We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Melchizedek Priesthood

One of the claims of the Mormon church is that they have the Melchizedek priesthood. But do they really have such a priesthood? Who was Melchizedek and what was his priesthood?

Melchizedek was King of Salem, which means "King of Peace." His name means "King of Righteousness." He was the first priest mentioned in the Bible, and he is first mentioned in Gen. 14 after Abram rescued Lot and his people from King Kedorlaomer.

Abram just returns from the victory when vv.18-20 tell us, "Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, 'Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.' Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything."

The interesting thing here is that the victory laurels were Abram's and he could have taken the spoils. God sent Melchizedek to Abram to remind him of his place - that it was God who delivered the enemy to him. (Was the bread and wine brought for ceremonial purposes, followed by the blessing?) It was after the blessing that Abram tithed him, then Abram refused the spoils, partially quoting Melchizedek, "God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth." In Gen. 15:1 God tells Abram that He is his reward.

The question is, how did Abram recognize him as a priest in a pagan Canaanite land? Melchizedek obviously recognized the true God by calling Him "God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth." We don't hear of Melchizedek again until Ps. 110, where we are told that the Messiah is a "priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek." It's not until the letter to the Hebrews where we again hear of him.

Hebrew tradition says he was Shem. The name Melchizedek would be a title, the eternal order being the line of the promised seed; from Adam through Shem through Judah through Jesus. This is the assumption I take for the remainder of this article (much of the following information was gleaned from Bridges for Peace, Israel Teaching Letter, #99-9)

In Hebrew "malchi" means "My King" and "tzedek" means "is righteousness". Jewish sages say that he was the king over Tzedek, a nickname frequently given to Jerusalem because it was known for its righteousness in the pagan Canaanite lands that would one day be inhabited by Israel.

In Gen. 22:14 Abram calls the place where he was to sacrifice Isaac, Yireh, "The Lord Will Provide", and tradition says this is the same place where the temple was built centuries later. Yireh and Salem became Yerusalem. Just a side note I thought was interesting.

"The Jewish sages and commentaries are unanimous in their identification of Melchizedek as Shem...son of Noah.... Shem is also not a name, but a title.... Shem, in Hebrew, means ‘name’. In Hebrew word usage, a name is synonymous with character. In other words, we don't know Shem's real name. But, we do know that his title, Shem, shows he was chosen by God to be the ‘name carrier’ who was taught by God about the character and nature of God and also about everything that occurred before the flood all the way back to Adam. So, Shem (name carrier) was chosen by God to bring all this knowledge through the flood."

This also squares with the tradition that Moses merely edited Genesis from records passed down from Adam through Lamech, Noah, Shem, Terah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, to the "sons of Israel."

Since Shem lived 600, years, he lived 35 years after Abraham died. "God not only made him the king and high priest of the Most High God in Jerusalem, but he was also chosen to be the spiritual instructor of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob right up to the Twelve Tribes of Israel. [He] taught the patriarchs about the knowledge of God Most High and how to have direct communication with God. He also tutored them about the things that occurred from before the flood."

Okay, so now that we see who Melchizedek was, what do we find about the Melchizedek priesthood - what is the “order of Melchizedek’?

"It is a perpetual priestly order that is higher than the order of the Levitical priesthood ...[It] brings the knowledge of God directly from God to man and allows man to directly communicate with God. This... order can only be filled by the promised Messiah, who then makes its benefits available to us."

"Melchizedek (Shem), who existed both before and after the Flood, was appointed by God as the high priest and king of Jerusalem.... At no time in Israel's history was the king and high priest of Israel of the same office...." Yet that is exactly the office Jesus now holds.

In Hebrews 7:3, "the term, 'without father, without mother,' ...is a description of his spiritual station whereby [Melchizedek] was chosen of God to start a new thing and represent God in a new way in 'the order of Melchizedek.'... When we accept God's salvation and are born into God's kingdom and family, our earthly genealogy is no longer relevant.... (1 Tim. 1:4). We are of a new family of faith in God, a new spiritual family, 'without father and without mother,' because our new identity is in God, our Father. As far as Melchizedek being 'without descent,' this is not saying Shem did not have children. Again, this is in reference to his spiritual office, which was not passed on to his earthly offspring by right of descent. It was only available to the promised Messiah...Who truly has no beginning of days nor end of life, but is the Son of God who remains a priest for us perpetually."

The law of Moses and the priesthood went together. All the people without exception were sinners, subject to the law's condemnation, and were thus in need of a priestly system to mediate between them and God. The Aaronic/Levitical priesthood was imperfect, but the Melchizedek priesthood was perfect (as implied in Hebrews 7). The announcement of the coming one who would be a priest forever (Ps.110:4) was written midway in the history of the Levitical priesthood, which could only mean that the existing system was to give way to something better. Jesus came from the non-priestly tribe of Judah, but became a priest forever in the Melchizedek order. There is no indication in the scripture that any other person held this high priesthood.

Jesus "fulfilled the Levitical priesthood in that He became the ultimate sacrifice for us as the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.... His shed blood not only covered sin, but did more in that it erased the sin from our lives. This is what is meant in Hebrews 7:12 when it says, 'For when the priesthood is changed (from Levitical to the order of Melchizedek in Jesus), there takes place a change of the law also.' No more would the Levitical priests have to make offerings for the people, as it was done once and for all in Jesus."

The Melchizedek priesthood was a priesthood of ONE. It existed before the law was given (Gen.14:18) and after the law ended (Heb.7:11-17). Jesus became that one high priest that presented the final sacrifice, negating the need for further temple priests.

So the only conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that the Mormons do NOT have any Melchizedek priesthood no matter how much they want to claim otherwise.

5 comments:

Marie said...

Glenn, this is great. I have never read anything on this subject, really. Nice piece of research you share there.

Anonymous said...

I would be careful about referring to Hebrew "traditions." The Bible does not say that Shem was Melchizedek.

Anonymous said...

Shem cannot possibly be Melchizedek because we know his line and descendants. It states for Melchizedek we do not know his genealogy.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

The Bible also doesn't say he wasn't. Jewish traditions usually have good reasons behind them, especially when the traditional teaching originates more than 1000 years B.C. And the evidence is pretty convincing.

The point of the article, of course, is the last paragraph - there is no such thing as a Melchizedek priesthood today.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

As for his line and descendants, read the paragraph above explaining Heb. 7:3