Did the Apostles Ordain Priests?

Full Question

How do we know that the apostles ordained priests in the first century?


The English word priest comes from the Greek word presbyters, which is usually directly translated as “presbyter” or “elder.” Even today, the priests of a diocese are referred to on the whole as “the presbyterate.”

The sacrament of holy orders is passed on through the laying on of hands (see Acts 6:6).

Paul writing to Timothy referred to Timothy’s ordination: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate” (1 Tim. 4:14).

Paul referring to presbyters (see 1 Timothy 5:17-22) cautions Timothy, “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone” (v. 22).

Early Christians believed that the ordination of deacon, priest, and bishop were of divine and apostolic origin:

Take care, therefore, to be confirmed in the decrees of the Lord and of the apostles, in order that in everything you do, you may prosper in body and in soul, in faith and in love, in Son and in Father and in Spirit, in beginning and in end, together with your most reverend bishop; and with that fittingly woven spiritual crown, the presbytery; and with the deacons, men of God (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Magnesians 13:1–2).

By Fr. Charles Grondin



  1. Peter Aiello Reply

    In the New Testament, there is no ordination for becoming a priest. There is only the priesthood of all of the faithful. There is no two-tiered priesthood. A presbyter is an administrative position and should not be confused with the Biblical usage of the word priest. A presbyter should also be a priest like every other Christian, but not all priests are ordained presbyters.



  3. Patrick Gannon Reply

    1 Timothy is a terrible source. Most modern scholars consider the letter pseudepigraphical, (a polite word for forged), perhaps written as late as the first half of the second century AD, long after Paul, who wrote in the 50s, was dead.
    The Tim epistles were written as the Church was developing, and beginning to put structure into place. What Tim proposed here was at odds with how Paul ran his churches. Everyone who wanted to participate could play a role in giving prophecies, speaking in tongues, whatever – no structure to speak of. No “laying on” of hands. Acts is also clearly a fictional account that cannot be taken seriously. It disagrees a couple times with Paul’s own direct words! It also has absolutely no knowledge of an empty tomb which is highly bizarre if that story was true. An apostle is going to stand in the middle of the street and preach about a convicted felon who escaped his death sentence, and Pilate is going to just let that go? I don’t think so.
    In another example, Paul gave women a prominent role in the church, but the Tim epistles tell women to keep their mouths shut. Oh, there’s a passage in 1 Corinthians that is in agreement with Tim, but it was a forged late addition, as can easily be seen when you look closely. It’s stuck right in the middle of a discussion about something else, and if you pull it out, that text flows smoothly, otherwise you’re going along and then all of a sudden there’s a passage saying women should shut their traps and then it picks up again where it was – obviously this was added later to support the Catholic Church’s insistence that women are second class citizens. In just a paragraph or two prior to that Paul has specifically mentioned the important role he has given women in the church. Either someone later added the passage 1 Cor 14:34, or Paul is schizophrenic.

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