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Posted February 20, 2006

Book: Royal Priesthood: A Theology of Ministry
Author: T. F. Torrance
T&T Clark, Edinburgh, 1993, pp. 108

An Excerpt from the Preface:

This book is concerned with a re-presentation of the biblical and ancient Catholic understanding of the royal priesthood of the Church incorporated into Christ as his Body, and of the priesthood of the ordained ministry of the Church in consecrated service to the Lord Jesus Christ our Great High Priest wh through the atoning sacrifice of himself, offered once for all for the sins of the world, has ascended to the right hand of the Father, where he continues to exercise his heavenly priesthood in advocacy and intercession on our behalf. That is the Priesthood which is echoed through the Spirit in the corporate ministry of the Church as the Body of Christ and in the particular ministry of those who are called and ordained by Christ to serve him in th proclamation of the Gospel and in the celebration of the Sacraments. The form of the priesthood in the Church derives from the Form of Christ, the incarnate Son of God, as the Form of the Suffering Servant who came among us not to be served and give his life a ransom for many. This applies primarily to the whole Church which is baptised with Christ’s own Baptism and baptised thereby into his servant-existence and ministry. But it applies also to the institutional ministry or priesthood of those who are consecrated and set apart within the royal priesthood of the Body of Christ, and which as such is essential to the continuing life and mission of the Church as Bible and Sacramental Ordinances. Like them, and unlike the Word of God, the institutional order of the ministry in the service of the Gospel in history will pass away at the parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ, when the royal priesthood of the one Body, as distinct from the institutional priesthood, will be fully revealed.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The word for priest in the New Testament derives its significance largely from the Old Testament, although the distinctive character or ‘order’ of priesthood reposes entirely upon the Person of Christ, our High Priest. In the Old Testament the word for priest primarily denotes a truthsayer, or seer, i.e., one who has to do with the Word of God. That is veryh apparent with regard to the Levitical priesthood which was concerned with the Holy Place of God’s Word, the d’bir as it was called. All that the priest does, all liturgical action, answers to the Word given to the priest who bears that Word and mediates it to man, and only in relation to that primary function does he have the other functions of oblation an sacrifice.

It is worth while pausing to examine the significance of the Hebrew term for word dabar. This appears to derive from a Semitic root dbr meaning ‘backside’ or ‘hinterground’, which is apparent in the expression for the Holy of Holies just mentioned, the d’bir, which was lodged at the very back of the Tabernacle or Tempel. The term dabar has a dual significance. On the one hand it refers to the hinterground of meaning, the inner reality of the word, but on the other hand, it refers to the dynamic event in which that inner reality becomes manifest. Thus every event has it dabar or word, so that he who understands the dabar of an event understands it real meaning.

The Septuagint (with some exceptions) regularly translates the Hebrew dabar either by logos, or neuma, while the plural may mean ‘history’, like the Latin res gestae. It is especially in regard to the Word of God that htis dual significance is apparent, particularly as the Word of God comes to the prophet and enters history as dynamic event. In this connection it is also instructive to find that where word and event coincide there is truth. Thus God’s Word is Truth where His Action corresponds to His Word. That is characteristic of man’s word too, for his word is true where there is a relation of faithfulness between the speaker and the speaking of the word, and also between the speaking of the word and the hearing of it. When such a word is credited as truth it is confirmed with amen. Nowhere is that Hebraism so apparent as in the Apocalypse where Christ is spoken of as ‘the Amen, the true and faithful witness’.

This is one of the dominant conceptions behind the Old Testament understanding of the cult, and indeed it looks as if the whole Tabernacle or Temple were constructed around the significance of dabar. In the very back of the Tabernacle or the Holy of Holies, the d’bir, there are lodged the ten Words or d’barim. These Ten Words form the innermost secret of Israel’s history. It is therefore highly significant that in the Old Testament’s interpretation of its own history and its ancient cult, they were lodged in the hinterground of a moveable tent which formed the center of Israel’s historical pilgrimage. That Tent was called the Tent of Meeting or the Tent of Witness, for it was there that God’s Word encountered Israel, and it was there that Israel kept tryst with the living and speaking God. All through Israel’s history of the Word enshrined in the form of d’barim was hidden the d’bir, but was again and again made manifest when God made bare His mighty arm and showed His glory. The coming of God’s Word, the make bare of His might arm, and the manifestation of his glory, are all essentially cognate expressions in the Old Testament, as is apparent in the accounts of the founding and establishing of the Covenant at Mount Sinai.

The priesthood of the Old Teatament is understood as functioning only within the Covenant and the saving relation with the mighty Word of God which that Covenant brought to Israel. Israel is thus made a Kingdom of Priests, a Holy People, because as St. Paul put it, ‘unto them were committed the oracles of God’. It was within this covenant-relation so often described as ‘mercy and truth’ that the cultus was set and that all priestly actions were carried out. The whole liturgy was regarded by the Old Testament as an ordinance of grace initiated by God Himself and appointed by Him.

Table of Contents:

1. The royal priest
2. The function of the Body of Christ
3. The time of the Church
4. The priesthood of the Church
5. The corporate episcopate