January 2023 | The True Vine and The Soon Coming King

"HOLINESS-An Edgy Experiment with Hosios"
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"HOLINESS-An Edgy Experiment with Hosios"

Pr. Idicheria Ninan Ph.D

How do we measure true holiness? It may sound more puzzling than the ancients’ quest for determining the purity of gold. The legendary story of Archimedes, the famous mathematician, and inventor, riddled with solving the mystery of the purity of King Heiro II of Syracuse’s gold crown, running naked out of his bathtub shouting, “Eureka.. Eureka” must have thrilled many a middle school kid. Struck by the overflow of water from the bathtub as he dipped himself, Archimedes discovered the principle of buoyancy and solved the King’s riddle by measuriwng the weight of the crown in pure gold. His edgy experiment measured the volume of water displaced by the same weight of pure gold, silver and then by the crown itself. The fate of the goldsmith for cheating his king is left to anyone’s imagination. Do we have a similar measure to assess the veracity of the diverse claims of holiness, even among the zealous people of God?

One of the credible measurers of holiness, leaving aside cultural symbols and conformity to popular tradition, arises from a study of the common word for holiness in the Bible.

Qadosh, (Hebrew) translated as hagios (Greek) refers to holiness by association. Any object, place, person, or time set aside for God, his possession or use, is said to be ‘holy’. Holiness arises out of attachment; it is relational or by belonging. The focus of such a relational understanding of holiness, is that while there is an inherent suggestion of detachment from what is common, its focus stays more on separation for the sake of, rather than separation ‘out of’. Rather than raising the boundary walls higher and painting it bright, holiness by association shifts its emphasis to the centre of attachment, the veryraison d’etre of the attachment - that is God himself. The character of God thus defines holiness, and his covenant people are holy beings or “saints” by virtue of their belonging to God.

One of the lesser known cousins of the holiness word group in the Greek New Testament is hosios (noun), hosiotaes (adj), and hosioos (adverb) appearing merely 13 times. In this short essay, I wish to highlight itsedgy use in the New Testament. In Dt 32:4 & Ps 145:17, the word appears within a cluster of the communicable virtues of God as revealed to Israel through the covenant of grace. Thus, God’s nature as just, faithful and promise keeping, without blemish, upright, kind etc., belong to the same symbolic universe of holy or hosiotaes. In Rev. 15:4 & 16:5, Hosios clearly denotes God, the Holy one.

When it is applied to the people of God in the Old Testament, it usually translates the Hebrew word Hasid. Anyone who practices God’s covenant f a i t h f u l n e s s i.e., hesed or steadfast love, may be called Hasid. (Ps. 12:1, 18:26; 32:6). Such holy one’s treasure what is right before God; their unflinching loyalty to God is demonstrated by their commitment to practicing justice within the community. As the covenant expects such expressions of the fear of God from the community all the people of God may be described as Hasidim= hosioi (Pss 149:1). The elderly priest Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, prays for the messianic redemption of Israel from her enemies. He envisions it as a kind of new Exodus, resulting in God’s people worshipping/serving God in holiness and righteousness (en hosiotaeti kai diakoisunae. Lk. 1:74). In other words, the prayer prophetically anticipates the restoration of the people of God through the Messiah as holy ones, has idiimrestored by the Messiah.

During the Maccabean/Hasmonean period (167 -63 BC), Hasidim, (the pious ones) became a technical term to denote those who demonstrated relentless loyalty to the Law of God. They kept away from Hasmoneanrealpolitik. Despite taking up arms against the Seleucids for their violent imposition of Greek culture and philosophy upon the Jewish people of Palestine, the Hasmoneans and their Idumean successors became aggressive channels of Hellenization. The Hasidimremained the true champions of the zeal for Jewish ethnic identity that led Mattathias the father of the Maccabees to call for guerrilla resistance to the cultural intolerance of the Seleucids. According to some scholars, somewhere along the story of the Hasmoneans, the party of the p i o u s o n e s splintered into what may have later developed as Pharisees who as a lay movement tried to promote loyalty to the Law of Moses within the mainland. The other group, the Essenes took a radically different stand of nonconformity to the temple practices promoted by Hasmonean priests who usurped the role of both the High Priestand the King though they w e r e  n e i t h e r Zadokites nor of the tribe of Judah (143 - 63 BC). The Sadducean High Priests played an excellent game of political sycophancy with the ruling class, whether they were Idumean or Roman. The Essenes claiming to be the ‘sons of light’ reacted to a polluted temple and priesthood by setting up nonconformist communities that awaited the end time restoration of Israel. Their strict codes of oliness and purity, their devotion to meditation of the Torah and prayers, set them aside as a type of Jewish “cloistered desert spirituality”. Whether they were “meek as a mop” or sharpening their swords while studying the Torah has remained a subject of scholarly discussion.

The New Testament’s use of hosios (Hebrew Hasid) fits neither into the Torah centred vision of the Pharisees nor the segregated spirituality of the Essenes. Jesus himself did not fit into either of the Hasidic paradigms and was accused wildly as a friend of tax collectors and sinners, a drunkard and a glutton (Mt. 11:19; Lk 7:34) and even as one possessed by Beelzebul the prince of evil spirits (Mt 12:24). Paul the ex-Pharisee, strangely uses it as an adverb in 1 Thess. 2:10 combined with “righteous and spotless” to defend his conduct among the Thessalonian believers. Nevertheless, Paul’s Christian use of the word is worlds apart from the intertestamental developments popularised by either the Pharisees or Essenes. Both Peter (Acts 2:27) and Paul (Acts 13:35) would use hosios to denote the Messiah. His resurrection from the dead makes the words of Psalms 16:10 uniquely applicable to Jesus the crucified and risen one. Hosiosrefers to the only true God in Rev 15:4 & 16:5. The shared use of hosios to denote both God and his Messiah, highlights the uniqueness of Jesus. He transcends traditional Jewish concepts of the Messiah. The crucified and risen Messiah participates in the divine identity. Therefore, association with the crucified and risen one would enable the people of the Messiah to be described as hosiooi, without implicating the notions of either Pharisaic or Essenic concepts of separation that is coloured by several shades of Jewish cultural superiority.

Paul’s Christological derivation of holiness involves fresh reflections on the creation narrative of Gen 1:26-28. The Messiah is the eschatological Adam (1 Cor 15: 20-23, 45-49; Rom 5:12-21; Col 1:15-20; 2 Cor 4:4-6; Phil 2:6). Adam Christology in Paul is multi-layered with the notions of Wisdom of God, Son of Man etc., found in several Jewish textsin circulation in the first century AD.As the eschatological Adam, the Messiah is the true image of the invisible God. The death and resurrection of the Messiah is the advent of new creation; it is the inauguration of the new era of salvation or the new covenant. “If anyone is in the Messiah, there is a new creation! Old things have gone, and look -everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17 – Prof N. T. Wright’s Translation). Since the Messiah is the true image of the invisible God, the humanity that emerges from the death and resurrection of the Messiah and energised by the Spirit, ought to be shaped by the image or pattern of the Messiah. “The old has passed away – look, what is new has come” (2 Cor 5: 17 NET).

Passages like Eph. 4:20-24 teach believers to intentionally discard their humanity derived from fallen Adam. Their old humanity is corrupt through deceitful desires, as it is alienated from the life of God. It is further characterised as hardened in heart, insensitive to God’s desires or genuine human values. Selfish orientations seek for indulgence in all kinds of evil passions that neither honour God as God nor the ‘other’ as a human being with either the dignity or the freedom to be different (4:17-19, 22). Adorning the ‘old person’ with cultural or religious symbols of holiness may make him look as if he were holy. Wearing such ‘insignia’ do not necessitate participation in the character of God. Authentic reflection of God as his mirror image is to share in his communicable character, something demanded in the Old Covenant, and now made possible only through the new creation.The old has to go for the new to come in (2 Cor 5:17). This happens when one participates in the new humanity that emanates from the eschatological Adam’s death and resurrection! This new creation identity is a gift as well as a challenge. Believers are instructed by the gospel to be relentless in their pursuit of making the gift their lived-out experience; they are to mirror God, by imbibing his character in true righteousness and holiness (endikaiosune kai hosiotaetitaesalaetheias4:24; 5:1; Col 3:10). Transfiguration into the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness involves the renewal of the mind effected by Christian doctrine and the work of the Spirit (4:21, 23).

In a sense the New Testament’s employment of the minority word group was also anedgy experiment because of its close historical allusions to Pharisaic and Essenic views of piety and holiness. However, it departs from those contemporary patterns to relocate holiness within its original setting which is both covenantal and creational. In both creational and covenantal patterns, the people of God are privileged among all others to be the mirror image of God. This is achieved through the identity of the Messiah who shares in the very nature of God as the Holy One. The Messiah as the image of God, the eschatological Adam becomes the paradigm for the mirror image of God that humanity was intended to be. Humanity shaped by union with the death and resurrection of the Messiah is gifted with the status and demanded to become the image of God. And this calls for the renewal of the mind effected by the word of God in the gospel as well as the renewing work of the Spirit. Transformation by the Spirit through the Gospel affects thoughts, affections, values and virtues as expressed in habits or lifestyle. Paul sought to demonstrate it in his missionary practice(1 Thess 2:10). He expects the leaders of the new creation communities in local settings to likewise personify holiness (Tits 1:8). What is modelled by the leadership will then be emulated by the community (1 Tim 2:8; Eph. 4:24) 

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