I attended a class on the Sacraments last night and the presenter was talking about how Bishops, priests and deacons were specifically mentioned in the NT. It made me wonder, how did Christians get their start putting constant and unchanging liturgical elements into their worship? Most of all, how did early Christian presbyters learn to sacrifice.

I'm not asking so much how did newly minted Christians go from believers to those called to act "In persona Christi" as that's the work of the Holy Spirit and a direct reaction to Jesus' commands, but how did ordinary folks adopt the standards and practices for worship that were common only to the Levitical Priesthood?

Did they do it in imitation or were there actual Jewish Priests who converted and instructed the first Christian priests?

  • 7
    This question is confusingly worded. Are you asking for the purpose behind it? How it's done? When it started? Perhaps a little clean up will help encourage a quality answer.
    – Caleb
    Jan 7, 2012 at 21:21

2 Answers 2


Remember that for the first century of Christianity, it was really difficult to distinguish Christianity from Judaism. See Acts 15, for example, where the Jews are being to accommodate Christian Gentiles. As such, Jewish practices in the first century would have largely set the tone for Christian worship.

Likewise, the book of Hebrews presents Christ as the sacrifice and the High Priest, and represents the earliest Christian understanding of sacrifice.

By the time of the Didache (one of the earliest Church Fathers - a "manual" that early Christians used to "do" church), we already see that early Christians were equating communion with sacrifice, as evidenced by this reference from Book Five:

Now according to the Lord's day, gather together and break bread and give thanks, after acknowledging your wanderings to one another, so your sacrifice would be a clean one.

It wasn't until the late 300s AD that Gentiles outnumbered Jews, so "imitation" isn't really the right word. "Just doing what they've always done" might better describe it, but in reality, it is just an extension of existing practice.

The extension of this perogative to non-Jews would have been substantiated by Acts 10 (the Cornelius vision, declaring formerly unclean things clean), Acts 15 (the Apostles' letter saying that Gentiles were not subject to the restrictions of the law), and Galatians 3:26 (In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek...)

What made this accessible to the average person was the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, promulgated during the time of the Reformations.

  • The only thing I'm trying to get my head around as far as imitation is concerned is that Jews were more or less born into the priesthood. It's not like nowadays where you feel some sort of calling and you become a priest. To me, it seems more like how a person becomes an undertaker nowadays. It's unlikely that you could go to a lot of funerals and figure out how to embalm someone, so how could early Christian presidents (as Justin Martyr call them) know how to preside?
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 12, 2012 at 21:02
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    Ah... Now I see. So, it is my understanding (and needs to be verified) that during the Exile, bloodlines became so lost that the Levitical priesthood was abandoned. A Pharisee could come from any tribe, bc no one really knew who was Aaronitic by that time period. Please have someone check that though. Jan 12, 2012 at 23:26
  • Right, that's very true, especially after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. I guess we haven't all been smote for our insolence yet so we must be doing something right.
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 13, 2012 at 14:20

To your question: "How did early Christian presbyters learn to sacrifice?" I answer: from God -- twice. The first was in the Old Testament when Moses wrote down the instructions he received from God how the worship of God was to be performed. In the New Testament Christ Himself directs the Apostles how to worship/sacrifice: "Do this in memory of Me" and the infusion of the Holy Spirit cleared up any doubt or weakness there might have been in the minds of the Apostles on these specific points.

"Did they do it in imitation or were there actual Jewish Priests who converted and instructed the first Christian priests?" I alluded to this already, but it was Christ who taught the Apostles to "Do this in memory of Me" who in turn passed on the power and knowledge to worship.

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