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The Three Priesthoods A Protestant Perspective

By Ruth Magnusson Davis

Founder of the New Matthew Bible Project:
Editor and publisher of The October Testament (Tyndales New Testament, with all the
commentaries and notes of the Matthew Bible, all gently updated for today)

Note to reader: William Tyndale urged us to avoid strife about names

and titles. Whether we say priest or elder, the one is as the other.
This is true, but it is also true that the names suggest different things.
There is no easy way to avoid difficulty. This paper does not seek to
create any sort of special priestly class or sect, but simply explains the
purpose and function of the New Covenant priest from a true
Protestant point of view.
Should we do away with the name priest because it offends some, or
because others want to make of it something special? That is, should
we appease those who would divide over a name, or attempt to
eradicate the opportunity for error by those who ascribe too much to
the priests? Personally, I would be fine with any name, but am content
to stick with priest, because Satan (or the flesh) will always introduce
some error, no matter what we do.
The paper begins on the next page.


The Three Priesthoods

Unto him that loved us and washed us from sins in his own blood, and made us kings and priests unto God his
father, be glory and dominion forevermore. Amen. Revelation 1:6
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New, for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered
to mankind by Christ, who is the only mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Article VII,
Articles of Religion, as contained in the traditional Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

Many Christians, desiring to be faithful to the biblical concept of the priesthood of all
believers, are concerned that for any person to take the role of priest in a congregation is
to usurp the priesthood of believers under the New Covenant. But the Anglican Church
(like certain others), while it acknowledges that we are all priests unto our God, never
abandoned the ordination of men to the priesthood. Is there a conflict here?
This short paper attempts to show that there is no conflict, and that the practice is
biblically sound and consistent.
The Old Testament shines into the New to help us see:
The Melchisedec Priesthood
There is no dispute that the Lord Jesus fulfilled the type of the high priest Melchisedec in
the Old Testament:
Even so likewise, Christ glorified not himself, to be made the high priest, but he who
said unto him, You are my Son; this day I begat you, glorified him. As he also in
another place speaks: You are a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec. Who,
in the days of his flesh, offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and
tearsand was made perfect, and the cause of eternal salvation to all who obey him,
and is called by God a high priest after the order of Melchisedec. (Hebrews 5:5-9)
Jesus opened the way once for all into the Holy of Holies where only the high priest could
go: the place of communion with God, who is our life, at the mercy seat. When he died on
the cross the veil in the temple tore in two, signifying that the way in was through him by
means of his sacrifice, by which everlasting life comes upon men who are otherwise
subject to death:
So God, willing very abundantly to show to the heirs of promise the stableness of his
counsel, he added an oath, that by two immutable things (in which it was impossible
that God should lie) we might have perfect consolation, we who have fled to hold fast
the hope that is set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul both sure
and steadfast. Which hope also enters in, into those things which are within the veil,
whither the forerunner is for us entered in, I mean Jesus, who is made a high priest for
ever after the order of Melchisedec. (Heb 6:17-20)
The high priesthood is the only mediatorial priesthood in the sense that only by it do we
come to know God, he who dwells in the holiest place. For Jesus came to earth and took
our nature upon him, and the divine and human natures are therefore joined in him. In this
way, then, he is the mediator between us, and our high priest. In him we are joined to
God, if the Spirit of the Lord dwells within us.

The Aaronic or Ceremonial Priesthood
Aaron was a Levite, a member of the tribe of Levi. The holy ceremonial priesthood was
appointed to him and his sons. They officiated in the temple, offered sacrifices for the
people, and performed other priestly functions. They were robed in symbolic vestments
and represented Israel before God.
Under the Old Covenant, the priests had a special privilege: only they ate the bread of
remembrance. This was the shew bread, the hallowed loaves that were set on the table in
the holy place in the temple:
And it shall be bread of remembrance and an offering to the Lord. Every Sabbath he
shall put them in rows before the LordAnd they shall be Aarons and his sons, and
they shall eat them in the holy place. (Leviticus 24:7-9. The KJV is a little different.
See also Matthew 12:4)
This bread foreshadowed the bread of the Lords Supper. Now all of us may eat the bread
of remembrance, and this we do in Holy Communion when the broken body of our Lord is
shown forth in broken bread: Do this in remembrance of me. (Luke 22:19, 1Cor 11:24)
And this the privilege of eating the shew bread confirms us priests under the New
As long as the believers right and privilege to partake of the hallowed bread is
acknowledged, their belonging to Christ, a hidden, spiritual priesthood, is also
acknowledged. The officiating priest (or deacon or bishop) simply ministers the
sacrament. This ministration does not usurp, deny, or diminish the priesthood of believers;
rather, it serves it.
The Royal Priesthood
And there was another calling to priesthood under the Old Covenant. All Israel, the whole
nation, after their exodus from Egypt, were called to be priests of a different sort:
If ye will hear my voice and keep my appointment, ye shall be my ownYe shall be
unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy people [KJV holy nation]. (Exodus 19:5,6)
Note the conditional nature of this calling to the people: if they keep Gods appointment,
they are a nation of priests who show forth his glory. Hear now how this exhortation is
echoed in Peters epistle to the Gentiles who had come to faith and were citizens of the
church, the new Israel of the New Covenant:
Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a peculiar people,
in order to show the virtues of him that called you out of the darkness into his
marvelous light. (1Pe 2:9)
This priesthood serves a manifestly different purpose than the ministering priesthood. The
latter shows the Lord ceremonially, but the whole nation is called to be priests unto him to
show his excellence by their character and conduct in love and mercy; in truthfulness,
honesty, kindness, goodness, and faith.
Therefore to be of the royal priesthood is to lead a holy life. William Tyndale wrote that
those who would be priests in Christ must offer themselves to God (as Christ did himself),
and to flee the lusts of the flesh that fight against the soul.2 All who profess Christ,
including the clan of Aaron, are called to this.
It is easy to see that the Aaronic priests could function within and serve the kingdom of
priests in a complimentary way, if they were faithful to their calling. And for faithful service

the people could thank God, who had ordained such means to keep the knowledge of him
and his covenant before them, and to minister to them the things of the faith.
The royal priesthood therefore is one which represents God, by personal witness one to
another, and also by a collective witness to those who are without. This is also something
that kings do; they represent their nation to and before other nations. In this way, then, we
of the holy nation are all priests and kings unto our God or may so be called, if we be
faithful to the covenant.
The Call for a Continuing Ceremonial Priesthood in the New Israel
The Lord Jesus, before he offered himself up, instituted the sacrament that we call Holy
Communion, the Lords Supper, the Eucharist, or the Mass. By eating the bread of
remembrance and drinking the cup of everlasting life, we partake of the spiritual body and
blood of the Lord for nourishment and growth in holiness. He comes invisibly, sole
mediator between God and man, in a blessed mystery. But he needs human hands to
distribute the visible elements. The ministering priests provide those hands. Again, this
does not usurp or deny the priesthood of believers, but rather serves it.
The apostles were Jews. After Pentecost and receiving the fullness of the Spirit, they
continued daily in the temple in one accord (Acts 2:46). Temple worship was ritualized
according to the pattern shown to Moses in the Mount. It should not surprise us that the
apostles would later, for the spiritual temple of the New Jerusalem, draw from this, even
by divine inspiration. We believe they did. Therefore our worship and service of Holy
Communion, following the Book of Common Prayer, look back to and are patterned after
the earliest Christian rites and liturgies.
Of the things which we have spoken, this is the pith: that we have such a high priest,
who is seated on the right hand of the seat of majesty in heaven, and is a minister of
holy things, and of the very tabernacle which God pitched, and not man. (Hebrews
When we gather in the holy place, in the tabernacle that God pitched, and eat the bread of
remembrance and drink the cup of the Lords blood shed for us, he comes sacramentally
to be with the faithful. He takes them behind the veil into the Holy of Holies, and they are
confirmed priests unto their God, who then go forth as part of a royal nation to show forth
the virtues and the excellence of him who called them into his marvelous light.
RMD, Baruch House Publishing, December 2013.

Scripture quotations are from the 1537 Matthew Bible of William Tyndale, Miles Coverdale, and
John Rogers, minimally updated.
Tyndale, Prologue to 1 Peter, Tyndales New Testament, David Daniells modern spelling edition,
Yale University Press (New Haven and London 1995).