There’s more than one kind of “priesthood” in the New Testament

Just came across this article in New Blackfriars, and it looks helpful, especially in the context of Anglican debates about women’s ordination.

Title: “The Four Types of Priesthood in the New Testament: On Avoiding Confusions about What ‘Priesthood’ Means”

Author: Geoffrey Turner


Christian discourse tends to treat the concept of ‘priesthood’ univocally, so that ordained priests are seen to share the priesthood of Christ. But a careful reading of Hebrews shows clearly that the priesthood of Christ is unique to him. There are four (even five) types of priest in the New Testament and each of them is distinct and not to be confused.

Types of Priesthood in the New Testament

  1. Aaronic, sacrificing priest (like Zechariah, Luke 1:5)
  2. The risen Christ
  3. Priesthood of all believers
  4. Ordained presbyters/elders
  5. Passing mention of pagan priests (Acts 14:13)

Concluding paragraph:

The point of this paper, however, is not to try to change our naming of the ordained; our practice has centuries of tradition behind it. The purpose is to ensure that we do not muddle these distinctive types of priesthood. And the recent practice of calling our ordained priests ‘ministerial priests’ is a recognition that their priesthood is distinct from that of Jesus Christ and distinct from that of the baptised. There is no basis in the NT for supposing that that presbyters share the high priesthood of Christ as it is described in Hebrews. On the contrary, that high priesthood has only two members: Melchizedek and Jesus, and only one of those is a historical person. Deciding who may become a presbyter/ministerial priest and on what basis must be decided on its own terms and not by merging it with some other form of priesthood. Muddling these is particularly unhelpful when discussing whether women can be ordained as presbyters/ministerial priests.

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