JESUS AS HIGH PRIEST
ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK


1. Introduction
2. Melchizedek in the Old Testament
3. Melchizedek in Second-Temple Period Sources
    3.1. Philo and Josephus
    3.2. Genesis Apocryphon
    3.3. 11QMelchizedek (11Q13)
    3.4. Other Qumran Writings
    3.5. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice
4. Jesus as High Priest according to the Order of Melchizedek
    4.1. Hebrews 5:1-10
        4.1.1. Hebrews 5:1-4
        4.1.2. Hebrews 5:5-6
       
4.1.3. Hebrews 5:7-10
    4.2.
Hebrews 7:11-19
       
 
   

 

1. Introduction

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the author affirms that Jesus' high priesthood is according to the order of Melchizedek, which means that it is more ancient than and superior to the Levitical high priesthood, founded on Aaron, the brother of Moses. The implication of Jesus' superior priesthood for his Jewish readership is that Jesus is a better means of salvation than the Temple cult, which, in the author's view, is now superseded. In order to understand it more fully, the author's argument about Jesus as High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek must be interpreted in light of second-Temple theological reflection on the figure of Melchizedek, with which the readers of the letter no doubt were familiar. It seems that the author makes use of his readers' views about Melchizedek in order to explain his understanding of the salvation-historical significance of Jesus' death.
 

2. Melchizedek in the Old Testament

The meaning of the name Melchizedek is "King of Righteousness." Melchizedek makes his only appearance in biblical narrative in Gen 14:18-20: "Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine and he was a priest of God most high. And he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram by God most high, possessor of heaven and earth, and blessed be God most high who delivered your enemies into your hand.'  And he [Abram] gave to him a tenth of everything." In the Genesis narrative, Melchizedek is said to be both king of Salem and a priest of God most high. Abraham recognizes his priestly status by tithing to him.

    The only other reference to Melchizedek in the Old Testament occurs in Ps 110:4 (LXX 109), which the author of Hebrews quotes several times. This psalm is said to be of David, so that the reader should understand the first person, singular pronoun ("my") as referring to him. David says that Yahweh said to his lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet" (Ps 110:1; LXX 109:1). This individual, David's "lord," in other words, is installed as a king with complete authority, as if he were sitting at God’s right hand. In the next two verses, David continues to address this unidentified individual, whom in verse one he called his "lord." This man is assured of divine assistance in being victorious over his enemies, the rulers of other nations. (There are many problems with the interpretation of Ps 110:2-3.)  In Ps 110:4, David then says to this individual, his "lord," that "Yahweh has sworn and will not change his mind: 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'." So this kingly figure addressed in Ps 110:1-3 is also a priest, not from Aaron and Zadok's line, but according to the order of Melchizedek. It should also be noted that Ps 110:1 is later interpreted messianically, so that the one installed as king is identified as the Davidic Messiah, from which it would follow that the Davidic Messiah is also a priest (Ps 110:4).


3. Melchizedek in Second-Temple Period Sources

3.1. Philo and Josephus

Philo and Josephus refer to Melchizedek in their writings, but only reiterate what the Genesis narrative says about him. Philo allegorizes the Genesis account of Abram's meeting with Melchizedek. He writes, "Melchizedek also has God made both king of peace, for that is the meaning of Salem, and his own priest...a king peaceable and worthy of his [God's] own priesthood. For he is entitled 'the righteous king', and a king is at enmity with a despot, the one being the author of laws, the other of lawlessness" (Leg. All. 3. 25-26 33 79-82). Josephus explains why it was appropriate that Melchizedek should be a king and a priest. He says that Abram "was received by the king of Solyma [Salem], Melchizedek; the name means 'righteous king', and such he was by common consent, inasmuch for this reason he was moreover made priest of God; Solyma was in fact the place afterward called Hierosolyma [Jerusalem]" (Ant. 1.10.2).

3.2. Genesis Apocryphon

The historical figure of Melchizedek is mentioned in an Aramaic reworking of the book of Genesis found at Qumran, called Genesis Apocryphon (22.14-17). Nothing significant beyond what is affirmed about him in the Genesis narrative, however, is found in this text: "Melchizedek, the king of Salem, brought out food and drink for Abram and for all the men who were with him; he was a priest of the Most High God and he blessed Abram and said, 'Blessed be Abram by the Most High God, the Lord of heaven and earth. Blessed be the Most High God who has delivered your enemies into your hand'. And he gave him a tithe of all the flocks of the king of Elam and his confederates."

3.3. 11QMelchizedek (11Q13)

Found among the Dead Sea Scrolls is a sectarian text called 11QMelchizedek (11Q13) in which Melchizedek is understood as an angel, probably identical to the archangel Michael and the Prince of Light known from other Qumran sectarian writings. This theological reflection is exegetically based on Lev 25, the legislation on the year of jubilee, which is then interpreted in light of Deut 15:2 "because Yahweh's remission has been proclaimed" and Isa 61:1 "To proclaim liberty to captives." (Twice is Lev 25 cited in 11QMelch: Lev 25:9 in line 2 and Lev 25:13 in line 25. Both are introduced by "And concerning that which he said," the same phrase used in the Habakkuk Pesher (1QpHab) to cite a portion of a biblical text given in full earlier. Based on this observation it is probable that at least Lev 25:8-13 was cited earlier in a part of the text that is no longer extant.) The text began with the citation of Lev 25:13 to which the parallel legislation in Deut 15:2 is brought alongside in typically midrashic fashion. The point established is that the Torah requires the release of all debts in the year of jubilee.

    In his pesher on Lev 25, the author proceeds to uncover an eschatological meaning of the year of jubilee: “Its interpretation for the last days concerns the captives about whom it is said, 'To proclaim release to the captives (Isa 61:1)'.” The year of jubilee is interpreted eschatologically, so that Israel's eschatological salvation is understood as the ultimate year of release; this is the fulfillment of the prediction of the release of the captives foretold in Isa 61:1. The term "captives" no doubt refer to the members of the community who are oppressed by other Jews who are under the influence of Belial and the spirits of his lot. Moreover, Melchizedek, assumed to be an angel (and, as indicated, probably identical to the archangel Michael and the Prince of Light), is given a role in the eschatological salvation of the righteous and judgment of the wicked. The members of the community are called the “inheritance of Melchizedek” and it is said that Melchizedek will be the one who will "proclaim liberty to them and will release them from the [debt] of their iniquities." At the completion of the ninth Jubilee, in the first week of the tenth jubilee, on the Day of Atonement, "atonement will be made for all the sons of light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek" (2.8; see 2.6), possibly connected somehow to Melchizedek’s eschatological appearance. It is said that this is “the time of the year of grace for Melchizedek," meaning that this is time of eschatological salvation to be mediated by Melchizedek.

    The one who proclaims the good news mentioned in Isa 52:7 "How lovely on the mountains
a re the feet of him who brings good news etc." is also identified as Melchizedek and brought into relation to Isa 61:2-3, in which the one “anointed" by Yahweh in Isa 61:1 is said to perform various soteriological functions. The interpretation of Isa 52:7, in light of Isa 61:1-3 implies that the one anointed in Isa 61:1 is Melchizedek. The various clauses in Isa 52:7 and 61:2-3 are interpreted atomistically, as is typical in Qumran exegesis; because of lacunae, however, it is difficult to understand what is meant. The text reads: "The mountains are the prophets and the messenger is the anointed of the spirit about whom Daniel spoke" (2.17-18) and "'To comfort the afflicted'. Its interpretation: to instruct the ages of the world” (2.20). The passage cited from Daniel as coming to fulillment in tandem with Isa 52:7 and 61:2-3 is Dan 9:25, which implies that the author sees the completion of Daniel’s seventy weeks (Dan 9:24-25) as identical to the beginning of the tenth jubilee; whether the anointed one of Dan 9:25 is interpreted of Melchizedek, however, is unclear.

    At this time Melchizedek will also execute judgment on Belial (Satan) and the spirits of his lot. In this context, Ps 82:1-2 is interpreted eschatologically of Melchizedek's judgment of the fallen angels: God takes his stand in the assembly of God; he judges in the midst of the gods. How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?" The “god” ('elohim) who takes his stand in the assembly of God ('el) is the heavenly being Melchizedek; he will judge in the midst of the other “gods” ('elohim) (2.9-14). In line 11, citing Ps 7:8, it is said that God ('el) will judge the peoples, which is interpreted to mean apparently that the angel Melchizedek will be the instrument of God's eschatological judgment. Along the same lines, the reference “Your God (elohim) reigns” in Isa 52:7 is interpreted to be the reign of Melchizedek, who is a "god" in the sense of being an angel. Ps 82:2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked” is interpreted as follows: “Its interpretation concerns Belial and the spirits of his lot, who rebelled by turning away from the precepts of God” (2.12). It would seem that Ps 82:2 is interpreted as speaking about the unjust reign of Belial and the spirits of his lot, which will come to an end with the appearance of Melchizedek as eschatological judge. (This interpretation is suggested by the fact that Ps 82:1 says that God presides over the assembly of God and judges among the gods ['elohim]. These “gods” are interpreted as angels rather than as human judges. Those addressed in Ps 82:1-2 are again called “gods” and are also called sons of God in Ps 82:6. 11QMelch 2.13 "But Melchizedek will carry out the vengeance of Go[d's] judgments [      ] Belial and from the hand of all the sp[irits of his lot]" seems to affirm that Melchizedek will become judge on that day and will remove the right to judge (or to rule) from Belial and the spirits of his lot.

Eschatological Interpretation of Year of Jubilee in 11Q13 (11QMelchizedek)

Lev 25:13: "In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his respective property."
Deut 15:2: "This is the manner of remission: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor; he shall not exact it of his neighbor and his brother, because it has been proclaimed a release for God."

Isa 61:1: "Anointed me to proclaim release to the captives"
Isa 61:2: "To comfort the afflicted"

Ps 82:1-2: "God ('elohim) takes his stand in the assembly of God ('el); in the midst of the gods ('elohim) he judges. How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?"
Ps 7:8: "God ('el) will judge the peoples."
Isa 52:7: "How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, "Your God ('elohim) reigns."
Dan 9:25: "Until an anointed, a prince, it is seven weeks."
“And the Day of Atonement is the end of the tenth jubilee in which atonement will be made for all the sons of light and for the men of the lot of Melchizedek” (11QMelch 2.8)


3.4. Other Qumran Writings

In other of the Qumran Sectarian writings, Melchizedek is probably to be identified with the archangel Michael who is mentioned in the War Scroll, insofar as Michael assumes the same role of eschatological savior and judge that Melchizedek has in 11QMelch (see 1QM 13.10; 16.6-8; 17.7).Other probable names for Michael / Melchizedek are Prince of Light (1QM 13.10-11; 1QS 2.20-22; CD 5.17-19) and Prince of His [God's] Truth (1QS 3.24). In 4QVisions of Amram (4Q544) there are references to two angels—one good and one evil—who have been empowered to rule over human beings. The evil angel goes by three names: Belial, Prince of Darkness and King of Evil (Melchi-resha). The good angel also is known by three names, but unfortunately the text is corrupt at this point. It is almost certain, however, that one of the names was Melchi-zedek, corresponding to Melchi-resha. The other two names likely were Michael and Prince of Light. The biblical figure of Melchizedek became identified for the Qumran community with God's ruling angel.

3.5. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice

In another text, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, copies of which were found at Qumran and Masada, there are references to angels who function as heavenly priests in the heavenly Temple; these are, in other words, angelic priests. In the first Sabbath song, the angelic priests are also said to bring about the possibility of forgiveness for those who turn from sin. The text in which this idea appears, however, offers some translation difficulties (4Q400 frag. 1 1.15b-16b). Whether the Hebrew word translatable as “His favor or good will” should be taken as the result of the atonement offered on behalf of those who repent or as the object of the atonement, so that “to atone” has more the meaning of propitiate, is not clear  If the former then the translation would be: “They atone for all those who turn from sin, resulting in God's favor to them.” But if this were the meaning it would be better expressed with the article ("the"), to indicate the idea of purpose. If the latter, it would mean: “They propitiate God's good will for the benefit of those who repent of sin.” On this interpretation “His good will” is a circumlocution, or substitute, for God (see Gen 32:21). In either case, however, it is clear that a role of the angelic priests is to provide atonement by means of a heavenly cult for those who repent. This is probably the context in which the phrase in 4Q400 frag. 1 1.18 should be understood,: “[..] His lovingkindness for an eternal compassionate forgiveness.” The lamed-clause may express the result of the preceding clause, which, unfortunately, has too many lacunae to be able to recover its meaning. Probably, the “eternal compassionate forgiveness” results from some cultic function of the angelic priesthood (see parallels in Dan 9:9; 1QH-a 6.9; 4Q286 frag. 1 2. 8). The means by which the angelic priests provide atonement or propitiation for the sins of the penitent is sacrifice. In what may be classified as part of the thirteenth Sabbath Song, there are references to the “sacrifices of the holy one” (11Q17 9.4), as well as “the odor of their offerings” (11Q17 9.4) and “the odor of their drink offerings" (11Q17 9.5). In other words, whatever human priests do in the earthly Temple has its counterpart in heaven, performed by angelic priests, including offering sacrifices.

    In Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice, there is evidence that there is one angel presiding over all other ranks of angels, who serve to provide atonement or propitiation for human beings. The use of the singular "leader" (nshy') in 4Q401 frag. 23.1 and "prince" (šr) in 4Q403 frag. 1 2.23 suggests the existence of such a heavenly being. Similarly, 4Q403 frag. 1 2.24 has the phrase "head of priests of inner sanctum" (rwsh mkwhn qwrb), which implies that one of the angels of the inner sanctum has authority over the rest. There are also two probable references to Melchizedek as one of these heavenly priests: [mlky]tsdq kwhn (4Q401 frag. 11.3) and [     ]ky tsdq (4Q401 frag. 22.3). Given Melchizedek's identification with Michael and the Prince of Light, there is a good chance that Melchizedek would have been understood as this presiding priestly angel, which would make him the heavenly High Priest.
 

4. Jesus as High Priest according to the Order of Melchizedek

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews uses the figure of Melchizedek in his theological reflection on the salvation-historical significance of Jesus' death, of which his readers do not seem to have a complete understanding. Although there are probably original elements to his theological use of Melchizedek, much of what he affirms about Melchizedek is parallel or similar to what is found in second-Temple sources. It is probable that the author intentionally uses elements of his readers' views about Melchizedek in order to present his interpretation of the significance of Jesus' death. This means that his argument would not strike his Jewish readers as idiosyncratic at all, unlike modern readers. The author assumes as his point of departure his Jewish readers' prior belief that Ps 110:1 "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet" is addressed to the Davidic Messiah. He then uses his readers' views about Melchizedek for the purpose of proving the superiority of Jesus' high priesthood to that of Aaron and his descendants. He does this by demonstrating that, according to the same messianic psalm, Ps 110:4, Jesus as Davidic Messiah is also a priest, and in fact High Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek, who as an angelic priest is superior to the human Aaronic priests. So like the angel Melchizedek, Jesus is both a king (Davidic Messiah) and a High Priest (Ps 110:1, 4); he is a superior High Priest to Aaronic, or Levitical, High Priests, since he, like Melchizedek, does not die ("an indestructible life"). The author's ultimate goal is to demonstrate that Christ's death brings the Levitical sacrificial system to an end insofar as Jesus' priestly work is accomplished through his obedient suffering, not through sacrifice of something other than himself.

4.1. Hebrews 5:1-10

In Heb 5:1-10, the author begins to argue for the superiority of Jesus as High Priest over the High Priests from the line of Aaron. The reason that he does this is not stated, but one should probably assume that the intended readers have somehow subordinated Jesus, whom they recognize as Davidic Messiah, to the Levitical priesthood. It is possible that they are willing to interpret Jesus as Davidic Messiah, but also believe that the Levitical priesthood is an eternal institution, to which even the Davidic Messiah is subordinate. Such a belief would be perfectly understandable given the promises in the Old Testament of a eschatologically restored Temple and priesthood (Micah 4; Isa 2; Jer 33:18; Ezek 37:26-28; 40-48). It is the author in fact who holds the radical view that requires explanation and theological justification. It is even possible that the readers have subordinated Jesus as the Davidic Messiah to a priestly messiah or at least hold that he will share authority with a priestly messiah at the time of the eschaton. This eschatological priestly messiah will come from the Aaron's high priestly line. That some Jews believed that there would be two messiahs is clear from second-Temple sources (see T. Levi 18:2-14; 1QS 9:9-11; CD 7; 12:23-13:1; 1QSa 2; 4Q161 frags. 8-10. 25; 4Q285 frag. 5. 1-4; 4Q541; 4Q174 1.11-12; 4Q175). Heb 5:1-10 introduces the topic of Jesus' high priesthood according to the order of Melchizedek, but a more complete discussion of the topic is postponed until Heb 7:1-10:18 (see Heb 2:17 for the first reference to Jesus as High Priest). What the author assumes is that what is true of Melchizedek is true of Jesus, so that, if Melchizedek is a superior High Priest to Aaron, so also is Jesus.

4.1.1. Hebrews 5:1-4
 

1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; 2 he can deal moderately with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself also is beset with weakness; 3 and because of it he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself. 4 And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.

    In Heb 5:1-4, the author describes the high priesthood as it is set out in the Torah; his goal is to procure agreement from his readers in order to be able to move forward to a conclusion about Jesus as a greater High Priest. In Heb 5:1, the author explains that the High Priest was chosen from among human beings (ex anthrôpôn) and put in charge of the things pertaining to God on behalf of human beings (huper anthrôpôn). He was a representative, being appointed to matters relating to God (ta pros ton theon). In particular, the purpose of his appointment was "in order that he offer gifts and sacrifices for sins" (hina prospherê dôra te kai thusias huper hamartiôn) (Heb 5:1). The phrase "gifts and sacrifices" seems to be an idiomatic, so that the author intends the two words to be roughly synonymous. The purpose of the offering "gifts and sacrifices" is expressed by the prepositional phrase "for sins" (huper hamartiôn), meaning for the purpose of the removal of the guilt resulting from transgressions of the Law.

    In Heb 5:2, the author then adds that, since he is the same as those on whose behalf he serves, i.e., weak, the High Priest is able to deal moderately with those who are ignorant and wayward. In this context, the verb metriopathein has the meaning of "to have an indulgent attitude" and not its more usual meaning of to have a regulated restraint of emotion. The phrase "ignorant and wayward" denotes one group of people, and so functions as a hendiadys: "those who are wayward in their ignorance." In the Old Testament, this class of persons is described as those who sin "unintentionally" (LXX akousiôs) (see Lev 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:15; Num 15:21-29) or "in ignorance" (LXX kat' agnoian) (Lev 22:14), in contrast to those who sin "with a high hand" (LXX en cheiri huperêphanias), for whom no atonement is possible (Num 15:30-31; see Num 15:32-36; Deut 17:12). In addition to offering sacrifices for "the people," in Heb 5:3 the author explains that the High Priest also must make an offering ("gifts and sacrifices") for himself for the purpose of sin (peri hamartiôn) on account of his own weakness (Heb 5:3). This is probably a reference to the Day of Atonement when the High Priest must remove his own sins before he sacrifices the goat on behalf of the people (see Lev 16 [see also Lev 9:7-14]; m. Yoma 4:2-5:7). Finally, in Heb 5:4, the author stresses that the High Priest does not presume to take upon himself the honor of being High Priest, but receives it from God when God calls him to the position, as Aaron was called (see Exod 28-29; Lev 8; Num 3:10; 16, 17, 18). (By honor [timê] the author is referring to the responsibility of being High Priest [see Josephus, Ant. 3.190; Philo, Mos., 11.67].)

4.1.2. Hebrews 5:5-6

5 So also Christ did not glorify himself so as to become a High Priest, but he who said to him, "You are my son; today I have begotten you" (Ps 2:7) 6 just as he says also in another passage, "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek" (Ps 110:4).

    In Heb 5:5-6, the author argues that what is true of the Levitical High Priests is also true of the greater High Priest, Christ (i.e. the Davidic Messiah). (In Heb 5:5, the author begins to refer to "Jesus the son of God" [Heb 4:14] as "Christ.") He begins with Christ's right to the appointment as High Priest: as with Aaron (Heb 5:4) (and all other legitimate High Priests) Christ did not glorify himself in becoming High Priest, but received it from God (Heb 5:5-6) (see Sir 45:20; 2 Macc 14:7 for the term "glory" [doxa] used of the functions of the High Priest). To prove this the author again quotes Ps 2:7, a psalm interpreted messianically in the second-Temple period: the Davidic Messiah is appointed "son" by God and does not presume to take it himself. The author has already interpreted Ps 2:7 as messianic in Heb 1:5. (For the messianic interpretation of Ps 2, see Ps. Sol. 17:23 = Ps 2:9; 1QSa 2:11-12 = Ps 2:7; 4Q174 = Ps 2:1; Acts 4:25-26 = Ps 2:1-2; Acts 13:33 = Ps 2:7; see also 4 Ezra 7:28-29; 13:37, 52; 14:9). He conceives Christ's status as son as an acquired status: Christ is proclaimed to be the son, i.e., Davidic Messiah (as Ps 2:7 says of the Messiah) after his appearance in history. What Ps 2:7 has to do with the high priesthood, however, needs to be elucidated. In Heb 5:6, the author connects Ps 2 with Ps 110:4, another psalm quoted earlier as messianic (Heb 1:13 = Ps 110:1) (see Mark 12:36-37). Insofar as it is established that he is being referred to in Ps 110:1, what is said in Ps 110:4 must be addressed to the Davidic Messiah. Since the Messiah in Ps 110:4 is declared to be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek and since he is also being referred to in Ps 2 as being appointed to this role by God and did not presume to take it for himself, what is said of the Messiah Ps 2:7 can be imported into Ps 110. Christ's appointment to the role of Davidic Messiah (Ps 2:7; see Ps 110:1) is also his appointment to the role of High Priest (Ps 110:4), in the same way that Aaron was appointed High Priest. This is an instance of the application of the interpretive rule later called gezerah shavah ("an equal category"): an Old Testament passage that has verbal or conceptual similarities with another Old Testament passage can interpreted in light of that passage, so that meaning can be imported into the interpreted passage from the one to which is it verbally or conceptually similar. In the case of Ps 2:7 and Ps 110:4, what is similar is that both texts are interpreted as referring to the Davidic Messiah (although no common words for the messiah are found in both texts). This second citation of Ps 2:7 by the author (see Heb 1:5) and his bringing this messianic passage in relation to Ps 110:4, as described above, allows him the possibility of connecting his teaching about Jesus as the son (i.e. Davidic Messiah) with his teaching about him as the greater High Priest. Not surprisingly, the author subsequently describes Jesus as son in relation to his role as High Priest (Heb 5:8-10; 7:28). It should be pointed out that the author implicitly criticizes the idea that the Levitical priesthood is eternal (see Exod 29:9; 1 Chron 15:2) in the sense of being incapable of being superseded salvation-historically.

Ps 2:7:  I will tell of the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, "You are my son, today I have begotten you.

Ps 110:1, 4:  Yahweh says to my lord: "Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool." 4 Yahweh has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek."

The Messiah’s appointment as “son” (Ps 2:7; see Ps 110:1) is also his appointment as High Priest (Ps 110:4).

    The figure of Melchizedek sees the unification of king and High Priest as one individual. These two offices were separated in the Mosaic covenant and also later in the Davidic covenant. Moses led the people, whereas Aaron his brother founded a high-priestly order; later, when God swore to David that he would establish his dynasty forever, the high priesthood belonged to the family of Zadok, who was a priest (from the line of Aaron). Melchizedek, in the author's view, prefigures the unification of two offices in one person, which should come to pass in the "last days." Since the Davidic Messiah is also appointed as a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek, the two offices of king and priest are unified.

4.1.3. Hebrews 5:7-10

7 In the days of his flesh, he offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the one able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence [for God]. 8 Although he was [the] son, he learned obedience from the things that he suffered. 9 And having been made perfect, he became to all those who obey him the source of eternal salvation,10 being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

    In Heb 5:7-10, the author elaborates on his assertion that Jesus as the son (Davidic Messiah) is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Syntactically, Heb 5:7-10 is a relative clause, whose antecedent is found in Heb 5:5: Christ (ho Christos); this relative clause has two main verbs: "he learned" (emathen) (Heb 5:8) and "he became" (egeneto) (Heb 5:9). There are also several subordinate participial clauses connected to each main verb. (For other christologically significant relative clauses, see Heb 1:2; 12:2.) The author says that “in the days of his flesh” Christ offered up "prayers and supplications" as a High Priest to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence (for God) (The terms "prayers" and "supplications" are probably synonymous terms [see LXX Job 40:27; see also Polyb. 3.112.8; Isocrates, Or. 8.138; Philo, Leg. Gai. 226, 228; Jos., War 5.318; see the occurrence of "supplications" in 2 Macc 8:29; 9:18; 10:25; Sir 51:9].) The preposition apo (from) in the phrase apo tês eulabeias ("from reverence") has a causal meaning. The author is alluding to the gospel tradition of Jesus in Gethsemane: "And he [Jesus] was saying, "Abba Father. All things are possible for you; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what you will" (Mark 14:36). Nevertheless, the author points out that God did not save Christ from death, and this for a reason: his suffering was the means of his becoming perfected (teleiôtheis egeneto) (Heb 5:7) (see Mark 14:33-36 = Matt 26:37-39; Luke 22:42-44). No doubt the author expects his readers to find this historical fact perplexing, raising the question of why God did not rescue Jesus from being arrested, tried and executed. The expression "days of his flesh" is a genitive of quality: his fleshy days or fleshly period of time. It refers to Christ's historical appearance, the period of time before his exaltation. The use of "flesh" to describe Jesus' historical manifestation implies Jesus' identity with the realm of human weakness and sin, although the author holds that Jesus was without sin (Heb 4:15).

    In Heb 5:8, the term "son" is used of Christ again, and the author makes the point that "in spite of being (the) son" (kaiper ôn huios), by which is meant the Davidic Messiah (Ps 2:7), Christ learned obedience through his sufferings. In other words, Christ learned to submit to God's will in his suffering, which would lead to his death. This is why he was not saved from death, even though he was heard "because of his reverence." The author makes use of a common word play in Greek: emathen (aph' hôn) epathen (tên hupakoên) ("He learned [from what] he suffered [obedience]). This learning of submission led to Christ's perfection ("He became perfected" [teleiôtheis egeneto]), his becoming qualified to be the source of salvation for all who obey him (see Heb 2:10: "through sufferings to perfect" [dia pathêmatôn teleiôsai]). In a sense, Jesus becomes the son or Davidic Messiah (Christ) through his obedience leading to his suffering. As the author will argue later, as the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, Jesus does high priestly work by his own suffering and death (Heb 5:9). His obedience to God in suffering was the means by which he became qualified ("perfected") to be High Priest. For this reason, the author says that Jesus as High Priest became the "cause of eternal salvation for those obedient to him" (tois hupakousin autô aitios sôtêrias aiôniou). To be "the cause of eternal salvation" is synonymous with being "the author of salvation" (ho archêgos tês sôtêrias) (Heb 2:10). (Only in Heb 5:9 does the author use the term "eternal salvation," but it is synonymous with his use of the unmodified "salvation" elsewhere in the letter.) (The phrase "cause of salvation" used in various senses occurs in Polyb. 1.43.2; Diod. 4.82.3; Philo, Spec. leg. 1.252; Agr. 96; Virt. 202; Jos., Ant. 14.136.) The one for whom Jesus is the "cause of eternal salvation" is the one who is obedient to him: the author inseparably joins faith and obedience. Finally, in Heb 5:10, the author concludes by saying that Jesus was designated by God as a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. It is probable that the author is attempting to refute the view of his readers that Jesus' suffering was irrelevant to his salvation-historical calling as Davidic Messiah; their view may have been that Jesus suffered because of the blindness of the Jewish authorities, but God vindicated him by raising him from the dead and exalting Jesus to his right hand (see Acts 2:14-36). In so doing the author compares the salvation-historical effects of Jesus' death to his receiving a high priesthood like that of Melchizedek, a better type of High Priest than the Aaronic type.

4.2. Hebrews 7:11-19

11 Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of Law also. 13 For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. 15 And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become such not on the basis of a fleshly law, but according to the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is attested of him,"You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." 18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.

    The first subsection of Heb 7:11-28 is Heb 7:11-19; this is marked off as a literary unity by means of an inclusion: "perfection" (teleiôsis) in Heb 7:11 and "he brought to perfection" (eteleiôsen) in Heb 7:19. The author argues that the priesthood promised in Ps 110:4 supersedes the Levitical priesthood; the former is the eschatological replacement of the latter. In fact, the Levitical priesthood was inferior, and needed to be replaced by another priesthood, that according to the order of Melchizedek. By the word "order" in the phrase "according to the order of Melchizedek" (derived from Ps 110:4) the author means "type," a type of high priesthood. He differentiates the type of priesthood that Melchizedek (the priestly angel) has, which Jesus now shares, with the type of priesthood that Aaron and his descendants have (described in 7:11 by means of the parallel phrase "according to the order of Aaron"). (In 7:15 he uses the synonymous phrase "according to the likeness of Melchizedek.") The author begins with a counterfactual conditional sentence, in which the apodosis (the if-clause) serves as a rhetorical question: "Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood...what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek?" The answer that he expects is that perfection (teleiôsis) was not attained through the Levitical priesthood. By "perfection" is meant being made acceptable to God through the removal of guilt, which is what the Levitical sacrifices and rituals were intended to accomplish (This is a different use of the term "perfection" than was applied to Christ [see Heb 2:10; 5:9; 7:28]) (see Heb 9:9; 10:1, 14; 11:40; 12:23). Within his conditional sentence, the author includes the parenthetical observation concerning the connection between Law and Levitical priesthood, which is expressed by ep' autês. The preposition epi + genitive should be taken to mean "on the basis of" (see LXX Deut 19:15: epi stomatos duo marturôn), so that the meaning is "For on the basis of it [the priesthood] the people received the Law." (The antecedent of autês is "priesthood" [hierôsunê]). The point is that the Levitical priesthood is indispensable to the Law and even prior to the Law, insofar as the Law presupposes the Levitical priesthood. Thus, a change in it would necessitate a change to the Law (Heb 7:12). The author claims that the Levitical priesthood was imperfect because there is another priesthood referred to in Ps 110:4—the priesthood to which the son of God was appointed as the result of his suffering, that according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 7:11). That this priesthood is not according to the order of Aaron, but according to the order of Melchizedek, implies that the Levitical priesthood was deficient and needed to be replaced. He assumes that another priesthood would not spoken about later if the first priesthood was adequate to its task.

  In Heb 7:12-17, the author deals with the theological "problem" that Jesus is not of Levitical descent, and therefore is not qualified to be a priest, let alone High Priest. He argues that if there is a change in priesthood (see Ps 110:4) there must be a corresponding change in the Law, which only knows of a Levitical priesthood. But, if there is a change in the Law, then priests may not have to be of Levitical descent any longer, which turns out to be the case (Heb 7:12). In Heb 7:13-14, the author points out that "our Lord" (ho kurios hêmôn), i.e., Jesus, belonged to the tribe of Judah, to which the right of priesthood does not belong; but (implicitly) the change of the Law has resulted in the fact that the High Priest will come from the tribe of Judah and be, like Melchizedek, both king and priest. (The use of the verb anatetalken ["he has sprung"] may be an allusion to the messianic passages concerning the "branch" in Isa 11:1; Jer 23:5; Zech 6:12 [anatelei] and the "star" in Num 24:17; Mal 4:2 [LXX 3:20] [anatelei].) The fact that the author can take it for granted that Jesus was from the tribe of Judah probably reflects his readers' acceptance that Jesus was the Davidic Messiah. It is significant that Melchizedek was king of Salem (Jerusalem), the future city of David, who is from the tribe of Judah. It should be noted that the author makes a hermeneutical assumption that most Jews and perhaps even his readers would not explicitly grant: that the Law can ever be superseded and that scripture itself could be interpreted as proving this very thing. This is a controversial aspect of the author's argument and is similar to Paul's view of the Law. (Implicitly, however, Jews altered the Law in different ways, including using the genre of the "rewritten Bible," which allowed them to add to and delete from the Torah.)

    In Heb 7:15-19, the author then contrasts the new High Priest with the Levitical High Priests with respect to their qualifications. His introductory clause "And it is clearer still" refers back to what he stated in 7:11-14. His point is that the reason that Jesus is qualified to be a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, elucidated in 7:15-16, makes his previous statements about the inferiority and provisional nature of the Levitical priesthood in 7:11-14 even more credible. The Levitical High Priests were qualified to be High Priests on account of their physical descent from Aaron, based on the requirement of the Law. The new High Priest is qualified to be High Priest because he, like Melchizedek, the angelic High Priest, does not die, by which he means Christ's resurrection (Heb 7:15-16). His meaning is that, after his death by which he was "perfected" and thereby "became...the source of eternal salvation" (5:9), Christ has been raised from the dead and appointed High Priest forever. The author paraphrases Ps 110:4, substituting "likeness" (homoitêta) for "order" (taxin); his purpose is to explicate the way in which Jesus' type of high priesthood differs from that of the High Priests according to the order of Aaron. Unlike the other type of High Priests, those according to the order of Aaron, Jesus has become such not on the basis of a fleshly law, but according to the power of an indestructible life (Heb 7:16). He introduces this thought by means of a relative clause: "who has become" etc. So the reason that Jesus and Melchizedek belong to the same order or type of high priesthood is that both are indestructible High Priests: Melchizedek as an angel and Jesus as the son whom God raised from the dead, unlike the men who are descendants of Aaron. (The first genitive in the phrase "power of an indestructible life" [dunamin zôês akatalutou] is a genitive of apposition or content, meaning power consisting of an indestructible life, whereas the second genitive is one of quality.) The high priesthood of Melchizedek, the type th

at Jesus has assumed (Ps 110:4), is said not to be "according to the Law of fleshly commandment," by which he means the Law's stipulations about priesthood. His point is that the Law concerning the qualifications of the High Priest consists of a fleshy commandment. To say that a commandment is "fleshly" is say that it is weak and ineffectual, which in this context implies that the Levitical High Priests do not function as true mediators between Israel and God. The Old Testament and, more importantly, the Qumran sectarian writings serve as the best religious-historical background for this use of "flesh" to denote weakness and ineffectualness (see Gen 8:21; Isa 40:6, 8; 2 Chr 32:8; Ps 78:39; Jer 17:5; 1QS 11.11-12; 1QH-a 4.29-30; 10.23; 18.21; see also T. Judah 19.4; T. Zebul. 9:7). In Heb 7:17, the author again quotes Ps 110:4 to make this point: the Davidic Messiah is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Finally, in Heb 7:18, the author argues that, if there is a new High Priest, there must be a setting aside (athetêtis) of the (old) commandment (regarding priesthood) because it was weak and useless (asthenês kai anôpheles) (see "fleshly commandment" in Heb 7:16). As he already indicated, a new priesthood would not have neen necessary if the old priesthood was effective. So, according to the author, the promise of a perpetual Levitical priesthood in Exod 29:9 ("And they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute") and 40:15 ("Their anointing will qualify them for a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations") should be interpreted to mean until the time of the eschaton, when the greater High Priest appears. If they believed what is said about the angel Melchizedek in 11Q13 2.7b-8: "And the d[ay of aton]ement is the e[nd of] the tenth [ju]bilee in which atonement will be made for all the sons of light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek," the readers might be prepared to understand Jesus as the greater High Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek, who brings true, eschatological atonement. The author denigrates the Law further by saying that it made nothing “perfect” (eteleiosen) (Heb 7:19a). Actually, according to the author, the Law was not intended to be eternal but only preparatory for something better and perfect. When he says that the Law did not make perfect, he means that the Law as pertaining to the priesthood and the Temple cult did not serve to make anyone acceptable to God. As a result a better hope is introduced (through a better High Priest), which allows for a new approach to God (7:19b).

 

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