Priest, Priesthood

Priest, Priesthood

Old Testament Priesthood. The primary word for "priest" in the Old Testament is the Hebrew masculine noun kohen [ehoK], for which we have no certain etymology. It occurs approximately 750 times and can refer to priests of the one true God or of other supposed gods that other nations and sometimes also the ancient Israelites themselves worshiped (for the latter, see, e.g., Genesis 41:45 Genesis 41:50 ; 2 Kings 10:11 2 Kings 10:19 ). Related terms are the verb kahan [;h'K], "to act as (or become) a priest" (23 occurrences), the feminine abstract noun kehunna [h"Nuh.K], "priesthood" (14 occurrences see Exod 29:9 ; 40:15 ; Num 3:10 ; Numbers 18:1 Numbers 18:7 ; 1 Sam 2:36 ; Ezra 2:62 ; Neh 7:64 ; 13:29, ; referring to the exclusivity, perpetuity, and responsibility of the Aaronic office of "priesthood" cf. Num 16:10 ; for Korah's rebellion against the Aaronic exclusivity, and Joshua 18:7 ; for the "priesthood" of the tribe of Levi as a whole), and the Aramaic masculine noun kahen [eh'K] "priest" (8 occurrences, all in Ezra 6-7). Another Hebrew word, komer [r'm'K], "(idolatrous) priest, " occurs only three times in the Old Testament ( 2 Kings 23:5 ; Hosea 10:5 ; Zeph 1:4 ) referring exclusively to priests of foreign gods.

The first occurrence of "priest" in the Old Testament is the reference to the pre-Israelite "Melchizedek king of Salem priest of God Most High" ( Gen 14:18 ). Jethro, Moses' father-in-law and the priest of Midian, was also recognized as non-Israelite priest of the true God of Sinai by Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel ( Exod 2:16 ; 3:1 ; Exodus 18:1 Exodus 18:10-12 ).

Priests of foreign gods in foreign lands referred to in the Old Testament are Potiphera, Joseph's father-in-law, who was a "priest of On" in Egypt ( Genesis 41:45 Genesis 41:50 ; 46:20 ), the whole priestly organization in Egypt ( Genesis 47:22 Genesis 47:26 ), the "priests of Dagon" in Philistia ( 1 Sam 5:5 ; 6:2 ), the "priests of Chemosh" in Moab ( Jer 48:7 ), and the "priests of Malcam" in Ammon ( Jer 49:3 ). Unfortunately, there were also priests of foreign gods who practiced their priesthood within the boundaries of Israel, sometimes even under the auspices of certain unfaithful Israelite rulers (see, e.g., 2 Kings 10:11 2 Kings 10:19 2 Kings 10:23 ; 23:5 ).

Second Kings 23:4-20 lists five categories of priests that existed in ancient Israel before Josiah's reformation, and arranges them according to their proximity to the Jerusalem temple: (1) the high priest (v. 4), (2) the second-order priests (v. 4), (3) the idolatrous priests in the cities of Judah and in the area surrounding Jerusalem (v. 5); (4) the priests of the high places in the cities of Judah from Geba to Beersheba (vv. 8-9); and (5) the priests of the high places in Samaria (i.e., the remnants of the priests of the former northern kingdom, v. 20). According to this passage, a significant feature of Josiah's religious reformation was his eradication of all priests (and their cultic accouterments) except those who functioned legitimately within Jerusalem temple. Therefore, only the first two categories of priests in 2 Kings 23 retained their office: the "high priest" (v. 4, here Hilkiah) and "the priests of the second order" (v. 4; i.e., other descendants of Aaron).

A Kingdom of Priests. One of the foundational principles of the Israelite covenant with God at Sinai was that the nation as a whole would become "a kingdom of priests" ( Exod 19:6a ). There have been many proposed interpretations of this expression. Some say that it refers to Israel as a kingdom ruled by priests or a nation whose kings are also priests. In the immediate context as well as in the theology of the Old Testament overall, however, this expression seems to support two main ideas corresponding to the surrounding statements that covenant Israel would become the Lord's "special treasure" and "holy nation" ( Exodus 19:5 Exodus 19:6 ).

First, the closest Old Testament parallel is Isaiah 61:6 (cf. 66:21 ), which designates the nation of Israel as the priestly mediators for all the nations of the world when they come to worship the Lord on Mount Zion in the eschatological future. This seems to be part of the intended meaning in Exodus 19:5b-6a as well, since Israel was to become the Lord's special treasure among all the peoples. "Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests" (in Hebrew the "you" is emphatic, contrasting Israel with the other nations).

Second, the covenant ratification ritual in Exodus 24:3-8 actually inaugurated Israel as a "kingdom of priests, " that is, a nation that had direct access to God through his presence in the tabernacle and to which they would come and worship. The ritual procedure itself involved splashing the blood of the burnt and peace offerings (v. 5) both on the altar (v. 6) and on the people (v. 8). There is a striking similarity between this ritual in Exodus 24 and the consecration of the Aaronic priests by putting some of the blood of the ordination peace offering on the right ear, thumb, and big toe of Aaron and his sons, and afterwards splashing some of it around on the altar ( Exod 29:20 ; Lev 8:23-24 ).

That differences between Exodus 24:5-8 and Exodus 29:20 are due primarily to one or both of the following factors: (1) the consecration in Exodus 24 was for the priesthood of the whole nation so that the corporate general splashing of blood was appropriate to the meaning of the ritual; and (2) in the instance of Exodus 24 specific touching of each person's body by Moses was precluded by the large number of people involved. Moreover, the connection between Exodus 24 and 29 is confirmed by the blood manipulation for the guilt offering used to cleanse the leper in Leviticus 14 (presumably the same for all lepers whether or not they were priests). The procedure there is virtually identical to that performed for the consecration of the priests.

The rationale seems to have been that since the leper had been expelled (i.e., desecrated) from the "holy"' community ( Lev 13:46 ), therefore, it was necessary to resanctify him (i.e., make him holy once again) and thereby readmit him to the national community that had originally been established as a consecrated community by the ritual in Exodus 24. The manipulation of oil in the case of the leper ( Lev 14:15-18 ) also corresponds to priestly consecration procedures (cf. Exod 29:21 ; and Lev 8:30 ) and further substantiates this suggestion that, from the start (i.e., from Exod. 24 forward), the whole nation was a "kingdom of priests" — they were "a holy people" ( Exod 19:6 , immediately following "a kingdom of priests" ).

Finally, the cult granted the entire nation the privilege of eating at the Lord's table on regular occasions in accordance with the peace offering regulations in Leviticus 3 and 7:11-34. Therefore, Israel was to be a "kingdom of priests" in terms of its corporate participation in the service of worship to the Lord in the sanctuary ( Exod 24:3-8 ) as well as in its position and ministry toward the nations roundabout them ( Isa 61:6 ).

The Aaronic Priesthood. Moses functioned as the original priest of Israel by initially consecrating (1) the whole kingdom of priests ( Exod 24:3-8 ), (2) the perpetual priesthood of Aaron and his descendants, who would in turn mediate for that kingdom of priests ( Exod 29 ; Lev 8 ), and (3) the tabernacle ( Num 7:1 ). However, there are several passages that seem to indicate that Aaron and his sons functioned as priests in Israel even before the official consecration of the Aaronic priesthood ( Exod 19:24 ; 24:1 ; 32:3-6 ). Of course, as brothers and sons of Amram and Jochebed ( Exod 6:20 ) Moses and Aaron were both from the tribe of Levi through Kohath. Therefore, it was natural that the Lord should then choose the whole tribe of Levi to assist the clan of Aaron with all their priestly duties in place of the firstborn of all Israel ( Num 8:14-19 ).

So, although the entire nation constituted "a kingdom of priests, " the Lord established Aaron's descendants as the perpetual priestly clan in Israel. Together they were responsible for maintaining the proper relationship of the people to Lord in regard to the two major foci of the Mosaic covenant: (1) the administration and ministry of the sanctuary and (2) the custody and administration of the law of Moses.

The Administration and Ministry of the Sanctuary. The ministry of priesthood focused especially on administering and ministering at the place of the Lord's "Presence" (see esp. Exod 33:14-15 ; Lev 10:2 ) according to the basic principles of holy versus profane ( Lev 10:10a ), clean versus unclean (v. 10b), and atonement (v. 17). Following these rules and procedures was a matter of survival for the nation in general ( Lev 15:31b , "so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them" cf. Exod 32:35 ; Exodus 33:2-3 Exodus 33:14-15 ) as well as for the priests in particular (see the death of Nadab and Abihu in Lev. 10).

It was not just the sons of Aaron but the whole tribe of Levi who were responsible for maintaining proper levels of sanctity and purity in regard to the sanctuary presence of the Lord as a whole ( Num 18:1a ; "You [Aaron], your sons and your father's family [i.e., the Levites] are to bear the responsibility for offenses against the sanctuary" note the clarification regarding the Levites in Num 18:2-6 ; and cf. Deut 18:5-8 ).

Initially, the duties of the Levites in assisting the priests focused on such tasks as the transportation of the tabernacle (see, e.g., Num. 3-4; 1 Chron 15:2 ) and guarding the doorway to the tabernacle (see, e.g., 1 Chronicles 9:19 1 Chronicles 9:22-27 ). David assigned them other tasks in assisting the priests within the sanctuary (e.g., purification procedures, preparing the showbread and other grain offerings, leading in the praising of the Lord through song, special responsibilities for festival burnt offerings, etc., 1 Chron 23:27-32 ; 1 Chron 25:1-8 ). The importance of the Levites in the priestly functions of the sanctuary are well illustrated by their involvement in the reforms of Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29-31) and Josiah ( 2 Chron 34:9 ; 35:10-15 ).

On the other hand, although the Levites assisted the priests, it was the priests alone, Aaron and his descendants (no other Levites), who were responsible for dealing directly with the burnt offering altar or anything inside the Holy Place or Holy of Holies ( Num 18:1b ).

First, they had the oversight of the various offerings and sacrifices in the tabernacle, certain specific responsibilities regarding the actual handling of the blood, fat, flesh, and special portions, and the benefit of certain parts of the offerings as their payment for performing the requisite rituals. The priestly responsibilities and prerogatives for each of the major ritual procedures is prescribed in detail in Leviticus 6:8-7:36.

There were also daily, weekly, monthly, and periodic festival offerings that the priests were responsible to offer as part of the regular pattern of tabernacle worship (Num. 28-29). Regular daily responsibilities included keeping the lamps burning continually in the tent of meeting by attending to them each evening and morning ( Lev 24:3-4 ; cf. Exod 27:20-21 ), and keeping the fire continually burning on the burnt offering altar as part of the regular morning and evening burnt offering rituals ( Lev 6:12-13 ; cf. Num 28:3-8 ). Weekly responsibilities included replacing the twelve cakes of the "bread of presence" on the table in the tent of meeting each sabbath ( Lev 24:5-9 ; cf. Exod 25:30 ), and the regular additional Sabbath burnt offerings ( Num 28:9-10 ).

At the special festival times the priests had specific responsibilities in handling the offerings brought by the people ( Leviticus 23:9-21 Leviticus 23:25 Leviticus 23:36-38 ). In addition to the normal regulations for offering sacrifices and offerings the priests were in charge of the valuation for the redemption of vows and things consecrated to the Lord ( Lev 27 ), the oversight of the sin offering for jealousy ( Num 5:11-31 ), and the regulations for the Nazirite vow ( Num 6:1-21 ). They also blew the trumpets in Israel for summoning and directing the congregation and its leaders in their travels ( Num 10:2-6 ), convening the congregation ( Num 10:7-8 ), blowing the alarm in battle ( 10:9 ), or on worship and festival occasions ( 10:10 ).

Second, the Aaronic priests were responsible to maintain the sanctity and purity of the sanctuary ( Lev 10:10 ). Since the Lord was physically present within the physical tabernacle structure in their midst, therefore, the physical purity of Israel was essential to the habitation of the Lord among them (note the contrast between cleansing the "flesh" by the Old Testament sacrifices as opposed to the cleansing of the "conscience" by the sacrifice of Christ in Hebrews 9:8-10 Hebrews 9:13-14 ). They were to accomplish this by teaching the people the laws of purity ( Lev 11:46 ; 12:7 ; 13:59 ; 14:57 ; 15:32 ) and by functioning as the regulators of certain aspects of the society based on those rules.

Sometimes this involved presiding over certain specified sacrificial cleansing procedures on irregular occasions: for example, the burnt and sin offering rituals for the woman after childbirth ( Lev 12:6-8 ), the combination of two bird, guilt, sin, and burnt offering rituals for the cleansing of the leper ( Lev 14:4-20 ), the sin and burnt offering rituals for the man or woman with an irregular discharge ( Leviticus 15:13-15 Leviticus 15:25-30 ), and the preparation of the ashes of the red heifer for purification for touching a dead corpse ( Num 19:1-10 ). In addition, they diagnosed and regulated the expulsion and readmission of people with infectious skin diseases ( Lev 13 ; cf. the cleansing procedures in Lev 14 referred to above), and were responsible to preside over the removal of bloodguiltiness for an unsolved homicide in the land ( Deut 21:1-9 , esp. v. 5 ).

The Custody and Administration of the Mosaic Law. Leviticus 10:10 relates primarily to issues of "the holy and the common" and "the unclean and the clean." The next verse introduces the matter of administration of the Mosaic law: "you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses" ( 10:11 ). Deuteronomy 21:5 is particularly instructive regarding these responsibilities of the priests: "The priests, the sons of Levi" were charged to "pronounce blessings in the name of the Lord and to decide all cases of dispute and assault." The standard priestly blessing formula found in Numbers 6:24-26 was given as a means of invoking the name of the Lord upon the nation so that he might bless them in their various endeavors ( Num 6:27 ). This may have been particularly important in situations where there was a need to clear the nation of guilt, in this case bloodguiltiness for an unsolved homicide ( Deut 21:1-9 ).

The last clause of Deuteronomy 21:5 especially highlights the judicial side of the priestly office. The resolution of disputes was not always achieveable in the local courts. Since the levitical priests were the custodians and teachers of the Mosaic Law ( Deut 17:18 ; 24:8 ; Deuteronomy 31:9-13 Deuteronomy 31:24-26 ; cf. 2 Chron 15:3 ; 31:4 ; 35:3 ; Ezra 7:24-26 ), those who staffed the central sanctuary were naturally the final court of appeal in Israel ( Deut 18:8-13 ; 19:17 ).

The Levites shared not only in the sanctuary duties of the Aaronic priests (see above) but also in their judicial duties (see esp. 2 Chron 17:8-9 ; 35:3 ; Ezra 7:5-10 ; Nehemiah 8:1-2 Nehemiah 8:9-11 , etc. ). Samuel is a good example of a Levite who legitimately did both (cf. 1 Sam 1:1 ; 8:2 , with 1 Chronicles 6:28 1 Chronicles 6:33-38 ). In his early days he was levitical assistant to Eli the Aaronic high priest in the service of the tabernacle (1 Sam. 2-3). Later he became a "judge" of Israel ( 1 Sam 7:15-17 ).

The High Priesthood. Special Obligations. There were special obligations for which the high priest alone was responsible. On any normal day any priest might perform atoning sacrificial procedures, but not on the Day of Atonement ( Lev 16 ). On this day, and only on this day, the high priest would enter alone into the Most Holy Place to purge it from the impurities of the priests (vv. 11-14) and the people (v. 15) by sprinkling sin offering blood on the mercy seat. After this he also purged the other parts of the sanctuary with blood (vv. 16-19), performed the scapegoat ritual (vv. 20-22), and offered his burnt offering, the burnt offering of the people, and the fat of the sin offerings on the burnt offering altar (vv. 23-27). Thus, the high priest would yearly cleanse (i.e., "purify") himself, the other priests, and all the people of the assembly (vv. 30, 33b) by purging (i.e., "atoning") the Most Holy Place, everything in the tent of meeting, and the burnt offering altar (v. 33a) on their behalf (vv. 30, 33b).

Furthermore, all the priests were under strict restrictions to avoid defilement by contact with a corpse (except for their immediate family), or by marriage to a divorced woman or former harlot ( Leviticus 21:1-4 Leviticus 21:7 ). The high priest, however, could not defile himself even by attending to his dead father or mother, and marriage was restricted to a virgin (i.e., he could not marry a widow, much less a divorced woman or former harlot Lev 21:10-14 ). Moreover, he was responsible to function as the head of the priestly system at the festivals and was in charge of everything that happened in the tabernacle (see, e.g., Eli's supervision in 1 Samuel 1:9 1 Samuel 1:12-17 ), including the actions of the other priests (see, e.g., the problem of Eli's rebellious priestly sons in 1 Sam 2:29 ). Finally, another well-known and exclusive function of the high priest was to possess and manipulate the Urim and Thummim housed in the "breastpiece of judgment, " which was attached to the high priest's ephod ( Exod 28:28-30 ). He used them to obtain oracular answers from the Lord regarding specific situations in Israel.

History. The history of the Old Testament high priesthood is complex. After the death of Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar seems to have been the oldest remaining son and it is he who became the next high priest ( Num 20:22-29 ; 26:1-4 ; 27:21 ; Joshua 19:51 ), his brother Ithamar being second to him. Certain passages suggest that Phinehas followed Eleazar his father ( Num 31:6 ; Joshua 22:13 Joshua 22:30-32 ; Judges 20:28 ). The high priestly line evidently shifted from the descendants of Eleazar to Ithamar during the period of the judges. Eli, the high priest and Judge of Israel at Shiloh ( 1 Sam 1:9 ), was from the line of Ithamar. The line of Eli continued in the high priesthood for a time (see 1 Samuel 14:3 1 Samuel 14:18 ; 21:1 ; 22:19-20 ). However, the judgment of the Lord against Eli in 1 Samuel 2:22-36 would eventually bring the office back to the line of Eleazar when Solomon dismissed Abiathar ( 1 Kings 2:27 ) and appointed Zadok to be the high priest ( 1 Kings 2:35 ). Thus, the Lord's "covenant of a perpetual priesthood" with Phinehas was fulfilled ( Num 25:13 ).

New Testament Priesthood. The primary New Testament Greek word for "priest" is hiereus [iJereuv"] (32 occurrences). Six other terms derive from it: the verb hierateuo [iJerateuvw] for Zacharias "serving as priest" ( Luke 1:8 ), the verb hierourgeo [iJerourgevw] referring to Paul "serving as a priest" by offering the Gentiles up as a holy offering to God ( Rom 15:16 ), and the nouns hierateia [iJerateiva] for the "priestly office" of Zacharias ( Luke 1:9 ) and the sons of Levi ( Heb 7:5 ), hierateuma [iJeravteuma] in reference to the "priesthood" of the church ( 1 Peter 2:5 1 Peter 2:9 ), archieratikos [ajrcieratikov"] referring to those of "high priestly" descent ( Acts 4:6 ), and especially archiereus [ajrciereuv"] ("high or chief priest(s), " 123 occurrences). With only one exception ( Acts 14:13 , the priest of Zeus ), all the New Testament references to priests or priesthood are in some kind of continuity with the Old Testament.

High Priests, Chief Priests, and Priests. The Old Testament Aaronic and specifically Zadokite line of high priests continued down into the intertestamental period until about 172 b.c., when the Syrian (i.e., Seleucid) ruler of Palestine, Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), began to assign the office to whomever was in political and financial favor with him at any particular time (2 Macc. 4). Although they were not Zadokites, the Maccabeans (i.e., Hasmoneans) were a priestly family that successfully led a revolt against the Syrian rulers and eventually became not only the political leaders of the Jews but also assumed the role of high priest (i.e., beginning with Jonathan, ca. 152 b.c.,1 Macc 10:18-21). During this time the Qumran community prided itself on being the enclave of the legitimate Zadokite high priesthood over against the Hasmonean high priesthood in Jerusalem.

In 37 b.c. the rule of the Hasmoneans came to an end and the family of Herod the Great began the practice of appointing high priests from various priestly families (again, not necessarily Zadokites) from time to time, sometimes year by year (note John 18:13 , "Caiaphas, the high priest that year" ). This led to an oligarchy of a few privileged high priestly families who obtained their position through bribery. The New Testament refers often to the "chief priests, " apparently referring to a group of priests who had the oversight of the cultus, many of whom belonged to these privileged families. This group seems to have included the current high priest ( John 18:13 ), all those still alive who had previously held the position ( Luke 3:2 ; John 18:19 John 18:24 ), and those of high priestly descent (see esp. Acts 4:6 Acts 4:23 ). Three New Testament high priests are specifically named: Annas ( Luke 3:2 ; John 18:19 John 18:24 ), Caiaphas ( Luke 3:2 ; John 18:13 John 18:24 ), and Ananias ( Acts 23:2 ; 24:1 ).

Of course, the priests (i.e., the high priests, chief priests, and regular priests) were the source of much opposition to Jesus and the apostolic spread of the gospel. Nevertheless, Paul confirmed his respect for the office of Ananias after unintentionally insulting him ( Acts 23:2-5 ). Jesus refused the same to Annas ( John 18:19-24 ), but during his ministry he sometimes affirmed the priests (see, e.g., Matt 8:4 ; the cleansing of the leper ). Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest ( Luke 1:8 ). Interestingly, the high priest Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied the substitutionary death of Jesus for Israel and for all believers even among the gentiles ( John 11:47-53 ; 18:14 ). Moreover, it was not long before "a large number of priests became obedient to the faith" ( Acts 6:7 ).

Jesus as Priest and High Priest. Although the high priesthood of Jesus is often described solely in terms of his status according to the order of Melchizedek, Hebrews 2-4 devotes a great deal of attention to the matter of the high priesthood of Jesus before introducing Melchizedek in 5:6. In 2:17 the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as the one who has come to our aid as our high priest by making "atonement for the sins of the people." The emphasis is on the fact that, because he himself suffered the same sorts of temptations that we face, he is a "merciful and faithful" high priest ( 2:17-18 ) and, as such, he is "the apostle and high priest whom we confess" ( 3:1 ). After a lengthy digression about the faithfulness of Jesus and the importance of a corresponding faithful commitment to him on our part (3:7-4:13), the writer returns to the same issue and exhorts us to "hold firmly" to our sympathetic high priest ( 4:14-16 ) because it is in him that "we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" ( 4:16 ).

This argument regarding the gentle and sympathetic nature of our high priestly mediator continues into 5:1-10. Old Testament high priests could sympathize with the people for whom they mediated because they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could offer for the people ( 5:2-3 ; 7:27 ; and cf. Lev 16:11-14 with Lev 16:15-19 ). Jesus as our New Testament high priest is sympathetic because, even though he was the son of God, he suffered agony in the face of death ( Heb 5:7-8 ). This is where Melchizedek comes into the picture.

The first occurrence of the term "priest" in the Old Testament is in reference to the pre-Israelite "Melchizedek king of Salem priest of God Most High" ( Gen 14:18 ), to whom Abram paid a tithe. Melchizedek reappears in Psalm 110:4, referring to the royal Davidic "priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek" (v. 4). This, in turn, became the pattern for the thematic development of the Melchizedekian priesthood of Jesus Christ in Hebrews 5-7 since, not being a descendant of Aaron, he could not be a priest according to the order of Aaron ( Heb 7:11-14 ). Nevertheless, just as Aaron was divinely appointed to this office so was Jesus (vv. 4-5), but the high priesthood of Jesus was "in the order of Melchizedek" (vv. 6, 9-10).

This makes the high priesthood of Jesus distinct and superior from that of Aaron and his successors on several counts. First, Jesus "has become a high priest forever" ( 6:20 ). Aaronic priests died and therefore had only a temporary priesthood ( 7:23 ). But Jesus abides forever as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek and therefore has a permanent priesthood through which he can save us completely and eternally ( 7:24-25 ).

Second, since the Old Testament levitical priests paid a tithe to Melchizedek while they were still in the loins of Abraham, their order of priesthood is inferior to the order of Melchizedek ( 7:4-10 ). Third, if the Aaronic priesthood had brought perfection there would have been no need for another priest to arise according to another order (i.e., the order of Melchizedek, 7:11 ). Moreover, in this connection, there was a necessary and corresponding shift from the old and obsolete covenant mediated by the old priesthood (i.e., the Mosaic covenant with its relatively weak and useless law, Hebrews 7:11 Hebrews 7:18-19 ; 8:13 ) to a new and better covenant mediated by the better priesthood (i.e., the New Covenant with its better promises, 7:22 ; 8:1-13 ).

Direct references to Melchizedek and to Jesus as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek as opposed to the order of Aaron are limited to Hebrews 5-7. Therefore, just as the discussion of the high priesthood of Jesus in the Book of Hebrews begins without direct reference to Melchizedek (see above), so it ends without it. In fact, the references to the (high) priesthood of Christ in Hebrews 9:7-11 and 9:24-10:25 focus more on the offering of his own blood as a sacrifice than on his priestly office.

However, in Hebrews 10:13 the writer once again alludes to Psalm 110:1 when he refers to Jesus as the priest who has offered himself up as our sacrifice and since that time "waits for his enemies to be made his footstool." This is, of course, a royal motif. This suggests that Jesus, like Melchizedek, is a king who is also a priest. In fact, in some sense David, who is likely to have been the initial referent in Psalm 110, also legitimately exercized priestly prerogatives on some occasions (see esp. 2 Sam. 6). According to some scholars, even if David wrote Psalm 110 (as the title of the psalm seems to suggest), still "my lord" in verse 1 may be a formulaic way of saying "me" (thus yielding the translation, "The Lord says to me" but see Matt 22:41-46 ).

The Priesthood of Believers. This (royal) high priesthood of Jesus Christ connects to the "royal priesthood" of believers: "you are a royal priesthood, a holy nation" ( 1 Peter 2:9a ). The obvious reference to Exodus 19:6 suggests that the church functions in this present age as God's New Testament kingdom of priests much like the nation of Israel did in the Old Testament. As such we are responsible to carry out the ministry of proclaiming to the world "the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" ( 1 Peter 2:9b ).

A closely related idea (but without the "royal" connections) is Peter's earlier description of the church as a group of believers who are being (NIV), or should allow themselves to be (NRSV), "built into a spiritual house [Jesus himself being the living and choice cornerstone, 1 Peter 2:4, 6-8] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" ( 1 Peter 2:5 ). Thus, as fellow priests with Jesus we offer up to God our sacrifices of praise ( Heb 13:15 ), our doing good and sharing ( Heb 13:16 ), and ultimately our present physical bodies in the interest of conforming to his standards ( Rom 12:1-2 ). It is important to observe that here the corporate priesthood of the church shades into the priesthood of the individual believer. Moreover, our ministry in the gospel can be described as an offering of our very life in priestly service to the church ( Php 2:17 ), by which we can produce a harvest of sanctified people whom we present to God as an acceptable offering.

Finally, corporate Israel in the Old Testament functioned as a kingdom of priests in both its mediation between God and the other nations and in its service of worship to the Lord in the sanctuary ( Exod 19:5-6 ). Similarly, the priesthood of the church has mediatorial features as well as aspects that correspond to the sanctuary worship of the Old Testament, sometimes expressed separately and sometimes jointly in the various New Testament passages related to the priesthood of believers.

Richard E. Averbeck

See also Altar; Anoint; Atonement; Leviticus, Theology of; Melchizedek; Offerings and Sacrifices; Oil; Priest, Christ as; Tabernacle; Temple

Bibliography. J. Baehr, NIDNTT, 3:32-44; A. Cody, A History of Old Testament Priesthood; D. Guthrie, New Testament Theology, pp. 483-86; M. Haran, Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel; R. A. Henshaw, Female and Male, The Cultic Personnel: The Bible and the Rest of the Ancient Near East; K. Koch, "Sha'arei Talmon': Studies in the Bible, Qumran, and the Ancient Near East Presented to Shemaryahu Talmon, pp. 105-10; J. Gordon McConville, Law and Theology in Deuteronomy; W. O. McCready, ISBE, 3:960-63; E. Merrill, Bib Sac 150 (1993):50-61; W. J. Moulder, ISBE, 3:963-65; ABD, 4:297-310; J. R. Spencer, ABD, 1:1-6; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, 2:345-405.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Priest, Priesthood'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.