Early Christian understanding of priesthood


A protestant friend of mine, seemingly well-versed in scripture, was asking me a few questions about the Catholic understanding of the mass and the necessity of a ministerial priesthood. Specifically, he was curious to know why the New Testament writers don’t mention a sacerdotal priesthood when referring to offices in the New Testament Church. Instead, the words “elder” “presbyter” and “deacon” are used and at times seemingly interchangeably. The Old Testament clearly uses the term “priest” in referring to those ministers who actually offered a sacrifice. If the early church understood the Lord’s Supper to be an actual sacrifice, would they not use the same term. I have also looked at the Didache and noticed that the word “priest” is not used, but only a “presider” or sometimes “president”.


The *Catholic Encyclopedia * states, “[Priest] (etymologically “elder”, from presbyteros, presbyter) has taken the meaning of “sacerdos”, from which no substantive has been formed in various modern languages (English, French, German).

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