The Differences Between The Old Testament Levitical Priesthood And The Fivefold Ministry Of The New Testament

The Levitical priests were the ordained ministers of God under the Mosaic covenant of the Law in the Old Testament, while members of the fivefold ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) are the ordained ministers of God under the covenant of Grace in Christ in the New Testament. Though both categories of ministers have in common the fact that they were/are both ordained servants of God (ministers of the sanctuary), great differences exist in their ministries in terms of their calling, their relationship with the people they minister(ed) unto, and the terms and conditions of their service. We shall briefly highlight here some of the key differences between the Levitical priests and the fivefold ministers.

1. The Levitical priesthood was hereditary, with only Israelites from the tribe of Levi and from the lineage of Aaron qualified to be ordained as priests, while the fivefold ministry is not hereditary, and any believer can be called by God into the New Testament preaching ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, whether or not their parents were ministers themselves (Exodus 40:12-15; Leviticus 18:1-2; Joshua 18:7; Ephesians 4:8-11; 1Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

2. The Levitical priesthood was based on the old Mosaic covenant of the Law, while the fivefold ministry is founded upon the new covenant of Grace in Christ Jesus (Hebrews 7:11-28).

3. The Levitical priesthood offered animal sacrifices for the temporary covering of sins, while the fivefold ministry presents the blood of Jesus Christ for the actual remission of sins (Hebrews 9:1-28).

4. The Levitical priests were mediators between God and the people, while the fivefold ministers do not mediate between God and the people (Christ is the mediator between God and every man in the New Testament), but only guide people to a better understanding of God so that they can have a one-on-one relationship with God through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 5:1-4; 1 Timothy 2:5-7; Ephesians 4: 8-16).

5. Only the Levitical priests could enter into the tabernacle/temple for service in the Old Testament, while under the fivefold ministry in the New Testament, all believers can enter into the presence of God for service (Hebrews 9:1-10; Hebrews 4:14-16; Romans 5:1-2).

6. In the Levitical priesthood, the high priest was human, and only he could enter into the holy of holies, once a year, with the blood of animals, for atonement for his own sins and those of the people, while in the fivefold ministry, Jesus is the high priest, and he has entered into the true holy of holies (heaven), once and for all, to appear in the presence of God for us all, through his own blood (Hebrews 5:1-10; Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 9:1-28).

7. The Levitical priests had sacred uniforms/ holy garments for service in the temple, while the fivefold ministers do not have such sacred uniforms, the righteousness of the saints being our holy garment now (Exodus 28:1-43; Revelation 19:7-8).

8. Under the Law, the Levitical priests were mandated to receive tithes, first-fruits offerings and other sacrifices from other Israelites, for their sustenance in ministry, but the fivefold ministry have no such mandate; ministers in the fivefold ministry instead depend on the free-will offerings and voluntary contributions of the saints for their support and sustenance in ministry (Numbers 18:1-32; Exodus 23:19; Hebrews 7:5; 1 Corinthians 9:1-15; Philippians 4:10-19; 2 Corinthians 8:1-24).

9. The Levitical priests (especially the high priest) were mandated to marry only virgins, while no such mandate exists for the fivefold ministers, spiritual purity (being a believer in Christ) being now considered more important than physical purity (Leviticus 21:1-16; 1 Corinthians 9:1-5; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 7:39).

10. Levitical priests were forbidden from touching dead bodies, which rendered them unclean, while fivefold ministers can touch dead bodies, and they do not become defiled thereby. In the New Testament, believers are not defiled by things from outside, but by what comes out of the heart (Leviticus 21:1-16; Matthew 15:1-20).

11. People with physical deformities could not become Levitical priests, but someone with a physical defect can become a member of the fivefold ministry. What matters in the qualifications of ministers in the New Testament is moral soundness, not physical soundness (Leviticus 21:17-24; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

12. The Levitical priests were prohibited from doing any other work outside of serving God in the temple and teaching the Israelites the law and the precepts of God; members of the fivefold ministry in the New Testament can undertake other jobs outside their ministerial work, especially if the local church is not able to sustain them as full-time ministers (Leviticus 18:23-24; Acts 20:33-35; Acts 18:1-3).

13. Levitical priests ministered in a physical temple, while fivefold ministers are spiritual temples themselves who also minister to other spiritual temples—Christians (Hebrews 9:1-10; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 2:19-22) .

14. It was mandatory for Levitical priests to marry (for perpetuation of the hereditary priesthood), but it’s not mandatory for members of the fivefold ministry to do so, as some who have the grace to be celibate may choose not to marry as ministers in the New Testament. (Note however that celibacy is not mandatory for members of the fivefold ministry, as required by the Roman Catholic Church). (Leviticus 21:1-15; 1 Corinthians 7:1-7; 1 Timothy 4:1-3).

15. The Levitical priesthood operated from the time of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, to the death of Christ at Calvary, and has now been abolished, as have the law and the covenant regulating it, while the fivefold ministry began after the resurrection of Christ, and will continue until the second coming of Christ to take over the government of this world (Hebrews 8:1-12; Hebrews 7:1-28; Ephesians 4:8-16).

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Published by Dr Ndubuisi Emmanuel Ojo

Biblical Christianity is a Christian ministry which believes firmly in the original apostolic faith as the only authentic version of Christianity, and the only legitimate basis for Christian conduct, order and doctrine.

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