Melchizedek, Abraham, and Biblical Accuracy
Could you please explain what the Bible means when it speaks of the Old Testament priest Melchizedek as being “without father, without mother, without genealogy”? How could this be possible?
The science of archaeology has been a multiple benefactor to the Bible student. It has helped to clarify some passages that heretofore may have been a bit obscure. Too, this discipline frequently has shown that the biblical record bears the marks of genuine history.
After Abraham settled in Hebron, and Lot, his nephew, pitched his tent in the vicinity of Sodom, a confederation of Mesopotamian kings invaded the region of Sodom and Gomorrah and took numerous captives, among whom was Lot. The Genesis record reveals that when Abraham heard of the tragedy, he and 318 servants from his household pursued the hostile eastward-bound armies. The patriarch attacked the pagan forces and rescued his nephew, taking considerable booty in the process (Genesis 14:1ff.). The accuracy of the biblical record has been questioned in several particulars.
First, the historicity of the names of the opposing kings (Anuaphel, Chedorlaomer, Arioch, and Tidal) has been disputed. However, it has been demonstrated from Mesopotamian inscriptions that these names were common to the Tigris/Euphrates region, and that they are not “fictional forms” (Vos, 1963, p. 69). It even has been shown that the name “Abraham” was not novel in that ancient environment (Finegan, 1946, p. 61). The Bible is remarkably precise.
Second, some critics have contended that there was no eastward line of march at the time of Abraham, and thus have alleged that the Mosaic narrative is erroneous. The famous archaeologist, W.F. Albright, admitted that he “formerly considered this extraordinary line of march as being the best proof of the essentially legendary character of the narrative” (1935, p. 142, emp. added). Albright’s discoveries in this region, however, forced him to revise his opinion of the Genesis text. Professor Stephen Caiger, who was not a strictly conservative writer, conceded that “there seems [to be] no reason to question a factual basis of Genesis 14” (1944, p. 34).
As Abraham returned from his victory over the eastern kings, he encountered the mysterious Melchizedek, “king of Salem” (Jerusalem), who was designated as both a king and priest. Abraham paid “tithes” to the monarch and, in turn, was blessed by him. The New Testament makes Melchizedek a symbol of our king and priest, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:15). But the writer of the book of Hebrews makes a curious statement regarding Melchizedek. He says that the ancient ruler was “without father, without mother, without genealogy” (7:3).
Numerous speculations have surrounded this allusion. Origen, an ancient writer (A.D. 185-253) imagined that Melchizedek was an angel. Hierakas, toward the end of the 3rd century A.D., thought that he was a temporary incarnation of the Holy Spirit. Some even have suggested that he was the pre-incarnate Logos (Christ, as depicted in John 1:1,14)—a concept contradicted by Hebrews 7:3, which notes that the king was merely “like unto” the Son of God.
Archaeology has shed light on the enigmatic expression “without father, without mother, etc.” A.H. Sayce, who served as professor of Assyriology at Oxford, called attention to an inscription from the famous Tell el-Amarna tablets (discovered in 1887 in Egypt). These tablets describe the conditions of Syria and Palestine about 1400-1360 B.C.
Several of the Tell el-Amarna tablets are letters written to the Pharaoh by Ebed-tob...the king of Uru-Salim [Jerusalem], who begs for help against his enemies. He tells the Pharaoh that he was not like the other Egyptian governors in Palestine, nor had he received a crown by inheritance from his father or mother; it had been conferred on him by “the Mighty King...” (1906, 3:335).
So, observing the similarity of language, we conclude that Melchizedek’s kingship/priesthood had not been derived genealogically; He had received his commission directly from God Himself. Indeed, as the Scriptures affirm, his was an appointment “of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18). Accordingly, by way of analogy, we are forced to affirm that the current reign/priesthood of our Lord is a direct and divinely authored administration. We are grateful to archaeology for this bit of assistance in understanding what otherwise might be perceived as an obscure reference.
Albright, W.F. (1935), The Archaeology of Palestine and the Bible (New York: Revell).
Caiger, Stephen L. (1944), Bible and Spade—An Introduction to Biblical Archaeology (London: Oxford University Press).
Finegan, Jack (1946), Light from the Ancient Past (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).
Sayce, A.H. (1906), “Melchizedek,” Dictionary of the Bible, ed. James Hasting (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark).
Vos, Howard (1963), Genesis and Archaeology (Chicago: Moody).