Priesthood in the Era of the New Testament, 7.

Recall the wandering prophets. An early church administration document (handbook), dated from the first century called the Didache (did-ah-kay) talks about this and the problem of prophets. The wandering prophets are liturgical authorities, they can administer the sacrament for example. But apparently some, or many, of the churches are not comfortable with the prophets, and the Didache shows this–the prophets are sometimes not all they claim to be as in, freeloaders. The transfer of sacramental duty to local authority is logical and there is an element of safety there, trust. This is a positive thing for elders/bishops too. It takes them out of just handling funds and property, taking care of the physical, and puts them on the spiritual side of care as well. And it makes possible more regular celebration of the ordinances (and in modern revelation you see a sympathetic emphasis: “it is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of the sacrament”).[1]

But this also plays into the changes of concept, titles, the priesthood and restriction of action. Once elders—bishops—took over the title of priest, that is, they become the “priesthood,” there was already a well-developed spiritual character attached to the name. After the golden calf incident in the Israel story, the tribe of Levi was not like the other tribes, they became exclusive ritualists. And the priests had a growing list of impressive external restrictions associated with the tabernacle and so on. At the time a priest was on duty, he had to separate himself from his family, he couldn’t have sex with his wife, wore special clothing, vestments, and generally removed himself from the worldly aspects of the people, became purified, before entry into the presence of the LORD.[2]
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Priesthood in the Era of the New Testament, 6.

By the early 2nd century, at least in some churches, and you can see this in Ignatius(35?-107?) of Antioch’s letters, there is a new practice of having one of the presbyters be a kind of head of the other elders, and Ignatius encourages this, it’s a feature that gives advantage in his eyes. The pattern is evolving to one bishop (overseer), a group of presbyters, and a group of deacons. I think it’s important to understand that there isn’t any notion of Melchizedek or Aaronic orders. It’s much like early Mormonism. There are simply offices, and they develop a pecking order, like that of the early Mormon Articles and Covenants. See my paper on early Mormon priesthood teachings in Dialogue

Ignatius the Martyr. (Image: Wikipedia)

Ignatius the Martyr. Legend is that he was John’s (brother of martyred James) pal. (Image: Wikipedia)

Ignatius wrote letters to the church in Rome, but that fellowship didn’t seem to have this pattern in play. It took another half century before this pattern showed up in Rome and this was probably because the church in Rome was still heavily Jewish, and governed out of the synagogue pattern, lots of elders, a council.
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Priesthood in the New Testament Era Church, 5.

After Jesus’ death, Christians followed the patterns of the synagogue and administered the Christian fellowship in each locality by a group of elders, or “presbyters.” Of course, there were the apostles and the great missionaries like Paul, and there were prophets. Prophets don’t seem to be located teachers, they travel, and they have liturgical authority, and they preach, but they don’t seem to be missionaries per se. [I’ll come back to prophets in the final post of the series.]

With the death of the apostles, and they don’t seem to get replaced,—it’s not completely clear why—partly it seems to be that they were seen—and may have seen themselves—as more eschatological officers. They certainly governed the early church, but it seems that they wanted less and less to do with practical governance issues, and you can see this in the controversies that developed over the temple and Jews and Gentile converts. Anyway, they sort of withdraw from local matters, they separate to preach, and they die. Some were killed like Peter and James (brother of John), others we don’t know about, but they die (I’ll leave John out of this—the Johannine literature is a complication on its own and something I don’t want to get into here).[1]
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Priesthood in the New Testament Era, 4.

Stephen closed his sermon with some very offensive stuff: the LORD does not dwell in houses made with hands and so forth (he was negating the value of the temple) then he called the Jewish leaders stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, they always resisted the Holy Spirit, asking them rhetorically which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute, etc. you betrayed and murdered the Messiah. This of course made them very angry, and Stephen is stoned to death by order of the Sanhedrin.[1] There are a number of parallels Luke purposely calls out between Jesus’ death and Stephen’s death. I’ll note some of these later.
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