Friday, May 31, 2013

Holy:Understanding it Better Through Research

I know you have likely visited this entry to find the definition of holy.  You are doing research.  Others have told you the results of their own research, but now you are doing your own by searching again or "re-searching".  All I can say is:  "Congratulations!"  You are a scholar of the first rank!  By searching out the meaning of the meaning of the biblical notion of holy again, you are researching rather than just searching. 

To know the meaning or definition of the English word holy, as it is used in translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek; you must do some research.  It is not a word like the English words dog or cat, where searching or researching is not really necessary even for children.   Trying to understand qadosh in Hebrew, qaddiysh in Aramaic, or hagios in Greek is a different story.  You have to do at least a little research, just like you might do in buying a car.  A little research can lead to big improvements in car buying, but also in understanding the biblical concept often translated into English as holy there can be big improvements in understanding.

You may have read in Leviticus 19:1-2 (based primarily on the NKJV) the following:

And [Yahweh] spoke to Moses, saying,
"Speak to [the whole of] the congregation of the children of Israel
and say to them:
`You shall be holy,
for I [Yahweh] your God am holy.'"

It is obvious that understanding what "holy" means is tremendously important.  There are many concepts here that are easily understood through an English translation, but the meaning of holy has been anything but that.  Think about it this way.  It is obvious the first audience for this passage possessed the meaning of holy.  The question is whether English translators also possess the meaning of holy as intended for that first audience. 

The important question is whether we possess what Moses and the congregation of the children of Israel possessed in understanding or whether their understanding was ever lost.  A great way to think of this is to think of what happens in the case of anything being lost.  Here is the usual sequence from possessing to re-possessing an object:  

1) possessed
2) lost
3a) search (look)
3b) research (search again and again, etc.)
4) find (or discover)
5) re-possess (possess again)

The main discoveries for scholarly searchers for the biblical notion of holy is understood in three ways: 1) "set apart", 2) "pure", and 3) "(moral) wholeness".   This is what your own research would yield through the internet.  If you consult English dictionaries for the definition of holy in English, you will also find references to all three of these meanings. 

Now let's say you look further in your research.  You will probably next consult lexicons.  The top three lexicons in this case would be a Hebrew - English lexicon, an Aramaic (Chaldee) - English lexicon, and a Greek - English lexicon.   Usually when I consult a few lexicons, the possible alternative meanings for a word increase in number.  Ironically, in this case the number of alternatives instead shrinks.  In Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, as translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, you and I discover that qadosh means properly "pure, clean" and not set apart or moral wholeness.  In the Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible, as written by Jeff A. Benner, one discovers that it primarily or properly means "set apart".  In lexicons since the mid to late 1800s, you will not find the meaning of "(moral) wholeness" listed. 

So in my case, I searched beyond the lexicons.  I also looked in other scholarly texts like commentaries.  There I found that Gordon J. Wenham in his commentary called The Book of Lexiticus does recognize the meaning of wholeness for qadosh.  I also found this in other theological texts like Disability in the Hebrew Bible by Saul M. Olyan find the same meaning.  They each also seem to recognize pure as part of that larger definition of something or someone being whole.  . 

Why do we research the meaning of a word or search again?  Why do a search at all?  Is something lost?  Have we not already found what we are looking for? 

You were probably like me when I was growing up, in that you and I likely lost a few things in the house or elsewhere.  I would usually call out, "Does anybody know where my G.I. Joe is?"  After I made no progress and found no answers in my search, then my mother would usually tell me to either, "retrace your steps" or "go look again".  In other words, she was asking me to "search again" or to do "research", because I still had not found what I was looking for after consulting other family members.  In other words, I was to do "re-search" not in the books, but in the physical spaces where I may have lost my G. I. Joe.  Many times I looked and I found him or something else in my own room or right under my nose.  It was easy to think someone else took it or moved it, but usually I just lost it.  

The same is true in re-search.  We need to look again, because we might have lost something in trying to understand the meaning of qadosh, qaddiysh or hagios with the change in place and in time.  Space and time do not forbid us recovering something lost, but they do require us to search and sometimes search again. 

I saw this for myself in 2004.   I found a definition for holy that I had not found previously.  I found that qadosh or hagios might mean "(moral) wholeness".   Not that much searching later, I found it also right under my nose in the printed sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who I had read extensively during the early 80s.  By re-tracing not just my steps but the steps of other Christians, I found a lost meaning that I had no prior knowledge even existed.  

These discoveries did not prove that holy means whole, but it did prove there were possible definitions to investigate or research that I and many others had never checked out previously.  Like checking out a different room in search for a G. I. Joe, it does not prove that something will be found there.  It only proves that we are willing to fully re-trace our steps and take self-responsibility for loss and discovery or recovery.  I think researching could be a virtue in this case. 

Let me take this one step further.  Recently I saw a video where a pastor was interviewing a man for why he did not "love the church" even while they "love Jesus".  Here are a collection of some of the man's comments relative to "search again", research, and knowledge:

     1) "If you (Christians) believe the Bible, then you should be willing to research (search again)
     2) "[Christians] cop out."  "[They are] using their faith to be lazy."
     3)  "Knowledge can't hurt.  [Implies Christians act like it can.]
     4) "[Christians are] not willing to do the research."
     5)  "They really know nothing about ... [other alternatives]."
     6) "Christians don't do their homework." 
     7) "[They] know so little about their knowledge claims."

Notice how much of this has to do with knowledge and research.  It should cause Christians to pause and reflect.  Maybe we should research our pattern of behavior.  Are we leaving open a question as to whether we are willing to research something and simply let the evidence speak for itself?

One of the professors at Nashotah House (Seminary), where I am working on my S.T.M. thesis, pointed out to me that good research often means you do a good job of citing where things are found.  You make claims, but you tell where you searched and found them.  This insight has grown in importance with the knowledge explosion beyond the time of the Reformation, when citing sources was not their strength.  It is hard to re-trace their steps for how they arrived as a meaning for holy of "(moral) wholeness".  But what we can do is research the steps taken in the last 100 years plus and we can also search again using new exegetical tools that are more rigorous than just the tools of etymology that seem to have had great influence at the time of the Reformation.  

I conclude with one final thought  One of the things the professor said to me is that with research you just gotta do the work.  It comes down to that.  There are no shortcuts.  In Steve Jobs' (of Apple Computer fame) terms it comes down to not being caught up in great idea like any of the three possible definitions, but being caught up in the craft. 

In the specific instance of defining holy, it is crafting a great argument for the meaning of holy based on the best means for doing a word study.  It is as important as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak being able to build working components and a computer.  I have only found one great book on the meaning of holy that is a great example of a fully crafted word study on holy.  Its one limitation is its reliance on etymology and the testing then of only one of the three possible definitions.  It is God's Holy People: A Theme in Biblical Theology (Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), by Jo Bailey Wells.  It just  begins to resemble Jobs and Wozniak's ability to craft a computer.

A word study on qadosh is the thing I need to craft.  The weakness I need to replace is that of the excessive usage of etymology.  Then when you and I do our research, we can find things for ourselves that tell us what Moses and the children of Israel heard when they heard qadosh.  We will be sure we have found what they understood rather than what we understand or we probably understand. 

Please do me one favor.  I want to focus more time on my research, because as I make more and more discoveries, I get more and more excited to get my research out to my fellow researchers like yourself.  Pray that God would grant me more time and more discipline (mainly the latter) to search again for things lost.  I hope your reading of this entry helped you find a few lost things.  May God help you to find other lost things as well.

In Christ, 


Thursday, May 02, 2013

Holy: Understanding it Better Through Understanding Weaknesses

In a conversation earlier today, an attorney pointed out to me that: "Understanding your weaknesses makes you stronger".  He said this in relation to the results of tests that I had done recently.  He went on the add that: "Without knowing your weaknesses you are vulnerable in those areas".  Then he added further that "knowledge is power".   In many ways, my desire to work on the definition of holy is an acknowledgement of all of these three principles.  I want my readers to know that not knowing that "holy" defined as "set apart" has weaknesses really leaves a dangerous vulnerability. 

First, "Understanding your weaknesses makes you stronger".  I believe that acknowledging the weaknesses in the church's and Judaism's definition of holy is not a sign of weakness, but rather of strength.  For many years, the definition of biblical "holy as "set apart" has existed as though it were invulnerable and without any weaknesses.  The reverse is actually true, but acknowledging this I believe builds strength.  To say that is more a probability than a certainty is far stronger than insisting that the probability does not exist and we are sure it means "set apart". 

Second, "Without knowing your weaknesses you are vulnerable in those areas".  I believe that the definition of holy is a weakness that most Christians and Jews are unaware of, so they are missing the greatest vulnerability of all that exists in interpreting the Bible.  When we are not aware of our weakness, we are very vulnerable.  Let me illustrate.

When I coached football, I believe that one of the reasons I was very successful from the beginning was that I understood the importance of attacking an opponents weaknesses.  Early in a game, I would test a wide variety of plays on offense or I would try a lot of different looks on defense looking for an area of weakness.  If the other coach was unaware of his team's weaknesses and I became aware of them, then the other team was unable to adjust to my taking advantage of their weakness.  On the other hand, if I found their weakness and they knew about it, then they could adjust and adapt to what I discovered.  They were not vulnerable like the coaches who did not know their weaknesses on the field. 

The same does hold true for our faith.  If our enemy is a prowling lion waiting to devour (and Satan is!), then we must know our weaknesses.  We must know that while the Protestant Reformers of the church from 1500s onward possessed great strengths,  we must be also aware of their weaknesses.  Unfortunately, after the Reformers died people emerged who claimed to be their disciples who wanted to claim they only possessed strengths without acknowledging their weaknesses.  This is precisely what brings the initial reforms to a deadly end. 

Related specifically to the definition of holy, there must be a recognition that the classical grammar of the past has weaknesses that fall short of the biblical example of biblical reform in Nehemiah 8.  This does not mean that classical grammar is to be tossed aside as not having value.  That is called throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  Rather it is keeping the baby, but also throwing out the bathwater!.  How can you get a clean baby without also having dirty bathwater? 

My skills in the area of linguistics largely help weaknesses in grammar to be acknowledged, but also it helps to see grammar's strengths as well.  My linguistics' professors were never purely destructive in their criticisms.  Instead, they avoided vulnerability through acknowledging weaknesses.  Are we doing the same?

Third, "Knowledge is power".  I agree that it is a part of being strong.  Ignorance is a form of weakness.  I don't see how anyone can question that.  Yet I was long ignorant of much of what I say about the definition of holy on this site.   Show me another place on-line that admits the weaknesses that I have found in the popular definition of holy. 

I was weak to the degree that I was also ignorant.  If my blog does only one thing (I believe it does more than one!), then it must at least expose the weakness of ignorance tied to the popular idea that holy means "set apart".  By itself, this does not positively prove the meaning of holy as being another definition, but it does open up one's eyes to real weakness.  Then strength can replace that weakness.


We cannot ignore knowledge.  That is real ignorance!  We must embrace knowledge as a friend.  Too much can give us a headache, but that is a lot better than the supposed bliss of ignorance.  That bliss leads to a worse result than King Solomon's headache from much learning.   It can lead to death. 

I hear so many people bemoaning the retreat from the historic Christian faith.  I think it would be far better to try to weaken that retreat by admitting weakness rather than pretending strength.  Then there is an opportunity to adapt to weakness and replace it with strength.  That does not mean all is weakness.  It does mean that there is some weakness.  Who does not have some other than God? 

Today, in my conversations not just with an attorney, but with others I had to admit weaknesses.  The recent examinations exposed weaknesses that I previously did not know existed.  I had a fuzzy idea what my weakness was in my work performance, but now I know it specifically and instead of that making me weaker it makes me stronger.  I can now adapt to where I am weak and minimize the damage.  Before I was very vulnerable, because I never was tested before for what was strong and what was weak. 

I also am being tested on the real life level.  I am not all weakness, but the fact that I am so vulnerable at times shows I am unaware sometimes of my own weaknesses.   My real life testing is not yet over, but in the end I will be stronger if I learn my weaknesses.  I am praying that I do!

The same goes for the definition of holy.  Let me list its contemporary weaknesses, if nothing is joined to the knowledge already possessed in the 20th ct.:

1) Its traditional (20 ct.) etymology is weak.  The good news is that by acknowledging this weakness there is the recognition that there is knowledge in this area that can be added.  How else is ignorance exposed?  It does not come through other ignorance. 
2) Its relation to cognate languages (languages related to Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) is weak.  Those languages do not add strength as much as weakness, because their number of examples are not large enough except for inside the biblical texts themselves. 
3) Its classical or traditional grammar has weaknesses.  Classical rhetoric has a healthier foundation.   Quintilian in rhetoric did a better job of setting the foundations that did Varra in grammar. Why not acknowledge this and  make grammar stronger by learning from rhetoric and linguistics?.  Grammar has strengths, but the weaknesses must also be addressed.  Go classical, but then add further strength.  Add strength to strength.  Don't add weakness to strength. 
4) Its progressive stance of "holy" means "set apart" has produced no measureable revival comparable to previous renewal or reformation movements prior to the 20 ct.  Maybe it is time to work then on the above weaknesses? 

Examine the SWOT chart shown above.  Acknowledging weakness is at first blush hard, but I think in the longer term it will produce the strength that is needed.  It is a threat if only the opposition is aware of it.  Then we are vulnerable.  But when we become aware of weakness, then that weakness can become an opportunity.  To be in a position of unknown weakness is to be vulnerable in the bad sense.  I hope admitting weaknesses today has been vulnerable in the good sense.  It builds opportunity.  Remember those words of the attorney: "Knowing your weaknesses makes you stronger".   It creates opportunity!   It lets you go from strength to strength!

Our problem is that we too often feel it makes us vulnerable, when the reverse is true.  If we can change our attitude from fear to confidence in facing weakness, then we can move forward adding knowledge to knowledge and adding strength to strength.  That is how it is supposed to be.  May God give us courage to cross the river of weakness to reach the shore of strength! 

In Christ,