Ancient Hebrew Characteristics and Translation
Here is a fascinating short article on the characteristics of and difficulties in translating ancient Hebrew into modern English. The writer is trying to tease you into taking their free lessons, and that would be a worthwhile hobby if you have the interest. Here is the link to the article.
Hebrew Bible Commentary on Melchizedek – Key points
Here is what the Jewish Study Bible has to say about the passage describing Melchizedek showing up with bread and wine and collecting a tithe from Abram.
- Salem is probably Jerusalem. This is the only mention of Salem in the Torah.
- Incident is an abrupt interruption of narrative about the King of Sodom approaching Abram.
- Melchizedek refers to “God Most High” in his blessing.
- Abram changes the term to “Lord God Most High” in his response.
- Perhaps established antiquity of Israel’s holiest site and priestly and royal dynasties associated with it.
(Abram’s name was not changed to Abraham until he was 99 years old and was promised a son by Sarai (whose name was changed to Sarah) in Genesis 17)
Melchizedek in Sacred Scripture
The name Melchizedek appears ten times in Sacred Scripture, once in Genesis 14, once in Psalm 110 (Except in the Jewish Study Bible), twice in Hebrews 5, once in Hebrews 6, and five times in Hebrews 7.
In Genesis 14:18-20 Abraham had just enjoyed a military victory, recovering possessions and rescuing relatives, when Melchizedek showed up with food and a blessing.
Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was a priest of God Most High. He blessed Abram with these words:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand.
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
In Psalm 110:4, Melchizedek is referred to in describing a manner of priesthood. The name is not included in that verse in The Jewish Study Bible: “The LORD has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever, a rightful king by My decree.” The name “Melchizedek” does show up in footnote to the verse.
The Lord has sworn and will not waver: “You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.”
In Hebrews 5:6, the phrase from Psalm 110 is quoted.
just as he says in another place: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
In Hebrews 6:20, Jesus is connected to the priesthood of Melchizedek.
“…where Jesus has entered on our behalf as forerunner, becoming high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
In Hebrews 7:1-17, the writer offers more explanation about Melchizedek’s name, his background, his future, and his significance. This one is a bit mysterious.
This “Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High,” “met Abraham as he returned from his defeat of the kings” and “blessed him.” And Abraham apportioned to him “a tenth of everything.” His name first means righteous king, and he was also “king of Salem,” that is, king of peace. Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. See how great he is to whom the patriarch “Abraham [indeed] gave a tenth” of his spoils. The descendants of Levi who receive the office of priesthood have a commandment according to the law to exact tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, although they also have come from the loins of Abraham. But he who was not of their ancestry received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had received the promises. Unquestionably, a lesser person is blessed by a greater. In the one case, mortal men receive tithes; in the other, a man of whom it is testified that he lives on. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, was tithed through Abraham, for he was still in his father’s loins when Melchizedek met him. If, then, perfection came through the levitical priesthood, on the basis of which the people received the law, what need would there still have been for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not reckoned according to the order of Aaron? When there is a change of priesthood, there is necessarily a change of law as well. Now he of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, of which no member ever officiated at the altar. It is clear that our Lord arose from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so, not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed. For it is testified: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
And that is all we find in Sacred Scripture about Melchizedek. There are some interesting footnotes in the NABRE New Testament for the Hebrews verses, but I’m not going to copy them here. Look them up if interested.
Melchizedek or Melchisedek in The Catechism
In the Catechism, Melchisedek is mentioned once and Melchizedek four times. The emphasis is on The Eucharist and The Priesthood.
Paragraph 58 The covenant with Noah remains in force during the times of the Gentiles, until the universal proclamation of the Gospel. The Bible venerates several great figures among the Gentiles: Abel the just, the king-priest Melchisedek – a figure of Christ – and the upright “Noah, Daniel, and Job”. Scripture thus expresses the heights of sanctity that can be reached by those who live according to the covenant of Noah, waiting for Christ to “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad”.
Paragraph 1333 At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord’s command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: “He took bread….” “He took the cup filled with wine….” the signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ; they continue also to signify the goodness of creation. Thus in the Offertory we give thanks to the Creator for bread and wine, fruit of the “work of human hands,” but above all as “fruit of the earth” and “of the vine” – gifts of the Creator. the Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who “brought out bread and wine,” a prefiguring of her own offering.
Paragraph 1350 The presentation of the offerings (the Offertory). Then, sometimes in procession, the bread and wine are brought to the altar; they will be offered by the priest in the name of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice in which they will become his body and blood. It is the very action of Christ at the Last Supper – “taking the bread and a cup.” “The Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, when she offers what comes forth from his creation with thanksgiving.” The presentation of the offerings at the altar takes up the gesture of Melchizedek and commits the Creator’s gifts into the hands of Christ who, in his sacrifice, brings to perfection all human attempts to offer sacrifices.
Paragraph 1544 Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the “one mediator between God and men.” The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, “priest of God Most High,” as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique “high priest after the order of Melchizedek“; “holy, blameless, unstained,” “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified,” that is, by the unique sacrifice of the cross.