Melchizedek is one of those enigmatic figures that invites all manner of speculation. I don’t get many opportunities to go into detail about “Mel-chizzle,” so I thought I’d take advantage of this one. Nerds, enjoy.
Some of the language the author of Hebrews uses about Melchizedek—specifically 7:3—implies that he had a miraculous birth and never died. This coincides with information in 2 Enoch, a non-canonical book that relates some bizarre stories about Melchizedek: He was born of a virgin, fully clothed and able to speak, he escaped the flood during Noah’s time by hiding out in the Garden of Eden, etc. Did the author of Hebrews believe these things about Melchizedek? And isn’t it a problem that he gives authority to a non-canonical work?
Did the author of Hebrews believe these crazy things about Melchizedek?
In short—probably not. The statement in Hebrews 7:3 doesn’t necessarily imply agreement with 2 Enoch. It is clear that Melchizedek is the only priest for whom we don’t have a genealogy, which is odd, since in Jewish narrative the genealogy is essential for priesthood. The author of Hebrews notices that and makes a big deal of it. But the author of 2 Enoch takes it a place the author of Hebrews does not. Just because the author of Hebrews makes an observation about Melchizedek similar to that of 2 Enoch does not mean that he agrees with everything else Enoch says.
Verse 3 is not intended to be an ontological statement about Melchizedek, but a typological observation. I read it to say, ”without mother or father in the literary record” and “without a recorded beginning of days or end of life,” and thus “resembling the Son of God who was actually without those things.”
To say that Melchizedek is truly an eternal priest, co-existent with God, though technically plausible in the language used, is not required, and would clearly contradict other biblical passages.
Admittedly, the phrasing in verse 3 is strange, but we have to interpret ancient authors according to ancient writing styles. We tend to read through a 21st century American lens, not a 1st century Hebrew one. Think of it this way: if 2,000 years from now someone were to pick up a 21st century novel and read, “The sun rose at 5:30 am,” he might say, “They believed that the sun actually rose!” But that would be an error on his part, showing that he doesn’t understand how we use language.
Then there are some scholars who suggest that Melchizedek was a Christophany, in which case the differentiation in language is moot. They appeal to verse 8 that implies Melchizedek was not a mortal man. Again, I read that typologically, to say that Melchizedek resembled one who was not mortal. That’s what verse 3 says–Melchizedek “resembled” the Son of God, not was the Son of God.
Isn’t it a problem that the author of Hebrews interacts with a non-canonical work?
Don’t be thrown off by the fact that the author of Hebrews appears to be dealing with a commonly believed, though erroneous 1st century superstition without first thoroughly discrediting the source.
When missionaries go into a place in which there is an overly superstitious, harmful belief in demons and angels, they can either (a) try to prove that much of what they attribute to the demonic is imagined or (b) proclaim Christ’s Lordship over all of it regardless of the source, so that fear vanishes, in which case the superstition usually does as well.
Missionaries often choose the latter strategy, as it is much more effective, and the writer of Hebrews does as well.