Andrew S. Malone. God’s Mediators: A Biblical Theology of Priesthood. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2017, pp. 230, $25.00, paperback.
Andrew S. Malone serves as Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Dean of Ridley Online at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia.
In God’s Mediators, Malone develops an expositional and synthetic biblical theology of the theme of priesthood, studying both individual and corporate priestly identities and work across the canon so as to “augment and refine our existing knowledge, reinforce or reshape our theological framework, and make us better expositors of the texts and their consequences for God’s holy people” (p. 10). He contends, specifically, that Christians struggle to define priests and priesthood in a manner following the patterns of the biblical witness (pp. 8–9; 186–187). Malone descriptively surveys, therefore, the biblical landscape for individual priests, starting with Aaron’s and his sons’ mediation at Sinai with an important focus on “the kingdom of priests” found in Exodus 19:5–6 as a royal priesthood (pp. 16–17, 126). His survey of the Aaronic priesthood, ultimately, establishes a baseline to consider implications for 1) Israel’s corporate priesthood, 2) Jesus’ priesthood, and 3) the nature of the church’s corporate priesthood. He labels the Aaronic priesthood by its status of (unearned) holiness (pp. 130–133) that allows for a safe approach to God and mediation to draw others closer to God (pp. 20, 35, 45–46). Thus, Israel’s corporate priesthood sets the whole nation as a mediator for those beyond itself (pp. 126–136): a graded and missiological holiness (pp. 20, 45–46, 134–137). Ultimately, the failures of individual priests and the corporate priesthood pave the way for a greater priest (pp. 125–126, 137–144). For Malone, the NT, and especially Hebrews, transforms the OT categories of the Aaronic priesthood to teach “Jesus as our great high priest who facilitates everything foreshadowed in the earthly [OT] cultic system” (p. 114). He posits that both “Jesus’ individual priesthood and Christians’ corporate priesthood are derived from closely related Old Testament antecedents, but they are not derived in the same fashion (p. 184).” Malone argues that the NT transforms the graded holiness of the OT because Jesus’ priestly ministry provides an access to God that needs no other priest “to facilitate [further] access” (p. 186), mark[ing] believers as beneficiaries of the altar and sacrifice rather than as contributors to them” (p. 170) Christians’ corporate priesthood, therefore, depends on and “respond[s] to God’s grace with ‘sacrificial’ praise and acts of service (p. 172),” not with sacerdotal contributions that forge access to God, leaving the church with a spiritual priesthood that allows the church “to be and to behave in such a holy – God-worthy manner – fashion that the wider nations are brought to join the worship of the universe’s creator (emphasis original) (p. 178).”
In chapter 1, Malone lays out his problem and methodology. His approach to priests and priesthood “invoke[s] the English concept of ‘mediator’ and/or ‘mediation’ (p. 9)” in a rather broad sense because the primary thrust of his thesis and analysis is descriptive.
In Part 1, Malone focuses on individual priesthood, beginning with chapter 2’s look at the mediation of Aaron and his sons. Malone argues for an Aaronic priesthood whose ministry emphasizes a “[s]afe approach to God in response to the terrifying theophany at the mountain and the Tabernacle’s “concentration of God’s presence in creation” (p. 18) Even Aaron’s clothes mark his status and those of his sons’ as closer to God, reflecting a priestly royalty (pp. 24–25) that facilitates holiness (pp. 28–34) and communicates such (p. 38) to forge “successful reconciliation of humanity to God (emphasis original)” (p. 38).
Malone, then, in chapter 3 draws the reader to a discussion of the garden of Eden and priests before Sinai. Adam’s depiction corresponds to priestly work, even a regal priesthood that anticipates the Aaronic priesthood. He, also, focuses on Melchizedek as a priestly king, showing how these two roles work together (p. 63) before depicting Moses himself as a priest (pp. 65–66).
In chapter 4, Malone tackles individual priesthood in the rest of the Old Testament, beginning with the failures of the golden calf. His broad definition of “priest” ultimately highlights the prophets condemning the Israelite priesthood and promising a restored priesthood of Israelites and foreigners (86–96).
In chapter 5, Malone finishes Part 1 of his study of individual priests by examining new covenant transformation. He asserts that the failed Israelite priesthood continues in NT narrative (97–102). Finding little support for Jesus’ depiction as a priest in the gospels, he leans upon Hebrews’ confession of Jesus as high priest that uses a combination of comparisons and contrasts, a “synkrisis [that] inherently relies upon the unfolding developments found in salvation history and progressive revelation (115).” He further supports Jesus’ perfect priesthood in Revelation and in 1 Peter (116–120).
In Part 2, beginning with chapter 6, Malone considers Israel’s corporate priesthood as a kingdom of priests so as to draw closer to understanding how the Aaronic priesthood relates to corporate Israel, Jesus, and corporate Christians (125–126). In particular, he focuses on Exodus 19:5–6’s “kingdom of priests” to reinforce Israel’s holy status for the benefit of the world. Israel’s priestly mediation is missiological (134–137). Unfortunately, Israel does not live consistently with its holy status (137–144).
In chapter 7, Malone pivots to the church’s priestly commission as a spiritual house with spiritual sacrifices, a principle that he again tethers to Exodus 19:5–6 via 1 Peter 2:9–10. He develops this corporate priesthood as a chosen people from all the nations with a holy and special status before God that grants their role as priests with behaviors consistent with this status (137–153). Turning to Revelation, Malone identifies the church’s corporate priesthood as both inaugurated and regal, ministering so that the nations may worship God (161–163). Hebrews regards the church as beneficiaries of Jesus’ priesthood (164–170), approaching God to walk in spiritual sacrifices of “praise and acts of service (172).”
Malone concludes his work in chapter 8 with final reflections that draw out biblical implications for how individual and corporate priesthoods work “under the old covenant and after new-covenant transformation (182).” He extends these insights into ecclesiological and missiological components that challenge churches to walk in its assigned priesthood.
Malone succeeds in defending his descriptive-focused thesis. His examination of priesthood connects categories across the two canons and provides consistent and sufficient evidence for the patterns described. Pastors and scholars will strengthen their understanding of the church’s dependence on Jesus’ priesthood and the corresponding call to walk in a missiological mediation through this book. Also, this volume prepares for more detailed and more prescriptive examinations of its data. It offers clearly aligned relationships of priesthoods, but its study proves a mere starting point, being embedded with unanswered questions beyond this volume’s scope. Thus, its greatest weakness in the limiting of its scope that made the study useful on so many levels also leaves readers with a desire to resolve these same questions. Such answers will hopefully stem from other works that will draw from this resource that will enable churches and denominations to examine their own understandings of priesthood in light of the whole biblical corpus.
Peter Link, Jr.
Charleston Southern University