Through the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the laying on of hands, priests are ordained to share in a special way in the priesthood of Christ. With this thesis we move to the ordained ministry and to controversial positions which should be founded on the New Testament, to the extent that this is possible. Like all the baptized, the ordained share in the priesthood of Christ but do so differently. Both contribute, but in their own way, to building up the Body of Christ and serving the world. Commenting on Hebrews, Christopher Koester maintains that ‘it is clear’ that the letter ‘assumes that Christ’s heavenly ministry (leitourgia; 8: 2, 6) undergirds earthly Christian worship (latreuein; 12: 28) and that his self-sacriﬁce gives rise to sacriﬁces of praise and good works among his followers (13: 15–16)’. Koester ends by saying: ‘a place remains for leadership in the community of faith (13: 7, 17). But Hebrews does not call these leaders “priests”.’5
5 C. R. Koester, Hebrews (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 380. It is worth noting, more broadly, that the New Testament never applies priestly language to Christian leaders as such except for Rom. 15: 16 (see Ch. 2 above). 6 Acts 20: 7 12 provides the only case where we can identify the person who presided and preached (at length!) at a Sunday Eucharist: Paul himself. On this passage see J. A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles, 667 9.
Koester might have added that Hebrews does not specify whether these ‘leaders’ (no matter what they are called) presided at Christian worship and, above all, at the Eucharist. Nor does the letter clarify just how these leaders became leaders. Paul (1 Cor. 11: 23–6) shows that the Eucharist was the central act of Christian worship. Yet neither he nor anyone else in the New Testament identiﬁes clearly those who presided at the Eucharist and how they came to perform that role.6 Paul and further witnesses use, however, some more particular terms than the very generic ‘leaders (hegoumenoi)’ when reporting leadership roles in established churches and how Christians were appointed to such roles. Admittedly, in his earliest letter Paul speaks vaguely of those who ‘preside (proistamenoi)’ in the Church (1 Thess. 5: 12). But, writing to the Philippians, Paul addresses ‘overseers (episcopoi)’ and their ‘helpers (diakonoi)’, terms that are often translated, somewhat anachronistically as ‘bishops’ and ‘deacons’ (Phil. 1: 1).7