Thursday, September 08, 2016

“Called Saints” (“Mother Teresa” Part 3)


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What is a saint? In his commentary to Romans, Reformer theologian R. C. Sproul wrote,
The word for saint in the New Testament is the word that means “sanctified one,” one who has been set apart by the Holy Spirit and called inwardly by Christ to himself. If you put your trust in Christ, you are right now a saint. You are set apart. You are part of the invisible church, which is beloved of God. [1]
In fairness, Father Abraham Arganiosa (“Splendor1618” of “The Splendor of the Church” blog) clarified in his reply that
For us Catholics the term saints refers not only to the believers here in earth but also to the saved, justified and glorified spirits or souls of the believers in heaven. If they are saints here on earth then they will be saints still and much more in eternal life with God in heaven. No more, no less. (You may download his reply here.)
I believe that Father Arganiosa and me are in agreement that the term “saint” also refers to believers here on earth. However, he claimed that I denied the existence of saints in heaven. But, I already made it clear that the word “saint” in the New Testament refers to both believers who are still alive here on earth and who are already dead and spiritually alive there in heaven. 

I would encourage those who are reading this reply to look up every occurrence of “saint” in the New Testament using the Keyword Search of any computer Bible software or Bible Gateway. (You may also download the list here.) 

Screenshot of “Keyword Search” of Bible Gateway

I suggest you take note according to its context which verse with the word “saint” refers to a believer here on earth and which verse refers to a believer there in heaven. You would see that “saint” does not only refer to a departed brother or sister in Christ but actually refers mostly to believers who are still alive here on earth. 

Having established that, we now go to the issue that gave birth to this exchange. When does a person become a saint? Father Arganiosa pointed out that
Canonization is not ‘making a saint’ but official recognition of the saintly life lived by that person during his or her stay here on earth. The Church of Rome guides its believers in properly recognizing the holiness of our exemplary members.
So, according to him, when a person is canonized, he does not become a saint but is recognized as a saint. That means one can become a saint while here on earth. Now, I have no problem with that statement per se. The issue now is, how does one become a saint? He mentioned “saintly life,” implying that it’s something one achieves by living a holy life. I insist on biblical grounds that if we put our trust on our Lord Jesus as our Savior, we are already declared saints in our spiritual status before God.

Now, Father Arganiosa also wrote,
Now let me remind you again of your claim that “the term saints refers mostly to the believers on earth”. That claim is not even hinted in Rom 1:7. St. Paul didn’t say: “My dear Romans, the saints are only those who are alive on earth.” The apostle also didn’t say: “The saints are mostly those who are here on earth.” Your own quote doesn’t support your claim Pastor Ey. (Emphasis added)
Let me clarify again that when I said in my blog article on Mother Teresa that the term “saint” “actually refers mostly to believers who are still alive here on earth,” I was talking about all the verses in the New Testament that mentioned the term and not just a single verse. Also, I maintain that Romans 1:7 were not talking about those who already died but those who were still alive at the time Paul wrote the letter.

Allow me to quote Romans 1:7 again: To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints.(Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition, emphasis added) It’s not even a hint but it’s clearly pointed out that Paul was talking to the original recipients of his epistle to the believers in Rome who were all still alive at that time. It does not refer to departed brothers and sisters in heaven. That’s the plain sense reading of the text.

However, though he said that canonization is an official recognition or proclamation of sainthood, Father Arganiosa also wrote in his comments on Romans 1:7,
It means they can become saints later on as planned or willed by God. The fullness of the sainthood or state of sanctity of the Church of Rome will be realized later on by the grace of God. (Emphasis added)
So were the Christians at Rome at that time already saints or were they still on their way to sainthood? 

I also noticed that Father Aganiosa apparently made a distinction between the spiritual status of the saints here on earth and the saints there in heaven: “For us Catholics the term saints refers not only to the believers here in earth but also to the saved, justified and glorified spirits or souls of the believers in heaven.” I understand that glorification happens when we are already resurrected. But it seems to me he is saying that we only become saved and justified at that time also. But according to 1 Corinthians 6:11, That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.(New American Bible Revised Edition) That means the moment we put our faith on our Lord Jesus as Savior, we are already justified and sanctified in our spiritual status before God. Of course, living it out in practice is another thing. But that is for another blog article. 


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Literally in Greek, “called to be saints” was actually “called saints.” [2] The verb “to be” was not there. It was added by the translators to make it sound more natural in English. 


Screenshot of a portion of Romans 1:7a in The Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament

At the risk of sounding too technical, allow me to explain the structure of “called to be saints.” In his “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics,” Greek scholar Daniel Wallace explained that the verse employed what he calls the “Dative of Recipient.”
This is a dative that would ordinarily be an indirect object, except that it appears in verbless constructions (such as titles and salutations). It is used to indicate the person(s) who receives the object stated or implied. This usage is not common. [3]
Though it’s uncommon, Paul clearly used it. Wallace wrote that, “In 1:7 he identifies them as ‘saints.’” [4] “Them” referred “to his Christian audience in Rome.” [5] There’s no denying that Paul used a “verbless construction” in this salutation. 


Screenshot of Romans 1:7a in The Interlinear Literal Translation of the Greek New Testament

He stated that the believers in Rome were “called saints” already. Evangelical Bible scholar Thomas Constable wrote, “ God had not ‘called’ them to apostleship as God had called him (v. 1), but to sainthood, ‘saints’ being a common term for believers in the New Testament. [6] (By the way, the church at Rome was not the only ones “called saints” by Paul but also the churches in Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colossae.) [7]

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In fact, the explanatory note provided by New American Bible Revised Edition (a Catholic version of the Bible) apparently agrees with it.
Paul often refers to Christians as “the holy ones” or “the saints.” The Israelite community was called a “holy assembly” because they had been separated for the worship and service of the Lord (see Lv 11:44; 23:1–44). The Christian community regarded its members as sanctified by baptism (Rom 6:22; 15:16; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 5:26–27). Christians are called to holiness (1 Cor 1:2; 1 Thes 4:7), that is, they are called to make their lives conform to the gift they have already received.
So, to be “called to holiness” is to be “called to make their lives conform to the gift they have already received.”

Simply put, they have “already received” sainthood or “holiness” while here on earth.

The issue that needs to be discussed now is whether we can pray to the saints in heaven or not.

(To be continued…)

[1] R. C. Sproul, Romans (Wheaton, IL, 2009). iBook edition. Emphasis added.

[2] John A. Witmer, “Romans” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NewTestament, Eds. John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983, 1985), 440. 

[3] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 148-149. Italics his.

[4] Ibid, 393.

[5] Ibid, italics his.

[6] Thomas L. Constable, “Dr. Constable’s Notes on Romans 2016 Edition,” Sonic Light, http://soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/romans.pdf (accessed September 6, 2016). Emphasis added.

[7] 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1 and Colossians 1:2.