Peter J. Gentry, “The Meaning of ‘Holy’ in the Old Testament,” Bibliotheca Sacra 170, no. 677–680 (2013): 400–417.
Gentry challenges the traditional understanding of holiness as denoting “moral purity,” and “transcendence” or set-apartness. He first challenges the idea קדש can be defined by means of the surmised etymological link with קד, “to cut.” Gentry proposes that a usage study, done by Claude Bernard Costecalde in 1986, of both the Hebrew word and its equivalent in congate languages does not support either “moral purity” or “transcendance” as the meaning of holy. In line with Costecalde’s analysis Gentry concludes: “The basic meaning of the word is ‘consecrated’ or ‘devoted.'” Gentry surveys texts in Exodus 3, 19, and Isaiah 6 to establish this point.
In the end, I’m sympathetic to the idea that the basic meaning of קדש is “devoted,” but I didn’t see “set apart” or “moral purity” to be as decisively excluded from the range of meaning as Gentry argues. Gentry also seems to have a fairly negative view of the discipline of systematic theology in comparison to biblical studies: “Indeed, systematic theologians of the last five hundred years have not been helpful in explaining what Scripture teaches on this topic due to reliance on doubtful etymologies and connection of the term with moral purity and divine transcendence.” But more than Gentry’s exegesis, it was a theological observation from Sinclair Ferguson’s Devoted to God that convinced me that at its root holiness about being devoted. Ferguson observes that holiness, as an attribute of God, has to have a meaning that works apart from the created order. Being transcendent or set apart does not work theologically whereas devoted does.
O’Donovan, Oliver. “Sanctification and Ethics.” In Kelly M. Kapic, ed. Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2014.
I find O’Donovan’s writings difficult to comprehend, as if I’m not yet acquainted with his dialect. In this essay I at points wondered about his commitment to the Reformation distinction between justification and sanctification. More positive were his helpful reflections on the relation of ethics to dogmatics and his observation that age does not confer sanctification. Each period of life has its own challenges to holiness that must be met.
Eglinton, James. “On Bavinck’s Theology of Sanctification-As-Ethics.” In Kelly M. Kapic, ed. Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2014.
Eglinton argues that Bavinck was just as much an ethicist as he was a dogmatician. He was actually working on a Reformed Ethics at the same time he was writing the Reformed Dogmatics. He seemed to give up the ethics project when he moved to the Free University and the professor of ethics there was writing, and completed, a Reformed Ethics. At that point Bavinck turned to writing essays that were, in effect, applied ethics. Eglington’s article is largely helpful historical situation of Bavinck as ethicist with a brief summary of his approach and with many useful works to follow up in the footnotes.
Bavinck on Sanctification
The kingdom of God is a gift granted by God according to his good pleasure (Matt. 11:26; 16:17; 22:14; 24:22; Luke 10:20; 12:32; 2:29), yet it is also a reward, a treasure in heaven, which has to be aggressively sought and gained by labor in the service of God (Matt. 5:12, 20; 6:20; 19:21; 20:1ff.; and so forth). Believers are branches in the vine who cannot do anything apart from Christ, yet at the same time they are admonished to remain in him, in his word, in his love (John 15). They are a chosen people, and still have to be zealous to confirm their call and election (2 Pet. 1:10). By a single offering of Christ they have been sanctified and perfected (Heb. 10:10, 14). God effected in them that which is good (13:21), yet they must still persevere to the end (3:6, 14; 4:14; 6:11-12). They have put on the new self and must continually clothe themselves with the new self (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). They have crucified the flesh with its desires, and must kill its members who are on the earth (Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:10). They are saints and sanctified in Christ Jesus, and must nevertheless become holy in all their conduct (1 Pet. 1:15; 2 Pet. 3:11), pursuing and perfecting their sanctification in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 3:13; 4:3), for without it no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:254.
On the one hand this union of believers with Christ is not a pantheistic mingling of the two, not a ‘substantial union,’ as it has been viewed by the mysticism of earlier and later times, nor on the other hand is it mere agreement in disposition, will, and purpose, as rationalism understood it and Ritschl again explained it. What Scripture tells us of this mystical union goes far beyond moral agreement in will and disposition. It expressly states that Christ lives and dwells in believers (John 14:23; 17:23, 26; Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17), and that they exist in him (John 15:1-7; Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 1:10ff.). The two are united as branch and vine (John 15), as are head and members (Rom. 12:4; 1 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 1:23; 4:15), husband and wife (1 Cor. 6:16-17; Eph. 5:32); cornerstone and building (1 Cor. 3:11, 16; 6:19l Eph. 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:4-5). This mystical union, however, is not immediate but comes into being by the Holy Spirit….The very first gift that believers receive is already communicated to them by the Spirit, how takes everything from Christ (John 16:14). It is he who regenerates them (John 3:5-6, 8; Titus 3:5); gives life to them (Rom. 8:10); incorporates them into fellowship with Christ (1 Cor. 6:15, 17, 19); brings them to faith (2:9ff.; 12:3); washes, sanctifies, and justifies them (6:11; 12:13; Titus 3:5); leads them (Rom. 8:14); pours out God’s love into their hearts (5:5); prays in them (8:26); imparts to them an array of virtues (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:9) and gifts (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:4), especially the gift of love (1 Cor. 13); prompts them to live by a new law, the law of the Spirit (Rom. 8:2, 4; 1 Cor. 7:9; Gal. 5:6; 6:2); and renews them in intellect and will, in soul and body (Rom. 6:19; 1 Cor. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Thess. 5:23). In a word, the Holy Spirit dwells in them and they live and walk in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:1, 4, 9-11; 1 Cor. 6:19l Gal. 4:6; and so forth)
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:250-52.
Justification and sanctification, accordingly, while distinct from each other, are not for a moment separated. They are distinct: those who mix them undermine the religious life, take away the comfort of believers, and subordinate God to humanity. The distinction between the two consists in the fact that in justification the religious relationship of human beings with God is restored, and in sanctification their nature is renewed and cleansed of the impurity of sin. At bottom the distinction rests on the fact that God is both righteous and holy.
Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:249.
But there is something else as well: the moral law that confronts us in the Decalogue, in the Sermon on the Mount, and further throughout the Old and New Testaments is not the case of ‘precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little’ [Isa. 28:10, 13] but comprises universal norms, great principles, that leave a lot of room for individual application and summon every believer to examine what in a given situation would for them be the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2). Since the moral law is not a code of articles we merely have to look up in order, from moment to moment, to know exactly what we must do, there is in its domain a freedom that may not be curbed by human ordinances but must—precisely to safeguard the character of the moral life—be recognized and maintained. On the one hand that freedom includes the permissible, the adiaphora, and on the other what Rome calls the ‘counsels.’ Error begins in both schools of thought when the adiaphora and the counsels are located outside or alongside of, below or above, the moral law and are therefore detached from the moral life. There is no right or reason for this either in the one or in the other case. There are cases in which what is in itself permissible becomes impermissible (Rom. 14:21, 23; 1 Cor. 8:13; 10:23); and there are also circumstances in which abstention from marriage (Matt. 19:11; 1 Cor. 7:7), giving up remuneration (1 Cor.9:14-19), the renunciation of all earthly goods (Matt. 19:21), or the like is a duty. But in ‘doing’ these good works one is not accomplishing anything that is outside the moral law or surpasses it. For there is a difference between a law that furnishes universally valid rules and a duty that is inferred from that law in a given case for everyone personally. Those who lose sight of this and assume the existence of a series of good works that really lie outside of and surpass the moral law fail to honor its unity and universality and degrade it.
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:259-60.