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Review of Biblical Literature Blog

Priests of My People: Levitical Paradigms for Early Christian Ministers
Stewart, Bryan A.

New York: Lang, 2015 pp. xv + 250. €73.20

Series Information
Patristic Studies, 11


Description: 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.

Subjects: Bible, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Pentateuch, Leviticus, Literature, Methods, Theological Approaches

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Review by Richard S. Briggs
Published 6/1/2017
Citation: Richard S. Briggs, review of Bryan A. Stewart, Priests of My People: Levitical Paradigms for Early Christian Ministers, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2017).


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