by Mike Ratliff
1 Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, κλητὸς ἀπόστολος ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ, 2 ὃ προεπηγγείλατο διὰ τῶν προφητῶν αὐτοῦ ἐν γραφαῖς ἁγίαις 3 περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα, 4 τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν, 5 διʼ οὗ ἐλάβομεν χάριν καὶ ἀποστολὴν εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν ὑπὲρ τοῦ ὀνόματος αὐτοῦ, 6 ἐν οἷς ἐστε καὶ ὑμεῖς κλητοὶ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, 7 πᾶσιν τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Ῥώμῃ ἀγαπητοῖς θεοῦ, κλητοῖς ἁγίοις, χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. Romans 1:1-7 (NA28)
1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:1-7 (NASB)
What is a saint? I grew up as a Southern Baptist with a lot of Roman Catholic friends just down the street from a Catholic school and large Catholic Church. I am retired now, but for the last 20 years I have worked for a corporation that was owned by a Roman Catholic Hospital not-for-profit corporation. So, with that being said, I know what the RCC’s concept of a “saint” is, but what is the Biblical definition? I believe the passage I placed at the top of this post is a good starting place, but we will look at the Greek word that is translated as “saint” and what it means Biblically.
I agree with Warren Wiersbe who said, “No word in the New Testament has suffered more than this word saint. Even the dictionary defines a saint as a ‘person officially recognized for holiness of life.” Is that the Biblical meaning? In the passage above the word saints in v7 translates the Greek adjective ἁγίοις (hagiois) the dative plural masculine of ἅγιος (hagios), which means holy, set apart (for holiness), consecrated. However, in secular Greek the word hagios meant “to stand in awe of or be devoted to the gods.” This word came right our of pagan Greek religion, but Paul had to use it since there was no other word to use. So, the word was originally used of a person who was devoted to a god. One such as that was looked upon as a “holy one” or a “holy man.”
That view is true of Roman Catholicism, which teaches that to become a “saint,” one first has to die. The person is then nominated for the position, after which one or more “judicial inquiries” take place, where the nominating advocate pleads the virtues of the nominee and gives proof of his or her worthiness. One such proof is that the nominee had to be responsible for at least two (and, in some cases, as many as four) miracles. Then is life is examined to see if it was “holy enough to be officially recognized by canonization.” But all that flies in the face of Scripture and denies a fundamental principle of being Christian.
Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, lifted the word hagios to a new level of meaning: “to set apart or be separate.” The same word is also translated holy and sanctification. While some say a saint is dead, God says a saint is alive. Being a saint is not matter of achievement or performance; it is a matter of position. It’s not base on what we have done, but who we are in Christ. It is not dependent upon our works, but upon His grace.
We can probably safely assume that saint was Paul’s favorite term for the Christian since he used it some forty-two times in his epistles. How he loved that word! He loved saying, “Every one of you who has trusted Christ as Savior and Lord is a saint, one who has been set apart.”