|prest ((presbyter) elder, (kohen) priest, prince, minister, one who offers sacrifices)
RELATED: Aaron, Jesus, Levites, Offering
Easton's Bible Dictionary
The Hebrew kohen, Greek hierus, Latin sacerdos, always denote one who offers sacrifices.
At first every man was his own priest, and presented his own sacrifices before
God. Afterwards that office devolved on the head of the family, as in the cases
of Noah ( Genesis 8:20 ), Abraham ( Genesis 12:7 ; 13:4 ), Isaac ( Genesis 26:25
), Jacob ( Genesis 31:54 ), and Job ( Job 1:5 ).
The name first occurs as applied to Melchizedek ( Genesis 14:18 ). Under the Levitical
arrangements the office of the priesthood was limited to the tribe of Levi, and
to only one family of that tribe, the family of Aaron. Certain laws respecting
the qualifications of priests are given in Leviticus 21:16 - 23 . There are ordinances
also regarding the priests' dress ( Exodus 28:40 - 43 ) and the manner of their
consecration to the office ( Exodus 29:1 - 37 ).
Their duties were manifold ( Exodus 27:20 , 27:21 ; 29:38 - 44 ; Leviticus 6:12
; 10:11 ; 24:8 ; Numbers 10:1 - 10 ; Deuteronomy 17:8 - 13 ; 33:10 ; Malachi 2:7
). They represented the people before God, and offered the various sacrifices
prescribed in the law.
In the time of David the priests were divided into twenty-four courses or classes
( 1 Chronicles 24:7 - 18 ). This number was retained after the Captivity ( Ezra
2:36 - 39 ; Nehemiah 7:39 - 42 ).
"The priests were not distributed over the country, but lived together in certain
cities [forty-eight in number, of which six were cities of refuge, q.v.], which
had been assigned to their use. From thence they went up by turns to minister
in the temple at Jerusalem. Thus the religious instruction of the people in the
country generally was left to the heads of families, until the establishment of
synagogues, an event which did not take place till the return from the Captivity,
and which was the main source of the freedom from idolatry that became as marked
a feature of the Jewish people thenceforward as its practice had been hitherto
their great national sin."
The whole priestly system of the Jews was typical. It was a shadow of which the
body is Christ. The priests all prefigured the great Priest who offered "one sacrifice
for sins" "once for all" ( Hebrews 10:10 , 10:12 ). There is now no human priesthood.
(See Epistle to the Hebrews throughout.) The term "priest" is indeed applied to
believers ( 1 Peter 2:9 ; Revelation 1:6 ), but in these cases it implies no sacerdotal
functions. All true believers are now "kings and priests unto God." As priests
they have free access into the holiest of all, and offer up the sacrifices of
praise and thanksgiving, and the sacrifices of grateful service from day to day.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
The English word is derived from the Greek presbyter, signifying an "elder" (Hebrew
The idea of a priesthood connects itself in all its forms, pure or corrupted,
with the consciousness, more or less distinct of sin. Men feel that they have
broken a law. The power above them is holier than they are, and they dare not
approach it. They crave for the intervention of some one of whom they can think
as likely to be more acceptable than themselves. He must offer up their prayers,
thanksgivings, sacrifices. He becomes their representative in "things pertaining
unto God." He may become also (though this does not always follow) the representative
of God to man. The functions of the priest and prophet may exist in the same person.
No trace of a hereditary or caste priesthood meets us in the worship of the patriarchal
age. Once and once only does the word cohen meet us as belonging to a ritual earlier
than the time of Abraham. Melchizedek is "the priest of the most high God." (
Genesis 14:18 ) In the worship of the patriarchs themselves, the chief of the
family, as such, acted as the priest. The office descended with the birthright,
and might apparently he transferred with it.
When established. --
The priesthood was first established in the family of Aaron, and all the sons
of Aaron were priests. They stood between the high priest on the one hand and
the Levites on the other. [HIGH PRIEST; LEVITES] The ceremony of their consecration
is described in HIGH PRIEST - 1986 ( Exodus 29:1 ; Leviticus 8:1 ) ...
The dress which the priests wore during their ministrations consisted of linen
drawers, with a close-fitting cassock, also of linen, white, but with a diamond
or chess-board pattern on it. This came nearly to the feet, and was to be worn
in its garment shape. Comp. ( John 19:23 ) The white cassock was gathered round
the body with a girdle of needle work, in which, as in the more gorgeous belt
of the high priest, blue, purple and scarlet were intermingled with white, and
worked in the form of flowers. ( Exodus 28:39 , 28:40 ; 39:2 ; Ezekiel 44:17 -
19 ) Upon their heads the were to wear caps or bonnets in the form of a cup-shaped
flower, also of fine linen. In all their acts of ministration they were to be
Duties . --
The chief duties of the priests were to watch over the fire on the altar of burnt
offering, and to keep it burning evermore both by day and night, ( Leviticus 6:12
; 2 Chronicles 13:11 ) to feed the golden lamp outside the vail with oil ( Exodus
27:20 , 27:21 ; Leviticus 24:2 ) to offer the morning and evening sacrifices,
each accompanied with a meet offering and a drink offering, at the door of the
tabernacle. ( Exodus 29:38 - 44 ) They were also to teach the children of Israel
the statutes of the Lord. ( Leviticus 10:11 ; 33:10 ; 2 Chronicles 15:3 ; Ezekiel
44:23 , 44:24 ) During the journeys in the wilderness it belonged to them to cover
the ark and all the vessels of the sanctuary with a purple or scarlet cloth before
the Levites might approach them. ( Numbers 4:5 - 15 ) As the people started on
each days march they were to blow "an alarm" with long silver trumpets. ( Numbers
10:1 - 8 ) Other instruments of music might be used by the more highly-trained
Levites and the schools of the prophets, but the trumpets belonged only to the
priests, The presence of the priests on the held of battle, ( 1 Chronicles 12:23
, 12:27 ; 2 Chronicles 20:21 , 20:22 ) led, in the later periods of Jewish history,
to the special appointment at such times of a war priest. Other functions were
hinted at in Deuteronomy which might have given them greater influence as the
educators and civilizers of the people. They were to act (whether individually
or collectively does not distinctly appear) as a court of appeal in the more difficult
controversies in criminal or civil cases. ( Deuteronomy 17:8 - 13 ) It must remain
doubtful however how far this order kept its ground during the storms and changes
that followed, Functions such as these were clearly incompatible with the common
activities of men.
Provision for support . --This consisted --
|(1) Of one tenth of the tithes which the people paid to the Levites, i.e.
one per cent on the whole produce of the country. ( Numbers 18:26 - 28 )
(2) Of a special tithe every third year. ( Deuteronomy 14:28 ; 26:12 )
(3) Of the redemption money, paid at the fixed rate of five shekels a head, for
the first-born of man or beast. ( Numbers 18:14 - 19 )
(4) Of the redemption money paid in like manner for men or things specially dedicated
to the Lord. ( Leviticus 27:5 )
(5) Of spoil, captives, cattle and the like, taken in war. ( Numbers 31:25 - 47
(6) Of the shew-bread, the flesh of the burnt offerings, peace offerings, trespass
offerings, ( Leviticus 6:26 , 6:29 ; 7:6 - 10 ; Numbers 18:8 - 14 ) and in particular
the heave-shoulder and the wave-breast. ( Leviticus 10:12 - 15 )
(7) Of an undefined amount of the firstfruits of corn, wine and oil. ( Exodus
23:19 ; Leviticus 2:14 ; 26:1 - 10 )
On their settlement in Canaan the priestly families had thirteen cities assigned
them, with "suburbs" or pasture-grounds for their flocks. ( Joshua 21:13 - 19
) These provisions were obviously intended to secure the religion of Israel against
the dangers of a caste of pauper priests, needy and dependent, and unable to bear
their witness to the true faith. They were, on the other hand as far as possible
removed from the condition of a wealthy order.
Coarses . --
The priesthood was divided into four and twenty "courses" or orders, ( 1 Chronicles
24:1 - 19 ; 2 Chronicles 23:8 ; Luke 1:5 ) each of which was to serve in rotation
for one week, while the further assignment of special services during the week
was determined by lot. ( Luke 1:9 ) Each course appears to have commenced its
work on the Sabbath, the outgoing priests taking the morning sacrifice, and leaving
that of the evening to their successors. ( 2 Chronicles 23:8 )
If we may accept the numbers given by Jewish writers as at all trustworthy, the
proportion of the priesthood population of Palestine during the last century of
their existence as an order, must have been far greater than that of the clergy
has ever been in any Christian nation. Over and above those that were scattered
in the country and took their turn there were not fewer than 24,000 stationed
permanently at Jerusalem,and 12,000 at Jericho. It was almost inevitable that
the great mass of the order, under such circumstances, should sink in character
and reputation. The reigns of the two kings David and Solomon were the culminating
period of the glory of the Jewish priesthood. It will be interesting to bring
together the few facts that indicate the position of the priests in the New Testament
period of their history. The number scattered throughout Palestine was, as has
been stated, very large. Of these the greater number were poor and ignorant. The
priestly order, like the nation, was divided between contending sects. In the
scenes of the last tragedy of Jewish history the order passes away without honor,
"dying as a fool dieth." The high priesthood is given to the lowest and vilest
of the adherents of the frenzied Zealots. Other priests appear as deserting to
the enemy. The destruction of Jerusalem deprived the order at one blow of all
but an honorary distinction.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
prest (kohen, "priest," "prince," "minister"; hiereus
archiereus; for hiereus megas, of Hebrews 10:21, see Thayer's Lexicon, under the
A priest is one who is duly authorized to minister in sacred things, particularly
to offer sacrifices at the altar, and who acts as mediator between men and God.
In the New Testament the term is applied to priests of the Gentiles (Acts 14:13),
to those of the Jews (Matthew 8:4), to Christ (Hebrews 5:5 , 6), and to Christians
(1 Peter 2:9 ; Revelation 1:6). The office of priest in Israel was of supreme
importance and of high rank. The high priest stood next the monarch in influence
and dignity. Aaron, the head of the priestly order, was closely associated with
the great lawgiver, Moses, and shared with him in the government and guidance
of the nation. It was in virtue of the priestly functions that the chosen people
were brought into near relations with God and kept therein. Through the ministrations
of the priesthood the people of Israel were instructed in the doctrine of sin
and its expiation, in forgiveness and worship. In short, the priest was the indispensable
source of religious knowledge for the people, and the channel through which spiritual
life was communicated.
I. NATURE OF THE PRIESTLY OFFICE
1. Implies Divine Choice:
The Scriptures furnish information touching this point. To them we at once turn.
Priesthood implies choice. Not only was the office of divine institution, but
the priest himself was divinely-appointed thereto. "For every high priest, being
taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God. .... And
no man taketh the honor unto himself, but when he is called of God, even as was
Aaron" (Hebrews 5:1 , 4). The priest was not elected by the people, much less
was he self-appointed. Divine selection severed him from those for whom he was
to act. Even our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, came not into the world unsent.
He received His commission and His authority from the fountain of all sovereignty.
At the opening of His earthly ministry He said, "He anointed me. .... He hath
sent me" (Luke 4:18). He came bearing heavenly credentials.
2. Implies Representation:
It implies the principle of representation. The institution of the office was
God's gracious provision for a people at a distance from Him, who needed one to
appear in the divine presence in their behalf. The high priest was to act for
men in things pertaining to God, "to make propitiation for the sins of the people"
(Hebrews 2:17). He was the mediator who ministered for the guilty. "The high priest
represented the whole people. All Israelites were reckoned as being in him. The
prerogative held by him belonged to the whole of them (Exodus 19:6), but on this
account it was transferred to him because it was impossible that all Israelites
should keep themselves holy as became the priests of Yahweh" (Vitringa). That
the high priest did represent the whole congregation appears, first, from his
bearing the tribal names on his shoulders in the onyx stones, and, second, in
the tribal names engraved in the twelve gems of the breastplate. The divine explanation
of this double representation of Israel in the dress of the high priest is, he
"shall bear their names before Yahweh upon his two shoulders for a memorial" (Exodus
28:12 , 19). Moreover, his committing heinous sin involved the people in his guilt:
"If the anointed priest shall sin so as to bring guilt on the people" (Leviticus
4:3). The Septuagint reads, "If the anointed priest shall sin so as to make the
people sin." The anointed priest, of course, is the high priest. When he sinned
the people sinned. His official action was reckoned as their action. The whole
nation shared in the trespass of their representative. The converse appears to
be just as true. What he did in his official capacity, as prescribed by the Lord,
was reckoned as done by the whole congregation: "Every high priest .... is appointed
for men" (Hebrews 5:1).
3. Implies Offering Sacrifice:
It implies the offering of sacrifice. Nothing is clearer in Scripture than this
priestly function. It was the chief duty of a priest to reconcile men to God by
making atonement for their sins; and this he effected by means of sacrifice, blood-shedding
(Hebrews 5:1 ; 8:3). He would be no priest who should have nothing to offer. It
was the high priest who carried the blood of the sin offering into the Most Holy
Place and who sprinkled it seven times on and before the mercy-seat, thus symbolically
covering the sins of the people from the eyes of the Lord who dwelt between the
cherubim (Psalms 80:1). It was he also who marked the same blood on the horns
of the altar of burnt offering in the Court of the Tabernacle, and on those of
the golden altar, that the red sign of propitiation might thus be lifted up in
the sight of Yahweh, the righteous Judge and Redeemer.
4. Implies Intercession:
It implies intercession. In the priestly ministry of Aaron and his sons this function
is not so expressly set forth as are some of their other duties, but it is certainly
included. For intercession is grounded in atonement. There can be no effective
advocacy on behalf of the guilty until their guilt is righteously expiated. The
sprinkling of the blood on the mercy-seat served to cover the guilt from the face
of God, and at the same time it was an appeal to Him to pardon and accept His
people. So we read that after Aaron had sprinkled the blood he came forth from
the sanctuary and blessed Israel (Leviticus 9:22 - 24 ; Numbers 6:22 - 27).
II. THE TWO GREAT PRIESTS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, MELCHIZEDEK AND AARON
These were Melchizedek and Aaron. No others that ever bore the name or discharged
the office rank with these, save, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom they
were distinguished types. Of the two, Melchizedek was the greater. There are two
reasons why they are to be considered chiefs: first, because they are first in
their respective orders. Melchizedek was not only the head of his order, but he
had no successor. The office began and terminated with him (Hebrews 7:3). The
ordinary priests and the Levites depended for their official existence on Aaron.
Apart from him they would not be priests. Second, the priesthood of Christ was
typified by both. The office is summed up and completed in Him. They were called
and consecrated that they might be prophecies of Him who was to come and in whom
all priesthood and offering and intercession would find its ample fulfillment.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews the priesthood of both these men is combined and
consummated in Christ. But let it be noted that while He is of the order of Melchizedek
He exercises the office after the pattern of Aaron. He perfects all that Aaron
did typically, because He is the true and the real Priest, while Aaron is but
III. PRIESTLY FUNCTIONS AND CHARACTER
1. A Strictly Religious Order:
These are minutely prescribed in the Law. In the institution of the office the
Lord's words to Moses were, "Take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons
with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the
priest's office" (Exodus 28:1 the King James Version). Their duties were strictly
religious. They had no political power conferred upon them. Their services, their
dependent position, and the way in which they were sustained, i.e. by the free
gifts of the people, precluded them from exercising any undue influence in the
affairs of the nation. It is true that in process of time the high office degenerated,
and became a thing of barter and sale in the hands of unscrupulous and corrupt
men, but as originally appointed the priesthood in Israel was not a caste, nor
a hierarchy, nor a political factor, but a divinely-appointed medium of communication
between God and the people.
2. Priestism Denied:
The Hebrew priests in no wise interfered with the conscience of men. The Hebrew
worshipper of his own free will laid his hand on the head of his sacrifice, and
confessed his sins to God alone. His conscience was quite free and untrammeled.
3. The High Priest's Qualifications:
There were certain duties which were peculiar to the high priest. He alone could
wear the "garments for glory and for beauty." To him alone it pertained to enter
the Most Holy Place and to sprinkle the blood of the sin offering on the mercy-seat.
To him alone it pertained to represent the congregation before the Lord as mediator,
and to receive the divine communications. He was to be ceremonially pure and holy.
He must be physically perfect. Any defect or deformity disqualified a member of
the priestly family from performing the duties of the office (Leviticus 21:17
- 21). The Law spoke with the utmost precision as to the domestic relations of
the high priest. He could marry neither a widow, nor a divorced woman, nor one
polluted, nor a harlot; only a virgin of his own people, a Hebrew of pure extraction,
could become his wife (Leviticus 21:14 , 15). Nor was he to come in contact with
death. He must not rend his clothes, nor defile himself, even for his father or
his mother (Leviticus 21:10 , 11). His sons might defile themselves for their
kin, but the high priest must not. For he was the representative of life. Death
did not exist for him, in so far as he was a priest. God is the Ever-Living, the
Life-Giving; and His priest, who had "the crown of the anointing oil of his God
upon him," had to do with life alone.
4. Symbolism of Aaron's Rod:
Adolph Saphir believes there is deep significance in the miracle of Aaron's rod
that budded and bare almonds (Numbers 17). It was a visible sign of the legitimacy
of Aaron's priesthood and a confirmation of it, and a symbol of its vitality and
fruitfulness. The twelve rods of the tribes were dead sticks of wood, and remained
dead; Aaron's alone had life and produced blossoms and fruit. It was the emblem
of his office which correlated itself with life, and had nothing to do with death.
IV. CONSECRATION OF AARON AND HIS SONS (EXODUS 29 ; LEVITICUS 8)
The process of the consecration is minutely described and is worthy of a more
detailed and careful study than can here be given it. Only the more prominent
features are noticed.
| (1) Both the high priest and his sons were together washed with water (Exodus
29:4). But when this was done, the high priest parted company with his sons.
(2) Next, Aaron was arrayed in the holy and beautiful garments, with the breastplate
over his heart, and the holy crown on his head, the mitre, or turban, with its
golden plate bearing the significant inscription, "Holy to Yahweh." This was Aaron's
investiture of the high office.
(3) He was then anointed with the precious oil. It is noteworthy that Moses poured
the oil on his head. When he anointed the tabernacle and its furniture he sprinkled
the oil, but in Aaron's case there was a profusion, an abundance in the anointing
(4) After the anointing of the high priest the appointed sacrifices were offered
(Exodus 29:10). Up to this point in the ceremony Aaron was the principal figure,
the sons having no part save in the bathing. But after the offerings had been
made the sons became prominent participants in the ceremonies, sharing equally
with the high priest therein.
(5) The blood of the offering was applied to the person of father and sons alike
(Exodus 29:20 , 21). On the tip of the right ear, on the thumb of the right hand,
and on the great toe of the right foot was the consecrating blood-mark set.
1. Symbolism of Consecration:
The significance of this action should not escape the reader. The whole person
and career of the priest were thus brought under power of the blood. He had a
blood-stained ear that he might hear and obey the divine injunctions, that he
might understand the word of Yahweh and interpret it to the people. His will was
brought into subjection to the will of His Lord that he might be a faithful minister
in things pertaining to God. He had a blood-stained hand that he might execute,
rightly and efficiently, the services of the sanctuary and the duties of his great
office. He had likewise a blood-stained foot that he might walk in the statutes
and commandments of the Lord blameless, and tread the courts of the Lord's house
as the obedient servant of the Most High. Sacrificial blood, the blood of atonement,
is here, as everywhere else, the foundation for saints and sinners, for priests
and ministers alike, in all their relations with God.
2. Type and Archetype:
The priests of Israel were but dim shadows, obscure sketches and drafts of the
one Great Priest of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Without drawing out at length
the parallelism between the type and the archetype, we may sum up in a few brief
sentences the perfection found in the priestly character of Christ:
| (1) Christ as Priest is appointed of God (Hebrews 5:5).
(2) He is consecrated with an oath (Hebrews 7:20 - 22).
(3) He is sinless (Hebrews 7:26).
(4) His priesthood is unchangeable (Hebrews 7:23 , 24).
(5) His offering is perfect and final (Hebrews 9:25 - 28 ; 10:12).
(6) His intercession is all-prevailing (Hebrews 7:25).
(7) As God and man in one Person He is a perfect Mediator (Hebrews 1 ; 2).
See CHRIST, OFFICES OF, sec. V.
Smith, DB; HDB; P. Fairbairn, Typology of Scripture, II; Soltau, Exposition
of the Tabernacle; the Priestly Garments and the Priesthood; Martin, Atonement;
A.B. Davidson, Hebrews; Moorehead, Mosaic Institutions.
William G. Moorehead
altar of burnt offering, bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, blow trumpets, cohen, duties of priests, first established in the family of aaron, kohen, minister, origin of priests, priests, religious instruction, sacrifice