What is a Saint? By Jack Kettler
In this study, we will seek to understand what the Bible says about saints. Is every believer a saint, or just an extraordinary group of super Christians? Should we pray to human saints?
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.
The body of Christ, all believers worldwide, both living and dead. *
Question: What are Christian saints according to the Bible?
Answer: The word “saint” comes from the Greek word hagios, which means “consecrated to God, holy, sacred, pious.” It is almost always used in the plural, “saints.” “…Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to your saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). “Now as Peter was traveling through all those regions, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda” (Acts 9:32). “And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons” … (Acts 26:10). There is only one instance of the singular use, and that is “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 4:21). In Scripture, there are 67 uses of the plural “saints” compared to only one use of the singular word “saint.” Even in that one instance, a plurality of saints is in view: “…every saint…” (Philippians 4:21). Therefore, scripturally speaking, the “saints” are the body of Christ, Christians, the church. All Christians are considered saints. All Christians are saints—and at the same time are called to be saints. **
From the Scriptures about Saints:
“And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.” (Deuteronomy 26:19) (Emphasis mine) God’s people are holy, i.e. “set a part,” saints.
“O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.” (Psalm 31:23)
“Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:13)
“To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 1:7)
“And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:2)
“And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:27)
“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” (1Corinthians 1:2)
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia.” (2Corinthians 1:1)
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 1:1)
“May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height.” (Ephesians 3:18)
“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12)
From the Pulpit Commentary on Ephesians 4:12:
“Verse 12. – In order to the perfecting of the saints. The ultimate end for which the gifts bestowed (comp. Hebrews 12:1). A work of completion is in hand, which must be fulfilled (see ver. 13): the saints, now compassed about with infirmity, have to be freed from all stain (Ephesians 5:26, 27), and as instruments towards this end, the ministers of the Church are given by Christ; they are not mere promoters of civilization, men of culture planted among the rude, but instruments for advancing men to complete holiness. For the work of the ministry. The preposition is changed from πρὸς to εἰς πρὸς denoting the ultimate end, εἰς the immediate object (comp. Romans 15:2); the office of the Church officers is not lords, but διακονοί, servants, as Christ himself was (Matthew 20:28). For the building up of the body of Christ. Bringing bone to its bone and sinew to its sinew, increasing the number of believers, and promoting the spiritual life of each; carrying on all their work as Christ’s servants and with a definite eye to the promotion of the great work which he undertook when he came to seek and to save the lost.” (1)
Since the saints in Ephesians, 4:12 need perfecting, we can conclude that are ordinary believers growing in the sanctification process and not a super-saint.
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)
“To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 1:2)
“Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” (Philippians 1:1)
“Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren, which are with me, greet you.” (Philippians 4:21)
“For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10)
“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1Peter 1:15–16) (Holy set apart, saints)
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3)
Paul addressed his letters to the saints in the churches. The biblical ideas of saints is not the saints in heaven as the Roman Catholics say. In opposition to that, the Bible calls all the believers in Christ “saints.” “Saint” literally means “holy one,” or “set apart.” In Christ you are sanctified, which makes you a “holy one” or “set apart.” An individual becomes a saint by regeneration, i.e. born again in Christ.
A small list of synonyms for saints:
Disciples, angels, a good person, a loved one, a pietist, an evangelist, a devotee, a benefactor
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:
[1, G40, hagios]
for the meaning and use of which See HOLY, B, No. 1, is used as a noun in the singular in Philippians 4:21, where pas, every, is used with it. In the plural, as used of believers, it designates all such and is not applied merely to persons of exceptional holiness or to those who, having died, were characterized by exceptional acts of “saintliness.” See especially 2Thessalonians 1:10, where “His saints” are also described as “them that believed,” i.e., the whole number of the redeemed. They are called “holy ones” in Jude 1:14, RV. For the term as applied to the Holy Spirit See HOLY SPIRIT. See also SANCTIFY.
(1) In Rev 15:3 the RV follows those texts which have aionon, “ages,” and assigns the reading ethnon, “nations,” to the margin; the AV translates those which have the inferior reading hagion, “saints,” and puts “nations” and “ages” in the margin.
(2) In Rev 18:20, the best texts have hagioi and apostoloi, each with the article, each being preceded by kai, “and,” RV, “and ye saints, and ye apostles;” the AV, “and ye holy apostles” follows those mss. from which the 2nd kai and the article are absent.
(3) In Rev 22:21, the RV follows those mss. which have hagion, with the article, “(with) the saints;” the AV those which simply have panton, “all,” but adds “you” (RV, marg., “with all”). (2)
Saint from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology:
The word “saint” is derived from a Greek verb (hagiazo [aJgiavzw]) whose basic meaning is “to set apart,” “sanctify,” or “make holy.” In the history of the Old Testament religion, the idea of holiness or separateness was inherent in the concept of God. God was unapproachable in the tabernacle or temple by the ordinary individual, being accessible only to the priests and only under carefully specified conditions. His presence (the Shekinah) dwelled in the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place, the most remote and inaccessible place in the wilderness tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem temple. Only the high priest was allowed to stand in God’s presence in this area, and then only once a year at Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).
This sacred place was further separated from the ordinary Jewish worshiper by another room called “the Holy Place,” which could be entered only by priests. The intent was to impress upon the people the utter holiness and sacredness of the God they worshiped, as well as the necessity of their being set apart or sanctified as saints in his service. This sense of Jehovah’s separateness from the sins of the people and from the pagan idols of the lands in which they dwelled was the heart of Jewish monotheism. Its eventual disregard led to the destruction of the temple and the exile of Israel.
This idea of the separateness of God and his people is carried forward in the New Testament, which was written by Jews (except possibly Luke-Acts) who interpreted God’s covenant with Israel through the teachings of Christ. Those who were dedicated to the teachings of Christ were frequently called saints by these writers (e.g., Matt 27:52; Acts 9:13; 26:10; Rev 14:12). Six of Paul’s letters to churches are addressed to saints (Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians).
Saints, in the New Testament, are never deceased individuals who have been canonized by the church and given sainthood. They are living individuals who have dedicated themselves to the worship and service of the one true God as revealed through his Son, Jesus Christ. Even the children of such parents are called “sanctified” (1Cor. 7:14-15). That is, they are considered undefiled by paganism if at least one of their parents is a Christian. All saved are sanctified, but not all sanctified are saved.
On occasion, when discussing the atonement, Paul carefully differentiates between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, calling the former saints and the latter believers. It was the saints, the holy people of God in the Old Testament, who brought the Messiah and redemption into the world, eventually extending the blessings to the Gentiles.
This usage may be seen in 1Corinthians 1:2, which is addressed to “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy [saints Jewish Christians], together with all those [Gentiles] everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ Lord and ours.” The same distinction is made in Ephesians 1:1: “to the saints [Jewish Christians] in Ephesus and the faithful [Gentiles] in Christ Jesus.” Colossians is also addressed to “the holy and faithful brothers” in Christ.
Paul addresses the letter to all the Christians in Rome as saints (Rom. 1:7, because Gentiles who, as wild olive branches have been grafted into the stem of Judaism, now share in the full relationship to that plant and are also saints), but the Jewish Christians in Rome, who are to be recipients of a special contribution Paul collected among Gentile churches, are called “the saints” in distinction (Rom. 15:25-33).
It is informative in this regard that Paul refers to this same collection in 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 as a sharing by the Macedonian churches with “the saints,” not with the “other” saints. Paul’s apprehension over whether the Jerusalem saints would accept such a contribution was based on the fact that Jewish Christians were being asked to accept the offering from Gentile Christians. The entire discussion of the issue in Acts 21 when Paul arrived in Jerusalem makes this clear.
Thus, although Gentile Christians are saints, too, because they were given access to the faith of Abraham and the people of the Old Testament, when redemptive history is discussed the Jews are specially designated the “saints” while the Gentiles are considered believers who were later admitted into this “holy” Jewish nucleus. John McRay (3)
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXVI. Of Communion of Saints:
Section I.–All saints that are united to Jesus Christ their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as to conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.
Section II.–Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.
In this study, the question of prayers to saints has not been addressed thus far. We are to pray for our fellow saints but not to them. Why?
The Scriptures give us hope and confidence that God hears our prayers. For example, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1Timothy 2:5)
In light of the two above passages, we can say; first, a saintly human intermediator is un-needed since the Bible only recognizes one mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Second, we are directed by the Hebrews passage to go directly to God.
Prayer from dictionary.com:
Prayer is a noun
1. A devout petition to God or an object of worship.
2. A spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.
3. The act or practice of praying to God or an object of worship.
“And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. But he said to me, Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:8-9)
If the angel refused John and his misguided attempt at worship, how much more should we reject the practice of prayer to human saints?
1. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Ephesians, Vol. 20, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 149.
2. W. E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls, Iowa, Riverside Book and Bible House), p. 986-987.
3. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), p. 700-701.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
** Got Questions https://www.gotquestions.org/