Why Does the New Testament Use the Word Presbyter or Elder for Priests?

Dr Taylor Marshall:

Protestants often note that the NT usually refers to clergy as “presbyteroi” which means “elders,” and not as priests. Why does the New Testament use the word Presbyter or Elder for Priests?

One confusion centers on the word “priest.” The English word “priest” comes directly from the Greek word “presbyteros.” This is examined in detail in my book The Catholic Perspective on Paul.

Presbyteros > Presbyter > Prester > Priest

Here is an example of how presbyter is used in the New Testament:

“The elders therefore that are among you, I beseech who am myself also an elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as also a partaker of that glory which is to be revealed in time to come.” (1 Peter 5:1)

Here’s another:

“Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests (presbyterous) of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14, D-R)

The Greek word for sacrificial, Old Testament priest is “hiereus.”

One key verse is in the third chapter of Hebrews, where Saint Paul writes:

“WHEREFORE, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly vocation consider the apostle and high priest of our confession, Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1, D-R)

Here the apostleship is paired with high priesthood. Christ is THE Apostle and High Priest. His New Testament ministers participate in this office. Hence, an apostle is a high priest. Apostolic succession transmits this apostolic priesthood.

The use of presbyteros instead of hiereus in the NT is for two reasons:

1) The word hiereus (priest) is related to hieron (temple). Now the temple in Jerusalem was still standing. Hence, in Hebrews and other epistles, hiereus is avoided since the temple stands.

This, by the way, relates to a previous blog post about the different spellings of Jerusalem based on it being an earthly “temple city” or heavenly.

2) The NT priesthood is a return to the ancient primogeniture priesthood prior to Moses. This “priesthood of the firstborn” (father to son; Noah to Shem; Abraham to Isaac) is a reflection of the relationship between God the Father to God the Son. The Levitical priesthood was a temporary TRIBAL solution to gold-calf worship. Originally, God planned for a “first born priesthood.” Saint Thomas speaks of the “first born priesthood” as pertaining to natural law prior to Moses.

This is why priests are always called “Father” since they represent the Father.

The argument of Hebrews is that Christ, as the “Firstborn Son of God,” not only supercedes but precedes the Mosaic Levitical arrangement.

Priests are called “presbyteros” for this very reason. They are representative “fathers” or “old men” within the assembly. The NT priesthood is a primogeniture priesthood in Christ – extended not by Levitical natural generation but by supernatural generation in the Spirit.

This is why priests are celibate (the Father-Son dynamic is a non-nuptial generation), why priests should wear the tonsure (bald old fathers), why they are called presbyteros (old men), and why they are called “father” (old men). Presbyteros is the title Saint Peter prefers. See the Si dilgis Mass epistle.

The identity as “father figure” or “older man” or “patriarch” is more noble and excels the Levitical temple title “hiereus” or “priest.”

For all these reasons, Saint Paul is hesitant to use “hiereus” for the NT ministry. However, he does do so in Greek in Rom 15:16 (regretfully the Douay gets this verse wrong in English).

Short answer: presbyteros hearkens back to the primogeniture priesthood of natural law (which is purer than Old Law). Christ’s priesthood is the eternal primogeniture priesthood.

ad Jesum per Mariam,


PS: If you are interested in this subject, please visit Paul is



Ireland Abandoning Religion Faster than Almost Every other Country

nullSad news:

The Republic of Ireland is abandoning religion faster than almost every other country worldwide, a massive global survey on faith reveals.

Only Vietnam has seen a bigger drop in people declaring themselves to be religious over the past seven years, a period when the Catholic Church in Ireland has been rocked by sex-abuse scandals and a crisis of leadership.

Red C interviewed more than 51,000 people worldwide, including just over 1,000 people in the Republic.

An overwhelming 69% of Irish people declared themselves to be “a religious person” in the last survey conducted in 2005, but this has now plummeted to 47%.

Last night the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said the results of the global index required “closer critical reading” but he acknowledged that it highlighted the challenges facing the Catholic faith in a changing Ireland.

“The Catholic Church, on its part, cannot simply presume that the faith will automatically be passed from one generation to the next or be lived to the full by its own members,” he said last night.

There was a need for strong ongoing education in the faith, he said, with a growing need for adult religious education to stop people drifting from the faith as they got older.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Catholic Communications Office said faith was not a “numbers game”.

And it said the latest survey contrasted sharply with last year’s census in the Republic, which found that 84% described themselves as Catholic, and just 5% said they had no religion.

But according to the latest research, the Republic is now in the top 10 for the number of people declaring themselves to be “a convinced atheist”.

Although this is still a minority group at 10%, it puts the country high in the global league table, and is a stark rise from 3% seven years ago.

The poll asked people, irrespective of whether they attended a place of worship, if they considered themselves to be religious, not religious, or an atheist.

However, the nature of the question may have affected the results — something the pollsters themselves admit.

They said that while there had been a 9% drop globally in the number describing themselves as “religious”, most people still felt part of the faith they grew up in.

However, it will still come as a blow to the Catholic Church in Ireland, and is the second survey in recent months to show massive alienation among the population.

A survey in February by market research group Amarach found the public at odds with the church hierarchy on a range of issues, including women clergy and married priests.

That survey, which questioned more than 1,000 Irish Catholics, found that 77% believed women should be ordained.

Nine out of 10 said priests should be able to marry. It also revealed just 35% went to church on a weekly basis.

However nothing has been done to address the crisis in the church in the six months since the Amarach survey was carried out.

The Catholic Communications Office was asked what actions had been taken by the bishops since the survey was published.

But a spokesman declined to comment, saying the study had been commissioned by the Association of Catholic Priests, a group of 800 clerics who are critical of the hierarchy.

Asked about the new Red C poll, the spokesman queried the language used by the poll.

“The word ‘religious’, if left unqualified, is too general to be used as the keyword in a survey questionnaire — especially in the Irish context — where people prefer words such as ‘spiritual’. Being ‘religious’ is a very subjective measurement,” said a spokesman.

“For example, in the Catholic Church, someone who attends Mass on a daily basis may not describe themselves as ‘religious’, yet they are outwardly a person of deep faith.”

Fr Brendan Hoban, a spokesman for the ACP, said the Red C results were “predictable enough” given the fall-off in Mass attendance and the drop in interest in the Catholic Church in recent years.

However, he said Irish Catholic numbers were “holding up markedly” and pointed to the Census figures and the 35% attending Mass on a weekly basis.

He suggested that the Catholic Church was “almost traumatised” by the scandals of the last 10 to 15 years, and this was affecting its ability to take steps to address declining religious observation.

“It’s so difficult for the bishops to provide leadership because, on the one hand, if they speak out, they are criticised, and if they don’t speak out, they are also criticised.”

Meanwhile, Michael Nugent of Atheism Ireland said the Red C poll showed people were rejecting the idea that atheism was an “extreme position”.

He said the figure of 10% of the population being atheists could be an under-estimation, as there were still people who did not believe in a God, but disliked the “atheist” label.

The Red C global poll also found that the richer you got, the less religious you defined yourself. Religiosity was higher among the poor, with people in the bottom-income groups 17% more religious than those in the top-earning groups.



Cairo: Coptic Families Flee after Clashes between Christians and Muslims

Asia news:

Cairo – About 100 Christian families have fled from the village of Dahshur (Giza), 40 km south of Cairo after recent violence between the Coptic and Muslim communities. Yesterday, a group of Muslims set fire to several Christian homes and shops and even tried to set fire to the local church. The police intervened with tear gas. In the clashes 16 people were injured, including 10 officers. The group was returning from the funeral of a Muslim who died during a brawl with some Christians took place on July 27. Sources from Giza Diocese report that Coptic families have now left the village for fear of new attacks. The case of Dahshour is the first serious incident of violence between Christians and Muslims since the election of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The tensions erupted last July 27. The pastor of the parish Mari Gerges (Saint George) in Dahshur, Fr. Takla, says that on that day, Ahmed Ramadan went to Sameh Sami’s laundrette (makwagi), to collect his shirts. One short had been accidently burned. At Ahmad’s protest, Sameh offered to pay for it and the two made an appointment to meet that evening after iftar meal that breaks the daily fast. Ahmed arrived that the evening, but not alone. He was accompanied by several hundred people, armed with knives, guns and Molotov cocktails.

Sameh closed his shop and ran into his house for protection, where his father and brother were. The attackers fired shots and launched Molotov cocktails. One of these failed to explode, Sameh through it back at his attackers. Unfortunately it exploded near Mo’adh Hasaballah, who was badly burned. He was brought to a hospital in Cairo.

The crowd went wild. They attacked the family (father and two children) and another Christian, and burned the houses of Christians. Firefighters could not reach the burning houses because of the crowd. Many Christian houses and shops were destroyed…

More here.



Nun Arrested for Vandalism at Nuclear Facility

An 82-year-old nun will be appearing in court, after being arrested for vandalism and trespassing at a nuclear facility, The Tablet website reports today (August 7, 2012).

Sr. Megan Rice — a Sister of the Heart of the Child Jesus — is part of a group called Transform Now Plowshares, who broke into the Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility (HEUMF) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee last week.

The facility is the American Government’s only facility for handling, processing, and storing weapons-grade uranium.

Sr. Megan and two other activists allegedly broke through four perimeter fences and walked for two hours through a “fatal force zone” patrolled by guards and attached two banners to the pillars of the building housing the HEUMF saying: “Transform Now Plowshares” and “Swords into Plowshares Spears into Pruning Hooks — Isaiah.”