What does the word ‘saint’ mean in the Bible?

Do the Scriptures define or clarify who is a saint, and what sainthood consists of? And, are there saints here on Earth, in our day?

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In the religious world, there is much talk about “saints” and “sainthood”. In some churches, the members of the church are customarily called “saints”. In contrast to that, in the Catholic Church only a few people are considered to be “saints”, and only a long time after their death, following a process of “beatification” and “canonisation”. The Catholics pray to their “saints” and venerate (worship) them.

Dictionaries define “saint” as “a person of exceptional holiness”, “a person sanctified”, “one of the blessed in heaven”, “one of God’s chosen people”, or similar.

But, what does the word “saint” mean, in the Bible? Again, churches and religions have many different teachings on that matter, but the important question is, do the Scriptures define or clarify who is a saint, and what sainthood consists of? How does one become a saint, and what does it mean to be one? What are the attributes of a saint? Further: What is the root and origin of the word “saint”, and what does it really mean and refer to? And, what is the corresponding word in the Greek text of the New Testament? And also, are there saints here on Earth, in our day?

The origin of the English word ‘saint’.

The etymology of the word “saint” – its origin and meaning: It came into use in the English language around the 1100s, as an adjective used of those whom the Catholic Church had “beatified” and “canonised”. At that time, the meaning of the word “saint” was “holy”, corresponding to the Latin adjective sanctus which meant “holy”, “sacred” (related to the verb sancio, “to consecrate”). So, in the 1100s, “saint Eligius” simply meant “holy Eligius”. Later, in the 1300s or so, the word “saint” began to be used even as a noun, “a saint”, but it still referred to the Catholic “saints”, and was not used of living persons.

It was only in Protestant times, from the 1500s and onward, that the English word “saint” began to be used of (living) persons of “extraordinary holiness”, and then even of church members and so on.

Even the words “saintdom” and “sainthood” were originally Catholic concepts, referring to those whom the Catholic Church had “beatified” and “canonised”. A note: The words “sainthood” and “saintdom” do not appear in bible-translations, at least not in any of the most common ones.

This is how the English word “saint” came into being:

‘Saint’-related words in the Bible.

Here, the 1769 edition of king James’ bible is used as an example. This is how the word “saint” is used in that translation:

The adjective hagios (“holy”) is found in some 229 passages of the Greek text of the NT, but for instance KJV-1769 translates it only around 60 times as “saint”. Clarification:

Again, the “translation” saint is copied from the Latin text of the Catholic Vulgate version, where the Greek adjective hagios is nearly always rendered as sanctus. In the Vulgate’s Latin text, the Holy Spirit is called Spiritus Sanctus; a “saint” is simply sanctus. (The Latin adjective sanctus meant “holy”, “sacred”, and was related to the verb sancio which meant something like “to consecrate”.)

More on the concept ‘saint’ in the New Testament.

First, a note: In the normal Greek of the first century, the word hagios was used in the meaning “devoted to the gods” (the Greek idols), but in the New Testament, hagios mostly refers to persons and things that were connected to the true God who is in Heaven.

The adjective hagios (“holy”) was related to the verb hagiazô (hagizô), “to sanctify”, and the noun hagiasmos (“holiness”). There were also the nouns hagiôsunê and hagiotês which likewise can be translated as “holiness”. – When those words were used in this kind of context, they referred to persons or things that were “set apart” (for God); that is what “holiness” refers to.

The saints, or “holy ones” (Greek tous hagious), were set apart for God. Indeed, the meaning is that God had separated a number of people from this world, for himself and for his son Jesus.

So, the New Testament talks about ‘saints’. Does any of that refer to people of our day?

The short answer to that question is that people of our day are not mentioned in the New Testament or in the Bible in general, other than indirectly, in regard to still future things. There is also a longer answer, but please read the following note first.

There is a strange custom to read the Bible in such a manner that the reader thinks that all the “nice” things in that Book apply and refer to the reader. But, that is not so, of course. One does not become a saint, by reading about saints. – When one reads the New Testament, one must keep in mind that when one sees such words as “saint”, “elect”, “you”, “we” and so on, those words refer to people of New Testament times, in the first century.

A longer answer to the question regarding what the word “saints” means and refers to in the New Testament, can be found by checking some example passages in that book. Here we go:

In short: There are no scriptures where the word “saint” would refer to people of our day.

What conclusions should one draw from the fact that in the Bible, the word ‘saint’ never refers to people of our day?

Again, when the New Testament talks about “saints”, that refers to people who lived here on Earth in the first century. (There are some few exceptions to this, but those exceptions do not refer to people of our day, either.)

It was when those people received the Holy Spirit, that they became separated for God, and thus “sanctified”, “holy ones”, “saints”.

This leads to the question, why is it that people of our day are not mentioned in the Bible? (Except indirectly, in regard to still future things.)

We know that the saints – the first-fruits group of 144000 who lived here on Earth in the first century – received the Holy Spirit. And, we know that in what we view as “end time”, the great multitude will be sealed with Holy Spirit, in the still future days when the two witnesses are active. But, what about all people during the time between those two events?

Is it only that the Scriptures for some reason “jump over” a period of 2000 years, so that they only mention the saints (people of the first century), and then the great multitude (a group which is going to be sealed with the Holy Spirit in what we view as “end time”)? – Or, could this have to do with how and when the Holy Spirit is distributed here on Earth?

Churches and preachers baptise people, but they are not notably changed and no obvious signs or fruit of the Spirit are seen in their daily lives. – Why is this? Is the Spirit of God at all given to humans, at this present time? – In other words: We know that there were saints here on Earth in the first century, but what about our day? Is there some kind of a “continuity”, from those saints, all the way to people of our day? Such as, through some church, or in some other way? Many churches claim that their members are “saints”. Often, churches even claim “originality” and “apostolicity”. Here, it is important to stop and think, and carefully consider and check how things really are. This includes the question, what happened to the saints? Have you ever considered, why the record of them and their doings abruptly ends, some time after the middle of the first century, just as if they had vanished from the scene? (The article gg04.htm has some notes on that matter.) And again: What about us who live here on Earth today – what is our status and fate?

Those are very important questions. For more on those things, see the “recommended reading” section, below.

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Recommended reading at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters:

What happened to the saints, in the first century? Also, some notes on the “early church”. → gg04.htm

Who are the 144000 and the great multitude of Revelation 7? And, who are the first-fruits or virgins of Revelation 14:1-4? → fr03.htm

What does the Bible say about calling, election, sanctification and justification? → gh02.htm

Are parousia and rapture biblical concepts? → gg05.htm

What does the Bible say about resurrection? How many resurrections do the Scriptures talk about? → gh08.htm

What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → gg08.htm

Matthew 16:18, the translation “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. What was Jesus talking about? What is the immortal ekklêsia or assembly which he said he would form? Is it an earthly religious organisation – a church – or, is it an assembly which has as its members the saints who have become immortals? → ha01.htm

The origin and meaning of the word “church”. → gg06.htm

“Church eras” – do they exist? Are there seven “eras of the Church”, as some say – “Sardis era”, “Philadelphian era”, “Laodicean era” and so on? → ga03.htm

Gentiles, pagans and heathen – what do those words really mean? → gg01.htm

The meaning of the words Christ, Christian, Messiah and Messias. Also: Did the saints call themselves “Christians” – christianos or christianoi?gg07.htm

What does the Bible say about predestination? Is the destiny of humans fixed and decided already on beforehand? Are all people, or some individuals, “predestined”? → gh03.htm

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → gs09.htm

On the King James translation, the “authorised version”. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → hs03.htm

The two witnesses of the book of Revelation. Also: Similarities between their work and that of Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist. → gr01.htm

Covenant signs, including the sign of the New Covenant which shows who really are God’s people. The Old Covenant’s sign was the circumcision of males. What is the New Covenant’s sign, seal or token? → fn07.htm

A study on the new creation of 2 Corinthians 5:17. What did the apostle Paul really mean? → fh05.htm

Matthew 25, the parable of the ten virgins. The five wise virgins, the five foolish ones, and the lamps and the oil. → gh06.htm

The Holy Spirit. On the distribution of God’s Spirit. → gh01.htm


Table of contents – a list of the articles at this site, with short subject descriptions. → flist.htm
An alphabetical keyword index of the contents of this site. → kind.htm
Search for specific things at this site. → fp04.htm


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