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Louis R. Torres
The phrase “Priesthood of Believers” surfaces when the issue of ordaining women is introduced. From whence comes this term? I conducted a search throughout the Bible to find this phrase. I could not find it. Since it is not a biblical term, whence its origin?
First, it is important to note that this is not a biblical phrase. Rather, it is a coined phrase suggested to have biblical roots when in reality it is incongruous with th Scriptures. Second, some trace it to Martin Luther. And, though it is true that he used the phrase, it was to emphasize that the Catholic practice of the priesthood was contradictory to Bible teaching and practice. He argued that the common individual was as able to approach God as a priest. Hence, the “priesthood of believers,” meaning that every believer has direct access to God.
The actual text contorted is:
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Peter 2:5, 9).
Peter is taking this concept from the Old Testament where God says to Israel: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken” (Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 26:19).
The question is: what did God mean by this proclamation? Did He intend that everybody in Israel—adults and children, male and female, become priests? What did Moses understand concerning the declaration? When Moses was told by the Lord to convey what he had said to Israel, the record states, “And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him” (Exodus 19:7).
Moses did not call the women and men to tell them what God had just declared. Rather he called for the elders to tell them the proclamation. God’s divine intention was that the entire nation would be governed by Himself directing a holy priesthood. The next question is, what did God intend would be the makeup of this priesthood? How would He demonstrate or make concrete the interpretation of this declaration?
The Lord rendered the interpretation of this declaration when He said:
And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office. And thou shalt bring his sons, and clothe them with coats: And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations (Exodus 40:13-15).
In the New Testament we find an Apostolic commentary by Paul concerning the priesthood:
And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:5, 11).
It is essential to notice that God himself gave the interpretation and the meaning to the statement. It is therefore not subject to doubt or conjecture concerning His will. By setting up the Tabernacle and its services, then assigning only males to serve as priests, God speaks loud and clear giving a concrete interpretation as to the meaning of the proclamation, “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.”
What then was Peter’s meaning? It was obviously the practice both in the Old Testament and the New to address the family and nation by its leaders. In the Fall of Adam and Eve, God held Adam responsible. He was the head of the family. See Genesis 3:16-21. After the Fall, God said:
Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man: and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24).
Take special note that God does not say, “behold the man and the woman,” but rather, “man!” In the fourth Commandment God addresses both husband and wife by only mentioning the man. See Exodus 20:8-11. There is no question that God holds the man responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of the family; the same was true with church and nation.
When Peter was writing to the “scattered strangers,” he was using the same avenue of communication as was practiced in those days. He sent the message through “Silvanus a faithful brother” from the “church that is at Babylon” (chapter 5:12, 13). Notice that the subject matter in chapter two is addressing the believers in general, but channeling his counsels through the men. In verse 19 he says, “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”
In chapter three, he splits his counsel and addresses wives in particular, and then the husband. Then in chapter four he returns to the general counsel by addressing the congregants through the men.
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf (1 Peter 4:8-16).
It would have been highly unlikely for the Apostles to bypass the men or elders of the church and write to the wives or women to give advice to the men. That is why he wrote in chapter five, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the suffering of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). It is only the apostle John who writes a personal pastoral letter to the “elect lady” in the Bible. See 2 John. Otherwise, all counsels sent to the churches were sent to the elders or leaders, and read by them to the churches. These church leaders were all men. In fact the very title “Bishop” is always applied to the male gender, and never to women.
Concerning this fact Paul writes, “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach” (1 Timothy 3:1, 2). “For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:7-9). “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). This title used for Christ by Peter is analogously transferred to human undershepherds.
The word “elders” or “elder” is generally used as a title for men leading out in the Christian church. It is only used once when making a contrast between the young women and elder women. Paul using the term as an adjective writes: “Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2). The rest of the time it is used to refer to the male leaders of God’s church. For example: “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons” (Acts 20:17, 18).
When Korah, Dathan and Abiram rebelled against Moses, the argument used is precisely the assertion made today—that is, “everyone is now a priest.” Notice their rationale.
And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown: And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD? (Numbers 16:2, 3).
They were adamant that “every one of them”. . . “is holy.” This language suggests that Korah was paraphrasing the statement God made when he called Israel a “Holy Nation.”
They also argued that Moses was lifting up himself above the congregation. They might have been sincere. But sincerity does not establish truth. They were sincerely wrong. All had not been called to be priests. God had made his selection. And when they chided against Moses as supposed advocates for the holiness of the people, in reality they were in rebellion against God. Neither Aaron nor Moses urged themselves into the ministry. It was by God’s election. Paul wrote, “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee” (Hebrews 5:4, 5). Paul here states: “No man takes this honor.” Obviously, this language precludes women either taking, or desiring the priesthood.
The conclusion of this matter is that just as God had chosen Israel to function as a nation under the leadership of the priesthood, (that was made up of males) He intended for the gentile churches, and all believers to consider themselves in the same relationship with God as ancient Israel. For it was the priests who offered sacrifices in the Old Testament, and who were to lead in the spiritual matters of Israel. It is in the same sense that God’s New Testament church leaders were to hold sacred the spiritual responsibilities of the churches. This was not to say that every member or believer was to be a priest.
In the New Testament the title was changed from “priest,” to “elder,” Suggesting that the earthly priesthood ended, giving way to the heavenly priesthood of Christ, and creating a new order. The church would not be led by “priests,” but rather by “elders”! God would be their God, leading a church with holy leaders as in times past.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Louis R. Torres and wife Carol have a long history of pastoral and evangelistic service in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Torres presently serves as president of the Guam-Micronesia Mission, which is part of the North American Division.