Where are priests in the New Testament? Ephesians 4?

I just can’t seem to find a clear ministerial priesthood in the New Testament. One of my questions is in Ephesians chapter 4 it says “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors & teachers,”.

Why are priests not on the list?

What I was taught was that the ministerial priesthood as we understand it today - as distinct from he office of bishop - didn’t develop until the 4th Century, as an extension of the office of bishop, and thus did not explicitly exist in New Testament times. When the New Testament was being written, there were only bishops and deacons.

The New Testament definitely references presbyters (aka, “priests”, “bishops”, or “elders”). There is no distinction specifically in the New Testament between priest and bishop, but bishops are ultimately the ‘chief’ presbyters and [successors of] the Apostles, which are specifically named in Ephesians 4. As Tarpeian Rock mentions, there were only bishops and deacons at the time of the New Testament writings. Deacons were clearly an instituted ministry by the Apostles (not Jesus directly) in Acts because the Apostles themselves couldn’t manage all the responsibilities on their own as the Church grew. It only makes sense, then, that as the Church continued to grow and geographically spread that other assistants would be needed. It started with bishops in each city, but as they need to branch out further, it would make sense, too, that some would simply assist the bishops in a manner more similar to bishop (and distinct from the responsibilities of deacons). The New Testament doesn’t mention these explicitly, but rather hints at it. {I don’t have a solid list myself, but from what I’ve read in unofficial sources, Silas may well have been a priest under Paul; and while Barnabas is traditionally regarded as an “apostle”, some believe he may, too, have been a priest and not a bishop.}

“Pastor”, in Catholic terminology, can only be a priest; that’s how it was understood for 1500+ years, until some Protestant denominations allowed lay people to ‘pastor’ and minister in every way without ordination. Even the mainline Protestant faiths still hold this view, AFAIK (pastor must be an ordained clergyman).

I would encourage you to read: catholic.com/quickquestions/where-in-the-new-testament-are-priests-mentioned

One place you will find priests is in James 5:14-15.

14 Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.

Some versions say “elders” or “presbyters” instead of “priests”. The original Greek word is “presbyterous.” From “presbyterous” we get “presbyter” (Latin), from there we get “prester” (old English) or “prestre” (old French). From “prester”, we get “priest.”

Presbyterous => presbyter => prester => priest. The “elder” or “presbyter” of James 5:15 is a priest. Notice that James says to call the presbyter to administer the anointing of the sick. He does not say that the parishioners should administer the anointing. There are some things that you need a priest for.

Priests would fall under presbyters or elders.

1 Timothy 3:2-10 Bishops and Deacons.
1 Timothy 4:14 The Presbyterate.
1 Timothy 5:17-20 Regarding Presbyters.
Titus 1:5-9 Appointing Presbyters in every town.

I see Bishop and Deacon clearly, but Presbyters generally simply meant an elder, where the term Priest would be someone to offer sacrifice.

If it were intended for there to be Priests to offer sacrifice, why was it not stated?

It didn’t need stated; it was understood that the bishop/elder would offer sacrifice as a priest himself as an essential part of his role.

But why is it so clearly stated that we are all to be priests and offer spiritual sacrifices, and not that the bishops or deacons would offer sacrifice for someone else?

Because these are almost all letters to the faithful/laity, and none are instruction manuals for the leaders.

There are several reasons why the word “priests” is not on the list in Ephesians 4. One of the reasons is because Ephesians 4 is not intended to list every name for every Christian office. That particular list does not mention bishops, priests, or deacons. In my imagination, I imagine they are all three included in that list under the more general word “pastors.” (This is speculation.) Other New Testament passages do mention bishops, priests, and deacons, under the equivalent Greek words episkopos, presbyteros, and diakonos. For a list of passages mentioning presbyteros (priests), check out this list: biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+11%3A30%3B+Acts+14%3A23%3B+Acts+15%3A2%3B+Acts+15%3A4%3B+Acts+15%3A6%3B+Acts+15%3A22%3B+Acts+15%3A23%3B+Acts+16%3A4%3B+Acts+20%3A17%3B+1+Timothy+4%3A14%3B+1+Timothy+5%3A17%3B+1+Timothy+5%3A19%3B+Titus+1%3A5%3B+James+5%3A14%3B+1+Peter+5%3A1%3B+&version=NABRE

That is also a reply to your first question: Where are priests in the New Testament? Answer: they are in the list I linked you to above.

Not that late by any means. St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, already speaks of presbyters as a distinct office from the Bishop in the early 2nd century.

To the OP - we can see the ministerial priesthood in a number of places. While the word wasn’t used in the apostolic era, the office is there. For one, Our Lord clearly gives the Apostles a special ministry and unique authority. He sends them into the world as the Father sent Him and says that those who receive them, receive Him (John 20:21, Mat. 10:40). He gives them the power to forgive sins (John 20:22). He gives them the power to bind and to loose, which was rabbinical language for the authority to teach and govern (Mat. 18:18). In the Acts we see that the Apostles appointed Presbyters in every town, and it was the Apostles and Presbyters who exercised true and real authority over the Church (take for example Acts 15 - the decision of the apostolic council was binding on all the churches). We see that sacrifices are still offered (Hebrews 13:10 refers to a Christian altar from which Christians eat - the Eucharistic sacrifice), which in a Biblical context implies a ministerial priesthood. This is again emphasized in Revelation where John sees an altar in heaven and a Lamb standing as if slain (chapters 4 and 5).

Jesus instituted the priesthood by teaching the apostles for the 3 years He was with them. The culmination of this “traveling seminary” was at the last supper when he ordained them as priests, He showed them how to celebrate the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist and when He laid hands on them and breathed on them. John 20:21-23: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

(The only other time in Scripture we have of God breathing on men is when He created and breathed his Spirit into Adam and Eve)

The ministerial priesthood is different from lay people as “priest, prophet, and king.” I am a lay person and offer myself to the Lord every day. I do not have the powers of the ministerial priesthood who can confect the Eucharist.

But why is it so clearly stated that we are all to be priests and offer spiritual sacrifices, and not that the bishops or deacons would offer sacrifice for someone else?
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The ministerial priesthood is different from lay people as “priest, prophet, and king.” I am a lay person and offer myself to the Lord every day. I do not have the powers of the ministerial priesthood who can confect the Eucharist.
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The role of a priest – whether a member of the ‘ministerial’ priesthood or the ‘common’ priesthood of all believers – is to sanctify God’s people. Therefore, by offering “spiritual sacrifices”, a member of the priesthood of believers (i.e., lay people!) helps to sanctify humanity!

(Here, a “spiritual sacrifice” doesn’t refer to confecting the Eucharist which, as you point out, is part of the role of the ministerial priesthood.)

<<The role of a priest – whether a member of the ‘ministerial’ priesthood or the ‘common’ priesthood of all believers – is to sanctify God’s people. Therefore, by offering “spiritual sacrifices”, a member of the priesthood of believers (i.e., lay people!) helps to sanctify humanity!

(Here, a “spiritual sacrifice” doesn’t refer to confecting the Eucharist which, as you point out, is part of the role of the ministerial priesthood.) >>

Thank you for the correction.

I don’t think there is anything especially explicit in the Bible. However, explicit mention of the Eucharist as the Christian sacrifice and of the celebration of the Eucharist being restrict to the bishop and his designates can be found in the Apostolic Fathers, such as Ignatius of Antioch’s chapter 8Epistle to the Smyrnaeans,.

Probably the closest thing you are going to find in the Bible to the mention of a Christian ministerial priesthood is the mention of a Christian “altar” and “those who serve the tent” in Hebrews 10:17 and St Paul’s imperfect, triple comparison of the sacrificial worship of Israel, pagans and Christians in 1 Corinthians 10:18-21. Keep in mind that in the Bible the word “table” is sometimes synonymous with “altar.” (see Malachi 1:7,12) And, altars imply ministerial priests who serve them.

We know that the Jews engaged in sacrificial worship, where a Jewish priest would offer food offerings and/or drink offerings in cups in sacrifice on altars dedicated to God and, except in the case of whole burnt offerings, and those who wanted to be partners with God then partook of those sacrificial offerings. Pagans also engaged in sacrificial worship, where a pagan priest would offer food and/or drink offerings in cups in sacrifice on altars dedicated to idols and those who wanted to be partners with the idols then partook of those sacrificial offerings. See 1 Cor 10:27-29; Act 15:29, concerning such food sacrificed to idols.

Unless St Paul was comparing apples to oranges, Christians also engage in sacrificial worship. Since “the table of demons” and “the cup of demons” mentioned by St Paul in 1 Cor 10:20 in context probably refers to the sacrifices of real food and drink offered by pagan priests on altars dedicated to idols, “the table of the Lord” and “the cup of the Lord” mentioned by St Paul in the next verse (v. 21) in context probably refers to the sacrifices of real food and drink offered by Christian priests on altars dedicated to God, i.e., to the “the bread we break” and “the cup of blessing we bless,” which are participations in “the body of Christ” and “the blood of Christ,” at “the Lord’s Supper” at Church assemblies. (1 Cor 10:16; 11:17-34)

Keep in mind what the New Testament is and what is is not.

It is yes the Inspired Word of God.

It is not a systematic textbook or Catechism or intended to lay out everything - Jesus founded a Church - gave authority to men (and the Holy Spirit!) he did not hand them a textbook or an instruction manual.

The Letters contained in the NT are rather “partial” by nature. They are written to (as a first audience) a particular community or communities - addressing particular issues.

They presume a great deal…and were not written by say Paul to lay out everything (indeed he notes at times he is reminding them …and to be faithful to what he taught when he was with them etc).

They are wonderfully the Word of God - the Sacred Scriptures.

But they were not meant to be something systematic and all inclusive.

(that said others have discussed your particular question…but I wanted to lay out this more general understanding which is of great importance. Those who come newly from a Protestant background can often expect something from the Bible that is not intended to be there).

Yes - that’s me - from a protestant background. Sorry to be a pain to you all, but it’s a lot of work for me!

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