According to the Bible, all believers are saints! Paul, for example, writing to the church of the Philippians, sent his greetings “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons“ (Philippians 1:1).
According to Paul, anyone who was “in Christ” was a saint; even the believers in Corinth who had so many problems were considered saints because they “call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:2, 2 Cor. 1:1). The closest the Bible writers came to exhorting the believers to give special honor to particular individuals is Paul’s counsel to Timothy, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).
We notice, though, that this honor is to go to living individuals, not to ones who had died. Although some of the greatest “saints” died early in the history of the church (John the Baptist, James, Stephen), there is no hint whatsoever in any of the Bible writings that were produced during the next 60 years that anyone directed prayers to them or sought the intercession of these great men of God.
In the second century Christians began to show honor to the martyrs, gathering at their tombs on the anniversary of their death. Gradually this honor was extended to great leaders of the church and tο those who led especially exemplary lives marked by miracles.
By the end of the fourth century this veneration had progressed to the point that saints were prayed to as intercessors with God, with the belief that they could protect, heal and aid those who honored them. Shrines were built to house their relics, which were attributed with miraculous powers. Special days, liturgies and worship services were devoted to them and became an important part of the church and community calendar. People were named after them, families had shrines in their homes devoted to them, and particular saints became the patrons of various trades and activities. Thus among the general public the saints came to take the place of the old pagan gods.
The theologians of the Church have always attempted to distinguish between honor and veneration that is directed to the saints, and worship that is directed to God. However, the theological distinction is blurred to the point of being meaningless in actual practice. Prayers are directed to the saints, seeking their intercession, even though there are no examples in the Old or New Testaments of believers offering prayers to anyone but God.
The Bible is clear on this point: “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). It is actually an insult to Jesus to go to his mother or his friends when He himself said “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The idea that saints are more human so they can be more understanding of our struggles and weaknesses contradicts not only the Bible but the very purpose of Jesus’ incarnation: “In all things He (Jesus) had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest… we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace…” (Hebrews 2:17, 4:15,16).
To think that Jesus is too busy to help us, doesn’t care about us, or needs to be persuaded by His mother or friends shows that we do not really know Him and the depth of His love. He is not anything like the “important” people of this world who will not help us unless we approach them through a mediator who has an inside connection. Jesus is our connection to God, and to approach Him through someone else creates an obstacle, not a connection.
The Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4,5) forbids bowing down (Greek proskiniso) to anyone or anything except God. In all of the New Testament the word proskiniso is only used for the worship of God or Jesus or for false worship (one of the most frequent uses of the word is in Revelation for the worship of the antichrist).
This word is never used for the honoring of the apostles, angels or anyone who has died. A soldier named Cornelius saw in a vision that he should send for the apostle Peter. “As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped (proskiniso) him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man” (Acts 10:25,26).
When the apostle John was given the vision of Revelation by an angel he was so overcome that he “fell at his feet to worship (proskiniso) him. But he (the angel) said, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren… Worship (proskiniso) God!” (Revelation 19:10). This is in stark contrast to those who honor the saints. A central part of their worship services is to bow down and kiss their icons, statues or relics; believers often travel long distances to the shrine of a particular saint so that they can light candles, give offerings, offer prayers and bow down to their images.
One of the most basic premises of the doctrine of the communion of the saints is that the Saints are still alive in heaven with Jesus, and they can hear our prayers and can communicate with us. However, this completely contradicts the testimony of the Bible, which teaches that the people who die in Christ are asleep and unconscious, and will remain that way until the resurrection (see the article What Happens When We Die?)
There is no evidence in the Bible that people who have been declared especially holy or righteous are in a special category who are taken directly to heaven when they die. This being the case, we have to wonder who it is that answers the prayers that are offered to the saints. It is possible that God, in His mercy, answers prayers that are offered in ignorance, but it is also possible that evil spirits take advantage of the ignorance of the worshipers of the saints to deceive them or to lead them farther away from God.
God Himself became a man and came to this earth so that He could be our mediator. As a man He is like us, so we do not have to be afraid to approach Him. As God He can hear all of the millions of prayers that are ascending to Him every moment, and answer each one as if it was from the only person on earth. We don’t need someone else to talk to Him for us, because this just puts another layer between us and God, keeping us from the close personal relationship that He wants to have with us. “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near. For He Himself is our peace and has broken down the middle wall of separation. For through Him we have access by one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:13-18).
For more information see section 22: Final Warnings in The Book.