Dialogue on holiness with John Oswalt – author of Isaiah NIV Commentary

John Oswalt talks about holiness through it’s proper understanding of the Christian life and what it is all about, an example from the trinity vs. an overemphasis on externals (i.e. a holy outward life where we judge it by counting buttons or length of hair). His most recent book ‘Called to be Holy’, 

„traces the doctrine of personal holiness through both the Old and New Testaments, showing that holy living is an overarching theme of the entire Bible. Dr. Oswalt explains the intimate connection between forgiveness and a life of holiness, and underscores the practical consequences of walking in the Spirit. The result is a well-rounded portrait of the Bible’s teaching on godly living.” (source – book description – Amazon)
Oswalt in the 2nd video:
A New Testament without an Old Testament borders on heresy. It seems to me that a lot of the demise of a Christian understanding of the necessity of ethical holiness, of living out the life of God is the result of our ignorance of the Old Testament, because the New Testament assumes the Old Testament. Often times people will say to me, „There’s the Christian Bible, that’s the New Testament, and the Jewish Bible, that’s the Old Testament. Well, we’re Christians. Yeah, you sort of need the Old Testament, just for sort of background, so you can know where the New Testament came from, but, you don’t really need it.” That is, to put it bluntly- non Christian. The Christian church, for 2,000 years has said, „No, the whole Bible is Christian. A proper understanding of the Old Testament is that it is preparatory to Christ. And, in the same way, the New Testament assumes that we know the Old Testament. What is the question of life:
***How can a sinful human being ever share the character of a holy God? If you don’t know the Old Testament, you don’t know that. Well, the Old Testament is laying these foundations: God is transcendent. He is absolutely holy. He’s beyond anything we can imagine in His essence and His character. He is just. This is a cause and effect world. He is majestic, He is glorious. Salvation is to be found in community. Righteousness is to be lived out in a society. Revelation comes through historical narrative. The other points are there: His immanence, His love, His grace, the reality of an individual relationship with God, the reality of personal righteousness, revelation through teaching- they’re there. But, they’re minor points. The New Testament just reverses that order. The New Testament says, „OK, you got the point now: God is transcendent. Let us talk about His immanence. Let us talk about God having come here. You understand about God’s absolute holiness, now let us talk about His love. And so forth… down that list, just reversing them. If you know your Old Testament, the it fits together. Then, it is awesome Good News, that the awesome Holy God, who could fry you alive by looking at you, loves you. But, if you don’t know the Old Testament, then what you’ve got is a friendly little god, who says, „Oh honey, that’s all right. It doesn’t really matter, it’s okay. A little god, who exists under my bed, to answer my prayers.
A religion that is purely individualistic, about me and my righteousness, and interestingly, a religion that’s primarily through teaching, that actually, whether this stuff happened or not, it’s not that important. In other words, all too much of modern evangelicalism. 
***God’s jealousy in the OT. (2nd video, 10 min. mark)  We need to constantly help people to understand that God’s rage, especially in the prophets is the flipside of His love.  We’ve lost a good word in English: Zeal. As you know, it’s one word in hebrew: Zealous and jealous are the same word. Unfortunately, in English, jealousy is now a petty emotion. My wife smiles at another man, and I get bent out of shape, because I’m jealous. But jealous and zealous go together. And I think of Jesus cleaning out the temple. And what did the disciples remember? „The zeal of Thy house has eaten me up.” God is so furious because He loves His people so much and is so broken over what they are doing to themselves, and so I love to say to students and to others: „You know, the most frequently quoted 2 verse passage of the Old Testament in the Old Testament is Exodus 34:6-7 – TheLord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.  This gets quoted explicitly 6 times, and it’s alluded to another 11 (times). So you say to the Hebrew, „What’s your God like?” „Oh, He’s gracious and compassionate, slow to anger…” Ha? Looks to me like He got angry a lot!” And they say, „Yeah, He should have! That’s not surprising. What’s surprising is He hasn’t.”  We need to have people understand: You can’t have His love without His rage. He is a fully impassioned person.


Dr. John N. Oswalt (PhD, Brandeis University) is Visiting Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He is the author of numerous articles and several books, including the two-volume commentary on Isaiah in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series and Called to be Holy: A Biblical Perspective. Three other important books from John Oswalt are:

  1. The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? by John N. Oswalt (Jul 28, 2009)
  2. Called to Be Holy by John N. Oswalt (Jun 15, 2011)

  3. Leisure Crisis (Critical Issues Series (Wheaton, Ill.).) by John Oswalt (Jun 1987)

(Source – Amazon, Photo credit Amazon).

VIDEOS by TheHenryCenter located at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School  of Wheaton College, Deerfield, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago). For more videos (many debates) click here – http://www.henrycenter.org

Dialogue with John Oswalt – Part 1 (36 min)

Dialogue with John Oswalt – Part 2 (21 min)

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