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THE BIBLICAL ANALYSIS OF MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD
Melchizedek is mentioned only ten times in the Bible, eight of which are in the Epistle to the Hebrews.1 His personal ministry is confined to three short verses in Genesis. As such, he is a figure which most Christians do not spend much time investigating. But despite this, Melchizedek played a significant role in the Biblical account, which the author of Hebrews makes most clear. But the role which Melchizedek plays in the Biblical record is substantially different from that ascribed to him by Joseph Smith. This new role is described in Joseph’s alteration of the Genesis account, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Covenants. It was this expanded role which provided the platform for the institution of a Melchizedek priesthood in Joseph’s new church. Our goal in this chapter is to first explore the Melchizedek of the Bible. In the next chapter we will explore the Biblical priesthood of Aaron. In chapter 15 we will examine the ways in which Joseph Smith corrupted the concept of both of these priesthoods in his church. We will then see why his concept of a restored priesthood is one of the greatest heresies perpetrated by Joseph Smith.
2.2. THE MYSTERY OF MELCHIZEDEK
We read in Hebrews 6:19-20 that Jesus Christ, after His resurrection, is High Priest “after the order of Melchizedek.” The plainer English of the Moffatt translation words it: “. . . with the rank of” – that is, equal status with – one known as “Melchizedek.” But who was “Melchizedek”? First, notice from the Old Testament that the man of mystery, Melchizedek, was a priest of the Most High God. In Genesis 14, we read that during the war between a number of ancient city-states in Canaan and Mesopotamia, Abraham’s nephew Lot was captured. He and his family and goods were taken into slavery and held prisoner by invaders. One of their number escaped and brought the news to Abraham, who armed 318 of his own servants and chased to the north. Abraham rescued Lot and his family and the other captives, and all the goods, and returned them safely to the Canaanite cities. This battle was no doubt a great miracle, for Abraham was greatly outnumbered. When Abraham returned, a man of great mystery appears upon the scene. A man named “Melchizedek.” Here is the account: “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he [Melchizedek] blessed him [Abraham] and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And Abram gave him [Melchizedek] a tenth of everything” -- that is, a tithe of all the goods, for a tithe literally means a tenth (Genesis 14:18-20, RSV). Who was this great figure who blessed Abraham? The book of Jasher, which is ancient Jewish literature apart from the Bible, dating to hundreds of years before Christ and most probably even earlier, says: “And Adonizedek king of Jerusalem , the same was Shem, went out with his men to meet Abram and his people, with bread and wine, and they remained together in the valley of Melech. And Adonizedek blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth from all that he had brought from the spoil of his enemies, for Adonizedek was a priest before God” (Jasher 16:11-12). Shem, of course, was the first born son of Noah who held the office of high priest in the patriarchal system, long before the Levitical priesthood. In the patriarchal age, the oldest son was the “priest” of the family, and the oldest son of the oldest son, descended from Seth, son of Adam, was the “chief priest” or “high priest” in the earth. The righteous men of God, descended from Adam, were in each generation both “king and priest” – Seth, Enosh, Cainan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, and Noah. The high priesthood then went to Shem, after the Flood and the death of Noah, his father. Thus Shem was a king of “righteousness” – “Melchizedek” – and a king of “peace” – “Salem,” representing the city of Jerusalem. Says Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “In pre-Mosaic times the office of priest was occupied by the father of a family (comp. Job 1:5), or the head of a tribe for his own family or tribe. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob built altars, offered sacrifices, purified and consecrated themselves and their households (Gen.12:7; 13:18; 26:25; 33:20; 35:1,2).” (“Priest, Priesthood,” p.881). Declares the Adam Clarke Commentary, of Melchizedek, “He had preserved in his family and among his subjects the worship of the true God, and the primitive patriarchal institutions; by these the father of every family was both king and priest, so Melchezedek, being a worshiper of the true God, was priest among the people, as well as king over them” (vol.1, page 102). The line of patriarchs given in Genesis 5 were righteous men and leaders, kings and priests and prophets, endowed with God’s gifts to accomplish their duty as His representatives on the earth. They ruled by divine decree, but forced nobody to obey them or follow God’s ways. They were “preachers of righteousness,” but did not compel obedience. Obedience was voluntary, but each person would ultimately be judged as to whether they followed the divine laws of God and worshiped Him, or not. They were, like Noah, “a preacher of righteousness” (II Pet.2:5). Shem was also a “preacher of righteousness.” According to the book of Jasher, Abram was hidden in a cave for ten years after his birth, as king Nimrod sought to kill him. At age ten, “when Abram came out from the cave, he went to Noah and his son Shem, and he remained with them to learn the instruction of the Lord and his ways, and no man knew where Abram was, and Abram served Noah and Shem his son for a long time. And Abram was in Noah’s house thirty nine years, and Abram knew the Lord from three years old, and he went in the ways of the Lord until the day of his death, as Noah and his son Shem had taught him” (Jasher 9:5-6). The rest of mankind, “all the sons of the earth, in those days greatly transgressed against the Lord, and they rebelled against him, and they served other gods, and they forgot the Lord who had created them in the earth.”