Paul along with Sosthenes has something to say to the saints living in Corinth. The message is going to contain some harsh charges, but that’s not the way it begins. He begins his letter to them by saying that they are “sanctified” and they are saints like all the rest of the believers in Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, the letter is addressed, “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” The first question I have from this verse is “what does Paul mean when he calls the believers at Corinth ‘sanctified?’” Literally, the word means “set apart.” The way things were “sanctified” in the Old Testament was with blood. The Israelites in Egypt were set apart from the Egyptians by the blood of the Passover lamb applied to the lintels of their doors. Hebrews 9:22 tells us that almost everything is “set apart” (purified) with blood. It goes on to say, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” They would sprinkle blood on the tabernacle furniture, on the priestly garments, and even on people. One web blog says, “Nothing was considered sanctified until it had come in contact with the blood. This was a picture of the spiritual application of Christ’s blood for our salvation—we are ‘sprinkled with his blood’ (1 Peter 1:2).”[1]

The second issue is that Paul calls the Corinthians “Saints.” This is not quite the same thing as some people understand the title “saint.” I toured Father Flanagan’s house on the famous Boy’s Town Campus in Omaha and the tour guide told us that Father Flanagan has been recommended to the Papacy to be named a “saint.” The only thing they are missing is a testimony of him having performed a miracle. When they get that testimony, he might become a saint. Well, the lives of the Corinthian believers, were anything but “saintly” as you see when you read the rest of the letter. As for you and me, there is little hope of ever being called a saint. Yet, Paul says you are a saint if you believe in Jesus. Like the Israelite slaves in Egypt, the blood of Jesus, God’s Passover lamb, makes us “set apart” people. My family doesn’t like it when I call myself a saint.

All believers are “set apart” and are “saints.” The two words are related. The Handbook for Bible Translators says, “So, the basic meaning of these two words is that Christians belong to God. It follows from this that Christians must live good lives, but it is the idea of belonging to God, not that of sinlessness, that is important here. There is no suggestion here or anywhere in the New Testament that special individuals may have the title ‘saint.’ ‘Saints’ in the New Testament are always a community of Christians; in translation ‘saints’ may sometimes be rendered ‘the people of God.’ There is a slight difference in meaning, though, between saints and sanctified. Called to be saints, like ‘called … to be an apostle’ (Today’s English Version) in verse 1, refers to a single past event. The tense of the word translated sanctified, on the other hand, expresses the idea of a past event whose consequences stretch into the present time.”[2] Notice that the sanctification that Paul is talking about is that which we have “in Christ Jesus.” The Handbook goes on to suggest, “Paul probably means that a Christian’s new life depends closely and entirely on Christ.”


[2] Ellingworth, Paul, Howard Hatton, and Paul Ellingworth. 1995. A Handbook on Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.