Water is an essential part of life and a recurring symbol throughout the Bible. But what exactly does the Bible say about “holy water” specifically? As Christians, it’s important that we examine what Scripture teaches on any subject. In this post, we’ll explore the biblical foundation for holy water, its uses, and meaning for believers today.
Holy water is water that has been specially blessed for use in Christian rituals and ceremonies. Some denominations, like Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, use holy water quite extensively. Others, like most Protestant groups, do not attach the same spiritual significance to it.
So what is the basis for holy water? Should Christians use it or avoid it? Let’s dive into the Bible to find out. Here are the key takeaways we’ll cover:
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- The Old Testament roots and ceremonial uses of holy water
- New Testament references to water’s spiritual significance
- The meaning and purpose of holy water in Christian practice
- Different perspectives on holy water between denominations
- Guidance for discernment about holy water usage today
By grounding our exploration in Scripture, we can understand both the rich biblical foundation for holy water and also the wisdom in applying it properly. The spiritual power is not in the water itself, but in faith in Christ.
- Old Testament Roots
- New Testament Foundation
- Purposes of Holy Water
- Denominational Perspectives
- Discerning Use of Holy Water Today
Old Testament Roots
In the Old Testament, there are several references to special uses of water that prefigure New Testament practices involving holy water. While not explicitly called “holy” water, these passages show the significance God placed on water set apart for spiritual purposes.
In the book of Numbers, Moses and Aaron are given instructions for cleansing rituals involving water:
“Take the Levites…and cleanse them. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purification on them, and let them shave all their body, and let them wash their clothes” (Numbers 8:6-7 NKJV).
The water of purification was integral to ritually cleansing the Levites for their service in the temple. Numbers 19 describes how this “water of purification” was made using the ashes of a red heifer sacrificed for sin. While this exact ceremony is not practiced today, it shows that God did establish sacred uses of water in the Old Testament.
The tabernacle also utilized water for ceremonial washing and purification:
“You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it” (Exodus 30:18-19 NKJV).
Aaron and the priests were to wash with water from this basin before entering the tent of meeting or approaching the altar. Again, this act of ceremonial cleansing prefigures the spiritual cleansing symbolized by holy water in Christian worship.
Elisha Purifying Water
One significant story involving water in the Old Testament is when the prophet Elisha purified foul water:
“Therefore he said, ‘Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.’ So they brought it to him…And he went out to the source of the water, and cast in the salt there, and said, ‘Thus says the LORD: ‘I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness.’ So the water remains healed to this day” (2 Kings 2:20, 21b-22a NKJV).
While not called “holy water,” this passage foreshadows the spiritually cleansing properties associated with water blessed by God’s servants.
Through these accounts and others, the Old Testament establishes water as a medium God can use for sacred purposes when consecrated through His priests.
New Testament Foundation
Building upon these Old Testament types, water takes on explicit spiritual significance in the New Testament record. While not referred to directly as “holy water,” Scriptural principles point to water’s sanctifying role.
The most prominent reference to spiritually meaningful water in the New Testament is the sacrament of baptism. Baptism uses simple water to represent the cleansing of sins through faith in Christ:
“According to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NKJV, emphasis added).
Peter connects baptism directly with “the removal of dirt from the body” – a physical cleansing that reflects inner spiritual purification (1 Peter 3:21).
Jesus’ Miracles Involving Water
In Christ’s ministry, He transformed ordinary water into something special by performing miracles through it. At the wedding in Cana, He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). He walked on the Sea of Galilee during a storm (Matthew 14:22-33). Christ also made clay using His saliva to heal a blind man’s eyes, instructing him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” for his sight to be restored (John 9:6-7 NKJV, emphasis added).
While Jesus did not need any special water to work miracles, these accounts demonstrate water’s special role when blessed by God.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, He spoke of “living water”:
“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14 NKJV, emphasis added).
Christ used water from the well as an object lesson about satisfying spiritual thirst through Him.
Commission of the Disciples
After His resurrection, Jesus commissioned His disciples:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19 NKJV, emphasis added).
Part of the Great Commission was baptizing new converts with water marking their new life in Him.
From these examples, we see water sanctified by contact with Christ or blessed for spiritual use in baptism and ministry. This establishes a strong biblical precedent for holy water in the Church Age.
Purposes of Holy Water
Based on Scripture, holy water represents several key truths for believers:
Cleansing from Sin. As used in baptism and cleansing rituals, holy water is a visual reminder of how Christ washes away the stain of sin.
Death to Sin, Alive to God. Being immersed in water during baptism illustrates dying and rising with Christ. As Romans 6:4 says, “We were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (NKJV).
Renewed Focus. Using holy water can refocus our minds on spiritual cleansing and preparation as we worship. Just as the priests purified themselves entering God’s presence, holy water reminds us of humbly approaching our Lord.
Physical Blessing. While holy water should never be viewed as magical, Christ did heal and work miracles through matter like clay, spit, and pool water. In faith, holy water can be a symbol of God’s grace imparting physical blessings in response to prayer.
Dedication to God. Old Testament priests and articles were dedicated to God’s service through washing and anointing. Holy water likewise represents our lives sanctified to Christ.
So the purpose of holy water is not any power in the physical substance itself. Rather, it serves as an instrument to stir faith in the living water of Jesus that truly cleanses and transforms the inner person.
Different streams of Christianity view holy water differently based on their convictions about sacraments and rituals. These perspectives vary widely.
For Roman Catholics, holy water, blessed salt, ashes, palms, and other material elements are important sacramentals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that sacramentals “prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (1670).
Catholics use holy water extensively for blessings, purification, protection against evil, and more:
“For Catholics the sacramental…helps provide access to the living God. Holy water is a reminder of baptism and confession, the ordinary means by which Christians are freed from the power of sin; holy water marks the entry into a sacred space, the home, the church; it cleanses objects to be used in the liturgy…a sign of spiritual cleansing through the water of life…” (US Conference of Catholic Bishops).
Eastern Orthodox churches also make abundant use of holy water at shrines, during services, home blessings, and personal devotion:
“Holy Water is used by Orthodox to bless themselves when first entering the church…Holy Water is drunk by the faithful after it is blessed on Theophany because it is Christ’s divine grace made manifest. Similarly, it is dripped on items to bless them or sprinkled on the faithful to purify them” (Antiochian Orthodox Church).
Since most Protestant groups do not observe sacramentals, holy water is far less common. The Protestant emphasis is on the inward, spiritual significance of water rather than an intrinsic holiness in the physical substance.
Baptism and water symbolism remain incredibly important. However, Protestants generally avoid applying rituals, ceremonies, or mystical power to external things like holy water, relics, blessed candles, etc. The focus is directly on Christ instead.
Discerning Use of Holy Water Today
To conclude this biblical overview of holy water, here are some guidelines for discernment as modern believers.
We should thankfully use whatever helps increase our faith – whether a traditional practice or creative new expression. If holy water focuses the mind on gospel truths, stirs grateful worship, and inspires deeper walk with Jesus, wonderful!
However, we must avoid viewing holy water as having power in itself or falling into empty ritual rather than genuine connection with God. Our faith is in Christ’s power.
It’s also wise to show grace to Christians who believe differently on these matters. Whether one avoids holy water as “meaningless ritual” or uses it extensively as a “sacred symbol,” true unity comes from how much we look to Jesus, not our opinions on holy water.
Most importantly, let us remember that we already have the Holy Spirit within – no external substance can improve upon His indwelling sanctification and guidance moment by moment. Our purity before God comes from Christ in us, not the application of holy water.
This deep dive into the Bible uncovered the significant place of water symbolism from Old Testament ceremonial uses to New Testament baptism and beyond. While holy water itself is never explicitly mentioned, the principles and typology provide a basis for holy water practices that direct faith toward Christ. In all things, our heart attitude should remain centered on Jesus alone – the living water who cleanses us within and satisfies our spiritual thirst eternally.