Recently, I was asked to respond to a critic of the Catholic Church who accused the Church of being unscriptural in her teaching on the Priesthood. Specifically they took exception with the Eucharist, Confession, and Apostolic succession among other things. They seemed to suggest that the 12 Apostles were unique to be sure but, certainly NOT Priests and their uniqueness didn’t then translate to any future generations and this was somehow not the intent of Jesus… to establish a lasting hierarchy which will guide and administer the faith and faithful. Here is my somewhat modified response to that critic. I was intentionally not tying to cover every possible verse or argument rather, hoping to paint a general picture that would demonstrate our Lord’s intentional efforts to perfect the law and the assembly of the Lamb of God (Hebrews 12).
Do you think confession to a Priest is new? What if we were to find this already an established practice in the Old Testament? Why then would we expect the New Testament Church to be drastically different than the Old Testament Church; Given the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:17 “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.” ?
An example of Confession to a Priest being mandated by God in the Old Testament can be found in Leviticus 4, look at verses 27 – 29. Notice how the animal chosen to be sacrificed depended on what sin was committed by the sinner coming to the Priest. Question… how would the Priest know if the animal presented to him by the sinner was the appropriate sacrifice to cover the committed sin… unless the sin was told to the Priest? It was the Priest’s job to ensure the sacrifice was appropriately conducted or else it would NOT have been valid. What was to prevent everyone from bringing a few turtle doves to offer instead of the far more expensive calves, goats, or even bulls unless the Priest asked them what the offense against God was prior to the sacrifice being offered? Clearly the sinner “confessed” his/her sins to the Priest so that a reconciliation between God and man could be made.
In John 20:21-23, we see clearly how Jesus “breathes” upon THOSE 12 men… and not just anyone who picks up this book, say some two thousand years later… no, Jesus breathed on THEM and proclaims to THEM, “Receive the Holy Spirit”! These two elements alone are powerful images! What do these two elements remind you of? Genesis chapter 2 and the creation of Adam? Look in verse 7 : “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” What happened next? God placed Adam in the garden paradise and commanded him to “keep & protect” it (verse 15)! The 2 Hebrew words used here, Abodah & Shamar, are unique because we see them being used elsewhere, like in Numbers 3:7&8, to describe the duties of the Priests serving in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the the Temple in Jerusalem. Why? Because the Priests (specifically the High Priest) saw themselves acting like a NEW Adam… as a PREIST, who mediates between God and man! Adam is clearly depicted as a Priest serving in the Garden sanctuary (listen to some of my shows, linked below, for more detail). So… what is the image that Jesus gives us in the upper room when he “breathes” the Holy Spirit into THOSE 12 men? They now must serve as Priest’s… the Holy Spirit gives them life… not as a single man… but, now as the BODY of Christ, which IS HIS Church!
Ever compare the book of the Prophet Jonah with Jesus? Jesus tells the Pharisees, Scribes and Chief Priests, in Matthew’s Gospel that ”An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” in Matt. 12:39. Now compare Jonah chapter 1 to Matthew 8:23-27…. notice that both Jonah and Jesus are on a boat, both are at sea during a storm, both are asleep in the boat, both have sailors who are fearful, both sets of sailors marvel at how the seas respond to the action of both prophets (Jonah & Jesus). So, its clear that Jesus is the NEW Jonah… what then of the disciples? They are the NEW sailors. Go back to Jonah 1 and look at the action of those sailors. They “cast lots” in verse 7 and offered a sacrifice and took vows in verse 16. Question, who offers sacrifices? Priests offer a sacrifice is who! What about those “lots” being cast? That too is a reference to the Priesthood… in the Old Testament there were some 20 thousand Priests who served in the Temple… they were broken down into “choirs” and would only serve a term (similar to say the National Guard)… their term was chosen by casting lots! An example of this can be found in 1 Chronicles 24 (see verse 5) but… take a look at Luke’s Gospel chapter 1 verse 8 and you will see how this was STILL the custom in the time of our Lord’s Advent, for Zechariah was chosen by LOT to serve in the Temple. So the bottom line here is that the sailors on Jonah’s boat were acting like PRIESTS and so Jesus’ disciples are therefore also being depicted as NEW Priests in Matthew 8.
On my radio show last week I looked at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I showed how Jesus is the NEW King Solomon (Son of David), and how, like the old King Solomon brought with him the legitimate Priesthood, in Zadock (1 Kings 1), so does the NEW Solomon bring the NEW legitimate Priesthood (Peter and the other 11) to replace the false Priesthood of Caiaphas and the other’s. They were the wrong linage… set up through political maneuvering, lobbying, and appointment from Rome. This was NOT the line of Aaron’s Son’s that were ordained by Moses, from command of God, in Exodus. Solomon was anointed by Zadock the Priest and then Zadock placed Solomon on David’s donkey. This was done in contrast to how Abiathar the Priest who anointed the FALSE King Adonijah who tried to enter Jerusalem by force. Notice the difference, Solomon rides on a donkey and Adonijah rides in a chariot with an army. Solomon own name means “the peaceful one” and is the king of the city of peace (Jerusalem). The contrast is striking and its the Zadock line of Priests that survives it and not that of Abiathar! So… Jesus is the NEW Solomon who rides on a donkey in a peaceful entry into Jerusalem and right up to the Temple. Who put him on that donkey? His disciples… what does that make them? NEW Priests! Not just new Priests but, the correct line of Priests. Can we be sure of this understanding? Yes! Look at the parable Jesus tells in Matthew 21 about the wine press… what does Jesus say to the hearers of this parable in verses 39 through 46? He will take away the Kingdom of God and give it to a nation producing the fruits of it (vs. 43)! Question, who was Jesus telling this parable to? Look back at verse 23 ” the Chief Priests and the elders of the people”… so he will take away their authority… their Priesthood… and give it to another “nation” who will bear its fruits!
Want another Priest reference for the disciples? Look at John 13 and the upper room account! In John’s Gospel we are given more detail about what happened that night… notice Peter’s response to Jesus telling him ”If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” in verse 8. St. Peter says in reply, ”Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” in verse 9. Two things… first, the Greek word used for “part” in verse 8, (Merras) is a reference to the Levite Priests in Exodus. Prior to the Golden Calf incident in Exodus 34 all “First Born” son’s of the families served as Priests. This is the ancient Priesthood that Jesus restores (perfectly in himself as the “First Born” son of God) from the order of Melchizedek dating back to Adam. God called His “First Born” son Israel out of Egypt and promised them the land of Cannan (previously promised to Abraham and his decedents). God formed a covenant with his “First Born” son at the foot of Mt Sinai in Exodus 24 where Moses was command to take the 12 princes (First Born’s from the 12 tribes) and set them up on 12 alters to offer 12 sacrifices. Moses then took the blood from those 12 sacrifices and sprinkled it on the main alter and the people of Isreal “saying Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” in verse 8 (we will come back to this reference in a moment). Each of the 12 tribes would inherit a piece of this Promised Land. After the fall of Israel (the Golden Calf) the Priesthood of the “First Born” was taken away from the sons and given to the Levites… God told them that their ”part”, or “share” (Merras from the Greek Septuagint version of the OT), would now be IN GOD serving him at the Alter! So Jesus’ use of this Greek word in John 13:8 as a reference to him proclaiming His new 12 Princes as having the same Priestly “part”, or “share”, in HIM as GOD, by serving at HIS NEW Alter! Now look again at how St. Peter responds to Jesus in John 13:9, ”Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”. This response clearly indicates that Peter knew that this is what Jesus was indicating… their Priestly role in Jesus! Why? Because who had their hands and their head washed in the Old Testament? Aaron and his Son’s when they were being ordained as Priests by Moses (cf. Ex. 40, Lev. 8)! Why then wash just the feet? Well, we see how the Priests had to wash their feet prior to serving in the Temple, and wilderness Tabernacle in places like Lev. 8. So Jesus’ washing of His disciples feet was a reference to their Priesthood… their ministry in the very Priesthood of the ONE TRUE “First Born” Son of God, Jesus Himself! Again in John 14:2 Jesus speaks of His “Father’s House” having many rooms (some translations say mansions)… this too is a priestly reference. The Greek used here is referring to the many rooms in the “Father’s House”, the Temple, where the Priests would sleep when they were chosen by lots to serve in the Temple! Where is that Temple now with its many rooms? Jesus’ own body! The NEW Priests serve within the Body of Christ which is the NEW Temple! Jesus said to the Chief Priests “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…But he spoke of the temple of his body.” in John 2:19 & 21. So these 12 men really do “share”, have a “part” in God himself through the Son, Jesus Christ, serving in HIS body which is the Church!
There are many other references that could be made but… lets look at the Eucharist in the Passover just briefly. Look at St. Luke’s Gospel chapter 22 verses 19 & 20. Three things… first, notice in verse 20 Jesus says, ”This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood”? Question, remind you of anything? Like the very words of Moses in Exodus 24:8? Try searching for how many times “blood of the Covenant” comes up in Scripture… not many… about 3 (Exodus, Zachariah, and Luke), so this is a VERY specific choice of words from our Lord. When Moses said these words what was he doing again? Oh yeah… he was sprinkling blood from the sacrifices of 12 PRIESTS upon the people and sealing them in the Covenant! What is Jesus doing here? Transforming wine into HIS blood and commanding THESE 12 men to OFFER this sacrifice as a NEW Covenant! Coincidence? I don’t think so. Second, look at verse 19 when Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.”… the Greek word used for “remembrance” here is Anamnaysis and has a liturgical connection to Exodus 29:38-39. This word is about reliving the sacrifice as if it were truly present, here and now, even though it was offered hundreds of years ealier. This is partly why the Jews of today offer the Passover as if they were living the Exodus rather than just remembering it. This is sacrificial… this is Priestly! Thirdly, to a first century Jew… like every man in the room with Jesus that night… hearing the words “given” and “poured out” in relation to Jesus’ body and blood would have sent up serious red flags. Why? Because who “gives” a body? Who can “pour out” blood? The Priest in the Temple is who! It was the Priests who would catch the blood of the sacrificed animal and then “pour it out” on the alter as a sacrifice. Here you see Jesus telling His 12 Disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me”. Do what? Offer HIS Body and HIS Blood! How? By Anamnaysis… as if it was THIS very night… the ONCE FOR ALL Sacrifice that Jesus made! It’s very clear that Jesus was ordaining His 12 Disciples as 12 NEW Princes of the NEW Israel. They would sit on NEW Cathadras’ (Matthew 23:2) and rule over the NEW tribes/diocese, as “overseerers” or Bishops, of God’s people!
So, getting back to Confession now, we must turn back to John 20… notice what he says in verse 21, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” Question, how did the Father send Jesus? To do what? To forgive sins, to offer a sacrifice, to reconcile man with God (as a mediator), to teach and instruct the faithful, to cast out demons, to administer the sacraments to the people etc. etc. We can see very clearly that Jesus was sent to forgive sins in Matthew 9 verses 1 through 8. Jesus says in verse 6 “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”. How does the crowed respond? Look at verse 8 “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men”. Who has the authority? Men! Notice it does NOT say “a man” but, rather “men”! So Jesus sends HIS Disciples to forgive sins JUST like the Father sent HIM! Remember how confession worked in Leviticus 4? To a Priest! How would these NEW Priests know which sins to forgive or retain unless those sins were told them? Look at John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”… Clearly they would have had to hear these sins, or know them some how in order to make a decision on weather to forgive or retain those sins. We can actually see an example of this in the New Testament itself… look at the book of James chapter 5 verse 16 “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects”. Who were the “sins” being confessed too? Look at verse 14 of that same chapter, “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;”. Notice the word “elder” there? The Greek word used here is Presbuteros and is the word that we derive the English word “Priest” from. So read in context it would say “Let him call for the Priests of the church”. For truly the prayer “of a righteous man has great power in its effects” when that man is a Priest ordained by God!
Now… back to the issue of Apostolic succession. It was THOSE 12 men who received the breath of Jesus, the life of God to His Church, His Body, ordaining them in the Priesthood of the “First Born”. In modern times we tend to forget this point… we read the Gospels and somehow we think Jesus was always speaking to “us”… it was “us” in the upper room, it was “us” feeding the 5000 with the 12 baskets left over, etc. It was NOT “us”… it was THEM, those 12 men. So then how do we understand that our Pope, Bishops and Priests today have these same charisms? Through Apostolic Succession is how… through the “laying on of hands” and passing on the faith from one generation to the next. These 12 men possessed an “office” that had to be filled once vacant. I referenced this in the letter I sent you a copy of last time in regards to St Peter being the “chief steward” in the Kingdom of the NEW Son of David. Think of the Office of the President of the United States…. if he were to die today (God forbid) would that be the end of the presidency? No… another would take his place and the office of the President would continue. The same is true for the Bishops… when the Apostles died successors filled their vacancies and carried on their ministries. As the Church grew more Bishops were appointed by the “laying on of hands” and given new “tribes”, or Diocese, to “oversee”. St. Peter traveled to Rome and, because he was the “Chief Steward”, his Diocese enjoyed the primacy over all others. In fact we see in ancient writings how other Bishops would come to Rome to be confirmed by the successor to Peter in order for their own claim to succession, back to the Apostles, would NOT be questioned. St. Peter’s chair, his cathadras (Matthew 23) became the anchor that would steady the ark of Christ, for it was from St. Peter’s boat that Jesus taught the people! Apostolic Succession was a big deal in the early Church…. it separated the fakes from the authentic ”overseer’s”. Its how the faithful KNEW they were being led by the very successors to the Apostles that Christ established.
Take a look at Acts chapter 1 starting in verse 15, “In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said,”… notice how Peter is always in a commanding role (notice too how in every list of disciples in the Gospels Peter is named first and Judas last)? Peter is the Chief Steward and he leads the way telling them that Judas was numbered among them… so he WAS in fact a Disciple even though he betrayed Jesus. So… I guess that’s the end of the line for Judas, right? NO! Peter goes on to say in verse 20, “For it is written in the book of Psalms, `Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and `His office let another take.’ “. Notice that last part… “His office let another take”… Judas possessed an office that HAD to be filled once vacant. The Greek word used for “office” here is “episkope” and its where we get the English word for “Bishop” and literally means “overseers”. Translations such as the King James Bible actually use “Bishopric” here in Acts 1:20. So, how was this office filled? Men who had been with them for a while were brought forward, the 12 discerned their call, prayed to the Holy Spirit for guidance, and they “cast lots” to see which one should be chosen in verse 26. Do you recall what we said about the “casting of lots”? It’s a reference to the priesthood in the Temple. If Peter and the others understood themselves to be the NEW Priests, wouldn’t it stand to reason that they too would employ the “casting of lots” to chose NEW Priest’s or New Bishops who will serve in Christ’s Temple? I think so!
So, the 12 Apostles were Priests, given the power to hear/forgive/retain sins, possessed an office, which HAD to be filled upon their deaths. If you were NOT called, and ordained, by the “overseers” of the NEW Tribes of God’s people (the Church), then you DO NOT posses these charisms… however you can KNOW for certain that you DO possess them through the imposition of hands in Apostolic succession. That is how we get from THOSE 12 men to all the Bishops and Priests of our Day. Which ones can we trust? The ones with a verifiable apostolic succession, back to the Apostles themselves, and who are in communion with the chair of Peter, the anchor of the ark of Christ. If we understood this correctly we would take great comfort in this fact… Jesus gave us a way to have absolute assurance that we CAN know who to turn to for instruction, and guidance… His Church… through Apostolic succession. Otherwise we would have an endless see of opinions and craziness… oh yeah… we do have that… its call Protestantism!
I could go on but, its late and I’m going to link to several of my radio shows that will give more info on these topics and as well as to some articles that can demonstrate how the early Church defiantly understood the 12 as Priests whose office was then filled upon their vacancies. Trust in Christ’s Church… turn to His Vicar, our Pope, and His Bishops, Priests and Deacons for the Gates of Hell will NOT prevail against her!
Confession in Scripture: http://www.scripturecatholic.com/confession.html
Confession in the Early Church: http://www.catholic.com/library/Confession.asp
Apostolic Succession: http://www.catholic.com/library/Apostolic_Tradition.asp
Priesthood in the Early Church: http://www.catholic.com/library/Bishop_Priest_and_Deacon.asp
My Radio shows:
Call No Man Father:
Mass as Heaven on Earth:
St. Peter as the Chief Shepherd:
As well as: Audio | BTM: St. Peter & The Keys
Communion of the Saints:
Jesus TRULY Present in the Eucharist:
God Bless You
About the Author:
Joe McClane – The Catholic Hack! – is the director and events coordinator for Fullness of Truth Catholic Evangelization Ministries, as well as an a Catholic New Media producer & Evangelist. He is married to his lovely wife Michelle and they have five children. The Catholic Hack | Catholic Apologetics, Theology & More!