Speaking of Melchizedek (Part 1) Hebrews 5:5-6

POST OVERVIEW. This post is a study of Hebrews 5:5-6 where the author introduces the shadowy biblical figure of Melchizedek. This is the first in a series on Melchizedek.

The objective of this series of posts is to explore and interpret Hebrews 7, which is devoted almost exclusively to a discussion about how Melchizedek relates to Jesus Christ. We will do a deep dive into that chapter, but before we turn to chapter 7 of Hebrews, I wanted to look at how the author brings Melchizedek into his overall argument. So, this post will focus on Hebrews 5:5-6.

So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him,

“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You;”

just as He says also in another passage,

“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

Notice that in this two-verse passage, the author carefully selects two quotes from the book of Psalms. He mentions these quotes together, back-to-back, because he wants to show that each quote is an oath, wherein God the Father is speaking to God the Son in eternity past. But we still wonder why the author mentions the quote from Psalm 2, since that psalm is unrelated to his current teaching about Jesus as being a High Priest.

Here is why he does this. In the first century, it was generally accepted among Jewish scholars that Psalm 2 was Messianic and that 2:7 was an address from the LORD (YHWH) to the Messiah. That interpretation was settled and was not controversial. Every serious scholar would admit this point. On the other hand, there was considerable controversy over the interpretation of Psalm 110, and verse 4 of Psalm 110 was especially opaque. How in the world Melchizedek related to the Messiah and how or why the Messiah would be of the order of Melchizedek was beyond confusing.

Therefore, what the author of Hebrews does here in 5:5-6 is pure rhetorical genius. By presenting these two verses together, he demonstrates that the quotes are oaths of the same form. Next, by associating the controversial verse in Psalm 110:4 with the generally understood verse in Psalm 2:7, the writer succeeds in getting 110:4 accepted as also portraying the LORD (YHWH) speaking to Messiah with an oath of promise. This is key. By itself, Psalm 110:4 was too obscure to be discussed, but by placing it on the “coattails” of the “friendly,” well-understood Psalm 2:7, 110:4 is admitted into the discussion. And with Psalm 110:4 admitted into the discussion, Melchizedek has also entered the picture. Thus, we see that, by his brilliant use of quotes from the psalms, the author has managed to bring Melchizedek into the middle of the conversation. This is necessary, because Melchizedek and the priesthood he represents are going to prove crucial in the author’s theological argument about the obsolescence of the Levitical priesthood and the permanence and significance of Christ being a High Priest of the order of Melchizedek.

“Concerning him we have much to say” (Hebrews 5:11). Indeed, the author of Hebrews has much to say about Melchizedek, and in the next few posts we will attempt to understand the teaching of Hebrews 7 about him.

SDG                 rmb                 9/22/2022                   #574