Thursday, December 20, 2012

Luther Was Wrong About the Priesthood


Alice C. Linsley


I received this email from a reader of Just Genesis in which he raised questions in reference to Why Women Were Never Priests.

Reader: I am enjoying what I'm reading, but I have some questions about how this applies to our world today. I was raised Protestant and always understood Christ as the fulfillment of the priesthood and the "priesthood of all believers" as the reason our pastors are not priests.

Alice:  There are two questions here. One has to do with the nature and origin of the priesthood, and the other with the meaning of the phrase "the priesthood of all believers".  The questions are related, but I will address them separately.


The Nature and Origin of the Christian Priesthood

As a Protestant you are removed from Holy Tradition and the catholicity of Church. Both entail the priesthood. The Church exists where the priesthood exists. The marks of the Church are apostolic preaching, right doctrine, and the sacramental agency of the priest.

Christianity is a received tradition. It didn't begin with Jesus and the Apostles, as if they founded a new religion. This view suggests discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments and does not align with the Bible or history. Christianity represents a continuation of the faith of Abraham and his Horite people, all of whom were in the priestly caste, though not all served as sacrificing priests. For example, Horite women did not serve as priests, neither did all Horite men. The offering of blood sacrifice was reserved for the spiritual head of the clan. He was to be a righteous ruler like Job and Abraham.

The priesthood can be traced to before the time of Abraham. The Christian Faith emerges from the faith of Abraham's Horite people, a caste of ruler-priests who were devotees of Horus. The Greek word for priest which appears in the New Testament is ἱερεύς (hiereus). It is derived from the ancient Egyptian word Horus and related to the word hierogylph, meaning priestly writing.

Horus was the pattern by which the early Jewish Christians recognized Jesus to be Messiah. Jesus' birth place was Bethlehem, an ancient Horite settlement (I Chronicles 4:4). Herod's wise men knew Bethlehem was the place Messiah was expected to be born. The whole of Israel's Messianic expectation was rooted in the tradition they received from their Horite ancestors. Even today Jews refer to their forefathers as Horim, another word derived from Horus. (For other words derived from Horus and the Horite worldview, see this.)

Hiereus is used in the New Testament as the equivalent of the Hebrew/Arabic kohen, having to do with the Horite priests who were related by blood and marriage. Horite priests married the daughters of Horite priests. Jesus is the direct descendant of the Horite ruler-priest lines through Joseph and Mary.

The earliest Christians had "kohens" (kohanim) among them in the persons of Nicodemus and Joseph of Hari-Mathea. Hari-Mathea (not Arimathea) means Horite priest of the line of Matthew. They recognized the spiritual authority of such men. Neither of these were the High Priest, however. The whole sacrifical system was about atonement for sin, and that was the special work of the High Priest only. He was the mediator between God and the people. The early Christians recognized Jesus Christ as their High Priest, that is, the only mediator between God and the community of the redeemed.

Christian priests stand in the tradition of the ancient priesthood but are not a caste, and the sacrifice they offer is not a bloody one, as least not in the sense of crucifying Christ over and over. In catholic tradition, priests are the Church's Apostles and are said to stand in "apostolic succession". The charisms of the priest are received at the laying on of hands by bishops who are the spiritual heirs of the Apostles commissioned by Jesus Christ.

The priesthood originates in Christ and is fulfilled in Christ. Without Christ our Great High Priest there would be no priesthood. The priesthood is not a human invention. The priesthood is a divinely established ordinance. Every true priest reflects the purity, sobriety, humility and compassion of Jesus Christ.

God's self-revelation to the world is perfected in Jesus Christ. Ultimate authority is attached to our Great High Priest who has gone into the Most Holy Place through the veil of His own flesh. The author of Hebrews speaks of the old sacrifical system as a prefigurement of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not so much the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifical system as He is the reason for the system and the reason the priesthood exists. Every priest is ontologically like the one True Priest, Jesus Christ. If he is not like Him in purity, grace, humility and sobriety, he is not an "in-Christ" priest. He is an impostor, a phony.

St. John Chrysostom wrote that the priesthood "is ranked among heavenly ordinances. And this is only right, for no man, no angel, no archangel, no other created power, but the Paraclete himself ordained this succession..." (On the Priesthood, 1977, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, p. 70). A "heavenly ordinance" is eternal in essence and cannot be changed by man.


The "priesthood of all believers"

The "priesthood of all believers" is a phrase that alludes to Peter's epistle to Jews of the Dispersion, that is, Hebrew (Ha-biru) followers of Jesus Christ. In I  Peter 2 we read, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom." Here Peter is speaking of an historic reality that should not be generalized to believers who are not descendants of the Horites. Peter is not speaking of a universal priesthood.

Since Abraham's people practiced exclusive intermarriage between the priestly lines, it is possible to speak of the Hebrew as a "nation of priests" or a people belonging to the priestly caste that originated in Eden. It was to the Edenic forefathers of the Horites that the promise was made that a woman of their lives would bring for the the Seed of God who would crush the serpent's head and restore Paradise (Gen. 3:15). Jesus claimed to be this Seed when He spoke of his death being like a seed that falls into the ground a dies in order to bring life (John 12:24).

This is an historical and anthropological discovery that Martin Luther did not recognize when he railed against the Roman priesthood and all that he considerd idolatrous. In his 1520 treatise To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation he proposed this innovation: that all baptized Christians are priests. He wrote:

That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2[:9] says, "You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom," and Revelation [5:10], "Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings."

Luther further developed this idea in his treatise On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), in which he wrote:

How then if they are forced to admit that we are all equally priests, as many of us as are baptized, and by this way we truly are; while to them is committed only the Ministry (ministerium Predigtamt) and consented to by us (nostro consensu)? If they recognize this they would know that they have no right to exercise power over us (ius imperii, in what has not been committed to them) except insofar as we may have granted it to them, for thus it says in 1 Peter 2, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom." In this way we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians. There are indeed priests whom we call ministers. They are chosen from among us, and who do everything in our name. That is a priesthood which is nothing else than the Ministry. Thus 1 Corinthians 4:1: "No one should regard us as anything else than ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God."


Luther's notion of the priesthood represents a departure from Holy Tradition and Holy Scripture. It is a false picture of the Biblical priesthood and, as with all falsehood, causes division in the Body of Christ.


Related reading:  What is a Priest?; Christianity Lacks Originality; Martin Luther on GenesisThe Horite Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern; Mary's Ruler-Priest Lineage; The Daughters of Horite Priests; Why I am Not a Protestant; What is the Priesthood?; Biblical Anthropology: Image of God or Imaging God?; The Talmud Versus the Doctrine of the Lord; A Scientific Timeline of Genesis; The Ethnicity of David and Abraham



17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Alice,

A quick question. In his book Women and the Priesthood, Thomas Hopko, argues that in Orthodoxy the focus has always been on Christ's humanity not his maleness.

He claims, The theology of priest-as-icon-of-Christ because of maleness, or of Christ-as-bridegroom implying an all-male priesthood is actually more or less absent from Orthodox theology.

What are your views on this?


Savvy

Alice Linsley said...

I have the book, Savvy. Fr. Hopko is the Editor. Three if the chapters are his work. Please direct me to the page where he makes this claim. I'd like to read the section before responding.

Orthodoxy stresses the two natures of Jesus Christ, and maintains that the Priesthood is not open to women or even all men.

Anonymous said...

Alice,

It's pgs- 237-239.


Savvy

Alice Linsley said...

Savvy,

Fr. Hopko is providing a critique of Professor Jewett's argument that to express Christ's full humanity there must be both male and female ministers. Fr. Hopko inssits that Orthodoxy rejects Jewett's vision of God.

On page 240, Fr. Hopko writes, "In his actions in and toward the world of his creation, the one God and Father reveals himself primarily and essentially in a 'masculine' way.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Alice.



Savvy

Steve Lewis said...

Thanks, Alice.

Anonymous said...

If Peter is not speaking of an universal priesthood, then why are we baptized, priest, prophet, and King.



Savvy

Alice Linsley said...

Savvy,

As a Roman Catholic you don't believe in the universal priesthood. If you did, you wouldn't be Roman Catholic.

We are baptized into Christ.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Alice. One could argue that women in RC, Orthodoxy, already do what a Protestant minister does, by being involved in various ministries.

The proponents of women's ordination are confusing the ordained priesthood with that of a Protestant minister.

I do not see the point in getting a priest to not function as a priest.


Savvy

ofgrace said...

Alice, I see where 1 Peter is addressed specifically to the Jews and Jewish Proselytes in the Dispersion (in the notes of my Orthodox Study Bible), but in Revelation 5, the 24 Elders seem to be singing as representatives of the whole redeemed community and it seems to be this "us" (i.e., the entire redeemed community from "out of every tribe and language and nation") that they are singing have been "made to be kings and priests to our God" in vss. 9-10. At least that would seem to be the sense of the English (NKJV). I'm also wondering is there patristic commentary on this issue that backs up the understanding you are gleaning from the anthropological and linguistic contexts of these biblical texts? I'm asking because I have not heard any Orthodox Priests deny the understanding that there is a "priesthood" of all baptized believers, even though they obviously uphold the special sacramental role of the Priesthood of the ordained.

Alice Linsley said...

ofgrace,

My concern is that the historicity of the priesthood as a unique and sacred caste not be lost in a theologically vague assertion that all baptized are priests. This is not what the Bible teaches, nor is it what St. John Chrysostom intended when he spoke of the priesthood as a divine ordinance.

The baptized "in Christ" receive His priestly virtues and royal prerogatives. We are made joint heirs with Him of the Kingdom of God. Joint heirs is a legal term that means we share all things in common with Christ. How awesome!

The 24 Elders (Rev. 19:4) likely do represent the whole community of the redeemed, both those who lived in expectation of the Seed before the Incarnation and those who believe in the Son of God after his appearing in the flesh. This is suggested by the number 24 or 2 groups of 12. John's number departs from Jewish and Quranic tradition in which there are 70 or 72 Elders. In the Quran they are called "Houris" and the Arabic word means "beings of distinction" or deified rulers.

Horite ruler-priests were regarded as deified “sons” of God. They are often called “gods” (elohiym), as in Exodus 22:28: “Thou shalt not revile the gods (elohiym), nor curse the ruler of thy people.”

It may be that these elders are our spiritual Horim (Forefathers). The English word for Horim is Horites. St. Paul explains that those who are not of Abraham's blood have been grafted into Abraham's Horite line through Jesus Christ.

The Nilotic context of Revelation is evident in the use of the papyrus reed to measure (Rev. 21:15). These reeds grew with great uniformity, the segments being the exact distance apart. The golden reed was a symbol of the ruler's authority. The crook and flail of the Kushite and Egyptian rulers were segmented like Nile reeds and represented their authority to determine weights and measurements. They alone had the authority to determine boundaries (horimos).

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Could it be generalized in that - by virtue of our baptism into Christ - we are now incorporated into Abraham's faith and family (the commonwealth of Israel, as is stated in Eph. 2)? In that sense, St Peter could address us all as priests since we are now in the priestly family, though only some of us actually function as priests. The same was true of Levites - they were all "priests" but yet only some actually offered incense or sacrificed animals. And of that select group, only one family was allowed to serve as high priests.

Or am I looking in the wrong place for parallels?

Alice Linsley said...

Yes, Fr. Chris, there are parallels. But this understanding necessarily reflects the historical reality of priestly family lines which included women, none of whom were ever priests or Levites. Christian baptism, in this sense, parallels circumcision. Though the circumcision of women isn't mentioned in the Bible, we know that females were also circumcised.

Anonymous said...

The Scriptures say that for the Church there is no further sacrifice and no priest but Jesus.

There are teachers now, but no priestly office remains.

Alice Linsley said...

Anon,
Please cite the Bible references that support your assertion.

ofgrace said...

I'm belatedly saying thanks, Alice, for your response regarding the text of Revelation (I was away from the computer for the holidays). I appreciate the added information.

With regard to female circumcision, I understand this is still a common practice in many parts of Africa. Are you saying in your reply to Fr. Chris it was practiced by the Jews as well, but just not mentioned in the OT? If so, what is the evidence for this?

Alice Linsley said...

Not by Jews. That would be too late, coming after the time of the Babylonian captivity. Circumcision of males and females among the Hebrews or Habiru was common. Their point of origin is the same part of the world where female circumcision is practiced today. Abraham's ancestors in Genesis 4, 5 and 10 were Kushites and Proto-Saharans. See this:
http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2011/09/origins-of-circumcision.html