From: Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17
Jesus Christ Is a Priest After the Order of Melchizedek
 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness
of Melchizedek,  who has become a priest, not according to a legal require-
ment concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life. 
For it is witnessed of him, “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchize-
1-3. Melchizedek has special characteristics which make him a “figure” or “type”
of Christ. The connections between Christ and Melchizedek are expounded in
accordance with the rules of rabbinical bible commentary, this is particularly ob-
vious in the use of the phrase “without father or mother or genealogy” to refer to
the eternity of Melchizedek. It is not surprising that the writer brings in the figure
of Melchizedek, for the mysterious mention of this personage in Genesis 14:18-
20 and in Psalm 110:4 had for some time intrigued Jewish commentators. For
example, Philo of Alexandria sees Melchizedek as a symbol for human reason
enlightened by divine wisdom (cf. “De Legum Allegoria”, 3, 79-82). Also, apocry-
phal literature identified Melchizedek with other biblical figures—for example, with
Shem, Noah’s first-born son, or with the son of Nir, Noah’s brother. Certainly the
epistle is in line with Jewish tradition on one important point: Melchizedek be-
longs to a priesthood established by God in pre-Mosaic times.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-100) refers to Melchizedek as a
“prince of Canaan”, who founded and was high priest of Jerusalem. The name
Melchizedek, meaning “my king is righteous” or “King of Righteousness”, was
a Canaanite name (cf. Josh 10:13). “Salem” is probably an abbreviation of Jeru-
salem (cf. Ps 76:2); and Elioh, that is, God Most High, may also have been the
name of one of the divinities worshipped by the inhabitants of Palestine before
the Jewish conquest. Genesis tells us that, in spite of living in a Canaanite and
polytheistic environment, Melchizedek was a priest of the true God. Despite not
being a member of the chosen people, he had knowledge of the Supreme God.
Psalm 110 adds a further revelation to that contained in Genesis: the promised
Messiah, a descendant of David, will not only be a king (which they already
knew) but also a priest; and he will not be a priest of Aaron: by a new disposi-
tion of God he will be a priest according to the order, or as the Hebrew text
says, “after the manner of Melchizedek”.
The Epistle to the Hebrews views the Genesis episode through the prism of
Psalm 110: Melchizedek is above all a representative of a new priesthood insti-
tuted by God independently of the Mosaic Law. That is why it gives so much
importance to the words of Genesis: Melchizedek is “king of righteousness”, ac-
cording to one popular etymology, and he is also “king of Salem”, that is, “king
of peace” according to another which changes the second vowel of the Hebrew
word shalom, which means “peace”. Thus, in Melchizedek the two foremost
characteristics of the messianic kingdom meet—righteousness and peace (cf.
Ps 85:10; 89:14; 97:2; Is 9:5-7; 2:4; 45:8; Lk 2:14). Moreover, since Genesis
says nothing about Melchizedek’s background (he did not belong to the chosen
people), the sacred writer, following a common rabbinical rule of interpretation
(what is not in Scripture—in the Torah—has no existence in the real world”), sees
Scripture’s silence on this point as symbolic: Melchizedek, since his genealogy
is unknown, is a figure or “type” of Christ, who is eternal.
“Resembling the Son of God”: it is not Christ who resembles Melchizedek but
Melchizedek who is like Christ indeed, who has been made to resemble Christ.
Christ is the perfection of priesthood. Melchizedek was created and made like
Christ so that we by reflecting on him might learn something about the Son of
Theoderet of Cyrus develops on this idea: “Christ the Lord possesses all these
qualifications really and by nature. He is ‘without mother’, for God as Father a-
lone begot him. He is ‘without father’, for he was conceived by mother alone, that
is, the Virgin. He is ‘without genealogy’, as God, for he who was begotten by the
unbegotten Father has no need of genealogy. ‘He has not beginning of days’, for
his is an eternal generation. ‘He has no end of life’, for he possesses an immortal
nature. For all those reasons Christ himself is not compared to Melchizedek but
Melchizedek to Christ” (”Interpretatio Ep. Ad Haebreos, ad loc.”). St Ephraem
put this very nicely: “Thus, Melchizedek’s priesthood continues for ever —not in
Melchizedek himself but in the Lord of Melchizedek” (”Com. in Epist. Ad Hae-
breos, ad loc.”).
3. A priest of the true God, of the Most High God, yet not a member of the cho-
sen people, Melchizedek is an example of how God sows the seeds of saving
truth beyond limitations of geography, epoch or nation. “The priesthood of Christ,
of which priests have been really made sharers, is necessarily directed to all peo-
ple and all times, and is not confined by any bounds of blood, race, or age, as
was already typified in a mysterious way by the figure of Melchizedek. Priests,
therefore, should recall that the solicitude of all the churches ought to be their
intimate concern” (Vatican II, “Presbyterorum Ordinis”, 10).
At the same time the sacred text, by saying that Melchizedek was “without fa-
ther or mother”, gives grounds for thinking that also in the case of the consecra-
tion of Christ’s priests they, in order to fulfill their mission, should be ready to
leave their family behind — which is what often in fact happens. “The character
and life of the man called to be a minister in the worship of the one true God
bear the marks of a halo and a destiny to be ‘set apart’. This puts him in some
way outside and above the common history of other men—”sine patre, sine ma-
tre, sine genealogia”, as St Paul says of the mysterious prophetic Melchizedek”
(A. del Portillo, “On Priesthood”, p. 44).
Addressing Christians, particularly those consecrated to the service of God, St
John of Avila writes: “Forget your people (Ps 45:10) and be like another Melchi-
zedek, whom we are told had no father or mother or genealogy. In this way [...]
example is given to the servants of God who must be so forgetful of their family
and relations that they are like Melchizedek in this world, as far as their heart is
concerned—having nothing that ties their heart and slows them up on their way
to God” (”Audi, Filia”, 98).
15-19. The superiority of Christ’s priesthood is now demonstrated by reference to
the inferiority of the Old Law, in line with the inferiority of its priesthood. The Law
is defined as “a legal requirement concerning bodily descent” as opposed to
something spiritual (cf. 1 Cor 2:13-15; Gal 6:1; Eph 1:3; Col 1:8; 2 Cor 3:6-8); it
is “weak” as opposed to effective; “useless” as opposed to being able to do what
it is designed for. From this two things follow: the Law made nothing perfect (cf.
note on 7:11); and its function was that of “introducing” us to a better law — that
of Christ, a law that is full of hope, and hope enables us to draw near to God (cf.
Rom 3:21; Gal 3:24; 1 Tim 1:8).
The epistle’s verdict on the Law of Moses may seem somewhat harsh, but it fits
in exactly with the gratuitous nature of glorification: “The Law”, Theodoret com-
ments, “has come to an end, as the Apostle says, and its place is taken by
hope of better things. The Law has ended, however, not because it was bad, as
some heretics foolishly say, but because it was weak and was not perfectly use-
ful. But we must understand that it is the [now] superfluous parts of the Law that
are described as weak or useless—circumcision, the sabbath precept, and simil-
ar things. For, the New Testament insistently commands observance of the ‘Thou
shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery’ and the other commandments. In
place of the old precepts we have now received hope of future good things, a hope
that makes us God’s own household” (”Interpretatio Ep. Ad Haebreos, ad loc.”).
St Thomas Aquinas points out that the commandments were and are useful. The
Old Testament was not in itself bad, but it is unsuited to the new times; there is
no reason why the new priesthood should continue the ways of the old (cf. Ps 40:
6f). That was why the Old Law was abrogated—because it was weak and served
no purpose: “We say something is weak when it fails to produce its [designed]
effect; and the effect proper to the Law and the priesthood is justification [...].
This the Law was unable to do, because it did not bring man to beatitude, which
is his end. However, in its time it was useful, in that it prepared men for faith”
(”Commentary On Heb.”, 7, 3).
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.