The priests who collect tithes are men who die, so Melchizedek is greater than they are, because we are told that he lives on. In addition, we might even say that these Levites—the ones who collect the tithe—paid a tithe to Melchizedek when their ancestor Abraham paid a tithe to him. For although Levi wasn’t born yet, the seed from which he came was in Abraham’s body when Melchizedek collected the tithe from him.Hebrews 7:8-10
I have kept that puzzling passage before us. Well, in essence, before me. This is what I do when something troubles me. I have done this ever since Dr Brown (my Greek Prof) told me to always keep the questions before me. ‘Mark your Bible with the questions you have and then put them to the LORD and wait for His answer.’ Some times, like Pak Suryadi, I have had to wait 20 years or more. Some questions still lie unanswered, but I am content with that, knowing that I will never fully know or be able to explain the mind of God. All of which reminds me of my answer to Shenol’s question in regard to explaining the Trinity in Gem 324. Some things are just unknowable when it comes to the deep things of God.
I have looked at numbers of commentaries to see what they say regarding these three verses. I will not waste our time in giving you a summary of what they say; it is just not worth the effort. In most cases they manoeuvre around the hard questions and offer commentary on things we don’t really need to know. So often that is the case with the experts. They pick up on some little thing and make great of it. In other cases the very question or issue we want answered is not mentioned at all. No comment is the loud reply.
I also have other resources in my library in the form of:-
- Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by Gleason L Archer
- When Critics Ask (A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties) by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe
- 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered by Larry Richards
- Interpreting Difficult Texts by Clark Williamson and Ronald Allen
Geisler and Howe address the issue of whether Melchizedek was a real historical person rather an angel, a Christophany or a myth. They conclude with me that “Melchizedek is presented in an ordinary, historical manner. He meets and speaks with Abraham. . . There is no reason, archaeological or otherwise, to question the historical character of Melchizedek.” The others don’t address any of the salient difficulties. Like Geisler and Howe, I believe Melchizedek was a real historical person. I have looked at what a range of commentators have written and remain unsatisfied. Some try to explain the reference to verse 8 – [The priests who collect tithes are men who die, so Melchizedek is greater than they are, because we are told that he lives on] with fanciful thoughts on Melchizedek who lives on. Rubbish. If Melchizedek was indeed a real historical person then it is for sure that he died. That being the case, I think what the author of Hebrews is doing is taking poetic license with the thought and using it to emphasise the similarity of “no end of life” with Christ who didn’t die. The fact that Melchizedek was “without beginning of days” and “has no end of life” makes him a perfect example to draw a comparison with Christ. But it doesn’t mean that we have to find the reality behind what he is saying. He is simply creatively using the similarity to show why Jesus is greater. I have read nonsense in the last day or so from those who talk about embryos/seeds in Abraham kept until a future time and blah, blah, blah. Just accept it as a similitude which adds to the greatness of Jesus.
The other tricky statement is found in verse 9 – [We might even say that these Levites — the ones who collect the tithe — paid a tithe to Melchizedek when their ancestor Abraham paid a tithe to him.] All sorts has been written to explain this statement. I like what Neva Miller wrote in the ‘Wycliffe/SIL’ exegetical handbook (p 201) about “so to speak a word” – a more literal rending of “we might even say”. “This is an idiomatic way to indicate in Greek that the idea expressed is not to be taken literally or is limited in extent. Something startling or unusual is about to be said and the idea must be strained to understand its intent.” All kinds of fanciful things have been written about this line by the commentators as well. Let’s agree to interpret it under poetic license. The writer it not saying literally that the Levites were in the loins of Abraham and therefore paid tithe to Melchizedek before their time. He is simply drawing an inference from what is written to make his case that there was the need for a greater Priesthood. A priest who didn’t need to be replaced by successors generation by generation, but one who could be a priest forever, seemingly like Melchizedek was.
What is interesting about Jesus and Melchizedek is that both combined the role of King and Priest; something which was not allowed under the Levitical Priesthood. I think that is why the author of Hebrews makes much out of the similarity of meanings between Jesus Christ, the Word of Righteousness, the Prince of Peace, the King of the Jews and Melchizedek, King of Salem, King of Peace, My King is Righteousness. It all fits as a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma (á là David Ferrie). However, whichever way we look at it, clearly the author of Hebrews has come up with some very deep ways to communicate what he is saying to show to us how much greater Jesus is than angels, prophets, kings and priests, even Great High ones. Just relax and accept that and like Kev suggested in his comment on the website (á là David McBride) on the last Gem “put it on the side of your plate and ask God later”. I would add that we also have the option of asking the author of Hebrews later as well. I would love to sit down with him and ask what he had in mind when he wrote these things. If I think about it at the time, in a quiet moment when I am not worshipping Jesus with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, I will.
Now we are poised and ready to begin to compare the Priesthood of Melchizedek with that of Jesus. (Hebrews 7:11-28)
A mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. [Said in the context of the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the beginning of World War II]Winston Churchill
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God’s gift, that’s why we call it the present.Joan Rivers
Let us consider that we are all insane. It will explain us to each other. It will unriddle many riddles.Mark Twain
I have put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of ensuring one’s immortality.James Joyce
Without the spiritual world the material world is a disheartening enigma.Joseph Joubert