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PRIEST, PRIESTHOOD. The English word priest is derived from the Greek presbyteros, which means “elder” and suggests the priestly function of counsel. The NT word for “priest,” hiereus, related to hieros, “holy,” indicates one who is consecrated to and engaged in holy matters.
The Hebrew kōhēn, “priest,” is of uncertain origin. For practical Bible study we may say simply that a priest is a minister of any religion, whether pagan (
I. The History of the Formal Priesthood. The formal priesthood in Israel began with the time of the Exodus. In the patriarchal times the heads of families offered sacrifices and intercessory prayers and performed general religious functions, but there seems to have been no specialization and no separate priestly office, as there was among the Egyptians (
It is not possible in this article to go into technical historical and critical questions related to the OT priesthood. The reader who is interested in those matters will find extended discussions from a relatively conservative point of view in ZPEB, ISBE, HBD, and in Ochler’sTheology (see his index). The common critical view is given in R. H. Pfeiffer’s Introduction to the Old Testament, 1941 (see “Priesthood,” “Priestly Cities,” and “Priestly Code” in the index, p. 913). Current critical opinion on the historical priesthood is reflected in the Journal of Biblical Literature for March 1961 in an article by Professor R. B. Y. Scott of Princeton University discussing the relationships between the priests, the prophets, and the wise men; and in the first article of a series by Professor Menahem Horan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the ancient .
Major attention must here be confined to the theological, devotional, and ethical implications of the biblical idea of the priest and the priesthood.
II. Christ’s Priesthood. The priesthood of Christ is the principal theme of the. “Christ as our redeemer executeth the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, p. 23). The three offices of Christ are the subject of chapter 15 of Book II of Calvin’s Institutes. The distinction of the offices, particularly that of priest, is not to be made rigidly, as though there were no overlapping; nevertheless the distinction has been found illuminating and profitable for an understanding of the Bible.
That Christ combines in himself the three offices is a matter of special significance. After the establishment of the Aaronic priesthood, it was considered an offense in Israel for anyone not officially consecrated as a priest to offer formal ritual sacrifices. The rebellion of Korah (
The offices of prophet and priest might be combined in one person (
The NT writers made much of the fact that Jesus belonged to the house and line of David (
A. The atonement of Christ was just as effective before the event as afterward. The high priestly office of Christ did not begin at his incarnation; it was a fact known to David (
B. The priestly ministry of Christ is introduced in
Christ’s priesthood was in no sense contrary to the Aaronic order. It fulfilled all the soteriological significance of it. But the priesthood of Christ furnished the substance of which the Aaronic priesthood was only the shadow (
Examination of the wealth of detail in which the priesthood of Christ is said to complete and supersede the Aaronic priesthood, especially in
C. The tabernacle of which Christ is the
The notion that the atonement was not finished until Jesus presented his blood in some far-distant sanctuary is entirely unscriptural. The atonement was finished on the cross in the immediate presence of. The “way of the sanctuaries” is now fully revealed. The curtain has been torn from top to bottom and no longer hides the “place of mercy.”
True, the curtain is once spoken of as though it still cuts off our view (
D. The present intercession of Christ is taught in
The comparisons of different priesthoods in the Letter to the Hebrews are not between the religion of the OT and the “Churchianity” of this age. The comparisons are between the outward form of Judaism and the reality in Christ. Every argument against Judaism could be turned with equal logic against the outward forms of the church, if Christ is not the center of it all.
III. The Priesthood of Believers. This can be but briefly mentioned. Our church sacraments conducted by ordained ministers are analogous to those of the OT. They are but shadows, as worthless as “the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean” (
Bibliography: E. O. James, The Nature and Function of Priesthood, 1955; T. W. Manson, Ministry and Priesthood, 1959; T. J. Meek, Hebrews Origins, 1960; C. C. Eastwood, The Royal Priesthood of the Faithful, 1963; J. H. Elliott, The Elect and the Holy, 1966; H.-J. Kraus, Worship in Israel, 1966; J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, 1969; NIDNTT, 3:32-44.——JOB
The institution of priesthood is found in virtually all the great religions, usually in connection with some kind of sacrifice. The term “priest” either alone or in combination with “high” or “chief” occurs over 700 times in the OT and over 80 times in the New. Etymologically the English term “priest” is a contraction of presbuteros, which itself is rendered regularly in English as “elder.” “Priest” renders hiereus, which never refers to a Christian minister in the entire NT, though in the gospels and Acts it usually refers to Jewish priests. In the OT, the pre-Mosaic order of the priesthood was patriarchal. Later a more formal priesthood appears to have emerged. Moses consecrated Aaron and his three sons (Exod. 28:1). Next, the tribe of Levi was set aside and consecrated to the Lord (Exod. 32:26-29) and given charge of the services in the tent of meeting while only the sons of Aaron exercised the function of the priesthood. Thus the Book of Deuteronomy, which reflects the period of the monarch, refers to the levitical priests (Deut. 18:1).
In postexilic times the priesthood was divided into three orders: (1) the high priest; (2) the ordinary priest; and (3) the Levites. In theory, the members of all three orders were descendants of Levi, one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Thus the priesthood proper was confined to those Levites who were descendants of Aaron, one of Levi's grandsons and sometimes known as Aaronites. Those who could not claim kinship with Aaron became a lower order whose task it was to minister to the Aaronites (Ezek. 44:14).
In the NT, the idea of Christ as the culmination of the high priesthood (a mediator between God and man) finds expression in the Book of Hebrews, the only NT book with a specifically Jewish name. Here Christ is a(Heb. 5:10) and through His sacrifice He is able to reconcile man to God, which was the purpose symbolized by the older Jewish sacrifices of sheep and goats. But He Himself became the victim (Rev. 13:8) as well as the intercessor. In the Christian Church the “priesthood” did not emerge as a function until well after the apostolic period. Apart from a questionable reference in Ignatius, the term does not appear to have been applied to Christian ministers until c.200. Perhaps by the early fifth century, the priest had accrued the authority to administer the sacraments, and thus the way opened for the doctrine of the priesthood which would reach full flower in the medieval period. The Reformers, in general, rejected the concept of the priesthood because it had come to be seen in connection with the Mass.
The present use of the term is not limited to the Roman Catholic Church. This is perhaps due to a rediscovery of the relationship of the priesthood to Christ, rather than merely to church authority.
E.R. Fairweather and R.F. Hettinger, Episcopacy and Reunion (1952); E.O. James, The Nature and Function of Priesthood (1955); C.C. Eastwood, The Royal Priesthood of the Faithful (1963); A.G. Hebert, Apostle and Bishop (1963).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(kohen, "priest," "prince," "minister"; hiereus archiereus; for hiereus megas, of
I. NATURE OF THE PRIESTLY OFFICE
1. Implies Divine Choice
2. Implies Representation
3. Implies Offering Sacrifice
4. Implies Intercession
II. THE TWO GREAT PRIESTS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, MELCHIZEDEK AND AARON
III. PRIESTLY FUNCTIONS AND CHARACTER
1. A Strictly Religious Order
2. Priestism Denied
3. The’s Qualifications
4. Symbolism of
IV. CONSECRATION OF AARON AND HIS SONS (EXODUS 29; LEVITICUS 8)
1. Symbolism of Consecration
2. Type and Archetype
A priest is one who is duly authorized to minister in sacred things, particularly to offer sacrifices at the altar, and who acts as mediator between men and God. In the
I. Nature of the Priestly Office.
1. Implies Divine Choice:
The Scriptures furnish information touching this point. To them we at once turn. Priesthood implies choice. Not only was the office of divine institution, but the priest himself was divinely-appointed thereto. "For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God. .... And no man taketh the honor unto himself, but when he is called of God, even as was Aaron" (
2. Implies Representation:
It implies the principle of representation. The institution of the office was God’s gracious provision for a people at a distance from Him, who needed one to appear in the divine presence in their behalf. The high priest was to act for men in things pertaining to God, "to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (
3. Implies Offering Sacrifice:
It implies the offering of sacrifice. Nothing is clearer in Scripture than this priestly function. It was the chief duty of a priest to reconcile men to God by making atonement for their sins; and this he effected by means of sacrifice, blood-shedding (
4. Implies Intercession:
It implies intercession. In the priestly ministry of Aaron and his sons this function is not so expressly set forth as are some of their other duties, but it is certainly included. For intercession is grounded in atonement. There can be no effective advocacy on behalf of the guilty until their guilt is righteously expiated. The sprinkling of the blood on the mercy-seat served to cover the guilt from the face of God, and at the same time it was an appeal to Him to pardon and accept His people. So we read that after Aaron had sprinkled the blood he came forth from the sanctuary and blessed Israel (
II. The Two Great Priests of the, Melchizedek and Aaron:
These were Melchizedek and Aaron. No others that ever bore the name or discharged the office rank with these, save, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom they were distinguished types. Of the two, Melchizedek was the greater. There are two reasons why they are to be considered chiefs: first, because they are first in their respective orders. Melchizedek was not only the head of his order, but he had no successor. The office began and terminated with him (
III. Priestly Functions and Character.
1. A Strictly Religious Order:
These are minutely prescribed in the Law. #In the institution of the office the Lord’s words to Moses were, "Take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office" (
2. Priestism Denied:
The Hebrew priests in no wise interfered with the conscience of men. The Hebrew worshipper of his own free will laid his hand on the head of his sacrifice, and confessed his sins to God alone. His conscience was quite free and untrammeled.
3. The High Priest’s Qualifications:
There were certain duties which were peculiar to the high priest. He alone could wear the "garments for glory and for beauty." To him alone it pertained to enter the Most
4. Symbolism of Aaron’s Rod:
believes there is deep significance in the miracle of Aaron’s rod that budded and bare almonds (
IV. Consecration of Aaron and His Sons (Exodus 29; Leviticus 8).
The process of the consecration is minutely described and is worthy of a more detailed and careful study than can here be given it. Only the more prominent features are noticed.
(1) Both the high priest and his sons were together washed with water (
(2) Next, Aaron was arrayed in the holy and beautiful garments, with the breastplate over his heart, and the holy crown on his head, the mitre, or turban, with its golden plate bearing the significant inscription, "Holy to Yahweh." This was Aaron’s investiture of the high office.
(3) He was then anointed with the precious oil. It is noteworthy that Moses poured the oil on his head. When he anointed the tabernacle and its furniture he sprinkled the oil, but in Aaron’s case there was a profusion, an abundance in the anointing (
(4) After the anointing of the high priest the appointed sacrifices were offered (
(5) The blood of the offering was applied to the person of father and sons alike (
1. Symbolism of Consecration:
The significance of this action should not escape the reader. The whole person and career of the priest were thus brought under power of the blood. He had a blood-stained ear that he might hear and obey the divine injunctions, that he might understand the word of Yahweh and interpret it to the people. His will was brought into subjection to the will of His Lord that he might be a faithful minister in things pertaining to God. He had a blood-stained hand that he might execute, rightly and efficiently, the services of the sanctuary and the duties of his great office. He had likewise a blood-stained foot that he might walk in the statutes and commandments of the Lord blameless, and tread the courts of the Lord’s house as the obedient servant of the Most High. Sacrificial blood, the blood of atonement, is here, as everywhere else, the foundation for saints and sinners, for priests and ministers alike, in all their relations with God.
2. Type and Archetype:
The priests of Israel were but dim shadows, obscure sketches and drafts of the one Great Priest of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Without drawing out at length the parallelism between the type and the archetype, we may sum up in a few brief sentences the perfection found in the priestly character of Christ:
(1) Christ as Priest is appointed of God (
(3) He is sinless (
(4) His priesthood is unchangeable (
(5) His offering is perfect and final (
(6) His intercession is all-prevailing (
(7) As God and man in one Person He is a perfect Mediator (
See Offices of Christ, sec. V.
Smith, DB; HDB; P. Fairbairn, Typology of Scripture, II; Soltau, Exposition of the Tabernacle; the Priestly Garments and the Priesthood; Martin, Atonement; A.B. Davidson, Hebrews; Moorehead, Mosaic Institutions.
William G. Moorehead