Bible Question:

What is the difference between holy and righteous in the Bible?

Bible Answer:

In Acts 3:14 Jesus Christ is called Holy and Righteous.

But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom  God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are  witnesses. Acts 3:14 (NASB)

Our question is what is the difference in meaning between holy and righteous?

What Is The Meaning of Holy and Righteous

The Meaning of Holy

The word holy appears 492 times in the Old Testament.  In Leviticus 11:44-45 God calls us to be holy for He is holy. The Hebrew word for holy in the Old Testament is qodes. The word means to be “separate” or “set apart.” It also refers to a moral quality of the person. When it is applied to God it means that God is set apart from sin.

Habakkuk 1:13 helps us understand that this word means to be set apart from sin.

Your eyes are too pure to approve evil,
And You can not look on wickedness with favor.
Habakkuk 1:13 (NASB)

Leviticus 11:44 illustrates the high moral standard that is communicated by the word “holy.”

For  I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and  be holy, for I am holy. Leviticus 11:44 (NASB)

A. W. Tozer summarizes holiness for us.

Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is. Because He is holy, His attributes are holy; that is, whatever we think of as belonging to God must be thought of as holy. God is holy and He has made holiness the moral condition necessary to the health of His universe. Sin’s temporary presence in the world only accents this . . .

God is holy with an absolute holiness that knows no degrees, and this He cannot impart to His creatures. [1]

In the New Testament the Greek word for holy in Acts 3:14 is hagios. It appears 233 times in the New Testament and has the same sense as the Hebrew word qados. In summary, holy means that our God is set apart from sin and He is the absolute standard of high moral character.

The Meaning of Righteous

In Deuteronomy 32:4 Moses speaks of God and describes Him as being faithful, just, righteous and upright.

The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
A God of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He. Deuteronomy 32:4  (NASB)

The Hebrew word for righteous in this verse is saddiq. It appears 206 times in the Old Testament. It has the meaning of “being lawful” or “conforming to the law.” That is, it refers to behavior. Notice that Deuteronomy 32:4 repeatedly refers to God’s behavior. God is perfect in His work. He is just in His ways. He is faithful. To be righteous refers to perfect obedience to some standard.

The Greek word for righteous in Acts 3:14 is dikaios. It appears 79 times in the New Testament. The following two verses help us understand that dikaios has the same meaning as saddiq.



Righteous refers to how one lives. Righteous refers to behavior that is consistent with God’s holy standard.

Holiness Results In Righteousness


In summary, the word “holy” refers to a person’s character and “righteous” refers to a person’s behavior. One who is holy behaves righteously. One who is holy will be righteous. Isaiah 5:16 helps us understand the relationship between “holy” and “righteous.”

But the LORD of hosts will be exalted in judgment,
And the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness.
Isaiah 5:16 (NASB)

Our wonderful holy God shows that He is holy by His righteousness, that is, by His behavior. The holiness of God is revealed in everything that He does.

Now we look at Acts 3:14 again. Remember that “holy” refers to being set apart from sin and an absolute standard of high moral character. Righteous means obedience to God’s absolute standard. Does this help you understand Jesus Christ in this verse?

But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. Acts 3:14 (NASB)

Acts 3:14 says that Jesus’ character was of the highest moral character and as a result His conduct was of the highest standard.

Finally, Romans 3:21-23 tells us that Christians have been judicially declared to be righteous. What does that mean? It means that at the moment of saving faith, God has declared the conduct of Christians to be perfect. And in Ephesians 1:1 Christians are described as saints. That word saints is the Greek word for holy, hagios. This means that God has declared Christians to be holy and righteous, even though we are not in our daily walk. Positionally before God, He considers Christians to be holy and righteous because Christ did everything that is necessary for our salvation. He did all the work! But our practice is still sinful. In theology this is called our position versus our practice. The study Position & Practice – Discipleship Series will provide more information about this wonderful truth.

Now we just need to act like our position in Christ.



1. A. W. Tozer. The Knowledge of the Holy. HarperOne. 1978. pp. 105-106.

Suggested Links:

Position & Practice – Discipleship Series
The Righteousness of God, part 1 - sermon
The Righteousness of God, part 2 - sermon
The Righteousness of God, part 3 - sermon
Call To Be Holy - sermon
Your Position and Practice, part 1 - sermon
Your Position and Practice, part 2 - sermon