Why No Female Priests?

24 Nov

from Google Images

Historical records, including the New Testament, show that priests held positions of political authority. For millennia women generally have been deprived of political power even though those who were able to break the mold and did control great power (such as queens) showed no less ability than that of their male counterparts. For this reason modern critics, in light of our modern feminist movement, have found fault with the Mosaic Law’s treatment of women with regard to the priesthood. Why, if other ANE cultures had priestesses, didn’t Israel do likewise?[1] Since the Mosaic Law operated within the patriarchal culture of the day, and other ANE nations in that culture employed women in the office of priest, why didn’t Israel do the same?

First of all, God is not compelled by reason of culture to do as men do. He will often work within the culture of mankind to accomplish his goals, but not always. Sometimes he goes against the trend in order to cause controversy, forcing mankind to look at what we are doing and compare that to what God says should or should not be done. In the case of priestesses in other ANE cultures God was highlighting what should not be done, because, not only couldn’t those traditions be bent to serve God’s purpose, they degraded women.

Secondly, the charge that God is against women as his representatives being equal to men is premature. Some scholars see the ideal in Genesis 2, in that Eden was a type of the Temple, pointing to both Adam and Eve in the office of priest. Both served and worshiped God and were personally taught by him (Genesis 2:15; 3:8). Even later, when God called Israel out of Egypt, he seems to have originally intended that the entire nation (both men and women) would be a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:6). However, this effort didn’t transpire, perhaps because the nation as a whole declined and feared to come into the presence of God. Rather they sent Moses in their stead. Priests are mediators between God and the people. Priests have no mediators, yet Israel sent Moses as its mediator between them and God (Exodus 20:19-21), thus refusing the office of priesthood for the nation as a whole.

In the ANE culture of that day every hideous thing imaginable was done in the name of worship, including incest and bestiality. In Exodus 32:23-25 Israel mimicked what she saw done in Egypt. While worshiping the gods they forged in the fire, they made themselves naked. Sexual orgy had its place in worship in the ANE culture of that day. The surrounding ANE national religions were fertility cults, so sexual intercourse, performed in the name of worship, was not only acceptable but expected. Priestesses served as the wives of the gods, and sexual intercourse with a priestess would have been considered approaching the presence of or becoming united with one’s god or goddess. Far from such being viewed as adultery, there simply wasn’t even a hint of impropriety in such evil practices.

We need to keep in mind that God, through Moses, had to make adjustments to the Law due to the hardness of men’s hearts (Matthew 19:8). He did so specifically concerning divorce and seems to have done so regarding the priesthood and who could approach him in the Temple and how. Israel, coming out of Egypt, was no more righteous than the Egyptians whom God had judged for their wicked behavior. The only difference between the unrighteous Egyptians and the unrighteous Israelites was that Israel chose to trust God (Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7). While they immediately went contrary to their decision, they did make a covenant with him to trust and obey their Lord. To put one’s trust in God is the beginning of righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Once the covenant was made, God could commence cleaning up the behavior his people, making them more morally sound than the nations surrounding them. Therefore, there was no place for the priestess in ancient Israel as a mediator between the people and God. It would have been too easily corrupted into the behavior the other ANE nations were exhibiting in that day, and Exodus 32:23-25 shows Israel’s suitability to such behavior. If all of Israel couldn’t be a kingdom of priests, whereby all men and all women served God equally in his presence, then a priestess as a representative between God and the people was out of the question. It is one thing for everyone to be a priest—no one needing a mediator—and quite another for almost everyone needing a mediator. The temptation to be like the other ANE cultures was too great. The priesthood of God would have been corrupted too quickly.

In the New Testament there is neither male nor female etc. (Galatians 3:28), and all are considered equal representatives, and together we are a kingdom of priests.


[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about “making sense of the Old Testament God” is based upon the book: Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan. These are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Paul wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read concerning defending our faith.

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Posted by on November 24, 2015 in apologetics


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