Korah’s rebellion

Woe to them!  For they […] perish in Korah’s rebellion.  These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves; waterless clouds, carried along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted.  Jude 11-12

Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abi’ram the sons of Eli’ab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” When Moses heard it, he fell on his face; and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to him; him whom he will choose he will cause to come near to him. Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company; put fire in them and put incense upon them before the LORD tomorrow, and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” And Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; and that he has brought you near him, and all your brethren the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also?  Numbers 16:1-10

From Numbers 16, it can be seen that Korah’s rebellion consisted of trying to usurp the role of the ministerial priesthood.  He thought that everyone was holy, and that therefore everyone should be ministerial priests.  It is true in a sense that everyone is holy, insofar, as Korah says, that the Lord is among them.  But his deduction from this premise is false.  Just because the Lord is in the midst of all doesn’t mean that all are priests like Moses and Aaron.  It is true that all Israelites were priests in a sense, because the Lord had already told them they would be “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), but this does not necessarily equate to all people being ministerial priests like Moses and Aaron.  Korah is committing The Great Flattening Out of Things error.  Because all are equal in God’s sight, therefore everyone is the same, or should have the same role.  It is a denial of the sense of Israel as a body, as St. Paul says of the Church.  Multiplicity in unity.  It is the denial of hierarchy.

What is interesting to me is that St. Jude seems to think that there are people in the New Testament Church of his day who are also committing Korah’s rebellion.  Were they also trying to usurp the role of the ministerial priesthood, on the basis of the universal priesthood?  Is this not demonstration that there actually was  a ministerial priesthood in the early Church?  Does not Korah’s cry: “why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” sound a lot like the cry of Protestant Christians towards the Catholic priesthood?

All good questions for Holy Thursday, the day on which Our Lord established the New Testament priesthood.


~ by Rob on March 20, 2008.

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