Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Priesthood - part 2

A few months ago, I shared the idea that God never intended to ever have a priesthood - where human beings stood between Him and His people. Such systems are always based on paganism, and any church or religion that insists that it is necessary to have a priest stand between humans and God are engaging in anti-Christ methods. We are all priests, Peter tells us (1 Peter 2:9), and Jesus is our High Priest (check out the whole book of Hebrews).

So when we insist that we must go to another human being and have them intercede on our behalf with God, we are not only denying the priesthood of all believers, but we are engaging in anti-Christ behavior. We are saying that His mediation is not sufficient.

I came across something interesting this morning in my devotional time that further supplemented this idea. I just happened to be going over this idea again in the Bible, and I noticed that in Exodus 19:22, God instructed Israel to "let the priests who come near the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them." I was a bit confused by this idea because this instruction was given before Israel told Moses to speak to God for them, and before God evidently relented and set up the priesthood in Exodus 28. It was my contention that God only allowed for a priesthood in Exodus 28 because Israel wouldn't talk to Him themselves in Exodus 20. But here we see, in Exodus 19, that apparently there was already a priesthood.

But I was amazed to discover that prior to Exodus 19, the only mention of the word "priest" in Hebrew (cohen) is in reference to pagan priests. Joseph marries Asenath, who is the daughter of the priest of On (Gen 41:50); and Moses marries Zipporah, who is the daughter of Jethro, priest of Midian (Exo 3:1). These two individuals are the only ones who are said to be priests, prior to Exodus 19, with the exception of one other person. Melchizedek, king of Salem, is said to be a priest (Gen 14:18), but Hebrews clearly shows that Melchizedek was a "type" of Christ (Heb 5:6).

Thus, what I am led to believe is that when God spoke of priests in Exodus 19:22, He was talking about pagan priests. Israel must have had their own pagan priests, and this is why God was very specific about these priests consecrating themselves before approaching Him, "lest the Lord break out against them."

What is even more interesting is what I also overlooked in my previous post. When Peter announced in his first epistle that we are all priests, he wasn't coming up with anything original. Exodus 19:6 already announced this. There, when God first leads Israel to Sinai and is trying to reassure them of His covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He says to them, "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." Thus, right from the beginning, God indicated to them that He wanted all of them to be their own priests. He wanted to come to the people directly. But, of course, they would hear nothing of it, and it took some 1400 years for God to finally bring them back around to the reality that He wanted to fellowship with them directly.

Sadly, the "priesthood" of all believers only lasted for a couple of hundred years, at best, and then it went into hiding again until the Reformation. But I wonder if it has gone into hiding again since the Reformation. A book I am reading, Pagan Christianity?, certainly has me thinking along these lines.


erratic terata said...

So you are saying that God sanctioned "Anti-Christ" behaviour for 1,400 years because of the people's ignorance? That He submitted to their stubbornness? I don't understand your thinking.

Shawn Brace said...


This is an interesting question and it touches upon an important issue. There is a difference between "sanctioning" and "allowing"/meeting people where they are. God certainly didn't sanction slavery or polygamy in the OT, for example, but He allowed it and progressively tried to phase it out.

That is how God always works. Thus, He never intended to have a priesthood, just as He never intended for Israel to have a king, but when He realized the stubbornness of Israel's heart, He was willing to meet them where they were, hoping to eventually lead them into a better way.

Your thoughts?

erratic terata said...

This is the same God that killed Uzzah for trying to steady the Ark? It doesn't seem consistent.

And it's one thing to "allow" certain (relatively harmless) behavior, but to allow "Anti-Christ" behavior...? Seriously? Does God "allow" molestation (about the most Anti-Christ thing I can think of)? Remember that your use of the word "allow" includes God's creating rules governing the proper way to conduct said behavior.

Look, I don't have a problem with your believing whatever you want to about the system of priesthood. But you are in a position of influence (many Adventists look to their pastors in something similar to the way others look to their priests), and to say that those involved in religions with priesthoods are participating in "Anti-Christ" behavior is irresponsible. For one thing, it promotes an attitude of superiority and intolerance leaning toward hate. For another, you're going to offend anyone in those religions (not an effective way to win converts) as well as people like me. Apart from that, I think the arguments upon which you base your premise are tenuous.

Shawn Brace said...

Erratic, let me clarify: No, Israel was not engaging in "anti-Christ" behavior, per se - at least not in the sense I am thinking of. It was not until Christ came and was instituted as High Priest (see the book of Hebrews) that such anti-Christ behavior could be displayed.

Christ did not serve as High Priest in the OT. He serves as High Priest now. Thus, anyone who now supposes that we need a mediator to stand between us and God is denying Christ's priestly ministry. Prior to His priestly ministry, though He definitely wanted direct communion with His people and it was unfortunate that they did not want it, it was not equivalent to anti-Christ behavior. If that is how you interpreted my explanation, that is not what I meant.

I am not sure if it is ever irresponsible, as you say, to sincerely share truth. What would be irresponsible is if I were to purposely twist the facts or data, and not humbly approach the subject. I pray that I take the former attitude, but thank you for holding me accountable.

Hanan Merrill said...

Hey, what's your take on Pagan Christianity? I've read the book myself (at least most of it) and find it very interesting.

Shawn Brace said...

Hi Hannon,

I've read about two-thirds of it and I'm very intrigued. There are some things I find a little problematic, but I was planning on writing a full review of the book sometime in the near future. I would love to hear more of your perspective as well.