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Who Are the Saints of Scripture?

The popular idea regarding saints is that they are extraordinary people who have achieved a special status among all other Christians. Some people even pray to saints. One example of a famous Catholic Saint is St. Francis of Assisi who lived in the 13th century. He was known for his love of animals and birds. According to legend, he even preached a sermon to birds while they were listening attentively to his every word! As this example illustrates, the popular idea about what constitutes a saint might involve some tradition and folklore.

What the Bible Says

However, the Bible teaches something quite different. God’s inspired scriptures tell us that all His people are considered saints. Today, that means that every Christian is a Saint of God, both by designation and by implicit behavior. In the Bible, there is no special designation or title within the church for “Saint.” The idea of a saint attaining an exceptional degree of holiness was not officially adopted by the traditions of men until nearly 900 years after the Bible was written.[1]

In many passages in the Bible, we can see that all Christians in the church are labeled as saints. For example, in Acts 8:3, we read about how Saul “was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison” (CSB). Later in Acts 26:10, after Saul had repented and became a Christian, he describes to King Agrippa how he would “lock up many of the saints in prison.” In this case, the church is synonymous with the saints. Since the term “church” refers to Christian people in general, saints are simply Christians. Furthermore, in his letter to the Romans, Paul addresses the letter with, “To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints” (1:7). Again, it is evident that all the Christians, those “loved by God,” were saints. In fact, the New Testament refers to Christians as saints 59 times.

The Old Testament also referred to God’s people as saints, or holy ones. For example, Psalm 16:3 says, “As for the holy people who are in the land, they are the noble ones. All my delight is in them.” Psalm 34:9 says, “You who are his holy ones, fear the LORD.” In the original Bible languages, the word for “saint” could also be translated as, “holy ones.” It carried with it the idea of separation, religious adherence, and purity.[2] Of course, in all times and places, God expected His people to be holy, separate, devoted, and pure. That is why his people are always called “holy ones” or “saints.”

The Problem of Idolizing Saints

The popular idea of sainthood that we have in some religious circles today derives from a devotion to the saints who have been martyred or killed for their faith.[3] As time went on, some Christian teachers would hold the idea that these martyrs had a special place in heaven and that we should pray to them. The Catholic church would eventually make it an official practice to “canonize” especially blessed Catholics, or in other words make their sainthood official, which would in turn, permit living Catholics to worship them after their death.

There is no Biblical support for worshipping or praying to martyred saints. In fact, the Bible would seem to contradict this idea. In Luke 16:24–31, a condemned man in Hades is asking Abraham, a man many considered to be in a privileged relationship with God, to intercede on behalf of him and his living brothers. In both cases, Abraham refused, saying that they had the written laws of God deciding their verdict, not him. In several other cases, angels and Apostles refused to be worshipped by other men. In Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas were being venerated as gods, but they tore their robes and told them, “People! Why are you doing these things? We are people also, just like you” (15). In Revelation 22, the Apostle John fell down to worship an angel, but he said, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you, your brothers the prophets, and those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!” (9). As these examples show, it is not Biblical to worship or pray to other servants of God, despite how exemplary they may be.

Our True Mediators to God

Our intercessors to God are Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 7:24–25, speaking of Jesus, says, “But because he remains forever, he holds his priesthood permanently. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.” Romans 8:26–27, speaking of the Holy Spirit says, “In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” These passages show us that it is not necessary to pray to martyred saints. That will not do anything for us that Jesus and the Holy Spirit can’t do! We should be directing our prayers to the Father, trusting that Jesus and the Holy Spirit our doing their part to represent us.

Being a Saint

Another common use of the term “saint” is applied toward someone who is considered especially good. In popular language, we may call someone who displays extraordinary kindness to the poor “a saint.” On the other hand, we may come across some people who call themselves Christians, but they do not seem very saintly at all! Here in lies another conundrum with the term “saint” — the Bible calls all of God’s people saints, but sometimes God’s people are far from perfect. This raises the question, “Does God call His people saints because He only accepts those who are pure?”

The simple answer to this question can be seen in God’s initiative and a Christian’s response. God has taken the initiative to make Christians holy and to call them saints. It was not because they were good that He decided to give them this special designation. Romans 5:8–9 says, “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. How much more then, since we have now been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath.” By God’s initiative, mankind can be placed within the special designation of sainthood through faithfulness to Jesus Christ.

However, along with this special gift comes special responsibility. Romans 6:19 says, “For just as you offered the parts of yourselves as slaves to impurity, and to greater and greater lawlessness, so now offer them as slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification.” “Sanctification” is the same word as “holiness” or “saintliness.” Paul is telling these Christians that those who have been designated by God as saints are obligated to live the righteous life of a saint. That doesn’t mean that a new Christian is always going to be perfect, but it does mean that they are working toward that goal with God’s help.

In conclusion, the Bible teaches that all Christians are saints by God’s initiative and designation, which is a great gift and incredible privilege! The Bible also teaches that a Christian is expected to live a life of dedicated and holy behavior. This means the saint should be in an eminent moral position relative to the world. However, the Bible does not teach that saints are a privileged or honored class within Christianity, even if they are martyred for their faith. No other man, no matter how extraordinary, has merited our devotion except for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only intermediary between God and man.

[1]. F.L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. “saints, devotion to the,” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. [2]. Moisés Silva, “ἅγιος,” NIDNTT, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. [3]. Cross “canonization.”

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