Show Less
Restricted access

Priests of My People

Levitical Paradigms for Early Christian Ministers


Bryan A. Stewart

This book offers an innovative examination of the question: why did early Christians begin calling their ministerial leaders «priests» (using the terms hiereus/sacerdos)? Scholarly consensus has typically suggested that a Christian «priesthood» emerged either from an imitation of pagan priesthood or in connection with seeing the Eucharist as a sacrifice over which a «priest» must preside. This work challenges these claims by exploring texts of the third and fourth century where Christian bishops and ministers are first designated «priests»: Tertullian and Cyprian of Carthage, Origen of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the church orders Apostolic Tradition and Didascalia Apostolorum. Such an examination demonstrates that the rise of a Christian ministerial priesthood grew more broadly out of a developing «religio-political ecclesiology». As early Christians began to understand themselves culturally as a unique polis in their own right in the Greco-Roman world, they also saw themselves theologically and historically connected with ancient biblical Israel. This religio-political ecclesiology, sharpened by an emerging Christian material culture and a growing sense of Christian «sacred space», influenced the way Christians interpreted the Jewish Scriptures typologically. In seeing the nation of Israel as a divine nation corresponding to themselves, Christians began appropriating the Levitical priesthood as a figure or «type» of the Christian ministerial office. Such a study helpfully broadens our understanding of the emergence of a Christian priesthood beyond pagan imitation or narrow focus on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, and instead offers a more comprehensive explanation in connection with early Christian ecclesiology.
Show Summary Details
Restricted access

Chapter 4. Stewards of God’s House: The Didascalia Apostolorum


← 78 | 79 → ·4·

The Didascalia Apostolorum

The previous chapter explored the development of priestly designations for the bishop in the western church order, the Apostolic Tradition. This chapter turns now to the east, with an examination the Didascalia Apostolorum, for another early witness to the rise of a sacerdotal understanding of the episcopal office. The importance of the Didascalia Apostolorum (DA) lies in its portrayal of early Christian life in the third century east, what Bartlett describes as “the most living and detailed picture we possess of Church-life in that century,”1 and what Plöchl calls “a complete summary of the church order prevailing in the third century.”2 For our purposes, the real value of this text lies in its portrayal of the Christian bishop in clear priestly terms, making it, along with the Apostolic Tradition, one of the earliest evidences of such a designation within Christianity. By exploring the presentation of the bishop in the DA, specifically in its use of sacerdotal designations, we can gain further insight into the understanding of this portrayal and possible causal factors behind it.

Nearly all scholars agree that the DA was written sometime in the third century in the provenance of Syria or northern Palestine. Debate centers around which half of the third century is the most likely period of production.3 Scholars such as Plöchl, Achelis and Schwartz suggest the second half of the third century. On the other hand, scholars such as...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.