Once upon a time, Judaism and Christianity were one. That is, Christians were seen as a Jewish sect. You can see this in Luke’s account of what Paul says at Rome, Acts 28. The Jewish community there (it was pretty important, some Jewish high priests ended up there) speak about the believers in Jesus as a sect, a division of Jews. While Paul does a lot among Gentiles, it’s mainly because he can’t get Jews in the diaspora to listen to him. And of course then he grows angry over Jerusalem Jews coming into to his Gentile branches and breaking the rules agreed to about preaching to Gentiles—a long story I won’t engage here.
It’s not until the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (70AD) that earnest separation seems to begin between Jews and Christians. It’s then that Christianity begins to be it’s own religion, and both Jews and Christians drift from temple theology in the literal sense. There’s a disappointment surely for many Christians. Christians historically thought of themselves as the renewing of Israel, a restoration (there is a series of Christmas-themed posts coming up that play on these ideas). Much like Mormons saw themselves as a renewal of Protestantism (that’s too simple, but maybe you get my meaning).
Christians shared ruling patterns, feasts, holidays, with Jews. The early post-resurrection church was made up of *faithful* Jews. Jews who valued the temple, its ritual and participation. Jews who celebrated Sabbath and later a gathering of believers in a house where Jesus was remembered, baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, and other community matters were handled. It’s a pattern that extended to many churches in the diaspora. But after the temple, a divergence begins.
After Jesus’ death, Christians followed the patterns of the synagogue, administered the fellowship in each locality by a group of elders, or “presbyters,” but there were the apostles, and the great missionaries like Paul, and there were prophets. Prophets don’t seem to be fixed souls, they travel, and they have authority, and they preach, but they don’t seem to be missionaries per se.
With the death of the apostles, and they don’t seem to get replaced, it’s not completely clear why, but partly it seems to be that they were seen, and may have seen themselves, as more eschatological officers. They certainly governed the early church, but it seems that they wanted less and less to do with practical governance issues, and you can see this in the controversies that develop over the temple, and Jews and Gentile converts. Anyway, they sort of withdraw from local matters, they separate to preach, and they die. Some are killed like Peter and James, others we don’t know about, but they die (I’ll leave John out of this—the Johannine literature is a complication on its own and something I don’t want to get into here).
After the temple and the death of the greats, the church seems to gravitate towards a set pattern of administration, it’s local though, except for the prophets, who continue to travel from place to place. You find the beginnings of this localized administration in the Pauline Pastorals (Timothy, Titus). The Pastorals may reference Paul, but they are probably written well after Paul’s death. Paul (or Pseudo-Paul, Deutero-Paul, if you like) has a main concern in the Pastorals, get elders (presbyters) and “deacons,” (servants) appointed in every town, get a structure to administer to the poor and in general, teach the message and preserve that message against divergent teaching, preserve the proper (Christian) interpretation of the Old Testament, and certainly the tradition about Jesus, whatever that may have been. The important thing is church structures are being formed. It’s a gradual process. Joseph Smith’s early revelations seem to play on this vision of local church structure, at least verbally. For example, the texts that call for blessing the sick (D&C 42:44), or blessing babies (D&C 20:70).
Church administration is not uniform in the New Testament. But it seems pretty common that a group of presbyters is chosen after the synagogue pattern, and each group of ordained elders oversees their own community. And sometimes they are called by that name, Overseer, a literal translation of the Greek term, episkopos. It’s a kind of hyphenated meaning. Epi (on, over, super) and skopos (look, watch). Someone(s) who supervised the community, its goods, its instruction, its care, its preservation, its moral life, and discipline. These people are chosen for stability. They aren’t selected for charisma or outstanding ability. The Pastorals instruct churches to seek for people who are balanced, prudent, married only one time (and this was firm apparently, widowers remarried not allowed). If they can’t control their own family, they can’t possibly administer the community. Their children have to be Christians.
That means some faithful persons, who converted later in life, and whose children weren’t Christian, were not to be episkopos, bishops, overseers, presbyters. Why not? Because only Models can serve. Someone who sets the ideal of the Christian life. This kind of thing seems inevitable. Once you set up a firm structure, seemingly artificial demands appear that reflect the ideal somehow, useful or not. And you can see a bit of this in modern Mormonism, though much of it is more tradition than fixed rules (or sometimes the rules change). Latter-day Saints saw similar constraints in other Christians (training for the ministry for example) and poked some fun there. But it always exists in any organization. These leaders that the Pastorals discuss are not “missionaries” like Paul, say. It has to be someone, people, that the group can get along with, they’re personable types. No recent converts—you can’t be sure of them. Not contentious, not angry. If Paul was writing these, he probably wouldn’t be eligible himself (and he wouldn’t have been happy in such a spot).
By the early 2nd century, at least in some churches, and you can see this in Ignatius(35?-107?) of Antioch’s letters, there is a new practice of having one of the presbyters be a kind of head of the other elders, and Ignatius encourages this, it’s a feature that gives advantage in his eyes. The pattern is evolving to one bishop (overseer), a group of presbyters, and a group of deacons. I think it’s important to understand that there isn’t any notion of Melchizedek or Aaronic orders. It’s much like early Mormonism. There are simply offices, and they develop a pecking order, like that of the early Mormon Articles and Covenants.
Ignatius writes letters to the church in Rome, but that fellowship doesn’t seem to have this pattern in play. It takes another half century before you start to see this pattern in Rome and this is probably because the church in Rome was still heavily Jewish, and governed out of the synagogue pattern, lots of elders, a council.
It really takes about a hundred years after Ignatius before his ideal becomes (largely) the universal pattern among Christian congregations. They keep in touch, at least a lot of them do, trying to avoid breaking the community, but natural communication problems and a lack of central mediation don’t help much, and the Johannine corpus shows how the effort for unity wasn’t always successful. In Rome, about the time of Ignatius, there is an important elder, Clement. He’s probably the clerk or secretary among the elders in Rome, because he writes letters to other churches on their behalf. This was probably typical, because whenever you have a group of co-leaders, inevitably someone tends to emerge as more active, influential, etc. Catholic tradition names him a bishop in Rome, but that office didn’t exist there, yet. That doesn’t happen until around 150AD or so.
An important consequence of the destruction of the temple and the eventual separation of Jews and Christians as religions is the potent wish among Christians to have a more direct connection with the Old Testament (and the early preaching heritage is right there with them as evidenced in the Synoptics). An apparent result of this combination of events is a change in title, or an addition to the title of bishop (“presiding” elder at this point), the literature adds the title, “priest.” Notice that Paul (or Deutero-Paul) never uses this word in his lists of church officialdom. It was a Jewish office, one that was inherited. But by the end of the 2nd century (ca. 200AD) you see overseers (bishops) being called priests. And there’s a very important liturgical aspect to this. By the end of the third century, the whole Jewish pattern is overlaid on the Christian ministry, the presbyters are priests, the bishop becomes the equivalent of the high priest as it were. This reinterprets the early Christian vision, at least part of it (and it is terribly Mormon, by the way). Israel is restored in a spiritualized way. And it’s not too long before you begin to see terrible speech about Jews among Christian writers. They were never God’s people, really, and so on.
This whole incorporation of Jewish priesthood was not accidental, or at least not just in name only. It was well considered. The original governance by the council of elders was partly a grassroots thing, probably done rather autonomously (you see Paul setting this up, but after that it’s at least partly self-sustaining) in many cases, again much like early Mormon congregations, who appointed some deacon, or teacher, or priest, or elder, a person who was one of them, a trustworthy, a reliable soul from among the people. Someone they could agree on (sometimes they split up into two groups because they couldn’t agree–often the controversies were familial).
With Ignatius, there is a liturgical aspect to bishops. The only ones who can baptize, administer the Lord’s Supper, (Eucharist). This is some innovation. In the Pastorals, there’s no mention of liturgy. The elders or deacons don’t get associated with liturgical practice like the Lord’s Supper. That change only seems to come gradually. In James, the elders, presbyters, are seen as healers, and this records some change perhaps in the charismatic gifts that centered in believers generally. And there is another Mormon parallel here. The 1920s saw a drift from charismatic healing/blessing among the gifted faithful to a restriction of those acts to the elders.
Recall the wandering prophets. An early church administration document (handbook), dated from the first century called the Didache (did-ah-kay) talks about this and the problem of prophets. The wandering prophets are liturgical authorities, they can administer the sacrament for example. But apparently some, or many, of the churches are not comfortable with the prophets, and the Didache shows this–the prophets are sometimes not all they claim to be as in, freeloaders. The transfer of sacramental duty to local authority is logical and there is an element of safety there, trust. This is a positive thing for elders/bishops too. It takes them out of just handling funds and property, taking care of the physical, and puts them on the spiritual side of care as well. And it makes possible more regular celebration of the ordinances (and in modern revelation you see a sympathetic emphasis: “it is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of the sacrament”).
But this also plays into the changes of concept, titles, the priesthood and restriction of action. Once elders—bishops—took over the title of priest, that is, they become the “priesthood,” there was already a well-developed spiritual character attached to the name. After the golden calf incident, the tribe of Levi was not like the other tribes, they became exclusive ritualists. And the priests had a growing list of impressive external restrictions associated with the tabernacle and so on. At the time a priest was on duty, he had to separate himself from his family, he couldn’t have sex with his wife, wore special clothing, vestments, and generally removed himself from the worldly aspects of the people, became purified, before entry into the presence of the LORD.
So the “priesthood” drew along with it this kind of conflicting ethos, conflicting with the idea of presbyters/bishops as men of the people. Persons who were one with the common folk. Priests, Christian priests, acquired aspects of both presbyters, and the consecrated on-duty priesthood of temple Judaism. It set them apart and there is a reverent expectation attached to office. We deal with this all the time in Mormonism. There is strength in the notion, but built-in conflict. We expect such men to be ordinary, they come from among us, but we want them to have more than ordinary abilities to solve our problems, give inspired counsel, be almost infallible, and we are sometimes very disappointed if they turn out to be human after all.
When Luther and the other Continental Reformers rolled in, they wanted to be rid of these reverential trappings of priesthood. It wasn’t part of the New Testament, and at least some of them saw the reverential aspect as a recipe for abuse of power (it was an elaboration of Johannine tradition perhaps). Ultimate appointive power should lie in the church itself, not the hands of a separated (permanently celibate!) leadership.
Over time, Catholics, Orthodox, High Anglican, the Swedish Lutheran Church, and others kept the priestly language. It’s this that was inherited from the early re-identification with temple Judaism. And the whole question of ordaining women to church office, priesthood, has seen the biggest theological/practical struggle mainly in churches that held on to this identification, however subtle it may have been (and there were other important forces at work). There’s nothing in the New Testament Pastoral imagery of a church leader that would block women from being presbyters. But there is a lot in the imagery of Israelite priesthood that is utterly foreign to female priests (and Mormonism inherited much of this in 1831). Major struggles over a female priesthood have appeared in those traditions that preserved the priesthood language. By default, though not by the same traditional path (except by mild allusion) the Latter-day Saints, and for that matter most of the Mormon diaspora (Community of Christ a notable exception) have this heavy Old Testament priesthood tradition in authoritative structure and nomenclature, and historically even more so.
Of course the issues of female priests or ministers in Christian traditions are more complex than this. And the theological issues are also complex. One might appeal to Jesus: did he decide the issue of female priesthood somehow? Of course not, he was a Jew and his culture was Jewish, and miles from that sort of question. He never faced any questions of that kind. And the post-resurrection New Testament can’t settle this, it’s a post-New Testament issue. And given the major Christian theologies of the last two millennia, it’s really only recently a question that is ripe for the priesthood religious traditions.
 Earlier (Acts 24), Luke has Paul distinguishing the Christians by what was apparently their early name, “The Way” and he says then Jews refer to it as a sect (of Jews).
 I know we Latter-day Saints sometimes like to connect the passing of the apostles with the withdrawal of priesthood (as we term it), but I think the narrative is more subtle than that. The idea is strongly connected to the way in which the Utah church saw it’s legitimacy. One interesting divergence from this idea of apostolic apostasy was Joseph F. Smith’s early twentieth-century priesthood narrative. Smith proposed that even the least priesthood holder could reorganize the entire church without angelic intervention, should the need arise. Everything was present in each such person. This raises some fascinating complexity in dealing with priesthood in an the early Christian post-apostolic era. Smith’s idea wasn’t terribly popular in general, though parts of it were influential down the line.
 Bishop arises from Old English, biscop, derived from vulgar Latin, biscopus, imported from Greek: episkopos.
 Ignatius’s letters are somewhat controversial. They partake of John’s Gospel in some ways, like the Prologue (Word made flesh), but they run against the Gospel’s anti-hierachy position. It seems likely that they are redacted some ways. Many of Ignatius’s letters are clearly not authored by him, but others probably are, at least early on.
 For what may have been the earliest Christian worship pattern see note 7 of this.
 You can see some of this in early Mormonism, trying to draw some of temple Judaism into Mormon practice. For example, Brigham Young saying things about abstaining from sex for a time before entering in to temples/endowment houses. An obvious thing here is the very cool Mormon bishop mythos that develops around 1835. For the Mormon version of evolving bishop status, see here.
 And with that, came an identification of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and the temple sacrifice. An identification not completely out of order in Mormon thought (observe too, that the priest in Mormonism is the one who administers at the table/altar). One of the important texts that fits into this discussion is the Letter to the Hebrews (probably not a letter at all, but a sermon). Traditionally it was assigned as Paul’s work, but it doesn’t claim that, and it’s pretty clearly not. But that doesn’t change it’s value. It was one of Joseph Smith’s favorite preaching texts, and there are good reasons for that. Hebrews probably represents post-temple literature and its intention seems to be to comfort the fellowship in Rome. With the horror of the destruction of the temple (70AD) there was certainly a great deal of fear and theological questioning. Jews and Christians both as Jewish sect and as Gentile adoptees must have wondered about backlash—their worry was justified. The Jewish War was a real problem and an embarrassment for the empire. But how did the end of the temple play into Christianity? Hebrews seems directed as encouragement and consolation and it works out a priesthood Christology that helps rationalize the Jewish origins of Jesus and Christian practice. Christ as High Priest, the discussion of Melchizedek, the spirits of the Just Men, all this works to see Christians as natural inheritors of the temple priestly authority in a spiritualized way. It’s a brilliant rethinking of how Jesus fits into the background of Moses, angels, the Tabernacle/Temple, and in what sense he overturns all that (and in that sense it is one with John’s Gospel). The Christology anticipates a number of later discussions (and perhaps even speaks to some of them) in that it’s very balanced. It’s a high Christology: Jesus is God, but it also says he was human in every way but sin, and he had to learn obedience. John’s Gospel in that sense exhibits an even higher Christology (that’s something (John) I want to discuss maybe next year in the context of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith). Hebrews has a very focused understanding of Jesus—he had to be someone like us to be effective in standing before God, yet he is the great Son of God. Hebrews never attributes the title of “priest” to Christian authorities, but it does seem to open pathways for that while using Christ as an assurance that mediation to the Divine was still available despite the awful wreckage in Palestine. And Hebrews suggests a kind of priesthood of believers that apparently Joseph Smith found to be encouraging in the latter day temple praxis in say, washing, anointing. But the Melchizedek high priesthood still draws a very clear and purposeful separation between Jesus and the temple. Hebrews is elegant and powerful preaching. If you want an accessible and scholarly treatment of Hebrews, you might start with Alan C. Mitchell, Hebrews (Glazier, 2007), the Introduction is a nice summary of issues. Also try out the article in Anchor Bible Dictionary on Hebrews. Joseph Smith’s use of Hebrews is really fundamental to the explication of many of his beliefs, and the Mormon evolution of priesthood touches the early Christian one in fascinating, and sometimes startling ways. Check out my article on priesthood in Dialogue. You can find it here. You’ll see a version of the Christian evolution in priesthood as a (sometimes highly compressed) microcosm in Mormonism.
 There is some language in Deutero-Paul that suggests women should be silent in church (1 Tim. 2), etc. But this seems to reference local cultural things, and it’s inconsistent. For example, Eph. 5:24 says wives must be subject to their husbands, but 5:21 says be subject to one another. 1 Cor. 11:7 has man the image of God, woman the glory of man, but Gen. 1:27 says male and female are the image of God. 1 Cor. 14:34 is a silence passage but 1 Cor. 11:5 recognizes that women pray (it means out loud) and prophesy (though they are supposed to wear a veil in church). Prophecy is only second to apostleship in Eph. 2:20, the church is *built* on apostles and prophets (Ephesians was probably written about 80-90AD or so). Finally, it’s not just priestly Christianity that wrangles over female ministry. Conservative Christian apologia is full of it.
 Female priesthood in Mormonism is really an issue that must be settled in a revelatory claim. Mormonism only relies on New Testament authority in a rather weak way. That said, the term “priest” does appear in the New Testament in naming Christians, but not in the way indicated above. 1 Pet. 2:5, Rev. 5:10 are examples. There it appears as a priesthood of sacrifice of one’s life for the gospel (a usage that sounds so Joseph Smith, it makes one gleeful). In that sense the word applies equally well to women and men. There were prophets who administered in ordinances (Didache) and there were certainly women who were prophets (1 Cor. 11:5, Acts 21:9). It would therefore be an error to claim that women did not perform “sacraments” in New Testament times. There is simply no way to prove that or the contrary from available period texts. Finally, the office of deacon may have been inhabited by women and men in some churches, and it’s possible that Paul writes to a deaconess and much later in communications between Emperor Trajan and a governor in the provinces there are Christian deaconesses. Though it is not clear that the term is used in the sense of Deutero-Paul, which seems to restrict things to men. But early reports suggest a kind of Relief Society among Christians and deaconess might be a representation of that. The Roman governor tortures these deaconesses to death by the way.