Papacy in Scripture II: Old Sanhedrin, New Sanhedrin

Moses ordains AaronIn this second post on the roots of the papacy in Scripture, I simply want to examine Exodus 24:1-4. I should say at the outset that Dr. Brant Pitre first pointed out to me the connections I will discuss in this post. I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Dr. Pitre present this material (which was part of a much larger and more impressive work) at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Boston this past November 2008, in his paper, “Jesus and the Messianic Priesthood,” and earlier at the 2nd annual Letter & Spirit Conference in the Fall of 2006, in his presentation, “Jesus and the New Priesthood.”

Turning to Exodus 24, the first thing I want to mention is the parallel between Moses and Jesus, which is especially emphasized in Matthew’s Gospel. If we turn to the OT narratives about the exodus and wilderness traditions, we find that Aaron plays an intermediary role between Moses and the people of Israel. Indeed, in many ways, Aaron is to Moses what Joseph was to Pharaoh. What’s more, Aaron becomes the first high priest of Israel. In the Gospels, we find that among all of Jesus’ disciples, Peter is singled out more than the rest throughout all four Gospels. I will highlight Peter’s high priestly role (and his role as Jesus’ royal steward) in later posts, but for now, I just want to emphasize that in some ways Peter is to Jesus what Aaron is to Moses.

Three more parallels may be drawn specifically from Exodus 24 regarding Jesus’ disciples in the Gospels. In Exodus 24:1 we find that three of Moses’ followers are singled out: (1) Aaron; (2) Nadab; and (3) Abihu. This corresponds to the three disciples who are often singled out in the Gospels, e.g. at the Transfiguration: (1) Peter; (2) James; and (3) John.

Moreover, in Exodus 24:4 we find Moses erecting 12 stone pillars which represented the 12 tribes of Israel—could the young men offering sacrifice be 12 in number representing their tribes?—which corresponds as well to Jesus’ 12 apostles. The number of the apostles (12) is clearly symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel, representing the fact that Jesus’ Church is the new Israel, a unified Israel which would open up to include Gentiles as well.

This becomes more interesting when we read Exodus 24:1 concerning the 70 elders. Jesus too had 70/72 disciples beyond the immediate community of the 12 apostles. What’s more, the Sanhedrin of Jesus’ day had 70 members, in addition to the high priest. The rabbis saw Exodus 24 (with its 70 elders led by Moses) as the origin of the Sanhedrin. It would be easy to imagine Jesus’ Jewish audience recognizing Jesus instituting a new sanhedrin, based on the old sanhedrin of Exodus 24. What’s more, Peter, as we shall see in later posts, will participate in Jesus’ high priesthood in a special way as Jesus’ high priestly representative on earth. In Exodus we see how the people of Israel were called to be a kingdom of priests, and the priestly element is clearly highlighted, as the broader context of Exodus 24 (with the covenantal ritual and sacrifices) makes clear. In the next post, we will see how the royal element becomes emphasized. Both priestly and royal images come together in the Davidic kingdom, and especially in the NT Church which is the new people of Israel.


Popular Texts:

Pitre, Brant. Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (working title). New York: Doubleday, forthcoming.

Scholarly Texts:

Pitre, Brant. Jesus and the Last Supper: Judaism and the Origin of the Eucharist (working title). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, forthcoming.

Jeffrey L. Morrow

About Jeffrey L. Morrow

Jeff Morrow is Associate Professor of Theology at Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He also serves as a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Jeff earned his Ph.D. (2007) in Theology at the University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio, in the program on the U.S. Catholic Experience, where he focused on historical theology and the history of biblical exegesis. He earned his M.A. (2003) in Theological Studies, with a focus on Biblical Studies, also at the University of Dayton. He earned his B.A. (2001) at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where he double majored in Comparative Religion and Classical Greek, and minored in Jewish Studies. Jeff originally comes from a Jewish background; he attended Hebrew school and had a bar mitzvah. In 1997 he became an evangelical Protestant and was heavily involved with para-church ministry as an undergraduate student. He entered the Catholic Church, Easter Vigil 1999. Jeff is a popular speaker who speaks regularly at parishes and schools, as well as at larger events. He has made popular presentations at the Applied Biblical Studies and the Defending the Faith Conferences at Franciscan University of Steubenville, as well as with the Coming Home Network International. He has also published in popular periodicals including This Rock, The Catholic Answer and New Oxford Review. Jeff's scholarly work is primarily in the history of biblical interpretation, but he has also presented academic papers, and published scholarly articles, on a variety of topics related to theology, religion and the Bible. He has published scholarly works in academic journals including International Journal of Systematic Theology, New Blackfriars, Pro Ecclesia, and Toronto Journal of Theology. He has also made scholarly presentations before a number of learned societies, including the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Catholic Historical Association, and the College Theology Society. He currently resides with his wife Maria (who has a Ph.D. doctoral in Theology, specializing in Moral Theology, also from the University of Dayton) their four children Maia, Eva, Patrick, and Robert, in New Jersey.
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