Saturday, May 23, 2009

Does the Bible Say Anyting about Having Priests in the Church?

Yes it does. God told his people through the mouth of Jeremiah, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer 3:15). It was through His holy priesthood that God guided his people and provided for their worship and holiness both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, there was the high priest (Aaron, cf. Exo 28:3), the ministerial priests (Aaron’s sons, cf. Exo 28:40-41), and the universal priests (Israel, cf. Exo 19:6). The New Testament priesthood also has three offices: High Priest (Jesus Christ, cf. Heb 2:17; 3:1), ministerial priests (the ordained bishops and priests, cf. Rom 15:16; 1 Tim 3:1,8; 5:17; Titus 1:7), and the universal priests (all the faithful, cf. 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6). The whole of salvation history evidences this hierarchy within the People of God.

Note that there is a high priest and a ministerial priesthood, but there is also a universal priesthood. In other words, Catholics affirm a universal, or a “spiritual” priesthood just like Protestants do. The Church teaches that we are all incorporated into the priestly office of Christ upon our baptism. We are all priests, called “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5).

But, the Church also believes that, from among these people, Jesus Christ calls certain individuals to make His authority, His priesthood, His very Person present in the Church in a more profound way. These individuals make up the ministerial priesthood, those special men who God has called to make the sacraments available to us and to “feed” and “tend” the flock of the Lord (Jn 21:15-17).

In Scripture, we are commanded to obey these “elders” (Gk. presbuteros, or "priests") of the church (cf. 1 Thes 5:12-13; 1 Tim 5:17; 13:7,17; 1 Pet 5:5), and those who reject their authority are looked down upon and judged harshly (cf. 2 Pet 2:10-12; 1 Jn 4:6; 3 Jn 1:9-11; Jude 1:8-11). After all, God says of his priest, “men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal 2:7).

Pax Christi,


  1. Hi Nicholas,

    I just read your article “Does the Bible Say Anything about Having Priests in the Church?”, and I’d like to comment, if I may.

    You said yes to the question, but while we are able to find Jewish and pagan priests in the New Testament, we don’t see any Christian “ministerial” priests to mediate between God and man (as we saw in the Old Testament). I agree with you concerning the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ and the “universal priesthood” of all believers, but a ministerial office of “priest” seems to be strangely absent. If that priesthood were valid for today, one would think that such a critical position should be evident in the New Testament. But it isn’t. The apostle Paul mentions the functions and offices of the New Testament church in chapters 3 and 5 of I Timothy, and Titus chapter 1. He also gives specific instructions for ministry, church order, gifts and service in I Corinthians chapters 11-14, and in Ephesians chapter 4, and yet, there is not a single mention of an office of “priest”. I think there’s a reason for that.

    You mentioned New Testament “elders” (Greek, “presbuteros”) as though they were equivalent to modern-day priests, but the New Testament ALREADY has a word for priest, (Greek, “hiereus”), and the two words are never used interchangeably. While it is true that our modern word “priest” is a DERIVATIVE of the word “presbuteros”, it does not mean that they are the same. The modern word “Presbyterian” is ALSO a derivative of “presbuteros”, but I don’t think you would try to say that the New Testament “elders” were Presbyterians. So, this in no way proves that elders were priests.

    Thanks for taking the time to hear me out. I am looking forward to your response.

    In His Name,

  2. Russel,

    Thank you for your comment. I appreciate any correspondence that is charitably and articulately presented, as yours was.

    Regarding your presbuteros argument, note that the very reason why English speakers refer to the ordained ministry with a word that is derived from presbuteros is because these ministers serve the same function as the presbyters did. There is a clear hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons in the NT, and while, in the beginning, these three offices performed some of the same functions, they were clearly distinct from the rest of the Church. In fact, they held positions of authority in the Church, and we are instructed to respect and abide by that authority.

    Also, the fact that hiereus and presbuteros are not used interchangeably is to me a non-issue. Hiereus refers to the priests of the Old Covenant. A separate word, presbuteros is used to refer to the priests of the New. While I believe that the New Covenant priesthood certainly parallels the Old Covenant one, there is still distinctiveness and uniqueness to the New Covenant priesthood that warrants the use of a different word.

    For the Scriptural evidence in support of what I have said here, I highly suggest the following articles:

    -- The Ministerial Priesthood
    -- The Office of New Testament Priest
    -- The Biblical Evidence for Priests

    Pax Christi,

  3. Hello again Nicholas,

    Thanks for your kind remarks and for the three links you provided on the priesthood. I did read them, but I have to say that I still disagree with those articles, mainly because they still do not sufficiently address the core issues which I had shared in my previous response… namely, 1) that the ministerial priesthood is a glaring omission in the New Testament, and 2) the fact that “elder” does not equal “priest”.

    You indicated that the very reason that “elder” and “priest” mean the same thing was because today’s priests serve the “same function” as the early presbyters did. But one could argue that many of today’s Protestant pastors / ministers ALSO serve the same function as the New Testament elders did, because they also preach the gospel and administer communion, baptism, etc. So this proves nothing. Another thing… if Catholic priests (especially those of the Latin rite) are the same as New Testament “elders,” then why are they not allowed (required?) to be the “husband of [but] one wife” (Titus 1:5)? I know that there are exceptions in the RCC, but Paul is speaking of the NORM for elders, here. And the norm is to be married. (I am not debating the virtues of celibacy here, but my point is simply that, according to Titus, a Roman Catholic priest cannot be a biblical “elder”).

    You said that “hiereus” refers to the priests of the Old Covenant. It certainly does, but not just to the Old Testament priests. It ALSO refers to the New Testament universal priesthood of believers (Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). I think that this is further evidence that the priesthood has changed from a “ministerial” form (OT) to a “universal” form (NT). You also considered the fact that the terms “presbuteros” and “hiereus” were never used interchangeably, as a “non-issue”, but if one is asserting the existence of a ministerial priesthood (IN SPITE OF any clear biblical evidence), it certainly must be an issue. Furthermore, assuming that presbuteros is the “new” term for priest is simply begging the question.

    The main function of a ministerial priest is to offer sacrifices (repeatedly) to God in order to atone for sin. But Hebrews 10:18 tells us that the price has already been paid and there is “NO MORE offering [sacrifice] for sin”. Therefore, no more atoning sacrifices are needed. We now have a PERFECT atonement to embrace, once for all. No ministerial priests are needed now to offer sacrifice to God. Their “job” is cancelled out, and all believers have access to God, since the veil is rent (Matthew 27:51).

    Thanks again, and looking forward to your response.

    In His Name,

  4. The Papist simply ASSUMES his position is true, and then "argues" from that FALSE PREMISE.

    There is NO SUCH THING as a New Covenant priesthood. Period. There is not a 3-fold hierarchy in the New Testament. There are Elders, of which FIVE TYPES OF MINISTERS can be one-Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor,and Teacher. Deacons serve these men.

    The idea of a priestly group engages in some ritualistic, sacerdotal functions, and that such can do what Papists claim their priests can do--change bread in human flesh--into DEITY, forgive sins, absolve the sins of life-long Mafiosos on their death-bed---well, this is all lying delusion! And its straight out of Pagan Religion


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