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 origin of the phrase "the priesthood of all believers" - an invention of Martin Luther. 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 Armathea, that is, Yosef of the Ar clan of Matthew. He was a 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 considered idolatrous. Let us check the facts.
1520 - Luther wrote treatise To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation in which 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."
The historical background is important. The Diet of the Holy Roman Empire met at Worms in 1521. Martin Luther appeared there before examiners to respond to charges of heresy. Pope Leo X condemned 41 of Luther's propositions and when Luther refused to recant, he was excommunicated in January 1521. Luther had anticipated this possibility and sought to redefine the priesthood on the basis of baptism, rather than priestly succession. He was determined to cast doubt on the authority of the Roman Church, even if that meant redefining the priesthood by latching onto 1 Peter 2:9. However, Peter's letter is directed to believing Hebrew people living in the Diaspora. They are a "nation of priests" who ancestors were the Horite ruler-priests (Horim). 1 Peter 1:1 and 2:12 make it evident that Peter is writing to Jews, not Gentiles.
It is ironic that Luther, who insisted that Church doctrine must be accountable to the teachings of Scripture alone (sola scriptura), should resort to wrongly handling Scripture to justify and encourage the Lutheran movement. His interpretation runs contrary the historical reality that the priesthood of the Church is continuous with the sacerdotal priesthood of Abraham and his Horim. Instead of questioning the Roman Catholic narrative of priestly succession from Peter as the Rock upon which the Catholic Church was founded, he invented a notion of the priesthood that departs from Holy Scripture and lacks facticity. His is a false picture of the Christian priesthood and, as with all falsehoods, causes division in the Body of Christ.
Related reading: What is a Priest?; Christianity Lacks Originality; Martin Luther on Genesis; The Horite Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern; Mary's Ruler-Priest Lineage; Why I am Not a Protestant; What is the Priesthood?; The Talmud Versus the Doctrine of the Lord