Many a Bible student has said a hearty ‘Amen’ to the
words of the apostle Peter when he wrote: “Our beloved brother
Paul...in all his epistles...in which are some things hard to be
understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as
they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction”
(2 Pet. 3:15,16). In the commentary on Melchizedek in Hebrews; the
writer admitted he was going deep, speaking of things which could
only be grasped by very mature believers (Heb. 5:10,11,14). It is
therefore not wise to base fundamental doctrine on the teaching
of such verses; nor should the Melchizedek passages loom large in
the minds of those who are still coming to learn the basic doctrines
“This Melchizedek, King of Salem (Jerusalem), priest of the most
high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings,
and blessed him” is spoken of as being “without father, without
mother, without descent (genealogy), having neither beginning of
days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God” (Heb.
7:1,3). From this it is argued by some that Jesus literally existed
before his birth, and therefore had no human parents.
Jesus has a Father (God) and a mother (Mary) and a genealogy (see
Mt. 1, Lk. 3 and cp. Jn. 7:27). ‘Melchizedek’ therefore
cannot refer to him personally. Besides, Melchizedek was “made
like unto the Son of God” (Heb. 7:3); he was not
Jesus himself, but had certain similarities with him which are being
used by the writer for teaching purposes. “After the similitude
of Melchizedek there ariseth another priest”, Jesus (Heb.
7:15), who was ordained a priest “after the order of Melchizedek”
The language of Hebrews about Melchizedek just cannot be taken literally.
If Melchizedek literally had no father or mother, then the only
person he could have been was God Himself; He is the only person
with no beginning (1 Tim. 6:16; Ps. 90:2). But this is vetoed by
Heb. 7:4: “Consider how great this man was”, and also
by the fact that he was seen by men (which God cannot be) and offered
sacrifices to God. If he is called a man, then he must have had
literal parents. His being “without father, without mother,
without descent” must therefore refer to the fact that his
pedigree and parents are not recorded. Queen Esther’s parents
are not recorded, and so her background is described in a similar
way. Mordecai “brought up...Esther, his uncle’s daughter:
for she had neither father nor mother...whom Mordecai, when her
father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter” (Esther
2:7). The author of Hebrews was clearly writing as a Jew to Jews,
and as such he uses the Rabbinic way of reasoning and writing at
times. There was a Rabbinic principle that "what is not in
the text, is not" (1)- and it seems that this is the principle
of exposition being used to arrive at the statement that Melchizedek
was "without father". Seeing no father is mentioned in
the Genesis text, therefore he was "without father"- but
this doesn't mean he actually didn't have a father. It's not recorded,
and therefore, according to that Rabbinic principle, he effectively
didn't have one.
The book of Genesis usually goes to great lengths to introduce
the family backgrounds of all the characters which it presents to
us. But Melchizedek appears on the scene unannounced, with no record
of his parents, and vanishes from the account with equal abruptness.
Yet there can be no doubt that he was worthy of very great respect;
even great Abraham paid tithes to him, and was blessed by him, clearly
showing Melchizedek’s superiority over Abraham (Heb. 7:2,7).
The writer is not just doing mental gymnastics with Scripture. There
was a very real problem in the first century which the Melchizedek
argument could solve. The Jews were reasoning:
‘You Christians tell us that this Jesus can now be our high priest,
offering our prayers and works up to God. But a priest has to have
a known genealogy, proving he is from the tribe of Levi. And anyway,
you yourselves admit Jesus was from the tribe of Judah (Heb. 7:14).
Sorry, to us Abraham is our supreme leader and example (Jn. 8:33,39),
and we won’t respect this Jesus’.
To which the reply is:
‘But remember Melchizedek. The Genesis record is framed to show
that such a great priest did not have any genealogy; and Messiah
is to be both a king and a priest, whose priesthood is after the
pattern of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:6 cp. Ps. 110:4). Abraham was inferior
to Melchizedek, so you should switch your emphasis from Abraham
to Jesus, and stop trying to make the question of genealogies so
important (see 1 Tim. 1:4). If you meditate on how much Melchizedek
is a type of Jesus (i.e. the details of his life pointed forward
to him), then you would have a greater understanding of the work
And we can take that lesson to ourselves.
(1) See James Dunn, Christology In The Making (Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1980) p. 276 note 59.