Updated: May 29, 2021
By Luke Lancaster
Many will argue that there is no such thing as "priests" in the New Covenant. They will quote Paul's letter to the Ephesian Christians, where he says, "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers" (Eph. 4:11). They will be quick to point out, "See! If Paul believed in priests, then he would have listed it as one of the gifts of the Spirit!" However, this is faulty logic for five reasons.
First, the Church is still like a new married couple that is still getting used to living with each other. Creeds have not been developed, heresies have not been dealt with, and theologians have not written systematic theology books. Ephesians was written only 25 years after Jesus's death! Paul possibly did not realize that he could call himself a priest. He did priestly actions, but might not have called himself "Paul the priest."
The New Testament Church was still figuring out whether Gentiles could be let into the Church. Even though Jesus hinted at Gentiles entering the Church, they still did not recognize it for a long time. Same with the priesthood. This development is similar to the doctrines of original sin or the eternity of Hell, neither of which were included in the Nicene Creed in 325 AD. The language of "original sin" or "eternity of Hell" was not explicated and defined. It took time for thorough definitions to be added to the realities understood. An explication of doctrine comes over time.
Second, the Jewish Temple is still around. The notion of priesthood is tied in the the Levites. Now, Paul and the apostles may have known that they were like priests, for they offered the sacrifice of the Lord's Body and Blood, but they possibly did not want to be associated with the Old Covenant Levitical priesthood.
Third, the early Christians do start reflecting on priesthood. As early as 95 AD, the first letter of Clement speaks of the presbyters being like Moses and Aaron. Aaron was a priest.
Fourth, 26 books of the New Testament do not call Jesus a "priest." Yet, He is hinted at being a priest throughout the New Testament. Only until the book of Hebrews does the New Testament recognize it can call Jesus a "priest." The same is true of calling the apostles "priests."
Fifth and finally, Paul does mention "pastors," which is a name we still use for priests who lead parishes today. Paul calls the preaching by pastors a "priestly duty" in Romans 15:16.