Podcast Date: September 15, 2017
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon: Hi, this is Jon at The Bible Project. We've been working on a lot of things here
at The Bible Project, and one of those things that you might be familiar with
is a series of videos on YouTube called Theme Videos. Theme Videos are
biblical motifs, biblical ideas that you could take and trace from the
beginning of Scripture all the way to the end. It's a theme that develops, that
has its own story arc, and always culminates in Jesus and finds its climax in
We have about a dozen theme videos on our YouTube channel now, and we
have plans for another dozen to complete that series. These themes are so
deep and rich that we can't cover all of it in a five-minute animated video.
These podcasts conversations help fill those out.
But another project we want to do is to make workbooks that accompany as
every single theme video. We've been working on this project. We made a
beta workbook on the theme of Heaven and Earth. We printed about 5,000 of
those and we sent them out to some of our supporters to test them out with
groups. We're getting feedback on those right now. So thank you for doing
We're also starting to lay the groundwork for another workbook on the
theme of Holiness. And that's what this podcast is going to be about. As we
thought about this workbook on holiness and what the big takeaways were,
we decided we needed to have a conversation to flesh it all out. So we turned
on the mics and recorded that conversation.
You're going to hear a new voice on this podcast. His name is Paul Pastor.
He's a colleague of ours, and he's an author, and he's helping us write this
workbook on holiness.
So why holiness? Holiness is a confusing and loaded word. It's a word we
don't use in common English, at least I don't, but it's a word we constantly
use in religious settings. "God is holy." "I want to be holy." "Holy, holy, holy."
What do we actually mean when we're saying, "holy?" Does a negative
connotation to holiness, where someone's holier than thou detached, stuffy,
and stuck up? Is that what we mean or is it something else entirely?
Tim: Most humans have an intuitive sense that there is something transcendent or
beautiful that we sometimes attain to. What we want to focus on is not just
morality, and not just being set apart, but all those things are really ways the
Bible is saying we can participate in something transcendent and beautiful.
Like that thing that it's only God, but it is something that God wants to invite
Jon: Thanks for joining us. Here we go.
If I remember correctly, the reason why we're having this conversation is
we're writing a workbook. Actually, first, I should introduce up a new person
in the conversation, Paul Pastor.
Paul: Hi, everybody. I'm not a pastor. This is just my name. So I guess I am a Pastor.
Jon: He is a Pastor.
Tim: You're a Pastor. You're Paul Pastor.
Paul: I'm Paul Pastor.
Jon: Paul Pastor is an author, and he's helping us write a workbook. We're going
to try to write workbooks. This is the idea.
Tim: For all the theme videos.
Jon: For all the theme videos. We'll hopefully one day have an accompanying
Tim: We try to hand at one already, had a good learning experience, and decided
we wanted the help of somebody who could write better than we can.
Jon: Who actually does that right. And that's Paul. Paul has been talking with us
about the next workbook, which is going to be on the theme of holiness. As
we were getting ready, we wanted to have a discussion about one aspect that
we think will kind of ground the conference, which is...Well, we were calling it
This idea of God's holiness....I mean, let's back up. Holiness is a really abstract
term, and for our purposes, the shorthand is we're talking about it as God's
otherness is uniqueness. I don't know. Tim, why don't you actually give the
Tim: Yeah, sure. Holiness in the Bible it's a foreign concept to modern western
people's view. It doesn't matter vocabulary. Many concepts we already have
in our head.
In the Bible, most religious people, if they know the word, they connect
holiness with "moral behavior." Or if they've made it through Leviticus and
internalized it, some they'll connect holiness with something about "being set
apart" or "people being set apart from common use."
So "holiness," essentially, I think, in most people's understanding is about
being a "good person" and being "set apart" from bad things. Which is one
of those things where, yeah, okay, that's part of it, but that's just one part.
That's that one part actually doesn't really even make very much sense
without a much bigger picture and within the larger story. That's what we did
in the holiness video.
Then we wanted to unpack what it means for God to be holy, and then what
it means for people to participate in God's holiness, and how Jesus fits in to
that. There you go. It has something to do with being set apart.
Paul: Actually, just before this conversation, Tim and I were perusing some things
he saw in a Bible dictionary. We noted that a lot of people quickly define
holiness as the absence of something, like the absence of sin or the absence
of impurity. And that's certainly included in the biblical narrative.
But there's something more there. There's the present of something. And
that's what we're working to stretch towards here. What is that present thing
and how do we best name it? And what does that tell us about God and
Tim: I've got open in front of me The Dictionary of the Old Testament University
Press. They're big, fat dictionary just on the Pentateuch.
Paul: God bless them.
Tim: God bless them. They have a great entry on holiness. Who wrote this article?
Jon: I don't know him.
Tim: I don't know who that is. He goes on to say, "Holiness is often defined as
either one separation objects consecrated for use in the temple or tabernacle
are removed or set apart." Then he says, "However, separation doesn't get us
to the end of the meaning of holiness because it fails to provide any content
to what it means for something to be holy or set apart in the first place"
Then he says, "Second, holiness and morality or ethics are often so equated
that people use the terms synonymously." And this is where we get the
phrase "holier than thou" in English, where "holier than thou" usually refers to
a religious person who thinks that they live more morally than other people.
He says, "God is described as holy in terms of his moral character, but God's
moral character isn't just his holiness. It's his righteousness, his goodness, his
generosity, and so on."
Then he says this. "In Israel's Canaanite neighbors, they wrote lots of
literature, and their gods are often called holy." Then he notes this. This is
fascinating. He says, "In Canaanite literature, things that are not divine but
connected with the divine or the spirit realm are often called holy, like trees,
or streams, or burial grounds, sacred objects that are closely related to the
gods and the spirit world."
Then he talks about how, in many of the Psalms in the Old Testament, God's
holiness is used and described along with adjectives like majestic, glorious,
awesome, inspiring and beautiful. And he says that's where we should start is
this idea of beauty and power and goodness as the core meaning of holiness.
Jon: That brings us back to I think what we wanted to focus on for this
conversation, is to say, "What is that? What is like this ultimate good? What is
an ideal kind of state of perfection - is a word we will probably start throwing
around in a way?
But if God is holy because he has these things: he is the manifest, awesome,
goodness, and if he created creation, the universe, to be that what does that
look like? What does that state? What is this ideal? What does the Bible have
to say about what it means to be in a state of perfection?
Tim: One of the few times - we may focus on this in the video - the only time in
the Old Testament God's called Holy, holy, holy, which is in Isaiah as vision
where he's inside the temple—
Jon: Thrice Holy.
Tim: Thrice Holy.
Paul: Isaiah chapter 6.
Tim: Isaiah chapter 6. God's holiness in the next line of what they say, is connected
to his status as the creator, the whole earth is full of his glory. So it's God
status as the creator of this world that itself is beautiful and amazing and
awe-inspiring. It's just a manifestation of how much more amazing and awe-inspiring
the beautiful mind that designed it is.
The idea is God's the ultimate of everything. What we want to focus on is not
just morality, and not just being set apart. But all those things are really ways
the Bible is saying we can participate in something transcendent and
beautiful. Like that thing that it's only God, but it is something that God
wants to invite people into. That's what we want to get at.
That's where we're going to start the workbook is to be in touch with most
humans have an intuitive sense that there is something transcendent or
beautiful that we sometimes attain to, or something ethical and good and
noble, the right thing to do, but that I only sometimes do, or only halfway do.
I think that's where we want to start at, is to say, we actually all have a
concept of holiness even if we don't use that word to describe it.
Jon: That's the when if we can do that. Maybe it's not the right move, but can we
start with this general idea of we all hunger for the sense of completeness,
where everything is firing on all cylinders, things are connected, things work
together, things don't decay, relationships are healthy, relationships don't fall
This sense of shalom, this is something that deep in our guts we desire and
we long for, which is very connected to the...You brought up Tim CS Lewis. Is
Tim: Yeah. Many places that theme comes out. But I forget the inconsolable
longing. This is a famous passage in...oh, I forget.
Paul: I don't remember either. But it strikes me how quickly this conversation gets
pastoral, like immediately intersecting our life where it hurts in pain and
pleasure. Just how quickly we see the broken aspect of that through pain or
through suffering. And that feeling, this isn't how it should be.
Jon: I like starting there because this idea of holiness as it pertains to just some
ethic that I'm supposed to have, it sounds challenging. It sounds isolating in
the sense that the holier than thou like, I got to be the holy person and so it's
going to make put me on some different level that I'm going to look down at
people. That's interesting.
Tim: That's like the ethical side. The other one is like, "Oh, God set apart." It says
he set-apartness and he's the holy one. It's interesting. It's very interesting.
Jon: It's like a thought experiment.
Tim: But is that where we want to start to help us really grasp this idea?
Jon: But what Paul just was talking about is this thing that we all wrestle with,
which is, why aren't things a little myriad right now?
Paul: Or if this is how they were supposed to be, why am I feeling so messed up
about it too? Why would I have this emotion if it didn't point me to
something greater than what we're experiencing?
Jon: So what we're longing for there, can we say that what we're longing for there
Paul: That's a really good question. Or is holiness the byproduct of some third
Tim: We should find an analogy to sort out our vocabulary, probably. Holiness is
an adjective that describes the status of God who is set apart because he is
the ultimate embodiment and definition of beauty, goodness, awesomeness.
Jon: So "holiness" is an adjective?
Tim: Holiness is the way we talk about the gap between me and the ideal. If God is
that ultimate everything, then there's the gap that make "what do I call that
distinction because I'm not all those things?" The category of something that
is more ideal than I am right now, that is holy.
Jon: Got it. Something connected to the ideal is holy.
Tim: Correct. But the word doesn't describe what the ideal is. The word is just
describing the status God has as the embodiment of the ideal.
Jon: I think that's where I wanted to start the workbook with this idea of what this
thing is. We need an analogy, but also we need a vocabulary for what that
thing is. We're calling it the ideal. Is there a better word?
Tim: Well, in Isaiah 6:3, it's called "Glory."
Paul: Kavod in Hebrew.
Tim: Yeah, kavod, which is just God's significance as the beautiful mind that
generated the universe.
Paul: Brown-Driver-Briggs, kind of the key Hebrew dictionary also includes
"abundance" as one of the possible translations of kavod.
Tim: Yes, that's right. Fullness.
Paul: This understanding of complete fullness.
Jon: I like that. Fullness, abundance, completeness, those are interesting words.
Paul: Because there's a sense of limitlessness to that. It's really intriguing when you
think about the character of God as somebody who's always giving, always
creating. And that's part of where his glory and his uniqueness comes from is
in the fact that he's limitlessly abundant.
Jon: We have a state which is "abundance."
Tim: Yeah, fullness.
Jon: Fullness. We have a state to describe the discrepancy between something
that's more connected to fullness and abundance than everyday life, which
we call holiness. And then we have just kind of everyday life state - which is
Tim: The biblical word "chol." Common. Common.
Jon: I thought you were just saying the word "whole."
Tim: Oh, no. Chol is the Hebrew word.
Jon: Like whole?
Tim: So there's sacred or holy, kadosh, and then there's what is not sacred. What is
common, and not whole. Then that maps on to another set of vocabulary,
which is "pure," the thing that is close to the holy and therefore more like the
Jon: That thing is pure.
Tim: Then the opposite of being in a state of purity, it's being impure. English
translations often have unclean.
Jon: Clean and unclean.
Tim: Then how do you become unclean? We talked about this in the video. You
touch something dead, you yourself have deadness on your skin, like mold,
or skin disease or you're leaking reproductive fluids, male or female.
Jon: I think we are getting ahead of ourselves here.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. But I'm just saying those thing will render you impure. This
is interesting mapping where there's the sacred and the common and there's
the pure and there's the impure.
Jon: So the sacred is the wholeness, the common is impurity and just everyday life
Tim: Yeah, that's right,
Jon: And when you are living in the common and you encounter something that's
connected to the sacred or full, you would describe that thing as being holy?
Tim: Yeah, you'd describe it as holy. Then if somebody asked you, "What is it that
makes God the ultimate?" You would use words like Isaiah. "I saw God sitting
on a throne and he was awesome, he was majestic, he was beautiful, he
wasn't completely other and completely good."
Paul: That common rhetorical question, who is like God?
Jon: I think there might be a military analogy in this maybe. What is it called when
you're civilian or you're enlisted? I don't know what it would be.
Tim: Yeah, sure, sure
Jon: What is it called?
Jon: Well, the civilian is the commoner.
Tim: Civilian is the commoner, yeah.
Jon: Then you've got the per—
Tim: Just like an officer or...
Jon: Dad, what's the...? My dad sitting here? You don't know? Okay.
Tim: That's about status.
Jon: It's about status. And so if a civilian—
Paul: And purpose too. Status and purpose - they are set apart for something.
Tim: Yes. Good. Keep going.
Jon: So what then would be the word when a civilian encounter someone in the
Tim: High ranking officer
Jon: Especially, a high ranking officer? When you notice that that person is a lot
more high ranking than you, what's the word you would use to describe that?
Paul: I have a word to describe the proper way to encounter that. And that's
protocol. Like if you meet a government official, you're told to go through a
series of protocol, which are the manners that you use to show respect short
not just for the person, but for the position of the person.
Tim: That's right.
Paul: So perhaps there's this element of protocol that we could think about. Like if
we were to meet, say, the President of United States, say the Queen of
England, say any sitting dignitary, there are ways we would move and not
move, ways we would approach them.
Tim: And if you were to take them out of context and ask about the purpose of
those behaviors, they might seem ridiculous or even irrational.
Jon: So we're connecting that to purity laws right now? Is that what we are doing?
Tim: They are like analogy to purity laws or kosher food laws. That's a great. That's
Jon: So now I just need that word that's the analog to holy.
Tim: Maybe we can just use the word "holy."
Tim: And then I guess that's where the analogy breaks down. Because the military,
in general, isn't the embodiment of beauty, and goodness and ethical.
Jon: But if it wasn't military because I defend and fight and something like that,
but it's a status because I represent complete fullness this - what was the
other word we're using? - abundance, I represent those things, then the
discrepancy would be just holy.
Tim: That's right. When biblical characters like Moses in the burning bush, people
in the temple, Moses trying to go into the tabernacle, Isaiah in the temple,
different psalms that open up describing God's holiness, all of these biblical
texts describe the encounter as encountering light, like brightness, light,
power, overwhelming beauty. They countered—
Paul: There's a sense of fire and danger to it.
Tim: Also there was that double-edged, that the goodness is so good, that it can
be dangerous to you. But yeah, all of it revolves around this idea, this
overflowing embodiment of all that is good and beautiful and powerful
located in a person, a being.
Paul: I have a question then. If that's what we were made for, why the discrepancy?
Why do we need to learn how to re-approach that? I understand sin and the
story of corruption, but it seems complicated.
Tim: Well, that's true. I'm just thinking through the biblical narrative. The way that
Genesis 1 and 2 gets this is through the image. Humans are the image of
God. Humans are like reflective mirror.
Jon: To reflect the holiness.
Tim: Yeah. We are meant to be embodiments of all that is good and awesome.
Jon: Shouldn't be a foreign thing.
Tim: Humans are made as these mirrors that are to reflect the goodness that puts
God in the status of holiness. And then the story of the rebellion and all that,
Genesis 3 to 11. I guess you do have to say it in narrative terms. Humans are
made to be holy because we're mirrors of the Divine.
Paul: So abundance is kind of our natural habitat then?
Tim: Yeah, right. As the story goes, then we are living a sub-human existence.
Paul: That's an interesting way to think of it.
Jon: Right. To be fully human is to be connected to abundance for complete life.
Tim: Yeah, of our Creator and therefore our purpose...
Jon: And therefore to be holy?
Tim: Yes. Probably the one place where this gets—Go ahead.
Jon: What's the Hebrew word for "holy"?
Jon: "Holy" is just such a loaded word for me in English. It's just so hard. Yeah.
Tim: But again holiness describes the set-apartness of a being that is the ideal.
Jon: So we wouldn't use that word if we were connected to abundant fullness? We
wouldn't say like, "Oh, that's holy," because we wouldn't need to describe the
Tim: Correct. It's the same kind of thing going on the last page of the Bible. The
renewed creation. There's no temple because all creation is the temple.
Everything's holy because it's the new creation. And God's character is
described as light. That's why there's no need for the sun, or moon, all those
this kind of thing.
Paul: So he's everywhere?
Tim: Yeah, it's everywhere. John in that passage is riffing off of, sheesh, Ezekiel 47, 48, Zachariah 14, all these things that talk about the new
creation. There's in Zachariah 14, where he has a vision of the New Jerusalem
and the new creation, and he says even the little pots in people's kitchens or
the bells on horse’s bridles will be holy. He tries to think of the most common
unremarkable things of everyday life, and says, "Even those will be kadosh."
Paul: Like your hubcaps and tin cans.
Tim: Even your toothbrush will be holy. Something like that. That's the idea. What
we want is both a word and to describe this ideal, and then to say, "Most of
the human experience as most humans know it is both in awareness of things
ought to be better, I ought to be better."
Jon: That there is this sense of something.
Tim: There is some ideal or something that I'm supposed to be but that I'm
perpetually not. And there's something this world ought to be but that it's
not. And now what is that thing that should be?
Jon: Then coming into contact with that thing, it would appear to be holy. That
thing, from this vantage point, the vantage point of the common, the ideal is
other holy, unique.
Tim: Here. I'll share Personally. I just had this experience at the Oregon coast
recently where I was there with my kids and we were building...Actually, we
weren't even building sandcastles. We were there for like four days.
Every day we had shovels and we would try and make in the section of sand
that's getting...every eighth wave comes up, so you have a couple minutes.
And we would try to build the biggest heap of sand possible to withstand the
wave as the tide was coming in. My kids just loved it. We did it for like two
hours, just heaping piles of sand, only to watch them get crashed.
Then after, I don't know, half an hour, I started to have this transcendent
moment of, this is the universe. The waves would start coming, the tide would
be coming in, and I was just like, "We're just making this thing and there's
nothing we can do to make this thing withstand the power and energy of the
waves in the course of time."
Then there was just ocean roaring in my face as we're out there in the surf
and so on in the end. Then I'm just going like, "Oh, my, we're space rock in
the middle of the universe." I was having one of those moments. Then I was
envisioning us here on the planet.
Jon: Building cities?
Tim: Building cities and civilizations. You know, it's one of those moments of the
Jon: And then the wave of time just inevitably gets to wipe them out.
Tim: That's right. I just had such a heightened awareness of my mortality, of the
shortness of my life, of my day to day activities where we're all making the
sand pile bigger and bigger. But I wasn't depressed. I was just awe inspired
by the power of the ocean. It's like it put me in my place. Really, I was just
overwhelmed by the power of the ocean and the waves, and how it's the
majority of our planet.
Jon: It's like the ocean works on a different level than you. It's been there long
before you, will be there long after you. It's got a power that's completely
different. So to you, you live in a very common space and it lives in this very
grand, intense abundance, full—
Tim: It's in abundance of space, of energy, of light, influence, of power, and of
longevity. Like the ocean's been here long before me, it'll be...That's what I
was having at that moment with the ocean. And it was overwhelming to me.
Jon: That feeling you had was the feeling of the oceans holiness?
Tim: Correct. That's right.
Jon: It's otherness.
Tim: I would say, other than me, it's holy. But what I'm really describing is all of
these qualities that the ocean has that I do not.
Jon: Well, you're describing the feeling that you're getting the sense of the
difference between you and the ocean is the sense of the holiness. But then
all the qualities you could call it something else? It's grandness, its
awesomeness, it's glory if you were to use those words.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: It's also interesting with this metaphor "the ocean can destroy you very
Paul: And we teach our kids about that. You don't approach it with your back.
There's a protocol of approach when it comes to the ocean.
Tim: Yeah. The same afternoon, my son wanted to drag a big driftwood log out
into the surf and ride the log, and I was trying to tell him, "Dude, that's such a
Jon: Especially on the Oregon coast?
Tim: Oh, yeah, because these waves would just totally lift it up and drop it on your
head kind of thing.
Jon: Here's one thing I'm thinking about. The workbook is on holiness, but of
holiness is just one term to describe this moment of realizing the otherness
of something that you're in the presence of, then it's really just one approach
to begin talking about a much bigger set of ideas.
I sometimes wonder, is this workbook really on holiness or is it on this bigger
idea of being made for something grand, the ideal, longing for it, and
experiencing it sometimes, and that experience being whole the sense of
holiness and then a call to our lives to participate in it, and a sense of awe
and reverence for the author of it? All of these ideas are what we're really
going to be talking about, possibly. And so holiness just becomes one way to
begin the conversation. Or are we strictly going to be just talking about the
term, the word, the vocabulary of holiness?
Paul: Or perhaps the image of holiness, pictures of holiness. We've had
conversations about this before, but the Bible at specific intervals throughout
its story gives the people of God an image that they can see God's holiness.
The intent of meeting of meeting the tabernacle, the temple. Of course, that's
reinterpreted later as Jesus and then the body of Christ. So we get all of these
reminders of what that space of abundance image does the Garden of Eden
really in Genesis, of what that is like to actually see it in our lives, to actually
be able to encounter it and be able to experience it.
Tim: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, we get one contextualized response of the
ancient Israelites. It was the set of symbolic behaviors to participate in
holiness through this ritual purity, but all of it was aimed at removing myself
from things associated with death and mortality, and dedicating myself to life
or purity and the way that their culture can conceive of it.
This is from a different dictionary entry, The New International Dictionary of
Old Testament theology and Ex-Jesus. That's the title of this dictionary.
Jon: Does it have an acronym that goes along with it?
Tim: So ridiculous. Anyway. In their entry on kadosh or holiness - this is Jackie
Node who wrote this essay - he cites theologian Rudolf Otto, which I don't
know that much about him, but he wrote a book called The Idea of the Holy
or Concept of the Holy. He's summarizing the Old Testament on holiness, and
he summarizes these characteristics of the Divine in this way. "A majesty,
vitality, otherness, and compelling fascination," are the way he summarizes
the character traits in the Old Testament that make God holy.
Jon: Wait. The trait is fascination?
Tim: A compelling fascinations. What he's saying is, when people have these
encounters with the Holy God like Isaiah or Moses, compelling fascination. So
they're fascinated I think maybe in a technical sense of that word.
Paul: Yeah. Almost like hypnotized.
Tim: Totally, yeah. That's it.
Paul: They're held there. Their attention is—
Jon: Kind of like what you're talking about with the ocean.
Tim: Yeah, that's it. I was compellingly fascinated. Then he says this. He says, "The
Jon: Oh hold on. Fascinated, bewitched comes from enchanted is it the Latin
fascinators to enchant? A charm.
Paul: Yeah. For something else to hold power over your attention.
Tim: Yeah, that's it. That's good. Then he goes on and he says, "Different sections
of the Old Testament call for a different response to this God. The priestly
tradition and he means here Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, requires a response
of purity and cleanness."
But then he says, "The prophetic tradition demands a response of social
justice, a social cleanness or social purity. The wisdom books stress the
cleanness of our inner integrity and individual moral act." That was kind of
helpful to say different parts of the Bible call towards a different realization of
Jon: What is it again?
Tim: In the priestly texts it's the symbolic behaviors, ritual purity. The prophetic
books, it's a cleanness or purity of social behavior.
Jon: It's like righteousness.
Tim: Think Amos. The righteousness flow like a river, that kind of thing. Then in the
wisdom books, it's about a cleanness of inner integrity and moral decision. I
just thought that was very helpful.
Tim: So what we're isolating, God is the abundant whole complete one.
Tim: And different parts of the Bible are going to use different vocabulary and
different environments, practices to push humans to be better image bearers
of that God. A whole bunch of the Bible uses the language of purity and
holiness to do that.
Jon: I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Bible Project podcast. Next week, we'll
finish this conversation on the Christian Ideal of Holiness. If you'd like to
check out our theme video on holiness, there's a link to it in our show notes.
We also have lots of other videos on our YouTube page. It's
youtube.com/thebibleproject. You could find our entire library there. You
could also find it on our website, thebibleproject.com.
If you're enjoying this podcast, feel free to leave us a review. It's actually really
helpful in other people discovering this podcast.
Also, Tim now has his own podcast, a compilation of his lectures and sermons
over the years. It's called "Exploring my Strange Bible." A great episode to
start with if you haven't listened to any of Tim's sermons is an episode called
Science and Faith. Make sure to check that out and thanks for being a part of
this with us.