What is a Priest?

There are priests around the world for many different religions, and according to who you talk to, the meaning of the word priest can vary, but we all know that priests understand something about God and are there supposedly to help the rest of us.

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These Buddhist priests are probably from Myanmar.

Here in Korea, if you see a Buddhist priest walking down the street, they will be completely bald. It doesn’t matter if they are a man or a woman. Yes, some Buddhist priests are women, and even the women shave their heads.  They will be wearing clothing made from traditional Korean cloth. Their clothes will probably be gray, but Buddhist priests in other countries wear other colors.

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The Catholics and the Orthodox also have priests.  In America, we know the Catholic priests as “the guys with the backwards collars.”  There is a Catholic church building behind our house here in Korea, and the priest there wears a long black kind of dress and a backwards collar.  I have seen the Orthodox priests who taught in the Orthodox seminary where I taught in Sibiu Romania dressed the same way. However, the Orthodox priests get very dressed up sometimes.  They have a fancy hat and fancy robes they wear during church services.

I have only attended the Catholic church once when I was a child. Occasionally, in Romania, I went to weddings, funerals or other celebrations at the Orthodox church.  The priests would carry burning incense and conduct all kinds of ceremonies. I made friends with an Orthodox priest from a village who invited me to tour his church building.  I learned that this particular Orthodox priest didn’t really know the Bible very well, but he knew all the traditional stories outside the Bible.  He showed me a picture in his church building that he called “Veronica” and insisted that I should know who she was thinking she was in the Bible, but I had never heard of a Veronica in the Bible.  There is no Veronica, but there is a woman in the Bible whose name tradition says is Veronica.  She is the woman who handed Jesus a cloth as he was carrying his cross to Golgotha to wipe his face.  I learned in Romania that there were different kinds of Orthodox priests.

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Some were very nice people like the priests I knew in the seminary and the man who gave me a tour of his building, but not all of them were that nice.  I learned that under Communism, the Communist Romanian government sent Orthodox priests as spies to America. Orthodoxy was the state religion in Romania, and they were paid by the Romanian government. However, I learned that there was a priest in Sibiu who was charging the people to say prayers for them and charging them if they wanted to confess.  There was also a priest in the village who tried to burn my house down, screamed at a woman so badly that she went to an asylum in the mountains to recover, threatened to arrest people who wanted to go into an apartment we had bought for people to study the Bible in, and after I left, I even learned that he faked his death to try to control circumstances.  There was also another Orthodox priest who yelled at me because I stepped on a carpet in the front of the church building trying to talk to him after a wedding.  He yelled because I am a woman, and he said women should never step on that carpet.  How was I supposed to know?

Here is a drawing of the original temple where Levi served, the tabernacle that Moses taught the people to put together.
Here is a picture of the Ark of the Covenant, Have you seen “Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant”?  The Ethiopians say this is in Ethiopia today. They say it was taken out of a Jerusalem through a tunnel because Jerusalem was being destroyed, and taken to Ethiopia.

The priests in the Bible are from the Old Testament.  The priests in the Old Testament used to offer animal sacrifices for the sins of the people. They took care of the Old Testament temple, and only they were allowed to enter the place called the Holy of Holies where the ark of the covenant was, and they only did it once a year.  The Ark of the covenant was a kind of large wooded chest that was covered with gold where the Hebrews carried the Ten Commandments along with other important objects and had cherubs at either end.  The Old Testament priests had a lot of specific duties.  It was called the Levitical priesthood because Moses’ brother Levi was the first priest in that line. John the Baptist’s father was a Levite priest.

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However, according to Hebrews, the animals sacrifices those Levitical priests offered are no longer necessary. They only rolled the sins ahead once a year. Now, we have a great high priest that has taken away our sins for all eternity, and we no longer need someone to offer animal sacrifices for our sins. According to the book of Hebrews, those sacrifices were a preparation to help us understand the ultimate sacrifice of that Jesus made for our sins, his own life.  It was all part of God’s plan from the beginning of time to bring mankind back to him. If you read chapter 10 of Hebrews, all of this is explained saying the Old Testament sacrifices were a shadow of the things that were to come, and in the end, the only sacrifice we need is Jesus because even though the Old Testament law required those sacrifices, it wasn’t really what God wanted.  Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice and the great high priest.

Jesus was not of the Levitical priesthood.  Hebrews 5:6 says that he was of the order of Melchizedek.  Who was Melchizedek?  He was a priest during the time of Abraham, before the Levitical priesthood.  Basically, no one knows where he came from nor where he went, but Abraham acknowledged him as a priest of the most high God.

We no longer need the Levitical priesthood because of Jesus’ sacrifice.  There are no conditions given for the Catholic or Orthodox priesthood in the New Testament.  Why do these guys call themselves priests?  What is a priest in the New Testament?

The Hebrew eventually lived all up and down that coast line.

To begin with, in the Old Testament, there is a prediction. “You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words you are to speak to Israel” (Exodus 19:6).  God’s plan was to reveal himself to the rest of the world through the Israelites.  If you look at the map above, you can see God’s plan.  The Israelites lived right in the middle of the known world.  God put them there on purpose to teach the other nations about him.  They were between Egypt, Babylon, Hittite, and Greece, big empires.  They were right in the middle and had a chance to teach people around them.  They were known for their prayers, and the savior of the world came through the Hebrew people.

However, the meaning is much larger than just the Hebrews teaching people in the known world of that time about God.  In the New Testament, we see a larger meaning of this prediction of God’s people becoming a priesthood.  The book of 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter addresses to the Christians who have been dispersed throughout the world because of persecution. He says to them ” you also, the living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).  He is telling Christians that they are a kingdom of priests, so it is their job to help other understand God.  The Apostle Peter calls Christians priests again: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 12:9).

It is not only the Apostle Peter who called Christians priests, but also the Apostle John called Christians priests when he wrote the book of Revelation trying to encourage the Christians because of all the persecution taking place:  “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,” (Revelation 5:10). He also says that Christians will be priests of God in Revelation 20:6.

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There is no place in the Bible that tells us to wear backward collars or shave our heads to become a priest. Christians are expected to study the Bible, 2 Timothy 2:15, and we are encouraged to do a good job in our studies.  In Acts, the people of Berea were considered “more noble” because they studied the scriptures daily to see if what they were being taught was true.  We can’t be priests as Christians if we don’t study and figure out what the Bible actually says and separate the truth from the ideas that people try to hand to us or the ones around us. The first chapter of Galatians says we should not accept anything other than what was already given to us in the bible, and the last chapter of Revelation is adamant about not adding to or taking away from the Bible.  As Christians, we need to be diligent in our studies, and we need to reach out and help those around us because God considers us priests.

How about those guys in the backward collars or the bald heads or fancy robes?  Do we need to pay them to pray for us?  They are just Christians if they follow the world of God.  If they don’t follow the word of God, they aren’t even that.  We don’t have to sit back and wait for a priest to pray for us and then pay him. We can pray for ourselves or ask other Christians to do it because we are all priests if we are Christians.  The Bible tells us to confess or sins one to another and to help one another.  Any priesthood that God did not sanctify is man made.  We are all just people. God didn’t tell them to shave their heads, wear backward collars, or wear fancy robes.  He told us all to take care of one another and help others understand God. We are told to love one another because love is of God, and that means be good to one another and take care of the others. “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another” (1 John 3:11).  “This is how we know what love is; Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need, but has no pity on him, how can the  love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).



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