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Why Have Priests if We’re All Priests?

Audio only:

Karlo Broussard, author of Meeting the Protestant Challenge, takes on a common challenge to the Catholic priesthood. If Peter says all Christians are priests — and he does — then what need have we of a Catholic priest?


Why have priests if all Christians are priests? Karlo Broussard is next.

Cy Kellett:

Hello and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding and defending your Catholic faith. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. A common challenge that’s made to Catholics from our Protestant brothers and sisters, we don’t need the priesthood. Peter tells us clearly, we don’t need the priesthood. In the first letter of St. Peter, he tells us that we’re all priests now. This means that he’s done away with the ministerial priesthood. That objection is one of the many objections that Karlo Broussard tackles in his book, Meeting the Protestant Challenge, How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs. So we invited Karlo in and asked him that. Why do we have a ministerial priesthood when it would appear in the first letter of St. Peter that Christ has done away with that ministerial priesthood? Here’s Karlo. Karlo Broussard, apologist extraordinaire. Thank you for being with us.

Karlo Broussard:
Well, thanks for having me. I don’t know about extraordinaire, but apologist, yes.

Cy Kellett:
No, I think apologist extraordinaire.

Karlo Broussard:
Well, we’re working on it.

Cy Kellett:
Okay, good. You might have noticed this, but a lot of times if you go into a Protestant church, there’s no priest there. There’s a minister, a preacher, but there ain’t no priest there.

Karlo Broussard:
There ain’t no priest.

Cy Kellett:
So this is one of the differences between Catholics and Orthodox and many, not all, but many in the Protestant tradition, right, is a difference in opinion about the importance of the priesthood or who exactly is the priest, I guess, is one way to say it. So I’m going to give you the Protestant challenge, and then we’ll go through it and see if we can justify the Catholic position.

Karlo Broussard:
Yeah, in order to be clear, you said we don’t see any priest there, at least the type of priest that we as Catholics and Orthodox would identify as a ministerial priest belonging to what the church calls the hierarchical priesthood, something that is over and above the universal priesthood of baptized believers, a distinct class of men, class meaning an order, distinct, the men who are set apart for certain priestly functions to minister to the people of God in the new covenant.

Cy Kellett:
And the reason that you’ve made that clarification will become clear as we go on.

Karlo Broussard:
There you go.

Cy Kellett:
It’s not that there’s no priest there. So here’s the challenge. How can the Catholic church teach, and this is in the catechism of the Catholic church, paragraph 1547. How can the Catholic church teach that there is a ministerial priesthood when the Bible tells us in 1 Peter chapter two, verse nine, that we’re all priests? Peter writes, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”

Karlo Broussard:
Yes, and that’s the challenge. I’m glad you cited the paragraph number in the catechism for our listeners to check out in paragraph 1547, because that’s where the catechism articulates the Catholic church’s understanding of the distinction between what it calls the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood and the common priesthood, which the challenge is appealing to, saying, hey, Peter says in 1 Peter five, verses two and nine that we’re all priests, and that’s what we as Catholics would refer to the common priesthood of believers, of baptized members of Christ’s mystical body. But some of our Protestant friends will deny the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood.

The catechism goes on to articulate the distinction between the two, that as the faithful, we all participate in the one priesthood of Christ, but each in our own proper way, right, we participate in this one priesthood of Christ. One is ordered to the other. That’s what the catechism says, though they differ essentially.

Then in talking about the ministerial priesthood, it says it’s at the service of the common priesthood. It’s directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his church. So it’s important to sort of get a clearer picture of what we’re thinking of as Catholics concerning the hierarchical or ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood, and that sets up the target at which our Protestant friends are directing this challenge, saying, hey, we affirm the common priesthood because that’s what the Bible says, but we deny this ministerial, hierarchical priesthood which the Bible doesn’t say, and in fact the challenge asserts our Catholic belief that there is a ministerial or hierarchical priesthood contradicts 1 Peter chapter two, verses five and nine because we’re all priests. The implication being if we’re all priests, then no ministerial or hierarchical priesthood.

Cy Kellett:
Right. Right. This really is a Reformation thing. Not to get off on a separate track, but no one, for most of the history of the church, and even today, most Christians do not share this idea that the general priesthood of the whole people means that there’s no ministerial priesthood. That’s really just the Reformation where we see that. Maybe a few other places.

Karlo Broussard:
That’s right, because prior to the Reformation, a ministerial priesthood within the people of God was essential to the people of God. That was common par for the course. All throughout Christian history, up until the Reformation, where you have a denial. Now, you do have a few squabbles here and there of certain groups dissenting or rejecting or claiming for themselves the ministerial priestly ministry. We even see a hint of this in the New Testament. Perhaps we can get to this later in our discussion. I didn’t plan on us chatting about it, but maybe we can bring it up, where Jude talks about those who are falling into the rebellion of Korah, appealing to, I think it’s Numbers chapter 16, where you read about that event of some who were trying to usurp the priestly authority of Moses and Aaron, and there was some severe consequences, like the earth opening up and swallowing them.

Cy Kellett:
Right. Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:
Moses took the golden censors that they were using as a test, because Moses said, “Hey, you want to challenge our authority? Let’s get it on, baby.” So they had a contest of legitimate priestly authority, and God accepted the offering of Moses and Aaron and swallowed up those who were following this gentleman named Korah in rebelling against a priestly ministry of Moses and Aaron. Moses used the gold of the golden vessels to construct this golden altar as a sign that the priestly ministry of Moses and Aaron is ordained and you don’t balk against it. You don’t try to reject it, you don’t try to usurp it.

Cy Kellett:
Right.

Karlo Broussard:
We’re told in the New Testament that there were some in the first century Christian community who were falling into the rebellion of Korah. Well, what does that imply? That there were New Testament ministerial priests. Now, I’m kind of getting off of track here, but this would be positive evidence for the New Testament ministerial priesthood. What we want to do here is try to answer this challenge from 1 Peter chapter two, verse nine.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:
But in responding to the challenge, we actually have, or we could construct a positive argument for the ministerial priesthood.

Cy Kellett:
Okay, so let’s do that. Let’s construct the positive argument.

Karlo Broussard:
So here’s the thing. First of all, let’s take a step back. Recall how I mentioned earlier the implications that if everyone is universal priests, then the consequence of that would be no ministerial priesthood. Well, that’s just a non-sequiter. In other words, that there is no ministerial priesthood simply doesn’t follow from that we’re all universal priests, because you can have both/and. And as we’re going to see in a few moments, you can have both/and in the old. There was both/and in the Old Testament, common priesthood, ministerial priesthood. So just because there’s a common priesthood, that doesn’t mean there’s no ministerial priesthood. You would have to provide some other justification for that.

Cy Kellett:
Right, so this passage that the objection is made with is not enough on its own to do away with the ministerial priesthood.

Karlo Broussard:
That is correct, because hypothetically you could have both.

Cy Kellett:
Well, actually in fact you could have both, not just hypothetically.

Karlo Broussard:
Well, we would have to shoulder the burden of proof in order to show that there is both, but our Protestant friend would also have to shoulder the burden of proof to support his position that there is no ministerial priesthood. Now, he thinks this passage does that, but it simply doesn’t. We can push it even further, because what Peter is doing here is he’s quoting Exodus chapter 19, verse six, which is used in reference to the Israelites. Israel, the people of Israel’s referred to as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. So Peter is directly quoting that and applying it to the Christian church, the implication being that the Christian church is the new Israel of God, as St. Paul writes in Galatians 6:16, if my memory serves me correctly here.

So that Peter is making this direct connection between the new Israel, the Christian church, and the old Israel of God, the people of Israel in the Old Testament, that at least would allow for the possibility of there being both a common priesthood and a ministerial priesthood, just like in the old Israel, which Peter is making a direct parallel to, there was a common priesthood and a ministerial priesthood. So that’s our first step forward, but we can push it even further and say, well wait a minute, that Peter is making this parallel, we can argue that in Peter’s mind, he’s seeing the Christian church as the new Israel, and because they had the threefold rank of priestly ministry in the old Israel, high priests, which is Aaron and his sons, excuse me, Aaron, and his sons, which ministered with him, that would be the middle rank of priestly ministry, and then you had the common priesthood of all the believers, all the Israelites.

Cy Kellett:
Right.

Karlo Broussard:
And Peter is making a direct parallel between the old Israel, which included that threefold priestly rank, and the Christian church, making the direct connection with the bottom rank of the universal priesthood. Now, in the New Testament, we know that there’s a high priest in the new Israel, that’s Jesus Christ, matching up with Aaron in the old Israel. Hebrews 3:1 tells us that Jesus is our high priest. So if we have a match between the bottom rank, common priesthood, the top rank, high priesthood, Aaron, and Jesus, well, in the old Israel, there was a middle rank, and so it’s reasonable to conclude that there would be a middle rank of priestly ministry in the new Israel of God, and that would be those ministers who serve with Jesus, in and through Jesus as the high priest, as ministerial priests. So rather than 1 Peter two, five and nine, being a challenge to the Catholic belief, it actually can be used as Biblical support for the Catholic belief that there is a distinction between the common priesthood, all baptized believers, all believers in Jesus, and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, which is a priesthood that participates in the high priesthood of Jesus Christ in a way that our priestly ministry, our priesthood as baptized believers does not.

Cy Kellett:
All right, so fair enough on Peter. But one might want a higher authority, so let’s ask about Jesus. What did-

Karlo Broussard:
Oh, I see what you’re saying.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. Yeah. Well, he is a higher authority than Peter.

Karlo Broussard:
Well, this is a legitimate question because our argument so far was one of plausibility, so given the parallel that Peter makes with the old Israel, and seeing the correspondence between the various ranks of priestly ministry, making a reasonable inference that there would be a middle rank as well, namely a ministerial priesthood to match up with Aaron’s sons, who ministered in the old covenant. Well, I think we can provide further evidence for the priest’s New Testament ministerial priesthood.

So we could start with John chapter 20, verse 23, where Jesus tells the apostles, on the night of the resurrection, “Whatever sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whatever sins you retain, they are retained.” Now, I argue that this is a priestly indicator. That Jesus is giving them the authority to forgive or not to forgive, forgive or retain, indicates that he’s constituting them as his new covenant ministerial priests. How so? Because if you read it against the Old Testament backdrop, what you discover in the Old Testament is that God did not intend to reconcile his people back to himself apart from his ordained priestly ministers, but in and through them. In an essentially different way than what we as Catholics claim in the sacrament of penance, with the New Testament priestly ministers now, but nevertheless, God did associate his ordained priestly ministers with reconciling people back to God involving the forgiveness of sins.

So think of, for example, in Leviticus 5:5-6, if you were guilty of sin, we read about the instructions that Moses gives the Israelites to take a sacrificial victim and to go and make a sacrifice of atonement, to make a guilt offering, and confessing of sins was involved. The Israelites had to acknowledge their sins, and they would take their sacrificial victim to the priest. The priest would offer the victim to make atonement for the sins of the Israelites. So notice the paradigm there, how God in his infinite wisdom has set it up in the old covenant in such a way that he’s going to reconcile his people back to himself, not apart from his ordained priestly ministers, but in and through and with their ministry.

So now, hypothetically, Jesus could totally change the paradigm and only deal with us on an individual level and not involve any ministers whatsoever. God could do that, but the question is what did God do, given the New Testament revelation? So this is where we come to John 20:23, and he says, “Whatever sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whatever sins you retain, they’re retained.” In light of that Old Testament backdrop of the priestly ministry of reconciling people back to God, it becomes clear that that authority Jesus is giving the apostles is an indication that they are his new covenant ministerial priests, so that’s one piece of evidence.

Cy Kellett:
Okay, so there are other priestly functions, however, and of course making sacrifice is one of them.

Karlo Broussard:
That’s right.

Cy Kellett:
Do we have evidence that he commissioned them to make sacrifice [crosstalk, 00:15:20].

Karlo Broussard:
Yes. The answer is yes, and where that’s at is at the last supper. We’ve talked about this before quite a bit, and other podcasts on the Eucharist and on Catholic Answers Live, but at the last supper, when Jesus tells the apostles to do this in remembrance of me, the Greek word for do there, the Greek verb there for do can have the meaning of to offer. The Greek is [foreign language, 00:15:46]. In Exodus chapter 29, verse 38 for example, at least in the Septuagint, where [foreign language, 00:15:52] is used, as well as Leviticus 9:7 and Psalms 66:15, [foreign language, 00:15:57] is used in the sense of offering sacrifice. So that Greek verb has sacrificial overtones, or you might say it’s charged with sacrificial meaning. So in as much as Jesus commands them to [foreign language, 00:16:13], to do this in remembrance of me. Do what? Do what he just did, take bread, wine, say, “This is my body, this is my blood.”

So he’s commanding them to offer the last supper as sacrifice, and inasmuch as it belongs to the office or the role of a priest to offer sacrifice, according to Hebrews chapter eight, verse three, and Jesus is commanding the apostles to offer this last supper meal as a sacrifice, which he only tells them to offer, and it’s not something that every individual Christian is to do. This is a distinct role that they are to play, or a distinct duty that they are to perform, indicates that he is constituting them as priests at the last supper. So we have both of these priestly duties, the forgiveness of sins, which is priestly in nature, and the offering of the last supper as sacrifice, which is priestly in nature, both of which indicate that Christ constitutes his apostles as his new covenant ministerial priests.

What’s interesting, one thing I forgot to note, Cy, is that concerning the commission to forgive sins, the early Christians understood that power, that duty to forgive sins, that authority, as belonging to the ministerial priesthood.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, they did?

Karlo Broussard:
Yeah, so for example, Hippolytus, in the early third century, about AD 215, we have Hippolytus and his apostolic tradition, an early church father here, who’s giving us the prayers that a bishop is to pray when ordaining presbyters, when ordaining deacons, and he even articulates a prayer that the early church was using and was to use when ordaining a man to be a new bishop. And Hippolytus says, “You shall pray this.” In the prayer, it talks about, it’s a request or a command of God, like God, please, requesting of God, “Pour forth now that power which comes from you, your royal Spirit which you gave to your Son, Jesus Christ, which he bestowed upon his holy apostles.” So the same Spirit that Jesus bestows upon the apostles, this ordination prayer is requesting for that Spirit to be applied and poured out upon the man being ordained a bishop, and a part of that power is the power to feed your holy flock and to serve without blame as your high priest.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:
So there is Hippolytus in this ordination prayer affirming that the bishop is seen as a high priest, to be functioning in the high priestly ministry of Jesus in the full capacity. We’re in a limited way, as baptized members, but the bishop does in a full way, and watch this, and by the spirit of the high priesthood, to have the authority to forgive sins in accord with your command, referring to John 20:23. So there, Hippolytus recognizes the forgiveness of sins as being essential to the priestly ministry of the bishop, and that’s in early third century, so that’s phenomenal evidence. Yeah.

Cy Kellett:
So it’s already very, very well developed. Yeah, because this is a prayer that they’re already praying when he writes it down.

Karlo Broussard:
That’s right.

Cy Kellett:
So who knows how ancient? Okay, so anything else from the New Testament? Because we have clear that if Peter is referring to the book of Exodus when he describes Christians as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, he’s referring to the 19th chapter of Exodus, that at least sets the stage, well, he could be meaning that in the sense of therefore the priestly offices of the church are like those of Israel, which would give support.

Karlo Broussard:
Right.

Cy Kellett:
Then Jesus giving them the power to forgive sins, commanding them to make sacrifice or to offer the sacrifice. Anything else that suggests a ministerial priesthood in the New Testament?

Karlo Broussard:
Yeah. As far as a recognition, so we’ve got two pieces of evidence for a recognition of the New Testament ministerial priesthood. So far, the passages concerning Jesus would be the institution of the New Testament ministerial priesthood. 1 Peter two, five and nine would be evidence for a recognition by the New Testament church, but we also have St. Paul seems to recognize his apostolic ministry as priestly in nature as well, and a classic text that’s been appealed to throughout the tradition is Romans chapter 15, verses 15 through 16, and Paul says, “But on some points I’ve written to you very boldly by way of reminder because of the grace given to me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

Now, what’s interesting is the Greek word that’s used for priestly service is [foreign language, 00:21:08], which is the verb form of the Greek word [foreign language, 00:21:13]. [foreign language, 00:21:13] is the Greek word that’s used for priests within the Greek version of the Old Testament, namely the Septuagint. That’s the Greek word for priest within the Jewish theological milieu, and in the vocab and in the language. And Paul is using that Greek word in reference to his apostolic ministry and service of the gospel, thus indicating that he understands himself to be a priest.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:
More specifically, with regard to the Old Testament, that Greek word [foreign language, 00:21:46] is used in reference to Aaron and his sons, for example, in Exodus chapter eight.

Cy Kellett:
So Paul’s identifying himself with that.

Karlo Broussard:
Paul’s identifying himself, at least it seems to be. He seems to be implying that he’s recognizing his ministry as a priestly ministry. Now, of course, I mentioned at the outset of our conversation, that reference to Jude is Jude 11. That’s where he talks about the rebellion of Korah. So that would be yet further evidence of this early recognition within the first century church of a New Testament ministerial priesthood, when he talks about, “Woe to them, for they walk in the way of Cain and abandon themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perish in Korah’s rebellion.” Korah’s rebellion involved rebelling against the ministerial priesthood of Moses and Aaron. Jude says there’s a rebellion of Korah in the first century church, and the only implication there is that there must be a rebellion against a hierarchical ministerial priesthood, which would imply there exists a hierarchical ministerial priesthood of the New Testament.

Cy Kellett:
So if Paul sees his work as a priestly work, what does that tell us then about that? Paul sees his work as priestly, so-

Karlo Broussard:
The implication being that the apostolic ministry and the functions that the apostles performed were priestly in nature. They understood themselves as apostles, as having the [foreign language, 00:23:12] to be priests.

Cy Kellett:
To be a priestly office, I should say.

Karlo Broussard:
Yeah. Okay.

Cy Kellett:
Then we just … You’ve focused on, except for the one …

Karlo Broussard:
Hippolytus.

Cy Kellett:
… Hippolytus, you’ve focused on Biblical sources.

Karlo Broussard:
Right.

Cy Kellett:
But we find a great deal of support of this outside the Bible very, very quickly. I mean, I suppose there’s Timothy being a bishop and all that.

Karlo Broussard:
Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. And what we discover is in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, it’s very clear, right after the time of John, AD 107 to 110, where you have a distinct threefold rank of bishop, presbyter and deacon, right?

Cy Kellett:
Yeah.

Karlo Broussard:
You find that threefold rank in Iranaeus, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, the threefold rank is there, and that threefold rank, involving distinct duties that each of these ranking officials within the New Testament church, within the Christian church are to perform. And as we mentioned already, with Hippolytus’ ordination prayer, it’s priestly in nature. These ranking officials do priestly things like presiding over the Eucharistic celebration and offering the Eucharist as sacrifice.

Check this out, even Clement of Rome, this thought just occurred to me, Clement of Rome, in AD 90, that’s sort of a common date that’s ascribed to his letter to the Corinthians, to the Corinth church, the church in Corinth there, and it’s about chapters 42 to 44. He talks about how … he gives the instruction to not despise the gifts offered by the bishop’s office. That’s the language he uses, the gifts that are offered by the bishop’s office. He says it’s no light thing to despise it or to reject it. Many scholars acknowledge that what he’s referring to there is the offering of the Eucharistic celebration. Even J.N.D. Kelly acknowledges that, Anglican, Protestant scholar. What’s interesting is that this is right in the context of drawing a parallel between the apostles and their successors, namely bishops, and Aaron and his sons.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, isn’t that something?

Karlo Broussard:
Clement himself draws this parallel very clearly, the implication being that Clement, in the first century, while John the apostle is still alive, recognizing the apostles and their successors, namely the bishops, which he identifies. He says, yeah, the apostles knew that they would need to ordain other men, and these men are bishops, and they’ve succeeded the apostles. He sees them in light of the priestly ministry of Aaron and his sons, implying that Clement understands the apostles and their successors, the bishops, to be priests, and guess what? As priests, they have gifts to offer, the gifts of the bishop’s office, which, if you reject and despise, it’s no light thing, he says, and according to scholarship, he’s referring to the Eucharistic celebration there. So even in the early church, they acknowledged that there was a New Testament ministerial priesthood.

Cy Kellett:
I realize that this is difficult for some, but for those who have actually experienced the forgiveness of Christ at the hands of a priest, it’s really good news.

Karlo Broussard:
Amen to that.

Cy Kellett:
Thanks, Karlo.

Karlo Broussard:
Thank you, Cy.


Cy Kellett:
To me, the most convincing argument for the priesthood is that Aaronic priesthood that Karlo talked about, which we have in the New Testament, is prefigured in the Old Testament, and the current situation of priesthood is prefigured in the Old Testament, as so many other things are. This and other challenges are addressed in Karlo’s book, Meeting the Protestant Challenge, How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs. You can get that over at shop.catholic.com, or wherever on the internet.

Don’t forget, we love to get your emails, focus@catholic.com is our email address, focus@catholic.com. We’d love to hear from you. Don’t forget to like and subscribe if you’re watching on YouTube. If you’re listening, wherever you get your podcasts, if you can give us that five star review and maybe write a few words to encourage others to listen. The podcast is growing, and we’re very grateful to you for helping us to do that. We also continue to need your financial support. If you can do that, go to givecatholic.com. Give in any amount at givecatholic … well, not more than a billion dollars. We have set an upward limit of one billion dollars. When you give, just write a little note, this is for Catholic Answers Focus, that way it will get to us. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. Always great to be with you. See you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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