Christian Churches of God

No. 128z






(Edition 1.1 19950729-19980907)


The identification of the entity known as Melchisedek has always been a problem for many Bible students. This paper looks at the rabbinical traditions as well as showing the probable identity and reasons behind the activities of this figure. The significance of the Melchisedek priesthood can be better understood from this paper.




Christian Churches of God

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(Copyright © 1995, 1998  Wade Cox)

(Summary by John Pierce ed. Wade Cox)


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The identity of the being known as Melchisedek has been the subject of speculation over the years. Some have postulated a Messianic identity for Melchisedek. Others have identified him with the patriarchs. To isolate his probable identity, we have to examine the relevant texts and the historical framework within which he lived. If one is to contend that Melchisedek was Jesus Christ, this must be weighed against the relevant texts, and the consequence for human salvation of such a dual advent. This period was also still within the life span of the post flood patriarchs.


The post-flood epoch saw the world as one speech and under one priesthood. The Judaic view was that this priesthood was centred on Salem under Melchisedek. The identity of Melchisedek has been an enigma. Melchisedek according to the Midrash was identified with Shem (Rashi: see Soncino commentary to Genesis 14:18).


Melchisedek was priest of the Most High God.  Rashi holds that the bread and wine given by Melchisedek to Abraham were refreshments for the battle weary and the liberated prisoners. He thereby showed that he bore Abraham no resentment for having slain his offspring (viz. Cherdorlaomer, etc) (see Soncino). The significance of the bread and wine being given to Abraham, related directly to the significance of the Bread and Wine that would be integral to the Bread and Wine established by Messiah, at the Lord’s Supper.

The subject of Melchisedek is often not understood, simply because the sequence and significance of the story is not understood. It will help to examine the history of the build up to the story.


From Genesis 11:1-32 we see the scattering of the people, because of the system that was being established at Babel, under the government established by Nimrod there and at Accad, Erech and Calneh. From there he built Nineveh, Rehoboth and Calah (Gen. 10:10-11). The priest of God, however, was Shem, being the son of Noah. Noah lived 350 years after the flood (Gen. 9:28) and he died at 950 years of age (Gen. 9:29). Shem was central to the post flood re-establishment.


There are a number of points of significance that arise from the text in Genesis 11. The first relates to the age of Shem and the others. From the texts we can establish the dates after the flood, of their birth and death. The years are of enormous duration. These epochs are not accepted as being literal periods in modern times. However, if the Bible is literally true, and Melchisedek existed, then the time frames are also true and Shem is a candidate.


Shem lived after the flood for 502 years and his life has implications for the rulership of the nations. We can construct a table as follows:



Age at birth of son


Died in post-flood year




Flood + 502



F. + 2

F. + 440



F. + 37

F. + 470



F. + 67

F. + 531



F. + 101

F. + 340



F. + 131

F. + 370



F. + 163

F. + 393



F. + 193

F. + 341



F. + 222

F. + 427





F. + ?

F. + ?

F. + 292

Before F. + 422.


The dispersion of the nations occurred when Abraham was 48 years old, at the death of Peleg, 340 years after the flood (Seder Olam Rabbah, Ch. 1).


Abram (Abraham) left Haran after the death of Terah in F. + 427. He was seventy-five years old (Gen. 12:4). We are certain that the patriarchs alive at the death of Terah and the occupation of Canaan by Abram, were Shem, Arpachsad, Shalach and Eber. Shem was the senior. From Genesis 9:26, Yahovah (or Jehovah) is stated as the God of Shem, and Japeth is to live in his tents. Shem is here blessed, although Japeth is the elder (Gen. 10:22). Shem is therefore priest of the Most High God at the time of Abraham.


The blessing of Abraham by Melchisedek in Genesis 14:20, is said (by Rashi) to have been first a blessing of Abraham for having given battle, and then God for having helped him. The fact that Abraham gave a tenth of all thereby indicated that his descendants would give tithes to the priests (according to Nachmanides). The tithe was intended as a thank offering to God, and the only priest fit to receive it was Melchisedek. The traditional Judaic interpretation, therefore, was that Melchisedek was Shem and that the priesthood post-flood was also centred at Jerusalem.


Melchisedek as Messiah

The assertion that Messiah was Melchisedek derives in part from a misapprehension of the texts relating to genealogy. There was a view extant at the time of Christ within some Judaic sects, as we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls, that Melchisedek was Messiah. The view was also coupled with the concept that Messiah was the Archangel Michael.


The view that Melchisedek was Messiah seems to be based upon the fact that Messiah should have come to perform two functions. This can be deduced from a number of prophecies, but also primarily on the function of the high priest on the Day of Atonement. Here there was a duality of garments. Thus the first advent was as priest; the second was as King Messiah. Messiah was prophesied to be a priest, after the order of Melchisedek from Psalm 110:4.  Psalm 110:1-7.


From verse 1 of the psalm, we know that it is Messiah being mentioned. The appointment here is as a priest forever, after the order of Melchisedek. It is not stated that Messiah was Melchisedek.


It is thus seen that Melchisedek was held to have been the Archangel Michael and that he was the Messianic figure to whom judgment was committed. This is based upon the text in Zechariah 3:1-10, which shows also the opposition to Satan in this process. The figure also was understood from this, to be the Elohim who judges the holy ones of God, as is written in the Psalms [Ps. 8:1; Ps. 7:7-8; Ps. 82:2].


Isaiah 52:7 uses elohim in context of the Messianic advent to Zion (see Heb. 12:22-23).

The allocation of Melchisedek as Messiah was thus seen as being a strongly held conviction among the Dead Sea Community, at the time of Christ. This association found its way into the Book of Hebrews. The similarity in the Book of Hebrews however, is derived from the text at Hebrews 7:6-8.


The text shows that this figure was referred to as a man, who did not have their genealogy. It is not asserted that he had no genealogy.


Hebrews chapter 7 shows the relationship of Melchisedek to the priesthood. The text holds that Melchisedek means both king of righteousness and king of Salem, or peace. The understanding of the Hebrew according to both Milik and Vermes is that Melchisedek means My King is Justice (or Righteousness) and he is king of the Army of light. Satan’s name is Melkiresha’ meaning My King is Wickedness (see J.T. Milik Journal of Jewish Studies, 1972, pp. 126-135 and also Vermes, op. cit., pp. 252-253). There is no doubt that we are dealing with the Satan/Messiah battles of the last days, in the view of the DSS.

Hebrews 7:3 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever.

He is held to be without father, and without mother and without pedigree. He has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he continues a priest forever. The Messianic view of this text seems to be based on the assumption that he had no genealogy and that he was eternal. Thus he was Messiah. The text says that he resembled the Son of God. It does not say that he was the Son of God.


Here Messiah is clearly noted as another priest, after the order of Melchisedek. The priesthood is conferred not by bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life (see Rom. 1:4). Thus the Holy Spirit conferred the power on Melchisedek, as it did on Abraham and all the patriarchs, as well as David, the Judges and the Prophets, continuing on to the apostles and the elect. The importance of the text is not in the fact that Melchisedek might have been Messiah but, rather, it is more important if he was not.


Zechariah was given to understand, that the Angel of YHVH was an elohim, and that the household of David (who was long dead) was to consist of those who would themselves be elohim, as part of David's household (Zech 12:8)


Zechariah wrote at the end of the Bible period, as one of the last books to be written (allegedly c. 410-3 BC, App. 77 of Companion Bible refers). The understanding of the sequence thus was not altered over the duration of the compilation of the text.


The conclusion that Messiah is Melchisedek is not a generally held view of the Church of God over two thousand years. It has been held by some groups and some Judaic sects. It appears that Messiah was not Melchisedek, but that the advancement of eternal life to Melchisedek through his office in the Holy Spirit has been misunderstood. The fact of the matter is not essential to the faith. The allocation of the role to Messiah probably weakens the argument of the extension of the priesthood to the elect as elohim, rather than strengthening the matter. The contention certainly rests on a narrow construction of one verse.