A Singular Yet Plural Holy

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; … And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? (Isaiah 6:3,8)

(This article is #5 in a series on the Trinity)

When the super-lofty and powerful seraphim sang out, Holy, Holy, Holy, such a cry was not explaining the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but it definitely reflected this deep identity of God.

In his amazing prophecy, Isaiah speaks of God’s holiness like no other prophet.  Twenty six times he is inspired to pen his “signature description”…The Holy One of Israel.  To be “holy” is to be set apart, separate, distinct, unique.  God is the Holy One, for He is the foundational definition of Holy; He is the only one for whom the word “holy” intrinsically applies. God is Holy primarily because He is the creator.  By this work and identity He is set apart and distinct from His creation…He is Holy.  To be sure “holy” is used to describe other entities—e.g. Holy Bible, holy people, holy land.  These derive holiness from the Holy One.  Such holy entities can only be called “holy” because they are uniquely linked to the Holy One.

Why then did the seraphim cry out with a triple-holy?  Some have maintained they were doing this for emphasis, but if the word “holy” is a superlative reference to God, it needs no emphasis.  Relative to this, consider the fact that God is omnipotent (all-powerful).  We don’t need to emphasize this by saying God is omnipotent, omnipotent, omnipotent. “Omnipotent” is the superlative statement for God’s power; it needs no emphasis.  So then also “holy” is the superlative statement of God’s “separateness”; “holy” needs no further emphasis in relation to God. However, if there are three distinct persons in the Godhead, each being fully God, it makes perfect sense to repeat the word “holy” three times. Each person of the Holy Trinity is absolutely separate and distinct from the creation. Borrowing the wording/thinking from the Athanasian Creed, we can correctly say the Father is holy, the Son is holy and the Holy Spirit is holy, and yet they are not three holies, but one holy.

This plurality in God is further identified in Isaiah 6 when in verse 8 God deliberates, Whom shall I send and who will go for us?  In a few other places in Holy Scripture we observe God thus deliberating as He speaks of Himself both in the singular and in the plural. The initial occurrence of this “strange” speaking is found in God’s deliberation over the creation of man: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…[Ge 1:26a].” Why would God speak of Himself in the plural (“us” “our”)?  The answer is found in the foundational doctrine of His identity; He is triune.

The astounding Biblical reality is that even though God is “holy”—distinct and separate from His creation—yet he deigns to be directly involved with it. Each person of the Holy Trinity has a unique involvement with the creation: The Father desires people to be His children!  The Holy Spirit desires to dwell within people!  And to make these possible, the Holy Son of God became so vested in the creation that He literally became flesh and blood! Instead of making Him unholy, this incarnation enabled Him to turn the fallen world from upside down to right side up, giving the creation a newly derived holiness.

Nothing that is disconnected from God—that which is unholy or profane—can exist in God’s presence.  So when the Son of God became man, He did so that man could again be holy, that is, connected to God. To accomplish this, the Author of Life became unholy, absorbing all of the unholiness of this creation.  He became disconnected from His Holy Father, even entering the unholy pit of the grave. In an early sermon to the Jews, the Apostle Peter describes this reality: But you denied the Holy [One]…and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead [Acts 3:14,15]. The Holy One, Jesus, rises from the dead for our justification. We are now, because of His holiness, called saints.  A “saint” is a holy one!  We, the unholy ones, are joined to Christ in Holy Baptism. Regenerated as holy, we are reconnected to God…made holy, into eternity!