Are there no more saints?

One of the notable changes in NIV 2011 is to no longer use “saints” as the English translation of αγιοι. The most often used translation is “holy people.” But not always. Consider two verses: Acts 9:13 and 9:32

NIV 2011

9:13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem.”

9:32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda.


9:13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem.”

9:32 Now has Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda.


9:13  “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to Your •saints in Jerusalem.”

9:32 As Peter was traveling from place to place, he also came down to the saints who lived in Lydda.

•saints is explained in the appendix


9:13 Ananias replied, “Lord, I’ve heard a lot of people tell about the many evil things this man has done to your people in Jerusalem.”

9:32 When Peter was going around to all of God’s people, he came to those who lived in the city of Lydda.

Both NIV 2011 and GW offer alternatives to “saints.” But within the same chapter, each renders it differently. At least in GW, the change is from second person reference addressing God (“your people”) to third person narrative about God (“God’s people”) so they can be connected.

With the change in NIV 2011, though, does this affect what Luke is attempting to do with his account in Acts, namely, that there is no distinction between believers in Jesus Christ, so that the people in Jerusalem (9:13) and the people in Lydda (9:32)? For a lay person studying this chapter, how would someone connect the two referents using only NIV 2011? If “saint” is misunderstood in today’s culture and English use, then the logical step would be to translate both cases as “holy people.”


Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

4 thoughts on “Are there no more saints?”

  1. Rich: I find the whole re-translation of “saints” rather troubling, as I see that you do. In my way of thinking, referring to “saints” as simply “holy people” is an example of “dumbing down” a translation, rather than trying to clarify it. For example, I would find it very difficult to translate the German “Gemeinschaft der Heiligen” (Communion of Saints) as “a bunch of holy people” (eine Sammlung von heiligen Menschen). It just doesn’t work. Can you imagine saying in the creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the bunch of holy people, the forgiveness of sins….,” or singing “For the bunch of holy people, who from their labors rest?” How can people be expected to understand the creed or hymns if “saints” is being systematically eliminated from Biblical translations? The ramifications of this extend far beyond the “red flag” inconsistencies you have noted. Thanks for your observation!


  2. I’m less concerned about losing the word “saint” than the essential idea of hagios. “The Lord’s people,” “Your people,” and “God’s people” are simply not acceptable translations. “The Lord’s people” are called to be a holy people–hagioi. While it’s not theologically possible to be the latter and not the former, it is possible to be the former and not the latter.


  3. “saints” has become a religious term these days, e.g., “St. Michael”, “St. Mary”. Not using saints might be dumbing down but I think the upside of this that it returns us back to the original idea of God’s holy people.


  4. Thanks, everyone. My first inclination is to agree with Wayne, that the three alternatives, just in these two passages, just do not carry the sense of the Greek word, αγιοι. I would have no problem with “holy ones” as the consistent translation.

    Dan, you raise the liturgical confessional use of the term, and that too is a secondary consideration. The introduction of any new translation can cause problems in this arena. If you remember, when the NIV was first introduced (1978 for entire Bible), it was seen not to be a good liturgical translation. NIV 2011 does not seem to be much better, and certainly GW moves in a different direction.

    Another area of concern —for a later post— is memorization. This is where GW proses the biggest hurdle for adoption. It is so different in phrasing that it would be a challenged to those who have memorized in any other translation.


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