What Does The Word Holy Mean? Bible Definition of Holy

God is holy but what exactly does the word holy mean?  What does the Bible define as holy?

Root Word for Holy

The Hebrew word for holy is “qodesh” and means “apartness, set-apartness, separateness, sacredness” and I would add that it should also be “otherness, transcendent and totally other” because God is totally above His creation and His creatures, including us.  Holy has the idea of heaviness or weight of glory.  In the New Testament, the word for holy is “hagios” and means set apart, reverend, sacred, and worthy of veneration.”  This word applies to God because God Himself is totally other, separate, sacred, transcendent, reverend, and set apart from every created thing.  Since God is spirit this is why the Third Person of the Trinity is called the Holy Spirit.  He too is fully God and all three Persons of the Trinity are holy and have the weight of glory abounding in them.

Holy, Holy, Holy

God has many attributes just like I do.  I am a father, a husband, a son, an uncle and so on but God is merciful, patient, longsuffering, and abounding in love but the only attribute of God that is mentioned three times is apparently His predominant attribute.  He is not just holy, but He is holy, holy, holy.  In Jewish liturgy, when something is incredibly important, it is mentioned twice.  Jesus does this when He says something twice like “verily, verily” but this is also signifies great intimacy when He repeats someone’s name twice like Moses, Moses; Abraham, Abraham; Saul, Saul…but when something is mentioned three times in a row, it is off the charts in importance and this is why of all the attributes of God He is holy, holy, holy.  That is the greatest emphasis that can be put on anything or anyone in Scripture and this is telling us that this is the most important thing about God.  God is holy, holy, holy.  This is the only attribute of God that is mentioned in the Scriptures three times!

What is Holy

Isaiah’s Vision of God

Isaiah 6:1-4

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”

Isaiah actually saw a vision of the glory of God and this smoke was the Shekinah glory of God.  In ancient days, the length of the train a king’s robe was the measure of his greatness and in this case, God’s train fills the whole temple.  Each of the seraphim angels had six wings and proclaimed “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” and indeed it is.  The seraphim had six wings for this purpose; with two of them they flew, with two of them they covered their face and with the last two they covered his feet.  Why cover their feet and their face?  Because God is too holy for even the holy angels to look directly at.  Remember that God told Moses that He could not see His face directly or he would die.  No man or any created being can look directly at God and not be incinerated (Ex 33:20) so two of the seraphim’s six wings had to cover their face (and eyes) or else too would die.  Next, the other two wings covered their feet because they were standing on holy ground and you might remember when Joshua encountered the pre-incarnate Christ and when Moses approached the burning bush, they were told to remove their shoes from off their feet (Ex 3:5; Joshua 5:15).  That is because the ground where they stood was holy ground and so this explains why even the seraphim had to cover their feet because anywhere that God is will be holy ground.

John’s Vision of Christ

Revelation 4:8

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

Here is where John, like Isaiah, gets a heavenly vision of God.  He sees a vision of Jesus Christ and His glory and the angels (the four living creatures) also had six wings and continuously, “day and night” never stopped repeating “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is and is to come.”  This “who was, and is, and is to come” shows the eternality of Christ.  That He was (has always existed) and is (does exist now) and is to come (will always exist).  He too is holy to the third degree.  Since Jesus is also God, He too is “Holy, holy, holy.”  It appears that these creatures are also seraphim and had six wings for the same purpose that they did in Isaiah’s vision; they flew with two, they covered their face or eyes with the others, and they covered their feet with the remaining two wings. That shows us just how holy God is.  That He is above all things, holy.  This mentioning of his holiness three times could also indicate that there a one holy for each Person of the Trinity and that He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient but most importantly He is holy, holy, holy.

You Must Be Holy

God doesn’t tell us that He is wanting us to be holy or that we can make ourselves holy,“but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:15-16) and God through Moses tells the children of Israel  that they must be “’Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2).  How can we be holy since we are wicked to the core?  Is this even possible?

Conclusion

First John 1:8-9 gives us help in knowing how to be holy as he writes “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  When God cleanses us, we are clean indeed.  In fact, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that is was “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  When the Father sees us, He actually sees Christ’s own righteousness.  When Zechariah had a vision of Joshua the High Priest, which seems to indicate Jesus Christ for Jesus’ Hebrew name is Joshua, he writes “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.”  And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments.”  So we can only be made clean by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

If you have repented and trusted in Christ then it is you of whom they speak in Revelation 7:14 where John writes, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” and “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet 1:19) you can be made holy and acceptable to God.  There is no other way (Acts 4:12).  You will either die in your sins and be judged and found guilty and be separated from God forever (Rev 20:11-15) or you will be one of “his servants [that] will worship him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:3c-5).

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book  Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon

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  • Lois Feiss Douglass

    WONDERFUL article about our God’s incomprehensible holiness!

    But I disagree about OUR holiness.
    You seem to say holiness = being forgiven. But Paul says we were declared “righteous,” “justified,” “reconciled,” when we were saved, …but not “holy.” That word is reserved for things like, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, HOLY and PLEASING to God.” When scripture speaks of our holiness, doesn’t it refer to how we ACTUALLY LIVE– free from the power of sin/self/society… obedient to God… spiritually mature disciples? Isn’t “Sanctification,” (Latin for “holiness”)the same? Jesus says to Christians, not unbelievers, “I counsel you to buy white clothes… so you can cover your shameful nakedness.” (Rev. 3) They were Christians—already saved– but not holy. Peter says, “As OBEDIENT children, don’t conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance… BE holy in all you DO; for it is written: ‘BE holy, because I am holy’.” Holiness isn’t forgiveness. It’s obedience, transformation, growth, spirit-filled-living, purity, discipleship, faithfulness.

    • majac3356

      Holiness is part of our growth in grace…

      • Jack Wellman

        Amen.

      • majac3356

        It literally means “set aside” and that happens the millisecond we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. But Iike conversion, we’ll also spend the rest of our lives growing into it.

    • Jack Wellman

      2 Cor 5:21 says it all for me my friend. Sanctification is “set apart for holy use” from what I have read and studied.

  • sarah

    Thank you for the article Pastor!

    Very Good!

    Enjoyed reading! 🙂

    • Jack Wellman

      Thank you for the encouragment Sarah.

  • John Jaques

    I am grateful for your article on “holy”. It seems to me, you did not go far enough when stating what God expects when He commands us to be holy as He is holy. Purhaps, thinking about what God means we should appeal from the position of sinner before almighty God. The primary purpose of all that God has done and is doing is did us of that which keeps us separated from Him, namely sin (noun). All of God’s efforts are to this one effect, remove all sin and bring mankind back into His presence. To accomplish this we must be without sin. Since we, as sinful humans CA not accomplish this, God has provided the way to holiness. If we will follow God’s plan, He will prepare and present us perfect in His presence. His plan is quite simple: repentance (of sin as a noun) never returning to it, forgiveness, which we petition God for along with repentance, when approved, God gives His faith to us that we can believe. The moment we believe, God justifies us, forgives all past sins, removes guilt and fear of retribution and removes the power of sin(noun). In justification, God does not input our sins to us, this is simple justification. At the same time God also gives us spiritual life, since we are spiritually dear from Adam, He also give initial sanctification, that He may make a claim on us, He adopts us into his family. We then enter what may be called a probationary period, the time between justification and entire sanctification. If we fail to proceed to entire sanctification, we abort God’s work and stagnate until we do move on. In we continue to the second work of grace, God, by His Holy Spirit, eradicated or destroys the sin nature, the root of all sinning, replaces it with a godly nature, enters the heart, sets up His home, having cleansed it, takes His rightful place on the throne of our heart, there to will and to do according to His Holy pleasure. In reality, when the Spirit enters and control, it is as if Jesus continues His ministry in and through us to the nation’s. This is a quick explanation only. Thank you for you time.

  • Mr. Cadillac

    You miss the boat. First you correctly define “holy” as separate, dedicated to God. Then you end up saying in effect that “holy” means sinless. If a vessel in the temple was holy, it meant it was designated for a particular purpose in the temple and was not used for something else. The vessel did not become more holy as the years went by. To say that something is holier than another is a misuse of its definition. Thus as Christians, we don’t get more holy as we live in obedience to God. Either we are holy (i.e., separate and dedicated to God) or we are not. Either we are part of God’s family or not. Either we are Christians or we are not.

  • Stephen McCann

    Thank you for the article on Holiness in the Bible. I have traced qodesh a bit in the Old Testament. I am surprised to learn that the first time qodesh shows up is in Exodus 3:5 It is as if the faithful who proceeded Exodus were in a very different relationship with God than when Moses enters into relationship with God. Amazing when you consider the faithfulness of Abraham as spelled out in Hebrews 11. Thank you so much. Very thought provoking essay.