Thursday, December 20, 2012

Luther Was Wrong About the Priesthood

Alice C. Linsley

The Church exists where the priesthood exists. The marks of the Church are apostolic preaching, right doctrine, and the sacramental agency of the priest. Speaking from the perspective of Biblical Anthropology, the priesthood of the Church stands in continuity with the Hebrew priesthood that was known to Abraham and his ancestors. The priest's office is unique, very ancient, and stands as an ensign of the hope for immortality. The priesthood is about the blood. Life is in the blood!

Christianity is a received tradition. It didn't begin with Jesus and the Apostles, as if they founded a new religion. This view suggests discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments. Christianity represents continuation with, indeed, the fulfillment of the faith of Abraham and his Horite people, all of whom were in the priest caste, though not all served as sacrificing priests. For example, Horite women did not serve as priests, neither did all Horite men. The offering of blood sacrifice was reserved for the spiritual head of the clan. He was to be a righteous ruler like Job and Abraham.

The priesthood can be traced to before the time of Abraham. The Christian Faith emerges from the faith of Abraham's Horite people, a caste of ruler-priests who were devotees of Horus. The Greek word for priest which appears in the New Testament is ἱερεύς (hiereus). It is derived from the ancient Egyptian word Horus and related to the word hierogylph, meaning priestly writing.

Horus was the pattern by which the early Jewish Christians recognized Jesus to be Messiah. Jesus' birth place was Bethlehem, an ancient Horite settlement (I Chronicles 4:4). Herod's wise men knew Bethlehem was the place Messiah was expected to be born. The whole of Israel's Messianic expectation was rooted in the tradition they received from their Horite ancestors. Even today Jews refer to their forefathers as Horim, another word derived from Horus. (For other words derived from Horus and the Horite worldview, see this.)

Hiereus is used in the New Testament as the equivalent of the Hebrew/Arabic kohen, having to do with the Horite priests who were related by blood and marriage. Horite priests married the daughters of Horite priests. Jesus is the direct descendant of the Horite ruler-priest lines through Mary, the daughter of a shepherd priest Joachin.

The earliest Christians had "kohens" (kohanim) among them in the persons of Nicodemus and Joseph of Armathea, that is, Yosef of the Ar clan of Matthew. He was a Horite priest of the line of Matthew. They recognized the spiritual authority of such men. Neither of these were the High Priest, however. The whole sacrifical system was about atonement for sin, and that was the special work of the High Priest only. He was the mediator between God and the people. The early Christians recognized Jesus Christ as their High Priest, that is, the only mediator between God and the community of the redeemed.

Christian priests stand in the tradition of the ancient priesthood, but are not a caste, and the sacrifice they offer is not a bloody one, as least not in the sense of crucifying Christ over and over. In catholic tradition, priests are the Church's Apostles and are said to stand in "apostolic succession". The charisms of the priest are received at the laying on of hands by bishops who are the spiritual heirs of the Apostles commissioned by Jesus Christ.

The priesthood originates in Christ and is fulfilled in Christ. Without Christ our Great High Priest there would be no priesthood. The priesthood is not a human invention. The priesthood is a divinely established ordinance. Every true priest reflects the purity, sobriety, humility and compassion of Jesus Christ.

God's self-revelation to the world is perfected in Jesus Christ. Ultimate authority is attached to our Great High Priest who has gone into the Most Holy Place through the veil of His own flesh. The author of Hebrews speaks of the old sacrifical system as a prefigurement of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not so much the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifical system as He is the reason for the system and the reason the priesthood exists. Every priest is ontologically like the one True Priest, Jesus Christ. If he is not like Him in purity, grace, humility and sobriety, he is not an "in-Christ" priest. He is an impostor, a phony.

St. John Chrysostom wrote that the priesthood "is ranked among heavenly ordinances. And this is only right, for no man, no angel, no archangel, no other created power, but the Paraclete himself ordained this succession..." (On the Priesthood, 1977, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, p. 70). A "heavenly ordinance" is eternal in essence and cannot be changed by man.

The "priesthood of all believers"

There are serious historical and exegetical problems with using I Peter to support the Protestant doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, as Luther did. Luther went too far in his attempt to undermine the authority of Rome. I'm not sure he even believed this, since he insisted that confession be made to a priest.

Luther generalized a historical reality of a priestly people to all Christians on the basis of 1 Peter 2:9. However, the epistle is addressed to Hebrews in the Dispersion. The Hebrew are indeed a "nation of priests" or a priestly caste, to be more exact. Those living in the Diaspora were Bible-believing Karaite Jews. This epistles appears to reach out to the Karaites who were shunned by the orthodox Jewish leadership. The Jerusalem leadership persecuted the disciples and the Karaites who did not accept oral Torah. Oral Torah refers to rabbinic expositions of the Hebrew Scriptures, many of which seek to divert the plain meaning of Messianic passages that clearly are fulfilled in Jesus Messiah.

Many Karaites became Christians; what we might call "Messianic" Jews. The Old Testament references for I Peter 2:9 are Isaiah 43:20,21 which is about doing a new thing... making a new way for God's chosen ones. Also Isaiah 28:16 which refers to the orthodox Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, telling them that God is laying a new foundation. Are we to generalize the historical reality of a sacrificing priest caste to all Christians on the basis of this one passage? I think it is a mistake, as do other scholars who see this epistle as addressing the parting of ways between two groups of Jews: those who placed Talmud above Torah, and those who saw Torah as their sole authority.

The "priesthood of all believers" is a phrase that alludes to Jews living outside of Palestine who are in the R1b Haplogroup. They were Jews whose families had been living in Southern Europe for many generations. Their ancestors had dispersed widely before Abraham. These ruler-priests were found among the Hittites, the Saka, the Nilotic Ainu, and the Sarki. They are known by various names but all were in the R1b haplogroup.

They were Hebrew (Ha-biru) followers of Jesus Christ. In I  Peter 2 we read, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom." Since these Habiru practiced endogamy, it is a genetic fact that they were a nation of priests. Here Peter is speaking of an historic reality that should not be generalized to believers who are not descendants of the Horite Habiru. Peter is speaking to people of the priestly clans whose ancestors lived long before Judaism.

Since Abraham's people practiced exclusive intermarriage (endogamy) between the priestly clans, it is possible to speak of the Hebrew as a "nation of priests" or a people belonging to the priestly caste that originated in Eden. It was to the Edenic forefathers of the Horite Hebrew that the promise was made that a woman of their ruler-priest lines would bring for the the Seed of God who would crush the serpent's head and restore Paradise (Gen. 3:15). Jesus claimed to be this Seed when He spoke of his death being like a seed that falls into the ground a dies in order to bring life (John 12:24).

This is an historical and anthropological discovery that Martin Luther did not recognize when he railed against the Roman priesthood and all that he considered idolatrous. Let us check the facts.

In 1520 Luther wrote a treatise To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation in which he proposed this innovation: that all baptized Christians are priests. He wrote:

That the pope or bishop anoints, makes tonsures, ordains, consecrates, or dresses differently from the laity, may make a hypocrite or an idolatrous oil-painted icon, but it in no way makes a Christian or spiritual human being. In fact, we are all consecrated priests through Baptism, as St. Peter in 1 Peter 2[:9] says, "You are a royal priesthood and a priestly kingdom," and Revelation [5:10], "Through your blood you have made us into priests and kings."

Luther further developed this idea in his treatise On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), in which he wrote:

How then if they are forced to admit that we are all equally priests, as many of us as are baptized, and by this way we truly are; while to them is committed only the Ministry (ministerium Predigtamt) and consented to by us (nostro consensu)? If they recognize this they would know that they have no right to exercise power over us (ius imperii, in what has not been committed to them) except insofar as we may have granted it to them, for thus it says in 1 Peter 2, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom." In this way we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians. There are indeed priests whom we call ministers. They are chosen from among us, and who do everything in our name. That is a priesthood which is nothing else than the Ministry. Thus 1 Corinthians 4:1: "No one should regard us as anything else than ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God."

The historical background is important. The Diet of the Holy Roman Empire met at Worms in 1521. Martin Luther appeared there before examiners to respond to charges of heresy. Pope Leo X condemned 41 of Luther's propositions and when Luther refused to recant, he was excommunicated in January 1521. Luther had anticipated this possibility and sought to redefine the priesthood on the basis of baptism, rather than priestly succession. He was determined to cast doubt on the authority of the Roman Church, even if that meant redefining the priesthood by latching onto 1 Peter 2:9. However, Peter's letter is directed to believing Hebrew people living in the Diaspora. They are a "nation of priests" who ancestors were the Horite ruler-priests (Horim).  1 Peter 1:1 and 2:12 make it evident that Peter is writing to Jews, not Gentiles.

It is ironic that Luther, who insisted that Church doctrine must be accountable to the teachings of Scripture alone (sola scriptura), should resort to wrongly handling Scripture to justify and encourage the Lutheran movement.  His interpretation runs contrary the historical reality that the priesthood of the Church is continuous with the sacerdotal priesthood of Abraham and his Horim. Instead of questioning the Roman Catholic narrative of priestly succession from Peter as the Rock upon which the Catholic Church was founded, he invented a notion of the priesthood that departs from Holy Scripture and lacks facticity. His is a false picture of the Christian priesthood and, as with all falsehoods, causes division in the Body of Christ.

Related reading:  What is a Priest?; Christianity Lacks Originality; Martin Luther on GenesisThe Horite Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern; Mary's Ruler-Priest LineageWhy I am Not a Protestant; What is the Priesthood?The Talmud Versus the Doctrine of the Lord; The Priesthood in Anthropological Perspective


Alice C. Linsley said...

I have the book, Savvy. Fr. Hopko is the Editor. Three if the chapters are his work. Please direct me to the page where he makes this claim. I'd like to read the section before responding.

Orthodoxy stresses the two natures of Jesus Christ, and maintains that the Priesthood is not open to women or even all men.

Anonymous said...


It's pgs- 237-239.


Alice C. Linsley said...


Fr. Hopko is providing a critique of Professor Jewett's argument that to express Christ's full humanity there must be both male and female ministers. Fr. Hopko inssits that Orthodoxy rejects Jewett's vision of God.

On page 240, Fr. Hopko writes, "In his actions in and toward the world of his creation, the one God and Father reveals himself primarily and essentially in a 'masculine' way.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Alice.


Steve Lewis said...

Thanks, Alice.

Alice C. Linsley said...


As a Roman Catholic you don't believe in the universal priesthood. If you did, you wouldn't be Roman Catholic.

We are baptized into Christ.

Alice C. Linsley said...


My concern is that the historicity of the priesthood as a unique and sacred caste not be lost in a theologically vague assertion that all baptized are priests. This is not what the Bible teaches, nor is it what St. John Chrysostom intended when he spoke of the priesthood as a divine ordinance.

The baptized "in Christ" receive His priestly virtues and royal prerogatives. We are made joint heirs with Him of the Kingdom of God. Joint heirs is a legal term that means we share all things in common with Christ. How awesome!

The 24 Elders (Rev. 19:4) likely do represent the whole community of the redeemed, both those who lived in expectation of the Seed before the Incarnation and those who believe in the Son of God after his appearing in the flesh. This is suggested by the number 24 or 2 groups of 12. John's number departs from Jewish and Quranic tradition in which there are 70 or 72 Elders. In the Quran they are called "Houris" and the Arabic word means "beings of distinction" or deified rulers.

Horite ruler-priests were regarded as deified “sons” of God. They are often called “gods” (elohiym), as in Exodus 22:28: “Thou shalt not revile the gods (elohiym), nor curse the ruler of thy people.”

It may be that these elders are our spiritual Horim (Forefathers). The English word for Horim is Horites. St. Paul explains that those who are not of Abraham's blood have been grafted into Abraham's Horite line through Jesus Christ.

The Nilotic context of Revelation is evident in the use of the papyrus reed to measure (Rev. 21:15). These reeds grew with great uniformity, the segments being the exact distance apart. The golden reed was a symbol of the ruler's authority. The crook and flail of the Kushite and Egyptian rulers were segmented like Nile reeds and represented their authority to determine weights and measurements. They alone had the authority to determine boundaries (horimos).

Chris Larimer said...

Could it be generalized in that - by virtue of our baptism into Christ - we are now incorporated into Abraham's faith and family (the commonwealth of Israel, as is stated in Eph. 2)? In that sense, St Peter could address us all as priests since we are now in the priestly family, though only some of us actually function as priests. The same was true of Levites - they were all "priests" but yet only some actually offered incense or sacrificed animals. And of that select group, only one family was allowed to serve as high priests.

Or am I looking in the wrong place for parallels?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, Fr. Chris, there are parallels. But this understanding necessarily reflects the historical reality of priestly family lines which included women, none of whom were ever priests or Levites. Christian baptism, in this sense, parallels circumcision. Though the circumcision of women isn't mentioned in the Bible, we know that females were also circumcised.