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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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According to the view represented in the OT by the so-called ‘Priests’ Code,’ the Levites were originally the clan whose members were qualified for the priestly office. In the course of time a distinction arose, and the Levites became the principal attendants upon the priests, entrusted with minor sacerdotal duties but not competent to succeed to the full status. In the NT, outside the Gospels, the term occurs but once or twice. Barnabas of Cyprus, where there were numerous Jews and Christians (1 Maccabees 15:23, Acts 11:19), was a landowner, though a Levite (Acts 4:36), the old ordinance (Numbers 18:24) against the possession of real estate having long before fallen into abeyance, and probably having never been meant to apply to land outside Palestine. In Hebrews 7:11 the writer coins a word to enable him to write of ‘the Levitical priesthood,’ as though the hallowing of the tribe were concentrated in ‘the order of Aaron’ (so Westcott, ad loc.), or with a view to indicating the provisional character of all parts of the earlier sacrificial service and not merely of its central acts. The priestly tribe with all its privileges passes away; and another-the royal tribe (Hebrews 7:14)-yields Him who is able really to save, and to ‘save to the uttermost’ (Hebrews 7:25). In later times an assumed parallel between the historical and the true Israel was pushed, until the relation of deacons to bishops and presbyters was based upon that of Levites to priests. The theory has proved useful since the days of Cyprian, and may conceivably have originated in some of the Ebionitic Christian communities of our period; but the functions of the two classes, Levites and deacons, were quite distinct, and any analogy between them is artificial and an afterthought.

R. W. Moss.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Levite'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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