Melchizedek - Man of Mystery
Who is this Melchizedek, and exactly why is He in the Bible? The three steps of Bible study are normally observation, interpretation, and application. However, we are going to change it up a bit and have observation, interpretation, misinterpretation, and application.
In Genesis 14:18-20 after Abraham and his 318 trained men successfully defeated the Mesopotamian kings, Melchizedek, king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and Melchizedek blessed Abraham. Abram gave him a tenth of everything. In Joshua's time, 500 years later, the king of Salem (Jerusalem) was named Adoni-Zedek in Joshua 10:3. Melchizedek meant "my king is righteous(ness)" according to Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 1.180-181.
Melchizedek is never mentioned again until Psalm 110:4, where God says, "The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." The verses after that, Psalm 110:5-6, can only refer to Christ.
In Acts 2:34-35 Peter quotes Psalm 110:1 but does not mention Melchizedek.
Melchizedek is never mentioned again until Hebrews 5:6 quotes Psalm 110:4. He mentions Melchizedek again in Hebrews 5:10. An entire chapter, Hebrews 7, is devoted to Christ and Melchizedek. A priesthood was usually hereditary, but Melchizedek's pointedly was not.
Psalm 110 is a Messianic prophecy, as Hebrews 5:10 and Hebrews 7 show. Early Christians often quoted Psalm 110 as referring to Christ.
1 Clement (96-98 A.D.) ch.36 vol.1 p.15
Letter of Barnabas (100-150 A.D.) ch.12 p.145
Justin Martyr (c.138-165 A.D.) Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew ch.45 p.178. See also ch.56 p.224, ch.127 p.263, and ch.83.
Melito of Sardis (170-177/180 A.D.) Fragment 9 (from The Key) p.761
Irenaeus of Lyons (182-188 A.D.) Irenaeus Against Heresies book 2 ch.28.7 p.401
Clement of Alexandria (193-202 A.D.) Stromata book 4 ch.25 p.439
Tertullian (c.213 A.D.) Against Praxeas ch.13 p.607; ch.7 p.601. Five Books Against Marcion book 5 ch.9 p.468; book 5 ch.9 p.448.
Hippolytus (222-235/236 A.D.) Against the Heresy of One Noetus ch.15 p.229. See also The Refutation of All Heresies book 10 ch.29 p.151
Origen (225-254 A.D.) On Prayer ch.15.1 p.58
Novatian (250/4-256/7 A.D.) Treatise on the Trinity ch.11 p.620
Cyprian of Carthage (c.246-258 A.D.) Epistles of Cyprian Letter 62.4 p.359.
Adamantius (c.300 A.D.) Dialogue on the True Faith 5th part ch.f 13 a-b p.164-165
Lactantius (c.303-c.325 A.D.) The Divine Institutes book 4 ch.12 p.111
Psalm 110:4 has 13 different interpretations: here are the main two interpretations of who Melchizedek is.
A Type of Christ, but not Christ: Melchizedek was a normal, godly man who God had revealed Himself.
Origen (225-254 A.D.) "Our LORD and Savior was greater than Melchizedek, whose ancestry scripture does not trace." Homilies on Luke homily 28 ch.1 p.115
Cyprian of Carthage (c.246-258 A.D.) "Melchizedek bore a type of Christ, the Holy Spirit declares in the Psalms" Epistles of Cyprian Letter 62.4 p.359.
Wycliffe Bible Dictionary p.1098-1099
The New Unger's Bible Dictionary p.832
NIV Study Bible on Genesis 14:20
New Geneva Study Bible on Gen 14:20 "Melchizedek had come to know the true God - a pagan priest could not meaningfully have 'blessed' Abraham."
John Calvin: Melchizedek represented Christ, but he was not Shem. Commentary on Genesis p.387-389.
A Pre-incarnate appearance of Christ: Melchizedek was not just a type of Christ; but he actually was Christ.
Ambrose of Milan (370-390 A.D.) said he was Christ.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary : Old Testament p.54 does not commit to a view, but says some Bible students think this was a Christophany.
However, why would Hebrews 7 say Jesus was in the order of Melchizedek, if Jesus was Melchizedek? One does not say Aaron was of the order of Aaron.
The bread and wine offered seem symbolic of the Lord's Supper according to Clement of Alexandria (193-202 A.D.) in Stromata book 4 ch.25 p.439, Cyprian of Carthage (c.246-258 A.D.) Epistles of Cyprian Letter 62.4 p.359, and the Believer's Bible Commentary p.52.
11 Misinterpretations or Inventions
While these teach us nothing about Melchizedek, they are educational in studying the foolishness of people.
Mormons claim that those who are going to become gods have the Melchizedek priesthood.
Some Jews after the time of Christ taught that Psalm 110 was fulfilled in Hezekiah. Yet Hezekiah was never a priest. This was refuted by Justin Martyr (c.138-165 A.D.) Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew ch.83 p.240 and Tertullian (207/208 A.D.) Five Books Against Marcion book 5 ch.9 p.468. See also ibid book 5 ch.9 p.448.
Qumran Jews held that Melchizedek was an exalted heavenly figure, a savior who was the same as the prince of light (Rule of the Community 1QS iii.20), the archangel Michael (cf. War Scroll 1QM xvii.6-8), the angel of truth (1QS iii.24), and the great hand of God (cf. 4Q177 xi.14). They also had a book on Melchizedek.
Origen (225-254 A.D.) and Epiphanius of Salamis (360-403 A.D.) said he was really an angel.
Benedictine Antoin Calmet (1707-1742) said Enoch.
Jerome and Martin Luther thought Melchizedek was Shem. The Jewish Targum pseudo-Jonathan, Targum Neofiti, on Genesis 14:18 said that Melchizedek was Shem, son of Noah. Targum b. Ned. 32b says that Shem-Melchizedek preferentially gave blessing to Abraham instead of God, so God withdrew it from Shem and gave it to Abraham's descendants.
Jewish Targum Pesiq. 51a, and b. Sukk 52b said he was one of the four craftsman in Zechariah 2:3.
The pseudipegraphal Slavonic 2 Enoch ch.71-73, says there were three Melchizedeks. The first was supernaturally born as the son of Nir and nephew of Noah, whom Michael the archangel brought into paradise to protect form the flood. the second met Abraham, and the third is Christ.
Marinus the Bardasene heretic (300 A.D.) argued that since Psalm 110 is in the form of a question, it denies that Jesus was from David. Dialogue on the True Faith 5th part ch.f 13 a-b p.164-165
Melchizedecians were a Gnostic sect. The early Christian writer Hippolytus (wrote 222-234/235 A.D.), similar to his mentor Irenaeus, wrote a work called Refutation of All Heresies. Among the many groups he describes a group of Gnostics called Melchizedecians.
Hippolytus (222-234/235 A.D.) "While, however, different questions have arisen among them, a certain (heretic), who himself also was styled Theodotus, and who was by trade a banker, attempted to establish (the doctrine), that a certain Melchisedec constitutes the greatest power, and that this one is greater than Christ. And they allege that Christ happens to be according to the likeness (of this Melchisedec). And they themselves, similarly with those who have been previously spoken of as adherents of Theodotus, assert that Jesus is a (mere) man, and that, in conformity with the same account (already given), Christ descended upon him.
There are, however, among the Gnostics diversities of opinion; but we have decided that it would not be worth while to enumerate the silly doctrines of these (heretics), inasmuch as they are (too) numerous and devoid of reason, and full of blasphemy." Refutation of All Heresies book 7 ch.24 p.115. See also Refutation of All Heresies book 10 ch.20 p.147
Epiphanius of Salamis (360-403 A.D.) also discusses the Melchizedekians in Against Heresies ch.55
If you can think of Old Testament prophecies as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with the assembly not given until the New Testament, the Messianic prophecies being fulfilled in Christ, would have a hole, that would look like a contradiction, without Melchizedek.
Role play - sharing with a Jewish person without using Melchizedek.
The JPS (Jewish Publication Society) Bible on Psalm 110:3 says, "The LORD has sworn and will not relent, You are a priest forever, a rightful king by My decree.b"
It does have footnote b that says, "Or 'after the manner of Melchizedek.'" However, the Septuagint says "Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec."
These misinterpretations show just how far fallen people can go in trying to create information to fill in what God did not provide. We should be eager to learn everything God wants us to learn, but not be eager to learn what God does not want us to learn.
Bible verses from the NIV. See also Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls vol.1 p.535-537 and The Anchor Bible Dictionary p.685-684.
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by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.