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Christian priesthood.

Leaving aside the creation, when Adam lived in God's presence, thus having an interpersonal divine-human relationship--no representation of groups, clans or tribes--in other biblical texts of the Genesis, we will find representative characters in their relationship with the Divinity, such as Noah, a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time (Genesis 6: 9), a symbol for his generation, for a fair relationship with the Higher Being. Nevertheless, the classical examples representing the divine-human relationship are the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They built altars here and there, bringing thanksgiving sacrifices, whether as expiation or simply to ask for something; in addition, there were the tribal chiefs, having also their role as mediators between their tribe and God, a role which was undertaken by Moses upon leaving Canaan; later on, in a more developed society, this role belonged to priesthood.

The first priests shown by the Bible were such foreigners as Melchizedek, the king of a city in Canaan, who brought bread and wine as offering, and Abraham gave him tithes of everything (Genesis 14: 18-20). We also find Egyptian priests (Genesis 47: 22) and a priest of Midian, who became Moses' father-in-law. He was presented under two different names: Reuel in Exodus 2: 18 and Jethro in Exodus 3: 1. Other priests, who were not part of the chosen people, but wanted to approach the God of Israel, were required, as precondition, to remain in a state of purity. (Exodus 19: 22)

A pre-Mosaic priesthood is supposed to have been in use (Von Hummelauer 1899), instituted by God Himself as hereditary in the family of Manasseh, repealed because of the golden calf (Exodus 32: 26-29). But this theory has no biblical basis and, therefore, has not been adopted by other authors. As regards Israel, we can only refer to priesthood as of the moment they became a people, i.e., following the escape from Egypt and, more precisely, after the covenant on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-34). In fact, priesthood represented social specialization, as priests worshipped God on behalf of the people.

As there is some confusion in common terminology when defining what we mean by the word "priest," it is necessary to make a brief etymological analysis of this term.

Etymology of the word "priest"

The Hebrew term for "priest" is "kohen" (Vanhoye 1998: 1388). The original meaning of this word is unknown. There have been several hypotheses: a) the term "kanu" = to grovel/prostrate, the priest being the man who prostrates himself in adoration before the Deity; b) the term "kun" which, when the nifal form of the verb is used, means "to be trustworthy," "to build altars" (Reymond 1995: 194). The Septuagint (LXX) translated "kohen" as "hiereus" which comes from "hieros" meaning "sacred," regarding the temple and altar (Buzzetti 1989: 76). Therefore, the priest is a man belonging to the sacred.

Priests, Levites and Presbyters

In plain language, priests are also called Levites, referring to the tribe of Levi that priests originate from; however, not all of the Levites were priests (Hubbard 1995: 1056-1063). On the basis of Ezekiel 44: 10-16, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (1899) highlights how the Deuteronomic Code (D) refers to priests as Levites (Deuteronomy 16: 18; 18: 22), while the Priestly Code (P) separates the priests from the Levites, attributing major powers to the clergy. Ezekiel is said to have reduced the activity of the Levites (who performed priestly tasks) to works specific to temple slaves (Wellhausen 1899: 115-119). Another innovation of the Priestly Code was the creation of the institution of the high priest that prevails in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. Wellhausen's revolutionary idea represented the basis for subsequent studies on the priesthood of the Old Testament, being also criticized by many authors. (Orr 1906; Allis 1949: 185-196; Aalders 1949: 6671; Kaufmann 1960; Albright 1953)

In fact, the Levites first appeared in the Pentateuch, in the narratives presenting the life and work of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 2: 1-10; 4: 14; 6: 16-27). After making the golden calf (Exodus 32), the sons of Levi recuperated the honour of the Lord by punishing many of the heretics--a sign of fidelity to God showing why the tribe was given responsibilities for the legislation we find in the Pentateuch. (Numbers 8: 26; Deuteronomy 17: 9, 18; 24: 8; 27: 9-26)

Both the priests and the other Levites actually originated from the tribe of Levi; nevertheless, starting with the ratification of the covenant on Mount Sinai, Aaron and his sons were elected priests, while the other members of the tribe of Levi were given other tasks in relation to sacred things; yet, these were not priests (Numbers 3: 10). (Robinson 1946: 219-221)

The Levites' responsibility to represent the people entailed certain privileges. Although they could not inherit land, the Levites lived on the tithes of the people, while the priests received part of the sacrifices that were not consumed, the first fruits of the herds of cattle and sheep and the tenth part of the tithe given to the Levites (Numbers 18:8-20; Deuteronomy 18:1-4). The transition from the journey in the desert to the stable life in Canaan brought about both an increased concern for the welfare of the Levites and an expansion of their duties, to meet the needs of a decentralized type of life. (Deuteronomy 12: 12-19; 14: 28-29)

The Biblical texts assigned priests a variety of tasks: reading oracles, teaching the Torah, the cult of sacrifices and the ritual purity, conferring blessings and protecting the sanctuary, as described in Leviticus 1-7; 13-14; 21; Numbers 6: 22-27; 19; Deuteronomy 31: 9; 33: 8-10; Judges 17: 5-13; 1 Samuel 7:1; 14: 41 (Vanhoye 1998: 1388-1390). The priesthood has much developed this way, which came to 24 classes; following the centralization of the worship at the temple in Jerusalem, through the work of King Josiah (2 Kings 2123), the priests took turns in serving at this place of worship, as shown by the episode of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist. (Luke 1: 5-23)

Along with the priests, the Bible also mentions the high priests (Schrenk 1968: 859-908). In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the high priest was called hakkohen haggadol (Leviticus 21: 10; Numbers 35: 25) or, in more common language, kohen hard's (2 Kings 25: 18; 2 Chronicles 19: 11; Ezra 7: 5). In the book of Deuteronomy and thereafter, it was simply referred to as kohen. When the Septuagint translated the Old Testament, the high priest was called bishop (Leviticus 4: 3 Joshua 22: 13; 24: 33; 1 Kings 1: 25; 1 Chronicles 15: 14) or ho hiereus ho megas. (Numbers 35: 25; Joshua 20: 6, 2 Kings 22: 4.8; 2 Chronicles 24: 22; Judith 4: 6.8)

Furthermore, it is also customary for priests to be referred to as presbyters, whereas the place where priests perform the holy services is called rectory, the word coming from the word elder or older man, which in Hebrew is pronounced /zaqen/, and in the Greek translation of the Septuagint, presbyteros. Everywhere in the Bible it is said that old age should be respected (Leviticus 19: 2; 1 Timothy 5: 1), whereas age is said to bring knowledge and wisdom (1 Kings 12: 6-15; Proverbs 17: 6; Jeremiah 31: 13). Thus, we conclude that presbyters (as function) were older people, an idea also supported by 1 Peter 5: 1. Consequently, throughout the history of the Old Testament, the leading people of Israel were represented by the elders of the nation (Exodus 3: 16; Leviticus 4: 15; Judges 21: 16; 1 Samuel 4: 3 etc.). Seventy persons were chosen to help Moses lead the people (Numbers 11: 16-30), and the later elders assisted kings in the same way. Together with priests, they were entrusted the written Law and were asked to read it to the people (Deuteronomy 31: 9-13). When the people settled in the Promised Land and spread through its cities, the elders acted as judges in the cities. (Deuteronomy 19: 12; 21: 19; 22: 15-18)

This link between priests and elders was maintained in Jerusalem, leading to the development of the council, which was the ruling council of the nation and the Supreme Court, chaired by the high priest.

This was the context for the emergence of the Christian institution known as presbyter. They passed on the teaching of Christ (1 Corinthians 11: 23; 15: 1; 2 Thessalonians 2: 15; 3: 6; 2 Timothy 2: 2), and were consecrated by the laying on of hands (Acts 6: 6; 1 Timothy 4: 14; 5: 22; 2 Timothy 1: 6). They were supposed to earn their living on their own, if necessary (Acts 20: 17, 33-35), had the task of teaching others (1 Timothy 5: 17; Titus 1: 5-9) and acting as judges. (Acts 15: 2; 6: 22-29; 16: 4)

They also had the role of leading others, from a religious rather than political perspective (Acts 20: 17; 28: 1; 1 Timothy 5: 17; James 5: 14; 1 Peter 5: 1-4)--hence, the other title for the elder, the bishop, which represents the starting point for the disappearance of the institution known as the ruler of the synagogue in Christianity, this being absorbed partly by the elder and partly by the owner of the house where the church was gathered. When being a bishop was separated from being a presbyter, in the 2nd century A.D., teaching the people became a task of both parties; however, acting as judge in matters of excommunication and reconciliation rested primarily with the bishop, who was assisted by deacons in his work; the bishop was also entrusted the consecration. The elders, however, continued to have certain legal tasks, i.e. they could prohibit participation in the Lord's Supper to those who sinned and did not repent, assisting bishops in the consecration of other elders. (Beckwith 1995: 10631065)

Jesus' attitude towards priesthood

Jesus' relation with the priesthood seems to have been a negative one, because of the opposition of religious authorities to Him and His work. (Vanhoye 1998: 1392-1394)

Luke mentioned priest Zechariah in his Temple service (Luke 1: 8-9), while Mark and the other synoptic writers described Jesus' healing of a leper, Jesus then sending the healed man to the priest to make the offer prescribed by law (Mark 1: 44 and parallels). In Acts, Luke tells us that a large number of priests embraced faith. (Acts 6: 7) The situation of the high priests is quite different. They were first mentioned in the Passion where Jesus declares that he "will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law" (Matthew 20: 18). Their name also appeared in a similar context, of a fierce opposition to the person of Jesus. In order to betray Jesus, Judas "went unto the chief priests" who "weighed unto him thirty pieces of silver" (Matthew 26: 14-15). During the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, the high priest played a decisive role (Matthew 26: 62-66). Similar traditions are mentioned in John 11: 49; 18: 35; 19: 6. In Acts, the hostility of the high priests was also manifested for Jesus' disciples, especially for the Apostles. (Acts 4: 6; 5: 17; 9: 1)

In all these cases, the high priests were not present in the rituals, but in the context of power. They represented the council, together with the elders and the scribes, which was the highest authority of the Hebrew people in Hellenistic and Roman times. However, the aspects specific to the presentation of Jesus' trial highlight a mixed situation: political and religious. Jesus was accused of religious rebellion and attacks upon the temple and, therefore, upon priesthood. The final charge, that of curse, focused only on religious issues. (Mark 14: 63)

It is hardly easy to glimpse a positive relationship, as neither the person of Jesus, nor His ministry and His death correspond to the ancient concept of priesthood. Granted that priesthood was reserved to the tribe of Levi, being transmitted by hereditary line, Jesus, who belonged to the tribe of Judah, was not a priest according to the Mosaic Law. Never in His life did He pretend to be kohen, nor did He exercise any priestly function, although He could be referred to as priest in line with Psalm 110: 4: "Jehovah hath sworn, and will not repent: 'Thou art a priest for ever, After the order of Melchizedek.'" In addition, Jesus did not refer to His disciples as priests. (Schrenk 1968: 855-856)

His ministry was not of priestly nature, but rather prophetic. He started to preach, just like the prophets of the Old Testament (Vanhoye 1998: 1393). Jesus was recognized as master and prophet, even as great prophet (Luke 7:16-39; Matthew 21: 11-46; John 4: 19, 6: 14). After the resurrection, Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the prophet just like Moses, who had been promised by God in the Old Testament. Here are the relevant passages:

And Jehovah said unto me [...]: 'I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee [Moses]; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.' (Deuteronomy 18: 17-18)

A prophet shall the Lord God raise up unto you from among your brethren, like unto me; to him shall ye hearken in all things whatsoever he shall speak unto you. (Acts 3: 22)

From the point of view of the ancient religion, the death of Jesus further increased the distance between Him and priesthood. This death had nothing to do with ritual sacrifice, as Jesus did not die in a sacred environment, but rather outside the holy city. His death was the result of a conviction, similar to an execution of villains. There was no ritual consecration; on the contrary, it was an act of execration which turned Him into a curse (Galatians 3: 13; Deuteronomy 21: 22). No wonder that the first disciples used to preach about priesthood only with reference to Jesus.

The second line of interpretation, as regards the priesthood of Christ, is ultimately more positive, allowing us to trace some aspects that shape a priestly identity without stating that Jesus was consecrated. The difference between the cult of the Old covenant and the cult presented by Jesus lies in the change of the sacrifice. Jesus does not sacrifice animals on the altar, but rather Himself, thus establishing a new cult inaugurated during the Last Supper, when He clearly alludes to His imminent death (Pope Francis 2016: 5): similar to the bread, His body will be broken; similar to the wine, his blood will be poured.

The words of the Last Supper, as presented in the Gospel texts, recall, on the one hand, the sacrifice of the Suffering Servant who gives his life for the many (Isaiah 53: 11) and, on the other hand, the covenant on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 24: 8)

The Bread and the Blood of the Covenant

Referring to the Synoptic Gospels, one can see that Matthew and Mark described Jesus' gestures in relation to bread with the help of four verbs: He took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to His disciples. Luke, however, differed from the first two evangelists in the sense that, instead of the blessing, eulogein, he used the verb eucharestein, to give thanks. The three of them, however, were consistent as regards the formula for the invitation to the feast, with reference to the body of Jesus: "this is my body." (Matthew 26: 26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19)

It is appropriate to say that Paul also referred to the Eucharistic Supper in relation to the covenant: "This is my body, which is for you; this do in remembrance of Me." (1 Corinthians 11: 24)

The constant element in the Eucharistic tradition texts on the chalice indicate a close relationship between the "covenant" and the "blood" of Jesus. The terms to be used when talking about this relationship were slightly different in the Eucharistic texts, even if they did not alter the core of the covenant. (Mark 14:24; Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11: 25)

Hence, if the covenant brought by Jesus did not destroy but rather made the covenant of the Old Testament much better, it would be appropriate to take into consideration the relationship between the blood and the covenant in the biblical tradition of the Old Testament, and only then compare it to the New Testament. (Laubach 1976: 1636-1641)

In the context of the covenant of Sinai, after "he took the Book of the covenant, and read it in the audience of the people" (Exodus 24: 7), Moses "took the blood [from the basins], and sprinkled it on the people, and said: 'Behold the blood of the covenant, which Jehovah hath made with you *concerning all these words [var. *upon all these conditions = in giving you these instructions].'" (Exodus 24: 8)

The blood sprinkled over the altar and the people, a symbol of God's presence, expresses the vital relationship just established between the two partners of the covenant. In addition to this relationship, blood also has the role of atonement, as it gives life: "for the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life" (Leviticus 17: 11). The protagonist of the process of atonement is God Himself, He is the one who gives His life and can forgive. (Kraus 1979: 85-90)

Given the text relating that Moses used the blood from the basins as the blood of the covenant with the Lord (Exodus 24: 8), we can better understand the Eucharistic formula: "this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins" (Matthew 26: 28). This expression indicates that the death of Jesus has salvific efficacy: He is the meek and humble Messiah who faces death in Jerusalem in order to inaugurate the covenant of peace, as reconciliation and remission/ redemption/ forgiveness.

The date of Christ's death itself suggests a cultural dimension, as it recalls the sacrifice of the Passover lamb (Matthew 28: 2; John 18: 28; 19: 4). Paul exclaimed that "our Passover [Lamb] also hath been sacrificed [for us], even Christ" (1 Corhinthians 5: 7). In Romans 3: 24-25, he used another terminology taken from the cult of sacrifices: "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: /whom God set forth to be a propitiation [sacrifice for sin], through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God." Finally, in Ephesians 5: 2 Paul used an existential formula followed by terms typical for sacrifices: "Christ loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell." Peter also applied cultural terms to Christ: "a Lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1: 19), thus drawing on Leviticus 14: 10; 23: 18. All these terms indicate a cultual understanding of Christ's passion and death. (Vanhoye 1998: 1394)

Christ's priesthood

To state that Jesus Christ was the victim sacrificed for our sins is not the answer to the question about the relationship with priesthood, as in the past there was a clear distinction between the priest and the victim. The Epistle to the Hebrews, for one thing, fully addresses the issue, showing that Jesus Christ was not only a sacrificed victim, but also a priest, even a high priest, holding this position forever. (Vanhoye 1998: 1395)

Hence, it appears that the ancient ritual priesthood is not specific to Christ, only. According to Sand (2004: 1703), "[i]t is only on the basis of the imperfect Levitical priesthood" (Leviticus 7: 14-23; 8: 4) that what is being stated in the Epistle to the Hebrew about the high priest receives "special power and Christological significance." (see Hebrew 7: 11ff) This means that Christ's priesthood went beyond the quality of the priesthood of the Old Testament. Of course, if we were to stop short of this cultural aspect of ancient priesthood, we may find difficulties in attributing Jesus the identity of a priest.

As regards the cult of sacrifices, the sources available to us clearly indicate that this was the main element of the priesthood of the Old Testament; the Epistle to the Hebrews means that Jesus also noticed this, yet in a different and much better manner than the high priests of the ancient times. He offered His own body instead of animal sacrifices; this is why He is considered the high priest par excellence, merciful and faithful (Hebrews 2: 17), who ever lived to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7: 25) and we, Christians, are invited to contemplate Jesus at the right hand of God (Hebrews 1: 4-14). The priesthood of Jesus is superior to that of Aaron (Hebrews 7: 11), having its origin in the priesthood of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7: 15-17): it contains the perfection that was missing in the sacrifices of ancient times. (Hebrews 7: 18)

Being the Son of God was not enough to ensure Christ's priesthood, as it is necessary to have a close union with the people in order to make Him a perfect mediator. Christ never fell short of this quality, on the contrary, He was utterly assimilated to the people, taking upon Himself their challenges, their sufferings, and even their death, to become High Priest. (Hebrews 2: 17)

In conclusion, it is obvious that Christ's Passion was not only a real sacrifice; it is the only successful sacrifice. In addition, Christ is not only recognized as Priest, but He is the only genuine Priest, the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2: 5). The priests of the Old covenant only previewed Christ's Priesthood, in an imperfect manner.

Common Christian priesthood

The New Testament does not contain clear texts about the priestly consecration of any character; nevertheless, there are two texts that speak of a common priesthood. The First Epistle of Peter 2: 5 resumes the subject of the common priesthood of Exodus 19: 6:

[A]nd ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. (Exodus 19: 6)

[Y]e also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2: 5)

By selection and consecration, God entrusted a priestly mission to the Christian people, once entrusted to Israel. These texts do not refer to an individual priesthood of each Christian, but rather to a common priesthood that Christians receive as a gift when baptized. The Revelation, going again about the topic of Exodus 19: 6 says that the Christians were made kings and priests unto God and His Father. (Revelation 1: 6; 5: 10; 20: 5)

Both texts, First Peter and Revelation do not point to an individual priesthood; that is, no Christian of the New Testament is referred to as priest, as we now consider priesthood to be.

An important text revealing the biblical foundations of individual Christian priesthood could be considered John 17: 17-19:
   Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth./As thou didst send
   me into the world, even so sent I them into the world./And for
   their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be
   sanctified in truth.


This is part of the text known as "the priestly prayer" (Feuillet 1972), which was made by Jesus not for all mankind, but only for His disciples. A clear, non-ambiguous teaching emerges from the text, as follows: the disciples are not from the world and are not to be taken from the world, but only protected from the evil that governs the world; the disciples are to be sanctified, just as Jesus was sanctified in relation to the Father, and to be sent into the world, just as Jesus was sent into the world by the Father.

The term of particular interest to us is haghiazein = to sanctify, to be found three times in different tenses (Swetnam 1995: 92):

1) Aorist (active imperative), showing a command relative to a specific mission, i.e., a rule of conduct to be followed in a particular situation (John 17: 17--haghiason autous = sanctify them). Jesus asked God to sanctify the disciples for a specific mission, to send them into the world, just as Jesus' mission was specific when He was sent into the world by the Father.

2) Present tense in the active voice, whose object is Jesus Himself (John 17: 19--ego haghiazo emauton = I sanctify myself). Christ's sanctification is for the entire life and His entire person, expressing either filial and total obedience to the Father or the gift of giving Himself to death for those He loves (John 10: 17-28). In this respect, the Master is sanctified for His disciples, entering the Father's project of salvation with a total dedication expressing love and perfect unity with Him, as mentioned: "I do always the things that are pleasing to Him" (John 8: 29). Jesus involves the disciples in His filial life so they can be available in their mission, similar to the Master (John 6: 38).

3) Perfect participle in the passive voice, also called "theological participle," as the object of the action is God (John 17: 19 --osin hegiasmenoi en aletheia = they be sanctified in truth). De la Potterie (1977: 782-783) comments in this sense as follows:
   This sanctification of the disciples, requested by Jesus from the
   Father, is nothing but their progress in truth [...], in filial
   life by their union with Christ, whereby they participate in life
   itself and in the unity of the divine Persons [...]. Therefore,
   their sanctification in truth has a Christological significance.


The subject of the verb haghiazein is God: "I am Jehovah [YHWH] who sanctifieth you" (Exodus 31:13), whereas the sanctifying action may be exercised in two ways.

1) By specific intervention for service on a given term, God chooses a person who is then separated from the others, as in the case of Moses (Sirach 45: 4; Jeremiah 1: 5). Once left aside, the character becomes "sacred" as compared to the rest of the world which is "profane." In this case, haghiazein can be translated as "to consecrate" (Dufour 1995: 384).

2) The verb haghiazein can also be used to indicate an action whose outcome can only be indicated in conjunction with YHWH: "Ye shall be holy; for I Jehovah your God am holy" (Leviticus 19: 2). In the context of the covenant, God intends to communicate His holiness to the people, inviting them to enter into communion with Him. This type of sanctification requires consecration, however exceeding it, because, by separating the person, such person is entirely transformed or at least is called to be transformed.

In John 17: 17, the verb haghiazein can acquire both these meanings: consecration for a specific mission, and so separation from the "profane" world, and especially participation in Jesus' consecration, i.e. consecration in truth, participation in the complete communion with the Father, following the example of Christ.

To this end, Jesus is also the object of sanctification: "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth." (John 17: 19) Jesus' sanctification was sometimes interpreted as consecration (Monloubou & Du Buit 1985: 863); "for their sakes I sanctify Myself" means "I offer Myself as sacrifice" (Behler 1960: 247; 1965). Others did not agree with this interpretation (Dufour 1995: 386; Zevini 1987: 209-212), but, what is of interest to us is the interpretation of the theology of the New Testament which provides some elements for understanding the biblical fundamentals of Christian priesthood.

Christian priesthood in St. Paul's works

If the texts under scrutiny do not indicate that Jesus' disciples can be referred to as priests, they do indicate that the selected disciples are sanctified in a very special manner, participating in Jesus' sanctification. However, Jesus commands His disciples to offer His sacrifice, in His memory: "This do in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22: 19), whence it could be said that the disciples were consecrated priests.

St. Paul is a champion in demonstrating the ministry of those selected by Jesus, as he attested: "This is My body, which is for you; this do in remembrance of Me." (1 Corinthians 11: 24) On the other hand, Paul states that Christ's intercession is to be found in different places and times, c/o His ambassadors. Their competence is not of human origin, but rather divine (2 Corinthians 3: 5). God Himself chose them as ministers of the new covenant, in order to fulfil the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5: 18) not by means of their own authority, but as Christ's ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5: 20), being considered Christ's ministers and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 4: 1)

Considering himself to be responsible for the mission, that of apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11: 13), Paul forwards this mission in a manner which reminds of the sanctification of the priests of the Old Testament (2 Timothy 1: 6). Once he receives this gift, Timothy is asked to show responsibility in choosing the people for this mission: "Lay hands hastily on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins: keep thyself pure." (1 Timothy 5: 22)

Those chosen for the mission are closely and directly connected to Christ's priesthood, although they are not appointed priests. This can be easily understood, as their mission was different from that of the priests of the time; the former were called to be more like Christ who did not limit Himself to offering a sacrifice, but rather offered himself as sacrifice to God.

St. Paul takes a further step in connecting the servants of the New Testament with our understanding of priesthood, when stating the following:

Know ye not that they that minister about sacred things eat of the things of the temple, and they that wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar? /Even so did the Lord ordain that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9: 13-14).

In addition, Paul uses cult terms to define his own vocation, going as far as referring to himself as priest: hierourgeo = to act as priest, to hold the sacred office. This sacerdotal office is completely new, and this is why he adds the term leitourgon instead of hiereus:

But I write the more boldly unto you in some measure, as putting you again in remembrance, because of the grace that was given me of God, /that I should be a minister [leitourgon] of Christ Jesus unto the Gentiles, ministering [hierourgounta = doing the priestly duty of proclaiming] the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable [to God], being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15: 15-16)

The term leitourgon also refers to serving as priest, if we are to consider the semantic connotations of the term in other texts of the New Testament. For example, when referring to those chosen to serve as priests, the Epistle to the Hebrews states that every priest celebrates the mass [leitourgon] every day and many times they bring the same sacrifices:

For such a high priest became us, holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; /who needeth not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people: for this he did once for all, when he offered up himself. (Hebrews 7: 26-27)

The same term is also used with reference to Christ:

We have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, /a minister of the sanctuary [ton hagion leitourgos], and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. (Hebrews 8: 1-2)

Therefore, the apostolic ministry is a priestly ministry in the service of Christ's priesthood and the common priesthood, to boot. The close relationship with God that the ancient priests tried to build through animal sacrifices is thus fully achieved in the Church by Christ's personal sacrifice when the Christians can see the dynamism of the filiation to God and the solidarity among people.

While the priesthood of the Old Testament is thoroughly represented, the priesthood of the New Testament is rather ambiguous --which is understandable, given that Jesus was in conflict with the priests of the time, especially with the high priests. However, we have seen that there are similarities between the Old Testament priesthood and the ministry of Jesus, such as: the reading of the oracles, the teaching of the Torah, conferring blessings and protecting the sanctuary.

In case of discrepancies, they refer to a shifting in terms of the sacrifice: Jesus did not confine himself to an external sacrifice, but surrendered, thus becoming priest and sacrifice. This was the will of Jesus when He said to His apostles: "this do in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22: 19). By saying this, Jesus wanted the priests of the New covenant to offer themselves along with the sacrifice on the altar, namely to bring an inner cult and not settle for a service, as was the case of the priests of the Old Testament. This is confirmed by the priestly prayer, described in John 17: 18-19. The priests of the New Covenant were asked to sanctify themselves, following the example of Jesus, for those whom they had been entrusted to guide. St. Paul did not hesitate to present himself as a good example to follow, when he referred to himself as expert in liturgical worship (leitourgon), with the priestly duty (hierourgounta) of proclaiming the gospel of God (Romans 15: 16), sanctifying himself for the people, according to the example of Jesus.

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Mihai Afrentoae, PhD; Professor of Catholic Theology, Theological Franciscan Institute; Roman, Romania; meluferent70@yahoo.it
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Author:Afrentoae, Mihai
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
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Date:Dec 22, 2016
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