divineFleur Dorrell

In this article, the writer invites us to reconsider the biblical notion of holiness through specifically chosen texts. While affirming the sacred transcendence of God, the argument proposes a renewed sense of the holy in the life of the faithful. Fleur Dorrell is Scripture Development Co-ordinator at the Bible Society.

What can the Bible show us about recognising and experiencing the holy in our lives?

Is holiness defined as separation or wholeness?

Is our understanding of the holy to draw us closer to the Divine or to remain apart from the Divine, forever held at a holy arm's length1? Is holiness defined as separation or wholeness between the Divine and its relation to people, places and objects and between the sacred and the profane? In order to explore these notions of separation and wholeness I will consider how holiness is experienced within select biblical texts. I believe that there is a false dichotomy created between the holistic nature of holiness, and the significance of holiness as being wholly other, experiential and beyond categorisation. 

In 1917 the German Protestant Theologian Rudolf Otto, in his study on holiness, Das Heilige2, maintained that ' "Holiness" - "the holy" - is a category of interpretation and valuation peculiar to the sphere of religion. It is, indeed, applied by transference to another sphere - that of ethics - but it is not derived from this'.3 Rudolf Otto's understanding of holiness is as a phenomenon of subjective human and spiritual experience, it is unique and unequivocal. Therefore, I have chosen four biblically reported 'holy' experiences that help us explore this in more detail:

a)    Moses and the Burning Bush at Mount Horeb - Exodus 3.1-15

b)    Elijah in the cave at Mount Horeb - 1 Kings 19.9-18

c)    The Annunciation to Mary - Luke 1.26-38

d) The tearing of the Temple Veil at the time of Jesus' crucifixion in the Synoptic Gospels - Matthew 27.50-52; Mark 15.37-39; Luke 23.44-46.

I have selected these passages from the Pentateuch, Prophets and Gospels4 because they illustrate what is a 'holy' experience, as manifested through the reports of two men and one woman

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