4.3 The threefold ministry of Christ

The doctrine of the threefold ministry of Christ (Latin: munus triplex) first appears in the works of the French-Swiss Reformer John Calvin. He writes the following in his “Institutio”:

  • “If we want to know the purpose for which Christ was sent by the Father and what He has brought us, then we must first and foremost examine His threefold ministry—the prophetical, the royal, and the priestly” (Institutio [1559], Book II, chapter 15).

By contrast, Luther—in his treatise “On the freedom of a Christian” (1520)—wrote only about the priestly and royal ministries of Christ. The doctrine of the threefold ministry of Christ states that Jesus Christ is Prophet, Priest, and King. This doctrine was later adopted into Lutheran, Catholic, and New Apostolic theology. Like the doctrine of the two states of Christ, it seeks to reinforce the early church’s doctrine of Hypostatic Union with biblical content. It explains the function and activity of Jesus Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King on the basis of the doctrine of Hypostatic Union, which, after all, centres on the nature and person of Jesus Christ.

Here there are three important aspects:

  • The doctrine of the threefold ministry links the Old and New Testaments together: the ministry of the King, the ministry of the Priest, and the ministry of the Prophet all originate in the Old Testament and are continued by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
  • The majestic title ‘Christ’ (Messiah, Anointed One) is the binding agent here: kings, (high) priests, and many of the prophets were anointed. And the word ‘Christ’ literally means “Anointed One”.
  • The Apostle ministry shares in the threefold ministry of Christ because it was instituted by Jesus Christ and was equipped with authority by Him.