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Bible Dictionaries

People's Dictionary of the Bible


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Priest. In the sacred Scriptures priest denotes one who offers sacrifice. In patriarchal times the fathers were the priests of their own families, though perhaps a more general priestly office existed, such as that exercised by Melchizedek. The patriarchs—Noah, Abraham, and others—officiated as priests of their households. Genesis 8:20; Genesis 12:8. The male descendants of Aaron were priests by birthright, and the firstborn, in regular succession, was entitled to the office of high priest. Certain blemishes, however, specified in Leviticus 21:16-24, disqualified a man, not for the order, but for performing the functions of the office. The number of priests was at first very small. Joshua 3:6; Joshua 6:4; but in the time of David it had greatly increased; 3700 priests joined him at Hebron. 1 Chronicles 12:27. He divided them into 24 courses—16 of the family of Eleazar, and eight of the family of Ithamar; and, as these courses officiated in regular succession, changing every Sabbath, 2 Chronicles 23:8, each course would be in attendance at the sanctuary at least twice a year. During the period of the captivity this division into courses seems to have fallen into some confusion. Among the 4289 priests who accompanied Zerubbabel, only four courses were represented, Ezra 2:36-39; Nehemiah 7:39-42, and courses are afterward mentioned which cannot be identified with any of the original ones. The duty of the priests was to prepare and offer the daily, weekly, and monthly sacrifices. In war they sounded the holy trumpets and carried the ark of the covenant. In peace they ministered as judges and expounded the law to the people. It appears, however, from 2 Chronicles 17:7-10; 2 Chronicles 19:8-10; Ezekiel 44:24, etc., that the priests often neglected the judicial and teaching functions of their office. The consecration of a priest took place with great solemnity. The ceremonies, which were minutely prescribed by Moses, Exodus 29:1-37; Lev. chaps. 8, 9, lasted for seven days, and consisted in sacrifices, washings, the putting on of the holy garments, the sprinkling of blood, and anointing with oil The consecration of the high priest was distinguished by pouring the sacred oil upon his head, Exodus 29:7; Exodus 30:22-33; Leviticus 8:12; Leviticus 21:10; Leviticus 21:12; Psalms 133:2, in addition to the washing and the sprinkling with oil, etc., which he shared with all priests, Exodus 29:4; Exodus 29:20-21; Leviticus 8:6; Leviticus 8:23-24; Leviticus 8:30. So Christ, our great High Priest, was anointed with the Holy Spirit. Daniel 9:24; Acts 10:38; John 3:34. Peculiar garments were put upon the high priest, Exodus 29:5-6; Exodus 29:29-30; Leviticus 8:7-9, and sacrifices were offered seven days. Exodus 29:1-37; Leviticus 8:14-36. The high priest's sacred garments, besides the drawers, linen tunic, and girdle of other priests, were four, Exodus 28:4; Exodus 28:39-43; Leviticus 8:7-9 : the robe of the ephod, Exodus 28:31-35; the ephod, with its "curious girdle," Exodus 28:6-12; the breast-plate, with the Urim and Thummim, vs. 15-30; and the mitre, vs. 36, 39. See the respective titles. These garments were worn only when the high priest was ministering in the sanctuary. Ezekiel 42:14; Ezekiel 44:17-19; Acts 23:5. On the day of atonement Ms dress was of plain white linen. Leviticus 16:4; Leviticus 16:23-24. The high priest was to enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the day of atonement, to make expiation for the sins of the nation. Leviticus 16:1-34. The high priest was president of the Sanhedrin in our Lord's time. Matthew 26:62. The office of the priesthood was abolished when Christ died. There were to be no more offerings for sin. "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many." Hebrews 9:28. "We are sanctified through the offering of Jesus Christ once." Hebrews 10:10. "By one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." Hebrews 10:14. The words priest and priesthood do not occur in the New Testament in connection with any order in the church. The only mention of them is, Christ, as our Priest, and all believers, as priests, and a priesthood. 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Rice, Edwin Wilbur, DD. Entry for 'Priest'. People's Dictionary of the Bible. 1893.

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