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THEOLOGY > Future > End of the Age > Rapture Question > The Word "Saints"     



The word “saints” appears throughout the New Testament. Who are the “saints?” Who is spoken of? Who is referred to? Is the word used of one group or of several different groups? Is it uniform in its meaning? Does the word always speak of the same people? Or does the word sometimes refer to one group and at other times to another group? Does the word, therefore, because of this dual reference lead to a division of Scripture? Or is the word one of those unifying words in Scripture that is intended to unite all the followers of God into one people?

“Saints” is the translation of the Greek word, hagios, which appears 238 times in the Greek New Testament and in fifteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books. It is translated “saints” 61 of the 238 times it appears and “saint” one time (Phil. 4:21). It is translated “holy” 161 times, 93 of these times with “Spirit” (pneuma), hence, “Holy Spirit.” When “saints” appears it could just as will be translated “holy ones.”

Of course, the root concept in hagios is “set apart” or “separate.” So “saints” are those who have been “set apart” to God or those who are “separate” from the world. A saint is one who is different. They are “holy ones” in the sense of being totally consecrated to God (“set apart”) or distinct from the world (“separate”) because of their being chosen by God. “Saints” is the most common term for believers in the New Testament, used by Matthew, Luke, Paul, Jude, and John.

The plural form appears sixty-one times and the singular form one time. So it is obvious that the corporate concept rather than an individual concept is central to the word. Even the sole singular use in Philippians 4:21 seems to assume or imply the corporate idea. Paul writes: “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” To greet every saint is to greet all the saints. Paul could have said: “Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus,” and the meaning would have been the same. The same concept applies to qadosh (“saints”), the Hebrew word in the Old Testament, which is translated in the LXX by hagios. Both Hebrew and Greek words are used of a group, and the group is the people of God.

It is important to identify the group implied by the word, especially in the New Testament. There is a fundamental question, and the answer has significant implications. Can “saints” be equated with the believers who comprise the Church?

Saints are those who have been called; twice Paul speaks of this fact. He speaks of those in Rome as the “beloved of God, called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7), and of the Corinthians he states that they “are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” (1 Cor. 1:2). The calling to the position of saint results in being set apart uniquely to God and separated from the world. This is what it means to be “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Having been loved by the Father, the saint is one who is called to a place of salvation and consecration in Christ. In Colossians Paul speaks of “the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colossae” (1:2). Saints stand in a unique relationship to Christ, their Savior; they are said to be “in Christ.” Because of the act of Christ for them, they have been made saints. Individuals who have been called, sanctified, and placed in Christ, collectively are referred to as “saints.”

“Saints” is part of the greeting Paul uses in six of his epistles: Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2. To the Philippians Paul refers to the three parts of the Church: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (1:1). According to Paul the Church is composed of saints, who have elders or bishops over them, and deacons to serve them. It is even more obvious that the saints and the Church are identical by Paul’s wording in his second letter to the Corinthians: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia” (1:1). He writes not only to the saints in Corinth, but also to the saints in Achaia, the larger geographical area where the town of Corinth was located. The Church at Corinth is synonymous with the saints at Corinth. This is confirmed by his wording in his first letter to them: “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” (1:2). Again, the Church at Corinth is synonymous with the saints at Corinth. Also the word “saints” is used to speak of “all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ.”

Thus, believers are called saints, believers who belong to the Church. To speak of the “saints” is to speak of the Church. The words “Church,” “elect,” “bride,” “Christian,” “believers,” and “saints” are all different words, but the group they all refer to is the same group.

It is clear that the word “saints” refers to those who stand in a saving relationship to Christ, and together these saints constitute the Church. “Saints” is synonymous with the believers who form the bride of Christ. A perusal of the remaining New Testament references to “saints” outside of the Book of Revelation substantiates this.

The most prominent use of the word “saints” is in the Revelation. Fourteen times John uses this word. Below are the references, with the word “saints” in italics for emphasis:

Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (5:8).

Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne (8:3).

And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand (8:4).

The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth (11:18).

And it was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation (13:7).

He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints (13:10).

Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus (14:12).

And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: “Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!” (15:3; majority of the MSS have ethnon, “nations”).

For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due (16:6).

And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement (17:6).

Rejoice over her, O heavens, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her” (18:20; “holy apostles” translates oi hagioi kai oi apostoloi, “the saints and the apostles”).

And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth (18:24)

And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints (19:8).

They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them (20:9).

The question is: Are the “saints” in Revelation part of the same group described in the rest of the New Testament? Are the “saints” of Paul and the “saints” of John part of the same group? Walvoord, a leading defender of Dispensationalism says no: “The church is distinguished clearly from the saints who appear on earth during the time of the Tribulation” (The Rapture Question, 28). His position teaches that there are two groups of saints in the New Testament. But he gives no Scripture references to justify his distinction among the saints in the New Testament. He admitted: “If the term church includes saints of all ages, then it is self-evident that the church will go through the Tribulation” (21). This admission reveals his understanding of the significance of this word. Thus, the identification of the saints in Revelation is crucial. This is another instance where the interpretation given to a single word (like the word “elect” in Matt. 24 or the word “first” in Rev. 20) determines the broader issue of whether the Church will experience the Tribulation.

In an initial reading of the New Testament, why would anyone think that the “saints” referred to by Matthew, Luke, Paul, and Jude are different from the “saints” John refers to? Normally, one would conclude that since all use the same word they are speaking of the same group. To differentiate the “saints” of Paul from the “saints” of John without explicit internal support is questionable exegesis. In other words, the Scriptures themselves must make a distinction if a distinction is to be made. Without Scriptural justification to distinguish the saints of Revelation from the rest of the New Testament, one should not do so. Again, Scripture should determine the interpretation, not an exterior system like Dispensationalism. This is another instance where Dispensationalism, to maintain its system, produces a forced and unnatural interpretation of a word. If this is not done, then the system collapses as Walvoord stated above that it would if the saints are identified as the Church.

In Revelation, the saints are described in concepts similar to the rest of the saints in the New Testament. “The faith of the saints” (13:10) is spoken of, and they are said to “keep the commandment of God and the faith of Jesus” (14:12). Three times the “prayers of the saints” (5:8, 8:3, 4) are mentioned. God is addressed as the “King of the saints” (15:3), and they are identified as “His servants” (11:18). Their martyrdom is described by the phrase, “the blood of the saints” (16:6, 17:6; 18:23). In 19:8 a reference is made to “her,” and to “her” it was granted that she should “be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” Who is this “her?” Verse 7 clearly establishes the identity: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” Who is the “Lamb” and who is the “bride?” Without question, the Lamb is Jesus, and the bride is the Church. It is the Church that is referred to in 19:8 by the pronoun “her.” She (“her”), the Church, is clothed by “the righteous acts of the saints.” How could anyone doubt the identity of the saints with the Church in Revelation? If the “saints” of Chapter 19 comprise the Church, then surely the word “saints” in the rest of the book refers to the Church.

It is inconceivable that one could distinguish between the “saints” in Revelation and the “saints” in the rest of the New Testament. Nothing within the Scriptures demands or even hints at such a distinction. A distinction is made because a distinction has to be made for the system of Dispensationalsim to stand. Scripture is made to support the system rather than Scripture establishing the system. In Revelation the word “saints” refers to the same group it does in the rest of the New Testament. “The early church could hardly have found a more exalted name for itself” (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, I, 434). And the word is employed in a uniform manner throughout the New Testament. In Revelation the word “saints” refers to the same group it does in the rest of the New Testament.

In the NT, however,
saint is applied to all believers.
It is a synonym for Christian brother.
Evangelical Dictionary of Theology

Christians also belong to it [the church triumphant] as the saints.

While hagioi occurs more frequently in the NT than does kadhosh in the OT,
yet both are applied with practical uniformity
to the company of God’s people
rather than to any individual.
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia

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