Righteousness and True Healthiness
James Barr in the iconoclastic The Semantics of Biblical Language:
A regular church-goer is likely sooner or later to hear an interpretation of the word “holy,” which is of course frequent in the English Bible, as “basically” or “originally” or “properly” meaning “healthy, sound.” Those alarmed by the suggestion of superhuman religious effort in the exhortation to “be holy” may thus be comforted, because what is being asked of them is simply the basic “healthiness” or “soundness” which no one would want to be without. All this is based on one fact or alleged fact: the words “holy” and “whole” or “healthy” are etymologically connected; they “come from the same root.” ¶ The fact that “holy” and “healthy” are etymologically “connected” does not mean, however, that they now mean the same thing, or indeed that they ever did mean the same thing. p.111
. . . .
The test of explanations of words is by their contexts. Supposing anyone to become convinced that “holy” in the English Bible really means something like “healthy, whole,” he will find in his reading of the Bible many contexts where this sense produces sore difficulty. He may find it possible to understand the Third Person of the Trinity as “the Healthy Spirit,” but he will have difficulty with those inanimate objects such as valuables gained by capture which are specially devoted to the divine possession and are thus apparently “healthy to the Lord”; and he will surely find it impossible to suppose that the rear chamber of the Temple usually called “the Holy of Holies” is in fact a space specially healthy. p.113
Yes, the Healthy of Healthies. Ah, those Brits.
I’m sometimes a bit depressed reading things like this. Errors like these are so prevalent—are Protestant pastors unknowingly fleecing their flocks? But Barr makes one comment that eases me a bit: one of the reasons that linguistic mistakes like this go undetected is that pastors are, in fact, using them to preach truths found in the Bible—just not in the portion of it where they happen to be grazing their flocks. That is a serious problem, but it is better for the sheep to get grass clippings from another part of the field than tares from the enemy’s field.