Hebrews 12:14 — Holiness or Hell?


Hebrews 12:14 says, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Some have concluded that this verse teaches one must be entirely sanctified to make it to heaven (e.g., Creffield, Godbey).

There are several things to consider in determining what this passage is teaching: (1) the relationship between the word “holiness” in Hebrews 12:14 and NT Greek; (2) what the words “holiness” and “sanctification” mean in the NT; and (3) the relationship between regeneration and sanctification.

The Greek word translated “holiness” in Hebrew 12:14 is hagiasmos (ha-gee-oz-móss). This word occurs ten times in the NT (Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Cor. 1:30; 1 Thess. 4:3, 4, 7; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Tim. 2:15; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:2). Hagiasmos normally means “the condition of moral purity that results from being or living separated unto God from all that is sinful.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:2 it means “the act of separating someone unto God from all that is sinful with the result that they are morally pure.” Hagiasmos is translated in the KJV five times as “holiness” and five times as “sanctification.” Since these two words are translated from the same word, we shouldn’t assume they have different meanings unless the context requires it.

That brings up the question: “What do holiness and sanctification mean in the NT?” This question is much broader since there are at least four Greek word-groups that are translated variously “holy,” “holiness,” “sanctify,” or “sanctification.” However, the bottom line is still the same. In the NT, the words “holiness” and “sanctification” never refer specifically to entire sanctification unless they are modified by terms like “entire, complete, perfect, wholly, etc.,” as in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. As John Wesley said: “The term sanctified is continually applied by St. Paul to all that were justified…. By this term alone, he rarely, if ever, means ‘saved from all sin.’ …Consequently, it is not proper to use it in that sense, without adding the word wholly, entirely, or the like.”

The deeper issue is this: the words “holiness” and “sanctification” are regularly used in the Holiness Movement as synonyms for entire sanctification. This is a major problem for at least three reasons.

First, this is not how the NT uses these terms. When our use of NT terms doesn’t match their NT meaning, we undermine our theological credibility.

Second, using the terms this way leads us to misread the NT. For example, 1 Thessalonians 4:3–7 and Hebrews 12:14 have often been misused as texts for entire sanctification. In neither case is the author talking specifically about entire sanctification.

Third and tragically, our non-New Testament use of these terms often hinders our efforts to “spread Scriptural holiness.” Why? Because Christians who hear us equating “holiness” and “sanctification” with “entire sanctification” go read their Bibles and can’t see what we’re talking about. As a result, believers who are sincere students of God’s word wrongly conclude that since we use holiness and sanctification in ways the NT does not, our doctrine of entire sanctification must not be a NT doctrine. In other words, we mislead our listeners and hinder the spread of Scriptural holiness (which includes but is not limited to entire sanctification) when we refer to entire sanctification as “sanctification” or “holiness.”

In conclusion, Hebrews 12:14 does not teach that a believer will go to hell if he/she is not entirely sanctified. The word “holiness” in this verse does not mean or refer to “entire sanctification.” On the other hand, Hebrews 12:14 does teach us that we must be holy to see the Lord. “The holiness essential for seeing the Lord (Heb 12:14),” Richard S. Taylor rightly explains, “is a state of rightness with God right now.” In other words, anyone who is saved and walking in the light is holy and ready to see the Lord.

Are you pursuing peace with all men and holiness without which no one shall see the Lord?



Originally posted at Exegetical Thoughts and Biblical Theology.

Philip Brown
Philip Brownhttp://apbrown2.net
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).