The following is the third part of a series written by one of our members, David Carrico. Previous parts can be found at the links below:
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”
As we meditate through the Model Prayer, we come next to “…hallowed be Thy name…”
Hallowed…a very odd sounding word to the modern American ear. Sounds kind of old-timey, doesn’t it? That’s because it is old-timey. The dictionary calls it archaic and obsolete. And you’ve got to admit, this isn’t a word that just pops up in everyday conversation.
That explains why we see it in books dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, like the King James translation of the Bible. But why do we see it in modern translations like the New American Standard?
Well, that has to do with a deficiency in modern English. For all its flexibility in communication; for all that most of the world seems to have adopted English as a universal communication tool; for all that some of the grandest written works in human history have been rendered in or into English, it’s not perfect. It has a few flaws.
One of those flaws is there is no verb form of “holy” in modern English. We can say “be holy” or “make holy” or “is holy”, but we can’t say “God holied” something. But to handle the Greek correctly, translators sometimes have a need to be able to say “to holy” someone/something when translating the New Testament. And that is why modern translators will sometimes use “hallowed” in translating this verse; because this archaic word is a form of a Middle English word that basically means “to holy” something or someone, and it allows them to correctly translate the Greek word.
So in “hallowed be” what we have is a prayer that something be “holied”. And what is the object of that desire? The name of God.
As a child in Sunday School, way more years ago than I care to think about, this phrase never made much sense to me. I had the idea back then that “hallowed” somehow meant something like “praised”. And that sort of made sense to me. Even in my early years as a believer, I understood enough to know that God deserved praise from His children. But “praise the name of God” statements never made much sense to me. What was so special about the word “God” that made it something that should be praised?
Even if I had known that “hallowed” meant “holied”, it still wouldn’t have made much sense to me. You see, in our modern culture names are only labels. The label most people know me by is “David”. Now that name has meaning—it means “beloved” in Hebrew—and I know that my mother chose it for me with intent. But in our society, we don’t think about names the way the people of the Bible did. I sure didn’t in my earlier years. And we especially don’t understand that when the Bible talks about “the name of God”, it is talking about so much more than a mere divine label.
You see, in the Bible, when one of the writers talks about “the name of God”, the word “name” is being used in a very particular way. It’s not a reference to any of the thirteen names of God found in the Old Testament: Yahweh, Elohim, El Elyon, Yahweh-Yireh, El Shaddai, Yahweh-Shalom, etc. Those names all express characteristics of God, true: creator, possessor, provider, peace, etc. But that is different from what one of those writers says when he writes “the name of God”. The ancient Jews believed that the name of God encompassed the essence of God, His power, and His glory. Take a look at the following verse.
Some boast in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.
They weren’t talking about boasting in a label. “The name of the Lord/God” wasn’t just a label to them. That phrase was filled with meaning and import. When they used it, they were invoking the power and might and glory and majesty of God: the God who always has been, is now, and always will be; the God whose mind held the plan of the universe and of history before He said “Let there be light”; the God who will draw all creation to an end and then create a new heaven and a new earth.
That’s not a God that you just stick a label on and believe you understand Him. That’s a God who is beyond our ability to comprehend. Yet the Bible still gives us glimpses of Him. And one persistent theme in the Bible, particularly among the Old Testament Prophets, is that God is holy. Many times He is called “The Holy One of Israel”.
What is holy? Well, the Greek word means pure, clean, without blemish, flaw, or taint. So in a spiritual application, it means to be morally and spiritually pure, without a touch of sin at all, anywhere, at any time. God is holy. You could also say God is holiness. Holiness is such a part of God’s nature that it can’t be separated from Him.
In recent years I’ve come to believe that holiness is the preeminent characteristic of God. I know a lot of people, including very learned commentators, would disagree with me and put forward the idea of “God is love” as being the most important aspect of God for mankind.
The problem I have with that is if God is not holy, then everything else about Him is meaningless. Of what value is the justice of a God who is not holy? Of what value is the power of a God who is not holy? Of what value is the love of a God who is not holy? And ultimately, of what value is a salvation offered by a God who is not holy?
Everything that we know about God, everything that we value about God, everything that we cherish about God flows out of His being holy. Regardless of which metaphor we pick—cornerstone, keystone, core—it is the holiness of God that is the beginning and end of who God is. All the other characteristics of God are not necessarily secondary, but must be seen through the lens of God’s holiness. God is peace because He is holy. God is the righteous judge because He is holy. God is love because He is holy.
So let’s come back to our prayer. If God is holy, then what does it mean to pray “hallowed be Thy name”? I mean, it does sound a bit silly for us to pray for God to be holy when He already is holy, when holiness is such a part of Him that we can’t separate the two.
Well, I think there are a couple of things at work here.
First, the prayer acknowledges the holiness of the almighty God. We need to be constantly reminded of that holiness.
Second, I believe there is a prayer for personal application implied here: “God, You are holy. Let Your holiness be evident—in me.”
Holiness should be the goal of each believer. In fact, we’re commanded to it.
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” “
1 Peter 1:14-16
It should be our desire, individually and collectively, to be holy. Not “holier than thou”, not self-righteous, not judgmental. Simply holy. And our prayers should reflect that desire, because we can’t be holy on our own.
Peace and grace to you.