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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Holiness Purity

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This article is intended to include the conceptions of holiness and purity as we find them in the literature of the Apostolic Church. So far as the Gospels are concerned, these have already been dealt with in separate articles in the Dict. of Christ and the Gospels , to which reference is now made. There is a certain advantage in dealing with both subjects in one article, as the two are fundamentally connected; and in the course of the article it will be found that the tie is very close. Both are primarily religious ideas, whose ethical significance diverges. In the NT holiness emphasizes rather the Divine side, and purity the human side of that comprehensive condition of peace with and access to God the Father, along with all the consequences for character which had been mediated through the gospel of Jesus Christ. There seems to be no fundamental difference in the use of the terms ‘holiness’ and ‘purity’ by the various NT writers. Hence the method followed in the article has been to use in illustration of the general conceptions certain leading NT passages.

I. Holiness

1. The general conception.-The original idea is stated by A. B. Davidson (Ezekiel, Cambridge, 1892, p. xxxix) to be ‘not now recoverable’ (cf. Robertson Smith, RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites (W. Robertson Smith).] 2, London, 1894, p. 140). The most plausible suggestion is that it is connected with a root = ‘separate.’ Our idea of holiness is misleading for the interpretation of both OT and NT meaning. To us, holiness is exclusively an ethico-religious quality, attaching to persons, in so far as they are God-like in life and character; and applied (less accurately) to institutions (including sacraments) on account of their religious significance. In ancient Semitic religion, the ‘holiness’ of God or of men had nothing to do with morality and ethical purity of life. Even in Israel it came to be an appropriate epithet of, almost a synonym for, Deity (cf. Amos 4:2; Amos 6:8. where God is said to swear ‘by his holiness,’ and ‘by himself,’ without any real difference of meaning). In other words, ‘holiness’ is a relative term in ancient religion.

‘The divine holiness was not so much an object of intellectual contemplation as a fact borne In upon the mind by the constant presence of things and persons that might not be touched, places that might not he entered, and times in which ordinary employments were suspended, because of their appropriation to the service or worship of God’ (J. Skinner, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii. 397a; cf. E. Schultz, OT Theology, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1892, p. 168ff.).

Holiness is not to be confused with transcendence in its application to God. Jahweh, as holy, in Hebrew thought is not originally opposed to the universe, but rather is guarded or guards Himself, on the one hand against the arrogance and presumption of man (1 Samuel 6:20) and, on the other, against the false deity of the national gods (Joshua 4:19 ff.). The Hebrews, in transferring the epithet to Jahweh, also took over the ancient idea involved in it, and persisting in the NT, that any thing or person that comes into any relation with Deity is ipso facto holy. Any part of God Himself may be holy (e.g. His arm, His spirit); or what constitutes His property is ‘holy’ (e.g. His sanctuary, land, people, offerings, or ministers). Angels are also called ‘holy ones’ (Job 5:1).

The real antithesis to ‘holy’ in this original sense is, therefore, ‘profane’ or ‘common’ (ḥôl, βέβηλος, lit. [Note: literally, literature.] ‘that which is allowed to be trodden’ [Leviticus 10:10, 1 Samuel 21:4, 1 Timothy 4:7; 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 2:16]; used in the NT of men [1 Timothy 1:9, Hebrews 12:16]), The ‘holy’ was also accessible only under certain strict ceremonial regulations. And it is just at this point that the affinity of holiness and purity or cleanness becomes apparent (see further under II.).

2. The NT conception.-This idea of ‘holiness’ as essentially a relationship between God and man, in which God takes the initiative, persists all through the NT; and it is obvious that, as the idea of God developed, holiness would also tend to carry with it ever-increasing moral demands on character. We may therefore turn to the uses of the word in the NT.

There are two main groups of words translated ‘holy’ in the NT: (1) the ἄγιος group (ἀγιάζω, ἀγιασμός, ἀγιότης, ἀγιωσύνη); (2) the ὄσιος group (ὁσιότης, ὁσίως [1 Thessalonians 2:10]). ἱερός is also twice employed (e.g. 2 Timothy 3:15, 1 Corinthians 9:13), but it need not be specially distinguished.

In the NT the terms ‘holiness’ and ‘holy’ are applied (1) to God; (2) to Jesus; (3) to the Spirit of God; (4) to things and places; (5) to men.

(1) The holiness of God.-That ‘holiness’ and ‘holy’ are comparatively infrequent in this connexion in the NT need occasion no surprise. The Apostolic Church in the name ‘Father’ found a term that included and transcended the holiness of God. Jesus’ own description of God is the ‘perfect’ One (Matthew 5:48), the ‘good’ One (Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18). As we shall see later, however, the judgment of Ritschl (Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, Bonn, 1870-74, ii. 89, 101; Eng. translation of vol. iii., Edinburgh, 1900, p. 274) that the Divine holiness, ‘in its Old Testament sense, is for various reasons not valid in Christianity, while its use in the New Testament is obscure,’ cannot be upheld. Rather there are whole tracts of the NT literature that would remain a sealed book were it not for the guidance of this OT conception. ἄγιος is applied to God, or to the ‘name’ of God (Luke 1:49, Revelation 4:8), In both these usages the significance is the same, and recalls the original meaning. The conception of the majesty of God is most prominent. In Revelation 4:8 it is the ζῷα who offer the ascription of praise in the form of the Trisagion. If they are taken as representing Nature, and the forces of the natural world, ἄγιος here no doubt emphasizes the sense of ‘absolute life and majestic power’ (J. Moffatt, Expositor’s Greek Testament v. [1910] 381). There is a reminiscence of Isaiah 6:3, but with a remarkable absence of the overwhelming impression of moral purity in the prophet’s vision. The ethical content of the OT conception is apparent, however, in Revelation 6:10. There the thought has affinity with Isaiah 5:18, where God is said to ‘sanctify’ Himself, by inflicting righteous punishment on the sinners of Israel. The blood of the martyrs cries for the Divine vengeance, and the holiness of God must always express itself in the form of intense antagonism to the suffering of the innocent and the sin of the oppressor. Probably another side of the same idea is present in John 17:11, where the Saviour appeals to the holiness of the Father that, in view of the trials and persecutions likely to come upon them, the disciples who are ‘in the world’ may be protected and vindicated (cf. John 17:17; John 17:25). The Father, as holy, transcends and is separate from the world, but condescends to the needs of the disciples-in other words, ‘saves’ them (H. J. Holtzmann). The usage in 1 Peter 1:15 f. is interesting; ἄγιος ought to be translated as predicate. The exhortation is based on Leviticus 11:44 f., and has no direct connexion with the more profound thought of Matthew 5:48. The ‘holiness’ inculcated in the Leviticus passage involves the disuse as food of certain ‘creeping things’ regarded as repugnant and an ‘abomination’ to God. As often, holiness and physical purity tend to coalesce. God has called Israel out of Egypt to be a ‘separate’ nation, and He is ‘holy’ or ‘apart from’ the impure usages of heathen nations (cf. Skinner, Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ii, 397b; E. Kautzsch, ib. v. 682), The idea in Leviticus does not go beyond ceremonial purity (see under II.). Similarly in 1 Peter 1:15 f., while the idea of God has of course become moralized, and He is spoken of as ‘Father,’ the exhortation is essentially to abandon the ‘former lusts,’ on the ground that they too are repugnant to the nature of God and unfit men for the service of the ‘living God.’ The stress is still on the outward behaviour. As regards the expression ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2), ‘name’ is of course used in the ordinary biblical sense, and is equivalent to the revealed nature of God, especially as revealed in Jesus-His Fatherhood. There is an implied contrast with a pagan type of prayer (v. 7f.), which consists in formal and ceremonial repetitions of the same words. Jesus here applies the same revolutionary principle to prayer, in so far as it implies a conception of the character of God, as when He abrogates the ceremonial in conduct as a term of fellowship with God (Matthew 15:11, Mark 7:15). God is ‘the Holy One of Israel,’ and His name is hallowed or sanctified, or ‘counted as holy,’ when men revere His majesty (Isaiah 29:23), by recognizing, in willing and trustful submission. His Providence (Matthew 6:8). The whole context in Matthew 6:1-8 is useful as determining the sense in which holiness is here ascribed to God by Jesus. The ‘hallowing’ of the name is opposed to ostentatious worship, which profanes it. The ethical content given to the word (Matthew 6:5) by our Lord is profound and far-reaching. The God, and Father, of Jesus is indeed ‘exalted above’ men in the perfection of His ‘goodness’ (Mark 10:13, Matthew 19:17); but He is also infinitely accessible to all those who seek Him. Universalism is therefore latent in this opening petition.

The noun ἀγιότης is used of God (a) in 2 Corinthians 1:12 (ἐν ἁγιότητι καὶ εἰλικρινεὶᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ); and (b) also in Hebrews 12:10 (εἰς τὸ μεταλαβεῖν τῆς ἁγιότητος αὐτοῦ) (cf. 2 Maccabees 15:2).

(a) Another reading is ἁπλότητι (אc DEGL, the Latin and Syrian VSS [Note: SS Versions.] ). ἁγιότητι is supported by א* ABCKMP 17, 37, 73 and the Bohairic. St. Paul is claiming that his conduct is characterized by these Divine qualities, and ‘in so far as they are displaced his men they are God’s gift, as he goes on to explain’ (J. H. Bernard, Expositor’s Greek Testament iii. [1903] 42). Denney finely paraphrases: ‘In a holiness and sincerity which God bestows, in an element of crystal transparency, I have led my apostolic life’ (2 Corinthians [in Expositor’s Bible, London, 1894], p. 30). Here, again, the affinity is apparent between the conceptions of purity and holiness. St. Paul is claiming to have walked ‘in the light, as he is in the light.’ The thought is akin to the Johannine idea ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5).

(b) The word in Hebrews is used similarly to indicate a holiness of God that can be imparted to men. The conception here is not of a holiness that is only possible after death (H. von Soden). We may compare Hebrews 12:14, ‘without holiness, no man shall see the Lord,’ where, however, the word is ἀγιασμός, or ‘consecration’ (see Sanctification), the process, of which ἁγιότης is the result. Here, again, we can detect, shining through the depth of ethical meaning, the fundamental idea of holiness as ‘separation.’

‘ “Holiness” or sanctity in God is properly separation or distance from the world and elevation above it; holiness in men is separation from the world and dedication unto God’ (A. B. Davidson, Hebrews, p. 238).

It is significant, as indicating the immense progress attained in the Christian idea, that in the only two instances in he NT where the ἁγιότης of God is spoken of as an abstract term, men are represented as sharing in it.

Th. Haering (The Christian Faith, Eng. translation , London, 1913, i. 345) aptly cites the words ‘ye would not’ (Matthew 23:37) as the expression of a love that is also holiness, in its reaction against sin. These are words, he says, ‘which in their simple seriousness are not surpassed by the awful saying in Hebrews 12:29.’ The love of God in the NT is awe-inspiring in its holiness, which, equally with love, is a term that may be used to express the glorious fullness of His moral excellence. Holiness is the principle and standard of God’s love, which is His desire ‘to impart’ Himself and all good to other beings, and to possess them as His own in spiritual fellowship (W. N. Clarke, Outline of Christian Theology, Edinburgh, 1898, p. 98f.). The reaction of the nature of God against sin is itself love, because thereby it exercises the means for overcoming the opposition to love. The ‘wrath’ of God (e.g. Romans 1:18) is a conception that can be adequately expressed and understood only in terms of the biblical conception of His holiness. Holiness, it has to be remembered, is not strictly an attribute, but the fullness of the Divine nature, as love is. We cannot set these two conceptions naively side by side. One of the theological tasks of the present is to procure an adequate adjustment of these two aspects of the Divine nature to one another. No theological writer of modern times has realized and met the need so strikingly as Haering (see esp. ii. 494ff. of his work already quoted).

‘We are … face to face with the mystery of the Divine personality, of which we are compelled to think as life capable of being moved to its utmost depths, without however being able to press this necessary idea, [of holiness] to its logical conclusions’ (ib. ii. 495).

We must recognize that the love of God, like all perfect love, has ‘height,’ as well as ‘depth,’ if we would be filled ‘unto all the fulness of God’ (Ephesians 3:16 f.).

(2) The holiness of Jesus.-In Luke 1:35 the child Jesus in His pre-natal existence is called τὸ γεννώμενον ἄγιον, ‘that holy thing that is being generated’ (cf. Matthew 1:20). The expression has no special significance in connexion with the subject of this article The Holy Spirit is regarded as the origin of the physical existence of Jesus; and therefore the embryo is entirely holy, as deriving existence from God. The application of the term to the physical nature of Jesus must be regarded as the result of reflexion, no doubt influenced by Hellenistic thought, and perhaps in opposition to Docetic theories of His Person. It belongs to a milieu where the theological idea of the pre-existence of Jesus has given way to a more popular conception of His physical birth (cf. Luke 1:15) (see article Holy Spirit). We are also faced here with the problem of a possible interpolation in Luke 1:34-35 (Moffatt, Introd. to Literature of the New Testament (Moffatt)., p. 268ff.).

Jesus is also referred to as ‘the Holy One of God’ (Mark 1:24, Luke 4:34, John 6:69 [acc. to the true reading]). The phrase is evidently a designation of the Messiah. The demons are represented as acknowledging that Jesus is ‘the Holy One of God,’ i.e. One who has been chosen, equipped, and consecrated for the service of humanity against the might of the demonic powers that brought disease and madness by taking possession of the bodies of men. This was regarded in contemporary Jewish thought as a function of the Messiah. The epithet ‘holy’ is used in the same sense of consecration to special service in John 6:69, which again may be compared with John 10:36 : ὃν ὁ πατὴρ ἡγίασεν, i.e. set apart for a special mission. No feature, however, of the consciousness of Jesus in the Johannine Gospel is more marked than the emphasis on the idea that Jesus in His essential nature transcends the ordinary Messianic categories. Therefore, although ὁ νἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ cannot be regarded as the reading in John 6:69, the same conception of the moral and religious relationship of Jesus with God, His unique Sonship, as transcending Messianic categories (μονογενής), expressed so frequently in the Johannine writings by ὁ νἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ or ὁ νἱός, must be regarded as implicit in ὁ ἄγιος τοῦ θεοῦ (cf. ῥήματα ζωῆς αἱωνίου ἔχεις [John 6:68]. Jesus is called ὁ ἅγιος absolutely in Revelation 3:7 (ὁ ἄγιος ὁ ἀληθινός) and in 1 John 2:20. In the latter passage the idea of the transference of the χρἱσμα may or may not have an affinity with Hellenistic mystery-religion (R. Reitzenstein, Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen, Leipzig, 1910, p. 206f.); but in any case the χρίσμα itself is to be connected with such passages as Exodus 29:7; Exodus 30:31, and Jesus is ‘holy’ because He has been ‘anointed’ or set apart for His particular mission, wherein He perfectly reveals and perfectly does the will of God, In Johannine thought, the Holy Spirit is conferred on Jesus without measure (John 3:34); it ‘abides’ in Him (John 1:32 f.). It is the source of His unique filial consciousness, and in this sense He is set apart by God for His mission, and perfectly carries it out. It is extremely questionable if the Johannine writings ever contemplate the metaphysical notion of the essential oneness of the Father and the Son, however justifiable it may be to deduce that conception from the main position adopted, viz. a ‘oneness’ of love and will. The Johannine position, however, as to the ‘oneness’ of God and Jesus is clearly developed in the face of physical notions of union with deity, derived from the Hellenistic mystery-religions (cf. W. Bousset, Kyrios Christos, Göttingen, 1913, p. 186ff.). It is significant that the relationship expressed by ἁγιάζειν between God and Jesus is one that may be conferred on men by Jesus (cf. John 17:17-19).

In the Book of Acts Jesus is called τὸν ἄγιον καὶ δίκαιον (Acts 3:14), where the epithet is simply an equivalent for the Messiah; and it has the same meaning in Acts 4:27 (τὸν ἄγιον παῖδά σου), where παῖδα is to be translated ‘servant’ in the sense of Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 61:1 (see R. J. Knowling, Expositor’s Greek Testament ii. [1900], on Acts 3:13).

Hitherto we have been dealing with instances of the use of ἄγιος. In Acts 2:27 τὸν ὄσιόν σου follows the Septuagint translation of Psalms 16:10, and is rendered in the Authorized Version and Revised Version ‘Thy holy one.’ ὄσιος is generally used in the Septuagint to render ḥâsîd (cf. Deuteronomy 33:8, 2 Samuel 22:36, etc.). Ḥâsîd seems to be governed in its primary meaning by that of ḥesed (= ‘loving-kindness’), and to mean ‘one who is the object of God’s loving-kindness.’

‘In its primary sense the word Implies no moral praise or merit; but it came, not unnaturally, to be connected with the idea chesed as “loving-kindness” between man and man, and to be used of the character which reflected that love of which it was itself the object; and finally was applied oven to God Himself. (A. F. Kirkpatrick, Psalms, Cambridge, 1902, Appendix, note I., p. 835f.).’

ὄσιος is applied to God only in Revelation 15:4; Revelation 16:5 in the NT. It is again applied to Jesus in Hebrews 7:26 (ἀρχιερεὺς ὄσιος ἄκακος), where the root distinction between ὄσιος and ἄγιος becomes apparent. The writer is speaking of Christ’s moral fitness to be our High Priest, and therefore lays stress on the fact that He is ὄσιος, as exhibiting a perfect filial reverence and devotion to His Father’s will. ὄσιος here is the summary, and also indicates the common source of those inward qualities that constituted the ‘holy’ character of Jesus. It is interesting to note that ὄσιος is conjoined with δίκαιος (ὁσιότης with δικαιοσύνη in Luke 1:75; ὁσίως with δικαίως in 1 Thessalonians 2:10) in most of the instances of its use in the NT. This is also frequently the case in classical usage. The central idea in both ὄσιος and δίκαιος is conduct sanctioned by Divine Law; and ὄσιος seems to express the Godward, δίκαιος the manward, side of such conduct.

It is perplexing to find that in classical usage ὄσιος came to mean also ‘profane,’ but this is accounted for if we remember that a ‘profane’ place is one that may be trodden by all without doing violence be the majesty of the god; ‘profane’ conduct, i.e., is conduct allowed by the God. Of the latter usage there is no trace in the NT. The word need is always βέβηλος.

ὄσιος, therefore, comes to mean ‘holy,’ approaching much more nearly to our use of the word in English. In all the uses of the word In the NT, even in the semi-technical applications to Messiah quoted from Acts, the reference is to moral conduct, considered as fitness for the service of God (cf. 1 Timothy 2:8). (For the Greek conception of ὄσιος see article ‘Holiness [Greek]’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics .)

In Romans 1:4 St. Paul says that Jesus was ‘designated (almost = ‘installed,’ ὁρισθέντος) Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness (κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης) by a resurrection of the dead.’ πενῦμα ἁγιωσύνης cannot here be merely an equivalent of ‘Holy Spirit’ (but see Feine, Neutest Theologie, pp. 346f., 452). The expression ‘characterises Christ ethically, as κατὰ σάρκα (Romans 1:3) does physically’ (Denney, Expositor’s Greek Testament ii. 586). It is along the lines of this clearly implied distinction between πνεῦμα and σάρξ that the meaning must be found. There is, however, here no accurate and definite theological distinction between the Divine and the human nature of Jesus. St. Paul is thinking of the complete Personality of Jesus (as also when he says previously κατὰ σάρκα), and ho means the human πνεῦμα (as the human σάρξ) of Jesus, the former distinguished by a unique ‘holiness’ (cf. Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15). This ‘holiness,’ as always, consists in complete and unswerving consecration to God, and is manifested in all those qualities that constituted the Personality of Jesus. The Resurrection of Jesus is the signal acknowledgment by God of the fact. The idea is part of a Messianic apologetic against current Jewish notions. The holiness of Jesus is His complete response to the choice of God in sending His Son to be the Saviour of men, and evokes an equivalent response on the part of God in the miracle of the Resurrection. It is the holiness of men, as constituting an indestructible relationship with God, that is the basis of the flickering hope of immortality in the sense of an endless life with God that we find here and there in the OT. Men have committed themselves to Him, with all that the step involves for conduct, and the promise of the future rests on His faithfulness and power (cf. Psalms 73:17, where ‘sanctuary’ is really ‘the holy things of God’ or ‘the ultimate deeds of God in the full character of His holiness’ [G. A. Smith, Modern Criticism and the Preaching of the OT, London, 1901, p. 206]). It is not without significance, both for the conception of ἁγιωσύνη in Romans 1:4 as applied to Jesus and for the connexion of the Resurrection of Jesus with human immortality, that St. Paul here uses the phrase, strange in this connexion, ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, evidently meaning a resurrection in which others will share.

(3) Holy Spirit (see article Holy Spirit)

(4) Holiness applied to things and places.-The uses under this heading need no elucidation. We have ἁγίαν πόλιν (Matthew 27:53, Revelation 11:2; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:10); ἁγίας διαθήκης (Luke 1:72); ἁγίον τόπου (Acts 6:13); ἁγίαις γραφαῖς (Romans 1:2); ἄγιος νόμος, ἁγία ἐντολή (Romans 7:12); ἁγίας διαθήκης (2 Corinthians 13:12); ἁγίῳ ὄρει (2 Peter 1:18); ἅγιος ναός (1 Corinthians 3:17). In one or two of these (e.g. 2 Peter 1:18) we seem to see the word assuming a formal or traditional sense. This usage is much more common in the OT than in the NT. Over these things and places, as specially related to the redemptive economy of God, God is represented as exercising a watchful care. They ‘belong’ to Him, as also do His ‘saints’ (see article Saint).

(5) Holiness as applied to men.-A large part of what is appropriate to this heading will he found under the article Saint. This is a very common term, especially in the writings of St. Paul, Hebrews, and Revelation, for the ordinary member of the Christian community. The ‘saints’ are those ‘consecrated’ to the service of God. The word does not imply necessarily perfection of moral character, but it does imply, and is used frequently to enforce the teaching, that those that are ‘holy’ in this sense must become daily more fitted, morally and spiritually, for the service to which they are committed (Romans 6:17-18; Romans 6:22, 1 Peter 1:15-16).

The usage of the word ἅγιος as applied to men may be expected to be governed by the idea, applicable also to things and places, that what is related to God or is used in His service is itself ‘holy.’ Accordingly we find such usages as ἅγιαι προφῆται (Luke 1:70, Acts 3:21, 2 Peter 3:2); ἁγίους ἀποστόλους (Ephesians 3:5); ἅγιαι γυναῖκες (1 Peter 3:5). All these are so spoken of, primarily, as those who have been or are the special instruments of the Divine will and in intimate fellowship with God in the work of revelation and redemption.

Those uses of ἁγιάζω in the NT where the dominant application of the term seems to be deliverance from the guilt of sin by the death of Jesus are not included in this article, but will be dealt with under Sanctification. In the OT ‘guilt’ or the sense of guilt is the objective effect of sin (see article Sin; Schultz, OT Theology, ii 306ff.). It is a state of alienation from God, a rupture of the relationship between God and man, or God and the nation, which can be restored only by on act of expiation. It must be carefully noted that where ἅγιος or ἁγιάζω is employed in the NT in this sense the primary meaning of the words as=‘in relationship with God’ is still retained. In one passage St. Paul seems to use ἁγιάζω practically synonymous with δικαιόω (1 Corinthians 6:11) (cf. Feine, Neutest. Theologie, p. 436). The Corinthians are ‘justified’ or ‘acquitted’ ‘in the name of’ Jesus, i.e. restored to a relationship of love with God (cf. Ephesians 5:28, Hebrews 10:10; Hebrews 10:29). Christian holiness in its moral aspect is expressed by καθαρίζειν in Hebrews 9:14 (cf. O. Pfleiderer, Paulinism, Eng. translation , London, 1877, ii. 68ff.).

Two Pauline passages call for special mention: Romans 11:6 and 1 Corinthians 7:14; 1 Corinthians 7:34 (cf. Ephesians 5:26). In both of these the conception is that the sanctification of the part involve the sanctification of the whole. In the one case St. Paul is stating the grounds on which he bases his confidence in the future of Israel. He bases it upon the holiness of the Patriarchs (v. 28) from whom they are descended.

‘By the offering of the first-fruits, the whole mass was considered to be consecrated; and so the holiness of the Patriarchs consecrated the whole people from whom they came’ (Sanday-Headlam, Romans 5, Edinburgh, 1902, p. 326, in loco). The thought is on the analogy of Numbers 15:19-21.

In the second passage, the Apostle is dealing with the problem of marriage with an unbeliever, and argues against dissolution of the tie in such cases, on the ground that the Christian partner, as one member of the relationship, thereby ‘sanctifies’ the other, in virtue of the fact that they are one. The result attaches to the children also. We must be careful, however, not to attach too great moral significance to ‘sanctify.’ The thought moves strictly within the biblical conception of holiness. Only such marriages are contemplated as have taken place before conversion (2 Corinthians 6:14). The unbelieving husband is introduced by union with the believing wife into the sphere of ‘holiness.’ Holiness is not a moral but a religious condition. At the same time, it is not going beyond the actual thought of the Apostle to say that the effect of his words on the believer would be to create a new conception and a new sense of moral and spiritual responsibility for the unbelieving partner. The word ἁγιάζω is in this passage, as it were, caught in the act of passing from the ceremonial to the moral meaning. It is a legitimate inference that the Christian’s friends, or possessions, or abilities-all that is indissolubly connected with his personality-should in this sense be holy. At the same time, the emphasis on physical descent in Romans 11:16 shows that St. Paul has not completely transcended materialistic and ceremonial notions in the conception of holiness; and a similar emphasis may be detected in the passage from 1 Corinthians. The idea is still present that holiness can be transferred by physical contact (cf. Exodus 29:37, Isaiah 65:5, reading ‘lest I make thee holy’).

In conclusion, it is advisable to point out the reason for laying stress on the primary conception of ἅγιος in our interpretation of the term in the NT. It is impossible to miss, in the application of ἁγιωσύνη to Jesus in Romans 1:4, or in the frequent conjunction of the ἅγιος and καθαρός groups of “words, as in Ephesians 5:26 f., Hebrews 9:14, or in many of the uses of ἅγιος [e.g. 1 Peter 1:16), the sense that perfection of moral character is intimately bound up with the term, and is never absent in the thought of the NT writers. Wherein, then, consists the significance of the fact that the primary meaning of a relationship to God or to Christ is always dominant? Why is it so pre-eminently a religious rather than an ethical conception? It is very remarkable that an idea common to all ancient religions, where often it has an origin and expression in materialistic forms of thought, should so persistently reappear in the early Christian religion. Undoubtedly thereby the content of the ideal Christian character has been enlarged, deepened, and purified. Holiness comes before morality, as the source before the river. In the Christian ethics, there is no divorce between holiness and virtue, nor can there be. The choice of men by God, His call, and His setting of them apart for His service-an act sometimes conceived as not a thing of time merely, but begun in the far-off moment of pre-mundane existence ‘in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 1:4)-must have increased a thousand-fold the grandeur of the moral motive presented even to the weakest, most despicable, and most unworthy ‘saint.’ The thought is indeed conceived in the Spirit of Him who invited all to receive the love He came to reveal, and established for all time in the heart of His Church the value of each individual life before God, the Father, Moreover, the gift of the Holy Spirit meant essentially that all the graces of the Christian character had their origin in the gift and grace of God Himself. The initiative lies with Him. Love is the fulfilling of the Law. Christians conduct is not a task set by God, but a sharing of the Divine nature t not a doctrine, but a life.

‘To the men who wrote the NT and to those for whom they wrote, the Spirit was not a doctrine but an experience; they did not speak of believing in the Holy Spirit, but of receiving the Holy Spirit when they believed’ (Denney, Dict. of Christ and the Gospels i. 731a).

The gospel of Christ has ever been attended with risk of antinomianism, a risk that it has always been willing to take and able to meet (Galatians 5:13, Romans 6:14). The present-day phenomenon of ‘practical’ Christianity, as distinct from spiritual and devotional-‘enthusiasm for humanity’-is really, in its fundamental conception, out of accord with the teaching of the NT on holiness, as a summary of the Christian character. What characterizes the NT writers everywhere is their ‘enthusiasm for God,’ as revealed in Jesus, and the social conscience is a manifestation from the same religious source. ‘Thy brother for whom Christ died’ is the conception that has revolutionized social life. The term ἅγιος in its moral demand dredges the conscience of men, and reaches to the very springs of human conduct (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:1). The same predicate ἅγιος can be used of God and of man; and where the need of a substitute is felt, none worthier can be found than in the great saying, ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι ὡς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν (Matthew 5:48). The notion of ‘Christian perfection’ found in 1 Jn (1 John 5:18, etc.) can only be reached by realizing that in the Johannine thought the OT conception of holiness is for the most part expressed in more or less mystical fashion under the influence of Greek thought as ‘union with God in Christ,’ but that, notwithstanding, the Johannine ‘sinlessness’ is not in the end faultlessness. It is rather the inevitable issue in character of complete loyalty to Jesus Christ (see Perfect, Perfection).

II. Purity.-There are two groups of words in the NT that are translated ‘pure,’ ‘purify,’ ‘purge,’ or ‘cleanse.’ In the Revised Version ‘cleanse’ is substituted for ‘purge’ of the Authorized Version in certain passages, but is retained in 1 Corinthians 5:7, 2 Timothy 2:21, Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 9:22. (l) καθαρός, καθαρίζω (Hellenistic form of καθαίρω), καθαρισμός, καθαρίζω; καθαίρω; διακαθαρίζω; κάθαρμα, περικάθαρμα; ἀκάθαρτος, ἀκαθαρσία; (2) ἁγνός, ἁγνίζω, ἁγνότης, ἁγνῶς; ἁγνεία; ἁγνισμός. In addition we have βαπτισμός in the sense of ‘cleansing,’ in Mark 7:4, Hebrews 6:2; Hebrews 9:10; ῥαντίζω, ῥαντισμός (translation ‘sprinkle,’ ‘sprinkling’), especially in Hebrews; εἰλικρινής (‘pure’).

The ideas of purity and holiness are most clearly associated if we consider their joint affinity with the ancient religious notion of tabu. The subject cannot be fully entered upon here, but Robertson Smith (RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites (W. Robertson Smith).] 2, p. 152ff.) and A. S. Peake (‘Unclean, Uncleanness’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ) should be consulted. It is of advantage, for the sake of clearness of thought, to note that in ancient religion the notion of ‘uncleanness’ is primary and positive, and that ‘cleanness’ is really its opposite, and the negative form. This consideration is of importance as being really the origin of that negative morality connected with Jewish ceremonial religion which Jesus abrogated for ever (Luke 11:24; Luke 11:26).

‘In rules of holiness the motive is respect for the gods, in rules of uncleanness it is primarily fear of an unknown or hostile power, though ultimately, as we see in the Levitical legislation, the law of clean and unclean may be brought, within the sphere or divine ordinances, on the view that uncleanness is hateful to God and must be avoided by all that have to do with Him’ (Robertson Smith, RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites (W. Robertson Smith).] 2, p. 153).

The attitude of Jesus towards ceremonial uncleanness does not properly fall within the scope of this article (see articles ‘Purification’, ‘Purity’ in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels ii.). The scribes, by an elaborate system of casuistry, laid down minute regulations and interpretations of the ceremonial laws of purity; and these dominated the whole religion of Judaism in our Lord’s day. They became a grievous burden, under which men became ‘weary and heavy-laden.’ The gracious invitation of Matthew 11:28 is also the herald of a great religious revolution, and it is in connexion with the ceremonial requirements connected with hand-washing that Jesus enunciates the great law, repealing all the Levitical rules as to unclean meats (Mark 7:6-23, Matthew 15:3-20). No longer ceremonial, but only moral, defilement is possible.

As regards the practice of the Apostolic Church, the incident of Acts 10:9-16 is instructive. We may be certain that St. Peter was not the only one who was ‘much perplexed within himself’ as to the full scope of Jesus’ principle that the real seat of defilement is within. The Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:29 was essentially a concession to Jewish prejudices, but at the same time was no doubt actuated by the spirit of Christian love, which forbids one’s doing violence to the conscience of a brother, merely for the purpose of asserting an abstract and selfish liberty (1 Corinthians 8:1 ff; 1 Corinthians 10:23 ff.). It has to be borne in mind: (1) that religious scruples are to be respected (Mark 1:44); (2) that when, for example, St. Paul became a Jew to the Jews, and submitted to a rite of purification (Acts 21:26), he did so all the


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Holiness Purity'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/h/holiness-purity.html. 1906-1918.

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