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From the time of David (although Jewish tradition places it earlier) the priesthood was
arranged in 24 courses (I Chron. 24:). Each `course' did duty for a week, the days of
which were further subdivided among the families which constituted the course.
Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, was "of the course of Abia" (Luke 1: 5).
It is beyond the scope of these articles to consider the history of the priesthood
through the O.T. Attention must therefore be turned to the state at which that priesthood
had arrived in N.T. days.
The Priesthood (contd.).
pp. 208 - 212
When the voices of the prophets ceased the way was open for the rise of Rabbinism,
and as its power and influence increased, so that of the priesthood declined. At the time
of Christ, the Rabbinic party, the Pharisees, were in complete control in all religious and
ritual matters. Dean Farrar writes:
"The wealth, rank, connections, and offices of the Sadducees gave them much worldly
influence and authority, but in all religious and ritual matters the people sided so
absolutely with the doctors or Pharisees that the Sadducees, even against their real views,
were often compelled to conform" (The Life of Christ).
Were it not that the Sadducean priestly party were hand in glove with the ruling
power, they would have had no place at all in Israel. The situation at the time of the Lord
is aptly put by Dr. Edersheim:
"Nor must we forget the powerful controlling influence which Rabbinism exercised.
Its tendency . . . . . was steadily against all privileges other than those gained by
traditionary learning and theological ingenuity. The Pharisee, or, rather, the man learned
in the traditional law, was everything both before God and before man; `but this people,
who knoweth not the law', were `cursed', plebeians, country people, unworthy of any
regard or attention. Rabbinism applied these principles even in reference to the
priesthood" (The Temple and its Services).
To be a priest, a man must satisfy the Sanhedrin on at least two counts: (a) genealogy,
(b) physical perfection. Official records of descent were meticulously kept until the
destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70A.D., when they were apparently lost. Priests also
had to undergo a course of instruction, and before being allowed to officiate, were
The distinction between the priest and Levite at the time of Christ indicated in the
parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-35), is observed thus by Dr. Edersheim:
"Generally . . . . . on the Levites devolved the Temple police, the guard of the gates,
and the duty of keeping everything about the sanctuary clean and bright. But as at night
the priests kept watch about the innermost places of the Temple, so they also opened
and closed all the inner gates, while the Levites discharged this duty in reference to the