Bridgeway Bible Dictionary 
In ancient religions, priests were mediators between the people and their gods. They were religious officials whose duty was to pass on the instructions of the gods to the people and offer the people’s sacrifices to the gods ( Genesis 41:45; Genesis 47:22; Exodus 2:16; Exodus 18:1; 2 Kings 11:18; Acts 14:13).
The earliest priest of the one true God that the Bible mentions is Melchizedek. He was God’s representative to whom Abraham offered gifts, and the worshippers’ representative through whom Abraham drew near to God ( Genesis 14:17-24). Such priests were rare, as God had not yet instituted an organized religious system. Among the ancestors of Israel, the head of the family usually acted as the family priest ( Genesis 8:20; Genesis 22:13; Genesis 31:54; Genesis 46:1). Before Israel was formally established as God’s people by covenant, Moses served as the nation’s priest ( Exodus 3:13-15; Exodus 3:18; Exodus 24:2; Exodus 24:6; Exodus 24:8; Exodus 24:12).
Aaronic (or Levitical) priesthood
At the establishment of Israel’s religious system, Aaron and his sons were the priests, Aaron being set apart as the high priest. In the generations that followed, only male descendants of Aaron could be priests. Those who belonged to the same tribe as Aaron (the tribe of Levi), but who were not of Aaron’s family, were responsible for many of the practical aspects of Israel’s religious affairs, but they were not priests ( Exodus 6:16-25; Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 3:2-3; Numbers 3:9-10; see Levite ).
Priests mediated between the people and God. They presented the people’s sacrifices to God ( Hebrews 8:3; see Sacrifice ), and passed on God’s instruction to the people ( Malachi 2:7). They were to be the teachers and moral guides of the nation ( Deuteronomy 27:9-10; Deuteronomy 31:9-13; Deuteronomy 33:10). They also carried out daily functions in relation to the altar in the tabernacle courtyard ( Leviticus 6:12; Leviticus 6:14) and the altar and lamp inside the Holy Place ( Exodus 27:20-21; Exodus 30:7-8). Only priests could enter the Holy Place, and only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place. Even then he could do so only once a year, on the Day of Atonement ( Leviticus 16:2-3; Hebrews 9:6-7; see Day Of Atonement ).
As religious officials representing the people, priests wore clothing that set them apart from others. An ordinary priest’s clothing was fairly plain, consisting of a full-length long-sleeved white coat and a white cap ( Exodus 28:40-43). The high priest’s clothing, by contrast, was both distinctive and colourful.
Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament 
Much of the ambiguity of the term arises from its use even in the RV_ to represent two different Greek words. The one is ἱερεύς, a sacrificing priest, whose services were necessary in the ritual of any such religion as that of the ancient Jews. In other cases the term represents πρεσβύτερος, ‘presbyter,’ from which indeed it has been derived by a process of compressing the several syllables into one. Before our period it was in use both in Egypt and in Asia Minor to designate the members of a secular corporation, and in the former case also the members of a college of priests (Deissmann, Bible Studies, Eng. tr._, 1901, pp. 154 ff., 233 ff.), and its connotation had already come to refer to office and not to age. The implications of the word with either origin may be conveniently examined in its application in turn to Jewish officials, to Jesus Christ, to Christians generally, and to the ministry of the Church.
1. Use in regard to Jews.-The actual high priest of the day figures in Acts alone ( Acts 4:6; Acts 7:1; Acts 22:5; Acts 23:4, etc.), whilst in Heb. the original and typical high priest, Aaron, is introduced for the purpose of comparison with the priest of the New Covenant. The term is used with some laxity even in Acts, as in Acts 4:6, where it is applied to Annas, whose son-in-law Caiaphas was the actual holder of the office. Apparently it covered the group of ex-high-priests, whose number varied with the frequent changes of appointment made by the Roman authorities, and was the style of address of the occupant of the chair at any important meeting of the Sanhedrin. The phrase ‘chief priests,’ again confined to Acts,_ is of the same elastic kind. It included such officials probably as were ‘of the kindred of the high priest’ ( Acts 4:6), with such representatives of the priesthood as were prominent through ability or influence. Technically it was confined at first to the heads of the twenty-four courses; but the term was convenient and fluid, and when used loosely, embraced any priests whose character or status gave them a certain recognized authority. After the fall of Jerusalem they rapidly declined in influence through their loss of income and inability to discharge their sacrificial duties. But their priestly pedigree still remained a distinction, preserved by the incidence upon them of special prohibitions, though not investing them with any authority comparable in fact with that of the Rabbis, the masters and expounders of the Law. A sacrificial priest becomes an anachronism when his duties are in abeyance, and the opportunity for their discharge is but a hope always deferred.
2. The priesthood of Jesus Christ.-According to apostolic teaching, Jesus Christ (a) gathered to Himself all the ideas essential to the conception of a sacerdotal person or ministry; (b) particularly was the antitype, in regard alike to qualification and to function, of all the distinctive features of the Jewish institution, but stood eternally above all His predecessors, closing the line of development in Himself in such a final and complete way that no other priest is needed, and no real want of the human soul is left unmet.
(a) In the earliest times the priestly was a part of the parental function, but was so far separable from it that any adult man was held to be able to approach God for himself with offerings or prayers, and after due preparation to communicate Divine responses to others. Gradually the offices were differentiated. Access to God in aspiration and vow remained the recognized privilege of every man, while in the case of sacrificial duties, of everything that belonged to the deep religious life and to the promptings begotten of the consciousness of an actual or imminent breach in right relation with God, resort was had to an official class or family. In the course of time the members of this class were invested with a quasi-sacred dignity, and were regarded as intermediaries between God and man. On the one hand, they were the representatives of man to God, and through them only could offerings be made that would expiate sin or propitiate an offended Deity. They were the custodians of the prescribed ritual, the acknowledged mediators. On the other hand, they were the representatives of God to man; and, however this character may have been claimed or possessed by the prophets, the prophets were rather preachers of righteousness, and not directly concerned with the administration of institutional religion. The priest presented the sacrifice to God, and blessed the people ‘in the name of the Lord’ ( Deuteronomy 21:5), settling difficult perplexities and sending men away from the altar with the assurance of Divine grace and help. For Jesus Christ as Priest and High Priest the NT claims this doubly representative character. The phrase ‘appointed for men in things pertaining to God’ ( Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 5:1) suggests, if it does not actually cover, ‘appointed for God in things pertaining to man.’ He offers Himself, as representing man, as a sacrifice for man. Between God and man there is only ‘one mediator, himself man’ ( 1 Timothy 2:5), who gave Himself a ransom for all, and in whom men are blessed with every spiritual blessing ( Ephesians 1:3). As representative of God, He reveals the Father, and gives men in Himself the sum of all benediction. As representative of men, He approaches God with an adequate offering, and continues permanently to act as our Paraclete or Advocate ( 1 John 2:1)-an office which includes, though it is not confined to, His priestly work.
The NT is far from silent in regard to the conditions of His appointment as Priest and Representative. He was not self-appointed, nor on the other hand was He selected and chosen by those whom He represents. The latter course was impossible in the case of a priesthood affecting generations, future and past as well as present; and the former would have been open to all the objections, and liable to all the defects, that attach to every assumption of the right to speak or act for others. The appointment was made by the Father ( Hebrews 5:4), and the action of the Son was not that of initiation but of loving and resolute consent ( Hebrews 10:7 ff., 1 John 5:20). He needed no constraint, and was more than ready to undertake a priesthood that involved the pains of a life upon earth and death for men. Love, resolute from the beginning and persisted in through all difficulty and human unresponsiveness, is the explanation of the Incarnation on His part, and a fundamental qualification for priesthood.
If it be asked, What is it exactly that constitutes the representative character of Christ? or Why did the Father appoint Him and no other? apostolic thought suggests several replies, that give prominence in turn to the typical, the federal, and the immanental relation of Christ to man. He is the antitype of Adam, between whose relation to the race and that of Christ a striking parallel, with a more striking contrast, may be drawn ( Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:21 f., 1 Corinthians 15:45 ff.). The one was the medium of sin and death, the other of redemption and life; and as the one stands for a race sinful before God, so, in virtue of what He does for the race, lifting men up to higher spiritual privileges than the unfallen Adam ever knew, the other is even a fitter representative. These typical representations of Christ’s Headship of the race have at times to be modified into His Headship of the Church on account of the different attitudes towards Him that men assume ( Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 1:22 f., 1 John 2:2), and are strengthened by various federal considerations. He brings the race into unity, especially by His priestly exercise of sympathy and brotherliness ( Hebrews 2:10-17; Hebrews 4:14 f.) and creates human solidarity by the common tie of brotherhood, binding each individual to Himself ( John 17:23). Thereby again He is qualified to act for all; and an effective motive is secured for unlimited forbearance among men and for mutual kindness and helpfulness of every degree.
But deep down at its foundations the representative character of Christ rests not so much upon His ethical qualities and their exhibition and effects, or upon typical connexions with OT beliefs, as upon what He actually is, upon His intrinsic and essential nature. He is God as well as man, and as God He is immanent in every man, and thereby naturally qualified to act as his representative. This is implied in the frequent references to the indwelling of Christ as a racial fact, which becomes when recognized a source of assurance and strength, to the universal Fatherhood and Sonship, and to the action of the Holy Spirit in leaving no man without internal witness and prevenient grace. Not only are we insphered in God ( Acts 17:28), but we are the shrine in which His Spirit dwells ( 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19; cf. Romans 8:9 ff.), dishonoured and powerless, or allowed to rule, and leading on to perfection. All the differentiations of the universe, personal or impersonal, were produced by Christ from an original unity, of which He was the centre ( Colossians 1:15 ff.), just as again they will eventually be gathered up into a unity in Him ( Ephesians 1:10). Meanwhile ‘in him all things consist,’ or hold together; and Christ is thus the secret of the world’s order and the natural representative of the race in the presence of God. In the apostolic period it was too soon to discuss at length the relations between the Divinity and the humanity of Christ, or to recover the doctrine of immanence from the pantheistic schools and apply it to the solution of the problems of Christ’s work. Yet the germs are distinctly present, and one part of St. Paul’s writings guards and completes the teaching of another. Christ as Priest is the substitute and representative of man, not by any arbitrary appointment on the part of God, still less by a legal fiction with which there is no correspondence in actual fact, but because as God He is immanent in every man, and therefore in His nature the fit and only Person to act in the behalf and stead of all. As God-Man He stands in virtue of what He is between the two parties to be brought together, and represents perfectly each to the other.
(b) Since the apostolic teaching sprang immediately out of Jewish conceptions, it was to be expected that it would represent the Priesthood of Christ specifically as a continuation of the sacerdotal ministry of the OT, and knit the two together as a preparation with the fulfilment, or as provisional with the ideal ( Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:23 ff.) and permanent. This it does in respect alike to the priestly qualifications and to the priestly functions of Christ. To the qualifications already referred to-(1) Divine appointment and (2) sympathy-several are added. The list begins with (3) His perfect humanity, involving oneness with the men for whom He acts, with the experience in His case as in theirs of the discipline of suffering and temptation ( Hebrews 2:9 ff; Hebrews 4:15). (4) In personal character He was holy and guileless ( Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 3:18, Acts 3:14), not only free from moral disqualification, but an example of virtue and godliness, with a personal right of access to God. (5) This freedom from limitations extends beyond the range of morality to all the infirmities to which man is subject ( Hebrews 7:28; Hebrews 5:2), and lifts Christ altogether above the Aaronic order. A better comparison is suggested by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews: see Melchizedek. The Priesthood of Christ is royal from the beginning, and still He sits ‘on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens’ ( Hebrews 8:1). (6) Its timelessness and indissolubility arise from Christ’s triumph over death ( Romans 6:9 f., Hebrews 7:23 f.), and render any delegation of His priestly duties unnecessary, and any succession to His office impossible. Because ‘he ever liveth to make intercession,’ salvation ‘to the uttermost’ ( Hebrews 7:25) is a gift He can bestow at any moment upon the sincere and strenuous. Other priestly aids become superfluous and an encumbrance. (7) Finally, the offering He presents is perfect both in itself ( Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 5:2, Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:24) and in its value and effect ( Romans 5:21; Romans 6:9 f., Hebrews 9:25 f., Hebrews 10:12; Hebrews 10:14-18, Titus 2:14).
Of the actual priestly work of Christ two views are combined, according as it is regarded as reaching its supreme point on the Cross or as still continuing; and in either relation it may be considered under various aspects.
(1) Prominence is given in the NT to the fact that the offering of Christ was expiatory. It stands in a line with the sacrificial institutions of the OT, and even takes up into itself the meaning of each. It is a burnt-offering ( Ephesians 5:2, Philippians 4:18), a sin-offering ( 2 Corinthians 5:21), a peace-offering ( Ephesians 2:14, Colossians 1:20), and it moves easily amid the implications of the Passover and Day of Atonement ( 1 Corinthians 5:7 f., Hebrews 9:7; Hebrews 9:12-14; Hebrews 9:24 ff.). The very variety of the typical sacrifices, handled and offered by our Priest, tells of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and of the primary need of expiation through the shedding of blood ( Hebrews 9:22, Ephesians 1:7) as the ground of remission.
(2) From this idea of such a treatment of sin as destroys its offensiveness, wiping it out or neutralizing its relation to natural justice, it is but a step to that of propitiation. By linking His offering with our sin our Priest removes the necessity for a Divine reaction in our condemnation, and even propitiates God, i.e. takes away the hindrances to the manifestation of His goodwill, and enables His grace to exhibit itself in forgiveness ( Romans 3:25 f., Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10; cf. Luke 18:13). As the passages show, propitiation is not regarded as a priestly act by which love is excited in God, for God devised it and arranged its method, but as an act so altering the condition of the sinner that the unchanged love is able to exhibit itself and stream out upon him. His sin, and not merely his creatureliness, is rendered inoperative and null; and the active goodwill of God is the natural response to Him who substituted Himself in sacrifice, and to those for whom He acts.
(3) Hence complete reconciliation between God and man is rightly viewed as the culmination of Christ’s priestly work upon earth. In effecting it He removes altogether the alienation in heart and will of man from God, and the alienation, under the necessities of His perfect nature, of God from sinful man. Of these two aspects of His priestly work, the one is explicit in Scripture ( Romans 5:10 f., Romans 11:15, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Colossians 1:21), the other is present in frequent logical implication. Not only is reconciliation itself a mutual process, involving a changed sentiment on either side (cf. Matthew 5:23, where the advice is to do everything to turn a brother’s coolness or resentment into forgiveness), but God’s attitude changes from apparent displeasure to evident pleasure ( Romans 8:8; Romans 8:16 f.), from accumulating wrath to wonder-awakening grace ( 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10). He provides the means whereby forgiveness may be granted without moral harm, and, the means being used, His unchangeable nature reacts accordingly, and the love that is outraged but not quenched by sin becomes the most assured feature of His relationship with the penitent. Thus the Priestly Mediator covers the sin of man with His sacrifice, enables a God who is compacted of all moral perfections to act without denying the legitimate rights of any of them, and, breaking down all non-moral distinctions, makes men everywhere one by making each severally in the enrichment of his faith one with God ( Ephesians 2:14 ff., Colossians 1:19 f.).
(4) To this whole process from its beginning in the experience of the regenerate to the ultimate perfecting, as anticipated by St. Paul, the term ‘redemption’ is freely applied. Redemption is thus the result either of the offering by the priest of a propitiatory gift in satisfaction for a forfeited life, or of the payment of the required price for the release of a person from servitude ( 1 Peter 1:18 f., Acts 20:28). The servitude is variously represented as captivity to sin ( Hebrews 9:26), with its accompanying curse ( Galatians 3:13) or with its penal liabilities [ Hebrews 2:14 f.). The price paid by the Priest is Himself ( Galatians 1:4, Titus 2:14); and that is what the references to His life ( Matthew 20:28) and to His blood ( Ephesians 1:7, Revelation 5:9) really mean. Thereby He binds men to Himself as His property ( 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23); and to His rights of ownership, as to their obligation of devoted service, there is no limit.
(5) At His death the sacrificial part of Christ’s priestly work was completed ( Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 9:28); and after His ascension He entered ( Hebrews 6:20, Hebrews 9:12; Hebrews 9:24, Ephesians 4:10) and ‘passed through the heavens’ ( Hebrews 4:14) to the very presence of God ( Hebrews 9:24), where from His throne on the right hand ( Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1) He continues to act as the Priestly Representative of men, interceding for them ( Hebrews 7:25, Romans 8:34), Himself the permanently valid propitiation for their sins ( 1 John 2:2), and therefore the triumphant Advocate of the case of every one in fellowship with Him.
3. The priesthood of believers.-It has been seen already that, according to early belief, all sacrificial institutions and ministries were gathered up into Jesus Christ, whose Priesthood is complete, admitting no rivalry, with no residue of opportunity or work for a successor. Yet metaphorically the sacrificial term is applied to the whole Christian community, irrespective of office or any other distinction ( 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9), and also with implications of future enlargement ( Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6). Thus the conception of Israel in Exodus 19:6 is transferred to the community of believers, whose priestly rights are common and equal, whatever administrative grades are introduced with a view to efficiency and order. To all alike the priestly privilege of access to God belongs ( Romans 5:2, Ephesians 2:18, Hebrews 4:16; Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 10 : 1 Peter 3:18). All alike are called upon to offer spiritual sacrifices of praise and prayer ( Revelation 10:3), of body and soul ( Romans 12:1, Hebrews 13:15), with such actual gifts in charity and helpfulness as are prompted by love to God ( Hebrews 13:16, 2 Corinthians 9:7, Philippians 4:18). Nothing of this kind is an offering for sin, the virtue of that made by Christ being inexhaustible. No longer does any distinct priestly class or caste mediate between God and man; but the priestly functions and status, in a strict sense reserved entirely to the Saviour, pass over, as far as they can pass over, to the whole body of believers, each of whom has the indefeasible right of access to God through Christ alone. Of himself the individual has to give account, and no artificial system of mediation prevents him from standing in personal and incommunicable responsibility before God.
4. The priestly theory of the Christian ministry.-It follows that this theory is without direct Scriptural warrant. The word used for the office is πρεσβύτερος, from which sacrificial associations are absent, and never ἱερεύς, from which such associations are inseparable
(a) No argument can be based upon the passages in which compounds of that term or cognate expressions occur. The nearest is probably Romans 15:16 RVm_: ‘a minister of Jesus Christ unto the Gentiles, ministering in sacrifice the gospel of God.’ Here the sacrificial allusions are unquestionable but entirely figurative. St. Paul is a λειτουργός, i.e. one who performs functions that are sacred inasmuch as they serve the needs of the community, whether viewed as an ecclesiastical ( 1 Chronicles 16:4, Hebrews 10:11; Hebrews 8:2) or a social ( Numbers 18:2, Sirach 10:25, 2 Corinthians 9:10) unit. In such a sense priests may be said to minister in the house of God (2 Es 20:36), or the ‘ministers’ may be distinguished from the priests (2 Es 20:39). The word may be used of the work of prophets and teachers ( Acts 13:2), and even of the ministry of the rich to the poor ( Romans 9:12; Romans 15:27); and its technical use in non-sacrificial connexions is well authenticated. St. Paul accordingly applies the term to himself as a minister of Christ to the Gentiles, and by a familiar figure compares his functions with those of a sacrificing priest, the offering which he presents being that of converted men. Each of them in a figure presents himself as a sacrifice ( Romans 12:1), their apostle in a figure presents them all. But that the ministry of the Church is in some special sense priestly and sacrificial is not said and not to be inferred. Similarly with Philippians 2:17 -‘If I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith’-the metaphor does not make St. Paul the priest, but the Philippians themselves, while their faith with the accompanying works is the sacrifice. So great is the Apostle’s eagerness to help them that he is ready to die for Christ’s sake in their behalf, or, as he puts it, to have his blood poured out as a libation, according to the practice in the heathen rites with which they were familiar (see Lightfoot, in loc.).
(b) This silence of Scripture in regard to the priestly character of the ministry is not relieved by an assumed identification of the ministry with the priests of Judaism or by the assumption of a parallel between them. There is no such parallel, as far as our period is concerned; for the line of typological development from the OT conception, as we have seen, runs up directly to Jesus Christ and terminates in Him, while the circle of analogy encompasses all the faithful, investing them with common privileges and the same obligations, and recognizing no distinction between the classes of clergy and of laity. All alike are priests of God, required each to present himself a living sacrifice; and the priestly work of Christ is so completely done that the intervention of any official to repair or supplement it is superfluous in regard to man and an undesigned reflexion upon the Saviour.
(c) It is the non-sacrificial term ‘presbyter’ that is consistently used in the NT as the chief and technical designation of a Christian minister. Other officials of lower rank, and, in later centuries, of higher rank, were appointed in the interest of fitness and efficiency ( 1 Corinthians 14:40); but to none of them did sacerdotal functions appertain. The ministers of a congregation, whether engaged in teaching or administration ( 1 Timothy 5:17), were called elders or presbyters, probably in imitation of the practice of the synagogue ( Acts 11:30; Acts 14:23; Acts 15:2). For this term ‘bishops’ was sometimes substituted in churches where Hellenistic influence was strong ( Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:1, Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1-2), the new term being familiar to the people as the title of the presiding official in their local confraternities and gilds. In NT times and afterwards the terms were interchangeable (1 Clem. 21, 42, 44), and for either substitutes could be used. The holders of the office were responsible rulers ( Romans 12:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, Hebrews 13:24; Hebrews 13:1 Clem. 1), stewards of God ( Titus 1:7), messengers of the churches ( 2 Corinthians 8:23), ministers ( 1 Timothy 4:6), and servants ( Philippians 1:1) of Christ Jesus; but of sacrificial duties they had none, and in sacerdotal rank they ranged with the laity, whose worship they shared and conducted, and over whose faith they watched. Of actual altar and literal sacrifice since Christ died there is no need; for even the altar of Hebrews 13:10 is that of Christ, on which each Christian must offer for himself the sacrifice of praise ( Hebrews 13:15 f.) and good works. In all such things the minister should be an ensample ( 1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7, 1 Peter 5:3); but with the passing away of the sacrificial ritual there ceased also the need and the possibility of any sacerdotal or vicarious activities. For the sake of order, the minister still leads and represents the people, and speaks with authority when he proclaims the word of God; but he is himself one of them, separated from them by no personal quality or privilege whatever. He has no offering to make in anybody’s behalf except his own, and no immunity or personal sanctity except such as arises from his own relation to God.
(d) Nor is there any trace in the Apostolic Age of the emergence of a ministerial theory to which the sacerdotal factor was integral. (1) The apostles proper never claimed either to be or to appoint priestly officers. Their specific work was to bear the witness of their senses to the historical Christ ( Acts 1:21, 1 John 1:1-3); and while they were shrewd enough to take steps for the effective organization of the little groups of disciples they attracted, they never pretended to link on to the new Church any fragments of a sacrificial system that was in their opinion outworn and spent. (2) Or, if it be assumed that the ministerial office soon began to be conceived as the result of a fusion of apostolic and presbyteral functions, as there was no priestly element in either of the original constituents, there could be none in their conflation. If, consequently, such an element subsequently appeared, its introduction must have been surreptitious, and a legitimate descent from Scriptural teaching cannot be claimed. The minister was regarded as a priest in no other sense than was every disciple. Every disciple had access through Christ to God, and was charged with the priestly function of evangelism or the establishment of real contact between man and God. When the communities became organized, suitable disciples were appointed to the various offices; and the appointment to at least the presbyterate involved three concurrent actions-the commission of God ( Romans 10:5, 1 Corinthians 9:16; cf. John 17:18), and selection by church leaders or ‘men of repute,’ with the consent of the church ( Acts 14:23; Acts 15:27, 1 Timothy 2:2, Titus 1:5; Titus 1:1 Clem. 44). But while such appointment carried the right to preside at the Eucharist and other church meetings, it added no priestly quality or prerogative to those which the minister already as a disciple possessed.
Literature.-Comm. on the passages cited, especially B. F. Westcott, Hebrews, 1889; Sanday-Headlam, Romans 5 (ICC_, 1902); J. B. Lightfoot, Philippians4, 1878, with appended dissertation on ‘The Christian Ministry.’ The principal Patristic literature is Epistle of Barnabas (a.d. 75[?]), in which, however, there is no description of ministerial qualifications or functions, and no mention of the Eucharist, but all Christians have personal access to saving knowledge; and Clement of Rome’s Ep. to Corinthians (a.d. 96 or 97), for which see J. B. Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, pt. i. (1890). See also W. Milligan, Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of Our Lord, 1892; E. Hatch, Organization of the Early Christian Churches, 1881; F. J. A. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia, 1897; W. Lefroy, The Christian Ministry, 1890; T. Powell, Essay on Apostolical Succession2, 1840; C. Gore, The Ministry of the Christian Church2, 1889, and Orders and Unity, 1909; T. M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries, 1902; R. C. Moberly, Ministerial Priesthood2, 1907; A. E. J. Rawlinson, in Foundations, 1912, pp. 362-422; and C. H. Turner, Studies in Early Church History, 1912, pp. 1-70.
R. W. Moss.
Fausset's Bible Dictionary 
Hebrew Kohen ; Greek Hiereus . There are four characteristics of the priest. He was
(1) chosen of God;
(2) the property of God;
(3) holy to God;
(4) he offered gifts to God, and took back gifts from God ( Hebrews 5:1-4).
Numbers 16:5, "Jehovah's ... holy ... chosen ... come near": Numbers 16:40, "offering incense" (Symbolizing The People'S Prayers, Psalms 141:2 ; Revelation 8:3 ) is exclusively the priest's duty ( 2 Chronicles 26:18). All Israel was originally chosen as a kingdom of "priests" to the Gentile world ( Exodus 19:6); but Israel renounced the obligation through fear of too close nearness to God. ( Exodus 20:16), and God accepted their renunciation ( Deuteronomy 18:16-17; Deuteronomy 5:24-28). Moses became the mediator with God for them. The Aaronic priesthood became the temporary depository of all Israel's priesthood, until Christ the antitypical High Priest came; and they shall hereafter resume it when they turn to the Lord and shall be "the priests of Jehovah, the ministers of our God" to the Gentile nations in Christ's millennial kingdom ( Isaiah 61:6; Isaiah 66:21). All the elect saints (not ministers as such) from Jews and Gentiles are meantime called to be priests unto God ( 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:9), and being transfigured shall reign with Christ as king priests ( Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6).
Israel, the spiritual and the literal, shall resume the priesthood which God from the first designed for His people. Thus there will be a blessed and holy series; Christ the royal High Priest, the glorified saint king-priests, Israel in the flesh mediating as king-priest to the nations in the flesh. The notion is contrary to Scripture that Christ is High Priest, and Christian ministers priests. For the other priests were but assistants to the high priest, because he could not do all. The Lord Jesus needed no assistant, so is sole representative of both high priest and priests. Aaron's priesthood has passed away: Christ's priesthood, which is after the order of Melchizedek, does "not pass from one to another" ( Hebrews 7:24, Aparabaton Teen Hierosuneen ), for "He ever liveth," not needing (As The Aaronic Priests, Through Inability To Continue Through Death) to transmit the priesthood to successors ( Hebrews 7:23; Hebrews 7:25). Christian ministers are never in the New Testament called by the name "priests" ( Hiereis ), which is applied only to the Aaronic priests, and to Christ, and to all Christians; though it would have been the natural word for the sacred writers as Jews to have used; but the Holy Spirit restrained them from using it.
They call ministers Diakonoi , Hufretai , Presbuteroi ("presbyters"), and Leitourgoi ("public ministers"), but never "sacerdotal, sacrificing priests" ( Hiereis ). The synagogue, not the temple, was the model for organizing the church. The typical teaching of Korah's punishment is the same; not satisfied with the Levitical ministry, he usurped the sacerdotal priesthood ( Numbers 16:9-10); his doom warns all Christian ministers who, not content with the ministry, usurp Christ's intransmissible priesthood ( Hebrews 7:24). Unfortunately "priest" is now an ambiguous term, representing presbyter (Which The Christian Minister Is) and sacerdotal priest (Which He Is Not) . Priest, our only word for Hiereus , comes from Presbuteros , the word chosen because it excluded a sacerdotal character. Translated 1 Corinthians 9:13 "they who offer sacrifices live of the temple, and they who wait at the altar are partakers with the altar," a part going to the service of the altar, the rest being shared by the priests. Numbers 18:8, etc.: "so they who preach the gospel ... live of the gospel," proving that as sacrificing was the temple priest's duty, so gospel preaching is the Christian minister's duty.
Κohen is from an Arabic root, "draw hear," or else Kaahan "to present" ( Exodus 19:22; Exodus 30:20-21). The priest drew near when others stood far off; the priest representing the people before Jehovah, and preparing the way by propitiatory sacrifices for their approach to God, which transgressions debarred them from; "keeping charge of the sanctuary for the charge of Israel" ( Numbers 3:38). Mediation and greater nearness to God is the radical idea in a priest, he presenting the atonement for the congregation and the gifts of a reconciled people ( Numbers 16:5; Numbers 17:5), and bringing back from God blessing and peace ( Leviticus 9:22-23; Numbers 6:22-27). In the New Testament on the contrary the separating veil is rent, and the human priesthood superseded, and we have all alike, ministers and laymen, boldness of access by the new and living way, consecrated through Christ's once torn flesh ( Hebrews 10:19-22; Romans 5:2). The high priest bad access only once a year, on the day of atonement, into the holiest, and that after confessing his own sin as well as the people's ( Hebrews 7:27), and laying aside his magnificent robes of office for plain linen.
Κohanim ( Κohan , plural) is applied to David's sons ( 1 Samuel 8:18), probably an honorary, titular priesthood, enabling them to wear the ephod (the badge of a priest, 1 Samuel 22:18) in processions ( 2 Samuel 6:14) and join the Levites in songs and dances. Keil explains it "confidants" with the king, as the priests were with God; 1 Kings 4:5, "the king's friend." David's sons were "at the hand of the king" (margin 1 Chronicles 18:17, compare 1 Chronicles 25:2), presenting others to him, as the priest was mediator presenting others to God. But the use of Kohanim in 1 Chronicles 25:16, just before 1 Chronicles 25:18, in a different, i.e. the ordinary sense, forbids this view. The house of Nathan (related to Nethinim, expressing dedication) seems especially to have exercised this quasi-priestly function. Zabud, Nathan's son, is called cohen in 1 Kings 4:5, "principal officer."
The genealogy, Luke 3, includes many elsewhere priests: Levi, Eliezer, Malchi, Jochanan, Mattathias, Heli (Compare Zechariah 12:12 ) . Augustine (Quaest. Divers., 61) writes: "Christ's origin from David is distributed into two families, a kingly and a priestly; Matthew descending traces the kingly, Luke ascending the priestly, family; so that our Lord Jesus, our King and Priest, drew kindred from a priestly stock (He Supposes Nathan Married A Wife Of Aaronic Descent) , yet was not of the priest tribe." The patriarchs exercised the priesthood, delegating it to the firstborn or the favored son, to whom was given "goodly raiment" ( Genesis 27:15; Genesis 37:3). Joseph was thus the sacerdotal, dedicated ("separated") one, the "Nazarite" ( Nazir ) "from, or among, his brethren" ( Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:16). Melchizedek, combining kingship and priesthood in one, as the Arab Sheikh does, had no human successor or predecessor as priest of "the Most High God, the Possessor of heaven and earth." (See Melchizedek .)
Job ( Job 1:5), Jethro ( Exodus 2:16; Exodus 3:1), and Balaam represent the patriarchal priest ( Numbers 23:2). At the Exodus no priest caste as yet existed. Yet sacrifices continued, and therefore some kind of priest ( Exodus 5:1-3; Exodus 19:22). The head of the tribe, or the firstborn as dedicated to Jehovah ( Exodus 13:2; Numbers 3:12-13), had heretofore conducted worship and sacrifice. Moses, as Israel's divinely constituted leader, appointed "young men of the children of Israel to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings of oxen unto Jehovah" ( Exodus 24:5-6; Exodus 24:8), and sprinkled the consecrating blood himself on the people. The targums call these young men the firstborn sons; but all that seems to be meant is, Moses officiated as priest, (Aaron Not Being Yet Consecrated) , and employed young men whose strength qualified them for slaying the sacrifices. The law did not regard these acts as necessarily priestly; Leviticus 1:5 implies the offerer slew the sacrifice.
When the tabernacle was completed, and Aaron and his sons were made priests, Moses by Jehovah's command performed the priestly functions of setting the shewbread, lighting the lamps, burning incense, and offering the daily sacrifice ( Exodus 40:23-29; Exodus 40:31-32). But at the consecration of Aaron and his sons Moses officiated as priest for the last time ( Leviticus 8:14-29; Exodus 29:10-26). The "young men" ( Exodus 24:5; compare Judges 17:7) represented Israel in its then national juven escence. (See High Priest; Levites ) The term "consecrate" ( Qadash ) is appropriated to the priest, as Tahar the "lower term" to the Levites. Their old garments were laid aside, their bodies washed with pure water ( Leviticus 8:6; Exodus 29:4; Exodus 29:7; Exodus 29:10; Exodus 29:18; Exodus 29:20; Exodus 30:23-33); so all Christians as king priests ( Hebrews 10:22; Ephesians 5:26), and anointed by sprinkling with the perfumed precious oil ( Leviticus 8:4; Leviticus 8:18; Leviticus 8:21-23; Leviticus 8:30), but over Aaron it was poured until it descended to his skirts ( Leviticus 8:12; Psalms 133:2); this anointing of the priest (Symbolizing The Holy Spirit) followed the anointing of the sanctuary and vessels ( Exodus 28:41; Exodus 29:7; Exodus 30:30; Exodus 40:15).
By laying hands on a bullock as sin offering, they typically transferred their guilt to it. Besides, with the blood of the ram of consecration Moses sprinkled the right car (Implying Openness To Hear God'S Voice, Isaiah 1:5 ; Psalms 40:6 , Messiah) , the right hand to dispense God's gifts, and the foot always to walk in God's ways. Finally, Moses "filled their hands" with three kinds of bread used in ordinary life, unleavened cakes, cakes of oil bread, and oiled wafers ( Leviticus 8:2; Leviticus 8:26; Exodus 29:2-3; Exodus 29:23), put on the fat and right shoulder, and putting his own hands under their hands (So The Jewish Tradition) made them wave the whole mass to and fro, expressing the nation's praise and thanksgiving, testified by its gifts. The whole was repeated after seven days, during which they stayed in the tabernacle, separate from the people. So essential was this ritual that to "fill the hand" means to consecrate ( Exodus 29:9; 2 Chronicles 13:9 margin).
Moses, as representing God, consecrated, exercising for the time a higher priesthood than the Aaronic; so he is called priest ( Psalms 99:6). The consecration was transmitted from father to son without needing renewal. The dress was linen drawers "to cover their nakedness" ( Exodus 20:26; Exodus 28:39-40; Exodus 28:42), in contrast to the foul indecencies of some Egyptian rites (Herodot. 2:60), and of Baal Poor's worship. Over the drawers was the Cetoneth or "close fitting cassock of fine linen", reaching to the feet, woven throughout (compare John 19:23). This was girded round the person with a needlewrought girdle, with flowers of purple, blue, and scarlet, mixed with white. Linen was used as least causing perspiration ( Ezekiel 44:18). Their caps of linen were in the shape of a flower cup. When soiled their garments were not washed but torn up for wicks of the lamps (Selden, de Synedr. 13:11). The "clothes of service" ( Exodus 31:10; Exodus 35:19; Exodus 39:41; Exodus 28:35; Exodus 28:39; Leviticus 16:4) were not, as Smith's Dictionary supposes, simpler, but were "garments of office."
They laid aside these for ordinary garments outside the sanctuary ( Ezekiel 42:14). They drank no wine in ministering ( Leviticus 10:9), that they might be free from all undue artificial excitement. No direction is given as to covering the feet. The sanctity of the tabernacle required baring the foot ( Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15). The Ephod , originally the high priest's ( Exodus 28:6-12; Exodus 39:2-5), was subsequently assumed by the priests ( 1 Samuel 22:18) and those taking part in religious processions ( 2 Samuel 6:14). Except for the nearest relatives they were not to mourn for the dead ( Leviticus 21:1-5, the highest earthly relationships were to be surrendered for God: Deuteronomy 33:9-10) nor to shave the head as pagan priests did, nor make cuttings in the flesh ( Leviticus 19:28). The priest was to be without bodily defect, symbolizing mental and moral soundness ( Leviticus 21:7; Leviticus 21:14; Leviticus 21:17-21).
The priest was not to marry a woman divorced or the widow of any but a priest. The high priest was to marry a virgin. As the priestly succession depended on the sureness of the genealogy, these genealogies were jealously preserved and referred to in disputed cases ( Ezra 2:62; Nehemiah 7:64); the mothers as well as the fathers were named. The priests' duty was to keep the altar fire ever burning ( Leviticus 6:12-13), symbolizing Jehovah's never ceasing worship; not like the idol Vesta's sacred fire, but connected with sacrifices. They fed the golden, candlestick (Or Lamp) outside the veil with oil, offered morning and evening sacrifices with a meat and drink offering at the tabernacle door ( Exodus 29:38-44; Exodus 27:20-21; Leviticus 24:2; 2 Chronicles 13:11). They were always ready to do the priestly office for any worshipper ( Leviticus 1:5; Leviticus 2:2; Leviticus 2:9; Leviticus 3:11; Leviticus 12:6; 1 Samuel 2:13).
The priest administered the water of jealousy to the suspected wife and pronounced the curse ( Numbers 5:11-31). Declared clean or unclean, and purified ceremonially, lepers (Leviticus 13; 14; Mark 1:44). Offered expiatory sacrifices for defilements and sins of ignorance (Leviticus 15). The priest as "messenger of Jehovah of hosts" taught Israel the law, and his "lips" were to "keep knowledge" ( Malachi 2:7; Leviticus 10:10-11; Deuteronomy 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:10; Jeremiah 18:18; Haggai 2:11; 2 Chronicles 15:3; 2 Chronicles 17:7-9; Ezekiel 44:23-24). They covered the ark and sanctuary vessels with a scarlet cloth before the Levites might approach them ( Numbers 4:5-15).
They blew the "alarm" for marching, with the long silver trumpets which belonged to them in a special way ( Numbers 10:1-8); two if the multitude was convened, one if a council of elders and princes ( Numbers 10:10); with them the priest announced the beginning of solemn days and days of gladness, and summoned all to a penitential fast ( Joel 2:1; Joel 2:15). They blew them at Jericho's overthrow ( Joshua 6:4) and the war against Jeroboam ( 2 Chronicles 13:12; compare 2 Chronicles 20:21-22); 3,700 joined David ( 1 Chronicles 12:23; 1 Chronicles 12:27). An appeal lay to them in controversies ( Ezekiel 44:24; 2 Chronicles 19:8-10; Deuteronomy 17:8-13); so in cases of undetected murder ( Deuteronomy 21:5). They blessed the people with the formula, Numbers 6:22-27.
SUPPORT . The priest had
(1) one tenth of the tithes paid to the Levites, i.e. one percent on the whole produce of the land ( Numbers 18:26-28).
(2) A special tithe every third year ( Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12).
(3) The redemption money, five shekels a head for the firstborn of man and beast ( Numbers 18:14-19).
(4) Redemption money for men or things dedicated to Jehovah (Leviticus 27).
(5) Share of war spoil ( Numbers 31:25-47).
(6) Perquisites: firstfruits of oil, wine, and wheat, the shewbread, flesh and bread offerings, the heave shoulder and wave breast ( Numbers 18:8-14; Leviticus 6:26; Leviticus 6:29; Leviticus 7:6-10; Leviticus 10:12-15). Deuteronomy 18:3, "the shoulder, cheeks, and Maw " (The Fourth Stomach Of Ruminant Animals Esteemed A Delicacy) were given in addition, to those appointed in Leviticus (compare Numbers 16:19-20).
Of the "most holy" things none but the priests were to partake ( Leviticus 6:29). Of the rest their sons, daughters, and even home-born slaves, but not the stranger and hired servant, ate ( Leviticus 10:14; Leviticus 22:10-11). Thirteen cities within Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon (Whereas The Levites Were Scattered Through Israel) with suburbs were assigned to them ( Joshua 21:13-19). They were far from wealthy, and were to be the objects of the people's liberality ( Deuteronomy 12:12; Deuteronomy 12:19; Deuteronomy 14:27-29; 1 Samuel 2:36), and were therefore tempted to "teach for hire" ( Micah 3:11). Just after the captivity their tithes were badly paid ( Nehemiah 13:10; Malachi 3:8-10). In David's reign the priests were divided into 24 courses, which served in rotation for one week commencing on the Sabbath, the outgoing priest taking the morning sacrifice, the incoming priest the evening; the assignment to the particular service in each week was decided by lot ( 1 Chronicles 24:1-19; 2 Chronicles 23:8; Luke 1:5; Luke 1:9). Ithamar's representatives were fewer than Eleazar's; so 16 courses were assigned to the latter, eight to the former.
Only four courses returned from Babylon ( Ezra 2:36-39): 973 of Jedaiah, 1,052 of Immer, 1,247 of Pashur, 1,017 of Harim. They were organized in 24 courses, and the old names restored. The heads of the 24 courses were often called" chief priests." In the New Testament when the high priesthood was no longer for life, the ex-high priests were called by the same name ( Archiereis ); both had seats in the Sanhedrin. The numbers of priests in the last period before Jerusalem's overthrow by Rome were exceedingly great (compare Acts 6:7). Jerusalem and Jericho were their chief head quarters ( Luke 10:30). Korah's rebellion, with Levites representing the firstborn, and Dathan and Abiram leading the tribe of Jacob's firstborn, Reuben, implies a looking back to the patriarchal priesthood. The consequent judgment on the rebels, and the budding of Aaron's rod, taught that the new priesthood had a vitality which no longer resided in the old (Numbers 16). Micah's history shows the tendency to relapse to the household priests (Judges 17; 18).
Moloch and Chiun had even a rival "tabernacle," or small portable shrine, served by priests secretly ( Amos 5:26; Acts 7:42-43; Ezekiel 20:16; Ezekiel 20:39). After the Philistine capture of the ark, and its re. moral from Shiloh, Samuel a Levite, trained as a Nazarite and called as a prophet, was privileged to "come near" Jehovah. The Nazarite vow gave a kind of priestly consecration to "stand before" Him, as in the case of the Rechabites ( Amos 2:11; Jeremiah 35:4; Jeremiah 35:19; 1 Chronicles 2:55). The independent order of prophets whose schools began with Samuel served as a counterpoise to the priests, who might have otherwise become a narrow caste. Under apostate kings the priests themselves fell into the worship of Baal and the heavenly hosts ( Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 8:1-2). The prophets who ought to have checked joined in the idolatry ( Jeremiah 5:31). After Shiloh Nob became the seat of the tabernacle ( 1 Samuel 21:1).
Saul's massacre of priests there ( 1 Samuel 22:17-18) drove Abiathar to David ( 1 Samuel 23:6; 1 Samuel 23:9), then at Saul's death 3,700 under Jehoiada and Zadok ( 1 Chronicles 12:27-28). From all quarters they flocked to bring up the ark to Zion ( 1 Chronicles 15:4). The Levites under Benaiah and Jahaziel, priests with the trumpets, ministered round it in sacred music and psalms; but the priests generally ministered in the sacrificial system at the tabernacle at Gibeon ( 1 Chronicles 16:5-6; 1 Chronicles 16:37-39; 1 Chronicles 21:29; 2 Chronicles 1:3). David purposed, and Solomon at length accomplished, the union of the two services in the one temple at Jerusalem. After the return from Babylon the Levites took a leading part with the priests in teaching the people ( Nehemiah 8:1-13).
The mercenary spirit, of many priests, and their low estimation as "contemptible and base before all the people," Malachi glances at ( Malachi 2:8-9; Malachi 1:10). Their former idolatry had given place to covetousness. They had sunk so low under Antiochus Epiphanes that Jason (The Paganized Form Of Joshua) and others forsook the law for Gentile practices. Some actually ran naked in the circus opened in Jerusalem ( 2 Maccabees 4:13-14). Under the Maccabean struggle faithfulness to the law revived. At Pompey's siege of Jerusalem they calmly carried on their ministrations in the temple, until slain in the act of sacrificing (Josephus, Ant. 14:4, section 3; B. J., 1:7, section 5). Through the deteriorating effects of Herod's and the Roman governor's frequently changing the high priests at will, and owing to Sadduceeism becoming the prevailing sentiment of the chief priests in the times of the Gospels and Acts ( Acts 4:1; Acts 4:6; Acts 5:17), selfishness and unscrupulous ambition and covetousness became their notorious characteristics ( Luke 10:31).
In the last Roman war the lowest votaries of the Zealots were made high priests (Josephus, B. J. 4:3, section 6; 6:8, section 3; 5, section 4). From a priest Titus received the lamps, gems, and costly garments of the temple. The rabbis rose as the priests went down. The only distinction that now these receive is the redemption money of the firstborn, the right of taking the law from the chest, and of pronouncing the benediction in the synagogue. From some of the "great company of the priests" who became "obedient to the faith," the occurrences in Matthew 27:51; Matthew 27:62-66, the rending of the veil and the application to Pilate as to securing the sepulchre, were learned and recorded. These events doubtless tended to their own conversion.
Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary 
a general name for the minister of religion. The priest under the law was, among the Hebrews, a person consecrated and ordained of God to offer up sacrifices for his own sins and those of the people, Leviticus 4:5-6 . The priesthood was not annexed to a certain family till after the promulgation of the law of Moses. Before that time the first-born of every family, the fathers, the princes, the kings were priests. Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Job, Abimelech and Laban, Isaac and Jacob, offered themselves their own sacrifices. In the solemnity of the covenant that the Lord made with his people at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses performed the office of mediator, Exodus 24:5-6; and young men were chosen from among the children of Israel to perform the office of priests. But after the Lord had chosen the tribe of Levi to serve him in his tabernacle, and the priesthood was annexed to the family of Aaron, then the right of offering sacrifices to God was reserved to the priests alone of this family. The Lord ordained, Numbers 16:40 , that no stranger, which was not of the seed of Aaron, should come near to offer incense unto the Lord, that he might not be as Korah and his company. The punishment of Uzziah is well known, 2 Chronicles 26:19 , who, having presumed to offer incense to the Lord, was suddenly smitten with a leprosy, put out of his palace, and excluded from the administration of affairs to the day of his death.
However, it seems that, on certain occasions, the judges and the kings of the Hebrews offered sacrifices unto the Lord, especially before a constant place of worship was fixed at Jerusalem; for in 1 Samuel 7:8 , we are told that Samuel, who was no priest, offered a lamb for a burnt-sacrifice to the Lord; and in 1 Samuel 9:13 , it is said that this prophet was to bless the offering of the people, which should seem to be a function appropriated to the priests; lastly, 1 Samuel 16:5 , he goes to Bethlehem, where he offers a sacrifice at the inauguration or anointing of David. Saul himself offered a burnt-offering to the Lord, perhaps as being king of Israel, 1 Samuel 13:9-10 . Elijah also offered a burnt-offering upon Mount Carmel, 1 Kings 18:33 . David himself sacrificed, (at least the text expresses it so,) at the ceremony of bringing the ark to Jerusalem, and at the floor of Araunah, 2 Samuel 6:13 . Solomon went up to the brazen altar that was at Gibeon, and there offered sacrifices, 2 Chronicles 1:5 . It is true the above passages are commonly explained by supposing that these princes offered their sacrifices by the hands of the priests; but the sacred text will by no means favour such explanations; and it is very natural to imagine, that in the quality of kings and heads of the people, they had the privilege of performing some sacerdotal functions, upon some extraordinary occasions; thus we see David clothed with the priestly ephod, and consulting the Lord; and upon another occasion we find David and Solomon pronounce solemn benedictions on the people, 2 Samuel 6:18; 1 Kings 8:55 . God having reserved to himself the first-born of all Israel, because he had preserved them from the hand of the destroying angel in Egypt, by way of exchange or compensation accepted of the tribe of Levi for the service of the tabernacle, Numbers 3:41 . Of the three sons of Levi, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, the Lord chose the family of Kohath, and out of this the house of Aaron, to exercise the functions of the priesthood. All the rest of the family of Kohath, even the children of Moses and their descendants, remained of the order of mere Levites. See Levites .
The posterity of the sons of Aaron, namely, Eleazar and Ithamar, Leviticus 10:1-5; 1 Chronicles 24:1-2 , had so increased in number in the time of David, that they were divided into twenty-four classes, which officiated a week at a time alternately. Sixteen classes were of the family of Eleazar, and eight of the family of Ithamar. Each class obeyed its own prefect or ruler. The class Jojarib was the first in order, and the class Abia was the eighth, 1Ma_2:1; Luke 1:5; 1 Chronicles 24:3-19 . This division of the priesthood was continued as a permanent arrangement after the time of David, 2 Chronicles 8:14; 2 Chronicles 31:2; 2 Chronicles 35:4-5 . Indeed, although only four classes returned from the captivity, the distinction between them, and also the ancient names, were still retained, Ezra 2:36-39; Nehemiah 7:39-42; Nehemiah 12:1 .
Aaron, the high priest, was set apart to his office by the same ceremonies with which his sons the priests were, with this exception, that the former was clothed in his robes, and the sacred oil was poured upon his head, Exodus 29:5-9; Leviticus 8:2 . The other ceremonies were as follows. The priests, all of them with their bodies washed, and clad in their appropriate dress, assembled before the altar, where a bullock, two rams, unleavened bread, and wafers of two kinds in baskets, were in readiness. When they had placed their hands upon the head of the bullock, he was slain by Moses as a sin-offering. He touched the horns of the altar with the blood, poured the remainder of it round its base, and placed the parts which were to compose the sacrifice on its top. The remaining parts of the animal were all burned without the camp, Exodus 29:10-14; Leviticus 8:2-3; Leviticus 8:14-17 . They in like manner placed their hands on the head of one of the rams, which was also slain by Moses for a whole burnt- offering, the blood was sprinkled around the altar, and the parts of the ram were separated and burned upon it, Exodus 29:15-18; Leviticus 8:18-21 . The other ram, when the priests had laid their hands upon him, was likewise slain by Moses for the sacrifice of consecration. He touched with the blood the tip of the right ear of the priests, the thumb of the right hand, and the great toe of the right foot. The rest of the blood he sprinkled in part upon the bottom of the altar, and a part he mingled with the consecrated oil, and sprinkled on the priests and their garments. He anointed the high priest by pouring a profusion of oil upon his head; whence he is called the anointed, Leviticus 5:3; Leviticus 5:5; Leviticus 5:16; Leviticus 6:15; Psalms 133:2 . Certain parts of the sacrifice, namely, the fat, the kidneys, the haunches, the caul above the liver, and the right shoulder, also one cake of unleavened bread, a cake of oiled bread, and a wafer, were placed by Moses upon the hands of the priests, that they might offer them to God. This ceremony was called "filling the hands," expressions which accordingly in a number of passages mean the same as consecrating, Exodus 32:29; Leviticus 16:32; 1 Chronicles 29:5 . All the parts which have been mentioned as being placed in the hands of the priests, were at last burned upon the altar. This ceremony, which continued for eight days, for ever separated the priests from all the other Israelites, not excepting the Levites; so that there was subsequently no need of any farther consecration, neither for themselves nor their posterity, Exodus 29:35-37; Leviticus 10:7; Romans 1:1; Ephesians 3:3; Acts 13:2-3 . That the ceremonies of inauguration or consecration, however, were practised at every new accession of a high priest to his office, seems to be hinted in the following passages, Exodus 29:29; Leviticus 16:32; Leviticus 21:10; Numbers 20:26-28; Numbers 35:25 .
It was not customary for the priests to wear the sacerdotal dress except when performing their official duties, Exodus 28:4; Exodus 28:43; Ezekiel 42:14; Ezekiel 44:19 . The description of the dress of the priests which is given in Exodus 28, is by some thought defective, as many things are passed in silence, apparently for the reason that they were at that time sufficiently well known, without being expressly stated. Some additional information is communicated to us by Josephus; but the dress of the priests, as he describes it, may have been in some respects of recent origin. It was as follows:
1. A sort of hose, made of cotton or linen, which was fastened round the loins, and extended down so as to cover the thighs, Leviticus 6:10; Ezekiel 44:18 .
2. A tunic of cotton which extended, in the days of Josephus, down to the ankles. It was furnished with sleeves, and was fabricated all of one piece without being sewn, Exodus 28:39; Exodus 28:41; Exodus 29:5; John 19:23 .
3. The girdle. According to Josephus it was a hand's breadth in width, woven in such a manner as to exhibit the appearance of scales, and ornamented with embroidered flowers in purple, dark blue, scarlet, and white. It was worn a little below the breast, encircled the body twice, and was tied in a knot before. The extremities of the girdle hung down nearly to the ankle. The priest, when engaged in his sacred functions, in order to prevent his being impeded by them, threw them over his left shoulder, Exodus 39:27-29 .
4. The mitre or turban was originally acuminated in its shape, was lofty, and was bound upon the head, Exodus 28:8; Exodus 28:40; Exodus 29:9; Leviticus 8:13 . In the time of Josephus the shape of the mitre had become somewhat altered; it was circular, was covered with a piece of fine linen, and sat so closely on the upper part of the head, (for it did not cover the whole of the head,) that it would not fall off when the body was bent down. The Hebrew priests, like those of Egypt and other nations, performed their sacred duties with naked feet; a symbol of reverence and veneration, Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15 .
The ordinary priests served immediately at the altar, offered sacrifices, killed and flayed them, and poured the blood at the foot of the altar, 2 Chronicles 29:34; 2 Chronicles 35:11 . They kept a perpetual fire burning upon the altar of burnt-sacrifices, and in the lamps of the golden candlestick that was in the sanctuary; they prepared the loaves of shew bread, baked them, and changed them every Sabbath day. Every day, night, and morning, a priest appointed by casting lots at the beginning of the week, brought into the sanctuary a smoking censer, and set it upon the golden table, otherwise called the altar of perfumes, Luke 1:9 . The priests were not suffered to offer incense to the Lord with strange fire, Leviticus 10:1-2; that is, with any other fire than what should be taken from the altar of burnt- sacrifices. It is well known with what severity God chastised Nadab and Abihu for having failed in this. Those that would dedicate themselves to perpetual service in the temple were well received, and were maintained by the constant and daily offerings, Deuteronomy 18:6-8 . The Lord had given no lands of inheritance to the tribe of Levi in the distribution of the land of promise. He designed that they should be supported by the tithes, the first fruits, the offerings that were made in the temple, by their share of the sin-offerings, and thanksgiving-offerings that were sacrificed in the temple, of which certain parts were appropriated to the priests. They had also a share in the wool when the sheep were shorn. All the first-born, both of man and beast, belonged to the Lord, that is, to his priests. The men were redeemed for the sum of five shekels, Numbers 18:15-16 . The first-born of impure animals were redeemed or exchanged, but the clean animals were not redeemed; they were sacrificed to the Lord, their blood was sprinkled about the altar, and all the rest belonged to the priest, Numbers 18:17-19 . The first fruits of trees, Leviticus 19:23-24 , that is, those that came on the fourth year, belonged also to the priest. They gave also to the priests and Levites an allowance out of the dough that they kneaded. They had the tithe of all the fruits of the land, and of all animals which were fed under the shepherd's crook, Leviticus 27:31-32 . God also provided them with houses and accommodations, by appointing them forty-eight cities for their habitations, Numbers 35:1-3 . In the precincts of these cities they possessed as far as a thousand cubits beyond the walls. Of these forty-eight cities six were appointed to be cities of refuge, for the sake of those who should commit any casual or involuntary manslaughter; the priests had thirteen of these for their share, and all the others belonged to the Levites, Joshua 21:19 . One of the chief employments of the priests, next to attending upon the sacrifices and the service of the tabernacle or temple, was the instruction of the people and the deciding controversies, distinguishing the several sorts of leprosy, the causes of divorce, the waters of jealousy, vows, all causes relating to the law, the uncleannesses that were contracted several ways; all these things were brought before the priests, Hosea 4:6; Malachi 2:7 , &c; Leviticus 13:14; Numbers 5:14-15 . They publicly blessed the people in the name of the Lord. In time of war their business was to carry the ark of the covenant, to consult the Lord, to sound the holy trumpets, and encourage and harangue the army.
The term priest is most properly given to Christ, of whom the high priests under the law were types and figures, he being the high priest especially ordained of God, who, by the sacrifice of himself, and by his intercession, opens the way to reconciliation with God, Hebrews 8:17; Hebrews 9:11-25 . The word is also applied to every true believer who is enabled to offer up himself "a spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Christ," 1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6 . But it is likewise improperly applied to Christian ministers, who have no sacrifices to offer; unless, indeed, when it is considered as contracted from presbyter, which signifies an elder, and is the name given in the New Testament to those who were appointed to the office of teaching and ruling in the church of God. See Aaron .
Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible 
PRIEST (In NT). ‘Priest’ (Gr. hiereus ) is employed in the NT to denote anyone whose function it is to offer a religious sacrifice. 1. It is used of a Gentile priesthood in Acts 14:15 (‘the priest of Jupiter’), and also in Heb. as applied to the ‘order of Melchizedek’ ( Acts 5:8; Acts 5:10 , Acts 7:1 ff.), for Melchizedek, it is evident, was not merely a pre-Aaronic but a Gentile priest.
2. It is constantly employed to denote the members of the Jewish priesthood in their various ranks and functions. The ordinary officiating priests of the Temple come before us discharging the same offices of which we read in the OT. They burn incense ( Luke 1:5; Luke 1:8 ), present the sacrificial offerings ( Matthew 12:5 , cf. Numbers 28:9-10 ), effect the ceremonial cleansing of the leper ( Matthew 8:4 = Mark 1:44 = Luke 5:14; cf. Luke 17:14 ). The high priest ( archiereus ) appears as president of the Sanhedrin ( Matthew 26:57 ||, Acts 5:27; Acts 7:1; Acts 23:2 etc.), and as entering every year on the Day of Atonement into the Most Holy Place with his offering of blood ( Hebrews 9:25 ). Most frequently of all the word occurs in the plural form ‘chief priests’ ( archiereis ), an expression that probably designates a high-priestly party consisting of the high priest proper, the ex-high priests, and the members of those privileged families from which the high priests were drawn.
3. In the Ep. to the Hebrews Christ is described as both priest and high priest, but the fact that Melchizedek (wh. see), the chosen type of His eternal priesthood, is also described by the same two terms (cf. Hebrews 5:6 with Hebrews 5:10 , Hebrews 6:20 with Hebrews 7:1 ) shows that no distinction in principle is to be thought of, and that Christ is called a high priest simply to bring out the dignity of His priesthood. This conception of Christ as a priest is clearly stated in no other book of the NT, though suggestions of it appear elsewhere, and esp. in the Johannine writings ( e.g. John 17:19 , Revelation 1:13 ). In Heb. it is the regulating idea in the contrast that the author works out with such elaboration between the Old and the New Covenants. He thinks of a mediating priest as essential to a religion, and his purpose is to show the immense superiority in this respect of the new religion over the old. He finds certain points of contact between the priesthood of Aaron and that of Christ. This, indeed, was essential to his whole conception of the Law as having a shadow of the good things to come ( Hebrews 10:1 ), and of the priests who offer gifts according to the Law as serving ‘that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things’ ( Hebrews 8:5 ). Christ, e.g. , was Divinely called and commissioned, even as Aaron was ( Hebrews 5:4; Hebrews 5:6 ). He too was taken from among men, was tempted like His fellows, learned obedience through suffering, and so was qualified by His own human sympathies to be the High Priest of the human race ( Hebrews 4:15 ff., Hebrews 5:1 ff.). But it is pre-eminently by way of antithesis and not of likeness that the Aaronic priesthood is used to illustrate the priesthood of Christ. The priests of the Jewish faith were sinful men ( Hebrews 5:3 ), while Jesus was absolutely sinless ( Hebrews 4:15 ). They were mortal creatures, ‘many in number, because that by death they are hindered from continuing’ ( Hebrews 7:23 ), while Jesus ‘abideth for ever,’ and so ‘hath his priesthood unchangeable’ ( Hebrews 7:24 ). The sacrifices of the Jewish Law were imperfect ( Hebrews 10:1 ff.); but Christ ‘by one offering hath perfected for ever them that are being sanctified’ ( Hebrews 10:14 ). The sanctuary of the old religion was a worldly structure ( Hebrews 9:1 ), and so liable to destruction or decay; but Christ enters ‘into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us’ ( Hebrews 9:24 ).
And this contrast between the priesthood of Aaron and the priesthood of Christ is brought to a head when Jesus is declared to be a priest not after the order of Aaron at all, but after the order of Melchizedek ( Hebrews 7:11 ff.). ‘ Order ,’ it must be kept in mind, does not here refer to ministry, but to the high priest’s personality a fact which, when clearly perceived, saves us from much confusion in the interpretation of this Epistle. The distinctive order of Christ’s priesthood is found in His own nature, above all in the fact that He is ‘a priest for ever.’ The Melchizedek high priest is conceived of all through as performing the same kind of priestly acts as were discharged by the high priests of the house of Aaroo; but the quality of His Person is quite different, and this completely alters the character of His acts, raising them from the realm of copies and shadows to that of absolute reality and eternal validity (cf. A. B. Davidson, Hebrews , 149).
It is a mistake, therefore, to attempt, as some do, to distinguish between an Aaronic priesthood exercised by Christ on earth and a Melchizedek priesthood exercised by Him in heaven; and equally a mistake to attempt to confine His priestly ministry to a work of mediation and intercession that begins after His exaltation. No doubt it is true that His priestly work is not consummated until He enters into God’s presence in the heavenly places, but all that the writer has previously set forth as bearing upon His priesthood must be borne in mind. It was by His life on earth, by the obedience He learned and the human sympathy He gained, that Christ was qualified to be the high priest of men. Moreover, every high priest ‘must have somewhat to offer,’ and the ‘somewhat’ of Jesus was Himself, yielded up on earth in a life of perfect obedience ( Hebrews 5:3; Hebrews 5:9 ) and an atoning death of spotless self-sacrifice ( Hebrews 9:11-16; Hebrews 9:28 ). It was with this priestly offering of His life and death, and in virtue of it, that Jesus entered into the presence of God ( Hebrews 9:24 ) as the ‘mediator of a new covenant’ (v. 15) and the ever-living Intercessor ( Hebrews 7:25 ), and so secured for us our access with boldness unto the throne of grace ( Hebrews 4:16 , Hebrews 10:18-22 ).
4. According to the teaching of the NT, the Church is a priestly institution, and all believers are themselves priests. The OT idea that Israel was ‘a kingdom of priests unto God’ ( Exodus 19:5 ) is transferred in precise terms to God’s people under the New Dispensation. They are ‘a royal priesthood’ ( 1 Peter 2:9 ); Christ has made them to be ‘a kingdom of priests unto God and his Father’ ( Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10 ). Again, they are referred to by these same two writers as ‘a holy priesthood’ ( 1 Peter 2:5 ), ‘priests of God and of Christ’ ( Revelation 20:6 ). And though the author of Heb. does not so describe them in set language, it follows from his way of speaking that he regards all Christ’s people as priests. When he says in the passage fast cited ( Hebrews 10:19-22 ) that they have boldness to enter into the Holy Place by a new and living way through the veil, it seems evident that he is thinking of those who draw near to God, by the blood of Jesus and in fulness of faith, as a company of worshipping priests; for under the old economy, which serves him at so many points as a type of the new, it was priests alone who could pass through the curtain into the Holy Place. It is the same idea, probably, that meets us in St. Paul when he speaks of our ‘access’ ( Romans 5:2 ), our ‘access in one Spirit unto the Father’ ( Ephesians 2:16 ), our ‘access in confidence through our faith’ in Christ ( Ephesians 3:12 ). And it is nothing more than a carrying out of this same conception that all believers belong to a holy priesthood, when St. Peter writes of the ‘spiritual sacrifices’ which we are called to offer up ( 1 Peter 2:5 ); and St. Paul beseeches us to present our bodies a living sacrifice ( Romans 12:1 ); and the author of Heb. bids us offer to God the sacrifice of praise ( Hebrews 13:15 ), or declares that God is well pleased with such sacrifices as kindly deeds and gifts of Christian liberality ( Hebrews 13:16 ); and the seer of the Apocalypse speaks of the prayers of all the saints as rising up like incense from the golden altar before the throne ( Revelation 8:3 ).
5. It is a noteworthy fact that the NT never describes the Christian ministry as a priesthood, or the individual minister as a priest, except in the general sense in which these terms are applicable to all believers a fact which is all the more significant when we consider how frequently both the minister and the ministry are referred to. In particular, there is no trace in the NT of the later idea that in the Lord’s Supper a sacrifice of propitiation is offered to God, much less that this sacrifice is presented through the mediation of an official priesthood. The two terms ‘presbyter’ ( presbyteros ) and ‘priest’ ( hiereus ), which came to be confounded by and by, were at first kept absolutely apart. Thus, so far as the NT is concerned, it is only in an etymological sense that it can be said that ‘presbyter is priest writ large.’
J. C. Lambert.
Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary 
Strictly and properly speaking, there is but one priest of JEHOVAH, and he the great High Priest of his church, the Lord Jesus Christ. Every other priest, even Aaron himself, acted no higher than as the type of JEHOVAH'S High Priest. For the High Priest of JEHOVAH must be as JEHOVAH himself, a Priest for ever; whereas, (as the Holy Ghost blessedly speaks by Paul, Hebrews 7:23-24) those priests were not suffered to continue, by reason of death; but this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. And how graciously the Lord adds, "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them." ( Hebrews 7:25)
In our view of the Lord Jesus as Priest, it will be necessary to consider the several features, of this high character, in order to have a proper conception of it. Nothing can be more interesting to know, in the whole offices of Jesus to his church and people, and therefore I beg the reader that he will indulge me with being somewhat more particular upon it.
And first, the office and character of the priest should be considered, in order that we may discover the personal fitness and suitability for Christ in this office; and by the performance of which the Lord Jesus proves that he, and he only, became the proper High Priest for his church and. people. The Priest of JEHOVAH must be one consecrated and set apart specially and personally to this office, and this by JEHOVAH himself. And his office comprehends the offering of sacrifice, praying, and interceding for the people, and also blessing the people in JEHOVAH'S name and by his authority. He must be suited in sovereignty and power to act, by virtue of his high office, as a proper Priest and Mediator of his high office, as a proper Priest and Mediator between Him before whom and to whom the offerings are made, and the persons for whom they are made. And he must be suited in personal feeling and interest, to take part with them, and for him in whose suit he acts; so that neither party between whom he acts, as Priest and Mediator, may suffer wrong, but both parties have right and justice shewn them by his priestly administration.
From this view of the office of the priesthood, it is evident that the person undertaking and acting in this high capacity must be both God and man. It is expedient that he should be God to give merit and efficacy to his offerings, to give energy and power in the act of offering, to carry on the purposes of his priestly offices in the unceasing agency of his intercession, to become the object of faith, love, hope, adoration, and trust, to all his people, and to preserve for and give unto the objects for whom he undertook this priestly employment all the blessings purchased for his church and people by this great undertaking. And it became equally expedient that he who engaged to be JEHOVAH'S High Priest, in the purposes of redemption, should be man as well as God. Had he not been man he could not have been the suited. Surety for the representation of his people, he could not have fulfilled the law, answered the demands of justice, proved himself to be the seed of the woman, redeemed the mortgaged inheritance of his poor brother, by death overcome death, and by rising to life again become the resurrection and the life, and been suited to be the Head of his body the church, "the fulness that filleth all in all." So that in every point of view, and upon every consideration, the absolute expediency is manifested that JEHOVAH'S Priest must be both God and man. None else could suit the office, or be competent to the discharge of this high character. And such was the Lord Jesus, and him only. Indeed, so peculiarly suited was Christ as God and man in one person, for this office, that if it could be supposed any other had been, or could have been, found competent to it, it would by so much have lessened the Lord Jesus in this character. But it is the blessed consideration to the church, that the personal and peculiar fitness of the Lord Jesus, and the fulness of fitness in him, and in him only, is what endears him both to JEHOVAH and to his people in this express office of character.
So much then for the office itself, and the peculiar suitability of the Lord Jesus to it. Let us next consider the authority by which he acts, and the glory he hath displayed, and still is displaying, in the unceasing and everlasting exercise of it.
The Scriptures are full of information on this most blessed point. Set up from everlasting in the council of peace, we are told that he was regularly called, consecrated and sworn into his office by virtue of the oath of JEHOVAH before all worlds. For thus the charter of grace runs; "The Lord hath sworn and will not repent, thou art a Priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedec." ( Psalms 110:4) And this authority of JEHOVAH was indispensibly necessary to give efficacy and validity to all the acts of his priesthood; for it is not only the suitability of Christ which renders his priesthood so dear to his people, but it is the authority and appointment of JEHOVAH which gives a warrant for faith to act upon concerning him. Hence the Holy Ghost particularly caused it to be recorded for the church's confidence and joy in this particular, that Christ "glorified not himself to be made an High Priest, but was called of God, as was Aaron. For he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee, said also in another place, Thou art a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec." ( Hebrews 5:4-6)
Thus called, consecrated, and sworn into his office, by the oath of the almighty appointer, it is most blessed to behold how the Lord Jesus, in every point of view, comes up to this high character, and by the union of both natures carries on and perfects the gracious office of our High Priest and Intercessor. The sacrifice he once offered being of infinite value, by virtue of his infinite nature, he hath, "by that one offering of himself once offered perfected for ever them that are sanctified." ( Hebrews 10:14) And as the offering itself is a fulness of perfection, so the divine nature on which he offered it became the golden altar of presentation to JEHOVAH The incense Jesus presents is his own merits, and presented also from off the golden censer of his divine nature. (See Revelation 8:3-4) So that the Lord Jesus is in one and the same moment every thing in himself which constitutes both priest and priesthood; for he is the Sacrifice, the Sacrificer, and the Altar on which alone all presentations are or can be made, and the only medium by which all can be offered. Hail! thou glorious, gracious, great High Priest of JEHOVAH and thy people! Be thou my New Testament altar, my sacrifice, my offering, and do thou, Lord, graciously carry on thy high priestly office still in heaven for all thy church and people, until thou hast brought home thy redeemed, "that where thou art, there they may be also!"
Having thus taken a short view of the Lord Jesus as JEHOVAH'S High Priest, and a Priest upon his throne, it may not be amiss to offer a short observation concerning the priesthood taken from among men. It will be always profitable to read the Scriptures of God concerning earthly priests, while we keep in remembrance that all and every one of them appointed by the Lord were never considered higher in all their ministry than as types of the ever-blessed Jesus. The law, with all its costly services, we have authority from the Holy Ghost to say, was but a shadow of good things to come, the body was Christ. ( Hebrews 10:1, etc.)
Now from the earliest ages of the church, and before the law, the patriarchs and holy men of God ministered as priests in their families. Abel, Noah, Abraham, and the fathers, offered their sacrifices, and as such acted as priests. But that the church might not err in their explanation of those things it is worthy our closest regard, that God the Holy Ghost hath expressly taught us that all these were by faith. Let the reader read the account of Abel's offering, Genesis 4:4; Noah's, Genesis 8:20-21; and Abraham's, Genesis 15:17-18; Gen 22:1-24; and then turn to Hebrews 11:3; Heb 11:7; Heb 11:17; and mark the sweet truth opened and explained, as it is, by God the Holy Ghost. These holy men of old offered all their offerings by faith; faith in whom but the Lord Jesus Christ, that Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world? ( Revelation 13:8) Hence, therefore, every priest typified and represented Christ. Every lamb slain, every sacrifice offered, every propitiation set forth, all shadowed forth the person, work, blood-shedding, and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. He, and he only, is, and was, and ever will be, JEHOVAH'S Priest. All other priests, whether Aaron or his sons, Levitical or Christian, are no otherwise priests than as they act in the Lord Jesus's name, are ordained by his authority, and minister for his glory. He is the fountain of all order in his church; and all true believers in Christ are expressly said to be made by him both kings and priests unto God and the Father, agreeably to JEHOVAH'S ancient, promise to the true Israel: "Ye shall be unto a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation." ( Exodus 19:6; Revelation 1:5; 1 Peter 2:9)
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary 
One who officiated in the public worship of God, especially in making expiation for sin, being "ordained for men in things pertaining to God, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins." In the Old Testament, the priesthood was not annexed to a certain family till after the promulgation of the law by Moses. Before that time, the firstborn of each family, the fathers, the princes, the kings, were priests in their own cities and in their own houses. Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, and Job, Abimelech and Laban, Isaac and Jacob offered personally their own sacrifices. In the solemnity of the covenant made by the Lord with his people, at the foot of Mount Sinai, Moses performed the office of mediator, and young men were chosen from among Israel to perform the office of priests, Exodus 24:5 . But after the Lord had chosen the tribe of Levi to serve him in his tabernacle, and the priesthood was annexed to the family of Aaron, the right of offering sacrifices and oblations to God was reserved to the priests of this family, Numbers 16:40 . The punishment of Uzziah king of Judah is well known, who having presumed to offer incense to the Lord, was suddenly smitten with a leprosy, 2 Chronicles 26:19 . See also the case of Saul, 1 Samuel 13:7-14 . However, it seems that on certain occasions the Hebrew prophets offered sacrifice to the Lord, especially before a constant place of worship was fixed at Jerusalem. See 1 Samuel 7:9 , where Samuel, who was not a priest offered a lamb for a burnt sacrifice to the Lord. See also 1 Samuel 9:13 16:5 1 Kings 18:31,33 .
The Lord having reserved to himself the firstborn of Israel because he had preserved them from the hand of the destroying angel in Egypt, by way of exchange and compensation, he accepted the tribe of Levi for the service of his tabernacle, Numbers 3:41 . Thus the whole tribe of Levi was appointed to the sacred ministry, but not all in the same manner; for of the three sons of Levi, Gershom, Kohath, and Merari, the heads of the three great families, the Lord chose the family of Kohath, and out of this family the house of Aaron, to exercise the functions of the priesthood. Al the rest of the family of Kohath, even the children of Moses and their descendants remained among the Levites.
The high priest was at the head of all religious affairs, and was the ordinary judge of all difficulties that belonged thereto, and even of the general justice and judgment of the Jewish nation, as being at the head of all the priests by whom this was administered, Deuteronomy 17:8-12 19:17 21:5 33:8,10 Ezekiel 44:24 . He only had the privilege of entering the sanctuary once a year, on the day of solemn expiation, to make atonement for the sins of the whole people, Leviticus 16:2 , etc. He was to be born of one of his own tribe, whom his father had married a virgin; and was to be exempt from corporal defect, Leviticus 21:13 . In general, no priest who had any such defect could offer sacrifice, or enter the holy place to present the showbread. But he was to be maintained by the sacrifices offered at the tabernacle, Leviticus 21:17-22 . The high priest also received a tithe from the Levites, Numbers 18:28 .
God also appropriated to the high priest the oracle of his truth; so that when he was habited in the proper ornaments of his dignity, and with the Urim and Thummim, he answered questions proposed to him, and God disclosed to him secret and future things. He was forbidden to mourn for the death of any of his relations, even for his father or mother; or to enter into any place where a dead body lay, that he might not contract or hazard the contraction of uncleanness, Leviticus 21:10-12 .
The priests served immediately at the altar. They slew and dressed the public sacrifices, or at least it was done by the Levites under their direction. Private offerers slew their own victims, except in the case of turtledoves or young pigeons. But all offerings upon the altar, the sprinkling of blood included, were made by the priests alone. They kept up a perpetual fire on the altar of burnt sacrifices, and in the lamps of the golden candlestick in the sanctuary; they kneaded the loaves of showbread, baked them, offered them on the golden altar in the sanctuary, and changed them every Sabbath-day. Compare Exodus 28:29 Leviticus 8:1-36 . Every day, night and morning, a priest appointed by casting of lots at the beginning of the week, brought into the sanctuary a smoking censer of incense, and set it on the golden table, otherwise called the altar of incense, Luke 1:9 .
The sacred dress of the priests consisted of the following articles: short linen drawers; a close-fitting tunic of fine linen or cotton, of woven work, broidered, reaching to the feet, and furnished with sleeves; a girdle of fine linen. Plain linen ephods are also ascribed to them, 1 Samuel 22:18; and a bonnet or turban, also of fine linen, in many folds. The priests always officiated with uncovered feet. The high priests were nearly the same dress with the priests, and four articles in addition: an outer tunic, called the robe of the ephod, woven entire, blue, with an ornamented border around the neck, and a fringe at the bottom made up of pomegranates and golden bells: an ephod of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, with golden threads interwoven, covering the body from the neck to the thighs; having shoulder-pieces joined on the shoulders by clasps of gold in which were set onyx-stones graven with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; and also a girdle of fine linen, woven with blue, purple, scarlet, and gold, passed several times round the body: a breastplate, attached at its four corners to the ephod, and likewise bearing the names of the twelve tribes on twelve precious stones; and the miter, a high and ornamented turban having on the front a gold plate with the inscription, "Holiness to the Lord." Neither he nor the priests wore their sacred dresses out of the temple as we infer from Ezekiel 42:14 44:17-19 Acts 23:5 .
The Lord had given no lands of inheritance to the tribe of Levi, in the Land of Promise. He intended that they should be supported by the tithes, the first fruits, the offerings made in the temple and by their share of the sin offerings and thanksgiving offerings sacrificed in the temple; of which certain parts were appropriated to them. In the peace offerings, they had the shoulder and the breast, Leviticus 7:33,34; in the sin offering, they burnt on the altar the fat that covers the bowels, the liver, and the kidneys; the rest belonged to themselves, Leviticus 7:6,10 . The skin or fleece of every sacrifice also belonged to them. When an Israelite sacrificed any animal for his own use, he was to give the priest the shoulder, the stomach, and the jaws, Deuteronomy 18:3 . The priest had also a share of the wool when sheep were shorn, Deuteronomy 18:4 . Thus, though the priests had no lands or inheritances, their temporal wants were supplied. God provided them houses and accommodations, by appointing forty-eight cities, six were appointed as cities of refuge for those who had committed casual and involuntary manslaughter. The priests had thirteen of these cities; the others belonged to the Levites, Joshua 21:10 .
A principal employment of the priests, next to attending on the sacrifices and the temple service, was the instruction of the people and the deciding of controversies; distinguishing the several sorts of leprosy, divorce causes, the waters of jealousy, vows, causes relating to the law and uncleanness, etc. They publicly blessed the people in the name of the Lord. In time of war their duty was to carry the Ark of the Covenant, to consult the Lord, to sound the holy trumpets, and to encourage the army, Numbers 10:8-9 Deuteronomy 20:2 .
The priesthood of Christ is the substance and truth, of which that of the Jews was but a shadow and figure. Christ, the everlasting priest according to the order of Melchizedek, abides forever, as Paul observes; whereas the priests according to the order of Aaron were mortal, and therefore could not continue long, Hebrews 7:1-28 . The Lord, to express to the Hebrews what great favors he would confer on them, says he would make them kings and priests, Exodus 19:6; and Peter repeats this promise to Christians, or rather, he tells them that they are in truth what Moses promised to Israel, 1 Peter 2:5,9 . See also Revelation 1:6 . In an important sense every Christian offers himself a spiritual sacrifice, "acceptable to God through Jesus Christ;" but in the Christian church, there is no priest to make expiation for sin by a sacrifice but Christ alone, Hebrews 9:11-26 .
Smith's Bible Dictionary 
Priest. The English word is derived from the Greek, presbyter , signifying an "Elder" (Hebrew, cohen ).
Origin. - The idea of a priesthood connects itself in all its forms, pure or corrupted, with the consciousness, more or less distinct of sin. Men feel that they have broken a law. The power above them is holier than they are, and they dare not approach it. They crave for the intervention of some one of whom they can think as likely to be more acceptable than themselves. He must offer up their prayers, thanksgivings, sacrifices. He becomes their representative in "things pertaining unto God." He may become also, (though this does not always follow), the representative of God to man.
The functions of the priest and prophet may exist in the same person. No trace of a hereditary or caste priesthood meets us in the worship of the patriarchal age. Once and once only does the word cohen meet us as belonging to a ritual, earlier than the time of Abraham. Melchizedek is "the priest of the most high God." Genesis 14:18. In the worship of the patriarchs themselves, the chief of the family, as such, acted as the priest. The office descended with the birthright, and might, apparently, be transferred with it.
When established. - The priesthood was first established in the family of Aaron, and all the sons of Aaron were priests. They stood between the high priest, on the one hand, and the Levites, on the other. See High Priest; Levites, The . The ceremony of their consecration is described in High Priest - 1986. Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 8:1.
Dress. - The dress which the priests wore during their ministrations consisted of linen drawers, with a close-fitting cassock, also of linen, white, but with a diamond or chess-board pattern on it. This came nearly to the feet, and was to be worn in its garment shape. Compare John 19:23.
The white cassock was gathered round the body with a girdle of needle work, in which, as in the more gorgeous belt of the high priest, blue, purple and scarlet were intermingled with white, and worked in the form of flowers. Exodus 28:39-40; Exodus 39:2; Ezekiel 44:17-19. Upon their heads, they were to wear caps or bonnets in the form of a cup-shaped flower, also of fine linen. In all their acts of ministration they were to be bare footed.
Duties. - The chief duties of the priests were to watch over the fire on the Altar of Burnt Offering, and to keep it burning evermore both by day and night, Leviticus 6:12; 2 Chronicles 13:11, to feed the golden lamp outside the vail with oil, Exodus 27:20-21; Leviticus 24:2, to offer the morning and evening sacrifices, each accompanied with a meet offering and a drink offering, at the door of the Tabernacle. Exodus 29:38-44. They were also to teach, the children of Israel, the statutes of the Lord. Leviticus 10:11; Leviticus 33:10; 2 Chronicles 15:3; Ezekiel 44:23-24.
During the journeys in the wilderness, it belonged to them to cover the Ark and all the vessels of the sanctuary, with a purple or scarlet cloth, before the Levites might approach them. Numbers 4:5-15. As the people started on each days march, they were to blow "an alarm" with long silver trumpets. Numbers 10:1-8. Other instruments of music might be used by the more highly-trained Levites and the schools of the prophets, but the trumpets belonged only to the priests.
The presence of the priests on the field of battle, 1 Chronicles 12:23; 1 Chronicles 12:27; 2 Chronicles 20:21-22, led, in the later periods of Jewish history, to the special appointment at such times of a war priest. Other functions were hinted at in Deuteronomy which might have given them greater influence as the educators and civilizers of the people. They were to act, (whether individually or collectively does not distinctly appear), as a court of appeal in the more difficult controversies in criminal or civil cases. Deuteronomy 17:8-13. It must remain doubtful, however, how far this order kept its ground during the storms and changes that followed, Functions such as these were clearly incompatible with the common activities of men.
Provision for support. - This consisted -
Of one tenth of the tithes which the people paid to the Levites, that is, one per cent on the whole produce of the country. Numbers 18:26-28.
Of a special tithe every third year. Deuteronomy 14:28; Deuteronomy 26:12.
Of the redemption money, paid at the fixed rate of five shekels a head, for the first-born of man or beast. Numbers 18:14-19.
Of the redemption money paid in like manner for men or things specially dedicated to the Lord. Leviticus 27:5.
Of spoil, captives, cattle and the like, taken in war. Numbers 31:25-47.
Of the shew-bread, the flesh of the Burnt Offerings, Peace Offerings, Trespass Offerings, Leviticus 6:26; Leviticus 6:29; Leviticus 7:6-10; Numbers 18:8-14, and, in particular, the heave-shoulder and the wave-breast. Leviticus 10:12-15.
Of an undefined amount of the firstfruits of corn, wine and oil. Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 2:14; Deuteronomy 26:1-10.
On their settlement in Canaan, the priestly families had thirteen cities assigned them, with "suburbs" or pasture-grounds for their flocks. Joshua 21:13-19.
These provisions were obviously intended to secure the religion of Israel, against the dangers of a caste of pauper priests, needy and dependent, and unable to bear their witness to the true faith. They were, on the other hand, as far as possible, removed from the condition of a wealthy order.
Courses . - The priesthood was divided into four and twenty "courses," or orders, 1 Chronicles 24:1-19; 2 Chronicles 23:8; Luke 1:5, each of which was to serve in rotation for one week, while the further assignment of special services during the week was determined by lot. Luke 1:9. Each course appears to have commenced its work on the Sabbath , the outgoing priests taking the morning sacrifice, and leaving that of the evening to their successors. 2 Chronicles 23:8.
Numbers. - If we may accept the numbers given by Jewish writers as at all trustworthy, the proportion of the priesthood population of Palestine, during the last century of their existence as an order, must have been far greater than that of the clergy has ever been in any Christian nation. Over and above those that were scattered in the country and took their turn, there were not fewer than 24,000 stationed permanently at Jerusalem, and 12,000 at Jericho. It was almost inevitable that the great mass of the order, under such circumstances, should sink in character and reputation.
The reigns of the two kings, David and Solomon, were the culminating period of the glory of the Jewish priesthood. It will be interesting to bring together, the few facts that indicate the position of the priests, in the New Testament period of their history. The number scattered throughout Palestine was, as has been stated, very large. Of these, the greater number were poor and ignorant.
The priestly order, like the nation, was divided between contending sects. In the scenes of the last tragedy of Jewish history, the order passes away without honor, "dying as a fool dieth." The high priesthood is given to the lowest and vilest of the adherents of the frenzied Zealots. Other priests appear as deserting to the enemy. The destruction of Jerusalem deprived the order at one blow of all but an honorary distinction.
Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words 
"one who offers sacrifice and has the charge of things pertaining thereto," is used (a) of a "priest" of the pagan god Zeus, Acts 14:13; (b) of Jewish "priests," e.g., Matthew 8:4; 12:4,5; Luke 1:5 , where allusion is made to the 24 courses of "priests" appointed for service in the Temple (cp. 1—Chronicles 24:4 ff.); John 1:19; Hebrews 8:4; (c) of believers, Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6 . Israel was primarily designed as a nation to be a kingdom of "priests," offering service to God, e.g., Exodus 19:6; the Israelites having renounced their obligations, Exodus 20:19 , the Aaronic priesthood was selected for the purpose, till Christ came to fulfil His ministry in offering up Himself; since then the Jewish priesthood has been abrogated, to be resumed nationally, on behalf of Gentiles, in the millenial kingdom, Is. 61:6; 66:21. Meanwhile all believers, from Jews and Gentiles, are constituted "a kingdom of priests," Revelation 1:6 (see above), "a holy priesthood," 1—Peter 2:5 , and "royal," 1—Peter 2:9 . The NT knows nothing of a sacerdotal class in contrast to the laity; all believers are commanded to offer the sacrifices mentioned in Romans 12:1; Philippians 2:17; 4:18; Hebrews 13:15,16; 1—Peter 2:5; (d) of Christ, Hebrews 5:6; 7:11,15,17,21; 8:4 (negatively); (e) of Melchizedek, as the forshadower of Christ, Hebrews 7:1,3 .
designates (a) "the high priests" of the Levitical order, frequently called "chief priests" in the NT, and including "ex-high priests" and members of "high priestly" families, e.g., Matthew 2:4; 16:21; 20:18; 21:15; in the singular, a "high priest," e.g., Abiathar, Mark 2:26; Annas and Caiaphas, Luke 3:2 , where the RV rightly has "in the high priesthood of A. and C." (cp. Acts 4:6 ). As to the combination of the two in this respect, Annas was the "high priest" from A.D. 7-14, and, by the time referred to, had been deposed for some years; his son-in-law, Caiaphas, the fourth "high priest" since his deposition, was appointed about A.D. 24. That Annas was still called the "high priest" is explained by the facts (1) that by the Mosaic law the high priesthood was held for life, Numbers 35:25; his deposition was the capricious act of the Roman procurator, but he would still be regarded legally and religiously as "high priest" by the Jews; (2) that he probably still held the office of deputy-president of the Sanhedrin (cp. 2—Kings 25:18 ); (3) that he was a man whose age, wealth and family connections gave him a preponderant influence, by which he held the real sacerdotal power; indeed at this time the high priesthood was in the hands of a clique of some half dozen families; the language of the writers of the Gospels is in accordance with this, in attributing the high priesthood rather to a caste than a person; (4) the "high priests" were at that period mere puppets of Roman authorities who deposed them at will, with the result that the title was used more loosely than in former days.
Leviticus 4:15,16 Hebrews 5:1-4 8:3 9:7,25 Hebrews 10:11 Hebrews 4:15 5:5,10 6:20 7:26 8:1,3 Hebrews 4:14 Hebrews 10:21 Hebrews 2:17 Hebrews 3:1 Hebrews 5:10 Hebrews 7:28 Hebrews 5:6,10 Hebrews 5:4,5 Hebrews 2:17 10:5 Hebrews 8:3 9:12,14,27,28 10:4-12 Hebrews 4:14 8:2 9:11,12,24 10:12,19 Hebrews 2:18 4:15 7:25 8:6 9:15,24 Acts 4:6
People's Dictionary of the Bible 
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.
Charles Buck Theological Dictionary 
A person set apart for the performance of sacrifice, and other offices and ceremonies of religion. Before the promulgation of the law of Moses, the first-born of every family, the fathers, the princes, and the kings, were priests. Thus Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Melchizedec, Job, Isaac, and Jacob, offered themselves their own sacrifices. Among the Israelites, after their departure from Egypt, the priesthood was confined to one tribe, and it consisted of three orders, the high-priest, priests, and Levites. The priesthood was made hereditary in the family of Aaron; and the first-born of the oldest branch of that family, if he had no legal blemish, was always the high-priest. This divine appointment was observed with considerable accuracy till the Jews fell under the dominion of the Romans, and had their faith corrupted by a false philosophy. Then, indeed, the high-priesthood was sometimes set up to sale, and, instead of continuing for life, as it ought to have done, it seems, from some passages in the New Testament, to have been nothing more than an annual office.
There is sufficient reason, however, to believe, that it was never disposed of but to some descendant of Aaron capable of filling it, had the older branches been extinct. (For the consecration and offices of the Jewish priesthood, we refer our readers to the books of Moses.) In the time of David, the inferior priests were divided into twenty-four companies, who were to serve in rotation, each company by itself, for a week. The order in which the several courses were to serve was determined by lot; and each course was, in all succeeding ages, called by the name of its original chief. It has been much disputed, whether in the Christian church there be any such officer as a priest, in the proper sense of the word. If the word priest be taken to denote a person commissioned by divine authority to offer up a real sacrifice to God, we may justly deny that there is a priest upon earth. Under the Gospel, there is but one priest, which is Christ: and but one sacrifice, that of the cross. The church of Rome, however, erroneously believe their priests to be empowered to offer up to the Divine Majesty a real proper sacrifice, as were the priests under the Old Testament. Ecclesiastical history informs us that, in the second century, some time after the feign of the emperor Adrian, when the Jews, by the second destruction of Jerusalem, were bereaved of all hopes of the restoration of their government to its former lustre, the notion that the ministers of the Christian church succeeded to the character and prerogatives of the Jewish priesthood, was industriously propagated by the Christian doctors; and that, in consequence, the bishops claimed a rank and character similar to that of the Jewish high-priest; the presbyters to that of the priests; and the deacons to that of the Levites.
One of the pernicious effects of this groundless comparison and pretension seems to have been, the introduction of the idea of a real sacrifice in the Christian church, and of sacrificing priests. In the church of England, the word priest is retained to denote the second order in her hierarchy, but we believe with very different significations, according to the different opinions entertained of the Lord's supper. Some few of her divines, of great learning, and of undoubted protestantism, maintain that the Lord's supper is a commemorative and eucharistical sacrifice. These consider all who are authorized to administer that sacrament as in the strictest sense priests. Others hold the Lord's supper to be a feast upon the one sacrifice, once offered on the cross; and these, too, must consider themselves as clothed with some kind of priesthood. Great numbers, however, of the English clergy, perhaps the majority, agree with the church of Scotland, in maintaining that the Lord's supper is a rite of no other moral import than the mere commemoration of the death of Christ. These cannot consider themselves as priests in the rigid sense of the word, but only as presbyters, of which the word priest is a contraction of the same import with elder.
See Lord'S Supper
Easton's Bible Dictionary 
At first every man was his own priest, and presented his own sacrifices before God. Afterwards that office devolved on the head of the family, as in the cases of Noah ( Genesis 8:20 ), Abraham (12:7; 13:4), Isaac (26:25), Jacob (31:54), and Job ( Job 1:5 ).
The name first occurs as applied to Melchizedek ( Genesis 14:18 ). Under the Levitical arrangements the office of the priesthood was limited to the tribe of Levi, and to only one family of that tribe, the family of Aaron. Certain laws respecting the qualifications of priests are given in Leviticus 21:16-23 . There are ordinances also regarding the priests' dress ( Exodus 28:40-43 ) and the manner of their consecration to the office (29:1-37).
Their duties were manifold ( Exodus 27:20,21; 29:38-44; Leviticus 6:12; 10:11; 24:8; Numbers 10:1-10; Deuteronomy 17:8-13; 33:10; Malachi 2:7 ). They represented the people before God, and offered the various sacrifices prescribed in the law.
In the time of David the priests were divided into twenty-four courses or classes ( 1 Chronicles 24:7-18 ). This number was retained after the Captivity ( Ezra 2:36-39; Nehemiah 7:39-42 ).
"The priests were not distributed over the country, but lived together in certain cities [forty-eight in number, of which six were cities of refuge, q.v.], which had been assigned to their use. From thence they went up by turns to minister in the temple at Jerusalem. Thus the religious instruction of the people in the country generally was left to the heads of families, until the establishment of synagogues, an event which did not take place till the return from the Captivity, and which was the main source of the freedom from idolatry that became as marked a feature of the Jewish people thenceforward as its practice had been hitherto their great national sin."
The whole priestly system of the Jews was typical. It was a shadow of which the body is Christ. The priests all prefigured the great Priest who offered "one sacrifice for sins" "once for all" ( Hebrews 10:10,12 ). There is now no human priesthood. (See Epistle to the Hebrews throughout.) The term "priest" is indeed applied to believers ( 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6 ), but in these cases it implies no sacerdotal functions. All true believers are now "kings and priests unto God." As priests they have free access into the holiest of all, and offer up the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, and the sacrifices of grateful service from day to day.
King James Dictionary 
PRIEST, n. L. proestes, a chief, one that presides proe, before,and sto, to stand, or sisto.
1. A man who officiates in sacred offices. Among pagans, priests were persons whose appropriate business was to offer sacrifices and perform other sacred rites of religion. In primitive ages, the fathers of families, princes and kings were priests. Thus Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Melchizedek,Job, Isaac and Jacob offered their own sacrifices. In the days of Moses, the office of priest was restricted to the tribe of Levi, and the priesthood consisted of three orders, the high priest, the priests, and the Levites, and the office was made hereditary in the family of Aaron.
Every priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. Hebrews 5
2. In the modern church, a person who is set apart or consecrated to the ministry of the gospel a man in orders or licensed to preach the gospel a presbyter. In its most general sense, the word includes archbishops, bishops, patriarchs, and all subordinate orders of the clergy, duly approved and licensed according to the forms and rules of each respective denomination of christians as all these orders "are ordained for men in things pertaining to God." But in Great Britain, the word is understood to denote the subordinate orders of the clergy, above a deacon and below a bishop. In the United States, the word denotes any licensed minister of the gospel.
Webster's Dictionary 
(1): ( n.) A presbyter elder; a minister
(2): ( n.) A presbyter; one who belongs to the intermediate order between bishop and deacon. He is authorized to perform all ministerial services except those of ordination and confirmation.
(3): ( n.) One who officiates at the altar, or performs the rites of sacrifice; one who acts as a mediator between men and the divinity or the gods in any form of religion; as, Buddhist priests.
(4): ( n.) One who is authorized to consecrate the host and to say Mass; but especially, one of the lowest order possessing this power.
(5): ( v. t.) To ordain as priest.
Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types 
Luke 10:31 (c) This clergyman represents the fact that religion has no remedy for the man who has fallen among thieves in his life, and has been robbed of his peace, his joy and his soul's welfare. The Levite represents Christian workers, so-called, who have plenty of religion to give, but no Christ The Good Samaritan represents the Lord Jesus Himself who alone has the remedy for fallen men.
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature 
Priest, High-Priest, etc. A priest may be defined as one who officiates or transacts with God on behalf of others statedly, or for the occasion .
The designation and call of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood are commanded in; and holy garments to be made for Aaron, 'for glory and for beauty' , and for his sons , by persons originally skillful, and now also inspired for the purpose , the chief of whom were Bezaleel and Aholiab . As there were some garments common both to the priests and the high-priest, we shall begin with those of the former, taking them in the order in which they would be put on.
Fig. 296—Drawers and girdle
1. The first was 'linen-breeches,' or drawers . These were to be of fine twined linen, and to reach from the loins to the middle of the thighs. Such drawers were worn universally in Egypt. No mention occurs of the use of drawers by any other class of persons in Israel except the priests, on whom it was enjoined for the sake of decency.
2. The coat of fine linen or cotton . This was worn by men in general also by women , next to the skin. It was to be of woven work. Josephus states that it reached down to the feet, and sat close to the body; and had sleeves, which were tied fast to the arms; and was girded to the breast a little above the elbows by a girdle. It had a narrow aperture about the neck, and was tied with certain strings hanging down from the edge over the breast and back, and was fastened above each shoulder. But this garment, in the case of the priests and high-priest, was to be broidered , 'a broidered coat,' by which Gesenius understands a coat of cloth worked in checkers or cells.
Fig. 297—Girdle and tunic
3. The girdle . This was also worn by magistrates . The girdle for the priests was to be made of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, of needlework . Josephus describes it as often going round, four fingers broad, but so loosely woven that it might be taken for the skin of a serpent; and that it was embroidered with flowers of scarlet, and purple, and blue, but that the warp was nothing but linen. The mode of its hanging down is illustrated by the fig. 299, where the girdle is also richly embroidered; while the imbricated appearance of the girdle may be seen very plainly in fig. 296. The next, fig. 297, of a priestly scribe of ancient Egypt, offers an interesting specimen of both tunic and girdle.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 
prēst ( כּהן , kōhēn , "priest," "prince," "minister"; ἱερεύς , hiereús ἀρχιερεύς , archiereús ; for ἱερεὺς μέγας , hiereús mégas , of Hebrews 10:21 , see Thayer's Lexicon , under the word ἱερεύς , hiereús :
I. Nature Of The Priestly Office
1. Implies Divine Choice
2. Implies Representation
3. Implies Offering Sacrifice
4. Implies Intercession
II. The Two Great Priests Of The Old Testame NT, Melchizedek And Aaron
III. Priestly Functions And Character
1. A S trictly Religious Order
2. Priestism Denied
3. The High Priest's Qualifications
IV. Consecration Of Aaron And His Sons (EXODUS 29; Leviticus 8 )
1. Symbolism of Consecration
2. Type and Archetype
A priest is one who is duly authorized to minister in sacred things, particularly to offer sacrifices at the altar, and who acts as mediator between men and God. In the New Testament the term is applied to priests of the Gentiles ( Acts 14:13 ), to those of the Jews ( Matthew 8:4 ), to Christ ( Hebrews 5:5 , Hebrews 5:6 ), and to Christians ( 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6 ). The office of priest in Israel was of supreme importance and of high rank. The high priest stood next the monarch in influence and dignity. Aaron, the head of the priestly order, was closely associated with the great lawgiver, Moses, and shared with him in the government and guidance of the nation. It was in virtue of the priestly functions that the chosen people were brought into near relations with God and kept therein. Through the ministrations of the priesthood the people of Israel were instructed in the doctrine of sin and its expiation, in forgiveness and worship. In short, the priest was the indispensable source of religious knowledge for the people, and the channel through which spiritual life was communicated.
I. Nature of the Priestly Office.
1. Implies Divine Choice:
The Scriptures furnish information touching this point. To them we at once turn. Priesthood implies choice. Not only was the office of divine institution, but the priest himself was divinely-appointed thereto. "For every high priest, being taken from among men, is appointed for men in things pertaining to God.... And no man taketh the honor unto himself, but when he is called of God, even as was Aaron" ( Hebrews 5:1 , Hebrews 5:4 ). The priest was not elected by the people, much less was he self-appointed. Divine selection severed him from those for whom he was to act. Even our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, came not into the world unsent. He received His commission and His authority from the fountain of all sovereignty. At the opening of His earthly ministry He said, "He anointed me.... He hath sent me" ( Luke 4:18 ). He came bearing heavenly credentials.
2. Implies Representation:
It implies the principle of representation. The institution of the office was God's gracious provision for a people at a distance from Him, who needed one to appear in the divine presence in their behalf. The high priest was to act for men in things pertaining to God, "to make propitiation for the sins of the people" ( Hebrews 2:17 ). He was the mediator who ministered for the guilty. "The high priest represented the whole people. All Israelites were reckoned as being in him. The prerogative held by him belonged to the whole of them ( Exodus 19:6 ), but on this account it was transferred to him because it was impossible that all Israelites should keep themselves holy as became the priests of Yahweh" (Vitringa). That the high priest did represent the whole congregation appears, first, from his bearing the tribal names on his shoulders in the onyx stones, and, second, in the tribal names engraved in the twelve gems of the breastplate. The divine explanation of this double representation of Israel in the dress of the high priest is, he "shall bear their names before Yahweh upon his two shoulders for a memorial" ( Exodus 28:12 , Exodus 28:19 ). Moreover, his committing heinous sin involved the people in his guilt: "If the anointed priest shall sin so as to bring guilt on the people" ( Leviticus 4:3 ). The Septuagint reads, "If the anointed priest shall sin so as to make the people sin." The anointed priest, of course, is the high priest. When he sinned the people sinned. His official action was reckoned as their action. The whole nation shared in the trespass of their representative. The converse appears to be just as true. What he did in his official capacity, as prescribed by the Lord, was reckoned as done by the whole congregation: "Every high priest ... is appointed for men" ( Hebrews 5:1 ).
3. Implies Offering Sacrifice:
It implies the offering of sacrifice. Nothing is clearer in Scripture than this priestly function. It was the chief duty of a priest to reconcile men to God by making atonement for their sins; and this he effected by means of sacrifice, blood-shedding ( Hebrews 5:1; Hebrews 8:3 ). He would be no priest who should have nothing to offer. It was the high priest who carried the blood of the sin offering into the Most Holy Place and who sprinkled it seven times on and before the mercy-seat, thus symbolically covering the sins of the people from the eyes of the Lord who dwelt between the cherubim ( Psalm 80:1 ). It was he also who marked the same blood on the horns of the altar of burnt offering in the Court of the Tabernacle, and on those of the golden altar, that the red sign of propitiation might thus be lifted up in the sight of Yahweh, the righteous Judge and Redeemer.
4. Implies Intercession:
It implies intercession. In the priestly ministry of Aaron and his sons this function is not so expressly set forth as are some of their other duties, but it is certainly included. For intercession is grounded in atonement. There can be no effective advocacy on behalf of the guilty until their guilt is righteously expiated. The sprinkling of the blood on the mercy-seat served to cover the guilt from the face of God, and at the same time it was an appeal to Him to pardon and accept His people. So we read that after Aaron had sprinkled the blood he came forth from the sanctuary and blessed Israel ( Leviticus 9:22-24; Numbers 6:22-27 ).
II. The Two Great Priests of the Old Testament, Melchizedek and Aaron:
These were Melchizedek and Aaron. No others that ever bore the name or discharged the office rank with these, save, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom they were distinguished types. Of the two, Melchizedek was the greater. There are two reasons why they are to be considered chiefs: first, because they are first in their respective orders. Melchizedek was not only the head of his order, but he had no successor. The office began and terminated with him ( Hebrews 7:3 ). The ordinary priests and the Levites depended for their official existence on Aaron. Apart from him they would not be priests. Second, the priesthood of Christ was typified by both. The office is summed up and completed in Him. They were called and consecrated that they might be prophecies of Him who was to come and in whom all priesthood and offering and intercession would find its ample fulfillment. In the Epistle to the Hebrews the priesthood of both these men is combined and consummated in Christ. But let it be noted that while He is of the order of Melchizedek He exercises the office after the pattern of Aaron. He perfects all that Aaron did typically, because He is the true and the real Priest, while Aaron is but a figure.
III. Priestly Functions and Character.
1. A S trictly Religious Order:
These are minutely prescribed in the Law. In the institution of the office the Lord's words to Moses were, "Take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office" ( Exodus 28:1 the King James Version). Their duties were strictly religious. They had no political power conferred upon them. Their services, their dependent position, and the way in which they were sustained, i.e. by the free gifts of the people, precluded them from exercising any undue influence in the affairs of the nation. It is true that in process of time the high office degenerated, and became a thing of barter and sale in the hands of unscrupulous and corrupt men, but as originally appointed the priesthood in Israel was not a caste, nor a hierarchy, nor a political factor, but a divinely-appointed medium of communication between God and the people.
2. Priestism Denied:
The Hebrew priests in no wise interfered with the conscience of men. The Hebrew worshipper of his own free will laid his hand on the head of his sacrifice, and confessed his sins to God alone. His conscience was quite free and untrammeled.
3. The High Priest's Qualifications:
There were certain duties which were peculiar to the high priest. He alone could wear the "garments for glory and for beauty." To him alone it pertained to enter the Most Holy Place and to sprinkle the blood of the sin offering on the mercy-seat. To him alone it pertained to represent the congregation before the Lord as mediator, and to receive the divine communications. He was to be ceremonially pure and holy. He must be physically perfect. Any defect or deformity disqualified a member of the priestly family from performing the duties of the office ( Leviticus 21:17-21 ). The Law spoke with the utmost precision as to the domestic relations of the high priest. He could marry neither a widow, nor a divorced woman, nor one polluted, nor a harlot; only a virgin of his own people, a Hebrew of pure extraction, could become his wife ( Leviticus 21:14 , Leviticus 21:15 ). Nor was he to come in contact with death. He must not rend his clothes, nor defile himself, even for his father or his mother ( Leviticus 21:10 , Leviticus 21:11 ). His sons might defile themselves for their kin, but the high priest must not. For he was the representative of life. Death did not exist for him, in so far as he was a priest. God is the Ever-Living, the Life-Giving; and His priest, who had "the crown of the anointing oil of his God upon him," had to do with life alone.
4. Symbolism of Aaron's Rod:
Adolph Saphir believes there is deep significance in the miracle of Aaron's rod that budded and bare almonds ( Numbers 17:1-13 ). It was a visible sign of the legitimacy of Aaron's priesthood and a confirmation of it, and a symbol of its vitality and fruitfulness. The twelve rods of the tribes were dead sticks of wood, and remained dead; Aaron's alone had life and produced blossoms and fruit. It was the emblem of his office which correlated itself with life, and had nothing to do with death.
IV. Consecration of Aaron and His Sons ( Exodus 29; Leviticus 8 ).
The process of the consecration is minutely described and is worthy of a more detailed and careful study than can here be given it. Only the more prominent features are noticed.
(1) Both the high priest and his sons were together washed with water ( Exodus 29:4 ). But when this was done, the high priest parted company with his sons. (2) Next, Aaron was arrayed in the holy and beautiful garments, with the breastplate over his heart, and the holy crown on his head, the mitre, or turban, with its golden plate bearing the significant inscription, "Holy to Yahweh." This was Aaron's investiture of the high office. (3) He was then anointed with the precious oil. It is noteworthy that Moses poured the oil on his head. When he anointed the tabernacle and its furniture he sprinkled the oil, but in Aaron's case there was a profusion, an abundance in the anointing ( Psalm 133:2 ). (4) After the anointing of the high priest the appointed sacrifices were offered ( Exodus 29:10 ff). Up to this point in the ceremony Aaron was the principal figure, the sons having no part save in the bathing. But after the offerings had been made the sons became prominent participants in the ceremonies, sharing equally with the high priest therein.
(5) The blood of the offering was applied to the person of father and sons alike ( Exodus 29:20 , Exodus 29:21 ). On the tip of the right ear, on the thumb of the right hand, and on the great toe of the right foot was the consecrating blood-mark set.
1. Symbolism of Consecration:
The significance of this action should not escape the reader. The whole person and career of the priest were thus brought under power of the blood. He had a blood-stained ear that he might hear and obey the divine injunctions, that he might understand the word of Yahweh and interpret it to the people. His will was brought into subjection to the will of His Lord that he might be a faithful minister in things pertaining to God. He had a blood-stained hand that he might execute, rightly and efficiently, the services of the sanctuary and the duties of his great office. He had likewise a blood-stained foot that he might walk in the statutes and commandments of the Lord blameless, and tread the courts of the Lord's house as the obedient servant of the Most High. Sacrificial blood, the blood of atonement, is here, as everywhere else, the foundation for saints and sinners, for priests and ministers alike, in all their relations with God.
2. Type and Archetype:
The priests of Israel were but dim shadows, obscure sketches and drafts of the one Great Priest of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Without drawing out at length the parallelism between the type and the archetype, we may sum up in a few brief sentences the perfection found in the priestly character of Christ: (1) Christ as Priest is appointed of God ( Hebrews 5:5 ). (2) He is consecrated with an oath ( Hebrews 7:20-22 ). (3) He is sinless ( Hebrews 7:26 ). (4) His priesthood is unchangeable ( Hebrews 7:23 , Hebrews 7:24 ). (5) His offering is perfect and final ( Hebrews 9:25-28; Hebrews 10:12 ). (6) His intercession is all-prevailing ( Hebrews 7:25 ). (7) As God and man in one Person He is a perfect Mediator ( Hebrews 1:1-14; 2). See Christ , Offices Of , V.
Smith, Db ; Hdb ; P. Fairbairn, Typology of Scripture , II; Soltau, Exposition of the Tabernacle; the Priestly Garments and the Priesthood ; Martin, Atonement ; A.B. Davidson, Hebrews ; Moorehead, Mosaic Institutions .
The Nuttall Encyclopedia 
Properly a man in touch with the religious life of the people, and for the most part consecrated to mediate between them and the Deity; the prophet, on the other hand, being one more in touch with the Deity, being at times so close to Him as to require a priest to mediate between him and the laity.
- ↑ Priest from Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Priest from Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
- ↑ Priest from Fausset's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Priest from Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
- ↑ Priest from Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
- ↑ Priest from Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary
- ↑ Priest from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Priest from Smith's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Priest from Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words
- ↑ Priest from People's Dictionary of the Bible
- ↑ Priest from Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
- ↑ Priest from Easton's Bible Dictionary
- ↑ Priest from King James Dictionary
- ↑ Priest from Webster's Dictionary
- ↑ Priest from Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types
- ↑ Priest from Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature
- ↑ Priest from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
- ↑ Priest from The Nuttall Encyclopedia