What is a Saint?

WE OFTEN USE THE WORD “saint” to describe a very virtuous person. The word “saint” is derived from the Latin “sanctus” meaning “holy” or “set apart”.

The Dictionary Definition

The Oxford English Dictionary gives this definition, but it also gives the meaning as understood by the orthodox church: “A person who is acknowledged as holy or virtuous and regarded in Christian faith as being in heaven after death; a person of exalted virtue who is canonised by the church after death and who may be the object of veneration and prayers for intercession.”

This magazine is devoted to understanding the Bible, and so let us see how the word “saint” is used in the Bible.

It means a person “set apart” or separated from their fellow men and women to work for God. In the Bible’s Old Testament, a person could choose to become a “Nazarite” and give their life to the service of God (Numbers 6). They became a person “set apart” or a “saint”. To show separateness, they avoided all the natural contaminations of daily life. They did not drink wine and they allowed their hair to grow long.

The Bible Definition

In numerous passages in the Old Testament the saints are those who trust in God and who are protected by Him, for example:

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly (Psalm 85:8).

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight (Psalm 16:3).

These passages speak of people who were faithful believers in God in Old Testament times. The word “saints” is also used of the faithful followers of the Lord Jesus in New Testament times. These people are “called”or “set apart” or “holy” for the purpose of God:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9).

The Apostle Paul wrote most of the Epistles (letters) in the New Testament, and many times he addressed the believers as “saints”. For example:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2–3).

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:1–2).

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: grace to you and peace from God our Father (Colossians 1:1–2).

The idea that saints are in heaven and believers can pray to them is completely unbiblical. God is in heaven, and Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection. Jesus is the mediator for his people’s prayers: ‘There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 2:5).

These are a few passages that show that saints are people who have dedicated themselves to the service of God and are striving to follow the example of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. If they are judged faithful when Jesus returns to the earth at his second coming they will be given eternal life in his Kingdom.

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13).

Marion Buckler

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