The theme of priests and priesthood is prominent within the Bible. One is first introduced to the concept of a priest in the book of Genesis, and the role lingers until Revelations. The office of the priest is mentioned some 700 times in the Old Testament, and approximately 80 times in the New Testament.  It is obvious therefore that there is much to be learned from a consideration of this subject.

A priest, in effect, is a mediator who stands between the gods, goddesses and man. He speaks to them and they speak to him/her. Is appears that the concept of priesthood comes down to us from the ancient shaman A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing. The word "shaman" probably originates from the Tungusic Evenki language of North AsiaThe presence of a “priesthood” has been characteristic of virtually every society of cultured man since the beginning of time. The ancient Assyrians had priests, as did the Babylonians. When Abram was returning from the rescue of his nephew, Lot, he encountered Melchizedek, who was not only “king of Salem,” he was also a “priest of God Most High.” Abram acknowledged the king’s sacred office and paid tithes to him.

Egyptian Priesthood

The role of the priest was very important in Egyptian Society. The Egyptians believed the gods lived in the temples. Only the priest was allowed to enter the sacred area of the temple and approach the statue representing the god or goddess. The people could pray at the gate or in the court to the Pharaoh who acted as a go-between the people and the gods.

 The priests role was to care for the needs of the god/goddess. They have no role to oversee or care for the people of Egypt. They did not try to educate the people on the religion or look after their morals.

The priest would care for the god in the following ways:

In the morning, the high priest breaks the seal, lights a torch to walk the god, says prayers, lights incense, washes the statue (which may be solid gold), places fresh clothing and jewels on it and places offerings of food and drink near it. Singers offer hymns of praise to the god. At the end of the day, the priest backs out of the shrine, sweeping away his footprints as he goes, and seals the sacred area again.

The Egyptians believed the priest played a vital role in providing for the needs of the gods. If their duties were neglected, it was believed problems would arise. Due to the importance of their role for the society, the priest were well compensated.

     "For much of Egyptian history, there was no class of full-time professional priests." (Redford, 2002, pg 315). Many of the priest were classified as lay priest  A lay priest is part-time and would hold another job often in a position in the state or local governments. The lay priests were especially common in small communities. Lay priests served on a rotation system. Normally, there were four equally staffed groups of lay priests. Each group would serve for a month and then return to their other occupation for three months.It is difficult to determine whether the priests were elected or whether the position was inherited.

     New priests were often chosen by the Pharaoh. Often, the Pharaoh would choose relatives to fill positions in the most powerful and influential temples. Many of the positions of priests were hereditary and remained as an inheritance in certain families. The Pharaoh would have the power to transfer or promote a priest the majority of the time

Jewish Priesthood

The origin of the Israelitish priesthood is found in records of the time of the Judges and the following period. According to these, the functions of the priest were twofold: to care for and guard the sanctuary and its sacred images and palladia, and to consult the oracle. Thus the Ephraimite Micah, after having provided an ephod and teraphim for his shrine, installed one of his sons as priest to take care of them, but only until he could secure a professional priest, a Levite, for the purpose, one who was qualified to consult the oracle. In Judaism, a priest was consecrated to the service of the sanctuary and, more particularly, of the altar. This definition, however, holds true for the later rathner than for the earlier stages of Jewish history. In ancient Israel one was not required to be specially consecrated in order to perform the sacrificial functions. Anyone might approach the altar and offer sacrifices. In accordance with this usage in ancient Israel, the oldest code, the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:19–23:33), concerned the building of altars and the offering of sacrifices and was not addressed to the priest, but to the people at large. Even where there was a sanctuary with a priesthood, as at Shiloh, any layman might slaughter and offer his sacrifices without priestly aid. As access to the altar was not yet guarded in accordance with later Levitical ordinances, so the priesthood was not yet confined to one family, or even to one tribe. The Ephraimite Samuel became priest of the sanctuary at Shiloh, wearing the priestly linen coat  and a cloak boardered with fringes and phylacteries.  The kings of Israel ordained as priest whomever they chose. David, too, invested his own sons, as well as the Jairite Ira, of the tribe of Manasseh, with the priestly office .

It is evident that the sacred images and items were the essence of the sanctuary itself.  These it was that the migrating Danites coveted and carried off to their new home, together with the priest, who had consulted the oracle in behalf of their exploring party with auspicious results. The sacred elementof the sanctuary at Shiloh was the Ark of the Covenant, over which the sons of Eli and Samuel kept guard. They carried it when it was taken to the battle-field. When, later, the ark was returned from the field of the Philistines and brought to the house of Abinadab at Kirjath-jearim, Abinadab's son Eleazar was at once consecrated guardian over it. The bearing of the ark, with which, at Shiloh, the sons of Eli were entrusted, remained, as the frequent statements to this effect in later Biblical literature show, a specific priestly function throughout pre-exilic times. After the capture of its ark by the Philistines the sanctuary of Shiloh was destroyed. But its priesthood, however, appeared in the following period at the sanctuary of Nob, which also had an ephod .

After the massacre of the priesthood of Nob, Abiathar, who was the sole survivor, fied with the ephod to King David, whom he accompanied on all his military expeditions, bearing the ephod in order to consult the oracle for him whenever needed.. Similarly, in the campaign against the Philistines, Ahiah accompanied Saul and the Israclites, "bearing the ephod" and providing them with the decisions of the oracle. The priests' duty of guarding the sanctuary and its sacred contents accounts for the use, in early times, of "shomer hasaf,""doorkeeper", as synonymous with "kohen", and explains also how "shamar" and "sheret" became the technical terms of priestly service and were retained as such even after the nature of the service had materially changed.

When Esdras returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile about 450 B.C., he brought back the "Book of the Ritual" or the priest's codex, i.e., the middle portions between Genesis and Deuteronomy, compiled by himself and his school in Babylon. It was only in 444 B.C. that he made it public. Although this hypothesis does not contest the great antiquity of the Jewish religion, it maintains that the supreme authority of the priests of the Temple at Jerusalem as compared with the so-called hill-priests, occured in post-Exilic times.

The modern equivalent of the ancient Jewish priest is the rabbi.  There is no longer any temple or sacred objects to guard or preserve, so the rabbi's duty is the teach and interpret the law. The only "sacred" object in the synagogue is a copy of the Torah which is regarded with respect.

Christian Priesthood

Catholic In the New Testament bishops and priests are, according to Catholic teaching, the sole bearers of the priesthood. The bishop enjoying the fullness of the priesthood, while the presbyters are simple priests. The deacon, on the other hand, is a mere attendant of the priest with no priestly powers.
The Catholic Church maintains that the divine powers of the priesthood were the "keys" given to St. Peter by Christ (Matthew 16:19). The Pope claims a line of authority from St. Peter and through this authority he ordains other bishops and priests.

Protestant The protestants also claim the powers vested in St. Peter, but claim that while the authoritymay have been vested iin St Peter, they interpret other Bible passages as also confering this "priesthood" to all believers, especially to the bishops and elders. The Espicopalians and those derived from them, claim the priesthood through the bishops, while the Prespyterians and their ilk claim the priesthood through the priests (i.e.elders)  THe term elder is interpreted in the broadest sense, meaning the older, leaders of the congregation.

Mormon The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints maintains that the priesthood was confered on church founder Joseph Smith.He has a vision in which Peter, James and John ordained him. This ordination is known as the Melchizadek Priesthood.  Later the Prophet Joseph was ordained by John the Baptist. This ordination confered upon him the Aaronic priesthood. This lower priesthood has the same authority as the office of Deacon in the Catholic Church..