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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Priesthood of the Believer

Christian belief that every person has direct access to God without any mediator other than Christ. All religions have developed an intricate system of priesthood, an order of religious professionals who act as mediators between the worshiper and God. The essence of the Christian gospel is that believers have direct access to God because Christ has broken down the barriers (Ephesians 2:14-16 ). This means that the “priesthood of the believer” has become a strong Christian doctrine which developed in two directions: (1) believers can respond directly to the personal activity of God in their lives, through the Holy Spirit and through the written word of Scripture, and do not require a human priest to mediate authoritative communication with God; (2) Christians have become a “holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5 ) and can minister to one another and to the world. No longer does a professional priesthood have an exclusive channel for holy communication. Any believer can be the channel of God's Spirit and mediate the grace of God in prayer, confession, or witness in particular situations.

The role of Christ as our only priest means that He is the only Mediator between God and the believer (1 Timothy 2:5 ). The priestly role of Christ is a major theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews (see 1 Timothy 4:14-15 ). Further, this priesthood of Christ is said to be “after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:6 ), which means that God appointed Him directly and Jesus did not have to trace His priesthood through the human line of Aaron or Levi. This priestly ministry of Christ is the foundation of the doctrine, because the work of Christ is sufficient for all and His “once for all” sacrifice fulfilled the promise and purpose of the Old Testament priesthood.

Our Gospels record a dramatic event which happened at the very moment Jesus died on the cross. The great veil in the Temple which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the sanctuary was torn asunder from the top to the bottom, suggesting that God Himself opened up the direct access to the holy of holies through the death of Christ.

The priestly ministry of all believers derives directly from Christ, who calls all His followers to share in His priestly ministry. This fulfills Israel's role as a kingdom of priests and a light to the nations. First Peter compares Christian believers to living stones “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 2:5 NIV). Here the emphasis is not upon our coming directly to God without a human priest, but rather upon the priestly function of all believers as they offer “spiritual sacrifices” to God through Jesus Christ. The question immediately arises, “What are these spiritual sacrifices?” Hebrews 13:15-16 lists praise of God in prayer and song, doing good, sharing with others. Any real sacrifice will cost us something; it should be our response in love and gratitude to the One who has given Himself for us.

Romans 12:1 emphasizes another dimension of this priestly ministry of all Christians “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (NRSV). The progression in the biblical record of sacrifice is clear. The priests of the old covenant offered the sacrifice of animals upon the altar. Christ, as High Priest, offered His own life upon the altar of the cross. Followers of Christ are called upon to offer their very bodies as a living sacrifice, a day-by-day commitment and service to God, as the truest form of worship. Biblical examples of that ministry include:

(1) We are urged to pray for one another, offering the priestly ministry of intercessory prayer.

(2) We are also urged to confess our sins to one another and to bear one another's burden. The ancient role of the priest was to receive the confession of the people and to convey it to God to receive His forgiveness. All of us have the opportunity at some time to be a special channel of blessing and help to a fellow believer on the journey.

(3) We can bring others to Christ. The ancient role of the priest was to bring people in contact with God. While Christ has come to reveal the Father, it is necessary for us to fulfill the priestly role of bringing people to Jesus in order that they may have access to the Father through Him.

Wayne Ward

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Priesthood of the Believer'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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