Questions and Answers

Written by Drew on October 24th, 2005

“Was Melchizedek really never born, and did he die?”

After introducing Melchizedek, king of Salem (i.e., Jerusalem), to us, the writer of Hebrews gives this mysterious description: “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God…” (7:3). What are we to conclude from this? Was the writer speaking literally? Was Melchizedek really never born? Is he still alive today?

Melchizedek, a man who filled the role of both king and priest, appears in three important places in Scripture.

The first time we see him is in Genesis 14, after Abraham and his men have defeated Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him over the kidnapping of Abraham’s nephew Lot. Hearing of these tidings, Melchizedek meets Abraham in the valley of Shaveh, bringing bread and wine for his famished army. Two significant gestures occur that make this encounter important to the inspired record. One, Melchizedek, a king but also “a priest of God Most High,” blesses Abraham. Two, Abraham, the father of all Jews, pays tithes to Melchizedek. Then, as quickly as he appeared, Melchizedek mysteriously vanishes into thin air.

We don’t read about the illustrious king-priest again until we get to a messianic psalm of David (Ps. 110). Here we read of the Messiah, “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’” (v. 4). All priests under the Law of Moses were of the Levitical order. But the Messiah’s priesthood would follow a different path, one leading back before Moses to the old king of Salem who blessed Father Abraham.

Finally, we come to the book of Hebrews, which has more to say about Melchizedek than any other book of the Bible. In chapter seven, the writer points out the two significant gestures mentioned earlier in the Genesis account—Melchizedek’s blessing and Abraham’s paying of tithes (7:6). Then this application is made:

But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. …And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him (7:7-10).

All these things make Melchizedek a perfect type of Christ. Like the Son of God, Melchizedek seemingly has no beginning or end, therefore he remains a priest perpetually (7:3). Also, having received tithes from Abraham, Melchizedek has proven his supremacy to the Jewish system of religion, as has Jesus Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of Psalm 110:4, and the point the writer of Hebrews attempts to make is that He is a better high priest than any of the priests under the Law of Moses (8:6).

But what of the statement that Melchizedek had “neither beginning of days nor end of life?” It is my opinion that this is a figurative statement, spoken in the language of typology. Because the book of Genesis omits the information regarding Melchizedek’s origins, he becomes a fitting type of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. We do not have to interpret the statement literally to reflect some unique, immortal condition belonging to Melchizedek. Guy N. Woods says,

These omissions of details, by the Holy Spirit, through the writer of Hebrews, were designed, so the sacred text informs us, as indisputable evidence of the superiority of the priesthood of Christ to that of Levi. Because of these omissions Melchizedek was a type of Christ—his priesthood a preview of the priesthood of Christ

Questions & Answers, vol. 1, p. 302

Let’s assume for a moment that the writer of Hebrew meant for his statement to be taken literally. Can we harmonize the implications of such a statement with the rest of the Bible? Melchizedek would not be human, for he would not have descended from Adam and Eve, the parents of the whole human family (Acts 17:26). Moreover, he would not even be created because he would have no beginning. This places the king in a position above man, above the angels, and equal to God Himself. The absurdity of this implication forces us to defer to another explanation.

The truth is, when reading typology, we must look for the point of the analogy. And the point, in this instance, is the supremacy of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ over that of the Levites under the Mosaical Law.

 

8 Comments so far ↓

  1. J- Train says:

    Interesting Drew. You make a very good case, though in my mind it still leaves questions unanswered (although in reality I’m not sure there ARE answers to the Melchizedek issue). If he doesn’t have some “supernatural” aspect to him, then why did Abraham pay tithes to him? I realize he is a “type”, but is that whole event typography? And if not, why did Abraham do it. He doesn’t appear to adhere to the laws that God Himself established (i.e. He was greater than the tribe of Levi). Anyway, just food for thought, I do appreciate your article.

    Joel

  2. J- Train says:

    sorry, I meant typology up above.

  3. Drew Kizer says:

    No, I don’t think the whole event was typology. Abraham probably paid tithes to Melchizedek because the latter held two higher positions–priest and king.

    Furthermore, God had not set up any laws concerning Levi at this point; Levi had not yet been born. This was before the Law of Moses, hence its usefulness to the writer of Hebrews, who was trying to show Jesus’ superiority over the priests of the Old Covenant.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you’re not really sure there are answers to the Melchizedek issue. The focus is on Christ, so the inspired writers left unanswered a lot of our questions regarding the King of Salem.

  4. J- Train says:

    What do you think the phrase “but made like the Son of God” means in Heb. 7:3? The Son was obviously not made, but it almost implies some supernatural quality to Melchizedek. Again, I know there probably is no real answer, but as you can most certainly tell, I really like the supernatural angle! I guess “made” could imply that they were “made of the same stuff” or “have similar qualities”, but the reference to being “made” like the Son of God is really rather strange. Does the Greek add anything to its interpretation? It would be interesting to know the literal statement this verse makes.

    I’d also like to know Dad Kizer’s take on this whole subject.

    Anyway, thanks for the article Drew.

    Joel

  5. Drew Kizer says:

    The word translated “made” in Heb. 7:3 means “to produce a facsimile or a copy.” I can see how that might be perplexing, considering it is said that Melchizedek is “made” like the Son of God.

    First I would point out that the exact language says the old priest was made “like” the Son of God, not made “into” the Son of God.

    Also, there is the question of what exactly served as a copy of Jesus–the man himself or the inspired account? A.T. Robertson writes in NT Word Pictures, “The likeness is in the picture drawn in Genesis, not in the man himself.” I think this helps.

    The English Standard Version softens the word to say “resembling the Son of God.” To me, after looking at the lexigraphical evidence, this is the best translation.

  6. J- Train says:

    That does seem to make more sense, even if it isn’t a supernatural explination. It’s an interesting study though, and if I come up with any more “paranormal” angles I’ll be sure to post again.

  7. andy says:

    “Dad” is weighing in just to let you know I am watching. Melchizedek is a great study. We learn so much about the priesthood of Jesus from a study of Melchizedek (as Hebrews makes clear). Drew has done good work on this study and his work has been helpful.

    In typology, the antitype comes first, not in appearance in history but in the mind and plan of God. Therefore, Jesus (though He was not “Jesus” until he was born of Mary) was first, then Melchizedek. So, Melchizedek “resembled” the Son of God to prepare mankind for the coming of the Son of God. That in which he “resembled” Him was in his lack of genealogy, beginning, and end. Of course, Melchizedek, being man (completely human) actually had a beginning (birth) and end (death), but we have no record of them. His priesthood was like no other before him and since him, there was no priesthood like his until Jesus came.

    The greatness (superiority) of such a priesthood as that of Melchizedek (which was actually a figure of the priesthod of Jesus) is shown in that Levi and his descendants (the Levitical priests) paid tithes to Melchizedek while “in the loins” of Abraham (Heb. 7:10).

  8. Josh says:

    There are some throughout time who have thought that Melchisedek was a pre-incarnation appearance of Jesus to Abraham. However, Paul’s statement in Heb 7:3 that he was “made like unto the Son of God” shows that he was not Jesus but was “made like unto” him. And how was he made like unto him? Literally? No, but by his beginning and ending not being recorded so it would seem as if he had none, and thereby he would be made like unto the Son of God who truly has none.

    Something interesting you should look into here is the phrase “Without father, without mother” because this is part of Melchisedek’s being “made like unto the Son of God.” In what way is Jesus “without mother”? In that he was begotten of the Father alone (before the worlds, before the works) as pertains to his Divinity, as we read in Col 1:15 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” In what way is Jesus “without mother”? In that he was born of Mary alone (into the world) as pertains to his humanity. As pertaining to his Divinity, then, he is without mother, and as pertaining to his humanity, he is without father. It is therefore proven conclusively by Heb 7:3 that the Catholics are wrong in calling Mary “Mother of God” even if they do not mean to imply by such a phrase that Mary herself is divine.

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