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The Melchizedek priesthood is the name of several priesthoods. The name Melchizedek has its root in two Hebrew words, "melek" - meaning "King" (Strong's ref:4428) and "tzedek" (see tzadik) - meaning "righteous(ness)" (Strong's ref:6666). Literally then, "The King of Righteousness" or "The Righteous King".

The Melchizedek priesthood in the Holy Bible

From the day that Moses brought the Torah/the Law down from Mount Sinai it was the tribe of Levi which was commissioned to serve as priests before YHWH, the God of Israel. This continued on into the era of the Kings of Israel. Melchizedek, King of Salem, a contemporary of Abraham, was not from the tribe of Levi and in fact pre-dated the patriarch Levi by two generations. Both the Torah and the Old Testament affirm that Melchizedek was "priest of God Most High." (Genesis 14:18) King David in the Psalms refers to the future King of kings or Messiah as a "priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek." (Psalm 110:1-4.) Judaism traditionally identifies Melchizedek (lit. "My king is righteous") with Shem.

Melchizedek is referred to again in Hebrews 5:6-10; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:1-21: "Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek"; and Hebrews 8:1. The writer to the Hebrews points out that Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham. Since Levi was as yet unconceived by Abraham when he gave tithes to Melchizedek then it follows that the priestly office of Melchizedek is greater than the priesthood of Levi.

And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises" (Hebrews 7:5-6).

If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Hebrews 7:11-12).

Hebrews 7:3 in the New Testament refers to Melchizedek as a king "without father or mother or genealogy," a reference which some Christians take as a type of Christ.

Interpretations of the Melchizedek priesthood

Catholics find the roots of their priesthood in the tradition of Melchizedek. (CCC 1544)[1] In Genesis 14:18, Melchizedek offers a sacrifice of bread and wine. Christ therefore fulfilled the prophecy of Ps 110:4, that he would be a priest "after the order of Melchizedek," at the Last Supper, when he broke and shared bread with his disciples. Catholics take seriously Christ's command that the Apostles should "do this in memory of Me." As such, the Catholic Church continues to offer sacrifices of bread and wine at Mass, as part of the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Some Christian evangelicals and Messianic Jews hold that Jesus Christ/Yeshua Hamashiach will return as the true Messiah in the name. According to this view, which is taken from a literalist interpretation of Revelation 20, he will serve as both king and high Priest (e.g. the Melchizedek priesthood) in a coming millennium of the Messiah.

A more mainstream Protestant theological understanding simply holds that the mysterious Melchizedek priesthood refers to Jesus as the eternal priest. His once-made sacrifice fulfilled the need for atonement of sins and he currently rules within the Church. In this via traditions of the Book of Hebrews, Jesus has ever been, is, and will ever be the only totally perfect priest (Hebrews 9–-7). Amillennialists believe that the messiah has already come, and his earthly role has been fulfilled. This is contrary to millenarianism which expects a pre-millennial return of Christ as Messiah.

Some Christians believe Jesus Christ the Son came to Earth at various times before the New Testament, including once as Melchizedek himself. These appearances are called Christophanies. Others still maintain that Melchizedek is actually Archangel Michael: Michael is designated in the apocryphal Book of Enoch and the canonical Book of Daniel as "the prince of Israel". He is the angel of forbearance and mercy (Enoch, xl:3) who taught Enoch the mysteries of clemency and justice (lxxi:2). In the book of Jubilees (i:27 and ii:1), the angel who is said to have instructed Moses on Mount Sinai and to have delivered to him the tables of the Law is most probably Michael. Still others believe that Michael is Jesus.

In the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

File:Melchizedek Priesthood.jpg

Bronze statue in Temple Square, Salt Lake City, representing Peter, James, and John in the act of conferring the Melchizedek priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery

In the Latter Day Saint movement (Mormonism), the Melchizedek Priesthood is viewed as the priesthood authority of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, higher than that of the Aaronic authority of John the Baptist and of the Levites. According to the Book of Mormon, the prophet Melchizedek preached repentance to the people of a wicked city, and established peace in the land. According to Alma 13:18, Melchizedek's efforts earned him the title of "the prince of peace." Of particular importance is the parallel Hebrew meaning of "prince of peace" and "king of Salem," another of Melchizedek's titles, and his association with (or typology of) Jesus Christ, who is also called the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:2) as well as the Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14). Later, Melchizedek's people were, according to Joseph Smith, Jr., caught up, or "translated" (see Translation (LDS Church), to meet the city of Enoch (Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14:32). The priesthood is referred to by the name of Melchizedek because he was such a great high priest (Doctrine & Covenants Section 107:2). Initially, the only Melchizedek Priesthood office in the LDS Church was elder. Later revelations extended the office complement to Seventy, High Priest, and Apostle.

The historical Melchizedek

Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek — by Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1464–67

Melchizedek is a figure in the Hebrew Bible. There is no other evidence other than the Bible record that indicates that Melchizedek was a historical figure. Some liberal scholars have taken this and argued that grammar and stylistic considerations indicate that the account of Melchizedek is actually a non-Jewish tradition which was inserted later due to its mentioning of Abraham.

Representative of the priestly line

In some translations, Psalms names Melchizedek as representative of the priestly line through which a future king of Israel's Davidic line was ordained. Alternatively, it may be more accurate that this term was here intended to be treated as an agglutinated improper noun, and thus translated as rightful king rather than left as Melchizedek; this interpretation is taken by some modern translations, such as the New JPS Tanakh.

The Melchizedek priesthood and Christianity

Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah spoken of as "a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek" (Ps. 110:4), and so Jesus plays the role of High Priest once and for all. Jesus is considered a priest in the order of Melchizedek because, like Melchizedek, Jesus was not a Levite, and thus would not qualify for the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:13-17).

The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament discussed this subject considerably, listing the following reasons for why the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Aaronic priesthood:

  1. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek; later, the Levites would receive tithes from their countrymen. Since Aaron was in Abraham's loins then, it was as if the Aaronic priesthood were paying tithes to Melchizedek. (Heb. 7:4-10)
  2. The one who blesses is always greater than the one being blessed. Thus, Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. As Levi was yet in the loins of Abraham, it follows that Melchizedek is greater than Levi. (Heb. 7:7-10)
  3. If the priesthood of Aaron were effective, God would not have called a new priest in a different order in Psalm 110. (Heb. 7:11)
  4. The basis of the Aaronic priesthood was ancestry; the basis of the priesthood of Melchizedek is everlasting life. That is, there is no interruption due to a priest's death. (Heb. 7:8,15-16,23-25)
  5. Christ, being sinless, does not need a sacrifice for his own sins. (Heb. 7:26-27)
  6. The priesthood of Melchizedek is more effective because it required a single sacrifice once and for all (Jesus), while the Levitical priesthood made endless sacrifices. (Heb. 7:27)
  7. The Aaronic priests serve (or, rather, served) in an earthly copy and shadow of the heavenly Temple, which Jesus serves in. (Heb. 8:5)

The epistle goes on to say that the covenant of Jesus is superior to the covenant the Levitical priesthood is under. Some Christians hold that Melchizedek was a type of Christ, and some other Christians hold that Melchizedek indeed was Christ. Reasons provided include that Melchizedek's name means "king of righteousness" according to the author of Hebrews, and that being king of Salem makes Melchizedek the "king of peace." Heb. 7:3 states, "Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he (Melchizedek) remains a priest forever." Melchizedek gave Abraham bread and wine, which Christians consider symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice to confirm a covenant.


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