To which deity was the author of Hebrews referring to when he used “Most High God” in Hebrews 7:1? Yes, I am very aware of the claims or speculations of some that the deity of Melchizedek (El Elyon) in Genesis 14 is a Canaanite/pagan god however I’m specifically interested in any evidence to help discern the meaning of this phrase used in the New Testament in Hebrews 7:1. My question assumes that Melchizedek was a historical actual living person, not a myth or symbol.

The reason I am asking this question is because Melchizedek is a key figure to the arguments of Hebrews 7 and if he worshiped a non-YHWH deity this would raise concerns about the remaining arguments citing Melchizedek. And yes I have read all the other Melchizedek/Most High God posts here but I did not find any specifically addressing any evidence to help identify the "Most High God" of Hebrews 7:1.

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    I think that is the author of Hebrews' argument that Melchizedek was priest of the Most High God, namely YHWH. That is why Abraham did what he did.
    – Dottard
    Nov 22 '20 at 10:49
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    Bereishit / Genesis 14:22 specifically states : YHVH El Elyon "יְהֹוָה֙ אֵ֣ל עֶלְי֔וֹן" : [chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8209/jewish/Chapter-14.htm] Nov 22 '20 at 11:55
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    @חִידָה The argument commonly made in favor of Melchizedek worshipping a non-YHVH deity is that in Bereishit 14:19-20 he does not preface El Elyon with YHVH while, as you pointed out, Abraham does so in 14:22. There is much "scholarly" literature claiming that El Elyon was a pagan God of the Canaanites. This is why my question is specific to how the author of Hebrews 7:1 would have used/understood this phrase. Thanks.
    – Derek
    Nov 22 '20 at 20:59

The phrase "Most High God" always refers exclusively to YHWH, the God of both the NT and the OT. Note the following:

  • Mark 5:7 - He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God's name don't torture me ...
  • Luke 6:35 - Then you will have a great reward. You will be the children of the Most High God. After all, he is kind to unthankful and evil people ...
  • Luke 8:28 - When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
  • Acts 16:17 - She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved ...
  • Heb 7:1 - For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him ...

The Old Testament has exactly the same pattern:

  • Gen 14:18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (Now he was the priest of the Most High God.) ...
  • Gen 14:19 and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by by the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth.
  • Gen 14:20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything.
  • Genesis 14:22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "With raised my hand to the LORD, the Most High God, Creator of heaven and earth

See also Job 31:28, Ps 57:2, 78:35, 56, 83:18, Lam 3:35, 38, Eze 1:24, Dan 3:26, 4:2, 5:18, 21, 7:18, 25, etc.

Note in this brief survey that "God Most High" or "Most High God" is called:

  • Creator of heaven and earth
  • YHWH (see also Ps 83:18)
  • The "Rock" (Ps 78:35)

A consistent hermeneutic demands that "Most High God" is YHWH, creator of heaven and earth, in both the OT and the NT.; AND Father of the Son of the Most High God. That is, God the Father is the Most High God.

Ellicott observes:

El ‘elyon means “the supreme God,” and though the two words are so similar in English, they are altogether unlike in Hebrew. In Psalm 7:17 the epithet ‘elyon is applied to Jehovah. With that precision in the use of the names of Deity which we have so often noticed before, Melchizedek is described as a priest of El ‘elyon, the Supreme Ruler of the universe; but Abram swears by Jehovah El ‘elyon, thus claiming that Jehovah was that Supreme Deity whom Melchizedek served, though without the special knowledge of Him which the patriarch possessed.

... And the Cambridge commentary also has:

Some have thought that El Elyon denotes here the name of an ancient Canaanite deity, and quote, in favour of this view, the statement of Philo of Byblus (Euseb. Prep. Ev. i. 10) that there was a Phoenician divinity Ἐλιοῦν καλούμενος Ὕψιστος = “Elyon called Most High.” But El in the O.T. is one of the most common names of God, especially frequent in poetical and archaic usage. It is often combined with some qualifying epithet denoting an attribute, e.g. Genesis 17:1, “God Almighty” = El Shaddai: Genesis 21:33, “the Everlasting God” = El ‘olâm: Exodus 20:5, “a jealous God” = El ḳanna. Again Elyon, “Most High,” is an epithet often applied to Jehovah, e.g. Numbers 24:16; and combined with El, Psalm 78:35. Melchizedek seems, therefore, to be regarded by the writer as a priest of God Almighty, the God of the Universe. The fuller knowledge of God as Jehovah, the God of Revelation, was the privilege of Abram and his descendants. The conception of Melchizedek as the representative of a primitive phase of Natural Religion, in the Canaan of 2000 b.c., idealizes his figure.

The Pulpit commentary reaches the same conclusion:

Of the most high God. Literally, El-Ellen, a proper name for the Supreme Deity (occurring only here, in the narrative of Abram's interview with the kings); of which the first term, El, from the same root as Elohim (Genesis 1:1, q.v.), signifies the Strong One, and is seldom applied to God without some qualifying attribute or cognomen, as El-Shaddai, or El, the God of Israel; and the second, 'Elion (occurring frequently afterwards, as in Numbers 24:16; Deuteronomy 32:8; Psalm 7:18 [Psalm 7:17]; Psalms 9:2), describes God as the High, the Highest, the Exalted, the Supreme, and is sometimes used in conjunction with Jehovah (Psalm. 7:18 [Psalm 7:17]), and with Elohim (Psalm 57:3 [Psalm 57:2]), while sometimes it stands alone (Psalm 21:8 [Psalm 21:7]). Most probably the designation here describes the name under which the Supreme Deity was worshipped by Melchisedeck and the king of Sodom, whom Abram recognizes as followers of the true God by identifying, as in Ver. 22, El-Elion with Jehovah (cf. Quarry, p. 426).

  • "A consistent hermeneutic demands that "Most High God" is YHWH" How would you reply to the claim that Melchizedek's El Elyon was not YHWH because, as has been argued, Melchizedek did not preface Most High God with YHWH as Abraham did in Gen 14:22? Are you implying this is a result of an inconsistent hermeneutic?
    – Derek
    Nov 22 '20 at 21:08
  • @Derek - fair question. I will add some extra details in the reply.
    – Dottard
    Nov 22 '20 at 21:45
  • Whatever it refers to in Genesis, this is certainly the intended meaning of the author of Hebrews, imo. Nov 22 '20 at 22:09
  • @LukeSawczak - I agree with you opinion and, by extension, the opinion of the author of Hebrews.
    – Dottard
    Nov 22 '20 at 22:39
  • @LukeSawczak "Whatever it refers to in Genesis, this is certainly the intended meaning of the author of Hebrews" Yes I would agree with that conclusion and that's the reason for my question. If as is often claimed that Melchizedek's deity was not YHWH but some "most high" in the Canaanite pagan religious system then this would (imo) create problems for the arguments in Hebrews 7. If however the author of Hebrews understood Melchizedek's deity to be YHWH this would undermine claims of a non-YHWH deity in Gen 14.
    – Derek
    Nov 23 '20 at 1:21

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