Melchizedek is mentioned briefly only twice in the Old Testament, including Genesis 14.18-20. He is the king of Salem or Jerusalem, which means peace (shalom). He is a priest and his name means righteous.
When Abraham returned from rescuing his nephew Lot who had been taken prisoner, Melchizedek offered bread and wine. Today, Scripture scholars believe Melchizedek's offering was hospitality since these gifts were not offered in sacrifice.
However, third century Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian first made the connection between Melchizedek's offering and the Eucharist. From this interpretation, it entered the Church's First Eucharistic Prayer: "as you once accepted . . . bread and wine offered by your priest Melchizedek."
As a priest, Melchizedek blessed Abraham in the name of God most high, creator of heaven and earth and blessed God for Abraham's victory. The God in whose name he blest was El Elohim, which was the common name for the divine being for Old Testament peoples.
However, the Israelites' belief in the identity of this divine being differed from the other peoples in that they believed in the one true God whose personal name was Yahweh, replaced by Adonai or Lord in Old Testament usage.
Melchizedek was both priest and king like the Canaanite priest-kings. The Levitical priesthood did not exist yet and there were no kings. Abraham recognized Melchizedek's priesthood by receiving his blessing and giving him tithes. This could imply that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, the father of the Israelites, although Scripture scholars believe this is not necessarily so.
The other mention of Melchizedek is Psalm 110.4 which has David confirming the priesthood of Zadok: "The Lord has sworn an oath and will not change his mind, you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek."
The everlasting priesthood idea of Melchizedek is suggested because he appears once and is never mentioned again. There is no indication of his origins or of his death.
In referring to the book of Hebrews in the New Testament and its use of the Melchizedek references, it is important to note that they illustrate doctrine rather than exegesis of texts to explain their background and meaning.
Hebrews offers us a picture of Christ the king, the eternal and perfect high priest and perfect sacrifice who experienced human suffering and can understand humanity's. It demonstrates that Christ unites in his person the messianic themes of the Old Testament and is our only way to God.
Hebrews indicates that Christ, having no human father, is like Melchizedek, for whom no genealogy is given.
Melchizedek's death was not reported so he was thought of as never dying. That is why Jesus, the eternal priest who rose from the dead and is alive in glory forever, is like Melchizedek. Hebrews also contrasts the eternal priest, Jesus to the later Levitical priests who died and were replaced.
Christ was from the tribe of Judah and appointed by God because of who he was while the Israelite priests were chosen from Aaron's descendants, the Levites, without regard to their personal qualities.
The Levites sacrificed animals to open access to God, closed by the Israelites' sinfulness. These were inadequate since they had to be offered repeatedly. They also had to make sacrifices for their own sins first.
Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice, that is, himself, who was without sin. His sacrifice need never and can never be repeated. It was once and for all.
Scripture scholars questioned the purpose of the Genesis verses since they interrupt Abraham's conversation with Sodom's king and are disconnected from the rest.
THE HOLY CITY
They concluded these texts likely were there to make an early connection between Abraham, the father of the Israelites to Jerusalem, the city which became the heart and soul of the Israelite faith. Scholars believe its background is in the period when David took Jerusalem and made it his holy city.
These verses also appear to develop the tradition of the Jerusalem priests to show their connection to Abraham and the worshipping of Yahweh as El Elohim. Yahweh then fulfilled the blessing to David by giving him Jerusalem as his holy city. The priest Zadok is believed to be the priest of Jerusalem who became the priest of Yahweh under David.
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