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Reference: Priest


Priest' (Gr. hiereus) is employed in the NT to denote anyone whose function it is to offer a religious sacrifice. 1. It is used of a Gentile priesthood in Ac 14:15 ('the priest of Jupiter'), and also in Heb. as applied to the 'order of Melchizedek' (Ac 5:8,10; 7:1 ff.), for Melchizedek, it is evident, was not merely a pre-Aaronic but a Gentile priest.

2. It is constantly employed to denote the members of the Jewish priesthood in their various ranks and functions. The ordinary officiating priests of the Temple come before us discharging the same offices of which we read in the OT. They burn incense (Lu 1:5,8), present the sacrificial offerings (Mt 12:5, cf. Nu 28:9-10), effect the ceremonial cleansing of the leper (Mt 8:4 = Mr 1:44 = Lu 5:14; cf. Lu 17:14). The high priest (archiereus) appears as president of the Sanhedrin (Mt 26:57; Ac 5:27; 7:1; 23:2 etc.), and as entering every year on the Day of Atonement into the Most Holy Place with his offering of blood (Heb 9:25). Most frequently of all the word occurs in the plural form 'chief priests' (archiereis), an expression that probably designates a high-priestly party consisting of the high priest proper, the ex-high priests, and the members of those privileged families from which the high priests were drawn.

3. In the Ep. to the Hebrews Christ is described as both priest and high priest, but the fact that Melchizedek (wh. see), the chosen type of His eternal priesthood, is also described by the same two terms (cf. Heb 5:6 with Heb 5:10; 6:20 with Heb 7:1) shows that no distinction in principle is to be thought of, and that Christ is called a high priest simply to bring out the dignity of His priesthood. This conception of Christ as a priest is clearly stated in no other book of the NT, though suggestions of it appear elsewhere, and esp. in the Johannine writings (e.g. Joh 17:19; Re 1:13). In Heb. it is the regulating idea in the contrast that the author works out with such elaboration between the Old and the New Covenants. He thinks of a mediating priest as essential to a religion, and his purpose is to show the immense superiority in this respect of the new religion over the old. He finds certain points of contact between the priesthood of Aaron and that of Christ. This, indeed, was essential to his whole conception of the Law as having a shadow of the good things to come (Heb 10:1), and of the priests who offer gifts according to the Law as serving 'that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things' (Heb 8:5). Christ, e.g., was Divinely called and commissioned, even as Aaron was (Heb 5:4,6). He too was taken from among men, was tempted like His fellows, learned obedience through suffering, and so was qualified by His own human sympathies to be the High Priest of the human race (Heb 4:15 ff., Heb 5:1 ff.). But it is pre-eminently by way of antithesis and not of likeness that the Aaronic priesthood is used to illustrate the priesthood of Christ. The priests of the Jewish faith were sinful men (Heb 5:3), while Jesus was absolutely sinless (Heb 4:15). They were mortal creatures, 'many in number, because that by death they are hindered from continuing' (Heb 7:23), while Jesus 'abideth for ever,' and so 'hath his priesthood unchangeable' (Heb 7:24). The sacrifices of the Jewish Law were imperfect (Heb 10:1 ff.); but Christ 'by one offering hath perfected for ever them that are being sanctified' (Heb 10:14). The sanctuary of the old religion was a worldly structure (Heb 9:1), and so liable to destruction or decay; but Christ enters 'into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us' (Heb 9:24).

And this contrast between the priesthood of Aaron and the priesthood of Christ is brought to a head when Jesus is declared to be a priest

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