Monday, April 04, 2011

Hebrews 7: Verses 15 and 3 (Jesus and Melchizedek and the Son of God)

Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek
(Image from Wikipedia)

In yesterday's study of Hebrews that takes place weekly among a small group of us in my church, we noticed a puzzle. The anonymous author of Hebrews goes far toward intimately identifying Jesus as priest with Melchizedek as priest, even asserting of each that his priestly status is eternal (7:3, 17, 21) and that each is immortal (7:8, 16), and our study group had wondered if the writer were alluding to the figure of Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20 as a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God.

However, we then came Hebrews 7:15, which refers to Jesus as a priest "in the likeness of Melchizedek" (κατὰ τὴν ὁμοιότητα Μελχισέδεκ), which would seem to treat the two as different figures. I noted that this seems odd, for it would appear to imply two heavenly priests of the same status existing eternally. Furthermore, though I didn't point this out in the group discussion, the verse would appear to set up a hierarchical relationship, in which the one (Jesus) who is likened to the other (Melchizedek) is also therefore subordinated to him, as the likeness is to the original.

Later, as my wife and I discussed the issue, I reflected again on Hebrews 7:3, which states of Melchizedek that he is "likened to the Son of God" (ἀφωμοιωμένος . . . τῷ υἱῷ τοῦ θεοῦ), which sets up the same sort of hierarchical distinction, except that this time, Melchizedek is the one being subordinated, namely, to the Son of God.

But this sets up a circular hierarchical comparison in which Jesus is subordinated to Melchizedek, who is subordinated to God's Son, of whom Jesus is the incarnate manifestation.

This raises a question for me: Is the author of Hebrews using "likeness" (ὁμοιότητα) and "likened" (ἀφωμοιωμένος) in special senses, not to compare two figures in a hierarchical arrangement but to imply an identity?

Are either of these two Greek terms (or similar terms) used in this way elsewhere?

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At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part I

I can't speak remotely to the liguistics. It did make me think:

What is the Greek used in Genesis for comparing Adam (man) to God (and the others signified) in 1:26-27

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness"...So God created man in his own image...

The English uses "in our likeness."

I don't think the English necessarily implies hierarchy. I can see how it could, especially in Genesis where one being is a creation of the other. But, couldn't it in relation to Jesus and Melchizedek simply imply chronology?

And of course, when dealing with Christ, chronology has problems - which might only be resolved verbally by mixing it up in multiple utterances as you have outlined:

Orthodoxy says - Christ was both eternal and temporal. This gets confusing when trying to capture it in language. For example John8:58

"Jesus said unto them, "Verily, verily, I say unto you - Before Abraham was, I am."

Before Abraham was - I am...A brain twister.

At 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Part II

Chronologically, Jesus was both before, during, and after Melchizedek. The key event being Jesus becoming flesh for a temporaral life as a man before cruxifiction and resurrection in a different form of body.

For my reading, supported by some help from the online Bible commentary I listen to the most, I see Melchizedek as a historical man who is used in both Genesis and Hebrews as an archetype - perhaps along the lines of Northrop Frye's literary criticism -- which I see as - an archetype not being necessarily an original but as an extrapolation (not the right word I want to use but I can't think of it at the moment) of standard attributes taken from a variety of examples over time - Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, some of the prophets, as well as Christ.

I see the limited biographical information given of Melchizedek in Genesis being necessary to indicate him as a archetype that Abraham would ultimately follow.

On Melchizedek living forever, didn't Paul kinda see himself as both temporaral and eternal? Temporal as in historical - being born and bound for death - but also eternal in that he was assured a crown in heaven in eternity?

Perhaps Hebrews 3 is a conflating of this seeming paradox - of having a time on earth and being timeless in heaven after death? 7:1 seems to be talking about the historical man. Then 2 starts breaking down his name - and 3 is a continuation of this with the author deconstructing the text of Genesis?

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Question: Is there a difference in the Greek or Hebrew for the word "likeness" as used in Genesis or Hebrews and how it is used in Ezekiel like 1:10?

At 5:06 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Scott, I'll have to think more about your comments, but I've responded -- in the blog entry that follows this one -- to some of what you write.

Jeffery Hodges

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