The chief priests are a specific group of temple priests, administrators of the temple's liturgy, buildings, and finances. The Greek plural ἀρχιερε[symbol omitted]ς (chief priests), occurring 62 times in the New Testament books and often in Josephus, refers to this important priestly group; whereas the singular ἀρχιερεύς (high priest, chief priest), appearing 38 times in the Gospels and Acts, refers to the high priest, president of the Sanhedrin.
The chief priests are sometimes mentioned alone as acting for the whole Sanhedrin (Mt 26.14; Mk 15.3; Lk 23.4; Jn 18.35; Acts 9.14—the Sanhedrin) or with "the whole Sanhedrin" (Mt 26.59), the scribes (Mt 2.4; Lk20.19), the elders (Mt 21.23; Acts 4.23), the scribes and elders (Mt 16.21; 28.41; Mt 15.1; Lk 22.66), the captains or overseers (Lk 22.4), the rulers (Lk 23.13), or the pharisees (Mt 27.62; Jn 7.45, 11.47, 18.3). From these passages it is clear that the chief priests were prominent and influential members of the Sanhedrin. According to some scholars (E. Schürer, 2.1:204–206) the chief priests comprised the ruling high priest, former acting but deposed high priests, and leading members of the families from which the high priests were selected. But according to others (J. Jeremias, 38; G. Schrenk, 271) it appears more probable that this group was composed of administrators of the Temple, its buildings, and its treasures, e.g., in descending rank, the Temple governor or captain (στρατηγòς το[symbol omitted] ἱερο[symbol omitted]), who was next in dignity after the high priest (Acts 4.1, 5.24, 36; Schrenk, 271); the heads of the 24 priestly classes conducting the weekly services (cf. Lk1.9); the leaders of those conducting the daily services; the overseers (Heb. 'ămarkelîn ; Gr. στρατηγοί Lk 22.4,52), the treasurers (Heb. qizbārîm ).
Bibliography: g. schrenk, in g. kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart 1935–) 3:270–272. e. schÜrer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, division 2, v.1, tr. s. taylor and p. christie (Edinburgh 1898) 203–206. j. jeremias, Jerusalem zur Zeit Jesu (Göttingen 1958).
[j. e. steinmueller]