Showing posts from July, 2008

Rudolph Otto’s The Idea of the Holy: Overrated

Rudolph Otto was a German Protestant theologian and historian of religion. In 1923 the first English translation of his German work The Idea of the Holy appeared. It has become, as Victor P. Hamilton’s says, “one of the books most frequently referred to in this area [holiness].” I was reading Hamilton's Handbook on the Pentateuch today, and he referenced Otto. In fact, Otto was the only author he referenced in his discussion of holiness in Genesis 1-2 (short paragraph).

Frankly, I’m weary of references to this book in contexts where the biblical meaning of holiness is discussed. Scholars regularly pay lip service to it as though it constitutes a signal contribution to our knowledge of God's holiness. Admittedly, Hamilton notes that “Otto does not address … the fact that God’s holiness gives the basis to his moral demands.” But the fact that his is the only work referenced by Hamilton suggests he is significant and worth reading. Today I looked up on the book on Google books a…

Defining Holiness: Where to start?

I find it a very common practice by theologians to insist upon beginning with God when defining holiness. With the resurgence of trinitarian theology, the focus has been on beginning with God’s trinitarian nature and relationships as the matrix for holiness. Some have gone so far as to assert that if one’s definition of holiness does not work within the Trinity before creation it is incorrect.

Logically, it makes sense to begin with God. Clearly, God is holy (Exod. 15:11). He is incomparable in holiness (Isa. 40:25). What interests me is that God does not start our understanding of holiness where theologians think He should. (Who knows where He started Adam’s?!) If we take the canonical order of the Torah as His chosen starting point for preserving His revelation for our understanding, then God starts teaching us about holiness with non-personal items: a day, some dirt, and an assembly.

A holy day
In Gen. 2:3 God makes the seventh day holy because in it He rested from all his labors. Sev…

Surprised by covetousness

On Tuesday, I was reading Romans 7 as part of my Scripture reading during my personal worship time. Verse 7 stuck out since we are teaching our son, Allan, the ten commandments.

Romans 7:7 Τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν; ὁ νόμος ἁμαρτία; μὴ γένοιτο· ἀλλὰ τὴν ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἔγνων εἰ μὴ διὰ νόμου· τήν τε γὰρ ἐπιθυμίαν οὐκ ᾔδειν εἰ μὴ ὁ νόμος ἔλεγεν· οὐκ ἐπιθυμήσεις.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "You shall not covet." (NASB)

I was surprised to see that the noun “coveting” = ἐπιθυμία; the verb is a form of ἐπιθυμέω. The standard words for desire, strong desire, frequently translated "lust" by the KJV! Is that what coveting is--desire?

So I checked the LXX. It uses ἐπιθυμέω in Exod. 20 and Deut. 5. Then I checked BDAG, Louw-Nida, and Friberg. None of them list “covet” as a sense of ἐπιθυμέω! Then I went to the Hebrew: חמד …

Holiness through the OT looking glass

In He Gave Us Stories Richard L. Pratt calls the OT text a three-fold looking glass: a translucent window that opens upon events in the ancient world, a stained-glass window that presents a highly selective, ideologically focused drama, and a silvered mirror which shows us ourselves in others' garb. Pratt’s metaphor deserves the biblical theologian’s regular meditation. Most of us easily forget Scripture’s stained-glass nature and think only of it as a transparent pane, however circumscribed, for viewing God’s Kingdom plan unfolding step by step, phase by phase.

Such forgetfulness leads to serious exegetical error. First, we think that because the text does not say the ancients knew something, therefore they did not know it. This is a conclusion unreasonable and unsustainable.

The NT off-handedly attributes knowledge to OT characters of which there is not the slightest hint in the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, Jude tells us that Enoch prophesied Yahweh’s coming in judgment with m…

Survey of Holiness in the OT

I just finished, last night, a journey through every OT text that has any of the cognate Hebrew terms for holiness. There are 823 instances of the following cognates: the verb q-d-sh, the noun qodesh, and the adjectives qadosh and qadesh. I’ve been on the journey off and on for about a month.

Three things prompted my study. First, my SS class asked for a study on holiness and its related topics. Second, Dad and I have been discussing the nature of God’s holiness for a couple months. Third, in his book Portraits of God, Allan Coppedge asserts, “A survey of the data indicates that the meaning of holiness has six major components. They [are] the concepts of separation, brilliance, righteousness, love, power and goodness” (p. 51).

My previous studies of the concept of holiness had lead me to conclude that holiness at its essence is separateness. When applied to human persons, it is separation unto God from the common and ordinary as well as the sinful and defiling. When applied to God … wel…

RHB: 1st Printing Sold; 2nd Printing Has Arrived

I just learned from Zondervan that the first printing of A Reader's Hebrew Bible has completely sold out (hence the "out of stock" notice on

The good news is that the second printing has arrived and will soon be shipping to suppliers. The second printing includes a significant number of corrections, including the unfortunate tsere-segel problem in Genesis. For a complete list of errata, including the corrections included in the second edition as well as those to be fixed in future printings, click here.