusive. God’s holiness is exclusive. It’s privileged. It’s restricted to the favored.

To sanctify is to make holy or to make exclusive, limited, restricted and of higher value. Samson the nazarite was holy to the Lord and had to refrain from certain things. Holiness means and requires deliberate consecration.

An athlete the more competitive and the higher the league the holier he becomes, he does not engage in certain activities, doesn’t eat certain food, drinks or alcohol (or drugs), has a set sleep cycle, have a well regimented life. God being above all, as he is uncreated, is highly highly highly selective.

Conclusion

Holiness means separate and as a byproduct of separation that which is holy is also pure, undefiled, sinless and without error or sin. Holiness has to do with the relationship between subjects, either they accept exclusivity and thus are holy or they reject exclusivity and are not sacred and holy

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  • This answer appears to address holiness of people but not God I do understand the traditional/doctrinal view that holiness is synonymous with "pure", but is it really a linguistic view or supported by any contexts? For example, 'And the house of Israel will not again defile My holy name, (Ezekiel 43:7)`. Here 'defile' is the antonym of 'pure'. So, something that remains 'holy' was made 'impure', showing holiness and impurity at the same time. However, 'the act of not mixing' seems related to your comment, 'God is [holy because he is] not everyone’s…;. I think this has a lot of merit. Jan 11, 2023 at 23:44

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