Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Blessed and Holy: Understanding Them Better When the Understanding is Right Under Your Nose

Have you ever had someone tell you, when you are looking for something, "It is right under your nose!"  I have.  And I have a confession to make.  The definition of holy that I have proposed has left its proof right under my nose.

One of my best teachers over the years still remains on my top ten list.  His name is Dr. Daniel P. Fuller.  He set a high standard in our classes.  He wanted us to learn to do inductive Bible study, where we rely not so much on lexicons and commentaries as on our own observation of the text of Scripture.

One of his favorite stories was of a teacher insisting that his students continue making observations even after they thought they had exhausted all the possibilities.  Though the object was right under their nose, they might have missed something.

I have missed something.  It is so obvious.  So right under my nose for so long that I can't believe I missed it!

Here's the Biblical text that has been right under my nose for years. I knew this was a primary text in the discussion of the meaning of holy, but I did not realize just how very valuable it is.  Here it is from Biblical Gateway:

1 Peter 1:14-16

New International Version (NIV)
14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”[a]


  1. 1 Peter 1:16 Lev. 11:44,45; 19:2
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

ΠΕΤΡΟΥ Α΄ 1:14-16
SBL Greek New Testament (SBLGNT)
14 ὡς τέκνα ὑπακοῆς, μὴ συσχηματιζόμενοι ταῖς πρότερον ἐν τῇ ἀγνοίᾳ ὑμῶν ἐπιθυμίαις, 15 ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὸν καλέσαντα ὑμᾶς ἅγιον καὶ αὐτοὶ ἅγιοι ἐν πάσῃ ἀναστροφῇ γενήθητε, 16 διότι γέγραπται [a]ὅτι Ἅγιοι [b]ἔσεσθε, ὅτι ἐγὼ [c]ἅγιος.


  1. ΠΕΤΡΟΥ Α΄ 1:16 ὅτι WH NIV] – Treg RP
  2. ΠΕΤΡΟΥ Α΄ 1:16 ἔσεσθε WH Treg NIV] γίνεσθε RP
  3. ΠΕΤΡΟΥ Α΄ 1:16 ἅγιος WH Treg] + εἰμι NIV RP

What the text contains is a parallel notion to holy, not just once but twice.  So it assists us in defining holy.   The other great thing is that it is also quoting from Leviticus 11:44, 45 or 19:2.   So it also pulls in not just a definition for Greek, but also one that we can be sure would also apply in those contexts in Hebrew.

So what did I miss that was right under my nose?  Here it is:  "be holy in all you do" or as some translations have it "be holy in all your conduct".   (I did notice this at an earlier time based on past notes, but like in the book of James I was like a man who looks in the mirror and then forgets what he saw.)  There is a further clue before even this one.  It is a negative contrast to holy: "do not conform to your evil desires".

These are great parallels, if like me, you believe that one of the possible meanings of holy is: "moral wholeness or "ethical wholeness".  So let's examine the evidence further.

Whether you translate the Greek as "in all you do" or "in your manner of life" or "in all your conduct", the idea is quite similar.  What matters most is the use of "all" in English translation or πάσῃ (pase) in the original Greek.

Many people are not aware that the Greek πάσῃ is also used for the Hebrew word כֹּל (kol).   כֹּל in its core definition is the idea of "whole" more than the idea of "all".  Gesenius in his lexicon and others wisely note that the Greek equivalent of πάσῃ is the Greek meaningful equivalent, but not an exact equivalent.  Gesenius' description says it is a grammatical difference between the languages.  I think it is something more.

Thinking right to left as Hebrews of ancient Israel would do, you would start with "whole" and proceed left to "all the parts".  It appears that in Koine Greek of the first century, Greek moves from the left to the right and so from "all the parts" to the "whole".  Each side expresses the other, but yet with a different emphasis or starting point.

So it would not be illegitimate to substitute the idea of whole into our text and read it as "in the whole of your doing", or "in the whole of your manner of life", or "the whole of your conduct".   You've changed emphasis and starting point, but not equivalence.

So the logic goes like this.  Since "be holy in all you do" in Greek is the equivalent to "be holy in the whole of what you do" in Hebrew, we as English speakers could then see that "moral wholeness" (holy) and "the whole of what you do" could be very near fully synonymous.  If this is not enough proof, we also have the idea of evil desires in contrast to being holy.  If holy were to have more than one part, it is easy to explain the use of a plural being used in contrast to it.  With many parts of good may come plural evils.

But the key idea that I have overlooked is that "whole" is once again placed at the very doorstep of "holy" and is hardly being noticed not only under my nose, but also under the noses of biblical exegetes or biblical readers everywhere.  Let's begin to notice what is right under our nose.  Holy can certainly mean "moral or ethical wholeness".  I can't see why not.