In 1 Samuel 13, Saul is king and yet performs priestly duties even though he shouldn't have. Samuel rebukes Saul and tells him that his kingdom is slowly coming to an end because of his disobedience.

My question is: where in the Bible is it established that a person could not hold both the positions of king and priest?

Some other information that may or may not be interesting:

1) Melchizedek appears to Abram in Genesis 14 as BOTH priest and king. 2) Of course, Jesus fulfills both roles as the true Priest and true King. 3) The role of king of Israel wasn't established until the time of Saul and David, so during the writing of the Mosaic Law, kingship should not have been a thing. Were kings mentioned in the law? (if so, why?)

  • 1
    Welcome to the site. Good question. This site can be difficult for new users because there are strict policies concerning the topic. Please see: Types of questions the community generally finds acceptable to help you in the future. Your question here would fall under type 6.
    – user3961
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 6:39
  • Good question. Jonathan Maccabeus and his his brother Simon were also both 'kings' and priests and this provoked a lot of antagonism both among the Hellenists and Haradim. Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 8:06

4 Answers 4


The strongest restriction is that the priests of the Israelite nation could only be from the tribe of Levi, and specifically on descendants of Aaron. Some verses showing this include Numbers 3:10, 3:38 and 16:40:

... This was to remind the Israelites that no one except a descendant of Aaron should come to burn incense before the Lord ...

The kingship was not so strongly restricted, but Genesis 49:10 does clearly prophesy that it belongs to Judah:

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet ...

So looking at the various people you asked about:

Melchizedek: was not an Israelite, so neither of these restrictions apply to him. He was a faithful foreign king.

Jesus: was an Israelite and is King because he is descended from David. He isn't a descendant of Aaron and his priesthood isn't from them. Instead he is a priest because he became a man and died on the cross for humanity.

Saul: was not a Judahite or a Levite. He definitely had no right to act like a priest, but the Genesis 49 prophesy was not so strict, so God wasn't being contradictory when he appointed Saul as king.

Kings were mentioned in the Law, most explicitly in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. That passage describes how the kings were to act, and it explains even the best kings like David and Solomon got into trouble. It doesn't say however which tribes the kings could come from.

  • Thank you for your answer. This helped. I do have a follow-up question. What is the difference between being a descendant of Aaron and being a Levite? For example, Samuel was a priest and a Levite but not a descendant of Aaron. Was he allowed to be a priest? Also, why is Jesus supposed to be drawn from the order of Melchizedek and not from the order of Aaron (or from the order of Judah as his kingship reveals)?
    – noblerare
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 17:32
  • The other Levites had different jobs. They were to take care of the Tabernacle and other things, but not to offer any sacrifices. Why Samuel acted as a priest is an odd thing. Perhaps that was another instance of Eli being bad, or perhaps he was adopted by Eli which allowed him to? And Jesus is from the order of Melchizedek to show that his priesthood is distinct and superior to Aaron's.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 20:51

A king could also be a priest, just not a member of the Aaronic priesthood.

As Mawia has already stated, in pre-monarchic Israel and throughout the Levant, both father (as head of the household) and firstborn sons typically served as priests (e.g., Numbers 3:13). In addition, the king typically served as a priest for the entire nation (as with Melchizedek in Genesis 14).

Since according to the Mosaic Law, only the direct male line of Aaron could serve as Aaronic priests in the Tabernacle and Temple (Exodus 28:1, Numbers 3) undertaking sacrifices to God, and as the kings of Israel and Judah all came from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, etc, they were disqualified from birth.

However, the royal Psalm 110 written by David indicates that God had promised that the Davidic king could also be a priest (v.4). There are several different ways to translate the ambiguous Hebrew verse:

  1. that the Davidic king is a priest forever "in the order of Melchizedek", i.e., in the same mannner that Melchizedek was a king-priest;
  2. that the psalm is actually being addressed to Melchizedek, the original king-priest, saying that Melchizedek will forever remain a priest;
  3. that the Davidic king is "a priest forever, a rightful king by My decree".

Now, if we go with the first or third interpretation, then the functions of the Davidic king, as a (Melchizedekite?) priest, are mostly unknown. We only know that the king was not allowed to personally make sacrifices to God (1 Samuel 13). David's behavior in 2 Samuel 6:14-15, wearing a linen ephod (priestly attire) and dancing in ecstasy before the Ark, may be another example of the king's priestly role in action.

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    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 20:07

Before Moses came, the head of the family was the priest and the firstborn son of each household inherited the priest's office. After the exodus from Egypt, Moses and his tribe, the tribe of Levi were ordained to become priests. After the Law was given, only the Levites were allowed to become priests. (More information on Priests and Levites)

Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” (Exodus 32:28, NIV)

Though the Levites were set apart for the Lord, it is not clear whether they can become kings or not. Melchizedek was a king and a priest, Moses was a priest and a ruler, Samuel was a priest and a ruler. Hence, if a Levite was annointed by Samuel to be the king of Israel, it would have been possible. However, Samuel did not choose from the Levites, probably because the Levites were already set apart for the temple services.

The problem with Saul was that he was a king and not a priest. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, not a Levite. If Saul were a Levite and a priest, it would have been legal for him to perform the sacrifice but he was not. Saul was a king, not a priest, and it was unlawful for him to offer sacrifices to the Lord. Because Saul disobeyed the Law, God was angry with him.


For me, I believe it was easier to be a king in the old testament than it was to be a priest! This was because priesthood was restricted to the tribe of Levi but kingship had no restriction thou a prophecy about Jesus "the sceptre shall not depart from Judah" was there, it wasn't meant for the time. There were chances for Levites to be king in Israel but they preferred and held unto their priesthood as a divine call and office like: 2Kings 11 where Jehoiada the priest could have taken over as king but handed it over to a seven year old Jehoash as the rightful heir.

Jesus being a Priest and King in the order of Melchizedek speaks more of the similarities in their positions as Melchizedek was superior to Aaron in time, quality and office according to Hebrews 7. Melchizedek was a priest of the most migh God, a king of righteousness and peace, without genealogical history.

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    Starting an answer with "for me" makes it clear that this is your opinion. I don't know that an answer like this has to be your opinion. However, as a Catholic, I don't think I have the faculty to answer questions giving anything other than my opinion. That being said, do you think this is purely your private musings or can you cite why you came to believe it?
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 17:11

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