A Family of Royal Priests: Why the Priesthood of Believers Must Be “In Christ” (My ETS Presentation)

etsThis week the Evangelical Theological Society is meeting in Denver, Colorado. And this morning I am presenting a paper entitled: “A Family of Royal Priests: Why the Priesthood of Believers Must Be In Christ

The topic of priesthood is one that has long captured my attention. It was the subject of my dissertation. Next year, I am planning to publish a book on the subject with Crossway, in their Short Studies in Biblical Theology series. And last year, I read and reviewed Andrew Malone’s book God’s Mediators: A Biblical Theology of the Priesthood.

In that book, Malone makes the case that the priesthood of believers is not derived from the high priesthood of Christ. This view, which Malone argues for with surprising vehemence, divides Christ from his covenant people, at least with respect to the priesthood. It does not attend to the way Scripture explains the “making of priests,” nor does it do justice to many passages that conjoin the priesthood Christ with his kingdom of priests.

So in response to Malone, I wrote this paper, to make a theological and exegetical case for the unified priesthood of Christ and his people. It’s not short, but if you read it, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

On the Priesthood: A Personal Update and Prayer Request

sergio-souza-285121-unsplashIn 2013 I finished my dissertation, A Biblical-Theological Investigation of Christ’s Priesthood and Covenant Mediation with Respect to the Extent of the Atonement. While the theological question it answered pertained to the extent of the atonement, the bulk of its pages (nearly 400 of them) considered a biblical typology of priesthood from Genesis to Revelation. In subsequent years, I have written a occasionally on the subject.

But this year marks the first time I am picking up pen to publish on the subject. Under the banner of “If the Lord wills,” I have three (maybe four) writing assignments in the next 12 months.

  • First, in the next edition of the SBJT, I am writing on Exodus 19:4–6 and how this key passage transforms the priesthood from a patriarchal assignment of firstborn sons to a legislated position in the nation of Israel.
  • Then, at ETS I am offering a paper called “A Family of Royal Priests: Why the Priesthood of Believers Must Be ‘In Christ.'” This paper will engage with Andrew Malone’s fine work on the priesthood, God’s Mediators. In my review of his book, I suggested a weakness regarding his division of Christ’s priesthood and the new covenant priesthood of believers. In this paper, I will attempt to show how the priesthood of believers is united to Christ through the believers participation in the new covenant and identity in Christ. If you are at ETS this year, come join me for the paper.
  • Third, I hope to submit an article to an undecided journal on what “mediator” (mesites) means in the book of Hebrews. This is something I wrote up a few years ago, but one that seems to fill a gap in the discussion about priesthood and mediation. If you know of any journals that would be interested in such a article, let me know :-)
  • Fourth, I am under contract with Crossway to publish a book on the biblical theology of the priesthood in 2019. This book will fall in the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series. In preparation for that book, I am working on the three aforementioned articles. As it goes, my hope is to take the technical work in these previous studies to produce a more popular book on the priesthood.

All in all, I share these things to solicit prayer for these works and to mention that I will probably have an increasing number of blog posts on the priesthood in the next 9–12 months. Should you want to dialogue on this subject, please free to engage with these posts. The best theology and exegesis is done in community and I welcome any questions or insights you have on the subject.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

My ETS Presentation: “You Can Make Me Clean,” The Matthean Jesus as Priest and the Biblical-Theological Results

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Update: This paper has been accepted for publication in a future edition of the Criswell Theological Review.

Tomorrow, my good friend Nicholas Piotrowski and I will present our paper (“You Can Make Me Clean”: The Jesus as Priest and the Biblical-Theological Results). Our argument in brief is the Gospel writers, and Matthew in particular, presented Jesus in priestly actions, even as they  withhold the title “priest” from him. Our test case is the healing of the leper in Matthew 8:1–4, where Jesus proves to be a greater priest than the sons of Levi who were supposed to adjudicated cases of leprosy (Leviticus 13–14).

We’ve been working on this paper, a mashup from our two dissertations, for the last two years—yes, that’s how academic writing goes. We’re convinced that this minority view shines light on the way the Gospels are written and even more on the work that Christ did in his earthly life and sacrificial death.

Here’s the introduction. Let us know what you think.

The munus triplex [Jesus’ triple office of prophet, priest, and king] is an important biblical-theological and systematic category. While it is common to observe in the Gospels Jesus’ role as “the prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14; cf. also Matt 17:5 and parallels with Deut 18:15) and the royal “Son of David” (cf. esp. Matt 1:1; 21:9), theologians often turn to Hebrews for Christ’ priestly office.  Lately, however, scholars are increasingly appreciating the historical Jesus’ self-consciousness as a priest.[1] The result is to bring more attention to the Gospels for understanding Jesus’ munus sacerdotal. This paper singles out Matthew specifically where Jesus is put forward as Israel’s eschatological priest.­[2] From this flow several biblical-theological considerations.[3]

The reason scholars dismiss Christ’s earthly priesthood is manifold.  Linguistically, in all four Gospels, Jesus is not once called a priest.[4] Covenantally, Christ does not qualify as a priest. Born under the old covenant, Jesus’ Judean lineage would disallow him from serving in the temple.­[5] Theologically, there is strong reason for denying Christ’s earthly priesthood: his priestly service would come to depend upon his resurrection and his appointment as a better priest.[6] This is the argument in Hebrews, and many scholars reason that it is anachronistic to read Christ’s priesthood back into the Gospels. Philosophically, since the Enlightenment an academic aversion has existed towards any notion of “priest-craft.”[7] Proportionately, due to the extensive attention given to other aspects of his person and work, it is understandable how Christ’s priesthood can be overlooked. For these reasons and more, the idea that Christ is a priest in the Gospels is underrepresented.[8]

It is our contention, however, joining the growing chorus, that the Gospels are filled with evidence for Christ’s earthly priesthood. . . .

Looking forward to make our case tomorrow. If you’re at ETS, we’d love for you to come join us in Room 402 at 8:30AM. If you’re not, I will (probably) post a PDF tomorrow for the seven people in the room and anyone else interested in considering this argument.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

_________________

[1] Citing a handful of exceptions, Brant Pitre rightly observes, “If there is any single subject which modern historical scholarship on Jesus has almost completely neglected, it is the subject of Jesus and the Jewish priesthood” (“Jesus, the New Temple, and the New Priesthood,” in Letter and Spirit, vol 4., Temple and Contemplation: God’s Presence in the Cosmos, Church, and Human Heart, ed. Scott Hahn and David Scott [Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2008], 71). Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis has outlined several reasons for the prior neglect of this subject, and contributed greatly to redressing it (“Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 1,” JSHJ 4 [2006]: 155–75; idem, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” JSHJ 5 [2007]: 57–79).

[2] Jesus is not “presented” exclusively as a priest in Matthew, but as prophet, priest, and king. The onus of this paper is to show the ways he functions as a priest.

[3] To be sure, however, this is not a “redaction-critical” study.  The final form of Matthew, nonetheless, is the result of redacting forces; either of Mark, Q, the oral tradition, or some inexorable web of all of them.  We do not attempt to ferret out how the redaction occurred, but to explore to rhetorical results once it was done.

[4]A word study of the Gospels and Acts finds 122 occurrences of “priestly terminology” (priest, high priest, priesthood, etc.). However, the number of times that such language refers to Christ or Christians is zero, which would understandably lead anyone dependent on that method of research to abandon the effort (Vanhoye, Old Testament Priests and the New Priest, 63–66).

[5]Technically, if Karl Deenick (“Priest and King or Priest-King in 1 Samuel 2:35,” WTJ 73 [2011]: 325-39) is correct that 1 Samuel 2:35 points to a Davidic priest, Jesus’ Davidic lineage would not disqualify him from priesthood. It would do the opposite. But it is still necessary to show, as Hebrews 5 does, how a son of David could supersede the Levitical priesthood.

[6]See David Schrock, “Resurrection and Priesthood: Christological Soundings from the Book of Hebrews,” SBJT 18.4 (2014): 89–114.

[7]Peter J. Leithart, “Attendants of Yahweh’s House: Priesthood in the Old Testament,” JSOT 85 (1999): 3–4.

[8]For a survey of how scholars understand Christ’s priesthood in the gospels, see Crispin H. T. Fletcher-Louis, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 1,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 4 (2006): 155–75; idem, “Jesus as the High Priestly Messiah: Part 2,” JSHJ 5 (2007): 57–79.

Piper at ETS: Stealing God’s Glory, Steals the Joy of Others

For nearly three decades, John Piper has preached a message of God-centered exultation (and exaltation).  He has traveled the country proclaiming that God’s greatest interest is…God.  And if you have read him, you know of his passion for expository exaltation of this singular truth–white-hot worship of the all-glorious God.

Most recently, Piper took his message to a much more challenging audience–the ETS meeting at Providence, Rhode Island.  He presented a brief 7-point presentation, which synthesized his fundamental argument that “God is not a meglomaniac when he demands worship.”  Expansions of this argument can be found in his books Desiring God, The Pleasures of God, and Let the Nations Be Glad.  I am immensely grateful for these books and their vision of God.  One quote stuck out today as I read this theocentric mandates was this:

This [God’s Godwardness] is not megalomania because, unlike our self-exaltation, God’s self-exaltation draws attention to what gives greatest and longest joy, namely, himself. When we exalt ourselves, we lure people away from the one thing that can satisfy their souls—the infinite beauty of God. When God exalts himself, he manifests the one thing that can satisfy our souls, namely, God.

What stood out was this sentence: “When we exalt ourselves, we lure people away from the one thing that can satisfy their souls—the infinite beauty of God.”  What a convicting thought in our idol-making, idol-aspiring age: to draw people to ourselves is to steal their joy and lead them to a fallen image, namely ourselves, instead of the true Image of God, Jesus Christ.   Too often our hearts long to make much of ourselves, too often we see Christian leaders promoting themselves in ways that draw followers after themselves; yet this kind of idol-making steals glory from God and joy!  I was convicted by this brief article today and am thankful for its Godwardness.

May we search our hearts for idol-aspiring tendencies and cry out with John the Baptist (and Piper), “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

(HT: DG)