Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Messianic Priesthood of Jesus

Alice C. Linsley

For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater; and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:13-20)

The promises God made to Abraham, to which all in God's Kingdom are heirs, are eternal and unchanging. They are fixed to God’s eternal and unchanging nature and God cannot lie. The writer of Hebrews presents a picture of Jesus' priesthood that helps us to understand how Jesus fulfills those promises. Hebrews explains that the promises are tied to a Messianic priesthood that existed in the time of Abraham and before. What can we say about this priesthood?

First, we can say that the priesthood is verifiably one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, traced back to at least 7000 BC. The priest emerges out of primeval perceptions of blood as a substance of life and purity or rightness. The Hebrew root "thr" = to be pure, corresponds to the Hausa/Hahm "toro" = clean, and to the Tamil "tiru" = holy. All are related to the proto-Dravidian "tor" = blood. These are cognate languages in the Afro-Asiatic language group and it is from these peoples that we received the institution of the priesthood.

Humans yearned for the death-defeating benefits of the Pleromic Blood as early as 80,000 years ago. Sophisticated mining operations in the Lebombo Mountains of southern Africa reveal that thousands of workers were extracting red ochre which was ground into powder and used in the burial of nobles in places as distant as Europe. Anthropologists agree that this red powder symbolized blood and its use in burial represented hope for the renewal of life.

Second, we know that the priesthood functioned to mitigate blood guilt. Anthropologists have noted that there is considerable anxiety about shed blood among primitive peoples. (This has been discussed in many of the great monographs: Benedict's Patterns of Culture, Lévi-Strauss' The Raw and the Cooked, and Turnbull's The Forest People). Among the Afro-Asiatics, the priesthood served to relieve blood guilt and anxiety and to perform rites of purity. Shamans serve a similar function among other linguistic groups, although the worldview of priests and shamans is different.

Observation of primitive peoples helps us to understand the context in which the blood of animals is used to purify, to discern the identity of offenders, and to protect homes, lifestock and children. The Mofu holy man (Cameroon) mixes python fat with the blood of a sacrificed goat when offering prayers for rain. The spirits of hunted animals are reverenced before their blood is shed and their flesh eaten to nourish humans. Warriors abstain from sexual intercourse before battle and purify themselves after battle. Women are purified after childbirth. This is the origin of "the churching of women", a custom that has virtually died out in the Western Churches. Among native peoples, brotherhood pacts are formed by the intentional mixing of bloods, uniting two of a kind, but binary distinctions such as male and female, or human and God are maintained.

Even today in the priests' manuals of the Eastern Churches there is concern about the mixing of bloods. If an Orthodox priest should cut himself while he is in the Holy Place, he must immediately leave. His blood cannot share the same space as the Pleromic Blood that is there by virtue of Christ's Priestly Presence. Eastern Orthodoxy speaks of Communion as a "bloodless feast" to distinguish the Eastern view from Transubstantiation, but the Pleromic Blood is the true Form of the bread and the wine. So it is that every Orthodox professes before receiving, "I believe that this is truly thine own immaculate Body, and that this is truly thine own precious Blood."

Abraham’s meeting with Melchizedek, "priest of the Most High God", was after battle (Gen. 14). This suggests that it had to do with relief of blood guilt. Abraham’s refusal to increase his fortune by war and his acceptance of the bread, wine and blessing offered to him by Melchizedek, show that he desired to be pure. It is noted that this meeting did not involve the sacrifice of animals, but only the offering of bread and wine. Melchizedek’s priesthood typifies the Messianic priesthood of Christ, who gives His own body and blood, prefigured by the bread and wine.

Third, we also know that no woman entered into the Holy Place where blood was offered through atoning death. The Afro-Asiatics, from whom we received the unique institution of the Priesthood, believed that the blood shed by men in war, hunting, execution, and animal sacrifice could not be in the same space as the blood shed by women in their monthly flow and in birthing. Sacred law prohibited the blood shed in killing (male) and the blood shed in giving life (female) to share the same space. God doesn't want confusion about the distinctions of life and death. The same distinction of life-taking and life-giving is behind the prohibition against boiling the young goat in its mother’s milk (Deut. 14:21).

So the author of Hebrews tells us, Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11-14)


Related reading:  Who Was Melchizedek?

24 comments:

arturovasquez said...

If only Christian discourse in this country was filled with such enlightened, such profound insights into the origins of human thought and life! You do us all a great service in writing things like this.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Very humbling. Thanks.

TLF+ said...

Thank you, Alice. A fine post that reminds me of the overwhelming reality of what happens at the altar.

Georgia said...

Alice, I printed this to read and when I got to the 3rd paragraph - I was awed with the thought that the word, 'tor-ah' might mean the 'blood of God' and with that thought, the reverence that is due to the Scriptures...reverence that is not given it by TEC and the revisionists...and often by me.

Then the next thought, how the trinity of the Logos/Agape/Dunamis (Truth/Love/Life) is One as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One (congruent in purpose, passion, holiness, redemptive restorative healing saving power)


Oh the beauty!

...and I've only read that far, so far...perhaps more comments later.

Thanks for your work!

Alice C. Linsley said...

Georgia, According to my friends over at Ancient Hebrew Research Center, "Torah" means what is throw by the hand of the Moreh (Oracle or prophet/priest). Abraham received guidance when he pitched his tent at the Oak of Moreh. Guidance or instruction is the usual meaning of Torah, but the older Afro-Asiatic asociation with a prophet sitting under a tree is still evident. See the essay posted here about 10 days ago on Women Rulers in Ancient Israel.

Also visit http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/5_torah.html

Robert Easter said...

Good article, Alice. I must ask, though, as you said,

Women are purified after childbirth. This is the origin of "the churching of women", a custom that has virtually died out in the Western Churches. The "churching of women," of course, comes from a Mosaic injunction, the reasons for which, in our impersonalised & industrialised culture we have lost track.

Why must we presume be that the Bible is derived from pagan sources? Is it not possible that outside sources have borrowed from Holy Scripture, or even, in historical accounts, that the "parallel" sources are simply aware of the same event?

Anonymous said...

Alice: i was intrigued by your outlook on the binary distinction between the sexes; it makes the understanding of the role of the priesthood in ancient times clearer.
I do have a few unaswered questions: if a woman is past the child bearing years (menopause years) would she then have better access to certain rights of the temple? I know that many elderly people were in temples such as Anna (Luke 2:36). Since Jesus was the ultimate sacriface, and "killing of animal sacriface" was taken away, did this then pave the road for women in the priesthood.
In another post you said that Sola-Scripturia produced a distoration on christianity... and i certainly have had 1 Timothy brought to my attention on more than one occassion, as I am sure you also have had to tolerate. I would appreciate more information on how much of a role within the different demonations women are allowed to assert in this time frame, and yet stay within the bounds of God's laws. Thankyou for your kindness. Lisa

Alice C. Linsley said...

Dear Lisa,

Anna is certainly a fascinating case. St. Luke tells us that she was a widow who at age 84 “did not depart from the temple”. We are also told that she was a prophet who served God with prayers and fastings and recognized in Jesus the fulfillment of the promise to redeem Israel. It sounds from this description that Anna follows in the pattern of Deborah, also a prophet, and that she may have been what we call today an “anchoress”. Not by any stretch of the imagination can we make Anna or Deborah out to be priests. Were they animal-sacrificing “priests”, the Scriptures would have told us so, as that would have been so unusual as to be remarked upon and remembered.

The road is open for women to serve God in many ways, but not as priests. God has not changed this ordering of the unique office of the priesthood. If HE had, that too would have been made very clear.

Both Scripture and Tradition tell us that there are orders in the service of God. St. Paul places these in a hierarchy of importance: Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Miracle-Workers and Healers (I Corinthians 12:28). Notice that he doesn’t even mention Priests, because as far as Paul was concerned the blood work of the Priesthood was complete in the sacrifice of Messiah Jesus, both Priest and King. Notice also that Paul doesn’t equate Apostle with Bishop. In fact, in the early Church many women were recognized as “equal to the Apostles”. Photini, the Samaritan woman, is one of them. The New Testament suggests that Lydia and Phoebe had apostolic ministries also. We are also told that women served as prophets. You will remember that the evangelist Phillip had 4 virgin daughters who were well-known prophets (Acts 21:9). Also, Paul tells women who prophesy in the assembly to wear a head covering as a sign of humility. Priscilla was a teacher who took Apollos aside and instructed him more perfectly n the Gospel. So, as far as I can determine, there is no office in Scripture and Tradition that is prohibited to women, except the priesthood.

Since Protestant denominations don’t recognize the priesthood (and therefore often miss the significance of the Pleromic Blood), each denomination determines for itself what roles women may serve. So Methodists and Presbyterians, for example, have women pastors, but Southern Baptists and Plymouth Brethren do not.

Episcopalians ordain women as priests, but as TEC's leaders reject the biblical binary distinctions and are apostates when it comes to the Pleromic Blood, this is a priesthood in name only.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Dear Robert,

Just Genesis is dedicated to understanding one book of the Bible. That book speaks about events and people who lived by faith long before the Bible Canon was decided. Abraham’s religious practices can’t be called pagan any more than we can call the practices of Deborah or David pagan. Genesis is ultimately about the Kingdom of God and the Blessed Trinity. Those concepts are already evident in the thought and experience of Father Abraham. We can debate whether they are evident because God had Self-revealed in Christ, Begotten of teh Father before the world's creation, or because these concepts were back-written into the text at a later date. I believe that both situations exist and that this is evidence that God is the Author of Genesis. Please read these essays:

http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2008/05/yes-georgia-there-is-kingdom.html

http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2008/05/theme-of-hidden-sons.html

Rites of purification existed long before the Mosaic Law was encoded. The Mosaic Law reflects existent religious practices, but also adds some new ones.

I like what you wrote at your blog: “Rather than putting the Bible through our own Vegomatics, it is time for those of us in the Church in the West who are just tired of the way things are to come together in genuine humility seeking Christ (like the Wise Men we claim to be) in all of Scripture and then following wherever he leads. It is getting rather late in the day to continue muddling along, and the darkness is rapidly approaching.”

Thanks for your comment. I hope that you will visit again.

Anonymous said...

Your emphasis on the "binary distinctions" between men and women are frightening to me. Do you believe that women are spiritually inferior to men? I have been interested in the Orthodox Church now for over 4 years but I am afraid to join because I feel that the underlying message is inferiority of women. Can you speak to this?

Alice C. Linsley said...

This essay is about the Messianic Priesthood of Jesus. To understand this in the biblical context one needs to recognize the binary distinctions pertaining to blood shed by men and women. That the blood shed by women is life-giving doesn't in any way suggest that women are inferior.

Anonymous said...

But why do the binary distinctions between blood shed by women and blood shed by men matter so much? I could get a blood transfusion from a male or a female donor, just so it was my blood type. All blood is "life-giving" in that we would die if we did not have enough of it. A human being, male or female, can bleed to death.
I just don't understand what you are trying to say or why it matters. Yes, it is interesting what the pagans did and how that carried over to the Old Testament but what has any of this got to do with Jesus' saving us?

Alice C. Linsley said...

The Priest is a male, and females cannot be priests, as the 2 bloods may never share the same space without causing confusion. The Priest, as perhaps the oldest known religious office, prefigures the Messiah. God wants distinctions clear so we won't miss Jesus, the Great High Priest over the House of God. Further, when we understand the origins of the priesthood among the Afro-Asiatic peoples, we better understand the Church and the Kingdom of which the Church is a part.

The term 'pagan' doesn't apply to Abraham or the others who God called and made righteous through the blood of Jesus.

The binary distinctions still hold. Males are distinct from females. There is dry land and seas. Night is distinct from day. Life is distinct from death. The sun appears to rise in the East and sets in the West. Mankind can't change any of these. They stand as a testimony in the created order that God is sovereign over all.

Robert said...

Alice, I must confess that much of this is a bit new to me, especially in language, or maybe not. Now, I can see extensions of this distinction principle in, possibly, the Sabbath laws, the Mosaic proscription against blended fabrics or mixed seed in planting, but, if I'm getting this, why apply it to clerical responsibilities and not to, say, interracial relationships? Or would, in that case, the table be turned and three so-called races need to be united under the same kind of thinking for the sake of their three-ness?

I'm really confessing my own lack of understanding here when I say that the whole line of reasoning reaches me as rules for rules' sake: I may see the rhyme, but the reason escapes me.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Robert, you can appreciate the simply walk of faith. The man of faith walks by the guidelines God has set before him. This is a matter of the heart. He obeys the guidelines because he loves the Lord and trusts Him. Binary distinctions are God's guidelines. They tell us what is best for our bodies, minds and spirits, and for our families and communities. They tell us that men and women are different yet complementary; that it is wrong for a man to be with man the way a man is with a women. They tell us that life is valueable, that blood can't be shed without consequences. Jesus' shed Blood, to which the Messianic Priesthood points from ancient times, has the most profound consequences of all. The distinctions are there to help us think clearly and critically. Satan seeks to blur the binary distinctions and cause us to be confused. The enemy doesn't want us to hold to the biblical worldview, of which these distinctions are a part.

Robert said...

Maybe, Alice, I just need to re-read your article, but, and I guess this is just us two now, as the post is off the main page; but I still don't see why the fact the Christ came, lived, and died as a Man shedding Man's blood necessitate an all male priesthood, and that women shed blood in childbirth excludes them from ever serving in that capacity.

Apparently a corollary question- you said earlier that you advocate a sacerdotal priesthood though you (??) recognise that Scripture says that the sacrifices ceased when they were fulfilled in the Cross. In other words, it seems you were saying that the only reason you are out of clerical ministry is that there is a (cancelled) aspect to it for which your sex disqualifies you. I'm sure I'm missing something huge here.

Anonymous said...

Robert wrote: "I still don't see why the fact the Christ came, lived, and died as a Man shedding Man's blood necessitate an all male priesthood, and that women shed blood in childbirth excludes them from ever serving in that capacity." This is an EXCELLENT QUESTION and I eagerly await the answer. Robert, thanks for stating the question so well. Carol in Texas

Alice C. Linsley said...

Robert, Jesus came as a human and shed human blood, not cat blood or elephant blood. Does it make a different what kind of blood? Of course!

Messiah’s blood had to human blood or there would be no redemption. Jesus’ blood is a covering for all bloodshed and all blood anxiety. The priesthood (an institution unique to the Afro-Asiatics) speaks of a particular Person, Jesus Christ, who entered the Most Holy Place and there accomplished what none other could accomplish. This is the tradition that the Church received from the Jewish Apostles who received it from their Abrahamic Faith. The Priesthood is a sign of Jesus Christ. While His blood was human blood, He was Himself a Man and God’s High Priest. Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and the High Priest was a male chosen by God because what was to happen in that place was most dreadful: the mixing of judgment and mercy, or death and life. Only in Christ can these be safely mixed. This is what C.S. Lewis calls the “old magic” in the Narnia Chronicles. It is older than the magic of the Jadis. The secular society in which we live follows Jadis. As Christians, we follow Jesus, our great High Priest (Hebrews).

This understanding of the Priesthood is the unbroken Biblical tradition of the Apostles and the Church. The Tradition is not changeable, even though ECUSA decided to ordain women as priests. Remember, it was ECUSA that first ordained a gay bishop and this action, along with the ordination of women as priests, divided Anglicans forever. I regret that I was part of that innovation, but in those days I didn't understand the biblical worldview.

Robert said...

Thanks, Alice!

And, as one of our profs here would say, "That'll preach!"

The question still hangs, though, about the identification of the priesthood with the sacrifices. My reading is that "priesthood" is a notion of pastoral eldership / "presbuteros-ity." Yes, an intercessor, but in a pastoral sense rather than an appointed mediator as was the Kohen. As 1st Corinthians, and the Liturgy, say, "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us (all) keep the feast."

Am I advocating women priests? Not necessarily, and less necessarily, I think, in the US. I just am not getting the male vs. female blood connection in your argument.

Alice, thanks again for the time you put into this great blogsite. You're a real inspiration here in your own life, work, and hospitable presence!

Anonymous said...

Alice,

What, exactly, is "blood anxiety?"

And "only the high priest" could go in the altar because what happens is so terrible? I trust you know that it in the Orthodox Church, boys as young as 8 serve as acolytes and go behind the altar. If it is so "terrible" why are such young children allowed back there when grown women are not?
Carol, again, in Texas (Sorry to post anonymously but I haven't figured out how to log on yet.)

Alice C. Linsley said...

Robert, there is disagreement on the priesthood between Anglo-Catholics who insist that the sign of the priesthood is one that should remain uncorrupted by innovation since it touches on Christology and evanglicals who read priesthood as presbyter. ONe must decide where one stands ont his issue. I opt for the unbroken tradition going back to Melchizedek, and against ECUSA's dangerous innovations.

Carol, thanks for being a part of this conversation. Your question about blood anxiety is very important. Please understand that I approach the Genesis text as an anthropologist and linguist. Anthropologists who have studied primitive or tribal peoples have written a good deal about the anxiety that these people feel about shed blood. Click to the Just Genesis INDEX and go to the essays on the Priesthood. The concept of blood anxiety is explained there.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Carol, in Orthodoxy the Eucharist is a "bloodless sacrifice." It is bloodless because the One who was bloodied for our sakes is present there as the Ever-Living One. Yet Orthodoxy recogizes the principle of not mixing bloods because if the priest cuts himself while in the holy place he must, by priestly law, leave the area immediately.

To log on, you must set up a Google account. Posting as "Anonymous" is fine with me if you provide your name, and I appreciate that you do.

Anonymous said...

Alice,

I apologize to still be "anonymous" but google will not let me create an account. It says there is already an account under my email but refuses to post any comment I write there. I have proabaly forgotten the password but it never tells me that nor does it tell me how to retrieve the password.

Now, as to "blood anxiety", I read some of your other articles on this subject as you suggested. Thank you for noting that your approach is that of the anthropologist/linguist. My approach is that of a struggling and doubting Christian, with advanced cancer, trying to find truth and peace before I die. I can see how the shedding of blood must have terrified the primitive societies. However, I have blood drawn every 3 weeks to check the "progress" of my cancer. I long ago lost any anxiety about the needle sticking my vein and 3 or 4 vials being filled with blood, MY blood. I have no anxiety about that at all. The anxiety comes while I await the test results -- is the cancer responding to the chemotherapy, is it growing, is it stable? How much longer do I have to live?

Your studies of primitive peoples' perception of gender roles and bloodshed are remarkably well expressed and researched. Obviously you have received a top-notch education and have a brilliant mind. Perhaps I could gently remind you that academic research was not always considered appropriate for females. Although you put down "feminists" and the "academics who want to be politically correct" (sorry for the inexact quote), I'm sure you realize that you reap benefits from some of those considered "feminists" in earlier times -- you can vote, you can attend graduate school, own property and so on.

I also disagree that the male priesthood is challenged only by "feminists" and the "politically correct" (again, I cannot remember your quote exactly). It is also challenged by ordinary folks like me who just don't see the relevance of these ancient taboos today. And it is challenged by women (like me) who have been made, by churches, to feel inferior simply because we are female. I see the male-only priesthood as a prime example of this.

I have no desire to be a priest. However, the message of the male-only priesthood to me is, "Woman thou art spiritually inferior!" This is a discouraging message at any time in one's life.

Carol in Texas

Alice C. Linsley said...

Dear Carol,

Your struggle with cancer is a far greater one than I've ever had to endure. I pray that you might be transfused with the Blood of Jesus.

Haven't we emailed each other in the past? I trust that you have a spiritual home in which you are growing, loved and supported (even if the priests are male.)

It is wonderful that you are not anxious about your procedures. May the Lord use your medical helpers to bring you healing and comfort. The blood anxiety I refer to is that attached to the taking of life in war, hunting and sacrifice.

I agree that the attack on the institution of the priesthood can't be placed at the feet of feminists and advocates of modernism. This is a cosmic attack, launched from all sides and using all venues. It comes in textbooks that speak about shamanism but not about the priesthood. Or speak as if the only priesthood that ever existed is that of the Aztecs or of Shinto. These are very different from the Afro-Asiatic priesthood inherited by Christianity through Judaism.

I once googled "image of a priest" to post a picture at this blog, and of the 26 links that came up, 17 were pornographic sites.

This demonic attack on the priesthood of Tradition suggests that it is about Jesus Christ. The priesthood is Christological.