On Holism, Holiness, and Wholeness

On Holism, Holiness, and Wholeness October 4, 2018

Have you ever wondered about what the Bible says about humanity?  What did God create man to be?  In what ways did The Fall affect us?  Did our Lord restore some sort of wholeness that we had lost?

These questions were at the core of a seminary project I undertook.  I found I was not alone in my curiosity.  Many scholars were chasing these questions, including those in the social science fields.[1]

i. Adam: Wholeness


And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  (Genesis 1.26, King James Version)

James Strong defines the word likeness as, “resemblance; concretely model, shape.”[2]

Stanley Horton reveals that, “the image and likeness have to do with the spiritual and moral nature of man.”[3]

J.H. Hertz states, “Man is made in the ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ of God: his character is potentially Divine.”[4]

Therefore, it seems like the word likeness refers to the whole human being as the only creation that resembles the Creator.


We see the likeness of God in man’s ability to have communion or fellowship with God.

God’s greatest gift to us at the beginning was not the order of creation or the beauty of the Garden, but the fellowship of his own person and the capability to enter into that fellowship.[5]

No other creature has the distinction of being called God’s friend (Exodus 33.11; John 15.15).

God’s Word

Adam is commanded to stay away from the forbidden fruit so that he can maintain fellowship with God.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2.17)

Consequently, man seems to be capable of making choices based on God’s revealed will or Word.  This is, “the one eternal and unfailing guide as to what constitutes good and evil – and not man’s instincts, or even his Reason, which in the hour of temptation often call light darkness and darkness light.”[6]


God calls creation good.  Then He creates Adam and Eve and, “it was very good” (Genesis 1.31).  Man shares his dignity with creation, but seems to be the first or greatest of creation.  However, the Creator is who gives man his true dignity.

Holiness describes this concept. Holiness means sacred.  The root word of holiness means ceremonially clean.[7]  Holiness means set apart or sacred.  God is holy, set apart.  God makes us in His image, sets us apart, makes us holy.

Jones and Butman state that the term holy, “literally means being set apart to God’s purposes and manifesting his righteous character.”[8]  So man’s holiness comes from being set apart from creation to the Creator.


Horace and Ava English define holism as a, “doctrine that a living being has properties which pertain to the whole rather than to its constituent parts, and that the dynamics of a living whole cannot be explained as resulting from independent elements.”[9]

Similarly, Jones and Butman use the term heart in a holistic manner: “The scriptural emphasis on heart teaches us the importance of understanding ourselves as a unity.”[10]  Although holism, holiness, and wholeness are related terms, they are not the same.

For instance, a holistic approach that does not link man to God does not fully address what makes a man whole.

Michelangelo Buonarroti | Creation of Adam
Sistine Chapel, 1508-1512 | Public Domain

God makes Adam whole as He makes Adam in His likeness.  Adam communes with God and obeys God’s Word.  He is God’s unique, holy creature.

ii. Adam’s Fall: from Wholeness to Insecurity

In Genesis 3.1-5, the serpent does not try to dispute the fact that there is a God.  Eck and Moon report that, “95% of Americans report that they believe in God.”[11]  For the serpent to convince Eve to become an atheist would have been a long shot.

The serpent tries to distort what Eve believes about God.  Perhaps the serpent is saying something like, “The forbidden fruit is an attempt by God to keep you and Adam down!”  Although they are perfectly whole, they begin to believe that they can be better.  This makes them insecure in their present state, the first incident of low self-esteem.

This insecurity is common to man.  “82% [of Americans] report they pray for health or success.”[12]  Why does man pray for these things?

Man believes that perfect health or great success can improve the self, or make one whole.  Success or performance-based goals can lead to perfectionism.  Unmet goals lead to discouragement.  Even if one does meet his goals, he often finds that achievements do not make one whole.  Depression often results.

iii. The 2nd Adam: from Insecurity to Perfection

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5.48)

Jesus commands a perfection that is not based on performance or flawlessness.  The word perfection literally means, “complete.”[13]  Man’s wholeness is restored through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Since this wholeness is based on God’s love, He restores security as well.  God offers us the security of being, “loved without needing to change in order to win love, loved by a love that is freely given, that cannot be earned and therefore cannot be lost.”[14]

The minister or therapist who identifies with God, can be a tool that God uses to minister to the individual and restore wholeness first.

Jones and Butman state that we can work with the Holy Spirit, “by being paracletes ourselves, drawing alongside another with hope and comfort.”[15]  As a result, the unconditional love of God that restores wholeness can be expressed through the relationship.


[1] Jared V. Ingle, “Nine Biblical Factors of Personality, Abnormality, and Change in the Creation Account,” (paper presented in Interpersonal Techniques in Helping Relationships, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, MO, December 9, 2003).

Toward a Biblical Concept of Personality

[2] James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1961), 31.
Amazon: Strong’s Concordance

[3] Stanley Horton, What the Bible says about the Holy Spirit (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1976), 21.
Amazon: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit [4] J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, 2nd ed. (London: Soncino Press, 1960), 5.
Amazon: Pentateuch and Haftorahs
[5] Stanton Jones and Richard Butman, Modern Psychotherapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 49.
Amazon: Modern Psychotherapies
[6] Hertz, 8. [7] Strong, 1961. [8] Jones and Butman, 57. [9] A Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychological and Psychoanalytical Terms (New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1958), 240.
Amazon: Dictionary of Psychological Terms
[10] Jones and Butman, 46. [11] Brian Eck and Gary Moon, “An Exploration of the Therapeutic use of Spiritual Disciplines in Clinical Practice,” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 21, no. 3 (2002), 267.

[12] Ibid., 267-268.

[13] Strong, 71. [14] Larry Crabb, The Marriage Builder: A Blueprint for Couples and Counselors (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 29.
Amazon: The Marriage Builder
[15] Jones and Butman, 407.

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