What is a saint?

Saint has come to mean a preeminently holy person who is officially recognized after death. But what is the Bible definition of saint?


Some people readily admit, "I'm no saint," as if being a saint were a rare and unreachable goal. But what is a saint according to the Bible, and should we want to be one?

Saint in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word hagioi, which is related to the Greek hagios—holy (New Bible Dictionary, second edition, pp. 486-487).

God is holy (1 Peter:1:15-16) and commands us to become holy as He is. He is the ultimate example and source of holiness. Holiness includes both the idea of being separated for a special purpose and being pure and right—acting and thinking like God.

So God calls all members of His Church to be holy—literally, to be saints. Consider 1 Corinthians:1:2, for example, which proves this beyond dispute: "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours."

Sanctified can be translated as "set apart" (Jewish New Testament), or as the Amplified Bible expands it, "to those consecrated and purified and made holy." All members of the Church of God are called to be "saints," or God's "own holy people" (New Living Translation). The many problems Paul describes in the Church of God in Corinth show that the brethren were far from achieving the goal of holiness, but that is what they were called and aiming for.

If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit, then by biblical definition you are a saint.

So how did its meaning change? According to the New Bible Dictionary, the apostles called all Christians saints, and "it continued to be used as a general designation at least up to the days of Irenaeus and Tertullian, though after that it degenerated in ecclesiastical usage into an honorific title" (second edition, pp. 487-488).

For more understanding, please read our booklet The Church Jesus Built .


rwp_47's picture

Acts:11:26 ... And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

As can be ascertained from Acts:11:26 - evidently the general public concocted the term "Christian" presumably to easily identify the disciples of the Jesus sect and to distinguish them from the disciples of other religions and disciplines. So the words "disciple" and "Christian" as pertains to the Jesus sect have the exact same meaning.

Now notice something interesting in Acts 19. Paul comes to Ephesus - and there, it says, there he finds disciples (and therefore Christians).

Now notice - the first thing recorded that Paul did was to ask these Christians a question. Now consider the question he asks them - he asks:

Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?

Why in the world would Paul ask Christians that question? Obviously that question makes no sense if a Christian and a saint are identically the same thing. But its a good thing he asked them though. Because these Christians tell him that not only have they not yet received the Holy Spirit - they didn't even know there was such a thing! And then he finds out that not only that - they haven't even been baptized yet! ... these Christians. The only thing they have done is they were baptized in John's baptism. So to recap ... these are people who have not been baptized (didn't even know about being baptized into Christ), haven't received God's Holy Spirit (and didn't even know there was such a thing) - clearly these "Christians" are not "saints". But Paul calls them Christians in spite of all this. Now afterwards Paul did baptize them and they did receive God's Holy Spirit (and so these Christians became saints). But before any of that - Paul called them "Christians".

Interestingly, in Acts 8 we learn that even Simon the sorcerer was baptized. So clearly the general public would certainly identify him as being a Christian. But he clearly was not a saint - and considering Peter's rebuff of him - he possibly never will be.

A saint is one in whom God has placed his Holy Spirit. All saints are members of the Church of God and all members of God's church are saints.

But for clarifications sake the following is true -
All saints are Christians - but not all Christians are saints.

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