© Rosemary Bardsley 2007,2016

We have been conditioned to think of the word ‘holy’ solely as a reference to moral purity. While ‘holy’ does indeed include moral perfection, its meaning is far more penetrating than that.

In the Old Testament we find non-moral objects such as the ground, garments, gifts, ointment, oil, basins, utensils, incense, things, fruit, a year, water, a city, and a hill all being described as ‘holy’. Their holiness did not consist in their moral purity or their physical cleanness, but in the fact that each of these objects was set apart by God for his special use or purpose.

There are two key factors in their designation ‘holy’:

These objects were set apart by God, for God, for his unique use only, not for common use. These temporal objects designated ‘holy’ derive that holiness from him to whom and for whose use they are dedicated and devoted.

He, for whom and by whom they were set apart, is ‘holy’ – he is himself ‘set apart’, unique, not common. He, God, is one of a kind. He is not a common ‘god’. Indeed, he is the only God.

In the Old Testament the words qadas [verb], qodes [noun] and qados [adjective] are used in reference to ‘sanctification’ and ‘sanctify’ and to the related concepts: holiness, holy, dedicated, devoted, separated, consecrated, sacred, set apart for God’s special use, as well as the use of ‘holy’ as a description of God.

Similarly in the New Testament, hagiasmos, hagiosune, hagiotes, hagios, hagiazo, refer to ‘sanctification’ words: holy, holiness, sanctification, saint, sanctify, make holy.

The common denominator is all of these words and all of their uses is the concept of something that is distinctly different, something that, one way or another, is set apart from everything else. Something that is not common, or, not for common use.

In this is the holiness of God presented in the Bible: he is the only God.



Thus, when the Old Testament teaches us that God is holy, his moral goodness is only a part of that description. More specifically and more importantly the holiness of God speaks of his absolute otherness, his total uniqueness, his complete disassociation and difference from all else that might call itself ‘god’ and from everything else that exists. He is the only one of his kind: he is holy: he is totally set apart. He has no equal. His beauty, his goodness, his perfection, his power, his majesty are all unequalled and unparalleled. He cannot be likened to anything or anyone, for there is nothing and no one like him – there is nothing up there on the same level as he is to which he can be compared. Everything falls far short of this unique, one-of-a-kind, ‘holy’ God.  Because of this unique otherness, this holiness of God, he is to be held in awe and respect: he is unapproachable.

How is God’s holiness and its implication expressed in these verses? [Read the context for clarification]
Exodus 15:11


Joshua 24:19-20


1Samuel 2:2


Job 6:8-10


Psalm 99:5,9


Isaiah 1:4 [this name of God is used many times in Isaiah]

Isaiah 5:16


Isaiah 6:1-7


Isaiah 40:12-31


The fact that God is ‘holy’ means that he is no common, ordinary ‘god’; he is not such a ‘god’ that one can swap and change for another; he is not such a ‘god’ to whom one can display only a fickle, half-hearted allegiance; he is not such a ‘god’ who is willing to share worship and honour with other ‘gods’ or with other powers, including human powers. As Isaiah 40 graphically points out, this ‘Holy One’ is beyond comparison. Totally unique. Totally other. Totally awesome. Not just in his purity but in his infinite power and authority, indeed, in all that he is.


Throughout the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament, there is a repetitious condemnation of all god concepts other than the God revealed and defined as the one true God. This opposition to idols is, in fact, one of the dominant themes of the Bible, and the Israelites’ failure to acknowledge God as God, to the exclusion of idols, is the underlying cause of all the judgments that came upon them. Significant large sections of the Bible were written either to prevent defection from the one true God, or to rebuke defection from the one true God and warn of the inevitable consequences and judgments that would follow hard on the heels of that defection. To embrace idols is to grievously offend the one true God. To embrace idols is the essence of blasphemy.

To treat God as common, as exchangeable with other gods, as just one among many belief options one could choose, is to deny the reality of who he is: he is holy. He is the only God.

The Bible outlaws all other god concepts. It speaks with amazement and horror that anyone would discard the holy God and replace him with a god fabricated by human hands or by human imagination.

Study these bible passages carefully. [Read the surrounding context for clarification if necessary.]
[1] Identify the key implications of the holiness of God in relation to other ‘gods’.
[2] Identify the outcomes of idolatry for those who substitute idols in the place of the holy God.

Exodus 20:1-7



Exodus 34:10-17


Deuteronomy 4:15-20, 24-31,32-39



Deuteronomy 6:4-15



Isaiah 41:21-24


Isaiah 44:6-20



Isaiah 45:18-23


Isaiah 46:1-10

Isaiah 48:14-15


Isaiah 57:3-13


Jeremiah 2:5-28


Jeremiah 7:16-20



Jeremiah 10:1-16



Jeremiah 16:16-21


Ezekiel 6:1-14

Ezekiel 16
Ezekiel 23


Hosea 2:5-13



Micah 5:10-13



Habakkuk 2:18-20




Similar to God’s prohibition of idolatry, but distinct from it, is his prohibition of all occult practices in which humans attempt to make contact with and gain guidance from psychic or spiritual forces or powers. Such contact is a substitute for the relationship with God and the trust in God for which we were created, and a substitute for dependence on his Word. It is not tolerated by God; indeed it is highly offensive to him.

Read these passages. Write a five point summary of their teaching on the attitude of the Holy God to these practices.

Deut 18:9-13
Isaiah 8:19
Isaiah 47:12-15
Isaiah 57:8
Isaiah 65:11-12
Jeremiah 10:2
Jeremiah 27:9-10
Ezekiel 13:17-23
Acts 19:18-19
Galatians 5:19-20
Revelation 22:15



Because God is ‘holy’ – because he alone is God – he is opposed to any corruption or dilution of the truth he has revealed about himself. We are not at liberty to make up our own ‘truth’. If the true truth about the one true God is lost, the next generation will be without hope and without God in the world.

Study these Bible passages. Although they may not all mention the fact that God is holy, they all reflect or assume his holiness.

[1] How do these verses oppose false teaching?
Jeremiah 6:13-17

Jeremiah 8:8-12

Jeremiah 23:25-40

Ezekiel 13:1-23


Matthew 7:15-32

Matthew 24:23-24

2Corinthians 11:1-15

2Timothy 4:1-5


[2] In what way do the above verses identify a human failure to acknowledge that God is the Holy One?





Because God is ‘holy’ he alone defines the criteria by which man is permitted to approach him. We do not have the right to decide that for ourselves. We do not have the right or the freedom to approach God on our own terms or conditions. God sets the terms. God sets the conditions. God explicitly states how he is to be approached and how he is to be worshipped.

Read the passages below to understand the implications of the holiness of God for our approach to him.

Implication #1: We cannot approach God or stand in his presence with our sin and guilt still upon us

Exodus 19:10-22
Isaiah 59:2
Hosea 5:4-6,15

Implication #2: We cannot approach God with hypocrisy and insincerity

Isaiah 1:10-15
Isaiah 48:1-2
Isaiah 58:3b-12

Implication #3: We cannot make up our own rules, or discard his rules, about how to worship him. [Note: The whole of Leviticus spells out the strict rules and conditions under which sinful man is able to approach God.]

Leviticus 10:1-3


Implication #4: We cannot worship God and false gods at the same time. Syncretism – holding two belief systems together at the same time – is outlawed. God refuses to share his glory.

Jeremiah 7:4-11
Jeremiah 7:30
Jeremiah 11:15
Ezekiel 5:11
Ezekiel 8:5-18
Ezekiel 20:30-31
Zephaniah 1:4-5

Implication #5: We can approach God only in and through Jesus Christ. When we do so, access and acceptance is guaranteed.

Romans 5:2
Ephesians 2:18
Ephesians 3:12
Hebrews 4:14-16
Hebrews 10:19-22