Monday, September 17, 2012

Unholy and Profane

Unholy and Profane

The third and final pair of terms used by Paul in his letter to Timothy:

"We know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane." 1 Timothy 1:8-9 (ESV)

UNHOLY: anosios (wicked); from a (not) and hosios (intrinsically or divinely right, hallowed)

PROFANE: bebelos (accessible, as by crossing a door-way; heathenish or wicked); from baino (to walk) and belos (a threshold)

"Unholy" is best understood by looking at its opposite meaning: holy.

"Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." Revelation 15:3-4 (ESV)

HOLY: hosios (intrinsically or divinely right, hallowed)

This word only occurs eight times in the New Testament. It most often refers to God alone, but there are instances in which it refers to humans:

"I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling." 1 Timothy 2:8 (ESV)

"An overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined." Titus 1:7-8 (ESV)

Holiness includes the concepts of powerful deeds, justice and truth. God's actions spring directly from His essence, which is best described as "holy". God is holy, and humans are not, because only God can do what He does. God is a being apart from human, making His deeds uniquely different or "holy".

There is another word often translated as "holy" as well:

"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, - You shall be holy, for I am holy." 1 Peter 1:14-16 (ESV)

HOLY: hagios (sacred, physically pure, morally blameless or ceremonially consecrated); from hagos (an awful thing)

Peter is citing the Book of Leviticus:

"You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground." Leviticus 11:43-44 (ESV)

HOLY: qadosh (sacred, ceremonially or morally; God, an angel, a saint, a sanctuary); from qadash (to be, make, pronounce or observe as clean)

"Hagios" and "qadosh" both imply utter and complete cleanliness. God alone is perfectly clean, physically and morally. The only way for humans to have this own condition of perfect cleanliness is to have it legally, spiritually, conferred or granted to us by God.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? In plain language, what is the difference between the two words for holy? Can you reconcile the paradox of God alone being holy, yet Christians are commanded to be holy?

Paul connects another word with unholy:

PROFANE: bebelos (accessible, as by crossing a door-way; heathenish or wicked); from baino (to walk) and belos (a threshold)

"Profanity" has a popular meaning of "dirty words", "swearing" or "cursing". However, a more accurate definition would be "emptiness":

"Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths." 1 Timothy 4:7 (ESV)

"Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called - knowledge, - for by professing it some have swerved from the faith." 1 Timothy 6:20-21 (ESV)

"Irreverent" is the same word as "profane". The Greek word refers to superstitious sayings, "old wives' tales".

Some religions worship a guardian spirit that lives in the doorway of any house or building. Stepping on the threshold of the doorway is seen as an intense insult to that spirit. After years of honoring and praying to the spirit it can become seen as a member of the family, deserving respect, prayed to for good luck and worshiped with offerings. (Source:

Paul is urging Timothy to counter superstition with Scripture. Esau was described as a "profane" person, not because of a filthy mouth, but for his poor spiritual business sense:

"Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright." Hebrews 12:14-16 (KJV)

Esau sold his birthright in trade for a bowl of stew, exchanging something precious and irreplaceable with a bowl of water and meat that would be empty in less than five minutes time.

Human nature tends to disregard God, treating Him little different than a myth or superstition, denying His holiness and making themselves unholy in turn.

We also tend to prefer instant, physical gratification to long-term spiritual health and happiness. We too often open the door to devils who fill our minds with lies and hoaxes, rendering our lives empty with babbling.

The internet and World Wide Web has become an easy method of broadcasting empty, worthless advice and false facts.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What recent email forwards might easily be traced back to profanity, in the sense of being "irreverent, silly myths"? In what ways are the words "unholy" and "profane" strongly connected? Why is "profane" now commonly thought of as cursing and filthy language?

Image provided by Christopher, Creative Commons License