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Publication TypeEncyclopedia Entry
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsSatterfield, Bruce, and Birger A. Pearson
Secondary AuthorsLudlow, Daniel H.
Secondary TitleEncyclopedia of Mormonism
Place PublishedNew York
KeywordsHigh Priest; Melchizedek (Prophet); Melchizedek Priesthood; Salem/Jerusalem
Citation Key589

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This entry consists of two articles:

Melchizedek: LDS Sources, a discussion of what is known of Melchizedek from Church scripture and revelation, and Melchizedek: Ancient Sources, a historical view of Melchizedek from ancient writings and traditions.

Melchizedek: LDS Sources


As a king and high priest of the Most High God (Gen. 14:18), Melchizedek holds a place of great honor and respect among Latter-day Saints. An example of righteousness and the namesake of the higher priesthood, he represents the scriptural ideal of one who obtains the power of God through faith, repentance, and sacred ordinances, for the purpose of inspiring and blessing his fellow beings.

Melchizedek was evidently a prince by birth, for he became king of Salem (later Jerusalem-Gen. 14:18; Ps. 76:2), where he reigned "under his father" (Alma 13:18). "Melchizedek was a man of faith, who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire" (JST Gen. 14:26). Yet the people among whom he lived "waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness" (Alma 13:17).

Though living among a wicked people, Melchizedek "exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God" (Alma 13:18). This priesthood was after the order of the covenant that God had made with Enoch (JST Gen. 14:27), and Melchizedek ruled both as king and priest over his people.

As high priest, some of his functions were keeping "the storehouse of God" where the "tithes for the poor" were held (JST Gen. 14:37-38), giving blessings to individuals such as Abraham (JST Gen. 14:18, 25, 37), preaching repentance (Alma 13:18; cf. 5:49), and administering ordinances "after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God…for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord" (Alma 13:16; JST Gen. 14:17). With extraordinary goodness and power, Melchizedek diligently administered in the office of high priest and "did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days" (Alma 13:18). Consequently, Melchizedek became known as "the prince of peace" (JST Gen. 14:33; Heb. 7:1-2; Alma 13:18). "His people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven" (JST Gen. 14:34). His Hebrew name means "King of Righteousness."

For Alma 2 and several biblical authors, the order of the priesthood to which Melchizedek was ordained was of prime importance. It was this "order," coupled with faith, that gave Melchizedek the power and knowledge that influenced his people to repent and become worthy to be with God. This order was "after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God" (JST Gen. 14:28; JST Heb. 7:3; Ps. 110:4). It was given to Melchizedek "through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah," and from Melchizedek to Abraham (D&C 84:14). Those ordained to this order were to "have power, by faith," and, according to "the will of the Son of God," to work miracles. Ultimately, those in this order were "to stand in the presence of God" (JST Gen. 14:30-31). This was accomplished by participating in the ordinances of this order (Alma 13:16; D&C 84:20-22). The result was that "men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven" (JST Gen. 14:32). Accordingly, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the priesthood held by Melchizedek had "the power of "endless lives"' (TPJS, p. 322; see also Eternal Life).

So righteous and faithful was Melchizedek in the execution of his high priestly duties that he became a prototype of Jesus Christ (Heb. 7:15). The Book of Mormon prophet Alma said of him, "Now, there were many [high priests] before him, and also there were many afterwards, but none were greater" (Alma 13:19). The Doctrine and Covenants states that Melchizedek was "such a great high priest" that the higher priesthood was called after his name. "Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God. But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too-frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in the ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood" (D&C 107:2-4; italics in original).

It was asserted by some early LDS leaders that Melchizedek was Shem, son of Noah (see, e.g., T&S 5:746). Though Shem is also identified as a great high priest (D&C 138:41), it would appear from the Doctrine and Covenants 84:14that the two might not be the same individual (MD, p. 475), and Jewish sources equating Melchizedek and Shem are late and tendentious.


Madsen, Ann N. "Melchizedek, the Man and the Tradition." Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1975.

Welch, John W. "The Melchizedek Material in Alma 13:13-19." In By Study and Also by Faith, ed. J. Lundquist and S. Ricks, Vol. 2, pp. 238-72. Salt Lake City, 1990.

Widtsoe, John A. "Who Was Melchizedek?" Evidences and Reconciliations, pp. 231-33. Salt Lake City, 1960.



Melchizedek: Ancient Sources


Genesis 14:17-24 reports that Abram ("the Hebrew," 14:3), upon his victorious return from a battle, was met by the king of Sodom ("Bera," 14:2), who was eager to reward Abram for coming to his and his allies' aid. The narrative is interrupted by an enigmatic insertion (14:18-20) featuring "Melchizedek king of Salem," "priest of God Most High" (RSV). Melchizedek "brought out bread and wine" and blessed Abram in the name of God Most High (Hebrew 'el "elyôn ). Abram then gave Melchizedek a tithe of his booty. This priest-king of Salem has enjoyed a wide range of interpretation among Jewish, Christian, and Gnostic writings, some that brought him up to the heights of heaven, and others-of developing Christian and Jewish orthodoxy-that brought him down to earth again.

The story of Genesis 14 has raised numerous questions. Most modern scholars entertain a possible connection of this Melchizedek with a pre-Israelite kingship and/or priesthood in the Jebusite city of Jerusalem ("Salem") before its conquest by King David (2 Sam. 5:6-10). The incorporation of the story into Judean traditions reflects the interests of the Jerusalem royal ideology.

The only other Old Testament occurrence of the name Melchizedek is found in a royal Jerusalemite psalm, Psalm 110:4. There God ("the Lord") addresses the king thus: "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek."

Melchizedek occurs in the New Testament only in the Epistle to the Hebrews (5:6-10;6:20;7:1-17), where the Old Testament figure is interpreted as a type of the "high priest" of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. The key passage is Hebrews 7:3,where it is said that Melchizedek "resembles the Son of God." Melchizedek's priesthood, superior to that of the "descendants of Levi" (Heb. 7:5), is a foreshadowing of the priesthood of the Son of God. Hebrews 7:3becomes the basis for most Christian interpretation of the figure of Melchizedek (Horton, pp. 111, 152, 161-64).

An important witness to pre-Christian Jewish speculation on Melchizedek has surfaced among the Dead Sea Scrolls: 11QMelch. The fragmentary Hebrew text, usually dated to the first century B.C., features Melchizedek as a heavenly end-time redeemer, with attributes of the archangel Michael. He appears in the tenth and final jubilee of world history to rescue the elect, the "men of the lot of Melchizedek" (ii.8), doing battle with Belial and his fellow evil spirits. Melchizedek's triumph is described as a high-priestly act of "expiation" (ii.8; cf. Kobelski, pp. 5-23).

Melchizedek is mentioned by Philo, a first-century Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, in three writings (Legum Allegoriae 3.79-82; De Congressu 89; De Abrahamo 235). Philo interprets the text of Genesis in a Platonic-allegorical fashion, seeing in Melchizedek a reference to the divine Logos, the thought of God in which the pattern of all existing things is conceived and the "image" of God according to which man was created.

Another important text, 2 Enoch, attests to early Jewish interest in the figure of Melchizedek. The date and place of this document are controversial, but recent scholarship places its original Greek version in the first century A.D. in Alexandria (cf. F. I. Andersen's introduction and translation in Charlesworth, Vol. 1, pp. 91-213). In this text (chaps. 71-72), a child is born miraculously to Noah's recently deceased sister-in-law, and the child, marked on his chest with a priestly seal, speaks and praises God. The boy is named Melchizedek by Noah and his brother Nir, whose wife had been posthumously delivered. In a night vision Nir is told of the impending flood; he is also informed that the archangel Michael will bring Melchizedek to paradise, thus enabling him to escape the flood waters. Melchizedek will eventually become the chief of priests among the people, and in the end of days he will be revealed yet another time as the chief priest. In this text, Melchizedek has three different earthly manifestations: born before the Flood, serving in the postdiluvian age as a great priest, and functioning in the end-time as a messianic priest (cf. Gruenewald, pp. 90-92; Delcor, pp. 127-30).

Some of these Jewish interpretations were taken over by Gnostics and are now reflected in some Christian Gnostic texts preserved in Coptic manuscripts of the fourth and fifth centuries (Pearson, 1990). In one fragmentary manuscript, the disciple John asks Jesus to explain what is said about Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:3. Unfortunately, the text breaks off before Jesus' interpretation is given.

A fragmentary text from Nag Hammadi (IX.1: Melchizedek; cf. Pearson, 1981, pp. 19-85) contains an apocalypse given by angels to Melchizedek, "priest of God Most High." It is revealed to Melchizedek that he will ultimately reappear as Jesus Christ, Son of God, to do battle with the cosmic forces of darkness. Here one can see influence not only from the Epistle to the Hebrews but also from non-Christian lore.

In the Second Book of Jeu, "Zorokothora Melchizedek" is a heavenly priest who presides over a heavenly baptism. No trace of influence from Hebrews is found in this text.

The most developed levels of speculation on Melchizedek, also lacking any influence from Hebrews, are found in Pistis Sophia, Book 4, in which Melchizedek plays a key role in the process of purifying human souls for entry into the "Treasury of Light" and transferring them from the domain of the archons, or earthly rulers, to that heavenly region. The younger material in books 1-3 of Pistis Sophia develops these ideas further: Melchizedek is a heavenly being who seals the saved souls upon their entry into the realm of light.

The church fathers attest to several heterodox ideas associated with Melchizedek. Hippolytus of Rome (Refutatio 7.35-36) and Epiphanius of Salamis (Panarion 55) are the most important witnesses to a group of heretics called Melchizedekians. They had a low Christology and exalted Melchizedek as a heavenly power superior to Christ. Others equated Melchizedek with the Holy Spirit (Panarion 67), and some "even in the true church" (i.e., not "heretics") naively regarded Melchizedek as the Son of God (Panarion 55.7.3). The later view seems also to have been present among the monasteries of Egypt (Apophthegmata Patrum, in Patrologia Graeca 65.160) and was even defended in a treatise on Melchizedek by a fifth-century resident of the Judean desert, Mark the Hermit (PG 65.1117-40). Such views were eventually overcome by teacher-bishops such as Cyril of Alexandria (PG 65.160).

On the Jewish side, while early rabbis continued to speculate on Melchizedek's role in scripture (e.g., equating him with Shem, son of Noah; cf. b. Nedarim 32b; Midrash Gen. R. 44.7; Targum Ps.-J. Gen. 14:18), a major stream of rabbinic tradition viewed Melchizedek negatively, a fact that indicates some Jewish sensitivity to the use of Melchizedek traditions by Christians (Gianotto, pp. 172-85). [See also Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.]