The Character of God:  Holiness

New Testament, Greek hagios

Mark 1:21-28
John 14:15-26
Acts 2:1-12
1 Peter 1:1-16
Revelation 4:1-11

Other Aspects of God's Character

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Mark 1:21-28 (2/21/2011)

I said Friday that by the end of one week on holiness, I didn’t have a clear idea of what “holy” means, except that it apparently wasn’t what I had previously thought.  I also said that I didn’t plan out ten scriptures that made some sort of coherent picture – I just chose ten scriptures to see what they told us.

So it’s a little spooky to me that today’s scripture is on exactly the same aspect of holiness as last Monday’s scripture:  God’s intolerance for anything unclean.  Last week we read some of the laws of clean and unclean, and it ended, “I am the LORD your God.  You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  Today, in one of his earliest miracles, Jesus casts out an unclean spirit, who says, “Did you come to destroy us?  I know who you are:  the holy one of God.”  The people are amazed and recognize Jesus’ power, but only the unclean spirit recognizes Jesus as hagios, holy. 

Those of you who were at St. John’s this morning heard another similar scripture.  In Matthew 10:8, Jesus tells his disciples, “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils.”  Now, many of the sick, all of the lepers, all of the dead, and all of the devils were unclean.  In the disciples’ first practice run, they had to concentrate on separating people from their uncleanness. 

Whatever else hagios, holy, might mean, it definitely means clean, i.e., “ritually acceptable to God.”  
John 14:15-26 (2/22/2011)

I still didn’t plan this…  Last Tuesday’s reading emphasized the importance of following God’s commandments.  We are to be holy because God is holy.  We are to follow his commandments, and the only reason given – 7 times in 19 verses – is “I am the LORD.”  Today, Jesus is talking to his disciples at the Last Supper.  Guess what?  He emphasizes the importance of following his commandments, and incidentally, this is prefaced and followed with the promise that Father with send the Holy Spirit.

Both the Hebrew word qodesh and the Greek word hagios mean “separate” or “set apart,” in the sense of “consecrated.”  It’s not surprising to us that these words are used as equivalents in the Hebrew and Greek Old Testament.  

Acts 2:1-12 (2/23/2011)

“Holy” appears about 175 times in the New Testament, and slightly more than 100 of those are in the phrase “Holy Spirit.”  The other 70 or so are divided about evenly among the holy city (Jerusalem); Holy One (Jesus, mostly); holy apostles; holy prophets; holy angels; miscellaneous holy people (the believers, mostly), places (usually the Temple), and things; holy covenant, law, and commandments; holy kiss, holy calling and faith; holy scriptures; holy priesthood and nation; Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God Almighty; and, once, our old friend, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

What I notice about the 70 is that these holy people, places, and things are all set apart for God, i.e., consecrated.  Nowhere does it say that we buy holy groceries or sit on holy furniture.  Things that are “holy” are different in some way from ordinary specimens of their kind.

But most of the “holies” are in “Holy Spirit.”  Today we see the Holy Spirit coming upon the believers at Pentecost.
1 Peter 1:1-16 (2/24/2011)

A definite pattern is emerging that tells us about God’s expectations for us:  “You be holy, because I am holy.”  God will not tolerate uncleanness.  God expects us to obey his commandments.  Even though in the past we were unclean and disobedient, according to his glory and mercy, we now have grace.  The consistency of God’s character continues to shine through.

By the way, I just started reading a commentary on Ezekiel by Nancy R. Bowen.  She makes it clear that a person can be holy or profane (i.e., not consecrated).  A person can be clean or unclean and can move back and forth between these two states.  Profane can be in combination with clean or unclean, but “the only condition not possible was holy and unclean.”   

So this reminds me of the Last Supper again (English Standard Version): So I definitely think we are right that holiness, cleanness, and obedience are all connected.  We cannot approach God or be holy like God if we are unclean or disobedient. 
Revelation 4:1-11 (2/25/2011)

Today we’re talking about the language of visions.  Read the scripture below for holy.

Speaking of Nancy R. Bowen and her commentary on Ezekiel, if you go back and read Ezekiel 1:5-11 and Isaiah 6:1-5, you will notice several similarities between Ezekiel’s vision, Isaiah’s vision, and John’s vision, which we are reading in part today.  One thing that you probably will not notice is that in Ezekiel and Revelation, understanding the vision is difficult or impossible.  Dr. Bowen says, “First, the vision itself claims to represent only vaguely what Ezekiel saw, using words ‘something like,’ ‘appearance,’ ‘like,’” and so on.  John does the same thing.

“Second,” she says, “the convoluted syntax or even lack of syntax in the Hebrew, obscured in translation, is problematic.  Some verses simply lack verbs.”  Now, Dr. Bowen is Hebrew scholar, and I just read a little Greek.  But I will say that the books of John and 1, 2, and 3 John are easy-peasy for me to read, and Revelation is difficult.  If you find Ezekiel’s and John’s visions easy to read in English, it’s because the translator has filled things in, smoothed things out, and tried to make sense of them.  The Greek is a lot more like what you read below.

“A third problem is the use of obscure vocabulary.”  John also uses some unusual words:  Now, if you take Biblical Greek, you are rarely required to learn words that occur fewer than 10 times, so all of these count as “obscure vocabulary.”

“Finally,” she concludes, “what Ezekiel sees is bizarre.”  John, too.  However, having seen a vision of God, both Ezekiel and John agree that God is holy.

Other Aspects of God's Character
Glory, Old Testament, New Testament
Holiness, Old Testament, New Testament
Longsuffering, Old Testament, New Testament
Steadfast Love, Old Testament, which is Mercy in the New Testament
Graciousness, Old Testament, which is Grace in the New Testament
Jealousy, Old Testament
Intolerance of Sin, Old Testament, New Testament

Copyright 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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