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Bible Dictionaries
Ordination, Ordain

Holman Bible Dictionary

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The appointing, consecrating, or commissioning of persons for special service to the Lord and His people.

English Translations KJV uses ordain to translate over twenty Hebrew and Greek words. These words relate to a variety of ideas such as God's work and providence; the appointment to an office or a task; and the establishment of laws, principles, places, or observances. While all these ideas do not relate directly to ordination, they contain basic concepts of divine purpose, choice, appointment, and institution that undergird the practice.

Old Testament Four primary examples provide Old Testament precedents for ordination: the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests to God (Exodus 28-29; Leviticus 8-9 ), the dedication of the Levites as servants of God (Numbers 8:5-13 ), the appointment of seventy elders to assist Moses (Numbers 11:16-17 ,Numbers 11:16-17,11:24-25 ); and the commissioning of Joshua as Moses' successor (Numbers 27:18-23 ). The variety in these examples helps explain the various contemporary understandings of ordination.

The ordination of the priest was based on God's choice of Aaron and his sons “that he may minister unto me in the priest's office” (Exodus 28:1 ). The ordination itself was a seven-day act of consecration accompanied by washing, donning vestments, anointing, sacrificing, and eating (Leviticus 8:1 ). The basic Hebrew term for “ordination” literally means to “fill the hands” and may refer to filling the priest's hands with the offerings (Leviticus 8:27 ). The ordination of the Levites also was based on God's choice of them “to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Numbers 8:15 ). The ordination involved cleansing, presentation before the Lord, laying on of hands by the whole congregation, offering the Levites as a wave offering, and sacrifices.

The appointment of the seventy to assist Moses in bearing “the burden of the people” (Numbers 11:17 ) was at God's initiative, but Moses selected persons who were known as elders and leaders. Their ordination involved standing with Moses and receiving from the Lord the Spirit who previously was upon Moses. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied (Numbers 11:25 ). The ordination of a successor for Moses was at Moses' initiative (Numbers 27:15-17 ), but Joshua was chosen by God because he was “a man in whom is the spirit” (Numbers 27:18 ). Joshua's ordination involved standing before the priest and all of the congregation and being commissioned in their sight. Moses laid his hand on Joshua, and Moses placed some of his authority on Joshua, including the role of inquiring of the judgment of the Urim.

New Testament The New Testament practice of ordination is generally associated with the laying on of hands; but other appointments, consecrations, and commissionings must be considered even if they lack formal investiture.

Jesus' appointment of the twelve “that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” (Mark 3:14 ) was based on prayer (Luke 6:12 ), His choice and call (Mark 3:13 ), and the apostles' responses. When He sent them out, He gave them “power and authority” (Luke 9:1 ) but no formal ordination. The same was true of the seventy (Luke 10:1 ). The Great Commission was given solely on the basis of Jesus' “power” (or authority, Matthew 28:18 ). The Holy Spirit was given directly without the laying on of hands (John 20:22 ). The disciples were chosen and appointed by Jesus for their task of bearing fruit (John 15:16 ).

Several other New Testament passages describe appointments without reference to ordination. Having been chosen by lot, Matthias was installed as one of the twelve (Acts 1:21-26 ). Barnabas and Paul appointed elders “in every church” after prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23 ). Titus was left in Crete to perform the same function (Titus 1:5 ).

Several passages describe ordination accompanied by the laying on of hands. Acts 6:1-6 tells of the appointment of seven men to the daily ministry to widows in the Jerusalem congregation. Barnabas and Paul were set apart for the work to which God had called them ( Acts 13:1-3 ). Timothy was chosen by prophecy, recommended by Paul, and ordained to his task by the laying on of hands by Paul and the assembly of elders (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6 ). References to laying on of hands in 1 Timothy 5:22 and Hebrews 6:2 likely deal with other practices than ordination. See Laying on of Hands .

The lack of a consistent biblical pattern raises questions about ordination today. Who should be ordained? Why? By whom? On the basis of what qualifications? What is received in the act of ordination? Answers to these questions will vary with the biblical model assumed and continue to be debated in various denominations.

Michael Fink

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Ordination, Ordain'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​o/ordination-ordain.html. 1991.
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