The priest was an important part of Jewish society in both New and Old Testament times; it is therefore not surprising that a relatively large vocabulary existed to describe them in both Hebrew and Greek. The purpose of this paper is to detail the four Hebrew and four Greek words that were rendered 'priest' in the King James Version.

Three of the Hebrew words rendered 'priest' are derived from the fourth which is kâhan (H3547). This is a primitive root which means to mediate in religious services[1]. In fact the translation of that single word is often: 'that he may minister unto me in the priest's office'. Of the 23 occurrences of kâhan all but one are roughly in that form. The other (Is 61:10) refers to a bridegroom putting on his clothes.

The masculine noun derived from kâhan is kôhên (H3548) and is by far the commonest Hebrew word rendered 'priest' occurring seven hundred and forty-seven times[2]. It means the one that is officiating in the religious ceremony. The first use of the term was to describe Melchizedek (Gen 14:18) although the term was used of pagan priest too (eg Gen 41:45). The Chaldee equivalent kâhên (H3549) is used on eight occasions from Ezr 6:9-7:24; interestingly it is interspersed with the more common Hebrew word!

The final Hebrew term rendered 'priest' is the feminine noun kehûnnâh (H3550). This refers not to the person of the priest but to the office which the priest holds. Of the fourteen occasions the word occurs it is described as the 'priest's office' five times and as the priesthood nine.

In a remarkable and pleasing act of uniformity three of the four Greek words correspond directly to the Hebrew.

Hierateia (G2405) means the office of the priesthood and is so rendered on the two occasions it occurs. It is thus equivalent to the Hebrew kehûnnâh (H3550).

hierateuō (G2407) is equivalent to the Hebrew root kâhan and means to execute the function of a priest. It occurs on only one occasion: Lu 1:9.

The Greek word for priest is hiereus (G2409); it occurs thirty times and is rendered priest on each occasion. It is thus the equivalent of the Hebrew kôhên (H3548).

The fourth Greek word rendered 'priest' is archiereus (G749). It is a combination of archē(G746) meaning commencement, first or chief[3] and hiereus (G2409) meaning priest. Therefore the one Greek word has really captured the meaning of the two Hebrew words gâdôl kôhên. The word is rendered either High Priest (55), Chief Priests (65) and High Priests(3).

We therefore see that 'priest' is a nice and orderly word. Each of the words it is rendered from is rendered consistently and there is strong alignment between the Hebrew and Greek forms. The three primary distinctions are between the action of officiating as a priest, the office of being a priest and the priest himself. Both languages distinguish the 'chief' priest although the Hebrew does this using two words whilst the Greek has encapsulated the concept in one.


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