Melchizedek: Historical Character or Type of Christ?

Genesis 14:18 reads “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) The question is: Who was Melchizedek? An historical character or something other?

In Eric Mason’s article, he suggests that Melchizedek is a heavenly being. Although he does acknowledge the possibility that Melchizedek was a historical figure who literally had an encounter with Abraham, Mason suggests that Melchizedek is an angelic figure. Mason uses the Book of Hebrews to further his point. He says “the author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to explain Jesus’ role as heavenly priest in light of Melchizedek’s priesthood.” Mason brings to light two contrasting points of view. One is from Fred Horton who suggests that Melchizedek was merely a mortal priest whose model is likened to Jesus’. The other point of view is Paul Kobelski’s view that Melchizedek was a heavenly figure and his mysterious qualities are comparable to Christ’s, based upon Psalm 110:4. In sum, Mason explains that due to Melchizedek’s lack of parentage, genealogy, temporal origin, and temporal termination, he is something other than just a historical character; He is eternal and heavenly. Mason says that this description of Melchizedek is also, by extension, a description of Jesus Christ.

In his commentary on Genesis, D. Stuart Briscoe suggests that Melchizedek was a historical figure, as seen by his interaction with Abraham, and a type of Christ, based on the words of Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 7. Briscoe says that both aspects of Melchizedek, while briefly mentioned, are important on the biblical stage. In a time of religious corruption, Abram warmly received Melchizedek’s blessing and gift of food. Abram tithed to him as an expression of gratitude to God and him. In this we see Melchizedek’s power and position as king and priest. Through the eyes and in the words of David and the author of Hebrews, Melchizedek is viewed as kingly priest, as Christ is. Ultimately, Briscoe says Melchizedek, while a man, is a type of Christ.

John Davis, in his book, suggests there are four basic possibilities regarding Melchizedek’s identity: (1) he was a theophany of the preincarnate Christ; (2) he was a historical, human person who typified Christ; (3) he was a Canaanite priest; and (4) he was Shem. Davis says the fourth proposal is least likely and the third proposal is dismissed because the titles used for God in verses 18 and 19 that demonstrate that Melchizedek worshiped no Canaanite god. The first proposal lacks sufficient evidence to support the thought of Melchizedek being a theophany of Christ. The second proposal is most likely. Along the lines of D. Stuart Briscoe’s view, Davis believes that Melchizedek was a historic character who was a type of Christ in the Old Testament.

Joseph Fitzmyer suggests that Melchizedek was more than a type of Christ. He says the author of Hebrews does not use the word “type,” but rather he makes a direct correlation between Melchizedek and the Son of God. To Fitzmyer, Melchizedek was “more than a type.” Fitzmyer offers three reasons for his position: (1) the lack of genealogy; (2) the reception of tithes; and (3) the blessing bestowed. Fitzmyer also makes use of Melchizedek’s offering of bread and wine in verse 18. He suggests that this offering was an Old Testament prefigure to the very offering of Christ in the New Testament. Christ’s superiority over the Aaronitic line is demonstrated in that Melchizedek had superiority over Abraham in power and position as he blessed Abraham and Abraham tithed to Melchizedek. Ultimately, Fitzmyer identifies Melchizedek as more than a historical figure and even more than a type of Christ. He implies that Melchizedek is heavenly and could even be the preincarnate of Christ in the Old Testament because of similarities of a messianic nature.

In my opinion, I believe Melchizedek was a historical character and that he was a type of Christ. I think to say that he was merely a historical character with no real significance is a mistake. In contrast, to say that he was the preincarnate Christ may be an interpretation error, which lacks substantial evidence. I do believe Melchizedek’s role and identity is very significant. I lean towards Briscoe and Davis’ interpretation that Melchizedek was a type of Christ. The lack of genealogy, reception of tithes, and bestowing of blessing more so typify Christ rather than make him heavenly, unlike Fitzmyer’s position. In sum, Melchizedek is similar to Christ in that they are both priests and kings; therefore, Melch

izedek can be called a “type” of Christ, but it is important to note: they are not the same person.

Bibliography

Briscoe, D. Stuart. The Communicator’s Commentary: Genesis. Vol. I. Waco, TX: Word Books Publishers, 1987.

Davis, John J. Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company, 1975.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “Now this Melchizedek” (Heb 7:1).” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 25, no. 3 (July 1, 1963): 305-321. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 3, 2013).

Mason, Eric Farrel. “Hebrews 7:3 and the relationship between Melchizedek and Jesus.” Biblical Research 50, (January 1, 2005): 41-62. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 3, 2013).

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