The state or character of being holy. The English words “holy” and “holiness” are translated from Hebrew words having the possible root meaning “to be bright,” “to be new or fresh, untarnished or clean” in a physical sense, although used in the Bible mainly in a spiritual or moral sense. Accordingly, holiness means cleanness, purity, sacredness. Also, the original Hebrew conveys the thought of separateness, exclusiveness or sanctification to God, who is holy; a state of being set aside to the service of God. In the Christian Greek Scriptures the words rendered “holy” and “holiness” likewise denote separation to God; they also are used to refer to holiness as a quality of God and to purity or perfection in one’s personal conduct.
The quality of holiness belongs to Jehovah. (Ex. 39:30; Zech. 14:20) Christ Jesus addressed him as “Holy Father.” (John 17:11) Those in the heavens are shown declaring: “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of armies,” attributing to him holiness, cleanness in the superlative degree. (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8; compare Hebrews 12:14.) He is the Most Holy One, superior to all others in holiness. (Prov. 30:3; here the plural form of the Hebrew word translated “Most Holy” is used to denote excellence and majesty.) The Israelites were frequently reminded that Jehovah is the Source of all holiness as they observed the words “Holiness belongs to Jehovah” that were engraved on the shining gold plate on the high priest’s turban. This plate was called “the holy sign of dedication,” showing that the high priest was set apart to a service of special holiness. (Ex. 28:36; 29:6) In Moses’ victory song after the deliverance through the Red Sea, Israel sang: “Who among the gods is like you, O Jehovah? Who is like you, proving yourself mighty in holiness?” (Ex. 15:11; 1 Sam. 2:2) As an added guarantee of the carrying out of his word, Jehovah has even sworn by his holiness.—Amos 4:2.
God’s name is sacred, set apart from all defilement. (1 Chron. 16:10; Ps. 111:9) His name Jehovah is to be held as holy, sanctified above all others. (Matt. 6:9) Disrespect for his name merits the punishment of death.—Lev. 24:10-16, 23; Num. 15:30.
Since Jehovah God is the originator of all righteous principles and laws (Jas. 4:12) and is the basis of all holiness, any person or thing that is holy becomes so because of relationship with Jehovah and his worship. One cannot have understanding or wisdom unless he has knowledge of the Most Holy One. (Prov. 9:10) Jehovah can be worshiped only in holiness. One claiming to worship him but practicing uncleanness is disgusting in his sight. (Prov. 21:27) When Jehovah foretold that he would make the way clear for his people to return to Jerusalem from
Babylonish exile, he said: “The Way of Holiness it will be called. The unclean one will not pass over it.” (Isa. 35:8) The small remnant that returned in 537 B.C.E. did so wholeheartedly to restore true worship, with right and holy motives, not for political or selfish considerations.—Compare the prophecy at Zechariah 14:20, 21.
Jehovah’s active force or spirit is subject to his control and always accomplishes his purpose. It is clean, pure, sacred and set apart for God’s good use. Therefore it is called “holy spirit” and “the spirit of holiness.” (Ps. 51:11; Luke 11:13; Rom. 1:4; Eph. 1:13) The holy spirit operating on a person is a force for holiness or cleanness. Any unclean or wrong practice constitutes a resisting or “grieving” of that spirit. (Eph. 4:30) Though impersonal in itself, the holy spirit is expressive of God’s holy personality and therefore can be ‘grieved.’ The practice of any wrongdoing tends to “put out the fire of the spirit.” (1 Thess. 5:19) If such practice is continued, God’s holy spirit is, in effect, made to “feel hurt” and this may result in God’s changing into an enemy of the rebellious one. (Isa. 63:10) A person grieving the holy spirit may go so far as to blaspheme against it, which sin Jesus Christ said will not be forgiven in the present system of things nor in that to come.—Matt. 12:31, 32; Mark 3:28-30; see SPIRIT.
Jesus Christ is, in a special sense, God’s Holy One. (Acts 3:14; Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34) His holiness came from his Father when Jehovah created him as his only-begotten Son. He maintained his holiness as the closest one to his Father in the heavens. (John 1:1; 8:29; Matt. 11:27) When his life was transferred to the womb of the virgin girl Mary, he was born as a holy human Son of God. (Luke 1:35) He is the only one who as a human maintained perfect, sinless holiness and who at the end of his earthly life was still “loyal, guileless, undefiled, separated from the sinners.” (Heb. 7:26) He was ‘declared righteous’ on his own merit. (Rom. 5:18) A status of holiness before God is obtained by other humans only on the basis of Christ’s holiness, and is gained through faith in his ransom sacrifice. It is a “holy faith,” which, if maintained, will serve in keeping one in God’s love.—Jude 20, 21.
The entire nation of Israel was counted holy because of God’s choosing and sanctifying of them, bringing them exclusively into covenant relationship with him as a special property. He told them that if they obeyed him they would be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex. 19:5, 6) By obedience they would “indeed prove to be holy to [their] God.” God admonished them: “You should prove yourselves holy, because I Jehovah your God am holy.” (Num. 15:40; Lev. 19:2) The dietary, sanitary and moral laws that God gave them constantly reminded them of their separateness and holiness to God. The restrictions placed upon them by these laws were a strong force that greatly limited their association with their pagan neighbors, proving to be a protection to keep Israel holy. On the other hand, the nation would lose its holy status before God if disobedient to his laws.—Deut. 28:15-19.
Although Israel as a nation was holy, certain individuals within the nation were considered holy in a special way. The priests, and particularly the high priest, were set aside for service at the sanctuary and represented the people before God. In such capacity they were holy and had to maintain sanctification in order to be able to carry out their service and to continue to be viewed as holy by God. (Lev. chap. 21; 2 Chron. 29:34) The prophets and other inspired Bible writers were holy men. (2 Pet. 1:21) Women of ancient times who were faithful to God are called “holy” by the apostle Peter. (1 Pet. 3:5) Soldiers of Israel on a military campaign were considered holy, for the wars they fought were the wars of Jehovah. (Num. 21:14; 1 Sam. 21:5, 6) Every male firstborn of Israel was holy to Jehovah, since, at the time of the passover in Egypt, the firstborn had been spared by Jehovah from death; they belonged to him. (Num. 3:12, 13; 8:17) For this reason each firstborn son had to be redeemed at the sanctuary. (Ex. 13:1, 2; Num. 18:15, 16; Luke 2:22, 23) A person (man or woman) taking a vow to live as a Nazirite was holy during the period of the vow. This time was set apart as being fully devoted to some special service of Jehovah. The Nazirite had to observe certain legal requirements; a violation would make him unclean. He then had to make a special sacrifice to restore his status of holiness. The days prior to his becoming unclean did not count toward fulfillment of his Naziriteship; he had to begin anew the carrying out of his vow.—Num. 6:1-12.
A place is made holy by the presence of Jehovah. (When appearing to men, he manifested his presence by means of angels representing him.—Gal. 3:19) Moses was on holy ground as he stood observing the burning bush from which an angel representing Jehovah spoke to him. (Ex. 3:2-5) Joshua was reminded that he was on holy ground when an angel, the prince of the army of Jehovah, materialized and stood before him. (Josh. 5:13-15) Peter, referring to the transfiguration of Christ and to Jehovah’s speaking at that time, called the site “the holy mountain.”—2 Pet. 1:17, 18; Luke 9:28-36.
The tabernacle courtyard was holy ground. According to tradition, the priests served there barefooted because they were serving at the sanctuary, which represented Jehovah’s presence. The two compartments of the sanctuary were called “the Holy Place” and “the Most Holy,” as they were progressively closer to the ark of the covenant. (Heb. 9:1-3) The temple that later stood in Jerusalem was likewise holy. (Ps. 11:4) Holiness applied to Mount Zion and Jerusalem because the sanctuary and “Jehovah’s throne” were located there.—1 Chron. 29:23; Ps. 2:6; Isa. 27:13; 48:2; 52:1; Dan. 9:24; Matt. 4:5.
The army of Israel was reminded to keep the camp clean from human excrement or other contamination, because “Jehovah your God is walking about within your camp . . . and your camp must prove to be holy, that he may see nothing indecent in you and certainly turn away from accompanying you.” (Deut. 23:9-14) Here physical cleanness is linked with holiness.
PERIODS OF TIME
Certain days or periods of time were set apart for Israel as holy. This was not because of any holiness intrinsic or inherent in the time periods themselves. It was because they were to be seasons of special observance in the worship of Jehovah. In setting aside these periods, God had in mind the people’s welfare and their spiritual upbuilding. There were the weekly sabbaths. (Ex. 20:8-11) On these days the people could concentrate their attention on God’s law and on teaching it to their children. Other days of holy convention or sabbath were: the first day of the seventh month (Lev. 23:24), and the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the seventh month. (Lev. 23:26-32) The festival periods, and particularly certain days thereof, were observed as “holy conventions.” (Lev. 23:37, 38) These festivals were Passover and the Festival of Unfermented Cakes (Lev. 23:4-8), Pentecost or the Festival of Weeks (Lev. 23:15-21), and the Festival of Booths or Ingathering.—Lev. 23:33-36, 39-43; see CONVENTION.
In addition, every seventh year was a sabbath year, a full year of holiness. During the sabbath year the land was to lie uncultivated; this provision, like the weekly sabbath, gave the Israelites even more time to study Jehovah’s law, to meditate on it and to teach it to their children (Ex. 23:10, 11; Lev. 25:2-7) Finally, every fiftieth year was called a Jubilee, likewise counted as holy. This, too, was a sabbath year, but in addition it restored the nation economically to the theocratic status that God established at the time the land was apportioned. It was a holy year of freedom, rest and refreshment.—Lev. 25:8-12.
Jehovah’s holy rest day
Jehovah commanded that his people ‘afflict their souls’ on the Day of Atonement, a day of “holy convention.” This meant that they should fast and should recognize and confess their sins and feel godly sorrow for them. (Lev. 16:29-31; 23:26-32) But no day holy to Jehovah was to be a day of weeping and sadness for his people. Rather, those days were to be days of rejoicing and declaring of praise to Jehovah for his marvelous provisions through his loving-kindness.—Neh. 8:9-12.
The Bible shows us that God proceeded to rest from his creative works nearly 6,000 years ago, declaring the “day” sacred or holy. (Gen. 2:2, 3) That this great rest day of Jehovah is a long period of time is shown by the apostle Paul when he speaks of the day as still being open so that Christians can enter into its rest by faith and obedience. As a holy day, it is a time of relief and rejoicing for Christians even in the midst of a weary, sin-stricken world.—Heb. 4:3-10; see DAY.
Certain things were set aside for use in worship. Here also holiness came to them by reason of their sanctification for Jehovah’s service; not that they had holiness of themselves, to be used as a charm or fetish. (For example, one of the primary holy objects, the ark of the covenant, proved to be no charm when Eli’s two wicked sons accompanied it into battle against the Philistines.—1 Sam. 4:3-11) The things made holy by God’s decree included the altar of sacrifice (Ex. 29:37), the anointing oil (Ex. 30:25), the special incense (Ex. 30:35, 37), the garments of the priesthood (Ex. 28:2; Lev. 16:4), the showbread (Ex. 25:30; 1 Sam. 21:4, 6), and all the furniture of the sanctuary. These latter items were: the golden altar of incense, the table of showbread and the lampstands, along with their utensils. Many of these items are listed at 1 Kings 7:47-51. These things were holy also in a greater sense in that they were patterns of heavenly things and served in a typical way for the benefit of those who are going to inherit salvation.—Heb. 8:4, 5; 9:23-28.
The written Word of God is called “the holy Scriptures,” or “holy writings.” It was written under the influence of the holy spirit and has the power of sanctifying or making holy those who obey its commands.—Rom. 1:2; 2 Tim. 3:15.
ANIMALS AND PRODUCE
The firstborn males of cattle, sheep and goats were counted holy to Jehovah and were not to be redeemed. They were to be sacrificed, and a portion went to the sanctified priests. (Num. 18:17-19) The firstfruits and the tithe were holy, as were all sacrifices and all gifts sanctified to the service of the sanctuary. (Ex. 28:38) All things holy to Jehovah were sacred and could not be considered lightly or used in a common or profane way. An example is the law regarding the tithe. If a man set aside the portion to be tithed, say, of his wheat crop, and then he or one of his household unintentionally took some of it for home use, such as cooking, the man was guilty of violating God’s law respecting holy things. The Law required that he make compensation to the sanctuary of an equal amount plus 20 percent, besides offering up a sound ram of the flock as a sacrifice. Thus great respect was engendered for the holy things belonging to Jehovah.—Lev. 5:14-16.
The Leader of Christians, the Son of God, when born as a human, was holy (Luke 1:35) and he maintained that sanctification or holiness throughout his earthly life. (John 17:19; Acts 4:27; Heb. 7:26) This holiness was thorough, perfect, filling his every thought, word and action. By maintaining his holiness even to a sacrificial death, he made it possible for others to attain holiness. Consequently, those called to be his footstep followers are called with a “holy calling.” (2 Tim. 1:9) They become Jehovah’s anointed ones, the spiritual brothers of Jesus Christ, and are called “holy ones” or “saints.” (Rom. 15:26; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 4:21; compare AV.) They receive holiness by faith in the ransom sacrifice of Christ. (Phil. 3:8, 9; 1 John 1:7) Holiness, then, does not inhere in them or belong to them through their own merit, but comes to them through Jesus Christ.—Rom. 3:23-26.
The many Scriptural references to living members of the congregation as “holy ones” or “saints” (AV) make it clear that a person is not made a holy one or “saint” by men or by an organization, nor does such a one have to wait until after death to be made a “saint.” He is a “holy one” by virtue of God’s calling of him to joint heirship with Christ. He is holy in the eyes of God while he is on earth, with the hope of heavenly life in the spirit realm, wherein dwell Jehovah God and his Son, along with the holy angels.—1 Pet. 1:3, 4; 2 Chron. 6:30; Mark 12:25; Acts 7:56.
Clean conduct essential
Those Who have this holy standing before Jehovah strive, with the help of God’s spirit, to attain to the holiness of God and Christ. (1 Thess. 3:12, 13) This requires study of God’s Word of truth and the application of it to their lives. (1 Pet. 1:22) It requires response to Jehovah’s discipline. (Heb. 12:9-11) It follows that if a person is genuinely holy he will pursue a course of holiness, cleanness and moral uprightness. Christians are admonished to present their bodies to God as a sacrifice that is holy, just as acceptable sacrifices presented at the ancient sanctuary were holy. (Rom. 12:1) Holiness in conduct is a command: “In accord with the holy one who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’”—1 Pet. 1:15, 16.
Those who become members of the body of Christ are “fellow citizens of the holy ones and are members of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19) They become a holy temple of living stones for Jehovah and constitute “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) They must cleanse themselves of “every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.” (2 Cor. 7:1) If a Christian practices habits that defile or damage his fleshly body, or make it filthy or unclean, or if he goes contrary to the Bible in doctrine or morals, he does not love or fear God and is turning away from holiness. One cannot carry on uncleanness and remain holy.
Jehovah demands that holy things be treated with respect
If a member of the temple class uses his body in an unclean way, he defiles and tears down, not only himself, but also God’s temple, and “if anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you people are.” (1 Cor. 3:17) He has been redeemed by the blood of God’s holy One. (1 Pet. 1:18, 19) Anyone misusing that which is holy to Jehovah, whether it be his own body or other dedicated things, or who does harm or practices offense toward another person who is holy to God, will suffer punishment from God.—2 Thess. 1:6-9.
God revealed to Israel his attitude toward such profane use of his holy possessions. This is seen in his law prohibiting the common or profane use of things set apart as holy for those under the Mosaic law, for example, the firstfruits and the tithe (as described in a previous paragraph). (Jer. 2:3; Rev. 16:5, 6; Luke 18:7; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Ps. 105:15; Zech. 2:8) Also consider the punishment God brought upon Babylon for its malicious misuse of his temple vessels and of the people of his holy nation. (Dan. 5:1-4, 22-31; Jer. 50:9-13) In view of this attitude of God, Christians are repeatedly commended for and reminded of the necessity to exercise loving, kind treatment toward Jehovah’s holy ones, the spiritual brothers of Jesus Christ.—Rom. 15:25-27; Eph. 1:15, 16; Col. 1:3, 4; 1 Tim. 5:9, 10; Philem. 5-7; Heb. 6:10; compare Matthew 25:40, 45.
Faithful mankind to achieve holiness in God’s sight
Faithful men and women of ages past, before Jesus’ coming to earth and becoming the forerunner and opener of the way to heavenly life, were counted holy. (Heb. 6:19, 20; 10:19, 20; 1 Pet. 3:5) So, too, a “great crowd” not included among the 144,000 “sealed” ones can have a status of holiness before God. Such are viewed as wearing clean garments, washed in the blood of Christ. (Rev. 7:2-4, 9, 10, 14; see GREAT CROWD.) In due time all who live in heaven and on earth will be holy, for “the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.”—Rom. 8:20, 21.
Holiness blessed by Jehovah
Holiness on a person’s part carries with it merit from God in the individual’s family relationship. Thus, if a married person is a Christian, holy to God, this one’s mate and the children of the union, if not themselves dedicated servants of God, benefit from the merit of the holy one. For this reason the apostle recommends: “If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and yet she is agreeable to dwelling with him, let him not leave her; and a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and yet he is agreeable to dwelling with her, let her not leave her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in relation to his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in relation to the brother; otherwise, your children would really be unclean, but now they are holy.” (1 Cor. 7:12-14) The clean, believing mate is therefore not unclean by relations with the unbelieving mate, and the family as a unit is not viewed by God as unclean. Furthermore, the association of the believer with the family provides any unbelievers therein the finest of opportunities to become believers, to make over their personalities and to present their bodies “a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God.” (Rom. 12:1; Col. 3:9, 10) In the clean, holy atmosphere that the believer serving God can promote, the family is blessed.—See SANCTIFICATION.