From Collins, Keenan Jones: Jesus Our Priest – A Christian Approach to the Priesthood of Christ

Little official teaching and theological reflection on Christ’s priesthood developed over two thousand years of Christianity. His priesthood was taken for granted and rarely became controversial. Even when controversies emerged, as they did at the Reformation, they focused on those who shared in Christ’s priesthood rather than on his priesthood in itself. The most sustained period of reflection on his priestly office came in the seventeenth century. But, even then, the French School concentrated on the spiritual life of all those who shared in the self-sacrificing priesthood of Christ, whether through baptism or through ministerial ordination.

Regularly, even if not always, those who did contribute something to a deepening understanding of Christ’s priesthood had all commented on the Letter to the Hebrews (Origen, Chrysostom, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin). This letter (or, more accurately, homily) is, unquestionably the key source for understanding and interpreting the priesthood of Christ. Yet over the centuries Hebrews has not drawn the kind of attention that Christians gave to the Gospels, Romans, and other books of the New Testament. One might speak of a ‘marginalizing’ of Hebrews, a marginalizing that was associated with, and even encouraged, a diminished interest in the priesthood of Christ. Given this widespread and chronic reticence about Christ’s priesthood, we thought it best to be crisply clear about where we stand and set out our conclusions in the form of theses. Some of the theses that follow will be relatively uncontroversial, others more controversial. But in all cases we will provide our motives for proposing them.

THESIS 1

The Jewish matrix and some New Testament books other than Hebrews are indispensable sources for those who explore the priesthood of Christ. As regards the Jewish matrix that must enter any adequate appreciation of Christ’s priesthood, we should first recall such passages from Paul as 1 Corinthians 5: 7 (‘Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed’), 1 Corinthians 10: 18 (about the sacrifices that were still going on in the Jerusalem Temple), and Romans 3: 25 (the sacrificial ceremony on the Day of Expiation). Some knowledge of Jewish sources is indispensable for grasping what Paul intends to say. Add too the priestly and sacrificial vision of the whole Church founded by Christ that 1 Peter proposes and that cannot be adequately grasped without reference to relevant passages in Exodus and Isaiah.

The heavenly liturgy in the Book of Revelation which centres on the Lamb is patterned on ceremonies celebrated in the Jerusalem Temple. A reading of Revelation that ignores these ceremonies and Old Testament sources for the vivid language which this apocalyptic book employs will go seriously astray in grasping its message about Christ, Victim and Priest. The Letter to the Hebrews highlights the impact of Christ’s priestly activity in rendering ‘obsolete’ the ‘old covenant’, with its priesthood and practices (Heb. 8: 13). Nevertheless, to illuminate Christ’s priesthood Hebrews itself draws liberally on Jewish priestly and Temple imagery, as well as picking up very positively the figure of Melchizedek. It also endorses some Old Testament principles about priesthood: for instance, that being ‘taken from among human beings’ is an indispensable qualification for being appointed a priest by God (Heb. 5: 1), and that priesthood and sacrifice are essentially connected (Heb. 8: 3).