True ‘Bible Christians’ Imitate and Venerate the Saints

The practice of honoring people on the earth ties into honoring and venerating saints as well

Marco Basaiti, “Prayer in the Garden,” 1510 or 1516
Marco Basaiti, “Prayer in the Garden,” 1510 or 1516 (photo: Public Domain)

Some Protestants object to the notion and practice of imitating exceptionally holy and righteous people. Moreover, they argue that such imitation reduces or collapses to veneration, which in turn is “indistinguishable” from worship. If that’s true (it isn’t), then according to this reasoning, the Bible teaches that human beings are to be worshiped. But of course, it doesn’t do that.

Holy Scripture teaches (just like Catholics do) that God alone is to be worshiped and adored, and that saintly human beings ought to be imitated, honored and venerated, because, after all, God shares his glory with them. Paul commands his followers to imitate him, just as he, in turn, imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). The motif of imitation is found in at least 16 passages of the New Testament:

  • Romans 4:12 (RSV) Follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.
  • 1 Corinthians 11:1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
  • Philippians 3:17 Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us.
  • Philippians 4:9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit; so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea; for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews …
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate.
  • 1 Timothy 4:12 Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.
  • Titus 2:7 Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity …
  • Hebrews 6:12 So that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (cf. Hebrews 11: “the heroes of the faith”)
  • Hebrews 13:7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.
  • James 5:10-11 As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. ... You have heard of the steadfastness of Job ... 
  • 1 Peter 5:3 Not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.
  • 3 John 1:11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. He who does good is of God; he who does evil has not seen God.

Early Protestant leader John Calvin, commenting on Hebrews 12:1, concurs:

This conclusion is, as it were, an epilogue to the former chapter, by which he shows the end for which he gave a catalog of the saints who excelled in faith under the Law, even that everyone should be prepared to imitate them; and he calls a large multitude metaphorically a cloud, for he sets what is dense in opposition to what is thinly scattered. Had they been a few in number, yet they ought to have roused us by their example; but as they were a vast throng, they ought more powerfully to stimulate us.
He says that we are so surrounded by this dense throng, that wherever we turn our eyes many examples of faith immediately meet us. The word witnesses I do not take in a general sense, as though he called them the martyrs of God, and I apply it to the case before us, as though he had said that faith is sufficiently proved by their testimony, so that no doubt ought to be entertained; for the virtues of the saints are so many testimonies to confirm us, that we, relying on them as our guides and associates, ought to go onward to God with more alacrity.

Protestants today usually argue that great Christian figures of the past can provide inspiration and example for us in our Christian walk today, but they will deny that we ought to venerate them. They say this because they have drawn a false dichotomy between the worship and adoration of God himself and the veneration of those children of God who show forth his glory by displaying the grace that he gave them to be what they are.

The practice of honoring people on the earth ties into honoring and venerating saints as well:

  • 1 Chronicles 29:28 Then he died in a good old age, full of days, riches, and honor; and Solomon his son reigned in his stead.
  • 2 Chronicles 18:1 Now Jehoshaphat had great riches and honor ... 
  • 2 Chronicles 32:33 And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the chiefest of the sepulchers of the sons of David: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem did him honor at his death. ... (cf. 32:27)
  • Romans 2:10 ... glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
  • 1 Peter 2:17 Honor all men …