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According to the Epistle of Hebrews, specifically chapter 7, is Yeshu'a the same person as Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) (cp. Gen. 14:18), or are they different people?

Here is the translation according to the KJV:

1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; 2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; 3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.

Here is the Greek text according to the Textus Receptus:

1 Οὗτος γὰρ ὁ Μελχισέδεκ βασιλεὺς Σαλήμ ἱερεὺς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου ὁ συναντήσας Ἀβραὰμ ὑποστρέφοντι ἀπὸ τῆς κοπῆς τῶν βασιλέων καὶ εὐλογήσας αὐτόν 2 ᾧ καὶ δεκάτην ἀπὸ πάντων ἐμέρισεν Ἀβραάμ πρῶτον μὲν ἑρμηνευόμενος βασιλεὺς δικαιοσύνης ἔπειτα δὲ καὶ βασιλεὺς Σαλήμ ὅ ἐστιν βασιλεὺς εἰρήνης 3 ἀπάτωρ ἀμήτωρ ἀγενεαλόγητος μήτε ἀρχὴν ἡμερῶν μήτε ζωῆς τέλος ἔχων ἀφωμοιωμένος δὲ τῷ υἱῷ τοῦ θεοῦ μένει ἱερεὺς εἰς τὸ διηνεκές


If they are the same person...

How do you understand the following expressions which appear to compare and thus distinguish Yeshu'a and Malki-Tzedek using similes?

  1. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, (v. 15 KJV)
  2. ...what further need [was there] that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? (v. 11 KJV)
  3. For he testifieth, Thou [art] a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. (v. 17 KJV)

If they are different people...

Please also answer the following question.

  1. If the order of Malki-Tzedek is "unchangeable" (v.24), then how could the office of the high priest have passed from Malki-Tzedek to Yeshu'a? The Greek word translated into English as "unchangeable" is ἀπαράβατον (aparabaton) (Strongs #G531).

Thayer's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines it as follows:

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2 Answers

The author of Hebrews is not identifying Melchizedek as a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus or what have you, but as a type or pattern for Jesus' priesthood.


Argument From Chronology

The first thing to note is that this passage is a reflection on the Melchizedek narrative in Genesis through the lens of Psalm 110, which was introduced back in 5:6 demonstrating that Jesus did not take upon himself the office of high priest, but was appointed by God who declared to him, "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek."

The author of Hebrews notes that the psalmist's oracle establishes the need for a greater priesthood than that of the Levitical priesthood in the order of Aaron. If the that priesthood had been adequate, he asks in verse 11, why would there be an oracle written some time later declaring someone else now as priest forever and of a different order?

In other words, by the author's own interpretation of Psalm 110, the priesthood being established there is something that comes after the Levitical priesthood and therefore demonstrates its inadequacy to meet the needs of the people. We cannot make sense of the author's argument, however, if he believed that Melchizedek was Jesus, since Melchizedek was priest not after the Levitical priesthood, but before.

Similarly, we see that the author of Hebrews considered it important that the oath which made Jesus a priest (5:6) came not before the law, but after (7:28). Melchizedek's priesthood obviously came before the law; therefore it cannot be the same person.

Analogy vs Identity

As you note in your question, there are a number of analogies/similes in Hebrews 7 comparing Melchizedek and Jesus. The two key verses here are 3, 11 and 15. I'll return to verse 3 in a moment, but the analogies of verses 11 and 15 build on the first point. In verse 11, the author, reflecting on Psalm 110, notes that it looked forward to another priest who was to come. In 15, what has been said becomes more plain because another priest has appeared - one like Melchizedek: namely Jesus.

In other words, the author of Hebrews, interpreting Psalm 110, notes that it looked forward to another priest who would be like Melchizedek. He does not say that the psalmist looked forward to the return of Melchizedek or some such thing.

Typological Subordination

Returning to verse 3, there is one more crucial point - that Melchizedek is made subordinate as a type to the Son of God and not the other way around. Yes, the author of Hebrews says that Jesus was like Melchizedek. But in verse 3, he is careful to note that the resemblance is because Melchizedek was "made like unto the Son of God." From this it is clear that the author understands God's intention that this historical person, Melchizedek, and his story should be written in such a way as to resemble the Son of God - i.e. the silence of the Genesis narrative on Melchizedek's genealogy, paternity, maternity, birth, death, etc... was deliberate foreshadowing of an eternal priesthood based not on laws regarding ancestry, but based on the power of Jesus' indestructible life. As David Allen puts it (NAC), "It is this phrase, 'like the Son of God,' that the author uses to indicate two important truths: the greatness of Melchizedek; yet he only resembles someone greater."

This is reflected in the final phrase of verse 3 as well. While when quoting the psalmist in verse 17 and 21, as well as when describing the priesthood of Jesus himself in verses 24 and 28, the author uses the phrase εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, here at the end of verse 3 we see that he instead is careful to use a different phrase, εἰς τὸ διηνεκές, translated in the KJV as "continually." BDAG defines this phrase so:

pert. to being continuous, without interruption, always of time εἰς τὸ δ. for all time, without interruption ... μένει ἱερεὺς εἰς τὸ διηνεκές remains a priest for all time (i.e. Melchizedek’s priesthood goes on without lapse) Hb 7:3.

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000).A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (emphasis original)

If the author wanted his readers to understand that Melchizedek was Jesus and that his priesthood was truly eternal, we would almost certainly have used εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα in order to reflect the psalmist's prophetic word as he does when describing the nature of Jesus' priesthood. However, he uses a different word to describe the nature of Melchizedek's priesthood. This is because the author did not consider Melchizedek to be an eternal and indestructible being, but the shadow of one, typological shadows being a major theme of this section of the book (cf. 8:5, 10:1).


In reply to your objection concerning the unchangeable order...

It is not Melchizedek's priesthood or order that is unchangeable in verse 24, but Jesus' priesthood on the basis of his indestructible life. While Melchizedek's death is not recorded in Genesis so as to make him a type, he of course did eventually die as a historical person as far as the author would have been concerned. With him would have died his priesthood.

But the author draws the contrast that Jesus, having been raised to eternal life beyond the possibility of death attains to a priesthood that can likewise never perish - especially since it had been sealed with an oath. Melchizedek was not raised to such a life, nor was such an oath given to him; and his priesthood was not forever.

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I will answer the first part of the question by referring to John Owen's condensed (Crossway Christian Classics) explanation:

First, Melchizedek was a mere man and no more than a man. For “every high priest is selected from among men” (5:1). So the Son of God himself could not have been a priest if he had not assumed our nature. If Melchizedek was more than a man he would not have been introduced as without father or mother, for only men have them. Second, Melchizedek did not become high priest by right of his birth, which includes a genealogy, but was raised up and called directly by God. In this respect Christ is said to be a high priest after his order. Thirdly, Melchizedek had no successor on the earth, nor could he have, as he was a priest because of his extraordinary call. King of Salem. The first thing said about Melchizedek concerns his office, that he was a king. When he is first mentioned he is called “Melchizedek king of Salem” (Genesis 14:18). He is not principally a type of Christ in this respect, as nowhere is it said that Christ is a king after Melchizedek’s order; nevertheless, Melchizedek’s being a king does make him more eminent. (Crossway Christian Classics, John Owen, page 166)

I believe this is the most common understanding that easily resolves the difficulty you are pondering. First, Jesus is not Melchizedek. Second, the priesthood is not 'passed' from Melchizedek to Jesus, or Melchizedek to Aaron, or Aaron to Jesus. Actually that is the point of the argument.

The idea of a never ending priesthood, is not possible in a strict literal sense unless it it evolves, is supplanted by, is replaced by, a priesthood with a literal never ending life. Those priesthoods before that can be said to be eternal and unchanging only in that they ultimately reflect to, point to, that final state for which they serve.

The argument is like this:

And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless. (Hebrews 7:15-18, ESV)

So you see the former regulation is set aside not continued on through. Melchizedek only presents the image of an eternal priesthood because his parents and children are not mentioned, but in truth he died. Similarly the Aaronic priesthood gave the symbolic representation of an eternal priesthood (when it still existed) through succession after each priest died. What is needed to fillout a representative unchanging eternity to a an actual is a literal 'eternal life' within a new priesthood.

So the argument is based on a literal eternal existence as opposed to a symbolic foreshadowing one:

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. (Hebrews 7:23-24, ESV)

To summarize, Jesus is not Melchizedek, but his literal eternal priesthood 'fills out', 'replaces', 'supersedes' previous priesthoods that merely foreshadowed his. They prefigured his but only by 'symbolic endlessness' for they themselves literally died. They were therefore 'imperfect' representatives of the promised future Priesthood in David's Psalm, predicted to be in the 'likeness' of Melchizedek.

To address the specific verses you noted:

Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? (Hebrews 7:11, ESV)

This simply means if the Aaronic priesthood could bring the people into perfection (the assumed purpose of any priesthood) then David would not have predicted a new one symbolized by Melchizedek.

Verses 15-17 are the same I quoted and they simply are a summary of the previous argument that is saying 'Jesus is that person promised who would become an eternal priest'. The reason is that he clearly matches what was symbolized by Melchizedek in that he was not along the lines of the Aaronic priesthood but based upon being appointed on account of his divine indestructible life in human form. By this divinity and humanity he could properly become a substitutionary atoning sacrifice for our sins and be able to eternally represent the merits of his atonement on our behalf, in the flesh, to God, in order that we might be perfected forever. Nobody could appoint themselves for such a thing, and no mere human on account of their death could take on such a priesthood.

Of course the surpassing 'greatness' of the New Covenant Priesthood of Christ is also typically paralleled by the literal greater position that Melchizedek had over Abraham in that Abraham paid his tithes to him. This greatness extends to everything borne from Abraham and the related covenant God made with his people. This naturally includes the Aaronic priesthood and the entire law for which that position officiated under, as argued by the author of this Epistle to the Hebrews.

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There are many who believe Jesus to have been Melchisedek. Just one example: near-death.com/experiences/origen042.html. But rest assured, there are others. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Aug 7 '13 at 4:12
    
I appreciate your answer to my follow-up question. Though I understand that the burden of proof is on me to show that they are the same, I would appreciate it if you could elaborate on your answer to the first part of the question. Could you please show me some textual proof as to why they cannot be one and the same? At the moment I find the similes I mentioned to be very easy to look past since simile is typically a poetic device, obviously the author would have some license. I will have to take some time to ponder your interpretation of the chapter as a whole. Thank you for responding. –  Joshua Utterback Aug 7 '13 at 4:14
    
@JoshuaUtterback - Ok , I was not aware there are some who think he was literally the pre-human form of Messiah (I can only assume that is what they propose before the incarnation) and so I grabbed a quote from Owen to show the weakness of this view... as a priest for a human must be in human form which was the point of the incarnation, that Christ might atone for human verses angelic or sins from other races or forms. Assuming then that Melchizedek was just a guy, the rest plays out naturally and fits well into the original Greek by using the word similitude or likeness not actual. cheers –  Mike Aug 7 '13 at 5:05
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