Occasionally one encounters an internet troll. Their aim is merely to pick a fight. Recently I had a person on twitter take issue with my calling myself a priest.

This person claims to be a church leader (not a priest!) in a well-known denomination, claims to be able to read Greek, etc. But he could not and would not answer my simple question posed in different ways: “what is the origin of the English word priest?” Even after I twice sent him links on the etymology of the English word priest. Instead, I got a barrage of responses about Maryolatry, Christ’s unrepeatable sacrificial death, the inefficacy of works, the absence of Christ in the Eucharist, the priesthood of all believers, the evils of tradition, and on and on it went…

The word priest came up in last Sunday’s reading didn’t it:

Hebrews 10:11-14,(15-18),19-25

11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.
12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, “he sat down at the right hand of God,”
13 and since then has been waiting “until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.”
14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”
17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,
20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),
21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,
25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The problem is akin to the issue with the English word “love”. Generally people have become more nuanced with that word, clarifying if they mean love (agape, αγάπη) or love (eros, ἔρως), etc. We need to do the same IMO with the word priest.

The English word priest derives from the Greek presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος), in fact it is a contraction that can still be spotted from the original word PRESbuTeros. [Just as the English word bishop derives from the Greek episcopos (επίσκοπος) and is also a contraction that can still be spotted from the original word: ePISCOPos.]

The word used in the letter to the Hebrews reading above, in the concept of priesthood of all believers, in the Old Testament for Levites, etc. is NOT presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος). It is a completely different word: hiereus (ἱερεύς). Unfortunately the English word priest does double duty. It is rightly used for the ordained elder in a community, the presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος), as it has from the beginning of Christianity. It has also come to be used for hiereus (ἱερεύς).

Unfortunately, because of this simple dual usage of the English word, theological confusion reigns. Many abandon the Christian tradition going back to the New Testament of leadership by a priest/presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος) on some sort of misunderstood assumption that our shared hiereus (ἱερεύς) has overthrown the New Testament and undivided-church tradition of such leadership by a priest/presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος). Unfortunately the prevalence of clericalism in some quarters, where priest/presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος) is treated as some sort of sacred caste, has in fact made the issue worse, not better.

Because of the misunderstanding between the terms, many think and act as if getting the laity to act more like a priest/presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος) is somehow affirming the priesthood of all believers when it does nothing of the sort – it is unfortunately merely clericalising all the baptised rather than affirming and living any real vocation to our shared hiereus (ἱερεύς) with Christ. Getting laity up the front in worship and dressing them priest/presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος)-like, advocating for the abolition of priestly/presbuteros (πρεσβύτερος) presiding at the Eucharist, and so forth is not about understanding the hiereus (ἱερεύς) of all Christians whatsoever, it is merely showing an ignorance of the multi-faceted vocations that are offered within the one body of Christ, the church.

No comments from internet trolls please 🙂

I provide wonderful resources for those who genuinely want to work harder at understanding the original biblical texts.

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