Yesterday, millions of people gathered together to hear Pope Francis declare former Popes John Paul II and John XXIII as new saints. As these two popes are enrolled among the list of Catholic saints, we wish to explain the Biblical concept of sainthood.
Seeing that the Bible was not originally written in English, it is useful to look into the definition of the original word. According to Strong’s Concordance, the word “saint” means “sacred” or “holy.” This may not come as any great surprise, but it can give us a basis for our research.
In Lev 11:44 of the Bible we read of this concept of people who are sanctified and holy: “I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy.” If you take a quick look at verse 1 and 2 of this same chapter you will realize that this passage is talking about the entire nation of Israel in the Bible. Based on our definition of a saint as a holy one, it would indicate that the whole nation were to be saints. This concept is also brought forward to be applied to the early Christian believers in 1Pet 1:15-16 where we read: “As he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”
Based on these Bible verses, it would seem that this concept of holiness is being applied generally to the entire congregation of believers, and not to a separate class of believers. This is a key point, because, for the majority of the occurrences of the word “saint” in the Bible, it can be argued that it refers to the common believer who lives in accordance with God’s ways. If you are interested in pursuing this further, Vine’s Expository Dictionary and Unger’s Bible Dictionary argue similar points.
So what should we make of the veneration of these new saints by the Vatican? If Popes John II and John XXIII lived a holy life sanctified to God, then they were already saints in equal standing with the common believer alive today regardless of official statements from the Vatican.