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" ( 1 Cor 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 1 Corinthians 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.
See also Christians, Names of; Church, the; Holy, Holiness
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Men and women of God.
I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the SAINTS did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. ( Acts 26:9-10 )
In the King James Version 3 words are thus rendered:
(1) qadhosh (in Da the same root occurs several times in its Aramaic form, qaddish);
(2) chacidh, and
Of these words (2) has in general the meaning of righteousness or goodness, while (1) and (3) have the meaning of consecration and divine claim and ownership. They are not primarily words of character, like chacidh, but express a relation to God as being set apart for His own. Wherever qadhosh refers to angels, the rendering "holy one" or "holy ones" has been substituted in the Revised Version (British and American) for the King James Version "saint" or "saints," which is the case also in Psalms 106:16 margin (compare 34:9), and in 1 Samuel 2:9, as the translation of chacidh.
While hagioi occurs more frequently in the New Testament than does qadhosh in the Old Testament, yet both are applied with practical uniformity to the company of God's people rather than to any individual. Perhaps the rendering "saints" cannot be improved, but it is necessary for the ordinary reader constantly to guard against the idea that New Testament saintship was in any way a result of personal character, and consequently that it implied approval of moral attainment already made. Such a rendering as "consecrate ones," for example, would bring out more clearly the relation to God which is involved, but, besides the fact that it is not a happy translation, it might lead to other errors, for it is not easy to remember that consecration--the setting apart of the individual as one of the company whom God has in a peculiar way as His own--springs not from man, but from God Himself, and that consequently it is in no way something optional, and admits of no degrees of progress, but, on the contrary, is from the beginning absolute duty. It should also be noted that while, as has been said, to be a saint is not directly and primarily to be good but to be set apart by God as His own, yet the godly and holy character ought inevitably and immediately to result. When God consecrates and claims moral beings for Himself and His service, He demands that they should go on to be fit for and worthy of the relation in which He has placed them, and so we read of certain actions as performed "worthily of the saints" (Romans 16:2) and as such "as becometh saints" (Ephesians 5:3). The thought of the holy character of the "saints," which is now so common as almost completely to obscure the real thought of the New Testament writers, already lay in their thinking very close to their conception of saintship as consecration by God to be His own.
David Foster Estes
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