A “priesthood of all believers” can be messy – 2


Ezra took a great risk to bring Levites and riches to the Temple from Persia. Mixed marriages were suddenly of more concern, which poses a difficult question. Things seem to be heading backwards—away from the New Testament rather than towards it.

In the accounts of the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple, the priests’ genealogies were central. Peter Leithart writes:

“When the people as a whole begin to show a concern for genealogy, it’s a sign of their enhanced priestly status. Priests were apparently permitted to marry converted Gentiles, but the high priest had to marry a “virgin from his own people” (Lev 21:14). It’s no doubt too strong to say that the people as a whole have to conform to the marital requirements of the high priest, but there may be some move in that direction.

Two comments on all this. First, at the heart of Pharisaism is precisely this upgrade of holiness to all Israel. Every Israelite is to be holy as the priests are holy, since the land and city are like the forecourt of the temple. Pharisaism is a perversion of the restoration arrangements, but it is clearly working within the framework of Ezra-Nehemiah.

Second, if it is true that a conception of genealogical holiness takes shape in the post-exilic period, why is that? How is that part of the maturation of Israel that we see throughout the Old Testament? It would seem that as Israel approaches the New Testament, we’d see a clearer sign of the extension of Israel to encompass the Gentiles, rather than a tightening of regulations and a closing of gaps in the boundaries between Israel and the Gentiles.”1

Ezra’s “closing of gaps in the boundaries” between Israel and the Gentiles, a “priesthood of all Jews,” prefigured the New Testament’s Jew/Gentile “priesthood of all believers.” Nehemiah constructed a virgin city of living stones, a kingdom of priests. Jerusalem was no longer a loose woman. She was a bride-city again, purified by death and resurrection.

1  Peter J. Leithart, Ezra-Nehemiah: Purity and Holiness, www.leithart.com

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