Monday, April 22, 2013

Debate on the Office of New Testament Priest: Part 1

Recently, I have been posting here my debate with Russell on calling priests "father." After I posted Part 4, he said that he did not want to continue the debate (you can read his comment on that post for the reasons why), so I suggested we pick up again an earlier debate of ours on the presence of ministerial priests in the bible.

This debate began in the comment section of my post, "Does the Bible Say Anything about Having Priests in the Church?". The last word was his, so he said I was welcome to respond, but he wasn't sure how much time he would be able to devote to it. I'll be posting here what has transpired so far, and if this goes anywhere, I'll share that too.

Russel began the debate with the following remarks. His words will be indented and italicized.

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.

Since this was taking place in the comments section, I didn't bother w/ a point-by-point rebuttal. Instead, I simply said:

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:

He responded with the following comment:

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 my next post I will respond to this with a point-by-point rebuttal.

Pax Christi,

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