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Acts 19:14 (ESV) refers to "Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva" who were practicing exorcism at Ephesus. While some translations refer to Sceva as a "chief priest," the Greek word ἀρχιερέως is the genitive of ἀρχιερεὺς which refers to Caiaphas at John 11:51 (ESV) as "high priest." As there was only one high priest, located at Jerusalem (an making allowance for Annas being prematurely retired by the Romans - a sort of high priest emeritus), how could a Jew of the dispersion be designated as a high priest?

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  • Zacharias was not a high priest. Aaron was the original high priest of Israel, and his sons were priests (or what we might call underpriests). I would appreciate some reference to the other sight. I do not believe there was a rotation in the high priesthood, but the Romans interfered and removed or installed high priests as they chose. – Pilgrim Dec 1 '17 at 15:34
  • There are several errors of reasoning here: Presuming that "High Priests", during the Temple Periods, served for life; That High Priests didn't travel; The "Chief Priests" and "High Priests" are not Synonymous; that a "High Priest" is the same as a "Kohen HaGadol" (THE Greatest ...); I feel this is disingenuous if we know the presuppositions are not clear. More info at: judaism.stackexchange.com .... and - en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestly_divisions ; but regardless - the Sadducees were annihilated - and their observances with them - so this is really unknowable. – elika kohen Dec 1 '17 at 20:44
  • Okay - To open a bigger pot of worms, I added a very closely related question: In Acts 19:14 - How else could “Seven sons of Skeva” be translated? – elika kohen Dec 1 '17 at 21:13
  • We know of Jewish temples in Elephantine and Leontopolis, and the Qumran community saw the Jerusalem religious establishment as illegitimate. If we assume Acts 19.14 didn't simply use an inaccurate title (cf. Mark inaccurately calling Agrippa 'king' rather than 'ethnarch'), then one possible explanation (though I'm not sure how likely) is that Ephesus had a Jewish community detached from the Jerusalem establishment. – user2910 Dec 2 '17 at 23:30
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Seven sons of a Jewish high (ἀρχιερέως) priest named Sceva were doing this.
(Acts 19:14 ESV)

The high priests "...comprise in addition to one holding the high priestly office, both those who had previously discharged it and although disposed, continued to have great power in the State, as well as the members of the families from which high priest were created, provided that they had much influence in public affairs." [ἀρχιερεύς-archiereus]

Some commentaries suggest the title may also have been applied to the heads of the 24 courses of priests (1 Chronicles 24). Although as Ellicott notes the title may have been one [falsely] claimed and part of the "imposture." [Acts 19:14] This may the best explanation as Sceva is Latin and it is unlikely a Levitical priest would be given a Latin name.

On the other hand, the text does not actually say the man was named Sceva:

And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests... (KJV)

As the NET footnotes, the Greek is simply "a certain Sceva" [Acts 19 NET] "Sceva" means "mind reader" [G4630-Skeuas]. Then "a certain mind reader, a Jew, and chief of the priests..."

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  • So it appears that ἀρχιερεύς has a range of meanings of which I wasn't aware. I wonder if the Hebrew Kohane Ha-Gahdol was used in plural like the Greek word was. – Pilgrim Dec 1 '17 at 16:28
  • @Pilgrim The LXX uses this word only twice - Lev 4:3 where it is an addition to the anointed priest and Joshua 24:33 where it is an addition to describe Aaron. Apparently the LXX translators did not see any direct connection with a Hebrew word and only used it to clarify in the 2 instances (where it means the chief/high priest). The NT seems to treat the word differently using it in a way which appears to include more than the active or retired high priest although chief priests (plural) could be a small number (2) like Caiaphas and Annas. I think it can go either way. Acts does not say he – Revelation Lad Dec 1 '17 at 16:55
  • only claimed to be a chief priest, suggesting it is an accurate description which leads to bringing other "important" priests into the mix. Similar to Matthew 2:4 and the other references in the other answer where it appears the meaning is not limited to a single priestly family. – Revelation Lad Dec 1 '17 at 17:01
  • @Pilgrim I did not check them all but it looks like the LXX translates "high" priest using μέγας which in the NT is used as great. Based on the use of a different word, I think it is fair to say the NT usage would include more than the current/retired high priest. Also your question is on a diaspora Jew, but they are called itinerants (19:13) meaning they could be living in Judea. Also the text suggests only the sons were doing this so the father might not be with them. – Revelation Lad Dec 1 '17 at 19:02
  • So ἀρχιερεύς in the NT does not always correspond with the "high priest" of the Torah. But neither did other "chief priests" serve on a rotation basis, as if they were bishops taking turns at being pope. – Pilgrim Dec 1 '17 at 20:04
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As there was only one high priest ...

The Greek word translated here as high priest is ἀρχιερεύς (archiereus). In over half of its occurrences in the New Testament, it is in the plural, not singular. For example:

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. (Matt 2:4, KJV)

Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles (Mark 10:33)

And he taught daily in the temple. But the chief priests and the scribes and the chief of the people sought to destroy him (Luke 19:47)

Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him? (John 7:45)

The following account comes from a 14th century Christian source that was supposedly drawing from Jewish sources (perhaps Josephus):

King David, seeing that the descendants of Aaron had multiplied and attained such a great number that it was impossible for all of them to serve in the temple at one time, divided them into twenty-four courses or divisions. Each division would perform its office one after the other so that all the priests could serve in the temple. David also chose the most honorable persons from among them and established them as chiefs over the others so that each course had its own principal priest. As there were more than five thousands priests in each division, lots were cast in order to avoid dissension in respect to precedence, and these determined which priest with his division would serve on the first week, the second, the third, and so on, until the twenty-fourth week. Each course received its assignment according to lot.*


* The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Vol. 1 (tr. from the Slavonic; Chrysostom Press, 1994), pp.98-99.

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  • The existence of priestly divisions does not prove that there was more than one high priest at a time. The mention in the Gospels of "chief priests" at the time of the Crucifixion is due to Annas having been deposed by the Romans and continuing to serve along with Caiaphas. This leaves Matt. 2:4 ("all the chief priests") to be explained, so I will wait to see if someone else has a contribution to make. – Pilgrim Dec 1 '17 at 16:05
  • @pilgrim - You are wrongfully equivocating "High and Chief Priests" with Kohen HaGadol ... These are very different things. – elika kohen Dec 1 '17 at 20:50
  • @elika kohen - I am using "high priest" the way the expression is used in English Bibles, as the equivalent of Kohen HaGadol. See Lev. 21:10. – Pilgrim Dec 1 '17 at 22:32
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A simple and direct answer to your question would be that up until the time of Jesus as our High Priest the Jews in fact were the God authorized people with the "oracles" of The One True God, and a concomitant Priesthood.

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