Friday, May 06, 2011

Holy: Understanding it Better Through the Options

If you want the simple answer for the meaning of holy, then it would consist in a one word answer.  One is the essence of simple.  In that case, I might say it means whole.  But that may not be a satisfactory answer for you, when you consult other sources that say it means set apart.  You are likely to want an explanation in that case.  Why isn't the meaning of holy simple like some other words?

Have you ever made adequate plans that allowed you to avoid the loss of an item?  In contrast, have you ever lost an item and tried to recover it?  I mean, for example, that you didn't leave your cell phone charger at a motel room, because you double-checked your room and took it with you before you left.  Contrast that with the time you did leave it behind, because you had to rush to catch your shuttle service and so you left the charger behind.   Double-checking for the charger and taking it with is a lot less complex than trying to recover a cell phone charger you left behind.  It also can take a lot of time to recover it when you call the motel, they search for it. they get back to you, you pay postage, they send it to you, you wait for it to arrive or you decide to go purchase a new one and it is not in stock, etc.  You get the idea. 

Unfortunately for holy, we are dealing with a recovery process.  Let me illustrate the complexity of its recovery through the example of a multiple choice test. 

If I was to give a multiple choice test on the meaning of holy, there would be a lot of options.   Over the long period of trying to find its meaning, many have claimed to find it and found different meanings or different clues to its meaning.  If I list the possible multiple choices in historical order, then there would also be a further lesson to learn. The choices are not only more than one or two. They  have also grown to many options over time.

My ultimate desire is to arrive at the one meaning intended in Ancient Hebrew, Ancient Aramaic and then later in Greek.   My purpose right now is to show that the recovery of the lost meaning of holy means that the problem is complex and that fixing the problem also takes more time because the simple meaning of holy was lost.   You could say that the many possible multiple choices proves it was once lost.  This could not have been case in the ancient text.  There is no indication of such an expansive list of meaning nor of the need for so many clues outside the text. 

The multiple choice question and its options might look like the following:

What is the ancient meaning of holy in other English words? (Please choose only the best possilble answer for the present time.)

a. whole/sum of all his attributes/complete/fully prepared
b. set apart/separate/set apart from/set apart to
c. pure/clean
d. both a and b (a is primary, b is secondary)
e. together a, b and c
f. either a or b, based on possible roots (but not both)
g. either a, b or c based on possible roots and biblical context (but not more than one of them)
h. b modified by a (ex. wholly other, wholly set apart)
i. treasured/unique/not common (sometimes tied to b)
j. fully prepared (sometimes tied to a)
k. deity (a synonym for god)
l. b and f together (possibly b only, yet boldly eliminate the other possibility)
m. a and f together (possibly a only, yet boldly eliminate the other possiblity)
n. a and f, yet possibly b (based on favored probability, yet without eliminating the other possibility)
o. b and f, yet possibly a (based on favored probability, yet without eliminating the other possibility)
p. any one of the other possible meanings not listed, but none of the above (etc.)
q. righteousness, truth, love and goodness combined as four quadrants of the whole of character

Among these options, I have chosen different answers at different times. But perhaps the best answer at this moment (not for all time) for me is: n. whole, but still possibly b. set apart.  The ultimate goal would then be to arrive at a. whole.

It is the best to me, because I think the combined evidence leans the evidence in the direction of a. whole, but it also recognizes two advances in trying to recover the meaning of holy. First, it recognizes that there was strength in the past in the answer whole and set apart, but also sees an advance in knowledge from the late 19th ct. that says it must be one of these two meanings and not both. So "yet" must take the place of "and" until there is a further advance in our recovery process. 

The recovery of possible meanings before the 19th century and then joining them together in similar fashion is no longer possible. Also q. might be true, yet it remains largely unproven until texts like Psalm 33 are more thoroughly examined.   I plan on doing this in the future. 

So when you are next searching for the definition of holy, please remember that the recovery of its possible meaning makes the multiple choice options much longer than what you will find in a standard dictionary or lexicon (a technical foreign language dictionary).  Holy's simple meaning got lost and now we have to recover it.

I guess it all boils down to two general points: (1) recovery is complex and prevention is simple and (2) recovery is longer and prevention is shorter.  We should not be shocked by the amount of complexity that has been created nor by the large expenditure of time on the meaning of holy by scholars and translators. 

Yet also recall that not all the answers are equal ("best") and sooner or later, one answer will emerge that will convince a great number of people that it is the one and only best answer.   I believe eventually we will arrive back at a simple answer like that of a. whole or b. set apart.  I look forward to that day and I keep looking for the lost item and clues to the simple (one) meaning until that day arrives.

In Christ,


Holy: Understanding it Better Through a Healthy Process

Health is taked about a lot lately. My observation as an athletic director (a part time occupation) is that most of the time the process given to attain health is not complete. So by default the promoted process cannot attain the health it claims. For example, a diet may be promoted, but there is no mention of exercise or dealing with past illnesses, etc. Likewise the discussion in this blog must be complete or it will not examine the meaning of holy in a healthy or complete way.

The major prongs of the fork aimed at looking for the meaning of holy in this blog are:

Priority -- this is concerned with the theological perspective that holy is chief among the moral virtues. Unfortunately, other moral virtues like love, etc. were allowed to supplant it in the 20th century. I have a separate blog for this subject. It is among my links on the side bar of this blog.

Recovery – this is concerned with the historical perspective that holy’s meaning must be recovered once lost. Prevention of the loss of meaning is not an option right now, but only in the future. This was my focus in the early going, though not as intentionally as I wish I could claim. It is the focus on this piece of writing.

Certainty – this is concerned with the rhetorical perspective that saying holy means something is stronger than saying that holy seems to mean something. This perspective avoids skepticism where there is ample evidence. It also tries to avoid presumption where there is controversy rather than certainty. It recognizes the current controversy and hopes to overcome it.

Discovery – this is concerned with the biblical perspective that is very high among my concerns. This summer, I am taking a graduate course that I hope will greatly improve my efforts on this prong. Research following a process I have layed out previously for decipherment is critical to this part of the complete process.

This particular entry in this blog is mainly concerned to highlight that it is no small thing to say that we are in a place of recovery rather than of prevention, when it comes to the meaning of holy. If prevention were always the rule, then continuity with tradition would make the enterprise of this blog obsolete. But as is so often the case, people rather than doing their due diligence in preparation and prevention are guilty of having to rely instead on cure and recovery. That means sometimes change (transformation) and the renewing of the mind of Romans 12 are essential.

Such is the case with holy. Even during the last 500+ years, the meaning of holy has not been without controversy. The common practice was to preserve at least 2 meanings together. You could say one meaning, wholeness, was central or primary and the other meaning, separate, was marginal or secondary. But in the last 100+ years, the controversy has now a higher risk attached to it.

The risks now are much higher than they used to be, because one meaning is used exclusively without the other, even though based only on a marginal (slightly higher than 50%) probability. The reason is because of a great level of boldness or recklessness on the part of late 19th century scholars, depending on your perspective.

The way that the meaning of holy as whole came to be no longer taught in the last 100+ years in most circles is due to a recognition that it could not be both meanings. In other words, a choice had to be made based on the root words for each meaning, because neither of the two possible roots supported both meanings. This was an advance in scholarly knowledge.

What may not have been an advance was eliminating the appearance of probability and substituting a sense of dogmatism, where it does not exist. This is referred to as presumption. We read the following in the preface to the 1611 KJV:

For as it is a fault of incredulitie, to doubt of those things that are evident: so to determine of such things as the Spirit of God hath left (even in the judgment of the judicious) questionable, can be no lesse than presumption. Therfore as S. Augustine saith, that varietie of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversitie of signification and sense in the margine, where the text is not so cleare, must needes doe good, yea is necessary, as we are perswaded. (I did make one minor obvious correction to quote)

So I think a big part of what I am doing in this blog is recoverying a meaning that goes against what a judicious translator should do. I believe strongly in the no longer understood virtue of prudence that shows caution, when uncertainty exists. Not the kind that is excessive, but the kind that avoids simplicity and naivete. I wish I could say that the loss of the meaning of holy and the need to recover it does not exist, but the history of the definition of holy says otherwise. That is why many of my older posts dealt with historical biblical scholars and leaders and their understanding of holy. I hope I have in some ways helped recover what might prove valuable at the end of a healthy understanding of holy's meaning.

Please watch especially this coming summer for a great development of the biblical data and for concrete evidence of what holy means. I am excited what the Lord may do through a class I hope to take this summer with a highly regarded Hebrew scholar.

In Christ,