Melchizedek: The Solution to the Priest Problem

Sabbath school commentary for January 29–February 4, 2022.

Jesus could be a king because he was from the tribe of Judah, like David. But Jesus could never be a priest because he was not from the tribe of Levi, like Aaron. As we’ve seen already in Hebrews, the author is working very hard to bolster the faith of his Jewish audience who believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah who would deliver good things to his followers. Now, decades later, it appears that after dying publicly and then appearing to a few folks and then disappearing in the clouds, Jesus has not returned. Life is not better. The Romans continue to dominate their lives, and their synagogue-going Jewish friends and family treat them as dumb or crazy. 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thank you Alexander, nice commentary. I am again reading the Bible through this year, and our group is just finishing Exodus - and the stories of a very sorry, sorry start to the Levitical priesthood. Aaron was no Joshua, nor were his sons; in fact I know that we are going to face the sorry, sorry state of the kings of Israel as well. So many priests and kings, so few with the Spirit of God-liness with one very happy exception: Jesus, the not-a-priest and not-an-earthly king guy.

It is worth reading the Wikipedia article which collates material from a range of Jewish and Christian sources on the meaning and history of Melchizedek. Melchizedek - Wikipedia

On one hand, all the types and shadows of the sanctuary system pre-figured Jesus, claimed NT writers, but he was not even a Levite. Big problem. But as Alex seems to suggest, if the identification of Jesus with the Aaronic priesthood is problematic, this introduction of Melchizedek and assertion that Jesus was somehow a member of an exotic order of priests is a face-saving device.

It simply moves the problem to a new level… just what is the evidence for and qualification of Jesus to belong to a Canaanite priestly cult from a previous millennium?

The connection seems to be with David, who received an honorary reception from the Canaanites who pronounced him with a honorary membership in the sacred order of Melchizedek. (the Psalms quote.) And, Jesus was “son of David” so, ipso facto, problem solved.

Alex did not suggest that Jesus was a member of a secret handed-down priesthood since Melchizedek. He wrote about typology: Just as Melchizedek was a priest and king in ancient times before there ever was a tribe of Levi, so Jesus is the better priest (and also king) than the Levites. He wrote about Melchizedek as a type of Him, who prefigured Him, a shadowy introduction of Him. Similar characteristics, yet not the same. Shadow; fulfillment.

The biblical texts don’t go into detail about Melchizedek: Immediately after he is mentioned, he does not appear again, and yet he is interpreted in other biblical texts, and then throughout history. There are other Christian faith traditions that even introduce the possible idea of Melchizedek as a theophany, a supernatural appearance of the pre-incarnate Son of God. Fascinating views! Mystery. Once again.

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I read at the beginning of the SS quarterly that Hebrews was a sermon. I see about 303 verses in Hebrews. What % or how many SDA sabbath school classes will have heard all of the sermon at the end of lesson #13? (About 23 verses a week that takes a minute or 2)

I hope that this is not too off topic: @gideonjrn What kind of Bible reading plan do you have? Or in what order etc. do you read the Bible? I see that you mention the lack of biblical literacy a lot. Do you want to share your ideas and your reading habits? Thx.

No one plan except to read more of the 66. An SDA pastor, in Central Calif Conference, surveyed his audience when he arrived. Out of 200 in audience only 6 raised their hands indicating they had read the whole bible. I preached on Jude in 3 different SDA churches as a guest speaker…and made sure that the scripture reading for the worship service included all 25 verses.

Thanks. Appreciated. 25 verses should not be too much. There are traditional denominations that have readings from 4 different biblical genres (psalms, gospels, letters, OT narrative or wisdom). I know of people who alternate between reading an OT book and then a NT book in their private devotions. I think it all depends whether you hear God speaking to you or whether you just read an ancient text. We have to show that God still speaks through these texts. They are alive and relevant. Thanks again.

i think i’ve read somewhere that Melchizedek was really Shem, first-born son of Noah (although some sources say Japheth was Noah’s first-born)…if this is true, and it seems we have no way to know it isn’t, Levi is simply a descendant of a patriarchal priesthood that was already in existence, that jesus was also descended from…in the big scheme of things, this means the levitical priesthood and jesus’ priesthood don’t really have a separate provenance…

Melchizedek as Shem is a Jewish interpretation in the Talmud. There are other Jewish interpretations in various sources (Talmud and others): Melchizedek’s return at the end of time as a kind of Messiah figure, M. as a somewhat mystic heavenly figure, M. as the angel Michael, or M. as a Canaanite priest and king etc.

However, the text in Hebrews clearly does not prefer the idea that Melchizedek is Shem because it clearly says that “he is without father or mother or genealogy.” If Hebrews really wanted to argue for the idea that he was Shem, this would be the opportunity to say so. But the text does the opposite: He basically says that we don’t know about any genealogy. It seems as if Hebrews prefers one of the other, more mystic (I lack a better word here) interpretations.

Isn’t this interpreting interesting, Jeremy?! Super fascinating when you consider that there is only one little text (Genesis 14) and then the interpretation starts (Ps 110 etc., non-canonical and beyond).

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but the author of Hebrews, whom i strongly suspect is Paul, uses scripture loosely, for his own purposes…look at the arbitrary proof-texting between Ps 95 and Gen 2, in Heb 4, and the massive amount of eisegesis to come up with a NC meaning for “rest” that is in no way contemplated in either text…to be without father, mother or geneology, in my mind, doesn’t mean there was no father, mother or geneology…it simply means it isn’t recorded anywhere…obviously the intent is to set up the priesthood of christ as superior in every way to the levitical priesthood, and the absence of a written record is being seized upon conveniently to create an iconic, mythical starting point…Paul does this type of thing to illustrate the contrast between the NC and OC in the lives of Sarah and Hagar, when neither could have known anything about a NC (or possibly even an OC), not to mention his invention that the creation order of Adam and Eve means what he says it means, knowing full well that Adam only gained headship over Eve after the Fall, and because of the role she played in his downfall, …

but you’re right…interpreting Hebrews is fascinating…the book is the most complete biblical glimpse we have of what jesus is doing in the here and now…

It took a few years, but now it is clear. :grin: :blush:

I think the letter belongs to Pauline circles, not necessarily to Paul himself. In any case, a well-trained rabbi or scribe. I love his typological mindset and that he connects the earthly things with the divine in manifold ways.

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that typological mindset is what i think unifies his biblical interpretations…it’s how other NT writers interpret the OT…perhaps it’s how inspired writings need to be interpreted…

I think much in the OT is a type for Christ; he is the lens; he is foreshadowed. By Melchizedek, by many places, persons, actions in the OT. Obviously, people did not know back then that they have the function of a type. Would you agree? How do you interpret scripture, like let’s say the Melchizedek passage in Gen 14: you read it and then… what next?

In my pov, being a type of Christ and not knowing it doesn’t make the foreshadowing less real. There are many layers of meaning of the biblical texts: the historical meaning of the narrated event, the ahistorical meaning in case of a non-historical event, the original intention of the writer, the typological meaning, the personal application meaning, the meaning that I bring to the text as a reader that mingles with other layers of meaning etc. The original intention of the author is important and necessary, but not all comprehensive.

i think you’re stating the contours of intelligent biblical interpretation very well here…obviously all of these angles are important, and each needs to factor into our understanding…

i sometimes think that egregious disagreements over interpretation is the result of a lack of balance in possible interpretational angles, of putting deduced author intent as the exclusive determinant, for example…it is the case that NT writers seem to place exactly no importance on author intent with respect to the meaning of OT scripture…

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I think most are missing the point of mentioning Melchizedek. The statement about his origins and genealogy only indicate that we do not know any information about him. The key reference is the melding of King and priest. The joining of spiritual (metaphysical) power/authority with earthly (physical) power/authority. This is the typology of God.

By paying homage to Melchizedek, Abraham clearly saw him as someone of extraordinary authority. Abraham knew metaphysical authority as he was frequented by heavenly visitors. He knew physical authority, and had just exercised it in rescuing Lot. It was the combination of this that stood Melchizedek out from the rest.

Jesus, when on earth represented those same qualities - the power over the physical (healing, feeding, the storm) and the metaphysical (forgiveness of sin). The greatest representation of these qualities is His death, resurrection and all of the grace and forgiveness that ensues.

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