Tough Questions with RC Sproul - Saturday, February 1, 2014
Among the other world religions, are there any that share the Christian concept of the holiness of God?
There are no other religions that have a concept of God's holiness identical to the Christian concept. However, some other religions maintain a kind of parallel and approximate view of the matter, and certainly they have a concept of the holiness of God.
Insofar as Judaism in its various forms embraces the Old Testament, it would certainly embrace the concept of holiness we find there. We know that though there's an expansion of revelation as to the nature of God's holiness in the New Testament, it's certainly not an esoteric idea in the Old Testament. In fact, some of the most vivid displays of God's majesty and holiness are found in the Old Testament.
There are two ways in which the Bible speaks of God's holiness. The most commonly understood meaning of holiness in our culture is with respect to God's purity or his moral virtue—his righteousness. Certainly the Bible does use holy at times to describe the righteous, moral, pure character of God, but that's the secondary meaning of holiness. The primary meaning of holiness refers to God's apartness—otherness, transcendence—that sense in which he is much more majestic in all of his being than is any creaturely being. The transcendence of God is a dominant motif in the Old Testament and is certainly a part of the creeds of classical Judaism and Islam, insofar as Islamic religion builds upon much that was taken from the Old Testament. They see Muhammad as a descendant of Ishmael. They give certain allegiance to the patriarchs, and they deal with that concept of holiness.
The great difference between Christianity and other world religions regarding God's holiness is found in the concept of atonement. Judaism's view of atonement in the Old Testament was the sacrificial system that was part of their worship. The Christian view sees atonement as the once-for-all sacrifice made by a Savior, a suffering Savior, who died for the sins of the people. That concept is absent in other world religions, and it has always distressed me. I don't see how the other world religions could be comfortable with the fact of human sinfulness and the fact of the holiness of God without a mediator, without a Savior. It seems that they would have to negotiate either the sinfulness of man or the holiness of God to be comfortable where they are.