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Should churches have a special class of priests who offer worship, obtain salvation, and give official teaching on behalf of the people? Does the Levitical priesthood authorize special priests under the gospel? Who may serve as Melchizedek priests? What role and responsibilities does Jesus have as High Priest, and what priesthood do Christians have?
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A priest is a person responsible to offer sacrifices and perform other rites or ceremonies in worship to God.
The priests offered sacrifices, taught the people, and performed other religious services acting as mediators through whom other people worshiped God.
The Roman Catholic Church has ordained priests who teach church doctrine and who alone may perform church sacraments.
The Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) have two classes of priests: the Melchizedek priesthood and the Aaronic priesthood. They claim their priesthood proves they are the true church. But if their priesthood claim is not true, then they are not the true church. (Doctrine & Covenants, 107)
We do not seek to harm any individual, but we seek to help distinguish truth from error (Galatians 1:8,9; Acts 17:11). And we seek to understand our own responsibility regarding priests.
Hebrews 5:4 – No human sets the rules regarding who will or will not be a priest. God makes the rules and determines who may serve.
What has God revealed in His word about who may be priests today (2 Timothy 3:16,17)?
Some churches use the Old Testament priesthood as authority for their priesthood. However:
Numbers 3:10 – People who claimed priesthood, but were not sons of Aaron, should die.
So, anyone who claims to possess Levitical priesthood must prove he is a direct descendant of Aaron of the tribe of Levi. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed to be of the tribe of Joseph. Most people who claim priesthood today are not even of Jewish ancestry!
(Compare Numbers 16:10,39,40; 18:7; Exodus 29:9; 30:30; 40:13-15.)
Hebrews 7:11-14 – The law allowed priests only of the tribe of Levi, but Jesus was prophesied to be a priest of the tribe of Judah. So, the whole old law had to be disannulled (verse 18).
Hebrews 10:9,10 – Many other passages show that Jesus, the Divine Son of God, removed the Old Testament and replaced it with the New Testament.
If the Old Law was still binding, Jesus could not be our priest today! By Divine authority, He removed that law so He could become our High Priest. To use the Old Testament priesthood as authority for a priesthood today is to attempt to reinstitute what Jesus died to remove.
(Hebrews 8:6-13; 9:1-4; 2 Corinthians 3:6-11; Galatians 3:24,25; 5:1-6; Romans 7:1-7; Ephesians 2:11-16; Colossians 2:13-17)
Genesis 14:18 (Hebrews 7:1) – Melchizedek was both a priest and king before the Law of Moses. When that law came, priests were of the tribe of Levi and kings of the tribe of Judah, so no one could be king and priest like Melchizedek. (Compare Hebrews 7:11-14; 2 Chronicles 26:16-21.)
Hebrews 5:5,6,10 – Jesus is the only person called a priest after the order of Melchizedek. He is a priest on His throne: priest and king (Zechariah 6:13; Psalms 110:1-4; Hebrews 8:1).
Only Jesus was authorized to hold this priesthood. To claim men today are priests after the order of Melchizedek is to put men in the place of Jesus without Divine authority.
The Catholic Church claims that its priests are successors to the apostles:
“Who were the first Christian priests? The Apostles, who were ordained to the priesthood by Jesus Christ Himself. …
Before they died, the Apostles made other men bishops, who in turn, made other men bishops, and in this way the power of the priesthood have been handed down during the past 2000 years.” – A Catechism for Adults, Cogan, 1975 Edition, p. 88.
The Mormon church makes a similar claim for its twelve apostles.
But did the apostles pass their powers on to successors?
Peter, Paul, and all apostles were eyewitnesses (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-41; 22:14,15; 26:16; 1 Corinthians 15:4-8; 9:1).
Acts 1:21,22 – Judas’ replacement was required to be an eyewitness.
If modern priests have not seen Christ, then they are not successors to the apostles.
Peter, Paul, and other apostles raised the dead and instantly, totally healed all kinds of diseases (Acts 3:1-10; 9:32-42; 5:12-16; 13:6-12).
2 Corinthians 12:12 – These miraculous “signs of an apostle” proved their teaching was from God (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3,4; John 4:48; etc.).
Do modern “priests” do these signs as proof they are successors of the apostles?
Acts 8:14-19 – Apostles gave gifts by laying on of hands (19:1-7; Romans 1:8-11). But those who received gifts in this way (such as Philip) could not, in turn, pass the power on to others.
So apostles lived one generation but did not pass their powers on to future generations!
Peter, Paul, and other apostles had this power (John 16:13; Matthew 10:19,20; Ephesians 3:3-5; 1 Corinthians 14:37).
Just as Jesus completed His earthly work and no longer needs to live on earth, so the original apostles completed their work for all time. We need no one to do their work on earth.
All truth was delivered in the first century and recorded in the Scriptures (John 16:13; 2 Peter 1:3; Acts 20:20,27; 2 Timothy 3:16,17). This work need not be repeated, just as Christ no longer needs to be sacrificed – Jude 3 (compare Hebrews 9:26,28; 10:10; 7:26,27; 1 Peter 3:18). When the delivery of the truth was completed (“perfect”), the gifts of direct revelation ceased – 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 (compare James 1:25).
The first-century apostles completed their work just like Jesus completed His work. We need no successors to the apostles on earth today, and no one today has the power to do the work the apostles did. There are no successors to the apostles just as there are no successors to Jesus.
Hebrews 7:21-25 – Jesus is a priest forever with an unchangeable priesthood because He never dies. Levitical priests needed successors because they died and others needed to do their work. Jesus needs no successor because He lives forever. He is able to save to the uttermost.
1 Timothy 2:5,6 – There is just one Mediator between God and man. That Mediator is Jesus, who died as the ransom for all. No one else can stand as a mediator between man and God.
Jesus’ priesthood is perfect and eternal. Any others who claim to be mediators today are imposters who have assumed a position without Divine authority.
(Hebrews 2:17; 3:1; 4:14,15; 7:26-28; 10:21; 1 Peter 2:5)
1 Peter 2:5,9 – Peter addresses those who are a “holy priesthood,” a “royal priesthood.” Who are these priests? Study the context (1:1-2:10), and note the characteristics of these people.
* Elect and sanctified (1:1,2)
* Destined for eternal salvation in heaven (1:3-9)
* Call on God as Father (1:17)
* Redeemed by Jesus’ blood (1:18-21)
* Purified by obedience and born again by the gospel (1:22-25)
* Living stones in God’s spiritual house (2:5), which is the church (1 Timothy 3:15).
* Believe in Jesus (2:7; 1:21)
* Belong to God, are His people, have received mercy from Him (2:9,10)
Who fits this description? All Christians! We are all priests to God, capable of worshipping Him through Jesus as our only mediator. We need no other men to stand between God and us.
Revelation 1:5,6 – All whose sins were washed away by Jesus’ blood are priests to God. (Compare 5:10.)
Even the Catholic Church admits that the Bible teaches this. Note:
“The words ‘priest,’ ‘priesthood’ … are never applied in the New Testament to the office of the Christian ministry. All Christians are said to be priests (1 Peter ii.5,9; Apoc. v.10) … The Apostolic Fathers also abstain from any mention of a Christian priesthood …” – The Catholic Dictionary, Addis & Arnold, p. 692.
So no people on earth can serve as Levitical priests or Melchizedek priests or successors of the apostles. Jesus is our High Priest and all Christians must worship God through Him.
(Compare Hebrews 10:19; 9:2-7; Matthew 15:9,13; Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9-11; Colossians 3:17; Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12; 3:5,6; Revelation 22:18,19).
Since we are all priests, we need to know our duties and be sure to accomplish them.
Hebrews 10:1-4,11 (Compare 5:1; 8:3; Leviticus chapters 1-10.)
However, no one offers animal sacrifices under the gospel (10:5-10).
Jesus offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Hebrews 9:11-14,24-26 – As our High Priest Jesus entered the Most Holy Place (Heaven) to obtain eternal redemption with His own blood. Unlike animal sacrifices, this sacrifice was perfect, offered once for all, needing no repetition.
(Compare 2:17; 8:3; 7:26,27; 10:9-18.)
1 Peter 2:5 – As a holy priesthood we offer spiritual sacrifices (not burnt offerings). These sacrifices are acceptable to God through Jesus.
Romans 12:1 – We do not kill animals but present our bodies as living sacrifices to God.
Hebrews 13:15 – We offer the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips praising Him in worship. This includes our financial contributions to support the work of the church. (Philippians 4:18)
Note that we offer these sacrifices to God through Jesus needing no other mediators through whom to worship God. Do we diligently give our lives to God and offer worship regularly or do we neglect our priesthood to do other things? How diligently are we fulfilling our priesthood?
Leviticus 17:1-9 – People could not offer their own sacrifices but took them to the priests.
Hebrews 10:1-4,11 – Animal sacrifices were repeated yearly because sins were remembered. So these sacrifices ceased when the Old Testament was removed.
(Compare 2 Chronicles 26:16-21; Numbers 16:39,40; Hebrews 5:1,3; Leviticus 16:1-34.)
Hebrews 10:10-18 – This sacrifice does not need to be repeated because, unlike animal sacrifices, it removes sins so that they are remembered no more.
1 John 1:7 – His blood cleanses us from all sin.
Hebrews 7:25 – He is able to save to the uttermost.
(Compare Hebrews 9:11-14,24-26; Titus 2:14)
Catholicism teaches that sins must be confessed to a priest to be forgiven.
“Who has the power to forgive sin today? All bishops and priests of the Catholic Church can forgive sin … What do you have to do to have your sins forgiven? You have to be truly sorry for them and confess them to a Catholic priest … Does the priest merely pray that your sins will be forgiven? No, acting as God’s instrument and ordained minister, he truly forgives the sins” – Catechism, pp. 78.
Mark 2:7-12 – But only God can forgive sins.
Acts 8:22 – All Christians can pray to God through Christ for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12).
1 Timothy 2:5,6 – The only mediator between God and us is Jesus, who died for our sins. No one can serve as a priest between you and God except the One who offered the sacrifice for sins.
How diligently do you go to God through Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins?
Ezekiel 44:23 – Priests (verses 15,21) teach the difference between the holy and unholy.
Nehemiah 8:2-8 – Ezra the priest read the law to the people and then explained the meaning.
(Deuteronomy 31:9-13; 24:8; 17:9-12; 2 Chronicles 15:3)
Mark 1:14 – He came preaching the gospel.
John 6:68 – He spoke the words of eternal life. (Matthew 17:5; John 3:2)
Matthew 28:18-20 – After His resurrection He commanded the apostles to teach His word to all nations so they could be baptized and obey all His commands. (James 4:12)
He sent the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles to completely reveal His word and record it in the Scriptures. So the Scriptures now provide a perfect revelation of His will (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
“In early times, the Bible was read freely by the lay people … No prohibitions were issued against the popular reading of the Bible. New dangers came in during the middle ages … To meet these evils, the Councils of Toulouse (1229) and Tarragona (1234) forbade the laity to read the vernacular translations of the Bible. Pius IV required the bishops to refuse lay persons leave to read even Catholic versions of Scripture unless their confessors or parish priests judged that such reading was likely to prove beneficial” – The Catholic Dictionary, Addis and Arnold, p. 82.
“There was a far more extensive and continuous use of Scripture in the public services of the early Church than there is among us” – The Catholic Dictionary, Addis and Arnold, p. 509.
“...there is more certainty of doing the will of God by obedience to superiors than by obedience to Jesus Christ, should he appear in person and give his commands” – The True Spouse of Jesus Christ, page 182. [Because you might not be sure it was Jesus but you can be sure the priest will be right.]
So the Catholic Church at times prohibited members to study the Bible, though they acknowledge that the early church used Scripture far more extensively than the Catholic Church does today. Instead, members must obey whatever the priest says, because he is always right!
Mark 7:14 – Jesus expected all people to hear and understand His words.
Acts 17:11 – The Bereans were noble because they searched the Scriptures for themselves to make sure they were taught the truth.
Scripture repeatedly warns of the danger of just accepting what leaders teach. Galatians 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11; Matthew 15:14; Acts 20:28-30
Other Christians may help our understanding, but they are not authorities whose word we must accept. We must check out all teaching and accept only what comes from the Scriptures.
(Joshua 1:8; Hosea 4:6; Hebrews 5:12; 1 Peter 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:15; Psalms 1:2; 119:47,48,97-99; 19:7-11; 2 Timothy 3:15-17; Ephesians 3:3-5; 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:4)
Acts 8:1,4 – The Christians who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.
2 Timothy 2:2,24-26 – Faithful servants of God will learn to teach others.
Hebrews 3:12-14 – We must exhort one another daily.
There is no clergy-laity distinction in Jesus’ church. All disciples are priests who can worship God through Jesus Christ, study Jesus’ teachings, and learn to teach them to others.
(Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 5:12-14; 10:24; James 5:19,20; 1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 7:15-23; 2 Peter 2:1,2; Revelation 2:2; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; Ephesians 5:11; 1 John 4:1,6)
So there is one mediator between God and man: Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5,6). All saints are priests and must do the work of priests through Jesus. No men stand between God and us.
Are you fulfilling your duty as a priest?
* Do you use your body as you please or do you present it as a living sacrifice to God?
* Do you neglect opportunities to worship or do you present God with the sacrifice of praise?
* Do you pray diligently for forgiveness for yourself and other Christians?
* Do you let others do your thinking for you or do you diligently study God’s word daily?
* Do you let others teach God’s word or do you diligently seek opportunities to teach others?
A Catechism for Adults, William Cogan, 1975 Edition; ACTA Foundation, Chicago, 1975.
The Catholic Dictionary or the Universal Christian Educator and Popular Encyclopedia of Religious Information, William E. Addis and Thomas Arnold; Christian Press Association Pub. Co., New York, (no date).
*The Faith of Our Fathers, James Cardinal Gibbons, 110th Edition; P. J. Kenedy and Sons, New York, 1917.
The Faith of Millions, John A. O’Brien; Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN, 1938.
The Glories of Mary, Alphonsus Maria De Ligouri, 2nd Edition; P. O’ Shea, 45 Warren Street (only address given), 1890.
The New Canon Law, Stanislaus Woywod, Joseph F. Wagner Inc., New York, 1918.
The New Confraternity Edition Revised Baltimore Catechism No. 3; Benziger Brothers, Inc., New York, 1949.
The Question Box, Bertrand L. Conway, 2nd Edition; The Paulist Press, New York, 1929.
Roman Catholicism Against Itself, 2 Volumes, O.C. Lambert; O.C. Lambert, Pub., Winfield, AL, 1956 and 1965.
Saint Joseph “New Catholic Edition” of the Holy Bible; Catholic Book Publishing Co., New York, 1962,
*Note: All Catholic sources have the nihil obstat and/or the imprimatur of the Catholic Church except those indicated by an asterisk, and these were written by men who had at least the status of Cardinal in the Catholic Church.
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2022; gospelway.com
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.