Word of the Week
March 25, 2023
Hosios: The Other Kind of Holy
And to put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Ephesians 4:24 NASB20
Holiness is a big word in Scripture. Your Bible mentions “holy” or “holiness” about 600 times. Just think how long it would take to study all those passages!
Even if you limited your study to the New Testament, you would have well over 150 verses to examine.
Most of those passages use the same Greek word for holy: hagios (HAH-gee-awss) or its companion noun. You can make a case for the proposition that holiness is God’s most important attribute, and we know that He asks His people to be holy. This is one of the most important word studies we could do – but it’s not the one we are doing this week.
Instead we are going to get acquainted with a different Greek word for holiness, one that is relatively rare but rich in meaning.
This unusual word is hosios (HAW-see-awss), which occurs only 8 times in the New Testament. The matching noun hosiotēs, “holiness,” appears only twice. These words provide a fresh angle on what holiness involves. Let’s take a closer look.
In the classical Greek world, a hosios person was one who fulfilled their obligations to the gods, offering the appropriate sacrifices and avoiding any action that would bring down Zeus’s thunderbolts. It was the devout person who felt awe toward the gods and acted like it.
In the Greek Old Testament, hosios often translates a Hebrew word related to chesedh, the loyal lovingkindness that God showed His covenant people. Hosios was a description of people who showed their own loyalty to the covenant. They did the right things – living according to the stipulations of the Law – for the right reason: their deep relationship to the covenant God.
How about this word in the New Testament? Look what a quick tour reveals:
- God is holy (hosios)
As the book of Revelation moves toward a final series of judgments, we hear two angelic announcements that describe the Lord.
- You alone are holy . . . (Revelation 15:4, citing Psalm 145:17)
- Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because you judged these things (Revelation 16:5, quoting from Deuteronomy 32:4)
God is not subject to any laws higher than Himself, but He is unfailingly true to His covenants, unerringly faithful to His commitments. You can always count on Him to be true to His character and His promises. He always does what is right, even when He judges the world.
- Jesus Christ is holy (hosios)
Peter and Paul both described Jesus as hosios, quoting from Psalm 16:10 to show that His resurrection was a fulfillment of prophecy.
- Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay (Acts 2:27; 13:35).
Hebrews joins in describing Jesus in the same way.
- For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26).
Like the Father, Jesus Christ stayed totally loyal to His Father and never deviated from the path He assumed when He became a man. As our great High Priest, He fulfilled every responsibility of a priest. You could count on Him to be everything He was supposed to be and to do everything He was supposed to do. As the old song goes, “There’s No Disappointment in Jesus.”
- God’s promises are holy (hosios)
The Lord made immense promises to David, and these promises were in line with His character: you could count on them to come true. Paul quoted Isaiah 55:3 to remind his audience of these totally reliable statements:
- I will give you the holy and faithful mercies (or blessings) of David (Acts 13:34).
He goes on in the next verse to make a logical deduction: God promised that His holy one would not experience the decay of death. God always acts in harmony with His promises. But David did die, and his body did decay. Does that mean God’s promise didn’t work? No! It means that He was talking about a descendant of David whose body would escape the normal process of decay. That Person was Jesus!
- God’s people should be holy (hosios)
God is in the process of shaping our character to be more and more like His, and this kind of holiness is no exception. Hosios is part of His agenda for us!
Church leaders should be holy.
- But hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled (Titus 1:8).
Paul set an example of holiness when he launched the church in Thessalonica.
- You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
All of us should be holy, especially as we come to God in prayer.
- Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension (1 Timothy 2:8).
Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, praised God for sending a Savior who would make it possible for us “to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness all our days” (Luke 1:75).
No wonder that the Bible tells us to put on our new nature, “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24).
What does this kind of holiness look like?
It means that I am unreservedly loyal to Him, totally committed to living up to everything that He asks of me – not perfectly, but faithfully. It means that I act like a Christian – obeying Him consistently, not out of legalistic scruples, but out of grateful response to His loyal love.
It can be hard to distinguish between the words for character qualities because they overlap in meaning. This week’s word is very similar to hagios, the other word for “holy.” We shouldn’t see them as contrasts, just as different angles on the same idea.
In this case, I found it helpful to look at the way the word is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. You can often gain insights by observing how a Greek word is used in that version, which was available to the Jews of the first century. You can not only observe the way a word is used, you can also check to see which Hebrew words matched it in the original text.
Q: I looked at this word hosios in a source that showed it using the Greek alphabet. I could see how the English letters matched the Greek letters, but I couldn’t find anything that matched the “h” at the beginning. What happened?
A: There is no letter “h” in the Greek alphabet. Instead, they use a symbol called a “breathing mark” at the beginning of any word that starts with a vowel. It looks like an apostrophe (or a backwards apostrophe) and it occurs over or beside that vowel.
Usually it looks like this: ἀ – It’s called a smooth breathing, and you don’t pronounce it.
But sometimes it turns the other direction and looks like this: ἁ – That’s called a rough breathing, and it means you add an “h” sound to the beginning of the word.
This week we looked at the less common word for holy, so it seems appropriate that we should take next week to examine the usual word for that important concept.
©Ezra Project 2023