Question #137

What is the difference between a priest and a Levite?

I have a question about Luke 10. Specifically, I was wondering why verse 31 has a priest and verse 32 has a Levite. I thought a Levite was a priest. What is the difference here?

31 And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

The Answer:

The passage to which reference is made is the parable of the good Samaritan. In short, all priests are Levites, being selected from the tribe of Levi, but not all Levites are priests.

Those Levites who were not priests were assigned duties connected with the tabernacle (Numbers 3-4). They assisted the priests (Numbers 1:50; 3:6, 8; 16:9; 1 Chronicles 9:22, 26f; 23:2-4, 28; Ezra 3:8-9.), they prepared the cereal offerings (1 Chronicles 23:28-32), and they cared for the courts and the chambers of the sanctuary. Later, the Levites were involved in interpreting the law and thus functioned as teachers (Nehemiah 8:7, 9; 2 Chronicles 17:7-7; 35:3). The Levites were explicitly permitted to go near the sacred furniture, and this special privilege distinguished them from ordinary Israelites (Numbers 8:19; 16:9-10.; 18:22-23). By virtue of this responsibility, they were charged with the work of the tent of meeting (tabernacle) that included its dismantling, transportation, and reassembly at a new site (Numbers 1:48-54; 4:3-15; 18:6). This was a requirement of all Levites between the ages of twenty-five and fifty (Leviticus 8:24-26). The Levites were able to approach the sacred furniture only when it was covered (Numbers 18:3). The Levites were inducted into their role through a series of ceremonies that included shaving of the body, sacrifice, the laying on of hands, and a solemn presentation to God (Numbers 8:5-13). They were supported by a tithe of the people (Leviticus 27:32-33; Numbers 18:21, 24), but a tenth of the tithe was to be given to the priests (Numbers 18:26-28).

The anointing of Aaron and his sons with the same oil as the tabernacle furniture implies that the priesthood shared the holiness of the tabernacle (Exodus 30:22-29; 40:9-11; Leviticus 8:10-11; Numbers 7:1). The function of the priests was primarily concerned with offering sacrifices on the altar. This included the sprinkling of blood and burning portions of sacrifices (Leviticus 1). The priests also blessed the people in the name of God (Deuteronomy 10:8; 21:5). Such responsibilities were an important part of the covenantal relationship between God and Israel. The priests were responsible for carrying the ark of the covenant (Deuteronomy 10:8; 31:9, 25).

While the differences discussed here are not the only differences, they are sufficient to show the distinctions between the Levites and the priests. Today there is no Levitical priesthood nor Levites to assist them did they exist. When Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 the Jews lost the capacity to determine their tribal lineage. Judaism as a religion of God came to an end. Today both Jew and Gentile are one in Christ -- there is no longer any distinction between the two. (Galatians 3:28) In the New Testament, Christians constitute spiritual Israel and are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. (Romans 9:7-8; Galatians 3:7-8) In Hebrews, there is a lengthy discussion of the “better high priest” that we enjoy as Christians. This, of course, necessitated a change in both the law and the priesthood. The Law of Moses established and supported the Levitcal priesthood. Since Christ was not of the tribe of Levi, He could not have been a priest if that law were still in effect. (Hebrews 7:12-13) Moreover, under the New Covenant all Christians are priests. (1 Peter 2:5, 9)

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God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)