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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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‘Saint’ in the NT is the English equivalent of ἅγιος, ‘holy,’ as applied to the individual. It is important to recall the fundamental idea of ‘holy,’ which is primarily a religious and not an ethical idea (see article Holiness). The man, thing, or place that is holy belongs to God, and is therefore ‘separate’ from what is profane or common property. What belongs to God partakes of the Divine character; therefore the ethical content of ‘saint’ is determined by the character attributed to the Divinity to whom the ‘saint’ belongs, and by the nature of the existing bond. Everywhere in the NT God is One whose heart, purpose, and power towards men are revealed as redeeming love in Jesus Christ. The ‘saint’ is a ‘believer (πιστός) in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:2), i.e. one who has accepted the gospel of love which constitutes the essential significance of His life, death, and resurrection, along with its corresponding ethical obligations. In other words, ‘saint’ is the NT equivalent of ‘Christian.’

1. The saint is one on whose whole life God has an irresistible claim, which is humbly acknowledged by the individual concerned. This claim receives its most striking admission in such utterances as ‘the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me’ (Galatians 2:20); ‘ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:20); ‘beloved of God, called to be saints’ (Revelation 1:7). Under various metaphors, this new and compelling relationship of the ‘saint’ to God is expressed. Regarded as a criminal on trial, he is ‘justified’ or ‘acquitted’ (yet as an act of grace, and not with a verdict of ‘not guilty,’ Romans 5:8); as an enemy he is ‘reconciled’; as a debtor he is ‘forgiven’; as a slave he is either ‘redeemed’ or admitted to the status of ‘son’ in the household of God (cf. A. Deissmann, St. Paul, Eng. translation , London, 1913, p. 145). In other words, the saint is ‘called’ by God, in the sense of receiving not an invitation, but rather a royal summons, expressed in the free gift of an overwhelming love. The NT does not look on ‘sainthood’ as an adventure which may be presumption, a kind of life for which volunteers are asked, a warfare at our own charges, for which some are constitutionally or temperamentally or by virtue of circumstances unfitted. It is not what we are, or feel ourselves to be, or what we have been, that determines our right to call ourselves ‘saints.’ Our ‘calling’ rests on the truth of the character and purpose of God revealed in Jesus Christ. The ethical bearings of this claim upon men properly belong to the article Sanctification. It is sufficient to say here that the ‘saint’ is one who is immediately and obediently responsive to the Spirit of God, the spirit of sonship (Romans 8:15). He is one who is, from the ideal point of view, no longer subject to any external rule or ‘law’; from whom no tracts of the world’s life are fenced off by any arbitrary or conventional requirement; whose only ‘constraint’ is the ‘love of Christ,’ especially as revealed in His Cross (2 Corinthians 5:14); in other words, one who ‘possesses the kingdom’ (Daniel 7:22), accepts the rule of God, and suffers it to bring forth its own fruits in character and moral attitude. The Holy Spirit is the immanent principle of the new life (Romans 8:14 f.).

2. It should be noted that in the Bible the term ‘saint’ is never applied to individuals as such. The word is always ‘saints.’ Only twice is it used in the singular, as applied to persons (Philippians 4:21, Revelation 22:11), where, however, the ‘saint’ is regarded as a member of a community. Jesus alone in the NT is called ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ (e.g. Mark 1:24). This is important as establishing a link between the OT and the NT conceptions. In the OT ‘saints’ are members of the true Israel, at first of the nation, and latterly of the pious remnant. In the NT ‘church’ and ‘saints’ are used interchangeably in the greetings of letters: the former in Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians, Philemon; the latter in Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Just as in the OT the covenant is made with the nation, or with Abraham as representing the nation yet to be, so with the NT the Church or community of believers is the recipient of the ‘new covenant in my blood.’ This is not equivalent to putting the Church first, and the individual experiences of its members last. It simply means that the present experience and future realization of ‘salvation’ by the individual was to the first Christians or ‘saints’ inconceivable, except in so far as it involved a mutual relationship with others in the sight of God. Saintliness is an impossibility unless it contains as its essence an experience of God’s love common to all which finds expression in common worship, and certain corresponding mutual obligations of loving thought and ministry towards others. The members of the Church have been individually justified, reconciled, forgiven, and have entered upon a new relationship of trust and freedom with God; but the spirit that has accomplished this can have no free course in the development of individual life and character, except in so far as it expresses itself in a community where Christ is head of every man (1 Corinthians 11:3). ‘We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another’ (Romans 12:5). The saints in the NT as in the OT receive a ‘kingdom’ (Daniel 7:27), a social gift too great for one pair of hands to hold, or for one single mind to conceive. We must comprehend ‘with all saints’ (Ephesians 3:18) the dimensions of the love of God. No Christian apart from others can perfectly fulfil the moral and spiritual ideal, or attain to ‘eternal life.’ A more common description in the NT of the kingdom which is the possession of the saints is ‘inheritance’ (see article Heir). Christians are ‘heirs’ of eternal life (Titus 3:7), and also of the ‘kingdom’ (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:50). The mutual relationship that exists as binding the members of the Church together is increasingly based in the NT on the response to certain moral obligations, which are directly involved in the experience of salvation (Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 1:12).

It will thus become readily apparent that with the new conception of God revealed in the Cross of Christ these two aspects of NT sainthood issue in the result that moral obligation in the Christian life is not merely reinforced, but deepened and enriched. The enervating sense of impossibility, and the facile acceptance of a two-fold standard of living, so interwoven with the popular use of the word ‘saint,’ are really the still persistent product of the monastic ideal, and are seen to be, what they really are, a fundamental denial of the Christian faith, which is essentially the acceptance of a filial relationship to God. The moral activities of the saint are rooted in a ‘patience’ which obeys the voice of illumined conscience, and humbly believes in Jesus at all costs (Revelation 14:12; cf. Colossians 1:10).

Literature.-H. J. Holtzmann, Lehrbuch der NT Theologie2, 2 vols., Tübingen, 1911 (passim); P. Feine, Theologie des NT, Leipzig, 1910 (passim); article ‘Saint’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ; R. Law, The Tests of Life, Edinburgh, 1909, p. 90f.; J. Denney, The Way Everlasting, London, 1911, p. 113ff.; F. Paget, Studies in the Christian Character, do., 1895, p. 55 ff.; H. F. Amiel, Journal Intime5, Geneva, 1887, translation Mrs. Humphry Ward, London, 1898, p. 147; J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons (Selection), do., 1868, pp. 260ff., 277 ff.

R. H. Strachan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Saint'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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