Saint Abraham? Saint Moses? Have you ever wondered why we refer to New Testament figures such as Paul, Mary, Joseph, and Peter as saints, but we don’t refer to people like Abraham, Moses, or Elijah in the same way?
How is the term saint used? “The word saint is hagios in the Greek and it means ‘holy one.’ Now, we tend to use the word saint in a more restrictive sense, meaning those who are in heaven, the blessed in heaven with God whether canonized or not. Anyone who’s in heaven is a saint. And yet, the bible uses the term saint all over the place, all over the New Testament. The holy ones, and that applies both to those who are in heaven and also to those who are on earth,” explained Patrick Madrid.
So, if the Church doesn’t label the Old Testament leaders and prophets as saints, does that mean they’re not in heaven?
“So, from a biblical standpoint … you’re a saint in the biblical sense, meaning that you are a member of the Body of Christ through baptism and to the extent that you’re seeking God’s will in your life and in the state of grace, all the more you are a saint,” said Madrid. “But we customarily don’t refer to the Old Testament figures even though we know they’re in heaven. And they are saints; so Moses is a saint and Abraham is a saint and all of those figures who are in heaven, they are saints, for sure. But the custom is that we refer to the New Testament figures as saints. There’s no reason not to call Moses a saint, it’s just not the custom. It just never really took off that way. So we regard them as saints but the custom is we don’t often refer to them as saints in the Old Testament.”
It may boil down to semantics and tradition. “Sometimes these are just issues that require some prayer and contemplation, just to really plumb the depths. We can’t ever get all the way down there but we can get a lot deeper.”