MELCHIZEDEK, MELCHISEDEK (mĕl-kĭz'ĕ-dĕk, Heb. malkî-tsedhek, king of righteousness). A priest and king of Salem, a city identified with Jerusalem. The reference in Gen.14.18-Gen.14.20 is the first mention of Salem in the OT.

Melchizedek went out to meet Abram after his return from the slaughter of Kedorlaomer and the kings who were with him in the Valley of Siddim. He presented Abram with bread and wine and blessed him in the name of “God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.” Abram gave him “a tenth of everything.” The Hebrew word for God in this instance is the same as in such phrases as “God Almighty” (Gen.17.1), “the Eternal God” (Gen.21.33), and “God of Bethel” (Gen.35.7) and is the oldest Semitic designation for God. Melchizedek was thus a monotheist and worshiped essentially the same God as Abram, who recognized him as a priest.

He appears next in Ps.110.4: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” This psalm is of special interest because Jesus referred to it (Matt.22.41-Matt.22.42; Mark.12.35-Mark.12.36; Luke.20.41-Luke.20.42), and it is regarded as one of the messianic psalms. The ideal ruler of the Hebrew nation would be one who combined in his person the role of both priest and king.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews uses Melchizedek (Heb.5.1-Heb.5.14-Heb.7.1-Heb.7.28) in his great argument showing Jesus Christ as the final and perfect revelation of God because in his person he is Son and in his work he is Priest (Heb.1.2-Heb.10.18). The author cites Ps.110.4, indicating that Jesus’ priesthood is of a different order from the Levitical: it is “in the order of Melchizedek.”

The author of Hebrews, looking back on the history of his people, comes to the conclusion that the Levitical priesthood proved to be a failure. It was incapable of securing victory over sin and full communion with God.

And so the author cites Ps.110.1-Ps.110.7. The ideal priest must belong to “the order of Melchizedek.” To the author, Christ was the fulfillment of this prophecy, for he came out of Judah, a tribe with no connection to the Levitical priesthood. While the claims of the old priesthood were based on genealogy, Christ’s were displayed in his power of an endless life. The claim of Jesus to be the real fulfillment of the psalmist’s prophecy rested on the fact of his resurrection and the proof it gave that his life was indestructible. The psalmist had declared that the ideal high priest would be forever—and only one whose life could not be destroyed by death could be said to answer to the psalmist’s ideal, a priest “in the order of Melchizedek.”——JGJ


MELCHIZEDEK mĕl kĭz’ ə dek (מַלְכִּי־צֶ֨דֶק; LXX Μελχισεδεκ; meaning king of righteousness). This priest-king is mentioned in Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4; and Hebrews 5:6-11; 6:20-7:28.

Genesis 14:18-20.

He is the king of Salem and priest of El Elyon, who brought Abram bread and wine, blessed him and received a tithe from him after Abram had defeated Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him.

Salem is best identified with Jerusalem on the basis of (1) Psalm 76:2, (2) the early mention of the city in the Tell el-Amarna letters (14th cent. b.c.) and Assyrian inscrs., long before it became an Israelite city, as Uru-salem, Uru-salimmu, (3) the Targumim, and (4) the Genesis Apocryphon.

It is noteworthy that the author of Hebrews does not mention any typology in connection with the bread and wine. By offering these refreshments Melchizedek expressed his friendship and perhaps his religious kinship with Abram.

Most critics regard Melchizedek as a Canaanite priest because both elements of the name he serves, El Elyon, occur as names of specific deities, the first in Ugaritic (M. Pope, El in the Ugaritic Texts) and the second in Phoen.; the Aram. inscr. from Syria combines the two into a compound (E. A. Speiser, Anchor Bible: Genesis [1964], 104). In addition, many critics regard both Genesis 14:18-20 and Psalm 110:4 as a piece of syncretism whereby the pre-Davidic kingship and this Canaanite worship of El Elyon were linked with Yahwism and the founding of the Davidic dynasty to foster the emergence of Jerusalem as Israel’s cultic center. These views, however, must be rejected for they presuppose that Scripture is deceptive and that man’s hypothetical historical reconstructions are more trustworthy than the inspired Word of God.

On the contrary Scripture equates El Elyon with Yahweh. Melchizedek regarded El Elyon as the creator of matter, the cosmos (Gen 14:19), a concept foreign to the polytheistic religions of the ancient Near E which did not distinguish spirit from matter and therefore worshiped the elements of the cosmos. Moreover, it is clear that Abram regarded Melchizedek as worshiping the same God as he. By unhesitatingly giving Melchizedek a tithe of everything (v. 20) the Yahwist, Abram, not only showed his support of this priest-king and his sanctuary but also publicly demonstrated that he recognized him as a person of higher spiritual rank than he, a patriarchal priest. By contrast Abram declines a gift from the king of Sodom to indicate publicly that he has no theological or spiritual affiliation with him. Also, by calling Yahweh (v. 22; found in MT, but not in Samaritan, LXX or Pesh.) El Elyon, Abram emphasized to the king of Sodom that his God and Melchizedek’s are one and the same. Finally, the OT elsewhere uses this name as an epithet for Yahweh (Pss 7:17; 47:2; 57:2; 78:56).

Psalm 110:4.

Here a Davidic king is acclaimed by divine oath “a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” F. F. Bruce stated that the background for this acclamation is provided by David’s conquest of Jerusalem c. 1000 b.c., by virtue of which David and his house became heirs to Melchizedek’s dynasty of priest-kings (NBD, 806). Be that as it may, it is sure that David had in view the One greater than himself when he called Him lord in v. 1 (cf. Mark 12:35ff.). The acclaim must refer to the Lord Jesus who was Son of God as well as son of David.

Hebrews 5:6-11; 6:20-7:28.

In order to demonstrate that Christ superseded the Aaronic priesthood the writer of Hebrews first demonstrated that Melchizedek is a type of Christ by noting that both are a king of righteousness as well as a king of peace, both are unique (“without descent”), and both abide a priest continually (Heb 7:1-3). He then proceeded to demonstrate that the order of Melchizedek is superior to the order of Aaron: (1) because Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, the father of Levi, for he blessed Abraham and received tithes from him (vv. 4-10); (2) because David predicted that the order of Melchizedek would replace the Levitical priesthood, showing that the latter was imperfect (vv. 11-19); (3) because of the divine oath behind it (vv. 20-22); (4) and because of its permanence (vv. 23-25).

Attempts to identify Melchizedek with the patriarch Shem, an angel, a power or virtue or influence of God, the Holy Ghost, the Son of God, the Messiah, etc. are unauthorized additions and irreconcilable with the argument of Hebrews. It is an essential part of this argument that Melchizedek is given no pedigree and that he was a man made like unto the Son of God (cf. W. Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible, II [1863], 315).

Melchizedek is used by Philo and in a pesher found in Qumran Cave 11 in a way different from the typological exegesis of Hebrews.


Commentaries on Genesis, Psalms and Hebrews; for ancient works see W. Smith, A Dictionary of the Bible, II (1863), 315; for extensive bibliography on Hebrews see M. de Jonge and A. S. van der Woude, “11Q Melchizedek and the New Testament from Qumran Cave 11,” NTS, XII (1966), 318, n. 3; for bibliography on 11Q Melchizedek see H. H. Rowley, “Melchizedek and Zadok,” Festschrift für A. Bertholet, ed. W. Baumgartner et alii (1950), 161ff.; A. R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in Ancient Israel (1955), 31-46, 120-122; O. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament (1959), 38ff.; Merrill P. Miller, “The Function of Isa 61:1-2 in 11Q Melchizedek, JBL, LXXXVIII (1969), 467.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Skinner (Gen, 271, where Josephus, Ant, XVI, vi, 2, and Am M 6:1 are cited) points out that the Maccabees were called "high priests of God most high." Hence, some hold that the story of Melchizedek is an invention of Judaism, but Gunkel (Genesis 3, 285 ff) maintains that he is a traditional, if not a historical, character.

Ps 110:4 makes the klng-priest who is addressed there a virtual successor of Melchizedek, and the kings of Jerusalem might well, as Gunkel suggests, have been considered successors of Melchizedek in the same way that Charlemagne was regarded as the successor of the Caesars, and the latter as successors of the Pharaohs in Egypt. This leads naturally to an early date being ascribed to Ps 110.

The thought of a priest after the order of Melchizedek is taken up by the author of Hebrews. He wanted to prove the claim of Christ to be called priest. It was impossible, even had he so wished, to consider Jesus as an Aaronic priest, for He was descended from the tribe of Judah and not from that of Levi (7:14). The words of Ps 110:4 are taken to refer to Him (Heb 5:5 f), and in Heb 7:5 ff the order of Melchizedek is held to be higher than that of Aaron, for the superiority of Melchizedek was acknowledged by Abraham (a) when he paid tithes to Melchizedek and (b) when he was blessed by Melchizedek, for "the less is blessed of the better." It might be added that Jesus can be considered a priest after the order of Melchizedek in virtue of His descent from David, if the latter be regarded as successor to Melchizedek But the author of He does not explicitly say this. Further, Aaron is only a "type" brought forward in He to show the more excellent glory of the work of Jesus, whereas Melchizedek is "made like unto the nodetitle" (7:3), and Jesus is said to be "after the likeness of Melchizedek" (7:15).

Heb 7:1 ff presents difficulties. Where did the author get the material for this description of Melchizedek?

(1) Melchizedek is said to be "without father, without mother, (i.e.) without genealogy"; and

(2) he is described as "having neither beginning of days nor end of life"; he "abideth a priest continually."

The answer is perhaps to be had among the Tell el-Amarna Letters, among which are at least 6, probably 8, letters from a king of Urusalim to Amenophis IV, king of Egypt, whose "slave" the former calls himself. Urusalim is to be identified with Jerusalem, and the letters belong to circa 1400 BC. The name of this king is given as Abd-Khiba (or Abd-chiba), though Hommel, quoted by G.A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 14, note 7, reads Chiba. Zimmer, in ZA, 1891, 246, says that it can be read Abditaba, and so Sayce (HDB, III, 335b) calls him `ebhedh tobh. The king tells his Egyptian overlord, "Neither my father nor my mother set me in this place: the mighty arm of the king (or, according to Sayce, "the arm of the mighty king") established me in my father’s house" (Letter 102 in Berlin collection, ll. 9-13; also number 103, ll. 25-28; number 104, ll. 13-15; see, further, H. Winckler, Die Thontafeln von Tell-el-Amarna; Knudtzon, Beitrage zur Assyriologie, IV, 101 ff, 279 ff, cited by G.A. Smith, Jerusalem, II, 8, note 1).

It thus becomes clear that possibly tradition identified Melchizedek with Abd-Khiba. At any rate the idea that Melchizedek was "without father, without mother, (i.e.) without genealogy" can easily be explained if the words of Abd-Khiba concerning himself can have been also attributed to Melchizedek. The words meant originally that he acknowledged that he did not come to the throne because he had a claim on it through descent; he owed it to appointment. But Jewish interpretation explained them as implying that he had no father or mother. Ps 110:4 had spoken of the king there as being "a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek," and this seems to have been taken to involve the perpetuity of Melchizedek also as priest. Melchizedek was then thought of as "having neither beginning of days" = "without father, without mother, without genealogy," and again as not having "end of life" = "abideth a priest continually." Hence, he is "made like unto the son of God," having neither beginning of days nor end of life. We get another nodetitle example of Jewish interpretation in Ga 4:21 ff. We have no actual proof that Melchizedek is identical with Abd-Khiba; possibly the reference to the former as being "without father," etc., is not to be explained as above. But why should Melchizedek, and he alone, of all the Old Testament characters be thought of in this way?

Westcott, Hebrews, 199, has a suggestive thought about Melchizedek: "The lessons of his appearance lie in the appearance itself. Abraham marks a new departure. .... But before the fresh order is established we have a vision of the old in its superior majesty; and this, on the eve of disappearance, gives its blessing to the new."

On the references to Melchizedek in Philo see Westcott, op. cit., 201; F. Rendall, Hebrews, App., 58 ff; and especially (with the passages and other authorities cited there) G. Milligan, Theology of Epistle to the Hebrews, 203 ff.

The conclusions we come to are:

(1) There was a tradition in Jerusalem of Melchizedek, a king in pre-Israelitish times, who was also priest to ’El `Elyon. This is the origin of Ge 14:18 ff, where ’El `Elyon is identified with Yahweh.

(2) Ps 110 makes use of this tradition and the Psalmist’s king is regarded as Melchizedek’s successor.

(3) The Epistle to the Hebrews makes use of

(a) Ps 110, which is taken to be a prophecy of Christ, (b) of Ge 14:18 ff, and

(c) of oral tradition which was not found in the Old Testament. It is this unwritten tradition that is possibly explained by the Tell el-Amarna Letters. See, further, articles by Sayce, Driver, and Hommel in Expository Times, VII, VIII.