For church last Sunday, I watched John MacArthur’s service on the Internet, then I watched the service of the church that I normally attend. It was supposed to rain last Sunday morning, so I stayed home. But it turned out that it didn’t rain, and I could have walked to church after all! Oh well. Maybe I’ll go to church next Sunday!
In this Church Write-Up, I want to focus on something that the
speaker at MacArthur’s church said. The speaker last Sunday was not
MacArthur himself, but rather the person who is usually the
master-of-ceremonies at the morning service at MacArthur’s church: the
person who delivers the welcome, tells visitors where they can go after
the service for snacks and conversation, and introduces the tithe and
offering part of the service. Since he was giving the sermon, someone
else was the master-of-ceremonies.
The speaker briefly commented on Hebrews 7:3. In this post, I will
quote that passage, discuss some of my past interaction with the
passage, say how the speaker interpreted it, then comment on whether the
speaker’s interpretation makes sense to me.
Hebrews 7:3 states regarding the priest Melchizedek of Genesis 14
that he was “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” (KJV).
Melchizedek was without father or mother, lacked beginning of days and end of life, and was a priest continually.
When I was growing up in Armstrongism, the interpretation that I
heard was that Melchizedek was God the Son, the being who would become
Jesus Christ. After all, Hebrews 7:3 presents Melchizedek as eternal,
it seems, and Jesus Christ was eternal. Who else could Melchizedek be?
Someone I know, who also has an Armstrongite background, was
questioning this interpretation. His conclusion was that Melchizedek
was Shem, the son of Noah. That interpretation was not new to me, for I
went through Martin Luther’s lectures on Genesis back when I was in
college, and Luther, too, believed that Melchizedek was Shem. But how
would that interpretation accord with Hebrews 7:3? Shem was not
eternal, right? Shem had a father, Noah. How could Shem be
A relative of mine, appealing to E.W. Bullinger’s Companion Bible
(which is popular in Armstrongite circles), said that Bullinger’s note
said that Hebrews 7:3 is not suggesting that Melchizedek was immortal or
eternal, but rather that Melchizedek lacked a recorded genealogy.
Melchizedek’s parents are not explicitly named in the Bible, in short.
Okay, but that raises questions in my mind: Why does the author of
Hebrews make the point that Melchizedek lacked a recorded genealogy?
How does that fit into Hebrews’ larger argument?
To my shame, I admit that I never studied these questions, so they
just lingered in the back of my mind. That sermon that I watched last
Sunday, however, engaged this topic.
The speaker was saying that the point of Hebrews 7:3 is that
Melchizedek lacked a priestly genealogy. Ordinarily in ancient Israel,
priests were priests because they were part of a priestly line. The
priests in ancient Israel, according to P in the Torah, were descended
from Aaron the Levite; in Deuteronomy, they were descended from Levi.
Melchizedek, by contrast, lacked this priestly pedigree, yet he was
still a priest of God.
That made sense to me when I first heard it, for it seemed to be
consistent with themes in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The author of
Hebrews argues in Hebrews 7 that Jesus was a high priest, even though
Jesus descended from the non-priestly tribe of Judah rather than the
priestly tribe of Levi. How could Jesus be a high priest, when Jesus
did not descend from Aaron or Levi? According to the Epistle to the
Hebrews, Jesus was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, who himself
lacked an Aaronide or Levitical pedigree.
This speaker’s interpretation of Hebrews 7:3 is commonplace, as is
the view that Hebrews 7:3 presents Melchizedek as an eternal being,
maybe even Jesus Christ himself. As I look at Hebrews 7:3 again, the
speaker’s interpretation makes less sense to me. The passage seems to
suggest that Melchizedek lacked a beginning and an end, which arguably
implies eternity. Moreover, it says that Melchizedek continues to be a
priest. An eternal being would continue to be a priest, whereas that
would not be the case for a temporal being who merely lacks a recorded
Looking at Bullinger’s actual note on Hebrews 7:3 in the Companion
Bible, I see that Bullinger goes with the “pedigree” interpretation, yet
he also embraces a typological interpretation that seeks to account for
Melchizedek lacking a beginning or an end and continuing to abide as a
“Melchisedec is presented to us without reference to any human
qualifications for office. His genealogy is not recorded, so essential
in the case of Aaron’s sons (Neh 7 64). Ordinary priests began their
service at thirty, and ended at fifty, years of age (Num 4 47). The
high priest succeeded on the day of his predecessor’s decease.
Melchisedec has no such dates recorded; he had neither beginning of days
nor end of life. We only know that he lived, and thus he is a fitting type of One Who lives continually.”
I have mentioned the pedigree interpretation of Hebrews 7:3 and the
“Melchizedek is Jesus” interpretation, but Bullinger offers a third
interpretation, which is also prominent: that Melchizedek was not
actually Jesus but was a type of Jesus, a foreshadowing of Jesus.
According to this interpretation, Melchizedek had parents and lived a
human life-span, but they are not recorded, and the fact that they are
not recorded allows Melchizedek to foreshadow Jesus, a priest who
actually was eternal.
There were different views of Melchizedek in Second Temple Judaism,
which could have been part of the historical repertoire of the Epistle
to the Hebrews. Josephus in Antiquities 1.180 depicted Melchizedek as a
human king. 11QMelch in the Dead Sea Scrolls, by contrast, appears to
have a cosmic, heavenly conceptualization of Melchizedek, perhaps
presenting him as an angel. If one were to look at Hebrews’ historical
context to determine whether Hebrews sees Melchizedek as merely a human
or as a heavenly being, one would see that both options may have been
available to the author, as part of the author’s cultural repertoire.
I have questions and doubts about all three interpretations of
Hebrews 7:3. In response to the view that Melchizedek was merely a
human priest in Hebrews 7:3, I, again, note features of the verse that
appear to suggest that Melchizedek was more than that: that Melchizedek
lacked beginning and ending and continues to be a priest.
In response to the view that Melchizedek was the pre-incarnate Jesus
Christ, I have questions. Why does Hebrews 7:3 state that Melchizedek
was like the Son of God, rather than saying that Melchizedek was the Son
of God? Moreover, I believe that, in Genesis 14 itself, Melchizedek
was merely a man. Melchizedek was the king of Salem, which sounds like
Jerusalem. A later king of Jerusalem was Adonizedek (Joshua 10:1-3).
Kings of Jerusalem, prior to King David, appear to have had the suffix
“zedek” in their names. That seems to undermine the notion that
Melchizedek in Genesis 14 was some anomalous figure, or a celestial
being who temporarily came to earth to visit Abraham. Rather, he was a
king of Jerusalem with “zedek” at the end of his name, like later kings
of Jerusalem with “zedek” in their names. This does not necessarily
have any bearing on whether the author of Hebrews saw Melchizedek as a
human king or as Christ, for the author of Hebrews may have had a
different ideology from that of the author of Genesis; interpretations
of biblical texts are not always consistent with the biblical texts’
original meaning. For those who see the Bible as a consistent,
divinely-inspired document, however, Genesis 14 would probably be
relevant to how one should interpret Hebrews 7:3.
In response to the view that Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:3 was seen as a
type of Christ, but not as Christ himself, I note that Hebrews 7:3
states that Melchizedek abides as a priest. If Melchizedek abides as a
priest but is not Christ, are there two eternal priesthoods: that of
Melchizedek and that of Christ? Perhaps I am taking Hebrews 7:3 too
Of the three views, the third one makes the most sense to me, yet it is not entirely satisfactory.
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