Question About Melchisidec (Heb 7:1-3)

Here’s the million-dollar question on Christmas Eve – was the author of Hebrews serious in Heb 7:3 when he described Melchisidec, or was he making a typological argument from silence!? 

Here is the text in question (I'm doing Heb 7:1-14, but my question is from vv.1-3):

"For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually," (Hebrews 7:1-3).

The main point at issue is whether the description of Melchisidec from v.3 is to be taken literally. Most commentators don't, because they fear to take the description literally would make Melchisidec rival Christ (cf. O'Brien, Letter to the Hebrews, PNTC, p. 247). 

What do you guys think? 

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alex o.'s picture

Contrary to what I was taught in seminary, I believe M. was the Eternal Son, a Christophany. He brought bread and wine. If He was a priest, where was the sacrifice? He embodied the sacrifice is the reason, I believe. He was the King of the Heavenly Jerusalem and was contra the wicked earthly king of Sodom.

Christ was "in the line of" M. because Christ was the incarnated Godman whereas M. was not incarnated. It should also be noted that The Father cannot "be seen." Jesus, of course has seen the Father per His statement. Therefore, whether in Eden's garden, Moses seeing an afterglow on Sinai, and other places, these should be counted as Christophanies. The brightness of Jesus' second "hour" will destroy the Antichrist. Such is our Lord's incomparable glory.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Larry's picture

Moderator

I am not sure "serious" vs. "typological" is a good way to frame the question. Typology is generally agreed as being being based on reality. That is, the type is a real historical figure or occurrence. The issue in typology is pointing to something else.

To the question of the meaning of v. 3, the easiest and most likely meaning is that that information was unknown and more importantly, unimportant for the point of AH. 

This is in a section of Hebrews about Christ being greater than great men (like Moses and Abraham). The point here seems to be that even Abraham (who was and still is highly revered by Jews) recognized someone greater than himself who wasn't a Levitical priest. How much more should we seek someone greater the OT system since even great men like Abraham saw something greater than the OT system. There is a better hope in Christ.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Appreciate your remarks. I am leaning towards the idea that Melchisidec was a Christophany:

  • I have trouble buying the common explanations that v.3 are just convenient typological arguments from silence - which is the position most scholarly commentators take (e.g. Bruce [NICNT], Lane [WBC], and O'Brien [PNTC]).
  • Bruce wrote,

"The words which follow present an outstanding example of the argument from silence in a typological setting. When Melchizedek is described scribed as having "neither father nor mother, without a genealogy," and having "neither beginning of days nor end of life," it is not suggested that he was a biological anomaly, or an angel in human guise. Historically Melchizedek appears to have belonged to a dynasty of priest-kings in which he had both predecessors and successors. If this point had been put to our author, he would have agreed at once, no doubt; but this consideration was foreign to his purpose. The important consideration was the account given of Melchizedek in holy writ; to him the silences of Scripture were as much due to divine inspiration as were its statements," (Epistle to the Hebrews, in NICNT, revised ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990; Kindle ed.], KL 1849-1854).

  • The tap-dancing I'd have to do with the congregation to get them to buy this argument is beyond belief. The text says what it says. I also find the contrast with the Levites from v.8 compelling. The Levites are dying (i.e. mortal), whereas Melchisidec is living continuously (ζῇ). 
  • The only objection to the Christophany I've seen is that Melchisidec was "made like (ἀφωμοιωμένος) unto the Son of God." This isn't so formidable an obstacle. Why couldn't this man Melchisidec have been a Christophany? All Bruce, for example, says is that the language must mean that Christ was already preexistent and Melchisidec was patterned after Him, not the other way around. Why can't couldn't Melchisidec have been "made like unto" Christ in the sense that he pointed to Christ? 

Either way, it's an interesting problem. I'm leaning towards the Christophany route because it presents the fewest problems, and takes the text at face value. I am aware that commentators don't like this approach. Homer A. Kent, for example, politely but condescendingly said it was a common view among "popular Bible teachers;" i.e. "simpletons." I think the Christophany position deserves a bit more discussion than that! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Yes, I probably could have phrased the question better!

The reason why I'm stuck on v.3 is that I think it's a big key as to why this new and different priestly arrangement is so much better. Beyond the fact that Melchisidec was both a king and a priest for God, he had all the attributes listed in v.3, and these are the very attributes which made Abraham recognize him as his superior. It's these attributes which make him better than the Levitical priests. Even still, it's these attributes, coupled with the dual role of priest and king over God's people, which make Melchisidec a "type" of Christ. I'm tempted to take him as a Christophany because v.3 is so explicit, and because it forms the basis for Melchisidec's (and, hence, Christ's) clear superiority over Abraham and the Levitical priesthood.

Basically, I think v.3 is pretty important. What's even more important, though, is figuring out how to present this to the congregation in a way they can grab hold of! Hebrews is a pretty challenging book! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

alex o.'s picture

Are you purposely anachronistic? Levi was still "in Abraham" when this was written. No system yet existed for Abraham to compare.

Paul tell us a heaven Jerusalem is present. I see no problem locating M. as its King and ministering to A.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

alex o.'s picture

While I respect The Academy more than most and believe Christians should love God cognitively more than what I generally see, scholarly arrogance has no place. If a Christian scholar says something, they need to support it or not say it, simple.

Hebrews was written to those who heard it read every week in synagogues, much less sophisticated then us. Keep the O.T. 'in cache' (systematically read and reread large portions) and the N.T. becomes clearer. It did for me. Ultimately also, to quote Paul, the promise: "they shall all be taught of God" refers to the anointing of 1Jn.2.27. So, "they shall all know Me (and the truth of scripture)" is a benefit of the New Covenant. In the O.T. the Levites were spread in Israel to teach the people, we don't need that today.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Larry's picture

Moderator

Tyler,

these are the very attributes which made Abraham recognize him as his superior.

Is this actually in the text? I don't see that the text says these attributes are why Abraham recognized him as superior. I wonder what your textual basis for this is.

It also seems significant that AH says "like the Son of God" which is different than a Christophany. A Christophany isn't "like" the son of God. It is the Son of God. To me that points away from a Christophany.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Alex,

Are you purposely anachronistic? Levi was still "in Abraham" when this was written. No system yet existed for Abraham to compare.

I should have been clearer. The comparison was not one Abraham made. It is the one AH is making for the readers of Hebrews who are tempted to go back to the OT system. AH is pointing out that their greatest of great men--Abraham himself--did not use the OT levitical system. There was an entirely different kind of priesthood of one "like" the Son of God. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

You asked,

I don't see that the text says these attributes are why Abraham recognized him as superior. I wonder what your textual basis for this is.

I seems to be a pretty solid conclusion, to me at least:

Hebrews 7:4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. 

What about this man (Melchisidec) was so great that even Abraham, the patriarch of Jewish people, tithed the best of the spoils to him? It had to have been the attributes listed in vv.1-3. He certainly wasn't a stranger to Abraham; who on earth would tithe to a stranger?

Also, what made Melchisidec "better" in the sense that he was qualified to issue a blessing to Abraham, the "lesser" of the two men (v.7)? I think it's the attributes from vv.1-3. 

Your point about Melchisidec being "made like unto" Christ is well taken. It is a problem. The alternative, if I take v.3 literally, is to see him as some kind of heavenly being who exists alongside of Christ, which would be very . . . weird. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Duplicate post - my apologies

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

By the way, I appreciate the time you folks took to chime in with your challenges and input. I'm not looking to argue; I'm just looking to be challenged and to get some other informed opinion. Heb 7:1-10 is a tough argument for Gentiles (like me!) to follow, especially because the temple rituals the argument is based on are long gone. It's even tougher to present to a congregation. 

Thanks for your help! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

I seems to be a pretty solid conclusion, to me at least:

One last rejoinder of sorts ...

It been a while since I worked through this so this is, as always, open to revision but, I think Heb 7:4 starts a new paragraph and points to what comes after. The evidence of greatness is that Abraham, as great as he was to the readers, paid tithes to Melchizedek who was obviously greater. And by so doing, the Levitical priests that the readers desired to return to were also paying tithes to someone greater, thereby acknowledging that there was something greater than the Levitical priesthood.

It doesn't seem to me that v. 3 has a theological point per se. It seems like the overall point is that the "old way" of the Levitical priesthood is not the only "old way." There is a greater old way that was a different kind of priesthood, the kind that Jesus possesses, shown by one who was "like the Son of God." That brings a better hope that the "new old way" (the Levitical priesthood) could never bring.

I think the preaching point is that no matter the human structures of religion and priesthood--however ancient, revered, and useful they might be, they are insufficient. With the coming of Christ we have a better priesthood by the power of his indestructible life. 

alex o.'s picture

Larry wrote:
 It doesn't seem to me that v. 3 has a theological point per se. It seems like the overall point is that the "old way" of the Levitical priesthood is not the only "old way." There is a greater old way that was a different kind of priesthood, the kind that Jesus possesses, shown by one who was "like the Son of God." That brings a better hope that the "new old way" (the Levitical priesthood) could never bring. 

Allow me 2 cents please. 

The LP was instituted by God to show Christ's then future sacrifice. It is difficult for me to reconcile another "old way." The point of the clause: "made like the son of God" appears to refer to the then future ministry of Christ when He instituted the Lord's Supper. Melchizedek brought bread and wine just like Jesus transformed the Passover observance indicating that He was to shortly fulfill it. "Christ is now our Passover."

So "being made" is speaking about the manifestation not the person. The Eternal Son was revealed in several ways in the O.T. before the N.T. incarnation. "In these last days God spoke to us in a Son." The writer of Hebrews already told us that M. was eternal so this cannot refer to making the person but to the revelation or manifestation of The Son.

 

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

It seems like the overall point is that the "old way" of the Levitical priesthood is not the only "old way." There is a greater old way that was a different kind of priesthood, the kind that Jesus possesses, shown by one who was "like the Son of God." That brings a better hope that the "new old way" (the Levitical priesthood) could never bring.

I can certainly agree with that! I'll post my PDF sermon notes here on Sunday afternoon, so the discussion can go further if anybody would like it to. 

Thanks for the help! 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?