SHORT BIBLE STUDY: The meaning of holy in the Bible

What does holy mean in the Bible? Holy in the Bible is a word that describes the identity and nature of God. In the Old Testament kodesh is the word in Hebrew that describes the holy presence of God.  It means apart, separate, sacred

In the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah chapter 6:1-8, Isaiah gives an account of the holy presence of God as he encounters God in his calling to be a prophet of Israel. Here is how Isaiah 6:1-8 reads, 

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord high and lifted up; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the Lord, the King of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “See, now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Isaiah’s account of his calling to be a prophet of Israel was not only an understanding of the Holiness of God the kodesh holy identity and nature of God but it was also understood to be Isaiah’s calling to be kodesh, to be holy, to be set apart for the purpose of being the prophet of Israel. Kodesh not only defines the presents and identity of God, but it also defines the identity and nature of those whom God calls. 

Another example of God’s kodesh calling in the Old Testament is found in Leviticus 19:2 as God tells Moses the following. 

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

It is this calling of the congregation of Israel to be kodesh that shakes the remaining parts of the Old Testament and of Israel’s calling and recalling to kodesh to be a people who are holy because the Lord their God is holy.  

In the New Testament, the word that defines holy is hagios. That is a word in the Kione Greek that describes God as being one who is apart, separate, sacred. Unique to the New Testament understanding of hagios is the presence of Jesus. It is through Jesus’ invitation for his disciples to follow him that they experienced God’s calling like Isaiah experienced God’s calling to be people who are identified by hagios by the holy presence of God. It’s the holy presence of God that is found in the expectations for the church just like they were found in the expectations of God for the congregation of Israel. I Peter 1:15-16 calls for the church to be hagios. 

“Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

The last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation is the concluding account of kodesh in the Old Testament and hagios in the New Testament as Revelation 15:3-4 witnesses to the holy presence of God that was before the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. 

 “And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:
“Great and amazing are your deeds,
Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your words,
King of the nations!
Lord, who will not fear
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.”