The Genesis account of Abraham's encounter with Melchizedek leaves us with powerful few details about his life, yet later on the author of Hebrews clearly uses his priestly work as a type of Christ, going so far as to compare their origins and rolls as priest. Genesis at least tells us that the man was a king and priest:

Genesis 14:17-18 (ESV)
17  After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18  And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.)

Hence the introduction in Hebrews doesn't tell us anything we don't already know. In fact in seems fairly obvious at first that the author's source is in fact the Genesis account.

Hebrews 7:1-2 (ESV)
7 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace.

However when we get to verse 3, it seems like we get an extra fragment of information about the life of Melchizedek than cannot be plainly derived from the Genesis account.

Hebrews 7:3 (ESV)
He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

True, he kind of just shows up on the stage and walks off again when his scene is over, but I wouldn't normally assume that because a narrative leaves off the genealogy of a character that that character didn't have parents or eventually a tombstone somewhere. Yet that seems to be the conclusion drawn by Auctor.

Besides one brief mention in Psalms I don't know of any other Scriptural sources for information on Melchizedek. Are there other sources predating Hebrews that share this understanding of the narrative? Would Auctor have had other sources (either textual or traditional) for his/her understanding of Melchizedek's nature1?

In other words, was this a doctrinal understanding shared by others of his time, or, if one is to believe the text to be authoritative, does this need to be understood as an instance of divine revelation that made this detail available to those who received the book? Asked yet another way, was this text the first instance of Melchizedek being identified as specifically not having a beginning or end and for being an 'eternal priest'2?

1 I am aware that some believe this to be a pre-Christ theophany. I am less interested in the interpretation of the Hebrews passage as I am in knowing what sources Auctor may have had on this subject when it was written.

2 ...as opposed to your 'garden variety priest' that will one day find a home six feet under some church garden.

  • Caleb - I just wanted to propose a title change for the question, something like: "Hebrews 7 - What is the basis that Melchizedek is without father or mother?" ... so, "without father and mother" are in the title, and more searchable. What do you think? Please feel free to roll back. I just saw a related question, which is bringing this up: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/30643/… Dec 14, 2017 at 14:00

6 Answers 6


An important piece of evidence that provides a partial answer for this question comes from the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS).


Qumran Cave 11

A large number of fragments were found in Cave 11, among them a text known as 11Q13 or 11QMelchizedek. In brief (and quoting the "About" text from the DeadSeaScrolls.org.il site),1 it is a short text which

focuses on Melchizedek, an enigmatic figure who is mentioned only twice in the Hebrew Bible: in Genesis 14:18–20 and in Psalm 110:4. Whereas the Bible describes him as a priest and a king, this text portrays him as a heavenly savior figure who will rescue the righteous at the final judgment.

It is, apparently, difficult to date, but is thought to originate in the Hasmonean period, and probably dates to the first century BCE (=BC). This, then, provides evidence of interest in the figure of Melchizedek from a period before the New Testament.

Like all the DSS, this puzzling text has been much discussed. (A few of the more significant and/or web-accessible examples are noted below.)

11Q13 and Hebrews

There is a point of connection for this question about Hebrews. It provides evidence in the Hellenistic period (and up) for the growing "exegetical" interest in biblical figures that moderns would otherwise find "peripheral" or enigmatic. (The "angels" of Genesis 6:1-4 are another example of this phenomenon.) In the Qumran text, Melchizedek appears to be associated with Elohim. In Hebrews, as the OP makes clear, Melchizedek is a pointer to, precursor of, type of Jesus Christ.2

This is not to suggest that 11Q13 was a "source" for the author of Hebrews. Rather, it points to a situation of lively and even speculative interpretation in which the "deeper" significance of a figure like Melchizedek was being explored. This later use is rooted in the "hermeneutics" of the Hasmonean period. It was a mode of interpretation which could extrapolate details from the text and make new, even inspired, connections.


  1. See also the description and translation on the 11Q13 Wikipedia page.
  2. For a careful and illuminating unpacking of this scenario, see William Horbury, "Josephus and 11Q13 on Melchizedek", in Studies on the Text and Versions of the Hebrew Bible in Honour of Robert Gordon, ed. by Geoffrey Khan, Diana Lipton (Leiden: Brill, 2011), pp. 239-252.

Select Bibliography

  • A clear and lucid write up
    – user20490
    Dec 14, 2017 at 16:17

1. Question Restatement:

What is the source of the Book of Hebrews' assertion that Melchizedek had no father or mother?

Disclaimer: I am in no way affirming the "authority" of any of these texts - just stating that they arguably are contemporary with the Book of Hebrews.

2. Possible Answer :

Probably from an earlier version of the book : Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan, Wikipedia, (Also known as the Book of Adam and Eve). Book III, Chapters 16 - 21.

Also see : The Book of the Bee, Cave of Treasures, etc.

Jewish Virtual Library, Books of Adam and Eve - A number of closely related versions of a writing dealing with the story of the protoplasts. All of these might derive from a Jewish source document, the language and date of which are unknown.

The Book of Adam and Eve might be dated from around 160 BCE, (If actually connected with the Book of Jubilees) to about 70 AD (The destruction of the Temple, around the date of the Book of Hebrews). I am still plowing through Tannaitic texts to find parallel references.

The Book of Adam and Eve, Book III, Chapter XVII, pg. 165 - And the angel said unto him, "It is that thou go with the body of our father Adam, unto the middle of the earth ; and that thou stand ministering before it there; and that thou serve God ; for He has chosen thee from thy childhood. For thou art of the seed of the blessed."

The Book of Adam and Eve, Book III Chapter 18, pg. 166 - Then came Melchizedec to the door when he heard Shem's voice and seized the padlock and at once the door was opened. But a voice cried from within the ark, and said, "Rejoice O thou priest of the Most High God for that thou hast been found meet to enter upon the office of priest of God the first created by Him in the world." This voice was from the Holy Ghost.

The Book of Adam and Eve, Book III Chapter 18, pg. 167 - But while they were wondering at the door of the ark the Word of God came that said I am He that made thee priest and that breathed of My Spirit into thee Thou art My righteous priest and thou art worthy to bear the body of Adam whom I created and into whom I breathed of My Spirit And I made him priest and a king and a prophet Go in first and bring out his body.

The Melchizedekites :

Jewish Encyclopedia, "Melchizedek" : The rabbis of later generations, rather antagonistic to the cosmopolitan monotheism of Alexandria, identified Melchizedek with Shem, the ancestor of Abraham (Ned. 32b; Pirḳe R. El. xxiii.; Targ. to Gen. xiv. 4). A singular story is told of Melchizedek in the Ethiopian Book of Adam and Eve, which, before it was turned into a Christian work, seems to have presented a strange combination of Jewish and Egyptian elements emanating from a sect afterward known as the Melchizedekites. There (iii. 13-21) Noah tells his son Shem before his death to take "Melchizedek, the son of Canaan, whom God had chosen from all generations of men, and to stand by the dead body of Adam after it had been brought from the ark to Jerusalem as the center of the earth and fulfil the ministry before God."

The angel Michael then took away Melchizedek, when fifteen years of age, from his father, and, after having anointed him as priest, brought him to (Jerusalem) the center of the earth, telling his father to share the mystery only with Shem, the son of Noah, while the Holy Spirit, speaking out of the ark when the body of Adam was hidden, greeted Melchizedek as "the first-created of God." Shem went, carrying bread and wine, and, assisted by the angel, brought the body of Adam to its destination. Melchizedek offered the bread and wine upon the altar they built near the place where Adam's body was deposited, and then Shem departed, leaving the pure lad in his garment of skins under the sole protection of the angel, no one on earth knowing of his whereabouts until, at last, Abraham met him. Compare also "Die Schatzhöhle" (Bezold's transl. 1883, pp. 26-28), where the father of Melchizedek is called "Malki" and the mother "YoẒedeḳ"; and see the notes to Malan's "Book of Adam and Eve" (1882, pp. 237-238). Against the opinion of Roensch (Das Buch der Jubiläen," 1874, p. 502), that the story of Melchizedek has been intentionally omitted from the Book of Jubilees, see Charles in his Commentary to Jubilees (xiii. 25). A remnant, probably, of these Melchizedekites appears in early Christian literature as a heretic sect which regarded Melchizedek as a great heavenly power and as a son of God, superior to Jesus (Epiphanius," Hæresis," lv. 1-9; Hippolytus, "Refutatio Hæresium," vii. 36, x. 20; pseudo-Tertullian, 48; Augustinus, "De Hæresibus," 34; see also Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." s.v. "Monarchianismus").

  • It is difficult to agree, or disagree, with this info, but it was very interesting to read. 1 plus point for finding this stuff. Aug 2, 2017 at 8:09
  • Elika you referred me to this question. +1 for your deep and detailed research.
    – user20490
    Dec 14, 2017 at 16:21

The author of Hebrews is not using outside texts to make his arguments in ch 7 , where he explains how Yahuwshuwa HaMashiyach (Jesus Christ) fulfills Psalm 110 as being the Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec. Melchisedec is a very important person in the Old testament, even though only few verses are written about him. Since you talked about the first three verses, we will break them down. All throughout the book of Hebrews the author uses the Hebrew scriptures to prove his points about Yahuwshuwa and the new covenant. Every argument he uses is straight from the scriptures and can be checked by anybody, he doesn't bring any arguments from secret sources outside the scriptures. he is writing to Hebrew people using the Hebrew scriptures to prove Yahuwshuwa is the Hebrew Messiah. So anyone there with the scriptures can follow along with the author.

in Hebrews ch 7 the Author is making an argument from genesis 14:17-24:

17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's dale.

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth breadand wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.

19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth:

20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.

21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.

22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth,

23 That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich:

24 Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.

He is using these verses to prove that Yahuwshuwa fulfills Psalm 110:

Psalm 110 (KJV)

1 The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

2 The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.

3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.

4 The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

5 The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.

6 He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many >countries.

7 He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

Every thing the author of the book of Hebrews is using in Hebrew Ch.7 can be found in these verses from genesis 14 and psalm 110, which are the only times Melchisedec is mentioned in the scriptures.

the Author is trying to show the similarities between Melchisedec and Yahuwshuwa.

Here are the first 3 verses of Hebrew 7:

Hebrews 7 (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.

In verse 1 the author introduces who Melchisedec is according to the scriptures, a king and priest of Salem who met Abraham returning from his victory against the kings.

In verse 2 the authors tells us about the tithe Abraham gave to Melchisedec, then interprets the name of melchisedec as meaning king of righteousness, then he interprets king of Salem as meaning king of Peace. He is doing this to connect it to Yahuwshuwa who is also king of righteousness and peace, who is also above Abraham.

So far everything he has been saying has been from Genesis 14 to prove Psalm 110. Nothing changes in verse 3 and the rest of the chapter.

In verse 3 it says Melchisedec is without father, mother, descent, having no beginning of days or end of life. So what was meant by this? there are all kinds of crazy theories about who Melchisedec is because of this verse. But again the author is not using any secret sources, he is using the scriptures for people to follow along his arguments.

Genealogy is Very important to the Hebrew people, its made evident through the extensive geneologies recorded and preserved. We can see the birth, amount of years lived, the fathers, and the death of the bloodline of Seth going to Noah is Genesis 5. we see their "father, descent, beginning of days, and their end of life" recorded for all to see. Then we can go to Genesis 11:27 and see the birth of Abram ( Abraham), and his father being Terah. Then in Ch 25 we can read about his death and how many years he lived. We can do the same thing for Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Moses, Aaron, Samuel, David, and all the kings of Judah and Israel. We can go to each of these men and find their birth recorded, how many years they lived, their death, who their fathers were, and most of them we can read about who their mothers were. Its all there for us to read.

BUT when we go to Genesis 14, Melchisedec pops in out of nowhere. And he has such an high status that even Abraham paid a tithe to him and was blessed by him. But nothing is recorded about his birth, death, or parents, which is very unusual in the scriptures for a man of such high status even above Abraham. But what the author is Hebrews is trying to show us is, that the genealogy was purposely left out, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to symbolically represent and prophecy the everlasting Priesthood that would come after the order of this man, which would be above the Order of Aaron, since the levites paid tithes through Abraham their father to Melchisedec ( Heb 7:9). This is why his birth or death is not recorded. Then the rest of Hebrews 7 continues to use genesis 14 and psalm 110 to show all the similarities between Melchisedec's and Yahuwshuwa's priesthood

  • After reading your post I'm curious how you would argue concerning the identity of "Most High God" in Hebrews 7:1. Would you please elaborate on that? It is often claimed that Melchizedek's "El Elyon" was a Canaanite deity and not exactly Yahweh. However if that is true then what are we to conclude about the use of the same description in Hebrews 7:1? Which El Elyon is the author of Hebrews referring to, Canaanite deity or Yahweh? It seems that a reference to the Canaanite El Elyon might undermine his subsequent argument.
    – Derek
    Nov 16, 2020 at 8:24

There is nothing in the Hebrew Bible that says that Abraham was "to inherit the world," but that is exactly what the Christian New Testament states (Romans 4:13). Thus since the world will be blessed through Abraham, he is therefore by implication greater than those blessed, and therefore he (Abraham) will inherit the world.

In like manner, Melchizedek blessed Abraham (Gen 14:17-19) and therefore he (Melchizedek) was greater than Abraham. In other words, the one who blesses is greater than the those blessed, and the same principle found in Romans regarding Abraham again resurfaces in the Christian New Testament with regard to Melchizedek and Abraham (Heb 7:6-7).

The inference then is that if Abraham would inherit the world, then Melchizedek (who blessed Abraham) was greater than Abraham. That is, Melchizedek was someone greater than Abraham because Melchizedek blessed him (and accordingly received the ten-percent tithe from Abraham).

So if the promised son of David is to be made a priest in accordance with the order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4), then the implication in this particular messianic psalm is that he (son of David) will be greater than Abraham and, by implication, will be greater than David as well. In fact, Jesus stumped the Pharisees by referring to this psalm and asked why David was referring to his son (Psalm 110:1) as "my Lord," suggesting that this son had to be greater than David, since David was speaking by the Spirit of the Lord and therefore could not have mistaken his words (Matt 22:42-44).

So the "extra information" in the Christian New Testament about Melchizedek may have stemmed in part from the inference and generalization that the one who blesses is (by definition) greater than those who are blessed.

  • 1
    There is reference in Scripture to people blessing God, which would seem to negate your logic. Jan 1, 2014 at 19:34
  • @J.C.Salomon - Good point - but does the Lord pay tithes? Abraham paid tithes to the one who blessed him; we pay tithes to the Lord - that is, the Lord does not pay tithes to anyone. So the paying of tithes is what affirmed that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. Please note that Abraham paid a tenth of the crème of his spoils, which implies that the value of his tithe (while numerically ten percent) was greater than 10% of the aggregate value of the spoils. The tithing is what points to who is greater.
    – Joseph
    Jan 1, 2014 at 22:04
  • The Greek of Romans 4:13 literally says that Abraham should be heir [κληρονόμος] of the world. Genesis 22:17 LXX uses the related verb, κληρονομέω: thy seed shall inherit the cities of their enemies.
    – user33515
    Mar 8, 2017 at 23:04
  • 1
    kosmos does not mean "world"!
    – Ruminator
    Apr 29, 2021 at 0:16

There actually is no additional information in Hebrews.

The Greek words in the phrase that the ESV translates "without father or mother or genealogy" are ἀπάτωρ, ἀμήτωρ, ἀγενεαλόγητος. They are a conjunction of the particle ἀ, signifying "without", with the underlying base words. The words appear only in Hebrews 7:3 - they are found nowhere else in the New Testament, Greek Septuagint, or in any writings of the Greek Apostolic Fathers.

As evidenced in the commentary of John Chrysostom, they were not understood to mean that Melchizedek was begotten without father or mother, but rather that his father and mother were unknown and, hence, his genealogy was unknown. The word for "without father" in the sense of self-engendered is αὐτοπάτωρ, not ἀπάτωρ. It is precisely the absence of any information about these things that Paul is describing in this verse. Chrysostom's commentary reads:

‘And who can say this concerning a man?’ I do not assert this in fact (he says); the meaning is, we do not know when [or] what father he had, nor what mother, nor when he received his beginning, nor when he died. And what of this (one says)? For does it follow, because we do not know it, that he did not die, [or] had no parents? Thou sayest well: he both died and had parents. How then [was he] without father, without mother? How having neither beginning of days nor end of life? How? [Why] from its not being expressed.

See the “without beginning”; see the “without end.” As in case of this man, we know not either “beginning of days,” or “end of life,” because they have not been written.

Homily XII on Hebrews

The reference to his being a "priest forever" is both a reflection of the Psalm you quoted (You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizekek -Psalm 110:4), as well as the fact that nothing is known of the beginning or end of the historical Melchizedek's priesthood.


This statement is without source in the Hebrew Bible or in Jewish traditions.

In the Midrash, using a “closed-canon”¹ approach, Melchizedek is identified as Shem son of Noah. The author of Hebrews seems to be using the same sort of closed-canon approach, but attaching Melchizedek to Jesus.

¹ By “closed-canon” I mean the identification of one person, whose name is given but with no other background, with another person. This is very common in Midrashic literature, though it’s hard to tell whether the identification is meant historically or homiletically, i.e., that A is a “type” for B. Familiar examples in the Midrash are the identification of Abraham’s wife Sarah with Iscah his niece, and Phinehas grandson of Aaron with the prophet Elijah.

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