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What Is Veneration in the Bible?

 

 

Britt Mooney

 

We’ve all participated in honoring others. Perhaps we have cheered when a star athlete leaves the field, or we threw a retirement party to praise the years someone gave to a noble profession, or we shared a loving memory at a funeral about a person who had a great impact.

 

We honor leaders, first responders, and people in the military. We reserve honor for those we believe have acted or lived in ways we should emulate.

 

Christianity has a long history with the term veneration. But what does the Bible teach on the issue of veneration?

 

What Is Veneration?

Veneration includes the idea of honor but goes further to include great respect, reverence, and awe for those that inspire us. Veneration is a devotion closely related to worship. Here veneration takes on religious connotations, leading to serious discussion among Christians.

 

As we do with all important topics, we must investigate what the Scripture says.

 

Where Does the Bible Talk About Veneration for God?

Moses descended from Mt. Sinai with tablets in his hands, laws written upon stone by the very finger of God. Primary among the laws of God were the Ten Commandments. The first law, number one, is that we have no other gods above the Lord (Exodus 20:3). There is no god above or other than Yahweh.

 

In an age of polytheists, this truth was important, and the Scripture continues to reiterate this message, whether in history, prophecy, or poetry. Moses concludes his life with a sermon containing we should love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and strength, everything we have (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), and Jesus repeats this passage in response to a question about the greatest law (Mark 12:29-31).

 

Proverbs collects wisdom from Solomon and others and tells us to honor God with our wealth, giving him our “first fruits,” a tithe, and God will give to us abundantly (Proverbs 3:9-10). Wisdom also instructs us to trust in God and acknowledge him in all that we do, and God will keep us on straight paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

 

The New Testament continues to express the same truth in places like Colossians chapter 3—we are to live our whole lives in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through the Son in all that we say or do (v.17). Paul reminds the church we were bought with a price, the life of Jesus, and we should therefore glorify God through our choices regarding the body (1 Corinthians 6:20).

 

 

Our actions and words emanate from within, so Peter writes to honor Christ as Lord in our hearts, expressed as always being prepared to give a reason for the eternal hope we have inside. Peter reminds us that we should give those reasons with gentleness and respect to others (1 Peter 3:15).

 

Does the Bible Talk about Veneration for Saints?

Clearly, God alone is worthy of worship and honor, yet as Peter writes in his first letter to the church, we simultaneously honor Christ in our hearts and treat others with respect. Therefore, it is biblical to show people some respect and honor. How does this relate to the tradition of the veneration of saints?

 

Before we continue, we must distinguish between two different meanings of the word “saint.” The popular Roman Catholic tradition identifies saints as men and women of history given a special and holy designation of a “saint.”

 

Biblically, saint means “holy one,” a term almost exclusively used for angels in the Old Testament. Daniel begins the shift from “saints” as angelic beings to humans, the people of God. The New Testament continues to use “saints” to refer to Christians, not individuals special or separate from the rest of the church.

 

With this in mind, we can investigate what the Bible says about honoring other people. First, we are to honor all people. We also honor leaders of worldly governments, even the Roman Emperor, who wasn’t always a nice guy (1 Peter 2:17).

 

It isn’t only leaders. Those that oppress the poor insult the One who Created us all, but giving generously to the poor brings honor to God (Proverbs 14:31). This idea is like Jesus’ teaching on the eternal separation of sheep and goats, the criteria being who was kind to the prisoner, the hungry, the naked (Matthew 25:31-46).

 

The Law said to honor the aged because God is the Lord (Leviticus 19:32). Husbands are to honor wives as co-heirs in the Kingdom of God, or else the man’s prayers will be hindered (1 Peter 3:7). Children are promised long life if they honor their parents (Exodus 20:12).

 

For relationships within the Church, Paul tells us to outdo one another in showing honor to each other (Romans 12:10). That’s the only way we get to compete.

 

Church leaders are also worthy. For example, elders who lead well should receive a double honor, implying some material support, especially those who teach and preach (1 Timothy 5:17).

 

 

Individuals were also praised in the Scripture. There are several instances in Romans 16: Paul points out that Phoebe, a deaconess, was worthy of honor among God’s people (v.1-2). He calls Priscilla and Aquilla apostolic co-workers (v.3). Mary is praised for how hard she worked for the church (v.6), and Andronicus and Junius, once fellow prisoners with Paul, were highly respected among the apostles (v.7).

 

How Can We Practice Veneration for God Today?

Veneration for God begins within our hearts and minds, devoting ourselves singularly to him. This is intentional and willing submission of our whole being and identity to him as Lord, Father, God, and Savior. This isn’t an intellectual or emotional exercise alone. God cares about what we think or feel, but we must submit our intellect and emotion to the person of God, thereby honoring him with redeemed thoughts and feelings rooted in truth, peace, and hope.

 

Once we worship and honor him within, this flows into our words and actions. From our inner devotion, we honor God in every aspect of our lives, every moment. Nothing is excluded from this. Every choice and situation is an opportunity to honor God.

 

Among the totality of our lives, we honor God through relationships with others and how we treat them. God has placed people and authorities in our lives (whether parents, family, friends, or authorities), so we treat them with respect. We honor all because God loves all people. Everyone is made in the image of God.

 

It is all God’s work, and God often does that work through others.

 

 

In the church, we recognize the work of God through people, their gifts and love, “holy ones” born of God and filled with the Spirit. God raises up elders and workers in his mission, and we honor those who rest and trust in God on such paths.

 

Part of veneration is praising what is worthy of being emulated. God is the ultimate object of that. At the same time, others exhibit godly qualities in their choices and the sacrifices they make. If God’s goodness is worthy of veneration, then people who act accordingly should also receive honor.

 

In general, we honor God by honoring others. We are honoring his authority as our Maker, his image in his creation. We are honoring the people he’s chosen to place in our lives in various roles, his Spirit, and the gifts he’s placed within the church.

 

Encouraging others with this motivation and mindset simultaneously builds people up and points us all to God.

 

How Do Different Christian Traditions View Veneration for Saints Today?

Regarding the liturgical and high church traditions of venerating “saints,” most are familiar with the Catholic model. Catholic saints are appointed through a religious process. Saints are associated with certain issues or topics; Saint Homobonus is the patron saint of business, for example. Catholics will pray to saints if they ask for something related to that saint’s specialty.

 

Catholics will take pilgrimages to the graves of saints or other places associated with them. Certain images or objects of saints are supposed to be imbued with supernatural or holy power, residual from the holy person.

 

 

The most famous and controversial veneration within Catholicism involves Mary, the mother of Jesus. The doctrine around Mary has evolved to give her a more divine identity. They claim she was also divinely conceived, had no original sin, was a perpetual virgin, and ascended to heaven (body and soul) as Jesus did. Therefore, she’s given an intercessory role with Jesus in that tradition.

 

There are similarities in the Orthodox traditions where relics and icons are important parts of worship, justified primarily through the story of how Paul healed people through handkerchiefs he sent (Acts 19:11-12). At the end of services, Orthodox priests will pray to God and the saint of the day. Orthodox saints aren’t appointed by any official process. Most were martyrs.

 

Of course, Catholic and Orthodox Christians don’t see praying to saints, or Mary for that matter, as heresy. To those traditions, God and saints are different levels of worship. God being higher.

 

The high veneration of saints, especially praying to them, and the near-divine ideas associated with Mary, was part of the break with the Catholic church during the Reformation, resulting in what we call Protestantism today. Evangelicalism is a further move from the liturgical high church traditions.

 

Protestants and Evangelicals see the Catholic and Orthodox veneration of saints as heretical, especially related to prayer. The Bible definitively states the Lord Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5-7). Also, just because a biblical narrative explains how God used handkerchiefs once with Paul, it’s a stretch to use a unique narrative to support a universal tradition. Should we spit on the ground, make mud, and place the mud on the eyes of every blind person (John 9:6)? Not that God can’t do it again, but perhaps we should be careful making it a rule.

 

 

Of course, modern evangelicals can still be guilty of creating a celebrity culture around men and women who gather large crowds, sell lots of books, or have massive social media followings. We may not call them saints in the liturgical sense, but celebrity worship of certain people can be just as dangerous. God uses people to do great things, but it is the work of God, not humanity.

 

Can Protestants Learn Something from Veneration of the Saints?

However, we should also be careful in rejecting everything associated with those traditions. It is good and right to stay true to biblical revelation. Still, the evangelical rejection of those traditions has also resulted in a certain level of ignorance of church history.

 

It is safe to assume that most of the men and women who were made saints, such as St. Patrick, didn’t feed the poor and perform miracles because they wanted people to pray to them. Many lived godly lives in ways that can teach and inspire us. They were also human beings who weren’t perfect in all they did or believed.

 

This is a complex way of thinking. It can be especially difficult to think this way in an era of clickbait social media and cancel culture, where one perceived slip-up relegates an individual to exile. But as Christians, we are meant to be better than the culture around us.

 

People like St. Patrick and others from Christian history have rich and amazing stories. To dismiss them all robs us of the treasure of their gifts and other examples of people who overcame great odds through their faith in Jesus in their time and context, as we must do the same in ours. It is important to include those who have gone before if we are to honor the people of God.

Matthias David
Matthias David
Working in His vine, as He does even more at mine.
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