Midrash

Mysterious Melchizedek: A Working Theory of Hebrews 7 (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

Part Two: The Argument from Midrash

There are different approaches to the subject of midrash (or its plural, midrashim). Put simply, a midrash is a Jewish style of elaboration, exposition, or “mining” of a text. The idea is to find both obvious teachings and teachings not immediately obvious—but still latent within the text. In my view, when a New Testament author “unlocks” teachings not immediately obvious, he has uncovered a “mystery.” Jesus did this to prove the resurrection from the Torah, much to consternation of Sadducees (Matthew 22:29-32).

The Book of Hebrews is one midrash after another. For example, chapter 6 is a midrash of Numbers 13-14. Chapter 7 is a midrash on Genesis 14:17-20 and Psalm 110:4, and it highlights the “loud silence” in these Old Testament texts.

To our thinking, midrash can sometimes be a bit of a textual stretch. That is why we trust the New Testament writers: they were supernaturally inspired of God. On the other side of the coin, we should demonstrate hesitation toward non-canonical midrash.

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Mysterious Melchizedek: A Working Theory of Hebrews 7 (Part 1)

Abraham and Melchizedek. Juan Antonio de Frías y Escalante (1633-1670)

Part One: The Loud Silence

The writer to the Hebrews (perhaps Apollos?) is trying to convince tottering Jewish believers to remain true to Jesus Christ. He is also trying to comfort these believers who are shaken up because some of their peers had turned away from faith in Jesus Christ and returned to non-Messianic Judaism.

The writer is out to prove that faith in Jesus is better than Judaism without Jesus by proving that Jesus is Superior to anything Judaism has to offer. Prior to chapter 7, he has proved Jesus’ superiority by asserting His deity. Now he is proving Jesus’ superiority in His humanity. The Melchizedek argument demonstrates that Jesus (in His humanity) is superior to Abraham, the man considered the Father of the Jewish faith.

Jewish imagination did a lot with Melchizedek, and during the medieval times, they viewed him as none other than Noah’s son, Shem. The Jewish Encyclopedia gives many examples of Jewish creativity:

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Romans, Isaiah and Justification by Faith Alone

peace

In my quest to discover New Testament midrash (“Second Testament” teachings which are expositions of, or expansions upon, “First Testament” texts), I was perusing Paul’s Use of Isaiah in Romans by Shiu-Lun Shum. Though Shum did not claim as much, I believe we can (and that Paul did) deduce the concept of salvation by faith apart from works from the originating Isaiah passages.

Shum points to Isaiah 32:17 as the foundation for Romans 5:1.

Romans 5:1 reads,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

Isaiah 32:17 reads,

And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

I am beginning with the assumption that Romans 5:1 is indeed a midrash (explanation and expansion) upon Isaiah 32:17. The closer we look at the two passages, the more clear it becomes that they are connected.

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