What Does “Holy” Really Mean

Solemn doesn't make anything holy

Marriage Is Holy
Ceremony Or Not

I don’t like the word “holy.” Just hearing it gives me the creeps but don’t read too much into that.

I know the word is in the Bible, and I really do appreciate that, but the way it is used doesn’t always agree with how it is represented in the Bible. The application is very narrow. It doesn’t fit with everyday life. Let me explain.

The word “holy” is associated with synonyms like sacred, hallowed, revered, sanctified and consecrated. Another word distantly related is “solemn.” These are not commonly used words. They are religious terms and not just normal everyday religious terms. They are “inner sanctum” words. Institutional religion didn’t coin these words but it definitely owns them.

And the ominous nature of “holy” is compounded by the way it is used. When any ceremony – I don’t like that word either – is referred to as holy or sacred you get the idea that smiling or relaxing or enjoying the occasion is not allowed. These words are spoken only in a serious tone of voice and accompanied only by actions that are performed rigidly, well arranged, in a scripted manner. Robotic might apply.

The following wedding video illustrates the point. Scroll to the 53rd second if you’re in a hurry:


Did you hear it. The priest referred to a wedding ceremony as a “solemn” assembly. Not a joyous assembly. Not an occasion to be remembered and, therefore, recorded on camera. It was a solemn assembly because it was a holy matter and from the context you get the impression that “holy” means “No Pictures Allowed.”

In all fairness to this priest, he was doing what religion teaches us to do. His attitude is not rare and that’s why I don’t like the word “holy.” I’m a little dubious when people start huffing about things being holy.

But, I don’t want to leave this topic just yet. If the word doesn’t signal extreme austerity what does it mean? As I said, it is in the Bible. It must mean something. Otherwise it is a non-word. Why use it at all?

Well, the first use of the word (Genesis 2:3) illustrates the meaning and also helps us understand how it can easily be abused. God used it to refer to the seventh day of the week, Saturday, or what we know as the Sabbath. The Bible says God blessed and sanctified the seventh day. Or, in other words, He made it holy.

“Holy” comes from the Hebrew word Qadash (kaw-dash) and means “to set apart” or “dedicate” to some particular purpose. A good question to ask is what purpose was the Sabbath dedicated to and the answer is simple, rest. Not prayer, not service, not worship but rest. The context clearly says so. God finished His creative work on the sixth day and rested on the seventh. And then He made a big point of telling us He rested on that day.

Why do you suppose He told us that?

God is all powerful and is spirit. He doesn’t have a biological nature. He doesn’t eat or sleep. That infers, of course, that He was going through the motions of resting for our benefit. He was showing us what to do. By His example we know that the Sabbath is dedicated to rest.

That means that Saturday is dedicated to a mundane purpose, rest. It isn’t any more or less spiritual than any other day even though it is holy and, if anything, the purpose – rest – serves a biological need not a mystical one. Saturday is different but only in the practical sense of the word.

That’s the meaning but what about the abuse.

The word Sabbath, like the word holy, has taken on some extra baggage thanks to institutionalized religion. Sabbath is identified with going to church or praying or serving or giving. In Jesus day, there was a list of some 1500 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath, including starting a fire, which means you couldn’t even cook. All 1500 were considered work and work wasn’t allowed.

What that means is, instead of resting, relaxing and disengaging for a few restful hours you must actively show your religious colors. It’s a double whammy. You must remember all the things required along with all the things disallowed.

None of that sounds like rest to me. That’s how “holy” is turned into a horror.

By the way. If your planning your wedding make sure you ask the minister what he allows or disallows in the way of videos and pictures.

Oh, and remember that wedding ceremonies are religious inventions and have become popular mostly the last 500 years. They celebrated weddings in the Bible. They didn’t exchange vows.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *