When D. A. Carson says, “there is, as far as I know, no previous book-length canonical study of priesthood” (p. ix; emphasis original), you realize the importance of this book. Andrew Malone brings his keen exegetical skills to the massive topic of priesthood in the Bible. In this review, I will survey his approach, commend his exegetical labors, then highlight one area of concern.
In his preface and introduction, Malone orients the reader to priesthood. Rightly, he considers how contemporary language and ecclesial traditions shape our understanding. He reinforces Carson’s observation that many studies on priesthood have considered parts of the Bible, but none have examined the whole canon (pp. xi, 8). Accordingly, God’s Mediators fills a significant lacuna with a volume that acts, in Malone’s words, like a “high-level web page” outlining priesthood in both testaments (p. 8).
Malone rejects the higher-critical method on priesthood, which has “dominated many echelons of biblical scholarship” (p. 2). Instead, he focuses on interpreting relevant passages within the canon and organizing them into two groups. From an inductive study of the canon, Malone envisions “two kinds of priests” in both testaments (p. 6). With “two passes across the tapestry of Scripture” (p. 7), he identifies an individual priesthood and a corporate priesthood. This twofold approach structures his book and provides major support for his conclusion that priesthood should be considered under four quadrants (p. 184):
This bifurcation is unique to Malone and helpfully organizes the biblical material.
In Part 1 (chs. 2–5), Malone traces the history of individual priesthood from Aaron to Christ. In chapter 2 Malone provides a close reading of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, answering the question, “What does a priest do?” He argues that the high priest brings the people near to God’s presence and God near to the people. In this foundational chapter, Malone also considers the relationship of the high priest to Moses and the Levites.
Chapter 3 digresses to consider the “antecedents to Aaron’s priesthood,” where Malone stresses Aaron, not Adam, as the foundational priest in the Old Testament. In fact, Malone is exegetically circumspect about the latter. In one instance, he finds arguments for Adam’s priesthood “persuasive” (p. 53), but in another he writes, “It is unclear how much we can describe the first humans as the first priests” (p. 66). This minimalist approach to priesthood characterizes his work. Thus, the reader finds very careful exegesis, but the overall effect is far different from The Temple and the Church’s Mission by G. K. Beale (New Studies in Biblical Theology 17 [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2004]), a volume Malone likens to his own (p. 18).
Chapter 4 outlines priesthood in the rest of the Old Testament, where Malone shows how Aaron’s priesthood falters (with the Golden Calf), succeeds (with Phinehas’s actions at Baal-Peor), and needs replacing (as promised in 1 Sam 2:35). Indeed, by following the history of Israel, Malone shows how priesthood follows a general trajectory of decline. Even so, Scripture also promises a greater priest to come. Highlighting many promises from the Prophets, Malone closes the chapter with a growing picture of what Israel could expect in this new priest.
Chapter 5 concerns the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Dismissing scholarly opinion that Christ is a priest in the Gospels (pp. 103–7), Malone maintains his chastened approach. He focuses his attention on Hebrews and shows how Christ fulfills and exceeds the ministry of Aaron. Yet Malone only considers Christ’s priesthood from this New Testament book. He reserves the rest of the priestly language in the New Testament for the corporate priesthood of the church.
In Part 2 Malone retraces his steps through the Bible. Chapter 6 considers the way Israel functioned as “kingdom of priests.” Chapter 7 explains how the language of Exodus 19:5–6 applies to the church. Critical to his argument is his missional approach to the people of God. Israel’s holy nation status mediates God’s presence to the world. Malone balances the exegetical discussion very well on this subject (pp. 126–37), before showing how the church functions as a nation of priests—both comprised of the nations and sent to the nations. Malone nicely shows how a biblical theology of priesthood fuels missions.
Overall, Malone’s treatment of priesthood is a fine example of biblical theology. He handles Scripture well and makes many important contributions to understanding priesthood, biblical theology, and the mission of the church. That said, I have one abiding concern. As displayed in Figure 8.2 (see above), Malone makes a strong point in dividing Jesus Christ from the corporate priesthood of the church. He writes, “We have seen that the New Testament teaches unambiguously about Jesus as a vocational priest and his followers as a corporate priesthood” (p. 183). Both of these priesthoods, he argues, develop from the Old Testament structures. But he continues, “it is the dependence of one upon the other that I query” (p. 183).
Malone opposes the argument that the priesthood of believers is derivative of Christ’s new covenant priesthood (p. 184). In contrast, he believes that the Aaronic priesthood leads to Christ, and that the corporate priesthood of Israel is fulfilled in the church (p. 182), without Christ originating the priesthood of believers. The reason for this divide is that Malone doesn’t find textual evidence in the New Testament linking Christ’s priesthood to the priesthood of all believers.
Time will tell how Malone’s model is received. He finds Scripture lacking exegetical proof for a union between Christ and a new covenant priesthood, but is that what others will find? The scope of this review cannot address all his points, but there are a number of reasons why his approach requires further consideration.
First, union with Christ, a doctrine arising from the new covenant itself, explains how everything true of Christ, covenantally speaking, is true of those “in Christ.” Grafted into the vine, Christians are branches who bear Christ’s fruit: we are co-heirs with Christ because he has received the kingdom (Rom 8:17; Gal 3:29; 4:7; Titus 3:7); we are living stones because he is the cornerstone (Eph 2:19–22; 1 Pet 2:5); we are members of Christ’s body (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12–13) because he is the head (Eph 4:15–16; Col 2:19). John goes so far as to indicate that we, analogically speaking, are one with Christ just as the Son is one with the Father (17:20–26). Accordingly, it makes most sense that Christians are called a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet 2:9) because in their union with Christ, he has granted them this priestly status. Malone demurs, and hence his work suggests more biblical exegesis may be needed on this point.
Second, digging deeper into the nature of the new covenant, Hebrews 7:11–28 explains how Christ’s priesthood is the “mechanism” that inaugurates his new covenant. As verse 12 indicates, the law changes when a new priest has been established. In this sense, the priesthood of Christ is the cause of a new covenant, and thus all the blessings found in the new covenant, including the privilege of priesthood, find their genesis in Christ’s priesthood. Rightly, Malone pays ample attention to the book of Hebrews, but more thought should be given to the way Christ’s priesthood relates to the covenantal structures of the Bible.
Third, if sonship is related to priesthood and kingship, as Michael Morales argues and Malone cites approvingly (p. 132), then priesthood under the old and new covenants can be seen as the re-establishment of Adam’s sonship, complete with royal and priestly status (cf. Heb 2:5–9). Malone rightly observes the way priestly language is shared between Adam and Aaron (pp. 52–57), but the theme of sonship could be developed further, especially with respect to Christ’s priesthood. Likewise, if Christians receive their status as sons and daughters in God’s family (Gal 3:16, 26–29), because Christ as the last Adam (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:45–49) is establishing a new humanity (cf. Matt 10:34–39; Mark 3:31–34), then this new humanity must share his royal priestly status. Stated more modestly, it seems unlikely that the Christian church could be a royal priesthood without some measure of spiritual or covenantal union with Jesus Christ.
To be fair, some of these observations are more theological than exegetical, nevertheless, as a biblical theology of Christ’s priesthood continues to be studied, something Malone desires his book to catalyze (pp. 8, 10), such theological concepts will help our exegetical pursuits. Relating various typological structures (e.g., covenant, son, prophet, priest, king) to priesthood will give us a fuller picture of how to relate Christ to his church.
My concern aside—and it is not insignificant—I happily commend God’s Mediators. It is a rich, canonical study of priesthood. It is worth reading for both academic and doxological reasons, because it will help any reader to better appreciate and to understand a biblical theology of priesthood.