Friday, November 4, 2011


The First Sunday in November is often called "All Saints."

A word on the "Saints"

The word saint is a translation of the adjective holy (or hagios) in Greek. Like in English, you can make an adjective a person-noun by sticking the word “the” in front of it: the poor, the rich, the lazy. What we translate as saint simply means “the holy” or “the holy one(s).”

More importantly, the phrase “oi hagios” (the holy ones) does not refer to a specific group of people within the church, but to all of those who bear Christ’s holy name. Take for example Philippians 1:1, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” You can read the first few sentences in almost all of Paul’s letters and you discover that he is addressing the congregation as the saints. You can also see this outside of Paul. For example, in Acts Ananias complains about what Paul has done to the saints in Jerusalem (9:13); the writer of Hebrews addresses the congregation as saints (13:24). In Revelation the blood was shed for all the saints (5:9). And so forth. It was no until much later that the church began distinguishing between “real” Christians, aka, the Saints, and the rest of us. In this sense, Luther returns to the Bible and the early church by claiming that all Christians are, by virtue of Christ, holy ones.

What does it mean to be a Holy One, a Saint, then? This is where the rubber meets the road. Holy (hagios) in Greek means to be put aside for God’s use. Some Christians emphasize the moral purity associated with or even necessary for God’s use. To avoid a long debate, I will simply say that the whole Lutheran orientation of holiness is distinct. I would offer that holiness as humans consists of joyful suffering for the sake of the other. I think one can get there with the beatitudes, often a text for All Saints. We do not seek to suffer to add to our own glory, but that as we follow Christ, we will suffer and that as we suffer, the Holy Spirit will meet us to renew and resurrect us, that is, once again, make us holy.