Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, March 3rd, 2024
the Third Sunday of Lent
There are 28 days til Easter!
Attention!
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Encyclopedias
Melchizedek

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Search for…
or
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y Z
Prev Entry
Melchites
Next Entry
Melchizedekians
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

(Hebrews Malki'-Tse'dek, מִלְכַּיאּצֶדֶק, king of righteousness, i.e. righteous king, comp. Hebrews vii 2; Sept. and N.T. Μελχισεδέκ, and so Anglicized in the N.T. "Melchisedec;" Josephus, Μελχισεδέκης, Ant. 1:10, 2), the "priest of the most high God," and king of Salem, who went forth to meet Abraham on his return from the pursuit of Chedorlaomer and his allies, who had carried Lot away captive. The interview is described as haying occurred in the "valley of Shaveh (or the level valley), which is the king's valley." He brought refreshment, described in the general terms of "bread and wine," for the fatigued warriors, and bestowed his blessing upon their leader, who, in return, gave to the royal priest a tenth of all the spoil which had been acquired in his expedition (Genesis 14:18; Genesis 14:20). BC. cir. 2080. (See ABRAHAM).

In one of the Messianic Psalms (cx. 4) it is foretold that the Messiah should be "a priest after the order of Melchizedek;" which the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (vi. 20) cites as showing that Melchizedek was a type of Christ, and the Jews themselves, certainly, on the authority of this passage of the Psalms, regarded Melchizedek as a type of the regal-priesthood, higher than that of Aaron, to which the Messiah should belong. The bread and wine which were set forth on the table of show-bread, was also supposed to be represented by the bread and wine which the king of Salem brought forth to Abraham (Schottgen, Hor. Hebrews 2:615). In the following discussions respecting his person, office, and locality, we substantially adhere to the traditionary view of this character.

There is something surprising and mysterious in the first appearance of Melchizedek, and in the subsequent references to him. Bearing a title which Jews in afterages would recognise as designating their own sovereign, bringing gifts which recall to Christians the Lord's Supper, this Canaanite crosses for a moment the path of Abraham, and is unhesitatingly recognised as a person of higher spiritual rank than the friend of God. Disappearing as suddenly as he came in, he is lost to the sacred writings for a thousand years, and then a few emphatic' words for another-moment bring him into sight as a type of the coming Lord of David. Once more, after another thousand years, the Hebrew Christians are taught to see in him a proof that it was the consistent purpose of God to abolish the Levitical priesthood. His person, his office, his relation to Christ, and the seat of his sovereignty, have given rise to innumerable discussions, which even now can scarcely be considered as settled. Hence the faith of early ages ventured to invest his person with superstitious awe.

A mysterious supremacy came also to be assigned to him (" the great high-priest," Philo, Opp. 2:34) by reason of his having received tithes from the Hebrew patriarch; and on this point the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 7:1-10) expatiates strongly. But the Jews, in admitting this official or personal superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham, sought to account for it by alleging that the royal priest was no other than Shem, the most pious of Noah's sons, who, according to the shorter chronology might have lived to the time of Abraham (Bochart, Phaleg, 2:1), and who, as a survivor of the deluge, is supposed to have been authorized by the superior dignity of old age to bless even the father of the faithful, and entitled, as the paramount lord of Canaan (Genesis 9:26), to convey (xiv. 19) his right to Abraham. Jerome, in his Ep. lxxiii, ad Evangelum (in Opp. 1:438), which is entirely devoted to a consideration of the person and dwelling-place of Melchizedek, states that this was the prevailing opinion of the Jews in his time; and it is ascribed to the Samaritans by Epiphanius (Haer. 55:6, p. 472). It was afterwards embraced by Luther and Melancthon, by H. Broughton, Selden, Lightfoot (Chor. Marco proem. ch. 10:1, § 2), Jackson (On the Creed, bk. ix, § 2), and by many others. Equally old, perhaps, but less widely diffused, is the supposition, not unknown to Augustine (Quest. in Genesis lxxii, in Opp. 3:396), and ascribed by Jerome (l. c.) to Origen and Didymus, that Melchizedek was an angel. The fathers of the 4th and 5th centuries record with reprobation the tenet of the Melchizedekians that he was a Power, Virtue, or Influence of God (August. De Hceresibus, § 34, in Opp. 8:11; Theodoret, Hoeret. fab. 2:6, p. 332; Epiphan. Hoer. 55:1, p. 468; comp. Cyril Alexand. Glaph. in Genesis 2:57) superior to Christ (Chrysost. Hom. in Melchiz. in Opp. vi, p. 269) and the not less daring conjecture of Hieracas and his followers that Melchizedek was the Holy Ghost (Epiphan. Hoer. lxvii. 3, p. 711, and 55:5, p. 472). Epiphanius also mentions (Leviticus 7, p. 474) some members of the Church as holding the erroneous opinion that Melchizedek was the Son of God appearing in human form an opinion which Ambrose (De Abrah. i, § 3, in Opp. 1:288) seems willing to receive, and which has been adopted by many modern, critics. Similar to this was a Jewish opinion that he was the Messiah (ap. Deyling, Obs. Sacr. 2:73; Schittgen, 1. c.; comp. the book Sohar, ap. Wolf, Curae Philippians in Hebrews 7:1). Moder writers have added to these conjectures that he may have been Ham (Jurieu), or a descendant of Japhet (Owen), or of Shem (ap. Deyling, 1. c.), or Job (Kohlreis), or Mizraim, or Canaan, or even Enoch (Deyling, Observat. Sacr. 2:71 sq.; Clayton, Chronology of the Hebrews Bible, p. 100). Other guesses may be found in Deyling (1. c.) and in Pfeiffer (De persona Melch. in Opp. p. 51).

All these opinions are unauthorized additions to Holy Scripture-many of them seem to be irreconcilable with it. The conjecture, however, which holds Melchizedek to have been Shem (see Jerome, ad Isaiah xli), and which we find in Rashi on Genesis as well as in the Jerusalem Targum, and also that of Jonathan (ad loc. Gen.), but not in that of Onkelos, requires an explanation how his name came to be changed, how he is found reigning in a country inhabited by the descendants of Ham, how he came forth to congratulate Abraham on the defeat of one of his own descendants, as was Chedorlaomer, and how he could be said to have been without recorded parentage (Hebrews 7:3), since the pedigree of Shem must have been notorious. In that case, also, the difference of the priesthoods of Melchizedek and. Levi would not be so distinct as to bear the argument which the Epistle to the Hebrews founds upon it. Rejecting on such grounds this opinion, others, as we have seen, in their anxiety to vindicate the dignity of Abraham from marks of spiritual submission to, any mortal man, have held that Melchizedek was no other than the Son of God himself. But in this case it would hardly have been said that he was made "like unto the Son of God" (Hebrews 7:3), or that Christ was constituted" a priest" after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20), or, in other words, was a type of himself. The best founded opinion seems to be that of Carpzov (Apparat. Antiq. Sacr. Cod. chap. iv, p. 52) and most judicious moderns, who, after Josephus (War, 6:10), allege that he: was a principal person among the Canaanites and posterity of Noah, and eminent for holiness and justice, and therefore discharged the priestly as well as regal functions among the people; and we may conclude that his twofold capacity of king and priest (characters very commonly muted in the remote ages; see Schwebel,. De causis conjunctce olim c. regno sacerdotii dignitatis, Onold. 1769; JG. Miller, De regibus ap. antiq. populos sacerdotibus, Jen. 1746) afforded Abraham an opportunity of testifying his thankfulness to God, in the manner usual in those times, by offering a tenth of all the spoil. This combination of' characters happens for the first time in Scripture to be exhibited in his person, which, with the abrupt manner in which he is introduced, and the nature of the intercourse between him and Abraham, render him in various respects an appropriate and obvious type of the Messiah in his united regal and priestly character. The way in which he is mentioned in Genesis would lead to the immediate inference that Melchizedek was of one blood with the children of Ham, among whom he lived, chief (like the king of Sodom) of a settled Canaanitish tribe. This was the opinion of most of the early fathers (ap. Jerome, 1. c.), of Theodoret (in Genesis lxiv, p. 77), and Epiphanius (Hoer. lxvii, p. 716), and is now generally received (see Grotius in Hebr.; Patrick's Commentary in Gen.; Bleek, Hebraer, 2:303; Ebrard, Hebraer; Fairbairn, Typology, 2:313, ed. 1854). As Balaam was a prophet, so Melchizedek was a priest among the corrupted heathen (Philo, Abrah. 39; Euseb. Praep. Evang. 1:9), not self-appointed (as Chrysostom suggests, Hom. in Genesis 35, § 5; comp. Hebrews 5:4), but constituted by a special gift from God, and recognised as such by him.

Melchizedek combined the offices of priest and king, as was not uncommon in patriarchal times. Nothing is said to distinguish his kingship from that of the contemporary kings of Canaan; but the emphatic words in which he is described, by a title never given even to Abraham, as a "priest of the most high God," as blessing Abraham and receiving tithes from him, seem to imply that his priesthood was something more (see Hengstenberg, Christol. Psalms 110) than an ordinary patriarchal priesthood, such as Abraham himself and other heads of families (Job 1:5) exercised. Although it has been observed (Pearson, On the Creed, p. 122, ed. 1843) that we read of no other sacerdotal act performed by Melchizedek, but only that of blessing [and receiving tithes, Pfeiffer]; yet; it may be assumed that he was accustomed to discharge all the ordinary duties of those who are "ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices" (Hebrews 8:3); and we might concede (with Philo, Grotius, 1. c., and others) that his regal hospitality to Abraham was possibly preceded by an unrecorded sacerdotal act of oblation to God, without implying that his hospitality was in itself, as recorded in Genesis, a sacrifice.

The " order of Melchizedek," in Psalms 110:4, is explained by Gesenius and Rosenmuller to mean " manner" =likeness in official dignity = a king and priest. The relation between Melchizedek and Christ as type and antitype is made in the Epistle to the Hebrews to consist in the following particulars:

1. Melchizedek was the priest of the most high God by an immediate divine constitution; so Christ was a priest after his order, and not after that of Aaron.

2. Melchizedek derived his priestly office from no predecessor, and delivered it down to no successor; in this respect Christ also stands alone: " Our Lord sprang from the tribe of Judah, of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood."

3. Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, consequently his priesthood was superior to that of Levi and his descendants. So Christ's priesthood was superior to the Aaronic.

4. Melchizedek was the priest appointed to exercise his office in behalf of all the worshippers of the true God; so Christ is the universal priest, the only one appointed to make intercession for our guilty race.

5. Melchizedek's priesthood was limited to no definite time; this circumstance is noticed just as it would have been had his priesthood had neither beginning nor end " Christ is a priest forever" (Psalms 110:4). 6. Each sustained the high honors of king and priest; and the significant appellations are applied to birth. "Righteous King and King of Peace" (Isaiah 32:1; Isaiah 7:6-7). In the Messianic prediction (Psalms 110:4), ".Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek," the phrase "forever" is not to be understood in the absolute sense, either of Melchizedek's priesthood or of Christ's. Melchizedek's priesthood terminated with his life; so Christ's priestly and kingly office as Mediator will both cease when the work of redemption is fully accomplished (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). But in neither case is there any statute which limits the specified accession to office and of egress from it. To these points of agreement, noted by the apostle, human ingenuity has added others which, however, stand in need of the evidence of either an inspired writer or an eye-witness before they can be received as facts and applied to establish any doctrine. Thus J. Johnson (Unbloody Sacrifice, 1:123, ed. 1847) asserts on very slender evidence that the fathers who refer to Genesis 14:18, understood that Melchizedek offered the bread and wine to God; and hence he infers that one great part of our Saviour's Melchizedekian priesthood consisted in offering bread and wine. Bellarmine asks in what other respects is Christ a priests after the order of Melchizedek. Waterland, who does not lose sight of the deep significancy of Melchizedek's action, has replied to Johnson in his Appendix to "the Christian Sacrifice explained" (ch. iii, § 2, Works, v. 165, ed. 1843). Bellarmine's question is sufficiently answered by Whitaker, Disputation on Scripture (Quest. ii, ch. x, p. 168, ed. 1849). The sense of the fathers, who sometimes expressed themselves in rhetorical language, is cleared from misinterpretation by bishop Jewel, Reply to Harding, art. xvii (Works, 2:731, ed. 1847). In Jackson, On the Creed (bk. ix, § 2, ch. vi-xi, p. 955 sq.), there is a lengthy but valuable account of the priesthood of Melchizedek; and the views of two different theological schools are ably stated by Aquinas (Summa, 3:22, § 6) and Turretin (Theologia, 2:443-453).

Another fruitful source of discussion has been found in the site of Salem and Shaveh, which certainly lay in Abraham's road from Hobah to the plain of Mamre, and which are assumed to be near to each other. The various theories may be briefly enumerated as follows:

(1) Salem is supposed to have occupied in Abraham's time the ground on which afterwards Jebus and then Jerusalem stood; and Shaveh to be the valley east of Jerusalem through which the Kidron flows. This opinion, abandoned by Reland (Pal. p. 833), but adopted by Winer, is supported by the facts that Jerusalem is called Salem in Psalms 76:2, and that Josephus (Ant. 1:10, 2) and the Targums distinctly assert their identity; that the king's dale (2 Samuel 18:18), identified in Genesis 14:17, with Shaveh, is placed by Josephus (Ant. 7:10, 3), and by mediaeval and modern tradition (see Ewald, Gesch. 3:239), in the immediate neighborhood of Jerusalem; that the name of a later king of Jerusalem, Adonizedek (Joshua x,l), sounds like that of a legitimate successor of Melchizedek; and that Jewish writers.(ap. Schottgen, Hor. Hebrews in Hebrews 7:2) claim Zedek= righteousness, as a name of Jerusalem.

(2) Jerome (Opp. 1:446) denies that Salem is Jerusalem, and asserts that it is identical with a town-near Scythopolis or Bethshan,'which in his time retained the name of Salem, and in which some extensive ruins were shown as the remains of Melchizedek's palace. He supports this view by quoting Genesis 30:18, where, however, the translation is questionable; compare the mention of Salem in Judith 4:4, and in John 3:23.

(3) Stanley, (S. and P. p. 237) is of opinion that there is every probability that Mount Gerizim is the place where Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High, met Abraham. Eupolemus (ap. Eusebius, Prep. Evang. 9:17), in a confused version of this story, names Argerizim, the mount of the Most High, as the place in which Abraham was hospital bly entertained. (4) Ewald, Gesch. 3:239) denies positively that it is Jerusalem, and says that it must be north of Jerusalem on the other side of Jordan (i. 410): an opinion which Rodiger (Gesen. Thesaurus, p. 1422 b) condemns. There, too, Stanley thinks that the king's dale was situate, near the spot where Absalom fell. (See KING'S DALE).

Some Jewish writers have held the opinion that Melchizedek was the writer and Abraham the subject of Psalm cx. See Deyling, Obs. Sacr. 3:137. It may suffice to mention that there is a fabulous life of Melchizedek printed among the spurious works of Athanasius, 4:189.

Reference may be made to the following works in addition to those already mentioned: two tracts on Melchizedek by M. J. H. von Elswick, in the Thesaurus Novus Theolog.-philologicus; L. Borgisius, Historia Critica Melchisedeci (Bern. 1706); Quandt, De sacerdotio Melch. (Regiom. 1737); Gaillard, Melchisedecus Christus (Leyd. 1686); M. C. Hoffman, De Melchisedeco (1669); H. Broughton, Treatise on Melchizedek (1591); Kirchmaier, De Melchisedecho (Rotterd. 1696); Lange, idem (Hal. 1713,1714); Danhauer, idem (Strasb.1684); Pietsch, idem (Hale, .1713); Reinhart, idem (Wittenb. 1751); Wahner, idem (Gitt. 1745); Henderson, Melchisedek (Lond. 1839); and other monographs cited in Darling, Cyclop. Bibliogr. col. 183,1607. See also J. A. Fabricius, Cod. Pseudepig. V. T.; P. Molinaeus, Vates, etc. (1640), 4:11; J. H. Heidegger, Hist. Sacr. Patriarcharum (1671), 2:288; Hottinger, Ennead. Disput.; P. Cuneus, De Republ. Hebrews 3:3, apud Crit. Sacr. vol. v; Ursini, Analect. Sacr. 1:349; Krahmer, in Illgen's Zeitschr. 7:4, p. 87; Auberlein, in the Stud. u. Krit. 3:1857, 453 sq.; Presb. Quar. Revelation Oct. 1861.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Melchizedek'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​m/melchizedek.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile