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The State of Faith
A Study on Holiness

Greek Words For Holy

Deuteronomy 26:18
Also today the Lord has proclaimed you to be His special people, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments
NKJV

When we move to the Greek, the language of the New Testament, we find three different terms used for holy or holiness:

Hieros represents the divine power or what was consecrated to God, the objects that are made holy. This term is used to describe the priests in the Greek Old Testament, but the word group rarely occurs in the New Testament.

Hagios contains an ethical element related to holiness that emphasizes the duty of worship.

Hosios is similar in meaning to hagios, but adds the concepts of divine command and providence (from God&s perspective) while incorporating human obligation and morality (from man&s view point). It points to devoutness and piety.

Hosios is used predominately in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word häsīd. This is a poetical term usually translated along the lines of "loyal" or "pious one" (Ps 50:5; 32:6; 52:9).  From this usage comes the häsīdīm, the pious ones. This group arose a couple of hundred years before Christ and are today represented by the ultra-orthodox Jews of the black hat, black robs and flowing beards. 

In the New Testament, the believers are not häsīdīm but are the chosen, the elect, or the saints (hagios).

Looking at hagios, the term most used in the New Testament, we find a word that means to consecrate or sanctify. It is translated, in context as holy or holiness or sanctify or sanctification. It is also the term translated as "saint." Thus, by "definition," a saint is one who is holy or sanctified. Here, again, the usage of the term in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, presents a contrast as in the Hebrew between the sacred and the profane or common.  While the concept of separation may play a part, the major concept of this usage is on the positive encounter with God. 

The idea of God having a "holy people" (Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21) incorporates both of these concepts. God&s people are to be separated from the practices and rituals of the surrounding religions (cf. Deut 7:5; 14:21). But, they are also to be holy in the positive sense of keeping the Law (Deut 26:18). Indeed, in multiple places through Leviticus, the law is called the "law of holiness."  This leads to the declaration of Leviticus 19:2 (NKJV):

“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

The New Testament adds some interesting contrasts to the Old Testament views of holiness. God is seldom described as "holy" in the New Testament (John 17:11; 1 Pet 1:15; Rev 4:8; 6:10) and Jesus is only once called holy in this same sense (Rev 3:7; but see 1 John 2:20). Secondly, it is the prophetic and the people who are holy, not the objects of the ritual worship. This would be expected in the new economy where we worship God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). 

While, in reality, there are any number of New Testament passages that carry forward the Old Testament tradition of holiness, it is the Holy Spirit who will endow the church with its holy character (Mark 1:21).  The believers are "saints," that is holy, yet, in John 17, Jesus prays that the saints be sanctified or made holy. Believers are "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb 10:10), but are to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12 NKJV).  This is the great process of Christian growth toward spiritual maturity and is related to the fact that holiness arises solely from God. God views us as holy upon justification, but we must work in His power to become holy in the actual practice of our daily walk.

Finally, the Greek uses this single word group for the concept of righteousness.  The righteous man was one whose behavior fell in line with the structure of society so that he fulfilled his obligations to his fellow men and to his gods. In the Old Testament this general concept takes on the concept of a two-way relationship between man and God. Multiple passages speak of God&s righteousness to His creation. Man is expected to join in this righteousness, but the Old Testament passages quoted by Paul in Romans 3 make it clear man is unable to do right toward God.

So, as in the Hebrew, righteousness becomes a trait imputed to men by faith. Faith leads to holiness which brings with it righteousness. 

Genesis 15:6 (NKJV)
6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

Does any of this help us understand holiness? And, if it does, how does this help to explain the current state of faith within the Christian church as move into 2003?

 

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