The Asbury Theological Journal 54.2 (Fall, 1999) 73-92
Copyright © 1999 by Asbury Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.
REVISIONING BIBLICAL HOLINESS1
BRENT A. STRAWN
“Thus, law implements as social policy and social practice this articulation of God.
God is not simply a religious concept but a mode of social power and social organization. . . .
The reality of God's passion is mobilized in social policy."
--John G. Gammie3
Dr: Frank G. Carver in honor of his retirement from
Most students of the Bible would acknowledge that holiness is of critical importance
to its subject matter. A text like Lev. 19:2: "Speak to all the congregation of the people of
summarizes this perspective. Moreover, the fact that this text is cited in 1 Pet. -165
would seem to underscore that holiness is a concern, even a command, that runs throughout
the text of the Christian Bible--that is, the Old and New Testaments.6 But this unity is not
uniformity; and the problem of the significance of holiness--what holiness is and does or
what holiness is supposed to be and supposed to do--often goes unexpressed and unexplained.
The present study is an attempt to get at these issues and takes its cue from texts like Ezek. 20:41:
As a pleasing odor I will accept you, when I bring you out from the people,
and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will
manifest my holiness [ytwdqnv] among you in the sight of the nations.7
Strawn is an assistant professor of biblical studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in
Or from the sentiment found in the Jewish prayer, the Amidah, benediction three:
To all generations we will declare your greatness, and to all eternity we will proclaim
[wydqn]8 your holiness, and your praise, O our God, will never depart from our
mouth, for you are a great and holy God and King. Blessed are you, a Lord, the
Put simply, these texts demonstrate that holiness has an external function. It can be manifested
among the nations, as in Ezekiel, and is to be proclaimed to all eternity, as in the Amidah. In
short, it can be and should be communicated. These two points--that holiness is of central
import in Scripture but is diversely expressed therein and that holiness has a communicative
function--comprise the central points of this paper and will be addressed sequentially.
II. HOLINESS MENTALITES VS. HOLINESS ESPRIT
The fact that holiness is a major concern of the biblical witness and as such runs
throughout the biblical texts does not require extensive comment. Holiness has often
been highlighted in critical research on the Bible and biblical theology. C. F. A Dillmann
in the late nineteenth century, for instance, determined that holiness was the essential
characteristic of Old Testament revelation.9 He located this "principle" in Lev. 19:2 and
regarded it as "the quintessence of the revelation, and to it he related all other ingredients
of Hebrew faith and practice."10 Somewhat later, J. Hanel also located the central idea
of Israelite religion in the concept of holiness.11 And these two are not alone in the history
of Old Testament scholarship. Other names could be added to the list: E. Sellin or T. C.
Vriezen, for example.12 Even if scholarship is no longer locating holiness at the center of
the Old Testament--and indeed, the quest for a or the "center" (Mitte) seems permanently
defunct after Eichrodt13--the topic of holiness continues to receive at least some attention
in most theological treatments.14 And deservedly so.
What is more important for the purposes of this study, then, is not to discuss the
centrality or prevalence of the holiness concern in Scripture--what might be called the
Bible's esprit or spirit of holiness--but rather to discuss the diversity of ways this concept
is appropriated or enacted
the various mentalites or mechanisms of biblical holiness.15
The late John Gammie, in his monograph Holiness in Israel, has performed this
task quite well and his work can be briefly summarized here. Gammie discussed three major
He went on to discuss variations on each of these understandings and then added a treatment
of the apocalyptic writers; this produces a sevenfold perspective on how the Old Testament
views holiness. Gammie found a unity running across the biblical material: "The holiness of
God requires a cleanness on the part of human beings."'6 But equally as important, Gammie
found not a single doctrine of holiness but a diversity or, at least, "a unity with a diversity."17
That is, while cleanness may be a consistent requirement, each of the three traditions Gammie
discussed would seem to stress a different kind of cleanness:
• For the priestly tradition, holiness entails a call to ritual purity, right sacrifice,
The X-Factor: Revisioning Biblical Holiness 75
• Holiness for the prophets involves the purity of social justice;
• The wisdom literature stresses the cleanness of individual morality.18
Moreover, there is variation within each of these traditions. For example, even in those
portions of Scripture that Gammie identified as “Variations on the Priestly Understanding
of Holiness" (basically Ezekiel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles), all of which stand
in "remarkable continuity with the normative" Priestly perspective, there is nevertheless
significant variation.19 In the prophetic material the differences are even more pronounced:
according to Gammie, nowhere in Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, or the Deuteronomistic
History, for example, are there passages that articulate that "the holiness of God
requires the cleanness of social justice."20 Though Gammie went on to offer an apologia
for this attenuation, there is nevertheless a clear difference at work in the understandings
of holiness found in the various corpora that comprise the Old Testament Hence,
In the light of the overview of the preceding pages it cannot be claimed that
Hebrew Scriptures. It is fair to claim, however, that the concept of the holiness
of God is a central concept in the Old Testament, which enables us to discern
at once an important unity and diversity.21
Gammie's assessment is helpful. It should be added, however, that the complexity
of the matter is compounded when one considers the New Testament materials. One can
easily see the issues by comparing, say, Ezra's concern with separation with what many
have identified as the radical inclusivity of Jesus and the early community gathered around
him.22 Of course, one has to be careful here, as texts such as Matt 10:5-6 and have
led some scholars to say that the ministry of Jesus was originally only to the lost sheep of
the house of
whole, and especially Acts and the ministry of Paul, would seem to register a rather gross
disparity with the concerns for ethnic boundary preservation found in Ezra-Nehemiah.
Even so, holiness continues to be a concern in the New Testament texts--and period.24
Still, the difference between Ezra and the early Jesus movement is instructive and
gets to the heart of the matter. Simply put, different traditions, periods, situations, peoples,
and so forth, manifest--even require--different understandings and appropriations of
holiness. The struggle for self-preservation and economic stability that characterized the
returnees from Exile under Ezra and Nehemiah is not equivalent to the pressures faced
by the early Jesus movement. It is not surprising then, to find that Ezra-Nehemiah and
the Jesus community have different appropriations or mentalites for holiness; nor is it
surprising to find these to be, in turn, both similar to and different at points from priestly
and prophetic understandings. In short, the manifold ways that the concept of holiness
is appropriated is diverse and dependent to a large degree on different geo-political,
sociological, and/or theological situations.25 As such, one might look at them as limited,
time-bound manifestations or mechanisms by which holiness is enacted and lived out
Yet this is not the whole story. The concept of holiness itself is more than the
sum total of these mentalites. Biblical holiness is not, therefore, merely the various
implementations of holiness found in the Bible. Rather, there is an esprit that runs throughout
the text. For Gammie it is "cleanness." I will shortly discuss difference in similar fashion.
Whatever the exact identification, however, the diversity of appropriation itself is proof of the
esprit’s existence. While the diversity may at first seem crippling on the practical level, the
fact that holiness reappears in the various traditions and sections of the Bible--despite and
in spite of the fact that it is differently manifested--underscores the point that holiness is a
central biblical concern. Holiness is part of the Bible's fundamental grammar; to borrow
Brueggemann's terminology, it comprises part of
III. THE X-FACTOR:
TOWARD AN APPROPRIATION OF THE HOLINESS ESPRIT AND THE HOLINESS
But what exactly is that testimony? What precisely is the esprit? After the preceding
diachronic analysis, it seems more than a bit perilous to hazard a guess on what the notion
of holiness might mean throughout the entire biblical witness. After all, even if a biblical
esprit on the matter does exist, hypothetically or ideally, isn't it bound up inextricably
with the same socio-political realities mentioned earlier? Perhaps so. But the synchronousness
of the concept--above all exemplified by its ubiquity throughout and across the texts and
testaments--urges the endeavor. To be sure, it may be that it is the consistent presence
of holiness that is the only stable factor--the only esprit, as it were--that can be identified.
But such an evaluation, while perhaps accurate on the descriptive level, is hardly adequate
on a practical or prescriptive one. That is, if the biblical conception of holiness is to be
recaptured, recovered, or revisioned for the twenty-first century, we must not only find
the biblical esprit, we must also attempt to (re-)formulate it in a mentalite that is, while
faithful to the esprit and within the appropriate range of biblical mentalites, simultaneously
functional and faithful in our own contemporary context.
A clue for doing this can be taken from the second major point of the present paper:
namely, that holiness has a communicative or proclamatory function. In Gammie's
words: "Holiness calls."27 Gammie, of course, went on to specify this calling: the holiness
of God summoned
calls forth cleanness. While this may be true, this calling is not restricted to the holiness of
God. Holiness itself, I would contend, contains this aspect of calling or communication in
its very nature. Sociological and anthropological studies are of paramount importance at
this point,28 and it is unfortunate that their presence in biblical scholarship is still a relatively
recent development29 While sociology and anthropology are critical tools in assessing all
kinds of religious phenomena, holiness, in particular, is an excellent case in point. Social-
scientific analyses may even help to explain the various factors at work in the different
mentalites previously described.30
A basic and oft-cited characterization of holiness from the perspective of these
disciplines, at least since the work of Rudolf Otto, is that holiness is fundamentally separation:
The Holy is Wholly Other.31 Yet this insight is not only phenomenological; it is also found in
Scripture as, for instance, in Lev. 10:9b-10: "It is a statute forever throughout your generations:
You are to distinguish between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean."32
To be sure, holiness involves more than separation, Otto's analysis includes elements besides the
mysterium, and the biblical material discusses holiness in
The X-Factor: Revisioning Biblical Holiness 77
ways that lie outside Otto's scheme.33 Nevertheless, it seems to be consensual (if not con-
sonantal34 that one of the central aspects of holiness is separation.
Thus stated, separation, if not the biblical esprit of holiness, is certainly a major
aspect and dominant part of that esprit. Unfortunately, most theory stops there. But this
insight must be pressed: What does this separation do sociologically and theologically?
Here the biblical texts must reenter the discussion. The notion of separation, or what be
best called difference, can be illustrated by means of several texts in the Old Testament/
Hebrew Bible. Before undertaking this task, it is necessary to point out that I think that
the biblical esprit of holiness and its various mentalites can be encapsulated by the
notion of "the X-Factor."
An X-Factor is something that differentiates two, otherwise identical, entities35
Given the presence of the x, the term is somewhat mysterious. The letter X, as is well
known, is often used in algebra and higher mathematics for a symbol of unknown or
variable quality. The elusive quality of the X has passed over into everyday parlance as
terms like "Generation x," "the X-Files," or even "Madame x," amply attest.36 Other
examples could be added, but suffice it to say that the X-Factor is something that separates,
that differentiates, that is mysterious, and as such fascinates and attracts. In so doing, it also
testifies. In my estimation, this notion can be quite helpful in an attempt to understand the
biblical conception of holiness.
“I Am Yahweh": The Holiness Code and Ezekiel
An obvious place to start this task is with Leviticus 17-26, commonly called the
Holiness Code because of its predominant concern with holiness? While it may be an
obvious place to start, it is not an easy one. The Holiness Code comprises a dizzying
myriad of laws and commands, almost none of which immediately recommend themselves
to the contemporary (at least contemporary Christian, situation. Or so it would seem.
What is clear, however, is that holiness is central throughout the Holiness Code
and is manifested in a number of ways--indeed, in almost as many ways as there are laws
--including regulations regarding sacrifice (Lev. 17:1-6), sexuality (Lev. 18:6-23), familial
relations (Lev. 20:9), idol worship (Lev. 20:1-5), priesthood (Lev. 21:1-24), offerings
(Lev. 22: 1 -23), festivals (Leviticus 23), and so forth. Leviticus 19 is a particularly interesting
chapter, and probably the most well-known given v. 18ba: "you shall love your neighbor as
yourself." The juxtaposition of this verse with a prohibition against mixed breeding shows
that this chapter serves as a microcosm for what one finds throughout the Holiness Code.
What is perhaps most striking about Leviticus 19, besides the rough juxtaposition
already mentioned, is the refrain that echoes throughout the chapter: "I am the LORD"
(19:3, 4, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 25, 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, 36, 37). It occurs, in fact, in the
famous v. 18, which reads in full:
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you
shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
It is also found after other laws, such as "You shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning
the name of your God: I am the LORD" () and "Do not turn to idols or make cast images
for yourselves: I am the LORD your God" (19:4). But it is also found in several of those laws
that seem exceedingly strange. For example, "YOU shall not make any gash-
es in your flesh for the dead or tatoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD" () or
"But in the fifth year you may eat of their [the trees's] fruit, that their yield may be
increased for you: I am the LORD your God" (). What does this refrain mean? Why
is it scattered throughout this chapter and elsewhere in the Holiness Code?38
To answer this question we need to look to the other main locus for this type of
phraseology, the Book of Ezekiel, and to the scholar who has thought longest and best on
the topic, Walther Zimmerli.39 Zimmerli has demonstrated that the "I am Yahweh"
(NRSV: "I am the LORD") formula, or what he calls variously the "demonstration/
manifestation word," "recognition formula," or "proof-saying" (Erweiswort) functions to
reveal God's being through God's action. In Ezekiel, this formula always precedes God's
activity and Yahweh is always the subject. The purpose of the action in question is to
produce recognition of God's revelation within
it. The appropriate response is for
and the nations to recognize, acknowledge, and submit to God.40 Put simply, the action
that accompanies the phrase "I am Yahweh" functions to reveal God's person and nature
to those who encounter it.41
This is a fascinating insight and one that has bearing on the instances of the formula
in the Holiness Code, which Zimmerli unfortunately treats only briefly.42 The point is that
this strange hodgepodge of laws that include both reverence for God, family, and neighbor,
as well as prohibitions against wearing clothing made from two types of fabric and the like,
somehow serves to reveal God and more specifically, God's nature and God's holiness.
What an odd God, that God's holy being should be manifested in such ways! But the
earlier question, "What do these laws do?," still remains: If this could be answered, perhaps
it might explain what seems, on the face of it, so odd, arbitrary, and irrational.
people of God, serving and obeying that God in any and every way. Simultaneously, however,
these laws serve to separate them and mark them as different from the outside world. In
short, these laws are an X-Factor differentiating
This is no small point Boundaries are of critical importance to societal and
communal existence. Witness Ezra and Nehemiah, for instance.44 But this separation is
not an end in and of itself, for and unto itself. The laws of the Holiness Code, after all,
presence of that formula gives the legislation motivation and reason for being. The
formula is also what gives the laws their
communicative function. After all,
separate, holy, and different as it was and could be--was hardly isolated on the geopolitical
stage of the ancient Near East. Only rarely in its
foreign domination to develop and flourish as it would. And even at those rare moments
throughout the ancient world:
world happened to run right through Syria-Palestine and thus through Israel.45 Israel
could not be geographically separate then, and yet was called to be sociologically and
theologically separate by virtue of
its practices. Or better,
different.46 Again, the purpose for the difference does not seem to have been for its
own sake or because of some unknown disease residing in pork, from which God wished
to spare Israel.47 Rather, the purpose was hvhy ynx, I am Yahweh, and that means God
The X-Factor: Revisioning Biblical Holiness 79
wishes to know and be known by humans. In short, in my judgment, laws like those found
in the Holiness Code function both theologically and sociologically to simultaneously
the recognition formula that serves as conclusion to and motivation for these laws shows
that their communicative function is part and parcel of the divine economy and plan.
"When the Children/People Ask You":
Deut. 6:20-25, Ezek. 24: 15-27, Jer. 16:1-13, and the Function of Symbolic Activity
Though the communicative function of the Holiness Code can certainly be
debated, the case can be made rather easily sociologically, if not historically.49 In brief,
it is a naturally occurring result of the practices in question. Ironically, then, the very
barriers that separate and thus exclude are also the very structures that make it (at least)
possible to allow in and include. Thus, these laws that seem so obscure and strange in the
Holiness Code, not to mention elsewhere in Scripture, have a sociological function that is
communicative, perhaps one might even say missiological if not evangelical.50 This
statement is true only if and as long as a means to transition from one side of the barrier
to another exists or only if and as long as there is a message to communicate from one
side to another and a means by which this can be done. This is obviously a source of
intense debate in the history of .Israelite religion.51 Even so, I am inclined to think that this
difference is purposeful; that it did create a barrier but also made it a porous one-indeed,
one that exists for penetration and crossing.
While some may remain skeptical, the communicative nature of the legal material
can be demonstrated with even greater clarity within Israel.52 The problem of transgenerational
value communication, for instance, is a case in point Children, upon noticing these laws,
often do not understand them and inquire about them. The laws thus produce their initial
inquiry regarding the Law. The instructed parental answer is then given and is oriented, not
toward the laws or the Law, but toward the Lawgiver. Note Deut -25:
When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees
and the statutes and the ordinances that the LORD our God has commanded
you?” then you shall say to
your children, “We were Pharaoh's slaves in
but the LORD brought us out
before our eyes great and
awesome signs and wonders against
Pharaoh and all his household. He brought us out from there in order to bring
us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. Then the
LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our
God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case. If we
diligently observe this entire commandment before the LORD our God, as
he has commanded us, we will be in the right.”53
In this text, the child first encounters the system but is then immediately introduced to the
Savior.54 But the "system-first" situation isn't so bad--even if it isn't ideal--because the
encounter with the system is designed to or at least functions to introduce the Savior.
Another example of or analogy to this dynamic is found in the symbolic activity
of the prophets, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel.55 In Ezekiel 24 we find the prophet
engaged in yet another symbolic action-something of a personal specialty of his.56 This
example is especially disturbing. Yahweh says to Ezekiel:
Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your
eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but
not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your
sandals on your feet; do not cover your upper lip or eat the bread of mourners
The "delight of your eyes" (jynyf dmHm) is somewhat ambiguous. To what or to whom
does the phrase refer?57 The suspense mounts as Ezekiel responds to the divine word: "So
I spoke to the people in the morning" (Ezek. 24:18a). We are not told what Ezekiel said
to the people, but presumably it was a verbatim repetition of the divine message. As such,
perhaps the taking of the "delight of your eyes" applies to the people, not Ezekiel.58 But
alas, no. The suspense is cut; simply and plaintively v. 18 continues: "and at evening my
wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded" (Ezek. 24:18b). The crux
Then the people said to me, 'Will you not tell us what these things mean for us,
that you are acting this way?" Then I said to them: The word of the LORD came
to me. . . (Ezek. 24:19-20a; emphasis added).
This is echoed in v. 24:
Thus Ezekiel shall be a sign to you; you shall do just as he has done. When this
comes, then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
prophet's activity thus symbolizes what will happen to the house of
wife is taken and so shall
encounter with the word and thus the revelation of God--"then you shall know that I am
the Lord GOD" (24:24; cf. 24:27).
Jer. 16:1-13 is functionally identical. There the prophet is told not to marry or have
children (vv. 2-4) and not to mourn for the dead (w. 5-9) because God is bringing
judgment and disaster on
And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, “Why has
the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is
the sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?" then you shall say
to them. . . (Jer. 16:10-11a; emphasis added).
Here again the sign-action produces a confrontation. The people will inquire and Jeremiah
will respond. Perhaps
the point is that they did not. The symbolic action becomes the vehicle by which they
learn it--even if they (and the prophets themselves!) have to learn it the hard way.
Apparently, the stubbornness of the people forces God and the prophets to reconsider
their communication strategies and make their message even more severe.60
The X-Factor: Revisioning Biblical Holiness 81
The significance of all this is that God does not forbid Ezekiel to mourn or
Jeremiah to marry because these things are wrong or harmful. On the contrary, it is
exactly the commonality and normalcy of such activities that makes them ideally suited
to produce a reaction or encounter, which the prophets then turn to their advantage in
delivering the divine message. Marriage was altogether normal and standard, so much
so that Jeremiah 16 is virtually the only example of bachelorhood in ancient Israel.61
Mourning for the dead is also a common human process and experience.62 But
these are the things forbidden the prophets; again, not for any reason inherent in the
practices themselves and at the same time not without any reason whatsoever; but
rather in order to lead those unacquainted with the people or word of God to an
encounter with exactly those subjects. This confrontation, in turn, functions to
Given the presence of "I am Yahweh" in the Holiness Code, the same
processes seem to be at work there. Ancient
surrounding nations purposefully, in order to produce questions like: “Why don't
you gash yourself for the dead? Why don't you sacrifice to Molek? Why don't
you gather the fallen grapes in your vineyard why do you leave them for the
poor?" The answer was not to be mumbled under one's breath after clearing
one's throat ("Ahem, er, well, ah, because I am an Israelite. . .") and indeed
ultimately has little to do with the Israelite qua Israelite. On the contrary, the
answer is hvhy xvh "he is Yahweh"--that is, "because Yahweh is our God"
(see Ps. 105:7; 1 Chron. ). The Holiness Code is thus like a giant symbolic
activity on a nationwide or global scale that serves, as do the prohibitions in
Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to assist Israelite children as well as foreigners come
to the knowledge of Yahweh.64
As separation, therefore, the X-Factor serves to attract or to invite.
But there is more at work in this notion and in these biblical texts than outside
attraction. Furthermore, there is more to the Bible and to the legal corpus than
"don't dos"--or what might be termed negative difference or separation.65
There are also positive injunctions (positive separation/difference) that may
very well still attract, but that are primarily
focused inwardly on
communal life together.66
“When You See It Then You Will Remember": Num. 15:37-41 (Accountability)
Since the sociological cohesion produced by boundaries and common
legislation is well-known,67 this aspect can be dealt with in briefer fashion.
Moreover, in some ways it is subordinate to attraction because the dynamic
is the same: positive separation also
attracts but its main focus is internal--it attracts those already in the group
and thus acts as
a mechanism for accountability or memory. This can be nicely demonstrated by Num.
The LORD said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes
on the comers of their garments throughout their generations and to put a blue
cord on the fringe at each comer. You have the fringe so that, when you see it,
you will remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and not
follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes. So you shall remember and
do all my commandments, and you shall be holy to your God. I am the LORD
your God, who brought you
out of the
LORD your God.
Here we find an injunction as strange as those found in the Holiness Code.68 The Israelites
are to put blue cords on the fringes of their garments (cf. Deut. ) and when they see
these blue fringes, which would presumably happen quite frequently throughout the course
of a day, they are to remember the commandments. The situation works out rather logically,
though perhaps a bit woodenly:
• you will see the blue cords,
• you will remember all the commandments,
• you will do them,
• and you will not turn away faithlessly.
Following the tassel, that is, instead of the lusts of the heart and eye, helps one follow
God: "So you shall remember. . . and you shall be holy to your God."
In Numbers 15 we find a difference-an X-Factor--that serves as a reminder to
inculcate a righteous and faithful lifestyle in the Israelites.69 This aspect, which has to
do with accountability, comprises the second major purpose of the X-Factor. Again,
separation or difference is not an end in and of itself; rather, difference is unto encounter
and proclamation; and it is also unto remembrance and enactment.70 And, as is rather
obvious in the case of Numbers 15, an X-Factor can oftentimes simultaneously do both.71
IV. CONCLUSION: REVISIONING AND REAPPROPRIATING HOLINESS
VIA THE X-FACTOR
In sum, then, the differences highlighted here under the rubric "the X-Factor" may
involve abstention from normal involvements or may involve participation in atypical
activities in order to produce twin aspects: attraction unto encounter and remembrance
unto accountability. It is these aspects or purposes of the deep structure of the X-Factor
that give it reason for being. That is, the X-Factor itself is not invariable. On the contrary-
the X-Factor changes as often as the biblical mentalites do or as often as the symbol
"x" signifies different values in algebra. In fact, the different mentalites are themselves
different X-Factors, as long as they serve the purposes of attraction and accountability.
So, the particular action chosen--be it Ezekiel's stoicism, Jeremiah's celibacy, the holy
hodgepodge of Leviticus, or the blue cords of Numbers--will change and vary. These
activities are situation specific and timebound, limited and temporary. But the difference
encapsulated therein, the separation that produces (or should produce) attraction and
accountability remains constant. The X-Factor, then, summarizes the esprit of holiness
(difference), while also providing a grid that both explains and incorporates the
mentalites content and method (their ongoing appropriations, revisioning. and so forth).
Several points need to be stressed, however. First, this grid of possible
mentalites isn't infinite.72 It is certain that if holiness is to be revisioned and relived, it
must be done in such a way that is both comprehensible and relevant today. The X-Factor
permits this by showing how various persons, movements, and periods have lived out
holiness in differing, and not always ideal, ways. We are on good ground, then, to say
that the exact manner (mentalite) in which we enact holiness (the esprit itself) is of
secondary importance to the fact that we live it out. Thus, as long as the X-Factor, the
separation or difference, produces an encounter and reminds us who and whose we are,
its focus and locus, its mech-
The X-Factor: Revisioning Biblical Holiness 83
anism and appropriation, will and should vary. But the variation is limited, or should be,
to the range demonstrated within Scripture itself. Or better: it is limited to the dynamic
found within the Scriptural range of mentalites. This dynamic is properly one that comes
from God. The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel and Jeremiah and told them what to do.
I The commandments in the Holiness Code and Numbers 15, similarly, are stamped with
the divine "imprimatur."73 So too modern appropriations of biblical holiness should follow
the command of God, expressed above all in Holy Scripture.74
This point already anticipates the second, namely, that the X-Factor should be
purposeful. The X shouldn't be arbitrary: It should be designed to lead to the twin aspects
and be subject to and take its origin from the command of God. It should also be tied to
the character and holiness of God.75 Although separation does not exhaust the concept of
holiness in Scripture or in the phenomenology of religion, it does prove helpful at this point,
since God is nothing if not different-especially, the incarnation notwithstanding, different
But Christ nevertheless plays a role here. It is not unimportant to note that our
English letter "X" comes from the Greek letter X (chi), the first letter of Xristo<j
(Christos), the "Christ.” Ultimately, for Christians, it is our relationship with Jesus
Christ that makes and marks us apart--as separate and different One might say that
the Gospel itself is our X-Factor. That is well and good and as it should be. The purpose
of this paper has been to provide motivation for the concrete manifestations of that relationship
and in so doing to fill holiness with meaning by appealing to the ultimate purpose of
communication via attraction and accountability. The latter two, respectively, provide
the opportunity and the message for the former.
To be sure, conceptions of the X-Factor, although not with that label, have long
been around. Difference, separation, "coming apart from the world," refusing to be "of it,"
are all hallmarks of the Christian tradition--especially the holiness variety.78 But rarely, or
so it seems, has the purpose of separation been expressed and unmotivated separation
quickly becomes separatism. This scenario, while rather typical, is exceedingly problematic.
But the X-Factor provides a way out of it. It can serve as a hermeneutical key that motivates
and explains distinctive characteristics (both positive, e.g., care of the poor, and negative,
e.g., abstentions from various practices) that are periodically undertaken by communities
of faith. Moreover, the notion of the X-Factor can function on a transgenerational level,
since its explanation and enactment of the esprit is independent of one particular type
or even brand of mentalite.
If holiness is to be appropriated in the next century, I think it will have to be
done in this sort of way. The X-Factor gets around the problem of unmotivated and
thus lifeless difference and also holds promise for transgenerational and evangelistic
communication. But the X-Factor also poses a threat to the way holiness has been
traditionally conceived. Built into its structure is variability, openness, change--at least
on the level of mentalite. This has not been a hallmark of the holiness traditions, nor
of any other denomination for that matter, which have tended to demarcate their ethical
conduct early in their histories and modify them only slightly over long periods of time.
But, taking its cue from the biblical material, the X-Factor is more pragmatic than idealistic.
It encourages, even requires, difference in mechanism of appropriation as long as these
mechanisms produce the intended results: attraction and accountability, encounter and
remembrance. As already stated,
communities of faith--holiness and otherwise--have long practiced these types of mecha-
nisms whether intentionally or unintentionally, sometimes with remarkable effect.79 Still,
what seems to have been missing is the theoretical support for these practices and espe-
cially the motivation (communication and memory) that lies behind them.
This, in sum, is what the X-Factor is about and what it does. In my judgment, it
has the potential to help traditions maintain their distinctives while at the same time
communicating their message to a broader audience and to the next generation. If
so, maybe that nasty little X in "Generation X" will turn out to be positive after all.
Who knows? Perhaps the notion of the X-Factor will help all generations "proclaim
God's holiness to all eternally" (Amidah 3).80
1. This paper was delivered at the joint meeting of the Wesleyan Theological
and the Society for Pentecostal Studies held in March 1998 at the
the Holiness & Pentecostal Charismatic Movements for the Twenty-First Century." I
would like to thank my respondents, David L. Cubie (
and Michael K. Adams (
The original idea for this paper was born in my undergraduate days in a class taught by
Prof. Robert W. Smith of
I would like to thank Bill T. Arnold, Shane A. Berg, James K. Mead, Rickie D. Moore,
Henry W. L. Rietz, David L. Stubbs, R. Wesley Tink, and John W. Wright--each of
whom read drafts of the paper and made helpful comments. None of these should be
held responsible for the opinions expressed herein.
2. Walter Brueggemann, "Old Testament Theology as a Particular Conversation:
Days on Structure, Theme, and Text, ed. Patrick D. Miller (A1inneapolis: Fortress,
1992), pp. 118-49; citation from p. 128.
3. John C. Gammie, Holiness in
(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), p. 195.
4. The translation used here and throughout is the NRSV, though I have sometimes
modified it. In this case, the emphatic (adjective-first position) word order for the term
"holy" (Mywdq and wvdq, respectively) in the Hebrew text should be noted.
5. On this text, and especially its relationship to Leviticus and the issues
discussed in this paper, see Paul J. Achtemeier, I Peter: A Commentary on First
Peter; ed. E. J. Epp, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), pp. 117-22.
6. Many texts, of course, could be appealed to here. Cf., e.g., Lev. 11:44-45,
; Matt. 5:48; 2 Cor. 6:17; Col. 1:21-22; I Thess. 4:1-9; I Pet 2:9-10; Heb. 12:14.
7. See also Ezek. 28:22, 25 (Oracle against
instance of this particular verbal form is Lev. , a text that is also pertinent to the
8. Literally: "we will sanctify." But note that the term is in parallel with dygn
("we will declare"). In post-biblical Hebrew the term often carries proclamatory force,
especially in the Piel. See Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud
Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature, 2 vols. (
Press, 1992), 2: 1319-20. The translation "proclaim" follows Joseph H. Hertz, The
Authorized Daily Prayer & Book: Hebrew Text, English Translation with Commentary
and Notes, rev. ed. (New York: Block Publishing Company, 5709/1948), p. 137
(for the Hebrew text, see p. 136). It should be noted that this is a later version and
that while the Amidah is an ancient prayer, benediction three probably did not originally
contain this section. For the historical background, see Emil Schurer, The History of
the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C-A.D. 135), rev. ed. by Geza
Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Matthew Black, 4 vols. (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1979),
The X-Factor: Revisioning Biblical Holiness 85
9. Christian Friedrich August Dillmann, Handbuch der alttestamentlichen
Theologie, ed. R. Kittel (Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1895).
10. John H. Hayes and Frederick Prussner, Old Testament Theology: Its
History and Development (Atlanta: John Knox, 1985), p. 122.
11. Johannes Hanel, Die Religion der Heiligkeit (
1931). See Hayes and Prussner, Old Testament Theology; pp. 167-68.
12. Ernst Sellin, Theologie des Alten
Meyer, 1933), pp. 18-19: "Gott ist heilig. Hiermit beriihren wir das, was das tiefste und
innerste Wesen des altestamentlichen Gottes ausmacht" ("God is holy. Herein we touch
on that which makes up the deepest and innermost nature of the Old Testament God");
and Theodorus Christiaan Vriezen, An Outline of Old Testament Theology, 2d ed.
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell and Mott, 1962), p. 151: "The holiness of Cod is the central
idea of the Old Testament faith in God." Hayes and Prussner, Old Testament Theology,
p. 257 note that the holiness of God has been proposed as the center of the Old Testament
in previous research. .
13. See Hayes and Prussner, Old Testament Theology, pp. 257-60.
14. See, e.g., Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 2 vots., trans.
D. M. C. Stalker (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1962-1965), 1 :204-7, 272-79;
2:236, 343, 345; Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, Old Testament
Library [hereafter OTL, 2 vots., trans. J. A. Baker (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961-1967),
I :270-82; David P. Wright, "Holiness (OT)," in The Anchor Bible Dictionary [hereafter
ABD], 5 vols., ed. D. N. Freedman et al. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 3:237-49;
Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments: Theological
Reflection on the Christian Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), p. 354; Helmer Ringgren,
The Prophetical Conception of Holiness (Uppsalla: Lundequist, 1948); William Dyrness,
Themes in Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979), pp. 51-53;
Horst Dietrich Preuss, Old Testament Theology, OTL, 2 vols., trans. Leo C. Perdue
(Louisville: Westrninster John Knox, 1991-1992), 1:240-41; Claus Westermann, Elements
of Old Testament Theology, trans. Douglas W. Stott (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982), pp. 195-97;
and especially Gammie, Holiness in Israel. This statement is not, of course, true in all cases.
Note Werner H. Schmidt's assessment that holiness is rather peripheral to the Old Testament
(The Faith of the Old Testament: A History
but cf. Gammie's remarks, Holiness in Israel, pp. 2-3).
15. Alternatively, one could use a linguistic analogy and use the terms "grammar" and
"vocabulary" for esprit and mentalite, respectively. In this scenario, the grammar remains
constant (or similar) across various dialects or languages even while the vocabulary changes.
I thank Steven T. Hoskins for suggesting this alternative terminology.
16. Gammie, Holiness in
assessment of the biblical esprit of holiness. Cf. p. 195: "A unity of the Old Testament can
be discerned in this unified response to holiness
on the part of
17. Gammie, Holiness in
18. Ibid., and ct. pp. 43, 100, 149, respectively. The apocalyptic material contains a
sort of combination of these traditions (see p. 198). For the priestly tradition see further
Philip Peter Jensen, Graded Holiness: A Key to the Priestly Conception of the World,
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series [hereafter JSOTSupp] 106
Sheffield University Press, 1992) and
The Priestly Torah and the
19. Gammie, Holiness in
Chronicler's History places "less emphasis on the typically priestly insistence on separation
from other peoples than in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah" (p. 196).
20. Gammie, Holiness in
Deuteronomy: The Case of Deuteronomy 15 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992).
21 Gammie, Holiness in Israel, p. 197 (emphasis his).
22. See, e.g., Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus
long to show how sharply Jesus rejected all attempts to realize the community of the remnant
by means of human striving or separation. . . . Jesus does not gather the holy remnant, but the
all-embracing community of salvation of God's new people." More recently, E. P. Sanders has
also underscored the inclusive; nature of Jesus' mission to and calling of "the sinners" (Jesus
and Judaism [
23. E.g., Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and the Life of
Discipleship (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1987), pp. 126-27. Sanders, Jesus and
Judaism, p. 220: "But the overwhelming impression is that Jesus started a movement which
came to see the Gentile mission as a logical extension of itself" (emphasis his). Sanders
goes on to say, however, that "[w]e need not think that Jesus imparted to his disciples any
view at all about the Gentiles and the kingdom" (p. 221).
24. See, e.g., Otto Procksch and Karl Georg Kuhn, "a!gioj, a[gia<zw, a[giasmo<j,
a[gio<thj, a[giowsu<nh," in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [hereafter
TDNT, 10 vols., trans. and ed.G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964- 1976),
Robert Hodgson, Jr., "Holiness (NT)," in ABD 3:249-54; G. F.
Holiness," in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, eds. Ralph P.
Martin and Peter H. Davids (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), pp. 485-89; Marcus
J. Borg, Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus (New York: Mellen, 1984);
David Peterson, Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and
Holiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdrnans, 1995); and Rudolf Bultrnann, Theology of the New
Testament, 2 vols., trans. Kendrick Grobel (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951-1955),
1:338-39; 2:180, 189, 223. Cf. also note 6 above.
25. Cf. Gammie, Holiness in Israel, p. 196: "Each of these groups set forth its teaching in
response to holiness and what holiness had impressed upon their hearts and minds. No claim of
exclusive apprehension of holiness and the requirements of holiness is possible for anyone of the
three groups. The lessons for contemporary religious denominations that look to the Scripture for
guidance are obvious."
26. The language, though not necessarily the sentiment, is taken from Walter Brueggemann,
Theology of the Old
Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (
1997). For the holiness of Yahweh, see pp. 288-93.
27. See note 3 above.
28. See, e.g., Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution
and Taboo (London: Ark Paperbacks, 1989), especially chap. 3, “The Abominations of Leviticus,"
pp. 41-57; idem, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (New York: Routledge, 1996); Emile
Durkheim, The Elementary Forms
of the Religious Life, trans. Joseph Ward Swain (
Free Press, 1965); Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993); idem,
Ancient Judaism, trans. Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale (New York: The Free Press, 1952);
Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, trans.
Rosemary Sheed (
in the Idea of the
Divine and its Relation to the Rational, trans. John W. Harvey (
Oxford University Press, 1958); and idem, Religious Essays: A Supplement to The Idea of the
Holy (London: Oxford University Press, 1931). For an Old Testament theology that incorporates
some of Otto's insights and terminology, see Samuel Terrien, The Elusive Presence; Toward a
New Biblical Theology,
Religious Perspectives, ed. Ruth Nanda Anshen (
Harper and Row, 1978). A recent treatment of Otto's work can be found in Melissa Raphael,
Rudolf Otto and the Concept of Holiness (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997). For a treat-
Leviticus: A Conversation
with Mary Douglas,
JSOTSupp 227 (
Press, 1996) and also Edwin Firmage, 'The Biblical Dietary Laws and the Concept of Holiness,"
in Studies in the Pentateuch,
The X-Factor: Revisioning Biblical Holiness 87
ed. J. A. Emerton, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 41 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1990), pp.
177-208. In addition to sociology and anthropology, psychological studies of religious experience
can also be extremely illuminating in matters such as these.
29. For Old Testament studies see, among others, the work of Robert Wilson, Walter
Brueggemann, and Norman Gottwald. Gottwald has been something of a pioneer in this area in
Old Testament studies and has, in turn, provided impetus to scholars like Brueggemann. In addition
to Gottwald's many articles on various subjects, note especially The Tribes of Yahweh: A
Sociology of the
Religion of Liberated
The Hebrew Bible: A Socio-Literary Introduction (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985). New Testament
scholarship has also benefited from social-scientific approaches. See, e.g., the work of Gerd Theissen,
Howard Clark Kee, Bruce Malina, Jerome Neyrey, Carolyn Osiek, and John Elliot to name a few.
30. See, e.g., Jerome H. Neyrey, "Clean/Unclean, Pure/Polluted, and Holy/Profane: The
Idea and the System of Purity," in The Social Sciences and New Testament Interpretation, ed.
Richard L. Rohrbaugh (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996), pp. 80-104; and the works by the other
scholars cited in the previous note. For the Jesus movement see especially Gerd Theissen, Sociology
of Early Palestinian Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978); and Carolyn Osiek, R S. C. J., What
Are They Saying About
the Social Setting of the New Testament?, rev. ed. (
1992); as well as the essays gathered in James H. Charlesworth, ed., Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,
Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1992).
31. To list citations of this aspect of holiness in secondary literature would take an entire
monograph, but see, as representative, Otto, The Idea of the Holy, pp. 25-30 (on the mysterium);
Gammie, Holiness in Israel, pp. 9-12 and passim; von Rad, Old Testament Theology, I :205;
1995), p. 22. From a theological perspective, see recently Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life:
The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), pp. 43-45.
32. See Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, New International Commentary on
the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 18-25 for a convenient summary of the
system of holiness found in Leviticus.
33. See especially von Rad, Old Testament Theology, I:206 for this criticism of Otto.
34. It is often said that separation is part of the etymological meaning of Hebrew wdq
(e.g., Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-
Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon [
however, have rightly questioned this. Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner (The Hebrew
and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, rev. by Walter Baumgartner and Johann Jakob
Stamm, trans. M. E. J. Richardson, 4 vols. [
indicate that wdq is "an original verb, which can only with difficulty be traced back to a root dq
'to cut'; [nevertheless] if this is the case the basic meaning of wdq would be 'to set apart.'" Yet,
even if the conception of "separate-ness" is etymologically debated for wdq), at the very least
this notion is clearly involved on the semantic level.
35. This definition is more idiomatic or colloquial than Webster's which defines an X-
factor as "a relevant but unidentified factor" (Webster's Third New International Dictionary
of the English Language
ed. Philip Babcock Gove [
Webster, 1993], p. 2644) and The Compact Oxford English Dictionary [hereafter OED],
2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 2353 which notes that the word was originally a
military term, referring to "the aspects of a serviceman's life that have no civilian equivalent;
pay made in recognition of these."
36. Perhaps, one of the more powerful and controversial X's in recent memory is found
in the person of Malcolm Little who upon conversion to the Nation of Islam changed his last
name to X. The X in Malcolm's case symbolized the renunciation of a former "slavemaster
name" and the anonymity or loss of one's "true African family name that had been taken from
every African brought
against the legacy of slavery, where freed slaves either took on the names of their former
slavemasters or created new names entirely" (Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher, Xodus: An
Recently, Baker-Retcher has used the X, especially Malcolm's, as a symbol to invigorate
African-American male spirituality "outside of the moral parameters and definitions of
European space." See his "Xodus Musings: Reflections on Womanist Tar Baby Theology,"
Theology Today 50 (1993):38-44, especially p. 43 and, more recently, Xodus, especially
pp. xv-xvi, 73-91, and 175-94. Note the proclamatory function of the X in his work.
37. For a brief overview of some of the critical issues around the Holiness Code,
see Henry T. C. Sun, "Holiness Code," in ABD 3:254-57. Not a few scholars have
questioned whether the Holiness Code really existed independently or can be treated
separately from the rest of Leviticus. See, e.g., Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Leviticus:
A Commentary, trans. Douglas W. Stott, OTL (Louisville: Westminster, 1996), p. 18.
38. Eg., Lev. 18:5, 6, 21; 20:7; 21:12; 22:2, 3, 8, 9, 30, 31, 33; 23:22; 24:22; 25:17; 26:2,
45; etc.; cf. 11 :44-45.
39. Walther Zimmerli, I Am Yahweh, trans. Douglas W. Stott, ed. Walter
Brueggemann (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982). Cf. also idem, Ezekiel I: A Commentary
on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiet Chapters 1-24, trans. R. E. Clements, eds., F.
M. Cross, K. Baltzer, and L. J. Greenspoon, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979),
pp. 37-40; and idem, "The Message of the Prophet Ezekiel," Interpretation 23 (1969): 131-57.
40. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 1, p. 38: "In his action in history Yahweh sets himself
before his people and the world in his own person. All that which is preached by the
prophet as an event which is apparently neutral in its meaning has its purpose in that
means an acknowledgement, of this person who reveals himself in his name. All
Yahweh's action which the prophet proclaims serves as a proof of Yahweh among
the nations" (emphasis mine).
41. Cf. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 1, p. 40: 'The whole direction of the prophetic preaching
is a summons to a knowledge and recognition of him who, in his action announced by the
prophet, shows himself to be who he is in the free sovereignty of his prophecy."
42. Primarily in the essay "I am Yahweh" (in I Am Yahweh, pp. 1-28). Zimmerli
does point out, however, that the presence of this formula in the Holiness Code makes the
latter quite significant: "A comparison of the Holiness Code with Ezekiel 20:7 makes it clear
that this indefatigable repetition of 'ny yhwh at the end of individual statements or smaller
groups of statements in the legal offerings is not to be understood as thoughtlessly strewn
decoration; rather, this repetition pushes these legal statements into the most central
position from which the Old Testament can make any statement. Each of these small
groups of legal maxims thereby becomes a legal communication out of the heart of the
Old Testament revelation of Yahweh. Each one of these small units offers in its own
way a bit of explication of the central self-introduction of Yahweh, the God who summons
his people--or better, recalling Leviticus 18ff. (and Ezek. 20), the God who sanctifies his
people" (I Am Yahweh, p. 12; emphasis mine). This should caution those Christians—
scholars and otherwise--who would passover the Holiness Code too quickly and ignore
it in theological (and even ethical) reflection.
43. Interestingly, Wenham, Leviticus, pp. 261-75 entitles chapter 19 "Principles of
44. See Daniel L. Smith, The Religion of the Landless: The Social Context of
the Babylonian Exile (Bloomington: Meyer Stone, 1989) for an excellent treatment that
draws extensively on sociological data.
45. Cf. David A. Dorsey, The Roads and Highways of Ancient
46. This is not to downplay the sociological and theological similarities that, as is well-known,
The X-Fador: Revisioning Biblical Holiness 89
social justice for instance (so Gammie) could also be incorporated under difference, but in so
doing one would need to be cognizant that the emphasis on social justice is fairly typical in the
ancient world (see, e.g., Moshe Weinfeld, Social
Justice in Ancient
Ancient Near East [
text at this point
47. See Lev. 11:7; cf. Deut 14:8. See further
for "medical" and "meaningless/arbitrary/irrational" interpretations of Leviticus, especially the
dietary laws. Douglas herself opts for reasons relating to locomotion. Firmage ('The Biblical
Dietary Laws," pp. 177-208) has challenged this and offered, in its place, an interpretation
based on the connection (or lack thereof) of the entire animal world to established sacrificial
animals. Whatever the case, one might note that,
while pork was prohibited in
eaten by persons in close proximity to
harmful result on the eating of pork in antiquity generally, see recently Brian Hesse and Paula
Wapnish, "Can Pig Remains Be Used for Ethnic Diagnosis" in the Ancient Near East?," in
The Archaeology of
Asher Silberman and David Small, JSOTSupp 237 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997).
The point being stressed here, however, is that there may be no inherent reason for these
laws other than to produce the dynamic outlined above.
48. The notion is certainly not altogether new. Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669), for
instance, in his Summa doctrina de foedere et tesamento Dei (1648) included the Mosaic
law in the covenant of grace, partially because "it separated the Hebrews as the bearers of
the kingdom from the surrounding heathen groups and so preserved the people for Christ"
(Hayes and Prussner, Old Testament Theology, p. 21). Note George Adam Smith, Modern
Criticism and the
Preaching of the Old Testament (
1901), p. 142: 'We have seen that the gradual ethical development, which thus differentiated
as their God; and that every stage of its progress was achieved in connection with some
impression of His character. It seems to me that there are here the lines of an apologetic,
for a Divine Revelation through early
interpretation of the Old Testament ever attempted to lay down" (emphasis mine); and see
also Baruch A. Levine, Leviticus (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 5749/1989), p.
257: 'The gulf between the sacred and the profane was not meant to be permanent The
command to achieve holiness, to become holy, envisions a time when life would be consecrated
in its fullness and when all nations would worship God in holiness. What began as a process
of separating the sacred from the profane was to end as the unification of human experience,
the harmonizing of man with his universe, and of man with God" (emphasis mine).
49. The communicative function of legislation is exponentially increased in the probable
historical location of much of the Priestly writing namely, the Babylonian Exile. It is in that
context that much of the legislation (certainly earlier than the sixth century in origin if not
composition) takes on new significance as it functions to differentiate a small, foreign minority
group from a larger, dominant host society. See further on this situation Smith, The Religion
of the Landless and Rainer Albertz, “The. History of Israelite Religion in the Exilic Penod,”
in A History of Israelite Religion in the Old
Testament Period, 2 vols., OTL (
3 and 6--texts that indicate that worship itself was an X-Factor in the diaspora.
50. For the former see Christopher J. H. Wright, "Old Testament Ethics: A Missiological
Perspective," Catalyst (forthcoming).
51. See, e.g., Shaye J. D. Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," Harvard
Theological Review 82 (1989):14-33; idem, "Conversion to Judaism in Historical Perspective:
H. Feldman, Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World: Attitudes and Interactions from
Alexander to Justinian (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), especially pp.
288-382, 416-46; Beverly Roberts Caventa, From Darkness to
Light: Aspects of Conversion in the New Testament, Overtures to Biblical Theology
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986); idem, "Conversion," in ABD I :1131-33; Jacob Milgrom,
Conversion and the Revolt Model for the Formation of
Biblical Literature 101 (1982):169-76;
Proselytizing in the
Religious History of the
Press, 1994), especially pp. 1-108, 154-74; Scot McKnight, A Light Among the Gentiles:
Jewish Missionary Activity
in the Second
A. D. Nock, Conversion: The Old and the New in Religion from Alexander the Great
to Augustine of Hippo (
1933); and Alan F. Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the
Pharisee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), especially pp. 1-183, 285-300. While
I cannot demonstrate it here in detail, in my judgment such means did, in fact, exist in early
I am describing here (which may well be the strongest evidence), I would make mention of
biblical stories like Ruth, Rahab, Naaman, Jonah, and so forth, as well as biblical scholars like
Gottwald. For the latter, see especially The Tribes of Yahweh and idem, "Religious Conversion
and the Societal Origins of Ancient
Even so, it must be admitted that we know very few "converts" to Israelite religion by name.
52. Even those skeptical of the argument here should note that in Ezekiel the proof-
saying is often used for the nations' knowledge of Yahweh. Cf. von Rad, Old Testament
Theology, 2:236-37: "This 'manifestation' is therefore much more than simply something
inward or spiritual; it is an event which comes about in the full glare of the political scene,
and which can be noticed by foreign nations as well
divine activity is therefore that Jahweh should be recognised and worshipped by those who
so far have not known him or who still do not know him properly."
53. Cf. also Josh. 4:5-7, 20-24.
54. I am indebted to Dr. Rueben Welch for this terminology.
55. The classic treatment remains that of Georg Fohrer, Die symbolischen
Handlungen der Propheten, 2d ed. (Zurich: Zwingli Verlag, 1968). See more recently
Kelvin Friebel, Jeremiahs and Ezekiels Sign-Acts: Rhetorical Nonverbal Communication,
JSOTSupp 283 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999).
56. See Ezek. 4:1-5:17; 12:1-6.
57. Zimmerli is certainly right to caution against overinterpreting "the delight of your
eyes" (Zimmerli, Ezekiel I, p. 505), but at the same time, the Hebrew is at least somewhat
excessive. After all, jtwx could have been used just as easily.
58. Of course, the resulting oracle shows that it applies to both, but the second person
forms in Ezek. 24:15-17 are singular, while those in 24:21-24 are plural.
59. So Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 153.
60. On this phenomenon, especially in Ezekiel and Jeremiah, see Thomas M. Raitt,
Theology of Exile: Judgment/Deliverance
in Jeremiah and Ezekiel (
61. Peter C. Craigie, Page H. Kelley, and Joel F. Drinkard, Jr., Jeremiah 1-25,
Word Biblical Commentary 26 (Dallas: Word Books, 1991), p. 216 go so far as to use the
"unusualness of the prohibition to marry" to argue for the authenticity of the pericope.
62. This is rather obvious, but note also the "house of mourning" (Hzrm tyb) in
Jer. 16:5. The Hebrew term marze(a)h is rare in the Hebrew Bible. It does occur, however,
in other ancient Near Eastern literatures,
including that of
especially KTU 3.9), where it apparently refers to some sort of funerary association. What
Yahweh forbids, therefore, is nothing less than a long-standing, cross-cultural tradition. See
further Theodore J. Lewis, Cults of the Dead in Ancient Israel and Ugarit, Harvard
Monographs 39 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989) and Brian B. Schmidt,
Beneficient Dead: Ancestor Cult and Necromancy in Ancient Israelite Religion and
The X-Factor: Revisioning Biblical Holiness 91
Tradition (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1995).
63. Especially in Ezekiel. Note Ezek. 24:24, 27; cf. Jer. 16:21.
64. Note especially on this point that Jer. 16:14-21 switches to the theme of restoration
and climaxes in w. 19-21 with the "conversion of the nations" (Craigie, Kelley, and Drinkard,
Jeremiah 1-25, p. 216; cf. Wilham L. Holladay, Jeremiah I: A Commentary on the Book
of the Prophet Jeremiah, Chapters 1-25, ed. Paul D. Hanson, Hermeneia [
Fortress, 1986], pp. 480-81). Note also the use of the proof-saying in Ezekiel for the nations'
knowledge of Yahweh and cf. above on the (heightened) significance of difference in Exile.
65. "Negative" primarily in that it involves abstention from practices engaged in by
surrounding cultures. Even so, it goes without saying that at times separation is offensive and
that part of the encounter with the holy may involve dread fascination.
66. See Douglas, Purity and Danger, p. 51 on the Holy as wholeness and completeness,
not just separation.
67. See especially Douglas, Natural Symbols; Smith, The Religion of the Landless.
68. Some scholars have thought that this section is in fact a fragment of the
Holiness Code. See George Buchanan Gray, Numbers, International Critical Commentary
(Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1903), p. 183; but contrast Philip J. Budd, Numbers, Word Biblical
Commentary 5 (Waco: Word Books, 1984), p. 177.
69. Cf. Budd, Numbers, 178: "In the wider context they [w. 32-36] function as a fitting
conclusion to the section dealing with
but more generally the whole section of disaffection in Num 11-14. The tassels ought to be a
safeguard against these besetting sins."
70. Budd, Numbers, p. 177 entitles this section "Tassels of Remembrance." Cf. the dual
aspects of remembrance and encounter in Baker-Aetcher, Xodus, p. 75: 'The 'X' in this way is a
prophetic symbol of retrieval and remembrance" and has impact not only for African Americans,
but also for Euro- Americans.
71. Cf. Richard Valantasis' comments on asceticism and the Gospel of Thomas, which
exemplify the kind of dynamic I am talking about here: "At the heart of asceticism is the desire
to create a new person as a minority person within a larger religious culture. In order to create
a new person, there must be a withdrawal from the dominant modes of articulating subjectivity
in order to create free space for something else to emerge. A redefinition of social relationships
must also emerge from the new understanding of the new subjectivity, as well as a concurrent
change in the symbolic universe to justify and support the new subjectivity. These are all
accomplished through a rigorous set of intentional performances. . . . My perspective on asceticism
looks not only at the negative performances (rejecting wealth, or sexuality), [termed in this paper
negative difference or separation] but primarily toward the positive articulation of the new
subjectivity that the gospel presents ('becoming a single one,' for example) [termed in this paper
positive difference or accountability]. This positive perspective promotes a constructive reading
of the text, so that all performances (whether negative or positive) are interpreted in the context
of the larger project of creating an alternative identity within a larger and more dominant religious
environment" (Richard Valantasis, The Gospel of Thomas, New Testament Readings, ed.
72. I'd like to thank Shane Berg for bringing this point to my attention and discussing it
with me. Jacob Milgrom, Levitiacus 1-16, Anchor Bible 3 (New York: Doubleday, 1991), p. 230.
74. I hope in this way to get around the devastating critique of Christian interpretations
of Old Testament legal material raised by Jon D. Levenson, The Hebrew Bible, the Old
Testament, and Historical Criticism: Jews and Christians in Biblical
of the legal material that is, in some ways, a legal and therefore Christian/Protestant and
subject to Levenson's critique. Yet at the same time, my proposal is also trying to do justice
to those same laws and situations, especially the
dynamic at work within them and thus does not, or so it seems to me, fall under Levenson's judg-
75. I'd like to thank David Stubbs for bringing this point to my attention and discussing
it with me.
76. Cf. Lev. 20:26; lsa. 31:3, 8 (cf. ); Hos. 11:9; etc., as well as Karl Barth's
comments in the preface to the second edition of his Romans commentary: "My reply is that,
if I have a system, it is limited to a recognition of what Kierkegaard called the 'infinite
qualitative distinction' between time and eternity, and to my regarding this as possessing
negative as well as positive significance God is in heaven, and thou art on earth'" (Karl
Barth, The Episde to the Romans, trans. Edwyn
C. Hoskyns [
Press, 1968], p. 10). More recently, see Moltmann, The Source of Life, pp. 43-45.
77. See OED, p. 2352; cf. Baker-Fletcher, Xodus, pp. xvi, 8D-81. Note that Greek
x, like XP, can be an abbreviation for Christ (OED, p. 2353).
78. See, e.g., Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic
Movements in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).
79. Note, for instance, the Nation of Islam's moral code (for some of its forbidden and
positive aspects, see Baker-Fletcher, Xodus, p. 77; cf. p. xvi) and the impact this group has
made on some of the worst inner-city situations of
various practices found among the Mormons (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints): special ("holy") undergarments (accountability?), OR ("choose the right") rings
(attraction?), and so forth. Often Christian youth culture is effective at selecting these types
of practices: witness the WWJD ('What Would Jesus Do?") paraphernalia for sale at Christian
book stores. For a different example, cf. the comments of Richard Swinburne, "The
Vocation of a Natural Theologian," in Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys
of 11 Leading Thinkers, ed. Kelly James Clark (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1993), pp.
179-202 who discusses the practice of philosophy and the public identification of oneself as
both a Christian and a philosopher in similar terms.
80. Cf. Baker-fletcher, Xodus, p. 76: ''as Malcolm recounted to Alex Haley: 'Mr.
Muhammad taught that we would keep this 'x' until God Himself returned and gave us
a Holy Name from His own mouth." See Malcolm X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography
of Malcolm X (New York: Ballantine Books, 1965), p. 217.
This material is cited with gracious permission from:
Asbury Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com