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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012



Laity The Greek word laikos, from which the word ‘lay’ derives, does not occur in the Bible, although the noun laos, meaning ‘people’, is frequent, specifically designating the people of God as distinct from the Gentiles. Thus, the word laos properly refers to a sacred or consecrated people, distinct from a people who are not so consecrated. Several scholarly studies have shown that, although laikos is philologically related to laos, the use of the former term suggests that it refers to a further distinction within the people of God, according to which the laikos is opposed to the priest and Levite as one who is not consecrated for leadership in worship. In short, laikos designated a segment of the Christian population that were not leaders of the community and who exercised no cultic function. It referred to those who were not priests, deacons, or clerics.

Y. Congar (1904–95) argued that in 1 Peter the priestly themes and levitical ethic of the OT are carried over to the people of God as a whole (see, e.g., 1 Pet. 2:9). By contrast, Clement of Rome (fl. 95) is the first to contrast laikos to ‘priest’ (1Clem. 40:5), and uses the former term to refer to that part of the people which is neither priestly nor levitical; nevertheless, for him laikos refers to the non-priestly, non-levitical element among the holy people.

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