Monday, April 22, 2013

Debate on the Office of New Testament Priest: Part 2

Here is my point-by-point rebuttal to Russell's latest comment on the presence of a ministerial priesthood in Scripture and the Church. Also see Part 1. His words will be indented and italicized.

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”.
I will try my best to respond to the concerns of yours that those articles did not address.

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.
You forgot one thing. It is not enough to preach the gospel and administer sacraments. Protestant pastors may serve some of the same functions as priests, but they are not for that reason rightly considered priests.

For one, at the heart of what it means to be a priest is the offering of a sacrifice. In the Old Testament, the high priest offers his sacrifice (cf. Heb 5:1; 8:3; 13:11), the ministers offer theirs (cf. Lev 1:4-9), and the people have theirs (cf. Psa 50:23; 51:17; 141:2; Hos 14:2). Similarly, in the New Testament, the high priest has his sacrifice (cf. Heb 2:17), the ministers have theirs (cf. Rom 15:15-16; 1 Cor 10:16-21; Heb 9:23; 13:10), and the people have theirs (cf. Rom 12:1; Phil 4:18; Heb 13:15-16; 1 Pet 2:5). I will elaborate more on the sacrifice of the NT ministerial priest in response to your concluding paragraph. My point is, Protestants don't understand their pastors as offering a sacrifice when they celebrate Communion. There are no altars in Protestant churches.

Secondly, they have not received apostolic authority through the laying on of hands, which is the sacrament that makes one a priest (cf. Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6). So, to compare Protestant pastors with Catholic priests is really apples and oranges.

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”).
First, I think you mean 1 Tim 3:2, not Titus 1:5. That said, this passage does not require priests to have a wife. Instead, it is saying that IF they have one, they should remain faithful to her alone, instead of having other wives as well. At any rate, a Catholic priest of the Eastern rites is allowed to have a wife. This is only a discipline in the Latin rite. Note, clerical celibacy is a discipline, not a dogma. While I wouldn't agree, the most you could say is that priests of the Latin rite don't follow the biblical model. That wouldn't disqualify the priests of the Eastern rites, nor would it disprove that a ministerial priesthood is present in Scripture.

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).
I never said it referred "just" to them. I was simply pointing out that the word used for the OT ministerial priesthood is hierus and the word for the NT ministerial priesthood is presbyteros. That hierus also refers to the priesthood of believers does not prove a change "from a 'ministerial' form (OT) to a 'universal' form (NT)." Both forms remain. If there is a parallel between the high priest of the OT (Aaron) and the high priest of the NT (Jesus), and there is a parallel between the priesthood of believers in the OT (Israel) and the priesthood of believers in the NT (the Church), then there is also a parallel between the ministerial priesthood of the OT (Aaron's sons) and the ministerial priesthood of the NT (the presbyteros). You have cut off the parallel between the Old and the New without allowing it's full implications to be realized.

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.
I'm not reading into the term something that isn't there. There is an equivalence between the presbyteros of the NT and the ministerial priests of the Catholic Church b/c they perform the same duties and receive their office in the same manner. That is why we use an English word derived from presbyteros to refer to these men. They are the same.

Look at the history of Christianity. The very existence of bishops and priests in the Church grew out of the practice of "appointing elders in every church" (Acts 14:23; cf. Titus 1:5) and entrusting the deposit of faith (cf. 1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 2:2) by the laying on of hands (cf. Acts 6:6; 13:3; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6). That is how we have priests in the first place. To say that there is no correspondence between the two is ultimately ahistorical.

But, let's assume for a moment that Catholic priests are different from the presbyteros that are present in the NT. This does not prove that the presbyteros were of the same rank as the laity, or that a ministerial priesthood does not exist in Scripture. It would just prove that the Catholic priesthood is not that priesthood.

We know in fact that the presbyteros were not of the same rank as the laity because they are seen in Scripture doing things that not just anyone can do. In fact, they are doing priestly things, such as:
  • receiving tithes: presbyteros (cf. Acts 11:29-30) and priests (cf. Heb 7:4-5)
  • laying on hands: presbyteros (cf. 1 Tim 4:14) and priests (cf. Gen 48:14; Num 27:18-20)
  • preaching and teaching with authority: presbyteros (cf. 1 Tim 5:17) and priests (cf. Mal 2:7)
  • shepherding the people: presbyteros (cf. 1 Pet 5:1-3) and priests (cf. Isa 63:11; Jer 3:15)
  • wearing special garments and crowns during worship: presbyteros (cf. Rev 4:4) and priests (cf. Lev 8:6-9)
  • offering incense: presbyteros (cf. Rev 5:8) and priests (cf. Num 16:40; 1 Sam 2:28)
Priests are a people set apart (or "consecrated") to perform a special service to the Lord. We see this both with the priests from the OT and with the presbyteros of the NT.

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).
I've heard this argument before, and I don't think it takes into account all of the biblical data. I would like to look closer now at the passages I provided earlier of the sacrifices of the NT priesthood. The first is from Romans:
Rom 15:15-16 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
First of all, notice that Paul considers himself a minister fulfilling a priestly service. He is describing his office in priestly terms. His sacrificial offering is the Gentiles. He is the priest making the offering. They are the offering. The two parties are not on equal footing here. It is the minister, not the congregation, that is pictured here as the priest. Yes, there is a priesthood of all believers, but they are not priests as Paul is a priest.

The second passage is from 1st Corinthians:
1 Cor 10:16-21 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the practice of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? 19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
In this passage, Paul is comparing the "table of the Lord" with the "table of demons." He says, "what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God" (vs. 20). The implication is that our sacrifice IS to God, whereas theirs isn't. Of course, it would make no sense to say this unless the Church actually had a sacrifice of their own that they celebrated and that could be compared to the pagan or the Jewish sacrifice.

"Are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?" Paul asks (vs. 18). The pagan sacrifice makes one "partners with demons" (vs. 20), whereas the cup of blessing and the bread we break -- the Christian sacrifice -- makes us partners with the blood and the body of Christ (vs. 16). "The table of the Lord" is a phrase that is used to refer to the altar where the sacrifice to God takes place (cf. Ezek 41:22; 44:16; Mal 1:7, 12). All of this reveals that Paul is talking about the sacrifice of the New Testament ministerial priesthood.

But what exactly is this sacrifice? When Jesus told the Apostles at the Last Supper to "Do this in memory of me" (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24), He charged them to make His Body and Blood present to the people. Since in the Eucharistic meal you have Body broken and Blood poured out and Body separate from Blood, you have here a sacrifice. Consequently, the Apostles who make this sacrificial offering become priests.

The remaining passages are from the Letter to the Hebrews:
Heb 9:23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

Heb 13:10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.
What could the "heavenly sacrifices" (note the plural) be that are far better than the Jewish sacrifices? In a mysterious way, this sacrifice is one and multiple at the same time. The key here is to understand that while Jesus died once, this offering of His life is offered perpetually to the Father. Not many times, but always. This is why Jesus continues to appear in heaven as a lamb that is slain (cf. Rev 5:6, 12; 13:8). As Heb 9 goes on to say, Christ has entered into heaven itself "now to appear" in the presence of God on our behalf. Not one time a long time ago, but now. "Consequently he is able FOR ALL TIME to save those who draw near to God through him, since HE ALWAYS LIVES to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25). This is how one makes sense of the NT priesthood and the sacrifice that these priests offer in the Mass.

As for Heb 13:10, note that we have an altar. But altars are for sacrifice, otherwise there is no point in even having one. Note that some people are not allowed to eat from it. This echoes Paul in 1 Cor 11:27-31 when he says that only those who discern the Body and Blood of Christ in the bread and wine are allowed to consume it.

You said, "The main function of a ministerial priest is to offer sacrifices." You think that the sacrifice of Christ has done away with these priests, but the passages I have provided here prove that a sacrifice remains for the NT priest to offer. And so, the priest remains.

I would like to conclude with a passage that I think is difficult to understand if Scripture has no notion of a ministerial priesthood in the Church:
Jude 1:11 Woe to them! For they walk in the way of Cain, and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error, and perish in Korah’s rebellion.
"The way of Cain", "Balaam's error", "Korah's rebellion", all three of these refer to priestly service. Cain offered a sacrifice to God that was displeasing to Him (cf. Heb 11:4). Three times Balaam set up altars with which to offer a sacrifice of cursing upon Israel (cf. Num 23). What did Korah do? Well, he did the very thing you are doing, even said the very things you have said:
Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abi'ram the sons of Eli'ab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, 2 took men; and they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men; 3 and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" (Num 16:1-4)
Do you know what happened to them for doing this?
And as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split asunder; 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 And all Israel that were round about them fled at their cry; for they said, "Lest the earth swallow us up!" 35 And fire came forth from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering the incense. (Num 16:31-35)
What's interesting is that this is not an artifact from the annals of history. According to Jude, people in the NT Church are perishing in Korah's rebellion. Yet, how could people rebel against God's ministerial priesthood (or usurp it for themselves, as Korah also seemed to be doing) if there was no ministerial priesthood? In Jude's day it was important to observe the distinction between the priesthood of all believers and the ministerial priesthood, and "woe to them" who didn't! Yet none of this makes sense if there were no ministerial priesthood in the bible or in the early Church.

Peace of Christ to you,

PS: From here you may proceed to Part 3a.


  1. (Part 1 of 4)

    Hello again Nicholas,

    Sorry for the delay, and I want to apologize up front the length of my comments here.

    In Matthew 27:51, we find an incredible act of God happening the very moment that Jesus died on the cross. Immediately, an earthquake splits the rocks; and the veil of the temple (which hides the Holy of Holies) is split open, revealing the Ark of the Covenant. This no doubt terrified those priests who were offering the evening sacrifice in the temple at that time. But notice that the Roman soldiers (v. 54), who had previously mocked the Savior, saw all of this as a miraculous sign from God. But the question is, would these Jewish priests also recognize the temple veil tearing as a work of God? It seems they didn’t. The story has it that the priests sewed the veil back together and just kept on sacrificing as they did before. Apparently, they saw the splitting of the veil as a coincidence, rather than an act of God. But they, like Catholics today, miss the whole point of this sign / miracle.

    God was surely making a statement here. The split veil symbolizes man’s access to God now, and the end of the ministerial priest, who had formerly mediated between God and man by offering sacrifice for sin. But the priests who sewed the veil, like the Catholic Church, were guilty of trying to “fix and maintain” what God has done away with (i.e., the priesthood).

    The Old Testament ministerial priesthood has served its purpose. It was a “type” and a “shadow” that pointed to something greater, and HAS BEEN FULFILLED in Jesus Christ (the Perfect Sacrifice). There was only one offering by Him (Hebrews 10:12, 14), and it was “once for all” (10:10). No more offering (sacrifice) for sin is needed (Hebrews 10:18). So, that type of sacrifice and its priesthood is now unnecessary. In fact, the whole book of Hebrews screams out to us that the ministerial priesthood is abolished.

    See also here:

  2. (Part 2 of 4)

    Nicholas, the following are the verses you used in attempting to demonstrate that a ministerial priesthood should exist today:

    Romans 15:15-16 – This speaks of a “priestly service” done by Paul. But the priestly service he is speaking of is SHARING THE GOSPEL with the gentiles. This is something ALL Christians should be doing. But sharing the gospel with gentiles does NOT make one a ministerial priest. You are reading that into the text.

    Paul never calls himself a priest, nor does he ever refer to his office / position as that of a priest… and yet HE is the one who gives us the names of the offices for Christian ministers (1 Timothy chap. 3 and 5; Titus 1; Ephesians 4). If there were priests today, he would have specifically mentioned that office. But notice that not a single person in the New Testament is addressed as a (Christian) ministerial priest.

    Of course, many Catholics will say that “elder” means priest, but as I said before, “presbuteros” (elder) and “hiereus” (priest) are two different Greek words that are never used interchangeably. Even in the Old Testament, “elder” did not automatically mean “priest.”

    1 Corinthians 10:16-21 – Although Paul does mention Christian Communion, i.e., the partaking of the bread and wine, his whole point in this passage is about abstaining from idolatry (10:14). Terms like “cup,” “table” and “altar” that Paul speaks of are simply symbolism, representing our participation and identification with Jesus Christ. You’re insisting that these are literal, but if these are literal then must we also literally purchase, kill, and burn our New Testament sacrifices today, as well? Of course, that’s a ridiculous (if not blasphemous) idea, but this is where this type of logic leads. This “literal” argument doesn’t work here. All this terminology is pointing to Calvary, i.e., to Jesus’ suffering on the cross, not to a ministerial priesthood with literal tables and altars.

    One might object and say, “What about all the ‘sacrificial’ language, and the ‘priestly’ overtones used in the context? It MUST be speaking of a priesthood and an actual sacrifice, right?”

    But OF COURSE there is “sacrificial” language and “priestly” overtones here… once again, this is all pointing to Jesus’ work and suffering on the cross; He is our Perfect Sacrifice and our High Priest! All the typology and the “sacrificial language” is fulfilled in HIM! It is NOT fulfilled in the Catholic Eucharist. It is all about a PAST event (Calvary), not about a “continual offering” to God. So, all this sacrificial language does not make Paul or any other Christian some sort of ministerial priest. Once again, biblically, this office does not exist, and is only there if you read it into the text.

    Hebrews 9:23 – Here, you point out the plural (“sacrifices”), as though this use of a plural form should nullify the whole mountain of evidence of the Savior’s single one-time sacrifice in this same book of Hebrews. This whole once-for-all atmosphere is undeniable.

    Some recognize the use of the plural here as an “enallage,” which is a substitution of one form of grammar for another. For example, according to A.W. Pink, “It is the use of the plural number here in connection with the sacrifice of Christ which has occasioned difficulty to some. It is a figure of speech known as an ‘enallage,’ the plural being put for the singular by way of emphasis… Thus, the plural, "sacrifices" here emphasizes the one offering of Christ, expresses its superlative excellency, and denotes that it provides the substance of the many shadows under the law.” (“An Exposition of Hebrews” by A.W. Pink, Chapter 44, The Great Sacrifice)

  3. (Part 3 of 4)

    Hebrews 13:10 – Concerning this verse, you said that “The key here is to understand that while Jesus died once, this offering of His life is offered perpetually to the Father.”

    Nicholas, NOWHERE in the book of Hebrews is Calvary shown to be a “perpetual” offering to the Father. There is a subtle twist here by the Catholic Church. But this just seems to be an excuse for the Catholic priest to continue to “offer Jesus” to the Father daily in the Eucharist. But it can’t work that way. Jesus is not mankind’s offering to God. MAN does not (and cannot) offer Jesus as a sacrifice. No, the Bible says that only JESUS (the Perfect High Priest) did the offering, and He offered HIMSELF (Hebrews 7:27; 9:25). Again, He did His OWN offering, and He did it ONCE. So this is not a continual / daily offering to God. It was offered to the Father once, for all. Although the benefits of this offering are offered continuously to MAN, it will never again be a sacrificial offering TO THE FATHER. According to Scripture, we get the benefits of Calvary through believing in His work there, not by “re-presenting” it to God.

    Catholics are confusing His perpetual intercession with His one-time, past-event, offering. To CONTINUE with any kind of sacrifice that supposedly atones for sin is to say that Jesus’ suffering on the cross was JUST NOT ENOUGH.

    See also these links on the Eucharist:

    Nicholas, please look at Hebrews 13:15-16:

    “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (NASV)

    It is interesting that out of all the New Testament books, the book of Hebrews has the most to say about the priesthood AND about sacrifices, yet it never mentions an office of ministerial priests for the church today, nor does it mention the Catholic Eucharist. Strange indeed. Instead, it tells us that God is pleased today with sacrifices like “doing good,” “sharing” and “praise.” THESE are the types of sacrifices that we offer today (under the New Covenant). But why not even mention the Eucharist if THAT is the most pleasing and most important sacrifice?

    Nicholas, I’m sorry, but with all due respect, the verses above that you provided did nothing to prove your case. The Bible (especially in Hebrews) strongly demonstrates that the sacrifice for sin does NOT remain, therefore, neither does the (ministerial) priesthood.

  4. (Part 4 of 4)

    You also mentioned Jude 1:11 and made much of Korah’s rebellion towards authority. Yes, Korah was certainly wrong in what he did, but this is NOT an appeal by Jude to go back to a ministeral-type priesthood. He was simply warning us of rebelling against legitimate and God-ordained authority. But Jude is not the one really dealing with the “priesthood” and “sacrifices.” The book of Hebrews does.

    You implied that some are guilty of usurping the priesthood. But anyone, Catholic or otherwise, who claims to be offering a sacrifice to God that atones for sin is indeed usurping the High Priest’s office. And, in my opinion, this person / group would be just as guilty (or even more so) as Korah.

    In conclusion, I want to say that I believe that the two most important points (relevant to this discussion) about Calvary are:

    1) Only the Perfect High Priest (Jesus Christ, Himself) could offer this sacrifice (Hebrews 7:26-27; 9:7, 11-12) – Mere man could not (and still cannot) offer it.

    2) There was only ONE offering of this sacrifice (Hebrews 9:28; 10:14) – It was a one-time deal, and it was at Calvary! There is no “re-presenting” of this offering to God. Why would there be a need to “re-present” the payment for a debt that has already been paid?

    In a nutshell, the concept of the Catholic Eucharist and a New Testament ministerial priesthood is not biblical, and it actually perverts and minimizes the work of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, on Calvary.

    I do pray that Catholics will come to see this truth. And I hope that no one will see my comments as spoken in the spirit of bitterness or hatred. They certainly are not. I’m saying these things out of love for Catholics. I used to be one.

    In His Name,

  5. See my response to Russell's comments here in Part 3a:


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