Melchizedek and the lack of geneology


Today’s readings from the Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 7:1-3,15-17) present one of the more perplexing bits of New Testament scripture, in that Melchizedek has been identified with various corporal and spiritual beings, based on the reference to a lack of parentage or genealogy.

For this Melchisedech was king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him; to whom Abraham divided the tithes of all. First, as his name shows, he is King of justice, and then also he is King of Salem, that is, King of Peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but likened to the Son of God, who continues a priest forever. And it is yet far more evident if there arise another priest, according to the likeness of Melchisedech, who has become so not according to the Law of carnal commandment, but according to a life that cannot end.

This points to the value and necessity of a solid commentary for reference and study purposes, to give the sense of the scriptures. From the Haydock Commentary, we find the following (bolding mine):

This Melchisedech. If we look for the construction, Melchisedech may be joined with what follows, (ver. 3.) continueth a priest for ever. (Witham) — The excellency of this personage was so transcendent, that some of the ancients took him to be an Angel, and some the Holy Ghost. This the Fathers condemn; for had he not been a man, a king, and a priest, he would not have been so worthy a type of our Saviour.
Ver. 2. King of justice, according to the signification of the word Melchisedech, and of peace, signified by the place Salem, of which he was king. By Salem is commonly expounded Jerusalem, though St. Jerome thinks it was a town in Samaria afterwards called Sichem. This king was also a priest of the Most High; i.e. of the true God. He blessed Abraham, after he had defeated Chodorlahomor and the other kings; (Genesis xiv.) and Abraham gave him the tithes of all things which he had taken from his enemies. He is said (ver. 3.) to have been without father, without mother, without any genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, inasmuch as we have no account in the Scripture of these particulars. He is said in Genesis to have brought out, inasmuch as he was a priest, that is, to have offered up a sacrifice to God of bread and wine. The apostle here shews two things, that Melchisedech was greater than Abraham, and that he is a figure of Christ, who is a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech. (Psalm cix. 4.) (Witham)
Ver. 3. Without father, &c. Not that he had no father, &c. but that neither his father, nor his pedigree, nor his birth, nor his death, are set down in Scripture. (Challoner) — Not that he was without father and mother, says St. Jerome, (ep. cxxxvi.) for Christ himself was not without a Father according to his divinity, nor without a Mother in his humanity; but because his genealogy is not given in Genesis, as that of the other patriarchs is, but he is abruptly introduced without any mention of either his birth or death. In Melchisedech all was prophetical and figurative of Jesus Christ; and Abraham undoubtedly in this patriarch saw Jesus Christ in spirit, and exulted that all the nations of the earth were to be blessed in him. Abraham, your father, greatly desired, says our Lord to the Jews, to see the day of my coming: he saw it, and was filled with joy.

Although the reference is well explained, it remains somewhat of a mystery as to why Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, yet receives scarce attention in the Old Testament. In any case, I found this intriguing.


Intriguing indeed. Here are two relevant sermons by St. Ambrose, VIII and IX, which begin on p. 126.


Melchizedek has been a subject of mystery even before Christianity. There are Jewish apocryphal writings that have raised him above mortality. There are some early Church Fathers who saw him as more than a man but the consensus is that he was a man, and some believed him to be Shem. The fact that his priesthood strongly preceeded that of Christ, even more so than the priesthood of the Law, is a factor of his greatness. The priesthood of the Law was for the Jews, but the priesthood of Melchizedek was prior. Even look at the use of bread and wine that was like the communion done by Christ.


Here are the footnotes that I have provided for the Holy Orthodox Bible, though the project is still in development and the footnotes are always in the state of transition until the final product.

14:18 Melchisedek. [JOHN OF DAMASCUS] With bread and wine Melchisedek, the priest of the most high God, received Abraham on his return from the slaughter of the Gentiles. That table pre-imaged the mystical table (Lev. 14), just as that priest was a type and image of Christ, the true high-priest. For thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek (Ps. 110:4). Orth. Faith 4.13 NPNF s.2 v.9]

[JEROME] I immediately found something written about Melchisedek in the first of Origen’s homilies, where, in a complex discourse, he descended so low as to say that he was an angel; and he talked about the celestial powers with almost the same arguments as your author (pseudo-augustini quaestiones) talked about the Holy Spirit. I moved on to his follower Didymus, and I saw that he supported his master’s view. I turned to Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Eusebius of Caesarea and Eusebius of Emesa, as well as Apollinaris and our Eustathius, the first bishop of the Antiochian church to have blown the signal for attack against Arius with his illustrious trumpet; and I found that the views of all of these men, following different arguments and bypaths, reached the same crossroads: they all said that Melchisedek was a Canaanite man, king of the city of Jerusalem, which was first called Salem, then Jebus, and finally Jerusalem. Ep. 73 to Evangelus Migne PL 22.677.2]

Procopius of Gaza says, “Salem is a town of Shechem, as is reported the Sacred Scripture. This is the name of the village from the west of Aelia.” PG 87]

Ephrem the Syrian (Com. on Gen.) points out that it has been stated with high probability that Melchisedek was Shem. Procopius (PG 87) and Epiphanius (Pan. 55) reject that Shem is Melchisedek due to the calculation of his length of life.


The Jewish historian Josephus says he was King of Salem, which was later called Jerusalem; and he was a Priest of God. Antiquities Book 1, Chapter 10.

The Catholic visionary Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich claimed Melchizedek was an Angel. :wink:


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