I have started to read Albert Vanhoye’s book Old Testament Priests and the New Priest: According to the New Testament and I was struck by this finding at the end of the first chapter:
“The narrative writings of the New Testament never show the Jewish high priests in the exercise of their cultic functions. What is given emphasis is their authority rather than their priesthood; they are ‘important personages’ i.e. ‘high’ more than they are ‘priests.’ It was not possible, however, to separate the two aspects entirely, for the high priests were recognized as being the religious leaders of the people of God. It followed from this that the Christians were in an extremely embarrassing situation. The Gospel narratives, which say little about Jewish priests and much about the high priests, result inevitably in giving the priesthood an unfavorable image. And yet it could not be denied that the priesthood constituted one of the fundamental institutions of the Old Testament. How could the Christian Church claim to be faithful to the totality of biblical revelation and to possess in Christ its definitive fulfillment, if it found itself in a negative relationship with regard to this fundamental institution of the people of God?”
Vanhoye closes his first chapter without answering his question. I haven’t read further, so I don’t know if he does later in the book, but I wanted to point out the importance of his assertion in this paragraph and what its implications are. He shows that the Jewish high priests are not shown exercising their cultic functions. Rather, they are portrayed more as political figures. I think the reason for this is, and hopefully Vanhoye will make this connection later in the book, the Evangelists are implicitly stating what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews makes explicit; namely that the Old Testament Priesthood has been fulfilled in Christ. When Christ appears, the high priests are no longer portrayed as cultic leaders because THE High Priest has arrived. The cult of the Old Testament people of God, the Qahal, is fulfilled and carried on in the person of Christ. The Levitical priesthood was a concessionary priesthood instituted after the sin of the golden calf. Prior to the golden calf, the priesthood was passed on from father to firstborn son. Now that God’s Firstborn Son has arrived, the priesthood can return back to its original dimension of being about spiritual fatherhood. The spiritual fatherhood aspect of the priesthood is important for understanding the Church’s teaching on why only men can be priests.
For more on Christ’s priesthood, see the paper I wrote for my Biblical Foundations class in Grad school. I’m going to have to revisit this paper and include Vanhoye’s insight here.