What is 'holiness'? ‘Holiness’ is the state of being ‘holy’. The noun ‘holiness’ appears infrequently in the scriptures, but the adjective ‘holy’ appears often.
Certain concepts are paired with ‘holiness’. A word does not always mean a single thing. It can vary each time the word is used. However,  the range of meanings are often within a common orbit. Words are often paired with similar, related, or even opposing phrases. Pairings may not clarify exactly what a word means, but they often limit the orbit of the word. So, it is useful to examine the range of pairings.
  • ‘Holiness’ appears together with ‘righteousness’ (Luke 1:75, Ephesians 4:24), ‘faith’ (1 Timothy 2:15), ‘love’ (1 Timothy 2:15), ‘self-control’ (1 Timothy 2:15), ‘discipline’ (Hebrews 12:10), ‘peace’ (Hebrews 12:14), ‘godliness’ (2 Peter 3:11), ‘fear of God’ (2 Corinthians 7:1), ‘blameless’ (1 Thessalonians 3:13), and ‘honor’ (1 Thessalonians 4:4). These are fundamental virtues of both conduct and also attitude.
  • ‘Holy’ appears together with ritual purposes: ‘set apart’ (Exodus 28:41, 29:36, 29:37, 29:43, 29:44, Ezekiel 45:6), ‘dedicate’ (Leviticus 27:21, 27:28), ‘atonement’ (Exodus 30:10, Leviticus 10:17, 16:16, 16:27, 16:32, 16:33, Nehemiah 10:33), ‘Sabbath’ (Exodus 20:8, 20:11, 31:15, 35:2), ‘rest’ (Genesis 2:3, Exodus 31:15, Leviticus 23:3, 23:24), ‘purify’ (Leviticus 12:4, 16:20, 16:33, 1 Chronicles 23:28, Nehemiah 13:22, 2 Corinthians 6:6), ‘bathe’ (Leviticus 16:4), ‘clean’ (Leviticus 22:4), ‘blameless’ (Colossians 1:22, 1 Thessalonians 2:10, 5:23), ‘without blemish’ (Colossians 1:22), ‘belong’ (Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 16:5), ‘separate’ (Numbers 6:5, 6:8, Hebrews 7:26), ‘reserved’ (Numbers 18:9), ‘prized’ (Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2).
  • ‘Holy’ appears together with actions of worship: ‘bless’ (Deuteronomy 26:15), ‘praise’ (Deuteronomy 26:19, 1 Chronicles 16:35, Psalm 68:35, 99:3, 99:5, 99:9, 103:1, 106:47, 145:21), ‘fame’ (Deuteronomy 26:19), ‘honor’ (Deuteronomy 26:19, 1 Chronicles 29:16), ‘remove your sandals’ (Joshua 5:15), ‘lift hands’ (Psalm 28:2, 1 Timothy 2:8), ‘sing’ (Psalm 30:4, 71:22), ‘give thanks’ (1 Chronicles 16:35, Psalm 30:4, 42:4, 97:12, 106:47, 138:2), ‘rejoice’ (Psalm 33:21, 97:12, 105:3) ‘bow down’ (Psalm 5:7), ‘worship’ (Psalm 5:7, 29:2, 96:9, 99:5, 99:9), ‘shout’ (Psalm 42:4), ‘celebrate’ (Psalm 42:4), ‘tremble’ (Psalm 96:9), ‘vow’ (Proverbs 20:25), ‘quiet’ (Nehemiah 8:11), ‘trust’ (Psalm 33:21).
  • ‘Holy’ appears together with obedience: ‘obey’ (Numbers 15:40, Deuteronomy 28:9), ‘keep his commands’ (Deuteronomy 28:9), ‘choose’ (Numbers 16:7, Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2).
  • ‘Holy’ appears together with virtues: ‘humble’ (Leviticus 23:24, Numbers 29:7), ‘joy’ (Nehemiah 8:10), ‘boast’ (Psalm 105:3, 106:47), ‘love’ (Psalm 138:2, 2 Corinthians 6:6, 13:13, Colossians 3:12), ‘faithful’ (Psalm 138:2, Hosea 11:12), ‘faith’ (Acts 6:5, 11:24), ‘righteous’ (Acts 3:19, Romans 7:12, 14:17, 1 Thessalonians 2:10, Revelation 22:11), ‘trustworthy’ (Acts 13:34), ‘joy’ (Acts 13:52, Romans 14:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:5), ‘good’ (Romans 7:12, Titus 2:3), ‘alive’ (Romans 12:1), ‘pleasing to God’ (Romans 7:1), ‘peace’ (Romans 14:17), ‘hope’ (Romans 15:13), ‘knowledge’ (2 Corinthians 6:6), ‘benevolence’ (2 Corinthians 6:6), ‘grace’ (2 Corinthians 13:13), ‘fellowship’ (2 Corinthians 13:13), ‘deep conviction’ (1 Thessalonians 1:5), ‘wisdom’ (2 Timothy 3:15), ‘innocent’ (Hebrews 7:26), ‘true’ (Revelation 3:7, 6:10), ‘blessed’ (Revelation 20:6).
  • ‘Holy’ appears together with expressions of power: ‘strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10, Psalm 68:35), ‘reign’ (Psalm 47:8), ‘rule’ (Psalm 68:5), ‘splendor’ (Psalm 68:17, 68:24), ‘sacred’ (Joel 1:14), ‘power’ (Psalm 68:35, 1 Thessalonians 1:5), ‘anoint’ (Psalm 89:20), ‘awesome’ (Psalm 111:9), ‘exalted’ (Isaiah 57:15, Hebrews 7:26). ‘majestic’ (Isaiah 63:15).
  • ‘Sanctify’ (for example, Leviticus 20:7, 21:8) and ‘consecrate’ (for example, 2 Chronicles 5:11) are not separate terms. They are just other forms of the word ‘holy’, meaning to ‘make something holy’.
  • ‘Holiness’ appears in contrast to ‘defile the body and spirit’ (2 Corinthians 7:1), ‘lustful passion’ (1 Thessalonians 4:5), and ‘impurity’ (1 Thessalonians 4:7). Each occurs in the context of sexual misconduct.
  • ‘Holy’ appears in contrast to ritual impurity: ‘defile’ (Leviticus 11:44, 20:3, 21:7), ‘impurities’ (Leviticus 16:16), ‘profane’ (Leviticus 19:8, 20:3, 21:6, 21:23, 22:2, 22:32, Numbers 18:32, Ezekiel 36:21, 36:22, 39:7, 43:7), ‘flaw’ (Leviticus 21:23), ‘disease’ (Leviticus 22:4), ‘discharge’ (Leviticus 22:4), ‘dead’ (Leviticus 22:4), ‘emission’ (Leviticus 22:4), ‘swarming’ (Leviticus 22:5), ‘unclean’ (Leviticus 22:5, 1 Corinthians 7:14), ‘pollute’ (Psalm 79:1), ‘indecent’ (Deuteronomy 23:14), ‘cut’ (Deuteronomy 14:1), ‘shave’ (Deuteronomy 14:1), ‘turn away’ (Deuteronomy 23:14), ‘desecrate’ (Ezekiel 22:8, 22:26), ‘dogs’ (Matthew 7:6), ‘pigs’ (Matthew 7:6).
  • ‘Holy’ appears in contrast to misconduct: ‘divorce’ (Leviticus 21:7), ‘transgressions’ (Leviticus 16:16), ‘iniquity’ (Leviticus 19:8), ‘wicked’ (1 Samuel 2:9), ‘lie’ (Acts 5:3), ‘sexual misconduct’ (1 Thessalonians 4:3), ‘slander’ (Titus 2:3), ‘excessive drinking’ (Titus 2:3).
  • ‘Holy’ appears in contrast to disrepute: ‘work’ (Leviticus 23:3, 23:8, 23:21, 23:35, Numbers 28:18, 28:25, 28:26, 29:1, 29:7, 29:12, 29:35), ‘mourn’ (Nehemiah 8:9), ‘weep’ (Nehemiah 8:9), ‘grieve’ (Nehemiah 8:10, 8:11), ‘invade’ (Psalm 79:1), ‘despise’ (Ezekiel 22:8), ‘abuse’ (Ezekiel 22:26), ‘forsake’ (Daniel 11:30).
‘Holiness’ is an important concept in the law of Moses.
  • God himself is holy (Leviticus 20:3, Exodus 3:5).The priests must be holy (Exodus 28:35ff., 30:10ff., Leviticus 21).
  • The people must be holy (Exodus 19:6, Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, 14:21, 33:2-5). That is why they must not eat meat that was slaughtered by an animal (Exodus 22:3) or creeping things (Leviticus 11:44ff.). That is why they must remain ritually pure (Deuteronomy 14:1-24). They must tear down all altars to idols (Deuteronomy 7:5-7). They must obey all of the laws and statutes of the lord their God (Leviticus 20:7-8, 19:1-3, Numbers 1:37-41, Deuteronomy 26:16-19). Then the surrounding people will observe that they belong to the lord (Deuteronomy 28:8-10).
  • The meetings of the people are holy (Exodus 12:16, Leviticus 23).
  • The Sabbath day is holy (Genesis 2:3, Exodus 16:23, 20:8-11, Numbers 28:18-26, Leviticus 23:3-8, 31:15, 35:2, Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
  • Things are holy, like the most holy place (Exodus 26:33-34, Leviticus 16:1ff.), sacrifices (Exodus 29:33ff., Leviticus 27), holy days (Exodus 30:10ff.), the altar (Exodus 40:9ff.), offerings (Leviticus 2:10, 6:16ff., 22), incense (Exodus 30:36-37), the camp (Deuteronomy 23:14), and even the tassels (Numbers 15:37-41).
Be ‘holy’ because I am ‘holy’.
The law of Moses repeatedly demands that Israel must be ‘holy’ because God himself is ‘holy’ (Exodus 19:6, Leviticus 11:44-45, 20:7, 20:26, 21:8, Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2, 26:19). Peter references this text when writing to the persecuted Asian church (1 Peter 1:15-16). Since ‘holiness’ is an attribute of God, the people who belong to him are required to possess it. They are blessed, but their blessing must produce a changed life, dedicating their conduct to serve the lord.
So then, what is ‘holiness’?
  • ‘Holiness’ means some particular things for those that love the Lord.
  • Disciples must turn from evil to become ‘holy’ like God: Do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, but, like the holy one who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, because I am holy’ (citing Leviticus 11:44-45 in1 Peter 1:14-16).
  • ‘Holiness’ means that disciples now have a special purpose: Present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).
  • Disciples may live among the nations, but they are different from them. This distinction exists to glorify God and demonstrate his power. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
  • It is his intention that the other people will notice this difference, and they will turn to him.
    • The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. (Deuteronomy 28:9-10).
    • In the future the mountain of the Lord’s temple will endure as the most important of mountains, and will be the most prominent of hills. All the nations will stream to it, many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mountain, to the temple of the God of Jacob, so he can teach us his requirements, and we can follow his standards.’ (Isaiah 2:2-3)
If these things are not happening, and in abundance, then something is wrong.