The People of God: Holiness (Part 1)


This is the third set of articles in the series “The People of God”. The first two dealt with the topics of “Israel as God’s People” (Part 1, 2, 3, 4) and “The Covenant” (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

The primary characteristic of the People of God is holiness. This is especially clear from a number of declarations (by YHWH) presented in the Torah, as in Leviticus 11:44-45:

“For I, YHWH, am your Mighty (One) [<yh!l)a$], and (so) you shall make yourselves holy [vb vd^q*], and (so) you shall be holy [<yv!d)q=]—for I am holy [vodq*]…. For I (am) YHWH, the (One) having brought you up from (the) land of Egypt, (in order) to be for you (your) Mighty (One) [<yh!l)a$], and (so) you shall be holy [<yv!d)q=], for I am holy [vodq*].”

This is summarized in the terser, and more famous, directive in Lev 19:2:

“You shall be holy, for I, YHWH, your Mighty (One), am holy.”

Because the People of God are God’s people, they are to share His fundamental (and central) attribute of holiness. In Lev 11:44-45 above, both the verb vd^q* and the related adjective vodq* are used. Thus, we can see that the root vdq represents the principal word-group in the Hebrew Old Testament (and in ancient Israelite thought) used to express the idea of holiness. It is important to begin our study with an examination of this word-group.

The RooT QDŠ

First, it is interesting to note that the root qdš (vdq), both in ancient Hebrew and the other Semitic languages, is used almost exclusively in a sacred or religious context; there is very little evidence for ordinary ‘secular’ usage. This is problematic for scholars who wish to assign it an original meaning of “cut” or “separate”. While vdq can, at times, carry the specific meaning of “set apart” (i.e., separate), this seems to be secondary, as a result of the more primary meaning “(be) clean, pure”. That which is pure, and which must remain pure, is to be set apart for this purpose. This secondary meaning covers the entire realm of the sacred, both from a religious and ritual standpoint (cf. the three aspects of holiness outlined down below) within society. That is to say, certain places, objects, and people are set apart and treated as holy.

As we see from the declarations in Lev 11:44-45 and 19:2 (above), purity or holiness is a fundamental attribute of God. The people are to be pure and holy because YHWH, their God, is pure and holy. This theological point is expressed throughout the Old Testament Scriptures—see, for example, Exod 15:11; Josh 24:19; 1 Sam 2:2; 6:20; Job 6:10; Psalm 22:3; 60:6; 77:13; 99:3, 5, 9; Prov 9:10; Isa 5:16; 6:3. The substantive adjective “Holy (One)” (vodq*), used as a Divine title, is relatively common, and obviously reflects the fundamental Divine attribute of holiness—cf. Job 6:10; Isa 40:25; 43:15; Ezek 39:7; Hos 11:9, 12; Hab 1:12; 3:3. Particularly important is the use of this title in the expression “Holy (One) of Israel”, which occurs frequently in the book of Isaiah (1:4; 5:19; 10:20; 12:6, et al), and is attested throughout the Scriptures—cf. 2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Jer 50:29; 51:5. Only rarely is the title “holy one” used of lesser heavenly (angelic) beings or a (consecrated) human being (Num 16:7; Psalm 16:10 [in its original context]; 106:16; Dan 4:13, 23; 8:13. There are examples of a cognate divine title (Qudšu) in Canaanite, used to represent a particular female deity (goddess), similarly emphasizing her holiness (cf. Cross, pp. 33-5).

Holiness: The Realm of the Sacred

Obviously, the longer title “Holy (One) of Israel”, noted above, captures the unique relationship between YHWH and Israel—He being their God, and they being His people (i.e. the People of God). The key declarations in the Torah clearly express this. In addition to Leviticus 11:44-45 and 19:2 (cf. above), we may note: Exod 19:5-6; Lev 20:7, 26; Deut 7:6; 14:2, 21; 26:19; 28:9. The Deuteronomic treatment of this theme will be discussed at a later point in this set of articles.

If YHWH, as God, is holy, then everything associated with Him is (and must be) holy as well. His name is holy (Lev 20:3, etc; 1 Chron 16:10; 22:19; 29:16; Psalm 30:4, and with some frequency in the Psalms; Isa 29:23; 57:15; Ezek 20:39; 36:20-23; 39:7, etc; Amos 2:7). The place where He dwells is holy—both in heaven (Deut 26:15, etc), and in his symbolic/ritual dwelling-place on earth among human beings (His people). The idea of the holy mountain of His dwelling rests midway between these two concepts—heavenly and earthly dwellings. The Temple locale, on the hilltop site of Zion, fulfills this sacred mountain typology at the local level (cf. Psalm 2:6; 3:4; 15:1; 24:3; 44:3, etc). The Temple sanctuary, like that of the earlier Tent-shrine (Tabernacle) is called the vd*q=m! (“holy place”), the –m preformative indicating a location or place (Exod 25:8, et al); the noun vd#q) (“holiness”) can also have a similar locative meaning (“holy place”), Exod 26:33ff; 36:1, etc. The innermost shrine of the sanctuary, where the Golden Chest (Ark) that represented the dwelling-place (and throne) of YHWH resided, was called the “holy (place) of the holy (place)s” (<yv!d*Q(h^ vd#q))—an idiomatic syntax that carries a superlative meaning, i.e., “the holiest place” (Exod 26:33-34, etc).

The maintenance of the symbolic/ritual dwelling of YHWH among His people—that is, in the sanctuary (“holy place”) of the Tent-shrine (and later Temple)—required an ‘apparatus of holiness’ to match that of the holy dwelling-place itself. Everything associated with the shrine had to be set apart and consecrated (i.e., made holy). For this reason, the vdq word-group—verb, adjective and noun(s)—occurs scores of times within the Torah regulations, documented in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Every object and utensil, the altars, the curtains and framework of the building itself—all of it had to be consecrated. Similarly, those who are to serve and work in the shrine—the sacred officials (priests) and related ministers—all had to be consecrated; for the priests, this meant both their person and their garments had to be made holy.

Moreover, it was necessary that this level of holiness be maintained, throughout the operation of the shrine, requiring a related set of purity restrictions and regulations. That which applied to the priests in this regard, however, was simply an extension of the purity regulations that applied to the people as a whole. This principle is expressed at a number of points in the Torah. For example, there is the key declaration in Exodus 19:6, in connection with the establishment of the covenant at Sinai:

“And you shall be for me a kingdom of sacred officials [i.e. priests] and a holy [vodq*] nation”

The entire kingdom and nation is essentially required (by YHWH) to function like priests ministering the “holy things” of God. As we proceed in our study, this requirement of holiness for the People of God will be broken out into three main areas, or aspects:

    • Ritual—the need to maintain ritual purity, particularly in connection with the sacred domain centered around the sanctuary of the Tent-shrine (and Temple). Many of the Torah regulations deal directly with this idea of ritual purity.
    • Ethical—i.e., holiness as expressed in socio-religious terms, through proper conduct and behavior.
    • Spiritual—though specific use of the term “spirit” (j^Wr) is generally lacking in the holiness-references, the basic concept has it parallel in the idea of the heart, i.e., the willingness of the people to fulfill the requirements of the covenant, and the obligations associated with living out their identity as God’s people.

In the next study (Part 2), representative passages, primarily from the Torah/Pentateuch, will be examined in relation to all three of these aspects of holiness outlined above.

References above marked “Cross” are to Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Harvard University Press: 1973).


Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 6:19-33

1QH 6

(Unless otherwise noted, the translations of 1QH are my own.)

It is possible that the hymn beginning at line 12 of column V (cf. the previous notes) continues on into column VI. It has been suggested that the hymn extends through 6:18, or even through line 33 (cf. the discussion by the editors in DJD XL, pp. 77-8, 88-90); however, it may be better to treat 6:19-33 as a separate hymn. In any case, many of the themes in column V continue in column VI; the poems certainly share a number of features and aspects in common.

The difficulty in determining the division of the hymns stems, in large part, from the missing lines (1-11) at the beginning of column VI. Lines 12-18 emphasize once again that those righteous persons, who are able to obtain wisdom and understanding, do so through the mercy and favor of God. There is a strong predestinarian orientation to the Qumran Community, which is expressed here in the Hodayot, in a number of the hymns.

Those who receive the inspired revelation from God are described as “men of truth and the chosen (one)s of righteousness” (line 13); they are characterized by virtues that reflect the fundamental attributes of God Himself, being enabled to pursue wisdom and understanding by God’s spirits: “[(those) searching for insight and seeking understanding […] (the one)s loving compassion and (those) lowly [i.e. humble] of spirit…” (lines 13-14). Through God’s favor—His guidance and protection, given through His spirits—the chosen ones are able to remain faithful to the end, even in the face of affliction and persecution (lines 15-18).

The section (or separate hymn, cf. above) that begins at line 19, opens with a blessing (to God) which makes clear, again, that the ability possessed by the righteous/faithful ones is given to them by God:

“[Blessed are you,] my Lord, the (One) giving [i.e. placing] understanding in (the) heart of your servant, (for him) to gain insight in(to) all these (thing)s, and to have under[standing of…], and to hold himself (firm) against (wicked) deeds, and to bless with rightness all (those) choosing (what is) pleasing to you, [to choose all th]at you love and to abhor all that [you hate]…” (lines 19-21f)

As we have seen, elsewhere in these hymns the same wording from line 9 is used with a Divine spirit (j^Wr) as the object of God’s giving (4:29; 5:36) . The virtue or attribute (here “understanding”, hn`yB!), defined abstractly, can also be personified dynamically as an active spirit. The hymnist could just as well have used the expression “spirit of understanding” (cp. “spirit of knowledge” in line 36). It is thus a gift from God that enables the chosen one to have wisdom and understanding, and to resist the evil influences that lead humans to wickedness. Human begins must choose (vb rh^B*) between what is pleasing to God and what He despises/abhors, but only through the favor and guidance of God is one able to make the right choice (on a regular basis).

The deterministic emphasis, in this regard, is expressed quite clearly in line 22f:

“You have given your servant insight in(to) [… (the) lo]ts of humankind, for (according) to (the) mouth of (the) spirits you made (the lot) fall for them between good and evil, [and] you have established…”

In the expression “mouth of (the) spirits” (twjwr yp), the noun hP# (“mouth”) is presumably used in the abstract sense of “measure, portion”. The idea seems to be that the spirits have been measured/portioned out to different people (cp. the similar wording, applied to Jesus, in John 3:34), so that they will incline toward either the good or the evil. As we have seen, according to the thought-world of the Qumran hymns, there are both good and evil spirits that influence human beings, with people being trapped between the two forces. By nature, the spirit/nature of a human being (“spirit of flesh”) is corrupt, being ruled by a perverting spirit (“spirit of crookedness”). It requires a special gift/favor by God in order to enable a human being to be faithful and righteous. The protagonist of the hymn describes this very dynamic:

“And I (indeed) know, from your understanding, that through your favor to a m[a]n you make [abundant his inheritance] in (the) spirit of your holiness, and so you bring him near to your understanding…” (lines 23b-24)

Here, again, we find the expression “spirit of (God’s) holiness” (vd#oq j^Wr), as representing the principal spirit that God gives to His chosen one, reflecting the fundamental Divine attribute of holiness. God gives His holy spirit to all of His chosen ones, but gives to some a greater portion (i.e., a more abundant “inheritance” [hl*j&n~]). This spirit draws the person toward God’s understanding, bringing him/her near to it (vb vg~n`). Significantly, the protagonist states that it is from God’s own understanding, gifted to him by God’s spirit, that he has obtained his knowledge.

The possession of this spirit, and the inspired wisdom/understanding that it brings, enables a person to remain faithful and righteous in all things. This ethical-religious principle is developed in lines 25-33. It is according to the measure/portion of the person’s “nearness” (being near, brwq) to God’s understanding, that he/she will be faithful. The same expression as in line 22, with the noun hP# (“mouth”) in the abstract sense of “measure/portion”, is used. A person will act righteously, and remain faithful to God, to the extent that God’s holy spirit is present, drawing the person ever closer to God’s own wisdom and understanding.

The final line (32-33) makes clear that this faithfulness is defined in traditional terms, according to loyalty to the covenant (i.e., observance of the Torah precepts and regulations): “I will not bring into the council of [your] tr[uth any] (one) turning (away) [from] your [b]inding agreement [tyr!B=, i.e. covenant]”. It was expected that every member of the Community would be meticulously loyal and devoted to the Torah.

In the next note, we will at the remaining lines (34-41) of column VI.

DJD XL = Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol. XL: 1QHodayota, with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f, by Hartmut Stegemann with Eileen Schuller, translations of texts by Carol Newsom (Clarendon Press: 2009).

The People of God: Israel as God’s People (Part 3)

The episode at mount Sinai serves as the centerpiece of the book of Exodus, and is the focal point of Israel’s identity as the “people of God”. The stated goal of the Exodus in the narrative (3:12; 5:1; 7:16, etc) was for the Israelite people to be set free and allowed to travel out of Egypt to worship their God (YHWH) at the sacred mountain (Horeb in chap. 3, Sinai in chaps. 19ff). When they finally reach the mountain, YHWH reaffirms and establishes His covenant with them, the same binding agreement (tyr!B=) made with their ancestors (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob).

The Sinai Covenant (Exodus 19-24)

According to the introduction to the narrative in chapter 19, the people arrived at mount Sinai three months to the day after they left Egypt (v. 1). They stretched out their tents and camped there before the mountain (v. 2). The scenario of the covenant episode is played out as a kind of sacred drama, with Moses repeatedly ascending the mountain to communicate with God, and then returning back down to address the people. This dramatic pattern is established in verse 3. The message which YHWH gives Moses to convey back to the people is significant in terms of the tradition regarding Israel as the people of God.

“You have seen (the things) which I did to the Egyptians, (and how) I carried you upon (the) wings of a soaring (bird) and brought you to me. And now, if hearing you will hear [i.e. if truly you will hear] by my voice, and will guard my binding (agreement with you), then you shall be a (prized) possession to me from (out of) all the peoples. For all the earth (belongs) to me, and (yet) you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These (are) the spoken (word)s you [i.e. Moses] shall speak to the sons of Yisrael.” (vv. 4-6)

There are several key ideas expressed in this message which would be fundamental in shaping the religious and cultural tradition of Israel as God’s people:

    • God chose Israel, separating them from all the other nations/peoples of earth
    • They are a people that belongs to YHWH, as His own special possession
    • As a nation they are set apart as holy; even as priests are set apart for sacred service to God (administering the ritual, etc), so the entire people of Israel are to be set apart in this way.

Unifying these ideas is the theme of holiness (vd#q)), which entails (and denotes) the setting apart (i.e., separating, making distinct) of something as sacred, being closely associated with the worship of God. This was not so much of an emphasis in the original covenant established with Abraham (and the ancestors of Israel), but it would be in the binding agreement (tyr!B=) established anew with the people of Israel (as a whole) at Sinai. The specific aspect of the covenant will be discussed in detail in the next division of this series, but it must be kept in mind as we proceed through the subject here as well.

The dramatic framework of the scene is carried through as the people hear and respond to the message given by YHWH to Moses: “All (the things) which YHWH has spoken, we will do” (v. 8a)—a response which Moses carries back again to God (v. 8b).

The central event of the Sinai episode is the theophany (i.e. manifestation of God), in which YHWH makes His presence visible on the mountain—Sinai/Horeb itself serving as a local manifestation of the cosmic mountain where, according to ancient Semitic tradition, the Creator had His dwelling place. The theophany at Sinai may be characterized as a storm theophany, where the elements of the storm—cloud, wind, thunder, lightning—appear (19:9, 16-20; 20:15ff). Any high Deity in the ancient world, associated fundamentally with the majestic expanse of the sky, could be seen as manifest specifically in the storm. El-Yahweh, like the Canaanite Baal Haddu, was recognized as possessing control over the forces of nature—especially those of the sky and storm. It meant a control over the life-giving primeval waters, to be distributed through seasonal rains, etc, but also of the more destructive and terrifying aspects (wind, thunder, lightning) connected with storms.

Here, in the context of the narrative, the theophany has a twofold purpose: (1) it marks the manifest presence of YHWH, as he comes to meet his people; and (2) it demonstrates his holiness, the transcendence (and ‘otherness’) of the Creator that sets him apart from all human beings (and indeed, all of creation). In the face of God’s holy presence, the people of Israel are required to consecrate themselves—that is, to make themselves holy, in preparation for encountering YHWH their God. This “setting apart” is indicated, symbolically, through the washing of clothes (v. 10), and marking out a period of time (v. 11) and space (v. 12) designated as sacred, associated with the very presence of God (v. 13). The importance of maintaining the holiness of the people, throughout the process of the covenant-encounter with YHWH, is made clear in verses 21-24; the space around the mountain is literally to be “made holy” (vb vd^q*).

While the primary reason for such consecration is the theophany itself, it also has far-reaching implications for the covenant that God will establish with Israel. As noted above, the covenant will be the subject of the next segment of this series, which will include a detailed study of the Sinai Covenant narrative in Exodus 19-24ff. It must suffice here to highlight the key components of the narrative which relate to the idea of Israel as the people of God:

    • The “Ten Words” (or Decalogue, the Ten Commandments), which YHWH speaks directly to the people (20:1-14). These will serve as the core terms of the covenant (cf. 34:28), and the basis of the Instruction (Torah), given by YHWH, that will further define Israel’s identity as God’s people.
    • The people, unable/unwilling to hear God speaking to them directly, designate Moses as their representative, an intermediary who will hear the direct address from YHWH, and then repeat the substance of it back to them (20:15-18). This is essentially an extension of Moses’ role as a ayb!n`, or “spokesperson” of God (for the development of this theme, cf. on the Golden Calf episode, below).
    • YHWH gives further Instruction to Moses, regulations and requirements for the people, which builds upon the “Ten Words” (20:19-23:19). In their limited way–that is, as but a rudimentary law code—these regulations cover nearly all areas and aspects of Israelite society, thus illustrating something of what it means to be God’s people in practice.
    • The promise that YHWH will be with His people, during their journey to the land guaranteed for them in the earlier binding agreement (covenant) with Abraham (23:20-33). God’s protection is a key component of the covenant, representing the divine obligation; but His continued protection is dependent upon Israel living up to their obligation in the covenant-bond.
    • The covenant itself is reaffirmed, re-established, and ratified in a ritual ceremony performed partway up the mountain (24:1-11). The people are represented by seventy elders, and YHWH Himself (the other party of the covenant) appears through a second theophany (verse 10); the two parties join together in the ceremony (v. 11).
    • Moses ascends all the way back up the mountain, where he will remain (forty days and forty nights), receiving still more Instruction from YHWH to bring to the people (24:12-18)

The Role of the Torah (Leviticus 19, etc)

The Torah represents the terms of the covenant between YHWH and Israel. Their identity as God’s people is dependent upon their fulfilling these terms. While typically translated as “law”, the Hebrew word hr*oT (torah) more properly means “instruction”, based on the idiom of instruction as something “cast” or “shot” out (vb hr^y`) like an arrow, pointing the way for people to follow. The Torah (Instruction) given by God for His people, is defined traditionally by the sections of regulations and decrees recorded in the books of the Pentateuch. There are “law code” sections preserved throughout the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These various collections are not always consistent or harmonious with each other, though much effort has been made by Israelites and Jews over the centuries to produce a comprehensive and systematic law-code. The Mishna and Talmuds represent the great flowering of this effort, producing lengthy collections of law (and discussions of law) which themselves have achieved an authoritative and canonical status in Judaism to this day.

One of the great sections of Torah in the Pentateuch is the so-called “Holiness Code” of the book of Leviticus (chapters 17-26). The theme of holiness is brought out most clearly in chapters 19-22, with chapter 19 serving as the key section, containing a set of regulations that mirror the “Ten Words” (cf. above) in certain ways, and which are woven around the central statement of holiness in verse 2:

“You must speak to all (the) appointed (gathering) of (the) sons of Yisrael, and you shall say to them: ‘You shall be holy (one)s, for I, YHWH your Mighty (One), (am) holy’.”

Additional statements, on the need for the people to keep themselves holy, follow in 20:7, 26 (also 21:8), repeating a similar declaration made earlier in the book (11:44a). I have discussed all of these statements in some detail in a pair of recent notes, related to this series. The important point to make here is that the various regulations of the Instruction are all related to the fundamental idea that the people of Israel are to be “set apart” as holy to YHWH, and that this distinction is rooted in God’s own holiness. The conceptual language (and imagery) affirms the idea that Israel is a people that belongs to God. This will be discussed further in Part 4 of this article, as well as in the upcoming studies on the Covenant.

To fulfill their role as God’s people, bound to Him through the covenant, Israel is obligated to observe the terms of the covenant—which are the decrees, regulations, and requirements laid down in the Torah. Thus the Torah-sections of the Scriptures (Pentateuch), such as the Levitical “Holiness Code” are fundamental, and essential, to the idea of Israel as the people of God. This is a point close to the heart of all Israelites and Jews, and it served as a tremendous point of conflict with early Christians, regarding the important issue of religious identity—what it means to be the people of God. Differences over the role and place of the Torah, primarily, have resulted in the great divide between Jews and Christians, which has lasted to the present day, even if the Torah itself is no longer so central to the difference in religious identity as it once was. I have discussed this subject at great length in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (cf. especially the notes and articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”).

The Golden Calf Episode (Exodus 32-34)

The turning point in the Exodus narrative, as it relates to the Sinai Covenant (cf. above), is the “Golden Calf” episode in chapters 32-34. However one may judge the underlying historical tradition from a critical standpoint, the way that the tradition has been developed and incorporated within the wider narrative gives to it a special significance. It demonstrates the way in which adherence to the terms of the covenant—that is, the “Ten Words” and the Torah regulations—defines and determines Israel’s status as God’s people.

If the “Ten Words” represent the heart of the Torah, then the first command—the declaration in Exod 20:2-3—is its very center. It states quite clearly that the people of Israel are to acknowledge (and worship) no other deity but YHWH. The prohibition against making images, by which is meant primarily the images of deities (for worship, etc), follows directly upon the first command (vv. 4-5ff). In the Golden Calf episode, the people effectively violate both the central command and the prohibition against images. In so doing, they violate the terms of the binding agreement, thus abrogating the covenant itself, and leaving themselves open to punishment.

This idea—that the sin of the Calf invalidates the entire agreement—is not always appreciated by readers and students of Scripture today; but the point is clear enough in the narrative. Moreover, we must note how the violation of the covenant affects the identity of Israel as the “people of God”; quite simply, they cease to be God’s people. This may not be immediately apparent upon a casual reading of the text, but consider how the idea is expressed in YHWH’s response to Moses in vv. 7-8ff, as He now refers to the people of Israel as “your people” —that is, Moses’ people, with the implication that they now belong to Moses, instead of to Him. God’s anger at the blatant violation of the covenant results in a desire that He should destroy the people completely, and to start again with a new people—with Moses and his descendants replacing the Israelites (vv. 9-10).

It is Moses who intercedes on the people’s behalf, urging God not to destroy or abandon them (vv. 11-13). Notably, Moses still refers to them as YHWH’s people (“your people”, v. 11), and appeals to the original covenant God established with Abraham and the ancestors of Israel (v. 13). As a result of this intercession, the people will be punished, but not destroyed (vv. 14-35); only those who actively instigated rebellion against YHWH would be put to death immediately. At the same time, the shattering of the two stone tablets vividly illustrates the termination of the covenant (v. 19). YHWH admits a continuation of the covenant promise to Abraham and his descendants (33:1ff), and will fulfill the covenant obligation of providing protection for the people, but He refuses to dwell or travel along with them on their journey to the promised land; to do so would be a tacit acknowledgment that the Israelites are still His people.

This leads to a second intercession by Moses, urging YHWH not to abandon the people in this way; once again, he continues to refer to Israel as God’s people (“your people”, 33:16). In response, YHWH agrees to put in place a new covenant, one which essentially reproduces the first Sinai covenant (cf. above), but with a number of key differences. The most important aspect of this new covenant is that it is established directly with Moses, and not the people of Israel; the Israelites are part of the agreement only through Moses as an intermediary. We see this new emphasis beginning with verse 17, where YHWH specifically shows favor to Moses, and cuts the new covenant directly with him. The people are still Moses‘ people (“your people”), and the covenant extends to the people only through their connection with Moses (34:10); note especially the wording in verse 27: “For (with) these words I cut a binding (agreement) [tyr!B=] with you, and with Yisrael”.

The new Sinai covenant is established according to the same pattern of the first agreement: Moses is again on the mountain forty days and nights (34:28), the “Ten Words” are recorded again, there are two stone tablets produced (vv. 28-29), and another collection of laws and regulations given to Moses (34:10-26; 35:1-3). There are, however, two key differences. First, it is Moses who writes down the commands (vv. 27-28), whereas, with the first covenant, it would seem that the tablets were inscribed supernaturally by God Himself (24:12; 32:15-16). Secondly, YHWH does not appear Himself to establish the covenant with the people (cp. 24:1-11); this time He appears only to Moses, and it is he alone who receives the theophany (33:18-23; 34:5-7ff). The rest of the people can only experience this manifestation of God through the splendor reflected on the face of Moses (34:29-35). Paul makes powerful use of this particular tradition in 2 Corinthians 3, where he applies it (antithetically) to the new covenant (of the Spirit) for believers in Christ.

The mediation of Moses in the second Sinai covenant is yet a further extension of a dynamic that we see throughout the book of Exodus. Moses was initially established as a aby!n`, or spokesperson for God, in the theophany episode of chapter 3; he would serve as one who communicated the word and will of YHWH to the people. This role intensified when the people, unable/unwilling to hear God speaking to them directly, designated Moses as their intermediary (20:15-18). Then, following the Golden Calf episode (and the termination of the first Sinai covenant), the second covenant, in its entirety, was effectively mediated to the people through the person of Moses.

This process of mediation (by Moses) in establishing the covenant reaches its climax with the directions for constructing the Tent-shrine (Tabernacle), the details of which comprise the remaining chapters (35-40) of the book of Exodus. The Tent-shrine would serve as the point of contact between YHWH and the people; but only Moses (and, subsequently, the Aaronid priests) would enter the sanctuary or “tent of meeting” itself. The Hebrew term for the Tent-shrine is /K*v=m!, literally “dwelling place” —that is to say, a place where God would “dwell”, figuratively and in a ritual sense, among the people. In 38:21 it is called the “dwelling place of the record” (td%u@h* /K*v=m!), primarily because it was in the golden box (ark) in the sanctuary where the stone tablets, the record of the covenant, were stored. The word tWdu@ preserves an ancient Semitic term that gradually fell out of use in Hebrew; its fundamental meaning (as a technical term) is of a written record, a copy or “witness”, of the agreement (the more common term in Hebrew for the agreement itself is tyr!B=, denoting something that is binding). The term tWdu@ is preserved here as part of the early tradition (cf. Exod 25:22; 26:33-34; 31:18; 32:15; 34:29; 39:35; 40:3, 5, 21; Num 9:15; 10:33; 14:44; 17:22-23; 18:2; Deut 31:9, 25-26; Josh 3:3, 6, 8, etc).

With the completion of the Tent-shrine, the book of Exodus comes to a close. YHWH will accompany the people of Israel on their journey to the promised land (40:36-38), providing protection along the way, and thus fulfilling His covenant obligation. However, from the moment of the Golden Calf incident, YHWH never again refers to Israel as His people (“my people”) in the book of Exodus, and only rarely elsewhere in the Pentateuch (Lev 26:12), though it does reoccur frequently in the Historical and Prophetic writings. The fundamental premise of the Exodus narrative, however, is that the Golden Calf episode altered the nature of the covenant relationship; after that episode, Israel comes to be considered God’s people only in a qualified sense, through the special mediation of Moses.

In Part 4 of this article, we will focus on the book of Deuteronomy, and how the idea of Israel as God’s people was expressed in that particular line of tradition.



September 3: Leviticus 20:7, 26

For a better idea of what the declaration in Leviticus 19:2 (discussed in the previous note) entails, in the context of the Levitical “Holiness Code” (chapters 17-26, especially chaps. 19-22), it will be helpful to look at several instances where the principle of 19:2 is restated. One of these comes in 20:7:

Leviticus 20:7

“And you shall make yourselves holy, and (so) you shall be holy—for I (am) YHWH your Mighty (One) [i.e. God].”

As previously noted, the regulations in chapter 19 seem to parallel the commands of the Decalogue, and thus function as a kind of exposition on the Ten Commandments. For example, the command against making/worship of images (#2, v. 4), maintaining sacredness of the Sabbath (#4, v. 3b), showing honor to one’s parents (#5, v. 3a), the prohibitions against stealing (#8, vv. 11a, 13, 15) and false oaths (#3, v. 12), as well as a general declaration on YHWH as the (only) God the people are to acknowledge (#1, v. 36). These regulations/requirements are woven around the central command for the people to be set apart as holy to God (v. 2).

Similarly in chapter 20, we have a number of laws and requirements built around the declaration in verse 7, which clarifies to some extent what was meant by the injunction “you shall be holy” (Wyh=T! <yv!d)q=), which might better be rendered as “you shall be (one)s set apart (as holy to me)”. The same phrase occurs in 20:7, but following a reflexive form of the verb vd^q*; the sequence reads as follows:

“and you shall make yourselves holy [<T#v=D!q^t=h!], and (so) you shall be holy [<yv!d)q= <t#yy]h=]”

The second verb follows as a result of the first, as indicated by the emphases (in italics), repeated from the translation above:

“and you shall make yourselves holy, and (so) you shall be holy”

The process of “making oneself holy” is explained in verse 8:

“And you shall guard my inscribed (decree)s, and you shall do them—I (am) YHWH, (the One) establishing you as holy.”

By careful preservation and fulfillment of all that YHWH has decreed for them (through the words spoken to Moses)—that is, the regulations/requirements of the Torah—the people “make themselves holy”. However, this merely fulfills what has already been established by YHWH Himself, by way of the binding agreement (the covenant bond, cf. below). He has declared that Israel is a people set apart as holy, belonging entirely to Him; and now, the people must act this out in practice, on a daily basis. Paul states much the same thing for believers in Christ, though realized through the power and presence of the Spirit, rather than observance of the Torah regulations:

“If we live by the Spirit, we must walk in line by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25)

The type pattern for this, in the old covenant, involved the Instruction (Torah) recorded in writings of the Pentateuch, such as the “Holiness Code” of Lev 17-26. We cannot properly understand the dynamic of the new covenant, as described in the New Testament, without understanding its precursors in the old covenant. The regulations in chapter 20, which surround the declaration in verse 7, are of two kinds: (a) Religious—prohibition against worshiping any deities other than YHWH (vv. 1-6); and (b) Ethical—prohibition against adultery and other aberrant sexual behavior (vv. 9-21). The regulations regarding ritual purity (and dietary/hygiene laws) earlier in chapter 11 were similarly followed by a summary declaration on holiness equivalent to that in 20:7:

“For I (am) YHWH your Mighty (One) [i.e. God], and you shall make yourselves holy, and (so) you shall be holy, for I (am) holy…” (11:44)

The additional declaration of God’s own holiness is parallel to primary statement in 19:2, and helps us to understand the idea that He “establishes” the people “as holy” (vb vdq in the Piel stem). Israel’s holiness, their status as a people set apart as holy to YHWH, is rooted in (and depends upon) His own character and nature as the true God and Creator of all. This is given further explanation in another declaration later on in chapter 20:

“And you shall be holy (one)s to me, for I, YHWH, (am) holy, and I have separated [vb ld^B*] you from the peoples, to be(long) to me.” (v. 26)

It is possible to outline this statement as a chiasm:

    • “you shall be [vb hyh] holy to me [yl!]
      • I am holy (I am YHWH, the Creator and true God)
      • I set you apart as holy, separate from all other peoples
    • “(you are) to be [vb hyh] (i.e. belong) to me [yl!]

The idea that the Israelites were set apart, separate from all other nations, as a people belonging to YHWH (and thus holy), is central to the early tradition regarding the religious and cultural identity of Israel. A good example of this is found in the opening section of the Sinai covenant narrative in Exodus 19ff, the key statement of identity coming in verses 5-6:

“And now, if hearing, you shall hear [i.e. if you shall truly hear] my voice, and (if) you shall guard my binding (agreement with you), then you shall be for me a (prized) possession from [i.e. out of] all the peoples. For all the earth (belongs) to me, and (yet) you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

This will be discussed further in Part 3 of the article on “Israel as God’s People” (in the series “The People of God”).


September 2: Leviticus 19:2

Leviticus 19:2

“You shall be holy (one)s, for I, YHWH your Mighty (One), (am) holy”
<k#yh@ýa$ hwhy yn]a& wodq* yK! Wyh=T! <yv!d)q=

This declaration in Leviticus 19:2 is one of the fundamental religious statements in the Old Testament, and a defining statement of religious identity for the people of Israel. Indeed, it defines, in certain respects, what it means to be the people of God, and so is very much worth examining as part of a study on the theme of the “people of God” (cf. Part 3 [upcoming] of the current article in this study).

The statement in verse 2 comes at the beginning of an important chapter (ch. 19) that is part of the so-called “Holiness Code” (Levitcus 17-26), a corpus of laws and regulations specifically dealing with religious and ceremonial matters. The holiness theme is especially prominent in chapters 19-22, with the declaration here in verse 2 essentially being repeated (or restated) in 20:7, 26; 21:6, 8. It has been noted by commentators (cf. Levine, pp. 124-5) that the regulations in chapter 19 parallel in certain ways the commandments of the Decalogue (Exod 20:1-17). Indeed, it may serve to illustrate something of how the ‘Ten Commandments’ were understood as functioning, in practice, in early Israelite society. For more on the place of the Decalogue (and the Sinai covenant scene in Exod 19-24) in connection with the theme Israel as the “people of God”, cf. Part 3 [upcoming] of the aforementioned article.

Let us look at each key word or term in Leviticus 19:2, as it occurs in order:

rB@D^ (“you must speak”)—This imperative follows precisely the narrative introduction in verse 1: “And YHWH spoke [vb rbd] to Moshe, saying…”. Moses was a ayb!n`—that is, a spokesperson for YHWH (cf. Num 11:17ff; 12:6-8; Deut 18:15ff; 34:10)—indeed, in the early Israelite period, he was the great spokesperson (i.e. prophet) who would serve as God’s representative, communicating His word and will to the people. Just as YHWH speaks to Moses, so he is to speak to the people, repeating precisely the words and things that God expresses to him.

td^u&-lK* (“all [the] appointed [gathering] of”)—The noun hd*u@ is a common term referring to an appointed meeting or gathering (of people). That is to say, it signifies a time when all of the people are gathered together; but it can also refer, in a more abstract sense, to the people as a whole, collectively. However, the sense of a group being gathered or assembled, at a particular time and place, remains primary. It is at such a time, when the all the people are assembled (whether entire, or through represetatives), that Moses is to deliver this word of YHWH to them.

la@r*c=y]-yn@B= (“[the] sons of Yisrael”)—that is to say, Israelites, the people of Israel. As an expression of religious (and cultural) identity, it is not only an ethnic term, but, as the instructions regarding the Passover make clear (cf. Exod 12:43-49), it would apply also to any who would join with Israel, taking on themselves the covenant sign of circumcision, as a mark that they too belong to the community of God’s people. As I discuss at length in the series “The Law and the New Testament” (especially those articles on “Paul’s View of the Law”), this conceptual framework was of immense importance for the questions and debates regarding religious identity among the earliest Christians. Paul maintained the conceptual framework—i.e., that Gentile believers in Christ become part of the people of God (Israelite/Jewish believers)—but without any requirement of circumcision (or any other regulation in the Torah).

<yv!d)q= (“holy [one]s”)—This is the first word of the actual message Moses is to deliver to the people of Israel (“You shall say to them…”). It thus in emphatic position, indicating the importance of the idea, expressed through the adjective vodq*, in plural form as it is applied to all the people. The fundamental meaning of the root vdq is to “separate” or “set apart”, “make distinct”. From the earliest evidence in Akkadian and Canaanite (Ugaritic), it was used primarily in a religious or cultic sense—i.e., of something being separated or set apart (as sacred). It also regularly connotes the idea of “cleanness, purity”, but this has as much to with the process of setting something apart as it does any intrinsic attribute of the thing itself. Virtually everything in the religious or cultic sphere is “holy” in this basic sense, and the idea is universal, common to all religions, and is scarcely unique to Israelite religion or the Old Testament.

It was common, of course, to set apart certain places for worship and reverence, as well as specific times, objects, and so forth. Once consecrated for use in this way, associated with deity and the divine power, presence, etc, the thing set apart no longer was part of the ordinary sphere of life and existence. Particular persons could also be set apart and consecrated as “belonging” to the deity—i.e., priests and others involved in the ritual/cultic apparatus—however, the idea of the entire people being thought of as “holy” in this way is most unusual, and appears to be unique to Israelite religion.

Wyh=T! (“you shall be”)—Though the verb is in second position, we would tend to translate it first; when doing so, it is important to remember that the adjective is emphasized: “You shall be holy“. Translating the plural more precisely, and in light of the denotation of the adjective (cf. above), we might also render the phrase as “You shall be (one)s set apart [i.e. holy] (to God)”. Imperfect verb forms (as here) occasionally have the force of an imperative, depending on the context and syntax. The imperatival (or jussive) sense of the phrase is more or less captured through the emphatic modal “shall” in English: “You shall be…” (= you must be, you are to be). The verb hy`h* is the common verb of being/becoming, and could also be translated here as “you shall come to be”, “you shall become”. It is a command for the people of Israel to be holy—that is, to set themselves apart as something sacred and dedicated to God.

yK! (“for”)—This conjunctive particle provides the reason (i.e. “for, because”) why the people are to be/become holy. It also has a certain comparative force here—i.e. the holiness of the people is to mirror the holiness of YHWH (cf. below).

vodq* (“holy”)—Again the adjective vodq* is in emphatic position in the phrase (preceding the subject). The first occurrence (in the plural) applied to the people, this second occurrence (in the singular) applies to YHWH. However, the basic sense of the adjective must be regarded as the same in both instances.

hwhy yn]a& (“I, YHWH”)—YHWH is stating this of Himself, i.e., that He is holy. This may be understood in two ways:

    1. As an attribute or characteristic of YHWH. This can further be understood in terms of “power”, “purity”, or simply the “otherness” of deity—something transcendent, which, of its very nature, must be regarded as distinct and apart from humankind (and the rest of creation).
    2. As reflecting how human being ought to treat and regard Him—i.e., with honor, reverence, and worship, setting apart an entire realm of space and time that is devoted to interacting with Him.

Both aspects are entirely valid and reflect the proper meaning of the adjective in its context here. A substantive use of vodq* (“[the] Holy [One]”) does occur in the Old Testament, but is somewhat rarer that one might think, occurring most frequently in the book of Isaiah (30 times, Isa 1:4 et al). Despite its use in the later Prophets (Jer 50:29; Ezek 39:7) it is, in fact, a most ancient name/title, which, as might be expected, was preserved almost exclusively in early poetry, before being picked up by the prophetic writings of the 7th/6th century. Of its preservation in poetry, we might note Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; 2 Kings 19:22; cf. also Job 6:10; Prov 9:10. Only rarely is the title used of human beings (Num 16:7; Psalm 16:10; 106:16).

<k#yh@ýa$ (“your Mighty [One]”)—or, more properly, “your Mightiest (One)”. On the assumed meaning of <yh!ýa$, when applied to God, as an intensive plural, cf. the earlier article on the name Elohim. The importance of designating YHWH as the “Mighty One” (i.e. God) of Israel is twofold:

    • It builds upon the tendency, in the early period, of explicitly identifying YHWH with the Creator °E~l (la@), by which name (primarily) He was worshiped by the ancestors of Israel (cf. Exodus 6:2-3ff, and throughout the early traditions in Genesis).
    • It emphasizes the fundamental covenant principle that El-Yahweh is Israel’s God, and the only deity whom they are to acknowledge or worship. Recognition of any other deity represents a violation of the terms of the covenant, in the most basic (and blatant) way.

For more on both of these points, cf. the articles on the names El and Yahweh, as well as the recent notes on Exodus 3:13-15. These themes will be discussed further in the next daily note, as we look at Leviticus 20:7, 26, with its declarations similar to that of 19:2, in light of the comparable statement in Exodus 19:6.

References marked “Levine” above are to The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus arqyw, commentary by Baruch A. Levine (Jewish Publication Society: 1989).

June 17: 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6; 4:8, etc

1 Thessalonians 1:5-6; 4:8, etc

By all accounts, 1 and 2 Thessalonians are the earliest of Paul’s surviving letters (though some commentators would question his authorship of 2 Thessalonians), probably written sometime around 49-50 A.D. It is thus appropriate to begin an examination of Paul’s references to the Spirit in his letters at this point. For those interested in a comparative study with the Pauline speeches and statements in the book of Acts, it is to be noted that references to the Spirit are extremely rare in those contexts. The Spirit is more frequent as a subject in the speeches in the first half of the book, whereas the references in the second half (dominated by narratives of Paul’s mission journeys) tend to focus on the Spirit’s role in guiding the missionaries. Indeed, there are just three passages in Acts where Paul speaks of the (Holy) Spirit. In the last of these, at the close of the book (28:25), Paul is simply affirming the traditional view of the inspiration of the (Prophetic) Scriptures, though, by implication, a parallel would be drawn between the Prophets of old and Christian missionaries (apostles) as Spirit-inspired spokespersons for God.

The two remaining references in Acts are more substantial:

    • 19:2-7—The encounter with some believers who had only experienced water-baptism by John the Baptist; Paul makes clear to them that true baptism, in the Christian sense, also involves being “baptized” by the Spirit (i.e. receiving the Spirit). For more on the close association between baptism and the Spirit in the book of Acts, cf. the prior note.
    • In his “farewell” speech to the elders of the Ephesian congregation(s) (chap. 20), Paul reaffirms the guiding role of the Spirit (vv. 22-23, cf. above) in his missionary travels. However, in passing, he also states that it was the Holy Spirit who “set” those elders as overseers of the congregation(s) (v. 28). Most likely this means that the selection and installation of persons in these roles was made through Spirit-inspired (i.e. prophetic) guidance among the believers as a whole. Occasionally, we find similar indications of this dynamic at work in the life of the early congregations (13:2; 15:28; 21:4).

When we turn to the Thessalonian letters, these aspects of the Spirit’s role, evident in the book of Acts, can also be found. In the introduction (exordium) and thanksgiving of 1 Thessalonians, Paul expresses, together, two sides of the Spirit’s presence and activity in the early Christian mission (cf. Acts 1:7-8, etc):

    • The proclamation by the Spirit-inspired minister (i.e. prophet):
      “…our good message did not come unto in a (spoken) account only, but in power and in (the) holy Spirit [e)n pneu/mati a(gi/w|]…” (v. 5)
    • The reception by the (new) believers, who also receive the Spirit:
      “and you came to be imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the account, in much distress, (but also) with delight of (the) holy Spirit…” (v. 6)

The remaining references in 1 and 2 Thessalonians have a rather different emphasis, and one that is not so much to be found in the book of Acts, though it clearly relates to the earliest Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s emphasis is on what we would call sanctification—that is, of believers being made holy (a%gio$). This draws upon the Old Testament line of tradition that associates God’s (holy) Spirit with the cleansing of His people.

The use of water-imagery to express the idea of cleansing obviously relates to the practice of baptism, going back to John’s ministry. Early Christians largely followed the same water-ritual, both in terms of form and essential symbolism, but giving unique emphasis to the role of the Spirit. The Qumran Community, in its own way, did the same thing, using the symbolism of a water-ritual (for entrants into the Community, along with subsequent ablutions) to express the idea of a special holiness, established and maintained by God’s own holy Spirit (cf. my earlier article on the subject). Through the work of God’s Spirit, the individual’s spirit is made completely pure and holy, allowing him to join as part of the “Community of holiness”.

Paul expresses much the same idea in 1 Thess 4:1-8, in which he exhorts believers to live in a holy and upright manner that reflects the holy Spirit of God, given to them at baptism. Though baptism is not specifically mentioned here, there is every reason to think that the sort of ethical instruction Paul gives here reflects, at least in part, the instruction given to believers at the time of their baptism (a point to be discussed further in upcoming notes). The wording in verses 7-8 is clear enough:

“For God did not call us upon uncleanness, but in holiness [a(giasmo/$]. For this (reason) then, the (one) setting (it) aside, does not set aside (the will of a) man, but God, the (One) giving His holy Spirit unto us.”

To act in an immoral manner essentially means to “set aside” (vb a)qete/w) the holiness given to believers by God, through His own Holy Spirit. Since this holiness comes through the presence of the Spirit in and among believers, to set aside the holiness is to set aside God’s own Spirit, which means setting aside God Himself. The same message of holiness and sanctification is given at the close of the letter (5:23-24), only this time in terms of an eschatological promise:

“And may the God of peace keep you complete(ly) holy to the end, and whole (in every) part—spirit and soul and body—(and) without fault may he keep you, in our Lord’s (com)ing to be alongside [parousi/a] (us). Trust(worthy is) the (One) calling you, the (One) who also will do (this).”

The Greek syntax is a bit difficult to translate, with the main verbs (in v. 23) being in the optative mood, expressing a wish or desire. The principal phrase is a(gia/sai u(ma/$ o(lotelei=$—three concise words, which cannot be translated so simply. The optative form of the verb a(gia/zw (“make holy”), which would normally mean “may He make (you) holy”, is better understood in this context as “keep holy”. The adjective o(lotelh/$ has the basic meaning “completely whole”; a relatively simple translation of the phrase might then be “may He keep you holy (and) completely whole”. However, the eschatological context suggests that there is an allusion to te/lo$ as the “completion” of the Age. In other words, Paul’s wish is that God would keep the believers completely holy to the end—that is, until the return of Jesus (cf. 4:13-5:11), expected to occur very soon.

The earlier reference to the Spirit in verse 19—the exhortation “you must not extinguish the Spirit” (to\ pneu=ma mh\ sbe/nnute)—presumably reflects the same sort of general ethical-religious instruction found in 4:1-8 (cf. above). Probably there is the added dimension of preserving the inspired character of the Community, involving all aspects of the work and activity of the Spirit. This would explain the command that immediately follows in verse 20: “you must not make prophecies out as nothing”. The implication is that the Spirit-inspired teaching and instruction within the Community (i.e. “prophecy”) should not be ignored or devalued. By contrast, all things in the Community (including “prophecy”) must be given a thorough and fair consideration (vb dokima/zw), holding firm to those things which pass the test (v. 21).

Finally, we should mention Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which, in some ways, summarize all of the earlier references to the Spirit we have looked at here. It parallels most closely the prayer in 1 Thess 5:23, and the corresponding eschatological context of 2 Thessalonians is clear enough and hardly requires comment. Here the eschatological promise blends together with a fervent exhortation to believers, in a manner that is typical of early Christian writing:

“But we owe (it) to give (thanks) to God (for His) good favor, always about you, (as) brothers having been loved under [i.e. by] the Lord, (in) that God took you (for) himself, (as fruit) from the beginning (of the harvest), unto salvation, in holiness of (the) Spirit and trust of [i.e. in] (the) truth”

The expression e)n a(giasmw| pneu/mato$ could also mean “in holiness of spirit”, which would be just as valid in context; however, the adjoining expression “trust of (the) truth” suggests a parallel Truth of God / Spirit of God.

In these Thessalonian passages we are offered a glimpse of the way that the early Christian understanding of the Spirit was being further developed through Paul’s unique (and specially inspired) manner of expression. In his subsequent letters, as we shall see, the role of the Spirit was given a profound new theological (and Christological) dimension as well. This will be discussed over the next few daily notes.


The Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Part 1

As part of the celebration of Pentecost, I felt it worth including an article in the “Spotlight on the Dead Sea Scrolls” feature here on this site, dealing with references to the Holy Spirit in the Qumran writings. I addressed the subject briefly at the conclusion of the recent series of notes on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, but I felt a more in-depth article would be appropriate, and should provide a valuable contribution to the overall study.

The Dead Sea Scrolls (esp. the scrolls/texts from Qumran) provide by far the most extensive repository of Jewish writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D. There is thus much more material available for study and for comparison, for example, with the New Testament and early Christian thought. This is certainly true in the case of the Holy Spirit.

As I discussed in the recent series of notes, while the Spirit of God is referenced numerous times in the Old Testament, along with the related concepts of God’s holiness and the cleansing that is produced by His Spirit, the specific expression “holy spirit” is extremely rare, occurring just twice (Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 63:10). In both instances, the literal expression is “spirit of (your/His) holiness” (vd#q) j^Wr, + suffix). Nor is the expression much more common in Jewish writings of the intertestamental period, being typically associated with special wisdom and understanding from God (Wis 1:5; 9:15, cf. also 7:22b-24; 2/4 Esdras 14:22). Perhaps the most notable instance of the expression (in Greek) is found in the 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon (17:37), where it is used in a Messianic sense (i.e. of the special inspiration of the Davidic Messiah), based largely on the wording in Isa 11:2. Also worth mention is the occurrence in Jubilees 1:21, 23, drawing upon the exilic prophecies (of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and deutero-Isaiah), and the message of restoration for Israel in the New Age, when God’s spirit would give a “new heart” to his people.

In the Qumran texts, the Hebrew/Aramaic term j^Wr occurs nearly 250 times, most frequently in reference to the human spirit—that is, the life-breath or “spirit” within a person. Where the expression “holy spirit” occurs, it often remains closely connected with the “spirit” of the individual, or of the Community as a whole (cf. the discussion below). We find the same construct expression as in the Old Testament (cf. above), “spirit of holiness” (vd#q) j^Wr), but also the more literal “holy spirit” (hv*odq= j^Wr), with the feminine adjective.

The approach in the first part of this article will be to trace the usage of the expression in terms of the pneumatology of the Qumran Community, as it can be discerned from the surviving texts. In other words, in order to gain a proper understanding of how the Community viewed the “holy spirit”, it will be necessary to consider it in the context of their wider concept of (the) “spirit” (j^Wr). This is best done through an examination of the stages involved in the life of a member of the Community:

    1. The “spirit” in humankind generally (pre-Community)
    2. Entrance into the Community
    3. Life in the Community

1. The “spirit” in humankind generally

Almost certainly, the Qumran Community followed the basic line of Old Testament and Jewish tradition that associated the spirit of God with the work of Creation (Gen 1:2 etc; cf. Judith 16:14; 2 Baruch 21:4; 23:5; 2/4 Esdras 6:39). In particular, it was God’s own spirit-breath that instilled the spirit-breath into human beings (Gen 2:7; Job 33:4, etc). This is referenced extensively in the Qumran Hymns (Hodayot, 1QH), especially in hymn/column 9 (previously 1). At creation, God fashioned all “spirits” (9.8-9) —both of Angelic/heavenly beings (9.10-11) and humans (9.15). The creation of the human spirit is described in more detail in lines 27-28, framed strongly in religious/ethical terms:

“…to you, Mighty (One) [i.e. God] of knowledge, (belong) all works of justice/righteousness, and the foundation of truth; but to the sons of man (belong) the service of crookedness and the works of deception. You created spirit/breath [j^Wr] on/in (the) tongue, and you know its words; you established (the) fruits of (the) lips, before their coming to be…”

The general corruption and wickedness of humankind, from virtually the beginning of creation, is alluded to here. This is important for establishing the religious worldview of the Qumran Community. While human beings possess a spirit from God, the vast majority have defiled and corrupted it, turning away from God’s truth in favor of wickedness and deceit. Even so, for those who choose to remain faithful, God will strengthen their spirit (line 32) so they are able to remain pure from sin, even in the face of affliction. The emphasis on the “tongue” and “lips” focuses on the communication of truth. The pure and righteous ones will give a proper account of God’s work (line 33), making known His wonders and His truth. Implicit in this is a heavy reliance on Wisdom tradition, though the preferred term here appears to be lk#c# (“understanding, insight”). In this line of tradition, God’s Wisdom is practically synonymous with His Spirit, and, similarly, the human “spirit” is understood primarily in terms of wisdom, knowledge and understanding—cf. for example, in line 31 where the expression “mouth [i.e. measure] of understanding” is parallel to “mouth [i.e. measure] of their spirit(s)” in 1QS 2:20, 9:14.

In the Community Rule document (1QS), which is an essential work for establishing the religious identity and organization of the Qumran Community, the spirit of humankind is understood from a dualistic standpoint. 3:13-4:26 of this text represents a distinct unit—the so-called “Treatise of the Two Spirits”; the key anthropological principle is stated in 3:17-19:

“He [i.e. God] created human(kind) to rule the world, and set in him two spirits [tojWr yT@v=], (so as) to walk about with them, until the appointed (time) of His visitation. They (are) the spirits of truth and perversion.”

This dualism in human beings corresponds to a similar dualism in the heavenly realm—i.e., spirits of Light and Darkness, led by a “Prince” of Light and a Messenger (i.e. Angel) of Darkness (3:20ff). On the one hand, people must choose whether to walk the path of light or darkness—that is, these two “spirits” represent competing forces over the human heart—yet, at the same time, there is a strong predestinarian emphasis in the Qumran texts, with the idea that certain people simply belong to one group or the other (“sons of light” or “sons of darkness”). Early Christians adopted a similar “Two Ways” principle, attested in the teaching of Jesus (Matt 7:13-14, etc), the writings of Paul (e.g., Gal 5:16-26), and elsewhere (cf. most clearly in Didache 1-6). The way of the Spirit of Truth is described in 4:2-8, while that of the Spirit of Perversion is laid out in 4:9-14. This inner conflict has raged throughout human history, all the way to the “appointed moment” of God’s visitation at the end-time (4:15-26). The Qumran Community had a strong eschatological orientation (as did the early Christians), and viewed themselves as the faithful ones of the end-time, a time generally characterized otherwise by faithlessness and corruption.

2. Entrance into the Community

In this Age of increasing wickedness, the Community represented a refuge for the faithful—those committed to observing the Torah and purifying themselves for the time of God’s visitation. Probably the best guides for understanding how the Community viewed itself—its religious self-identity—are the so-called Damascus Document (CD/QD) and the Community Rule (1QS). There are other related Rule-documents that have survived, but in many ways their contents are supplemental to the portrait provided by these two major texts.

The Damascus Document is known both from its Qumran manuscripts (collectively labeled QD), and from a separate version discovered in Cairo (CD). This suggests that the Qumran Community was part of a wider religious movement, identified by many scholars as Essene (though this identification, often taken for granted, is not without certain difficulties). There are a number of references to the “holy spirit” in this document, which clearly define the Community in relation to God, as those who remain faithful to the covenant. This religious self-identity is set within the context of Israelite history, identifying the Community as a faithful “remnant” in the land, taught by God’s holy spirit (“spirit of his holiness”, 2:11-12). These references will be discussed further below.

It is the Community Rule document which addresses, in summary fashion, the matter of those who wish to enter the Community (5:1-25). The very intention of joining signifies a willingness to: (a) turn away from the wickedness of the world, and (b) devote oneself to following God’s truth, in strict observance of the Torah. Even so, initiates have to be examined to see whether they are truly committed to following this path. It involves a binding oath, made publicly, to follow the Torah and the instruction/rules of the Community, separating oneself from all non-members and submitting to the Community’s authority in all things. This is described in terms of having their “spirits” tested in the Community (5:20-21)—a continuous process that takes place throughout their whole life and time as a member of the Community (cf. below).

Even though a person may belong to the “sons of light”, he/she is still subject to the conflict between the “spirits” of light and darkness (cf. above, on 1QS 3:13-4:26). Such a person is not entirely free from sin and evil, with the influence from the side of darkness/perversion being present in varying degrees, depending on the individual. Some are affected by it only a little, others to a greater extent—but it can never be the dominant influence for a true “son of light”. As an example, in the ‘horoscope’ document 4Q186, we read of persons whose “spirit” has “eight parts in the house of light” and “one part in the house of darkness”, and also the reverse (in the case of the wicked).

For this reason, it is necessary for the person who enters the Community to be cleansed from any and all wickedness. While this took place in a ritual context that involved bathing (going “into the waters”, 5:13b), part of a wider practice of ritual washing/ablution that was central to Community life (3:5, etc), the reality of it took place in the person’s spirit:

“For (it is) by (the) spirit of (the) true counsel of God (that the) paths of man are wiped away, all his crookedness, (enabling him) to look on the light of life. And (it is) by (the) holy spirit, for (the) Community [djy] in its truth, (that) he is made pure from all his crookedness. And (it is) by (the) spirit of straightness and lowliness [i.e. humility] (that) his sin is wiped away. And in answer of his soul to all the engraved (decree)s of God, his flesh is made pure th(rough) sprinkling with (the) water (that removes) impurity, and (so) to make itself holy with (the) waters of repentance” (3:6-9)

There are three different (parallel) references to a cleansing “spirit” in this passage:

    • “spirit of true counsel” (tma txu jwr)
    • “holy spirit” (hvwdq jwr)
    • “spirit of straightness and humility” (hwnuw rvwy jwr)

While it is possible that these are synonymous expressions for the cleansing Spirit of God, it seems more likely that they refer to different “spirits” that are manifest and work together to accomplish God’s purpose (on these “spirits” of light and truth, cf. above). In this regard, the pneumatology of the Qumran texts is more complex and diverse than that of the New Testament; however, there is here a clear and obvious parallel with early Christian Baptism, in which the cleansing action of the holy spirit of God occurs within the setting of the water-ritual.

3. Life in the Community

The member of the Community, already possessing an upright “spirit”, committed to the covenant and Torah of God, is thus cleansed—spiritually and symbolically—through the entrance ritual(s), and is made holy. It was of the utmost importance that this holiness of the Community be maintained and preserved. As part of this process, the “spirit” and the deeds of each member had to be tested continually, year after year (1QS 5:24). There was a strong sense of rank and hierarchy in the Qumran Community, to judge from texts such as the Community Rule (2:20, etc). The master/leader over each member was responsible for carrying out the necessary judgment “according to his spirit” (9:14-15ff); as each individual had a different “measure” of spirit, things had to be considered on a case-by-case basis. To the extent that a member fails to live up to their commitment, or falls away, it is due to a failure of their “spirit” (7:18).

Throughout the Qumran texts, references to the “holy spirit” (or “spirit of holiness”) are very much rooted in this idea of the holiness of the Community, as established and preserved by God. The Community saw itself as a holy remnant in Israel, the faithful ones of the end times. This eschatological orientation was paramount to the group’s self-identity, and the cleansing that occurs within the Community is a foreshadowing of the final cleansing that will take place at the end, at the moment of God’s visitation:

“Then God will refine, with His truth, all man’s deeds, and will purify for Himself the structure of man, ripping out all spirit of injustice from the innermost part of his flesh, and cleansing him with the spirit of holiness from every wicked deed. He will sprinkle over him the spirit of truth like lustral water (in order to cleanse him) from all the abhorrences of deceit and (from) the defilement of the unclean spirit…” (1QS 4:20-21f, translation García Martínez & Tigchelaar)

It cannot be stressed enough how this understanding of God’s “holy spirit” was centered in the holiness of the Community. It was a “community of holiness” (vd#oq dj^y~, 9:2), led by a “council of holiness” (vd#oq tx^u&, 8:21), and made up of “men of complete holiness” (vd#oq <ym!T*h^ yv@n+a^, 8:20); moreover, it was established, in truth, by the very “spirit of holiness” (vd#oq j^Wr) of God (9:3). The purpose of the Community was to preserve faithfully God’s covenant with Israel—something which the majority of the population had abandoned, but which the Qumran Community, as the faithful remnant of Israel, had been appointed (by God) to maintain. It was only in the Community that the Torah and the Prophets were correctly interpreted and explained, due to the special inspiration and insight that was believed to be present within the Community. Even as the truth in the Scriptures had originally been revealed by God’s “holy spirit” (“the spirit of His holiness”, 8:16), so, by extension, has its truth been maintained through the spirit-inspired teaching and instruction within the Community.

All of these themes and points are similarly expressed in the Damascus Document, in which the history of the Community is set within the wider context of Israel’s history. The past (and present) failures of the people are contrasted with the appointed role of the Community to remain holy and faithful to the covenant. The Community continues the Instruction by Moses (in the Torah) and the Prophets (“the holy anointed ones”), which God had taught to them by His “holy spirit” (2:12). Similarly, this “holy spirit” of the Community, once established, must be preserved—it must not become defiled, as the people defiled their “holy spirit” in the past (5:11ff). Any transgression or violation of the Torah means a defilement of this holiness; the importance of maintaining this constantly, throughout the entire Community is well-expressed in 7:3-4:

“…from one day to the next; to keep apart from every uncleanness according to their regulations, without anyone defiling his holy spirit, according to what God kept apart for them.” (translation García-Martínez & Tigchelaar)

In these instances, the expression “holy spirit” properly refers to the spirit of the righteous person (i.e. member of the Community), that has been purified by God, but is still in danger of becoming defiled (through lack of care and faithfulness). It is essentially equivalent to the purified “soul” (vp#n#) of the person, as the comparable wording in 12:11 makes clear. As in Israelite religious tradition, the defilement of one individual means that the Community as a whole becomes defiled; thus it is vital that each member maintains the purity/holiness of his own soul.

The Qumran Hymns (Hodayot)

These ideas can also be found in the Qumran Hymn collection (1QH), though within a more personal mode of expression. The Hymnist represents the Community as a whole (and especially its leadership), speaking with a single voice. It has been thought that the leading/founding figure known as the “Teacher of Righteousness” may have composed some of these hymns, though there is no way to be certain. It is also hard to be sure whether the references to the “(holy) spirit” simply relate to the Community as a whole, or if, to some extent, they apply to special inspiration (knowledge, insight, revelation) possessed by certain teachers (or the “Teacher” himself). Christian commentators face a similar dilemma in analyzing certain passages in the New Testament, regarding the role of the Spirit, etc—does it apply only to uniquely-inspired persons (apostles, prophets), or to all believers?

Note: The hymns are organized by columns in 1QH, with each column, apparently, containing a separate hymn. I am following the column numbers in editions such as that of García Martínez & Tigchelaar; the older hymn-numbers (in the edition of E. L. Sukenik, etc) are indicated by the corresponding square brackets [].

In Hymn 4 [17], the protagonist praises God for having purified him from sin (lines 11ff), and for the “spirits” (of truth, light, etc) placed within him (line 17). This suggests a measure of special inspiration and insight that the hymnist possesses—but is this a reflection of what belongs to the Community as a whole, or is it something more? It would seem that the author/speaker stands for the entire Community, given the emphasis on being purified from sin, on remaining loyal to the covenant, etc. In the closing lines (26ff), he gives thanks again to God, declaring that “you have spread your holy spirit upon your servant”; unfortunately, the gaps (lacunae) in the text make it difficult to determine the exact context of this statement. Presumably, the same idea is expressed in 5 [13].24-25:

“And I, your servant, have known, thanks to the spirit you have placed in me […] and all your deeds are just, and your word does not depart…” (translation García Martínez & Tigchelaar)

The dynamic outlined in 1QS 3:13-4:21 (cf. above), of the conflict between the spirits of good and evil in the soul of humankind, is referenced again in Hymn 6 [14].11-12ff. The members of the Community (and especially its leaders), have an ‘enlarged’ spirit, with a share almost entirely of the good (and little if any of the evil). This is due to God’s own action, by the “spirit of (his) holiness” (line 13); the hymnist claims to possess special insight in this matter, presumably as (representing) an inspired leader of the Community.

The opening lines of Hymn 8 [16] are quite fragmentary, but they contain several references to the “holy spirit” of God (“spirit of your holiness”, lines 10-11, 15), concluding with a prayer by the hymnist that he be strengthened by the holy spirit, so as to serve God faithfully, adhering closely to the truth of the covenant. Line 20 contains a similar request for God to “purify me with the spirit of your holiness”, suggesting the need for continual and regular cleansing as a member of the Community (on the danger of sin, cf. lines 22-23ff).

Hymn 15 [7] is written more consistently in the style of the Old Testament Psalms, utilizing many traditional expressions and motifs. The prayer of thanks in line 6ff is similar to that of 4 [17].26ff, including the idea of God “spreading” His holy spirit “over” the hymnist—implying strength, support, and protection, so that he is able to remain loyal and faithful to the covenant. The same basic thought is expressed in Hymn 17 [9].32, only including the idea that the holy spirit of God also brings delight.

In Hymn 20 [12], the protagonist identifies himself as a lyK!c=m^ (line 11), one who possesses special understanding and insight (lk#c#, cf. above). While this may be true of the Community as a whole, here a particular individual (teacher/leader) seems to be in view. He claims a special knowledge of God, which the “God of knowledge” has Himself established (lines 10-11), through “the spirit which you gave in me”. The hymnist states that he has listened carefully and faithfully to this spirit—identified as God’s “holy spirit” —which involved the revelation of a wonderful secret (zr*), and knowledge of the “mystery” of God’s wisdom (lines 12-13). If the “Teacher of Righteousness” was the author of this hymn, it would certainly be fitting.

In closing, it is worth mentioned several other passages in the Qumran texts where the expression “holy spirit” occurs:

    • In the so-called “Rule of Benedictions” (1QSb [28b]), a kind of supplement to the Community Rule documents, a series of blessings is presented, presumably to be used in various (ritual) settings in the Community. We read the following blessing in 2:24: “May He show favor (to) you with (a/the) spirit of holiness…”.
    • The tiny text-fragment 1Q30 mentions “the spirit of holiness”, though the exact context cannot be determined; it likely relates to the organization of the Community (cf. the wording of the [possibly] related text-fragment 1Q31).
    • In another tiny fragment (1Q39), the surviving portion ends with the phrase “by/with (the) holy spirit”.

In the next part of this article, we will turn to an entirely different series of texts, dealing with the idea of God’s “holy spirit(s)” in a specific ritual setting, focusing on the so-called “Angelic Liturgy” or “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”.

Note: In preparing this study, I have found quite helpful the article by Robert W. Kvalvaag, “The Spirit in Human Beings in Some Qumran Non-Biblical Texts”, in Qumran Between the Old and New Testaments (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series 290), eds. Frederick H. Cryer and Thomas L. Thompson, Sheffield Academic Press (1998).

References above marked “García Martínez & Tigchelaar” are to The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, edited by Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, Brill/Eerdmans (1997-8).



Notes on Prayer: John 17:16-19

John 17:16-19

Verses 16-19 close the first Expository section of the Prayer-Discourse (vv. 12-19, cf. the outline in the previous study). A curious detail to note is the way that verse 16 repeats, almost verbatim, the second half of v. 14. This apparently led a number of scribes to omit the verse, but there a number of such repetitions throughout the Johannine Discourses of Jesus (and the Last Discourse, in particular), and text here is secure. As a result, we ought to regard the repetition as intentional, in terms of the structure of this section. It gives to the triadic structure a chiastic outline:

    • Expository narration—the work of the Son (vv. 12-14a)
      • Unity of Believers with Jesus—”not out of the world” (v. 14b)
        • Petition to the Father—protection from the evil in the world
      • Unity of Believers with Jesus—”not out of the world” (v. 16)
    • Exposition—the work and presence of the Son in believers (vv. 17-19)

According to this detailed outline, verses 17-19 are parallel to 12-14a, both representing the core exposition in the section. How do these two passages relate? The first deals with the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth (“When I was with them…”); the second focuses on the time after Jesus’ departure back to the Father. It must be admitted that the latter emphasis is not explicit or immediately apparent on a reading of the text; however, with a little study, I believe it come through quite clear. There are three statements in this exposition:

    1. A request that his disciples be “made holy” by the Father (v. 17)
    2. A declaration similar in formula to Jesus’ words to his disciples after the resurrection, sending them into the world as apostles/missionaries (20:21)
    3. A statement explaining that the disciples are “made holy” even as Jesus himself is made holy, using reciprocal language and hearkening back to the invocation (v. 1, cf. also 13:31)

Let us examine each of these in turn.

Verse 17

This is another petition by Jesus to the Father, and must be understood in relation to the central petition of vv. 9-11, as well as the further request in v. 15 (cf. the previous study). The motif of protection has been defined in terms of holiness—which, from a religious standpoint, essentially refers to separation from evil (and the world) and protection from it. Here is the request:

“Make them (to be) holy in the truth—your word is truth.”

We may isolate three key components to this petition:

    • The verb (a(gia/zw, “make holy, treat as holy”)
    • Emphasis on truth (a)lh/qeia), and
    • The identification of truth with the word (lo/go$) of God the Father

The second and third of these are important theological key words in the Johannine Writings (both Gospel and Letters), and occur far more frequently than the first. In this regard, they serve to expound and explain the primary petition comprised of the initial words: a(gi/ason au)tou\$, “(May you) make them (to be) holy”. The verb a(gia/zw (hagiázœ, “make holy, treat as holy”) is relatively rare in the New Testament, occurring just 28 times, compared with the much more common adjective a%gio$ (hágios, “holy”). In the Synoptic Gospels, in the words of Jesus, its usage is almost entirely limited to the opening petition of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2), a context similar to that in John 17 (with the emphasis on the name of God the Father and His holiness, vv. 1, 6ff):

Pa/ter […] a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
“Father […], may your name be made holy”

Pa/ter… (“Father…”, v. 1)
e)fane/rwsa/ sou to\ o&noma (“I made your name shine forth…”, v. 6)
Pa/ter a%gie th/rhson au)tou\$ e)n tw=| o)no/mati/ sou
(“Holy Father, keep watch [over] them in your name…”, v. 11)

Paul uses the verb 6 times in the undisputed letters (1 Thess 5:23; Rom 15:16; 1 Cor 1:2; 6:11; 7:14 [twice]); it occurs three more times in Eph 5:26; 2 Tim 2:21; 1 Tim 4:5. It is used 7 times in Hebrews (2:11 [twice]; 9:13; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:12), in the context of the Israelite priesthood—a point to be discussed on v. 19 below.

It is important to emphasize again that the following phrase “in the truth” and the statement “your word is truth” both qualify and explain the meaning of the petition. First, we have the full form of the petition: “Make them (to be) holy in the truth”. The noun a)lh/qeia (“truth”) occurs 25 times in the Gospel of John, and another 20 times in the Letters (9 in 1 John). It has a special theological (and Christological) meaning, going far beyond the simple idea of factual truth, or even moral and religious truth. Rather, it is a fundamental characteristic of God the Father Himself, and of Jesus as the Son (of God). Moreover, it does not refer primarily to Jesus’ teaching and the proclamation of God’s word (as a message), but is embodied in the person of Jesus himself. Cf. John 1:14, 17; 8:32ff, 44-46; 14:6; 18:37-38; 1 Jn 1:6, 8; 2:21, etc. Distinctive of the Johannine theology, including that expressed by Jesus in the Discourses, is the special association (and identification) of the Spirit with this Truth (4:23-24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:7, 13; 1 John 4:6). The declaration in 1 John 5:6 makes this identification explicit and unqualified, and provides the answer to Pilate’s provocative question (Jn 18:38, “What is [the] truth?”):

“The Spirit is the Truth”
to\ pneu=ma/ e)stin h( a)lh/qeia

This declaration also informs the statement in 17:17b (cp. Psalm 119:142b Greek v.l.), which has similar wording (the only real difference being the emphatic position of the verb):

“Your Word is (the) Truth”
o( lo/go$ o( so$ a)lh/qeia/ e)stin

Taking these statements together, we have the fundamental identification of God’s Word (lo/go$) with the Spirit. Again, this does not refer to any particular message or set of words spoken by Jesus (though these are included, Jn 6:63, etc), but to the essential identity of Jesus (the Son) as the living embodiment of God’s Word on earth (Jn 1:1ff, 14, etc). Jesus’ manifest presence with the disciples cleanses them (Jn 13:10-11; 15:3), culminating in his sacrificial death (1 Jn 1:7-9) that protects believers and makes them clean (i.e. holy) from sin. This cleansing power again is identified with the Spirit (“water and blood”, Jn 19:34; 1 Jn 5:6-8)—the living and indwelling presence of Jesus (and God the Father) in believers. The Spirit is given following Jesus’ death (19:30, 34, understood symbolically) and resurrection (20:22).

Thus we may see here in verse 17 an implicit reference to the Holy Spirit as the means by which the disciples (believers) are made holy.

Verse 18

This is confirmed by what follows in verse 18, a reciprocal statement similar to the ‘commission’ of the disciples in 20:21:

“Even as you se(n)t me forth into the world, I also se(n)t them forth into the world” (17:18)
“Even as the Father se(n)t me forth, I also send [pe/mpw] you” (20:21b)

In 17:18, the aorist is used (indicating a past occurrence), while in 20:21, in addressing the disciples, Jesus uses the present tense (and a different verb [pe/mpw]). It is possible that the aorist assumes a tradition such as in the Synoptics (Mk 3:14-15; 6:6b-13 par; Lk 10:1ff), where Jesus is to have sent the disciples out on preaching assignments. The Gospel writer is certainly familiar with such traditions (3:34-38; 6:67-71), though he makes little of them in the narrative. However, a better explanation is at hand in the context of the Last Discourse. An important point of emphasis (discussed in the prior studies) is that Jesus was able to sanctify his disciples by his presence with them on earth (i.e., in the past, up to this point). Now that he is about to return to the Father, he is no longer able to “make them holy” the same way—thus the need (in the present) for the Father to send the Spirit as the Divine Presence (and Power) to fill this role in Jesus’ place. The words of commission in 20:21 are followed directly by the disciples receiving the Spirit from Jesus (who, in turn, had received it from the Father). The Spirit’s presence cleanses the disciples and makes them holy.

In this regard, the disciples are to function in the manner of priests in ancient religious tradition. Through a proscribed ceremonial ritual, Israelite priests were consecrated (made holy) for service in the sacred place(s), handling of sacrifices and sacred objects, etc—e.g., Exod 40:13; Lev 8:30; 2 Chron 5:11. Jesus’ disciples (believers) are compared or described as priests at numerous points in early Christian tradition, part of a wider religious phenomenon whereby devotion to Jesus takes the place of (or fulfills) the earlier cultic ritual practiced by the priesthood. Of the passages in the New Testament indicating this, cf. Matt 12:1-8; Rom 12:1-2; 15:16; 2 Cor 3:6ff; 1 Pet 2:5ff; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6.

Verse 19

The imagery of priesthood is even more prominent in verse 19. Indeed, it is due almost entirely to the influence of verses 17-19 that the Prayer-Discourse in chapter 17 is sometimes called the “High Priestly” Prayer of Jesus. However, this label is quite inappropriate for the Prayer as a whole, since it is only in these three verses that there is any real indication of priestly language or emphasis. Nevertheless, it remains a small, but important, element of the Prayer, and follows the overall theology of the Gospel, in which it is not believers, but Jesus himself, who is described in priestly terms. The emphasis is on the sacrifice (esp. the Passover sacrifice) rather than the one administering it; however, as in the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus would certainly be seen as fulfilling both roles. This is expressed here in verse 19, where the Passion setting of the Prayer again comes to the fore:

“And (it is) over them [i.e. the disciples] (that) I make myself holy, (so) that they (also) would be made holy in the truth.”

Jesus functions as a priest, consecrating himself for service (symbolized by his actions in 13:4-12)—the primary service being his impending sacrificial death on the cross, which represents the completion of his ministry on earth (19:30). The only other occurrence of the verb a(gia/zw is in 10:36, which comes at the end of the “Good Shepherd” Discourse. The central motif of this Discourse is the idea that Jesus, as the excellent or exemplary (kalo/$) herdsman, lays down his life for the sake of the sheep. God the Father has given him the authority (and the command) to lay down his life (death) and take it up again (resurrection), cf. 10:11, 15, 17-18. The preposition is u(pe/r (lit. “over”), essentially the same idiom as we see here in 17:19, and also in the Last Supper scene in the Synoptics; let us compare these (and the general parallel in Jn 6:51):

    • “This is my blood of the covenant th(at is) being poured out over [u(pe/r] many” (Mk 14:24 par)
    • “the bread which I will give is my flesh over [u(pe/r] the life of the world” (Jn 6:51)
    • “…I set (down) my soul [i.e. life] over [u(pe/r] the sheep” (Jn 10:15, cf. also vv. 11, 17-18)
    • “I make myself holy over [u(per/] them…” (17:19)

There can thus be no real doubt that there is a direct allusion to sacrificial death of Jesus. The idiom in Mk 14:24 par is more concrete, drawing upon the ritual image of blood actually being poured (or sprinkled) over the people at the covenant ceremony (Exodus 24:6-8). In the Johannine references, it is more symbolic, dealing the sacrificial nature and character of Jesus’ death, much as we see in the Letter to the Hebrews (esp. throughout chapters 5-10). From the Johannine (theological) standpoint, it is the sacrificial death (and resurrection) of Jesus which releases the Spirit to believers, both symbolically (19:30, 34) and literally (20:22). The Spirit remains essentially connected with the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7-9; 5:6-8), transmitting its live-giving (and protecting) efficacy to the believer.

A point should be made about the reflexive use of a(gia/zw in verse 19, whereby Jesus says: “I make myself holy” (a(gia/zw e)mauto/n). We might have expected him to ask the Father to make him holy, or at least to emphasize the Father as the source of holiness (v. 11). The key to understanding this lies in the Johannine theological-christological framework, perhaps best expressed by Jesus in 5:26:

“as the Father holds life in himself, so also he gave life to the Son to hold in himself”

There is a parallel to this in 13:31-32, using the idea of honor/glory (do/ca) rather than life (zwh/). Moreover, the context of 17:19 is elucidated in this regard by turning back to the use of the verb a(gia/zw in 10:36:

“…the (one) whom the Father made holy [h(gi/asen] and se(n)t forth into the world”

This expresses the same chain of relation as in 5:26, both reciprocal and hierarchical:

The Son alongside the Father—made holy by the Father’s Life and Power
Sent into the world by the Father
The Son (on earth) has the Life and Power given to him by the Father
Prepares to finish his work in the world
The Son about to return to the Father—makes himself holy

This dynamic continues as the Son makes his disciples (believers) holy in turn, through his work, and, ultimately, through the presence of the Spirit. Indeed, the Spirit represents the presence of both Father and Son (together) in and among believers, and this theme of unity becomes dominant in the remainder of the Prayer (vv. 20-26), as we will begin to explore in next week’s study.

March 6: Matt 6:9; Lk 11:2 (continued)

Matthew 6:9c; Luke 11:2c

Having discussed the invocation of the Lord’s Prayer in prior notes, we now turn to the first petition, which has the same Greek form in all three versions (Luke, Matthew, Didache):

a(giasqh/tw to\ o&noma/ sou
hagiasth¢tœ to onoma sou
“May your Name be treated (as) holy”

An Aramaic version, such as might have been spoken by Jesus, would be: Em*v= vD^q^t=y], yitqaddaš š§ma½ (Fitzmyer, p. 901). The traditional English translation, by way of the KJV/AV, is “Hallowed be Thy Name”, which, though elegant as a literal rendering, is now quite archaic sounding, even within a formal prayer. We must look more closely at the meaning of verb a(gia/zw (hagiázœ), related to the adjective a%gio$ (hágios), which is more or less accurately translated in English as “holy”. The old Greek noun ago$ (ágos/hágos) relates fundamentally to something which produces, or is a reason for, (religious) awe. The verb a(gia/zw can mean “be holy”, “treat/regard (something) as holy”, or, in the causative sense, “make (something) to be(come) holy”. It is used almost entirely in a religious (and ritual) context, and is typically translated as “sanctify”.

The verb occurs frequently in the Septuagint (LXX), especially in the ritual instruction within the Pentateuch (Torah). It also occurs 28 times in the New Testament, where it tends to be used in a more figurative, spiritualized sense, though certain ritual aspects remain (connected with Baptism, proper conduct of believers, etc). The (passive) imperative form, used in the Prayer, is rather more unusual, occurring elsewhere only in Rev 22:11: “the (one who is) holy [a%gio$] must still be regarded as holy [a(giasqh/tw]”. A literal rendering of the petition in the Prayer would similarly be:

“Your name must be regarded as holy!”

which, in the context of a prayer to God requires a slightly nuanced rendering:

“May/let your name be regarded as holy!”

There is some question about the force of the aorist passive here. It could indicate: (1) the so-called “divine passive” (passivum divinum) where God is the implied actor, or (2) what is sometimes called the “aorist of prayer”, in which human worshipers are the acting subjects (cf. Betz, p. 389). Given that the Prayer is addressed to God, the former seems more likely; at the same time, it is clear that the ones who are to treat/regard God’s name as holy are human beings. We might paraphrase and expound the petition as follows:

“(Father,) bring it about that people (everywhere) come to treat your name with the honor due to it”

In Greek, the verb doca/zw is similar in (religious) meaning to a(gia/zw—to regard something as holy (a%gio$) means that one treat it with the honor and esteem (do/ca) that is due to it. In Hebrew, this “honor” is expressed by the root dbK (vb k¹»a¼, noun k¹»ô¼), fundamentally referring to something (or someone) having weight (i.e. value, strength, worth, etc). The root in Hebrew/Aramaic indicating “holiness” is vdq (adj q¹¼ôš, noun qœ¼eš, vb q¹¼aš). Jesus utters a petition to God, similar to that in the Lord’s Prayer, in John 12:28, but using the verb doca/zw instead of a(gia/zw:

“Father, (may you) make your name (to be) honored/esteemed [do/cason]!”

When it comes to the specific idea of holiness, there are two aspects which should be delineated: (1) purity, and (2) setting something apart for special (religious) use. The Greek a%gio– word group emphasizes the former, while Hebrew/Aramaic vdq (qdš) the latter. Moreover, a fundamental religious principle is that: what we treat as holy in terms of religious behavior ultimately is an expression of how we view the nature and character of God. For Israel as the chosen people of God (YHWH), this is defined by the formula in Leviticus 19:2:

“You shall be holy, for I, YHWH your God, am Holy”

Jesus effectively restates this for his followers in the Sermon on the Mount—if they follow his teaching, then:

“…you shall be complete, as your Father the (One) in the heavens is complete” (Matt 5:48)

Thus, true religion requires that people act and think in a way that honors God and reflects his own Person and Character, including all the things he has done on behalf of humankind and his people (as Creator, Life-giver, Savior/Protector, Judge, etc). According to the ancient religious mind-set, shared by Jews and Christians in the first century A.D., the “name” of God represented the Person and Nature of God manifest to human beings on earth. For more on this concept of names and naming, cf. the Christmas season series “And you shall call His Name…” The “name” of God the Father is more than simply the name expressed by the tetragrammaton (hwhy, YHWH, Yahweh)—it reflects the very Person of God Himself as he relates to his People. And, it is God’s “name” that is to be honored and treated as holy by his People—cf. Exod 20:7, etc. By the time of the Prophets, the emphasis had shifted away from ritual honoring of God’s name toward honoring it in terms of one’s overall behavior and conduct (see esp. Isa 29:23). Jesus, in his teaching (as in the Sermon on the Mount), moves even further in this direction, and this is certainly intended in the Lord’s Prayer. But why/how is it that we pray to God for this, when it is our (i.e. human beings’) responsibility to treat His Name as holy? The key to this lies in the eschatological orientation of the Prayer, which will be discussed in the next daily note.

For examples in Jewish tradition of invocations or petitions similar to those in the (Matthean) Lord’s Prayer, I point out several here:

    • “…their Father in heaven, the Holy One” (Mekilta on Exod 20:25; Fitzmyer, p. 900)
    • “Thou art holy and Thy name is holy, and the holy ones praise Thee every day. Selah. Blessed be Thou, O Lord, the holy God.” (Shemoneh Esreh [3rd benediction])
    • “Let his great name be magnified and hallowed in the world which he has created according to his will” (The Qaddiš [Kaddish] prayer; Betz, p. 390)

References marked “Fitzmyer” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer’s Commentary on Luke in the Anchor Bible [AB] series (Vol. 28, 28A [1985]).
References marked “Betz” are to Hans Dieter Betz, The Sermon on the Mount, Hermeneia (Fortress Press: 1995).

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.