Who was the High Priest
in the New Testament?
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The High Priest is considered the chief of all priests. Aaron, the brother of Moses, was appointed as the first one by God. Chief priests were those who were the heads of the twenty-four courses that rotated serving in Jerusalem's temple. The division into courses occurred during the reign of King David. The office of any priest, filled by those of the tribe of Levi, represented the people before God.
For many years after the time of Moses the office of high priest was held based on heredity. It was considered a lifelong position. The Great Sanhedrin alone had the right to appoint, or confirm their appointment. In later times, however, civil authorities appropriated the right of appointment and filled the position based on their own religious and political considerations. For example, King Herod the Great (reigned 37 to 4 B.C.) appointed at least six High Priests. The New Testament may be hinting at the frequent turnover of these men when it states: "Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest THAT YEAR . . ." (John 11:51, NKJV)
There were other qualifications for becoming High Priest other than heredity. The age of eligibility for the office is not fixed in the Bible, however, according to rabbinical tradition it was twenty years old (2Chronicles 31:17). Aristobulus III however, appointed by Herod the Great, was only 17 years old when he took the office. The man considered for the office also must be married and married only to an Israelite maiden (Leviticus 21:13-14). He was expected to be superior to all others in physique, in wisdom, in dignity, and in material wealth. In fact, if he was poor it was considered the duty of his brother priests to contribute enough money to make him rich!
The person serving as High Priest was considered the presiding officer of the Sanhedrin (supreme council of the Jews who met in Jerusalem). He was also the only one allowed to enter the Holy of Holies inside Jerusalem's temple, and that once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur - Leviticus 16). He was not permitted to come in contact with the bodies of the dead, not even of his own parents. He was not permitted, as a sign of mourning, to leave his hair disheveled, to expose it, or to rend his garments (see Leviticus 21, etc.).
Priests in general were responsible for the temple and its sacrifices, and thus were some of the religious and social leaders of the Jewish people. They also took care of the ritual concerns of the temple. Others of the tribe of Levi also took part in the operation and maintenance of the temple. Those who did or would soon serve in the temple lived near it.
"on the Levites devolved the Temple-police, the guard of the gates, and the duty of keeping everything about the sanctuary clean . . . at night the priests kept watch . . . half of each of the twenty-four 'courses' . . . were permanently resident in Jerusalem" (Temple at the Time of Jesus, Chapter 4)
The Gospels tell us that the High Priest, along with other priests, were instrumental in not only having Jesus arrested but also killed:
Jesus knew in advance that he would suffer and die, in part, because of them (Matthew 16:21, Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22).
The chief priests were among other leaders who challenged Jesus' authority just days before the crucifixion (Matthew 21:23, Luke 20:1-2).
The Chief priests and others met at the High Priest's house just a few days before the Passover to plot the murder of Jesus (Matthew 26:3-5). It would be these same men who would soon hear Jesus' testimony after his arrest and condemned him to die (Matthew 26:57, 59, 66).
It was the chief priests and elders who bribed Judas with 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus. (Matthew 26:14-16)
After his arrest, Jesus was taken to the High Priest's house where an assembly was gathered in order to judge him. The conclusion of the mock trial was that Jesus was (falsely) accused of blasphemy and given a death sentence by all those gathered (Mark 14:61-64, Matthew 26:62-66).
Even though most priests were against Jesus and what he taught, a great number of them were converted and became Christians after his resurrection (Acts 6:7).
List of First Six High Priests(in Chronological Order)
and those from Herod to the
Destruction of Jerusalem's Temple
|1. Aaron - 2. Elezar - 3. Phinehas - 4. Abishua - 5. Bukki - 6. Uzzi |
|Herod the Great||King of Judea |
37 to c. 4 B.C.
|Ananel (Hananeel)||37 to 36 B.C. |
| || Aristobulus III||36 B.C. |
|36 to 30 B.C. |
| || Jesus, son of Phabes||30 to 23 B.C. |
| || Simon, son of Boethos||23 to 5 B.C. |
| || Matthias, son of Theophilos||5 to 4 B.C. |
| || Joazar, son of Boethos||4 B.C. |
| Archelaus||Ethnarch of Judea, |
4 B.C. to 6 A.D.
| Eleazar, son of Boethos||4 to 3 B.C. |
| || Jesus, son of Sie||3 B.C. |
|Joazar, son of Boethos|
|? to 6 A.D.|
| Quirinius||Roman Legate of |
Syria and Judea
6 to 12 A.D.
| Ananus (Annas), son of Seth||6 to 15 A.D. |
| Valerius Gratus||Roman Prefect of Judea |
15 to 26 A.D.
| Ishmael, son of Phabi||15 to 16 A.D. |
| || Eleazar, son of Ananus||16 to 17 A.D. |
| || Simon, son of Camithos||17 to 18 A.D. |
| || Joseph (Caiaphas)|
son-in-law of Ananus
|18 to 36 A.D.|
| Vitellius|| || Jonathan, son of Ananus||36 to 37 A.D. |
| || Theophilos, son of Ananus||37 to 41 A.D. |
|Agrippa I||Roman Tetrarch of|
Galilee and Perea
39 to 44 A.D.
son of Boethos
|41 to 43 A.D. |
| || ||Matthias, son of Ananos||43 A.D. |
| || ||Elionaios, son of Cantheras||43 to 44 A.D. |
| Herod of Chalcis||Tetrarch of kingdom |
north of Judea
Dies in 48 A.D.
|Jonathan, son of Ananus|
|44 A.D. |
|Joseph, son of Cainus||44 to 46 A.D. |
| || Ananias, son of Nedebaios||46 to 52 A.D. |
|Jonathan||52 to 56 A.D. |
| Agrippa II||King of Chalcis |
48 to 53 A.D.
| Ishmael, son of Phabi|
|56 to 62 A.D. |
| || Joseph Cabi, son of Simon||62 to 63 A.D. |
| || Ananus, son of Ananus||63 A.D. |
| || Jesus, son of Damnaios||63 A.D. |
| || Jesus, son of Gamaliel||63 to 64 A.D. |
| || Matthias, son of Theophilos||65 to 66 A.D. |
| The people during|
the last war
| || Phannias, son of Samuel||67 to 70 A.D.|