Who cries holy holy holy?

The phrase “holy, holy, holy” appears several times in the Bible, most notably in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8. This has led to some questions about the meaning behind the threefold repetition of the word “holy.” In this article, we will explore the biblical context of the phrase, examine how it has been interpreted, and discuss its theological significance.

The Biblical Context

The phrase “holy, holy, holy” originates from two passages in the Bible:

  • Isaiah 6:3 – “And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!'” This occurs in Isaiah’s vision of the throne of God.
  • Revelation 4:8 – “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!'” This describes part of John’s vision of the throne of God.

In both passages, heavenly beings surrounding the throne of God proclaim the threefold holy refrain. The passages emphasize God’s transcendence, majesty, and holiness.

Interpretations of the Threefold Repetition

Why is the word “holy” repeated three times, rather than just once or twice? There are a few interpretations:

  • Emphasis – The threefold repetition emphasizes the superlative nature of God’s holiness. It highlights that God is absolutely and perfectly holy.
  • Trinitarian meaning – Many commentators have seen Trinitarian significance in the threefold holy. In this view, it points to the three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • Eternal nature – The threefold holy may refer to God’s eternal nature. He is the one “who was and is and is to come,” as Revelation 4:8 goes on to state after the triple holy.
  • Parts of God’s being – Some see the three fold holy as referring to different aspects of God’s being: His power, love, and justice.

These interpretations are not mutually exclusive. The threefold repetition likely carries multiple layers of meaning regarding the greatness and nature of God.

Theological Significance

What is the theological relevance of crying “holy, holy, holy”? A few key points emerge:

  • It is an ascription of supreme praise to God. To cry “holy” is to declare the greatness of His being.
  • It reminds us of the vast separation between God’s holiness and human sinfulness. We are finite, but He is infinite.
  • It spurs us to worship. Hearing God’s holiness proclaimed should inspire reverence, awe, and exaltation.
  • It gives hope, as it reminds us that a holy God seeks the redemption of His fallen creation.

Charles Wesley captured the spirit of hope that crying “holy” evokes in his classic hymn “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”:

Born Thy people to deliver;
Born a child and yet a King!
Born to reign in us forever!
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

The cry of “holy, holy, holy” rings out from heaven as a reminder that God alone is worthy of our worship and allegiance. Though holy, he mercifully bridges the gap between heaven and earth through Jesus Christ so that we can access the holy presence of God.

Who Cries “Holy, Holy, Holy” in Scripture?

In Scripture, several different beings cry out “holy, holy, holy”:

  • The seraphim in Isaiah’s vision – Isaiah 6:3
  • The four living creatures in John’s vision – Revelation 4:8
  • The twenty-four elders in John’s vision – Revelation 4:8-11
  • All the angels around the throne – Revelation 5:11-14
  • All creatures everywhere – Revelation 5:13

The passages in Revelation depict a scene in heaven of endless praise before God’s throne. The creatures surrounding the throne lead in crying “holy, holy, holy” and then all creation joins in worship.

Though only angels and heavenly beings cry “holy, holy, holy” in Scripture, we on earth should join them in spirit. When we worship God, we enter the heavenly chorus through faith, even while awaiting the future day when we will see His glory face-to-face.

Holy, Holy, Holy in Church History

The refrain of “holy, holy, holy” has continued long past the biblical era, shaping worship down through church history:

  • Liturgy – The Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”) became a standard part of liturgy early in church history, included in ancient texts like the Apostolic Constitutions.
  • Hymns – John Bacchus Dykes composed the tunes Nicaea and Nicea used for many hymns focused on God’s holiness, including Holy, Holy, Holy by Reginald Heber.
  • Theologians – Theologians like John of Damascus and Thomas Aquinas reflected extensively on the meaning of God’s threefold holiness.
  • Revivalist preachers – Preachers like Jonathan Edwards stirred religious fervor by expounding on God’s supreme holiness.

From the singing of hymns to the preaching of sermons, the distinctive cry of Isaiah’s seraphim has continued to shape Christian worship for centuries. It endures as a reminder of God’s transcendence and our call to worship His holiness.

Holy in Other Religions

While the threefold repetition of “holy” is unique to Judeo-Christian tradition, the declaration of God’s holiness appears universally in religions:

  • Islam – The daily profession of faith (shahada) declares God to be “holy” (quddus). God’s names also include The Most Holy (al-Quddus).
  • Hinduism – Gods like Vishnu and His avatars Rama and Krishna are extolled for their holy virtues.
  • Buddhism – Though not theistic, Buddhism has concepts like bodhisattvas who personify compassion, enlightenment, and other holy virtues.
  • Sikhism – Sikhs emphasize the holy name of God through devotional practice and recitation of the Mul Mantar.

Thus the declaration of holiness, if not a threefold repetition, echoes across religions. It seems ingrained in human spirituality to long for and revere that which is supremely holy, even if different faiths conceive of holiness differently.

Holy in the Arts and Culture

God’s holiness has provided inspiration across the arts and culture:

  • Literature – John Milton sought to “justify the ways of God to men” and “assert Eternal Providence / And justify the ways of God to men” in his epics Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.
  • Music – Composers like Handel (in Messiah) and Mendelssohn (in Elijah) created soaring choruses praising God’s holiness.
  • Visual Arts – Artists have tried to capture visions of heavenly worship and God’s glory, from Raphael’s murals to Salvador Dali’s surrealism.
  • Movies – Films depicting biblical events often attempt to visualize the angelic visions, as in The Ten Commandments.

Though no human art can fully capture God’s holy glory, creators throughout history have felt compelled to try. The arts help make God’s unfathomable holiness accessible to our limited senses. Beauty itself becomes a pointer toward divinity.

Holy in Personal Devotion

How should we respond to God’s holiness in our personal devotion and walk with Christ? Here are some suggestions:

  • Praise God specifically for His holiness, perfection, and purity in prayer.
  • Sing hymns and worship songs that focus on God’s holiness.
  • Study Scripture passages about holiness (like Leviticus 11:44-45, Isaiah 6, Revelation 4-5) carefully.
  • Examine your life and repent of any areas not reflecting His purity and righteousness.
  • Offer yourself afresh to His service, asking the Spirit to conform you more to Christ’s holiness.
  • Rest in the hope that one day “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Keeping God’s profound holiness before us reorients every part of life to His purposes. We become awestruck worshipers, repentant followers, and hopeful pilgrims. His holiness transforms us.

Holy in the World

The vision of Isaiah, John, and all Scripture is that one day God’s glory will fill the whole earth (e.g. Habakkuk 2:14). How does God’s holiness call us to live right now in the world?

  • Be witnesses to His holiness in word and action – remain unstained by the world (James 1:27).
  • Promote justice, righteousness, and care for the vulnerable as fruit of His holy love.
  • Create cultural goods (art, literature, technology, etc.) that point people toward divine beauty.
  • Share the gospel of Christ’s redemption through which unholy sinners become saints.
  • Expose and battle sin and corruption, which distort God’s holy purposes.
  • Look expectantly for Christ’s return when God’s dwelling will be fully with redeemed mankind.

The knowledge of God’s holiness is not merely abstract theology, but has practical import for how conduct ourselves in private and public spheres. We live in cosmic significance as ambassadors of the holy Creator before a watching world.


To cry “holy, holy, holy” is to join the symphony of saints and angels in praise of the transcendent God. He alone is perfectly holy, loving, and just. Though our voices remain stained by sin, we have hope of sharing in His holiness through Christ. God’s threefold holiness reminds us that He is worthy of our fullest worship and obedience.

The echo of “holy, holy, holy” resounds from Scripture into the present day. Through continuous study, worship, creativity, and action, may God’s people keep the cry alive until Christ returns to make all things new. Only then will our voices join fully in the cosmic chorus:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

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