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Chapter Four
 Characteristics of Melchizedek

 

As we read the book of Hebrews we have a large number of superlative adjectives and characteristic for Melchizedek which needs to be addressed to understand the person of Melchizedek

  1. King of Salem
  2. Priest of the Most High God
  3. King of Righteousness
  4. King of Peace
  5. Without father, without mother
  6. Without genealogy
  7. Without beginning of days
  8. Without end of life
  9. Made like unto the Son of man
  10. Abide as a Priest continually
  11. Greater than Abraham
  12. He lives
  13. The Levitical priesthood paid tithes to Melchizedek , indirectly in the loins of Abraham
  14. After the power of an endless life
  15. Abide as a Priest Forever

“Without father, without mother, without genealogy” (Heb.7:3).

What do we make of this statement in Heb 7?

        Origen, an ancient writer (A.D. 185-253) imagined that Melchizedek was an angel.

        Hierakas, toward the end of the 3rd century A.D., thought that he was a temporary incarnation of the Holy Spirit.

        Some even have suggested that he was the pre-incarnate Logos (Christ, as depicted in John 1:1,14)—a concept contradicted by Hebrews 7:3, which notes that the king was merely “like unto” the Son of God and Heb 7:6 specifies Melchizedek  as  “this man who has not their genealogy”

        Archaeology gives another insight into this statement viz. Melchizedek received his kingship or his priesthood  by virtue of his heritage. He was ordained by God Himself.  Genesis 14:18 in fact stipulates this.

 Archaeology has shed light on the enigmatic expression “without father, without mother, etc.” A.H. Sayce, who served as Professor of Assyriology at Oxford, called attention to an inscription from the famous Tell el-Amarna tablets (discovered in 1887 in Egypt). These tablets describe the conditions of Syria and Palestine about 1400-1360 B.C.

 “Several of the Tell el-Amarna tablets are letters written to the Pharaoh by Ebed-tob . . . the king of Uru-Salim [Jerusalem], who begs for help against his enemies. He tells the Pharaoh that he was not like the other Egyptian governors in Palestine, nor had he received his crown by inheritance from his father or mother; it had been conferred on him by ‘the Mighty King’” (p. 335).

 So, observing the similarity of language, we conclude that Melchizedek’s kingship-priesthood had not been genealogically derived. He had received his commission directly from God Himself – indeed as the Scriptures affirm: he was an appointment “of God Most High” (Gen. 14:18).

If Melchizedek literally had no father or mother, then we will have various problems to face.   The only person he could have been was God Himself; He is the only person with no beginning (I Tim.6:16; Ps.90:2). But this is vetoed practically by Heb.7:4: "Consider how great this man was", indicating that Melchizedek was a man.  He was seen by men, which imply that he has come in flesh or in human form.  He offered sacrifices to God.    He was a King of a city and was a priest to a people.  He was an incarnation in human form. He could have been a human incarnation of Jesus himself.   If he is called a man, then he must have had literal parents. Like Jesus he could have had a mother in the incarnation even if he did not have a father.  In that case why did he leave the earth without the great sacrifice on the cross for the whole mankind?  What did he do with his human body?  If he simply ascended into heaven and still remain as a priest for ever, then we have two High Priests in heaven – Jesus and Melchizedek.  Probably Melkizedek was the incarnation of Holy Spirit.  Then he was not “like the Son of God”.  Taking these characteristics in the literal sense will only put us deeper into lot of contradictions.  So we need to look into other possibilities of explanations.


His being "without father, without mother, without descent" must therefore refer to the fact that his pedigree and parents are not recorded.  This is a style of writing which is not common to us in this century but was easily understood by the people of the first century.

Queen Esther's parents are not recorded, and so her background is described in a similar way. Mordecai "brought up...Esther, his uncle's daughter: for she had neither father nor mother...whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter" (Esther 2:7).

Does this mean Esther did not have a father or mother?  The sentence goes on to explain the meaning.

 The expression was used, not to indicate eternality, but to express the idea that an individual did not have a recorded genealogy, or to indicate an obscure genealogy.  Adam Clarke gives such examples from actual historical documents of the day. Here are two such documents:

Here are two other contemporary  documents which gives the same sense:
Senceca, in his 108th epistle, speaking of some of the Roman kings, says: "Of the mother of Servius Tullus there are doubts; and Ancus Marcus is said to have no father.

Titus Livius, speaking of Servius, says he was born of a slave, named Cornicularia,..., of no father.

This type of wording was common in the days of the writing of the book of Hebrews and did not indicate the idea of eternality, but rather lack of knowledge, or obscurity about one's genealogy. The phrase "without descent" is translated from the Greek word agenealogetos. This word does not mean the absence of ancestors, but the absence of a traced genealogy. According to Adam Clarke, the word means "a generation, a descent, a pedigree, not absolutely, but rehearsed, described, recorded." The base of agenealogetos is genealogetos. The "a" before the word changes the word into its negative, or opposite meaning, portraying the idea of "without." "Genealogetos is he whose stock is entered on record. And so, on the contrary, agenealogetos is not he who has no descent, no genealogy, but he whose descent and pedigree is nowhere entered, recorded, reckoned up."

Without "beginning of days" and "end of life"

Again the literal interpretation will simply lead to similar consternations.  What is this referring to?  Melchizedek or to the order of Melkizedekian Priesthood?  Melchizedek’s administration was without "beginning of days" and "end of life" (7:3b). Again, this does not refer to Melchizedek, but to his Priesthood.  The meaning is that his priesthood was not for a fixed term (as in the case of the Levitical priests). Under the Old Testament regime, priests began their service at the age of 30, and the Levites served from age 30 to 50 (cf. Num. 4:3ff; 8:24-25). Many Scriptures in the Old Testament, such as Nehemiah 7:63-64, Leviticus 21:17 and Ezekiel 44:22 declare that Jewish priests had to establish their genealogy in order to qualify for the ministry of the priesthood.  Unlike these Old Testament priests, Melchizedek neither became a priest by the benefit of heredity nor handed the office to a future relative.

To the Jews, a traceable genealogy was of utmost importance, especially for the priesthood. If one could not prove his lineage, he was barred from being a priest (Nehemiah 7:64). The Jews were reasoning: 'You Christians tell us that this Jesus can now be our high priest, offering our prayers and perform mediation to God. But a priest has to have a known genealogy, proving he is from the tribe of Levi. But this Jesus was from the tribe of Judah (Heb.7:14).’ To which Paul is replying: 'But remember Melchizedek.  He was a High Priest of the God Most High.  He did not have any genealogy; nor was he a Levite to claim Aaronic Priesthood.  The priesthood of Jesus is after the pattern of Melchizedek (Heb.5:6 cp. Ps.110:4). Even Abraham was inferior to Melchizedek.

You Are A Priest Forever

(1) The word, “Forever” in this verse carries with it both reaching into the “long ago” as well as the “yet to come.” It is a perpetual priesthood, without beginning and without ending.  This is a significant aspect of this verse in that it indicates that there exists a priesthood of the Lord that predates the Levitical, and continues concurrent with the Levitical order of priest, while remaining distinct from it.  .

(2) The eternal nature, here refers, grammatically, to the person “You,” (the antecedent of which is not defined in this passage) but also by association must either refer to the priesthood to which the “You” is linked, or the man called Melchizedek, himself.

For Melchizedek to be a “priest forever” necessitates his own eternal nature. God alone is truly eternal, either Melchizedek was God Himself.  So people have been proposing that Melchizedek was the incarnation of either the second or the third person in the trinity.  Otherwise we must understand the “eternal nature” to refer to the “religious order” and not Melchizedek as a person.