The Priesthood Of Christ In Hebrews

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The Priesthood of Christ in Hebrews

The Priesthood of Christ in Hebrews


Current interest in the use of the imagery and theme of priesthood in Catholic theology arises in great part from their use in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and in its aftermath. It is also affected by the ecumenical currents that found their focus in the Catholic Church after the Council. To relate the life and mission of the Church to Christ, the conciliar teaching distinguished the threefold mission or office of Jesus Christ as Priest, King, and Prophet. The Church, as a body and in each of its members according to their order, was then said to share in this threefold mission and office. To set this teaching within Christian tradition, an extensive investigation is needed into how images and definitions of priesthood have been used in the past, both in explaining Christ's salvific work and in explaining the life, mission, and ministry of the Church. While the immediate concern of this article is priesthood, it is apparent that its relation to kingship and even prophecy must be kept in mind.


The New Testament provides the imagery and thematic of the priesthood of Christ and of the royal priesthood of the Church. The second however is not introduced as a deduction from the first, and they are to be considered separately.

The Priesthood of Christ

The texts which present the death of Christ as a Sacrifice, or which attribute priesthood to him, belong in a larger context wherein other images and descriptions are used. There is a very varied soteriology in the works of the New Testament, and a proper placement of priesthood, kingship and sacrifice has to resist the temptation to reduce all understanding to such a thematic. It is asked rather what such imagery adds to the meaning of Christ's salvific suffering, death, and resurrection, as it is appropriated primarily from the Hebrew scriptures.

Several images used of Christ's work provide the context. Jesus is the new Paschal Lamb (e.g. 1 Cor 5:7). He is compared to Isaac (Jn 10:17; Rom 8:12). He is the victim offered in EXPIATION for sin (Mt 26:28; 1 Cor 15:3; Gal 1:4). Compared to the Suffering Servant of the songs of the Book of Isaiah, he is said to give himself in service for others (e.g. Jn 12:38). In such images, there is a ready appeal to a sacrificial background in explaining the death of Jesus as the culmination of his life and ministry, but the key to its understanding is the contrast made with the inefficacy of ritual action.

The Letter to the Hebrews is the high-point of the appeal to notions of mediation, priesthood, and sacrifice, and it is this work which has exercised the primary influence in Christian literature in these areas of thought. The letter is written to encourage believers and disciples in communities that suffer and endure persecution. Its focus is on the mediation of a new covenant, according to the eternal plan of God, whose intention is ...
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