Regarding Hebrews 7:1-3

Hebrews 7:1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; Hebrews 7:2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Hebrews 7:3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.

It is suggested by some that verse three proves the Son of God was "without descent" and had no "beginning of days" and thus must be ‘eternally begotten’ or part of the plural triune Godhead.

If we assume that the Bible already teaches the full doctrine of the Trinity and Hebrews 7:3 is just another expression of this truth, then perhaps these phrase could be applied in such a manner without difficulty. On the other hand, if the Bible, including the Letter to the Hebrews, does not clearly express and define the Trinity doctrine, then it would not be unfair to state that Hebrews 7:3 would have to be understood in harmony with the context as well as the general thrust of Hebrews.

Before doing this type of examination we might firs examine the wording here in Hebrews 7:3. We ask regarding this priest of Salem to whom Abraham paid the tithe: was this human priest actually, "without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life"? Would this not make Melchizedek himself something of God Himself? Does the writer of Hebrews mean that? Or, does he mean: this priest pops up in Genesis without any known father, mother, descend, beginning, or end IN THE WRITTEN RECORD?

Regarding the Son of God we wish to ask: was he "without father"? This could not be for Hebrews has already mentioned the "Father" of the Son, Jesus Christ. (See Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 5:5) Additionally, the very designation "Son" infers a "father" and Hebrews so described Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 1:1; Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 1:8; Hebrews 2:6; Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 5:5, 8; Hebrews 6:6; Hebrews 7:28; Hebrews 10:29) Without argument the Jews would have believed that a father precedes a son and a son only exists because of procreation by the father.

We are interested in a couple of matters related to this question regarding Hebrews 7:3: 1) what has the letter to the Hebrews being trying to prove? 2) what has Hebrews already stated regarding the Son? 3) Did this "Son" have a "beginning" in any manner?

1) What has the writer of Hebrews been trying to prove to Jews of his day?

The proposition of Hebrews has been declared right in the introduction:

Hebrews 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hebrews 1:2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son,a whom he hath appointedb heir of all things, by whom also he madec the worlds; Hebrews 1:3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his persond, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hande of the Majesty on high: Hebrews 1:4 Being made so much better than the angels,f as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent nameg than they. Hebrews 1:5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee?h And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? Hebrews 1:6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotteni into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.

There are at least nine assertions or affirmations regarding Jesus Christ:

  1. first, in that first century of the Common Era, ‘God began to speak by His Son.’ It may be noted that verse one in Greek literally uses ho theos as the designation for the Father: The God. The article is there because in that ancient world there were "many gods" (1 Corinthians 8:5) Also, the Jews understood that theos may be used of lesser gods such as angels and judges. (Psalm 8:5; 82:1, 6) Without any explanation Hebrews introduces "The God" and "his Son." We know the Jews were strong monotheists (or, henotheists to be more accurate) and believed their Yehowah of the Hebrew Scriptures was "The God." Their teachers and philosophers also believed there was "a Son" as Psalm 2:1-7 so described the Messiah, or christened One.
  2. The God has "appointed" his Son to a particular position and honor. Such an appointment would indicate to those Jews that this office or position was not enjoyed prior to the appointment.
  3. The God made (or, created) the cosmos "by means of" (the Greek is di meaning through, by means of the agency of another). This idea of a Son being used in creation was also not unknown to the Jews of this period. They drew these conclusions based on Genesis 1:26 and Proverbs 8:22-30.
  4. This Son was not the Father, not The God, but an "image" of Him. The Greek here is character which means an impress or imprint. Clearly what is harder or stronger imprints the softer. The idea of others being in the "image" of The God was understood by Genesis 1:26.
  5. Upon his ascension to heaven the Son was enthroned beside The God, his Father. The Jews understood this on the basis of Psalm 2:6, 7 and Psalm 110:1.
  6. By this appointment the Son now becomes "better than the angels." Later Hebrews 2:6-9 is to argue that the Son was made less than the angels (or, less than "god") when it quotes Psalm 8:5. [For a thorough discussion on this matter research Psalm 8:5 in NAZARENE COMMENTARY.] No Jew would have understood by this that the Son was God but that the Messiah on earth was "less than angels" and only upon his appointment did he "become better than angels."
  7. Only by this does the Son now "inherit a better name" -- reputation, character, or authority.
  8. At some point the Son was "begotten" in a special way by appointment to his throne in heaven as King. The phrase is a quotation of Psalm 2:6, 7.
  9. This Son is called "firstbegotten" (proto-tokon) indicating there are others so begotten by the Father. Any Jew would understand the language to mean the Father preceded the Son and the Son only came into existence after the procreation of the Father.

2) What has Hebrews already stated regarding the Son?

Before Hebrews 7:3 what has the letter to the Hebrews already stated regarding this Son? Consider some verses in the second chapter:

Hebrews 2:6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him? Hebrews 2:7 Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Hebrews 2:8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. Hebrews 2:10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. Hebrews 2:11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Hebrews 2:12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. Hebrews 2:13 And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. Hebrews 2:14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.

These Jews heard the writer of Hebrews state several things about this "son of man" who is later identified as Jesus: "Thou madest him a little lower than the angels;a Thou crownedst him with glory and honour,b and didst set him over the works of thy hands:c Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.d" (Hebrews 2:7, 8)

Let us consider these four affirmations as Jews in the first century would:

  1. ‘The God (Yehowah) made His Son Jesus ‘lower than the angels.’ The writer has quoted Psalm 8:5 from the Jewish Greek Septuagint version which uses "angels" while the Hebrew uses elohim which may be rendered either "God" or "gods." [Research Psalm 8:5 in NAZARENE COMMENTARY.]
  2. The God Yehowah "crowned" the Son with glory and honor by installing him as King. (Psalm 2:6, 7; Psalm 110:1; compare Ephesians 1:19-22)
  3. The God Yehowah "set" the Son over all His own works.
  4. The God Yehowah purposed to subject everything under the Son’s feet. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28; Psalm 2:6, 7; Psalm 110:1)

Now the writer of Hebrews continues to show that the Son and his "brothers" all have the same source or origin. Note: "For it became him,a for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captainb of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifiethc and they who are sanctified are all of one:d for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.e" (Hebrews 2:10, 11 KJV)

  1. First we note the God Yehowah (the "him" of verse 10; see Weymouth, Amplified) purposed to "bring many sons unto glory."
  2. The God Yehowah perfects "the captain" (or, His Son) through human "sufferings."
  3. The Son of God "sanctifies" these "many sons" through his own sufferings.
  4. The "Captain" and these "sons" are all "one." Indicating these are all of one kind or type some translations render this: Rotherham: are all of One; Confraternity: have all one Father; Basic English: are all of one family; Moffatt: have all one origin.
  5. these (the captain and the many sons) are all "brothers" and therefore sons of The God Yehowah.

This "captain" (the Son of Yehowah), following his sufferings and enthronement became a "high priest." The writer of Hebrews continues:

Hebrews 3:11 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. Hebrews 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

The Son did not appoint himself as high priest but was called by The God (ton theon). To prove his point the writer of Hebrews quotes two texts: Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4. Note this:

Hebrews 5:4 And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. Hebrews 5:5 So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him,a Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.b Hebrews 5:6 As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.c

The Son does not glorify himself for it is The God Yehowah who calls and appoints him. That a Son of God would also become a "priest" the writer quotes the two verses in the Psalms. Examine the above:

  1. it is the God Yehowah who speaks to His Son;
  2. at his enthronement at the right hand of his God in heaven (Revelation 3:12, 21) Jesus becomes a Son, begotten on that day; and,
  3. The God Yehowah declares his Son to be a priest similar to the ancient king of Salem, Melchizedek.

What was required of this Son in order to become such a priest is next explained:

Hebrews 5:7 Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death,a and was heard in that he feared; Hebrews 5:8 Though he were a Son, yet learnedb he obedience by the things which he suffered; Hebrews 5:9 And being made perfectc, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Hebrews 5:10 Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.d  

  1. The writer of Hebrews explains that during "the days of his flesh" he prayed most earnestly to the only one who could save him from death, his Father, the God Yehowah.
  2. This Son learned something new;
  3. This Son was "made perfect"; and,
  4. After which his God Yehowah "called" him to become a priest like Melchizedek.

We note this Son was not like this priest Melchizedek before his calling. Jesus, the Son of God, was to be the first to go "within the (heavenly) veil." Note this:

Hebrews 6:19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Hebrews 6:20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

Only now with his entry into heaven, "within the veil," does the Son become a high priest like Melchizedek.

Now the writer of Hebrews draws comparisons between the exalted Son and the ancient human priest and king of Salem. He draws on Genesis 14:18 when he writes:

Hebrews 7:1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God,a who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; Hebrews 7:2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness,b  and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Hebrews 7:3 Without fatherc , without mother,d  without descent,e  having neither beginning of days,f  nor end of life;g  but made like unto the Son of God;h  abideth a priest continually.

The writer of Hebrews makes several comparisons:

  1. the Son is a priest of the Most High God who is elsewhere identified as Yehowah.
  2. the Son is not only a priest but also a king identified with righteousness and peace. (Isaiah 9:6, 7)
  3. Now the writer of Hebrews says Melchizedek was "without father." From what standpoint does he mean this? If Melchizedek be a human king of Salem (Jewish tradition teaches Melchizedek may be Shem, son of Noah.) then in reality he did have a father and a mother in Adam and Eve, the later being described as "the mother of all living." We are puzzled: for in what way would the Son be "without father"? For all through Hebrews it has been argued Jesus is the Son of God who clearly had a Father. (Hebrews 1:1)
  4. Indeed, Jesus was not actually without a "mother" for in the process of becoming "flesh" (Hebrews 5:7) he was "born of a woman." (Galatians 4:4)
  5. It is true we cannot prove or find the "descent" of Melchizedek in the book of Genesis. He just shows up as it were in the account with Abraham. However, Jesus did have a "descent" which is recorded in Matthew chapter one and Luke chapter three. Indeed, Hebrews 7:14 reports: "For it is quite plain that our Lord has sprung up out of Judah, a tribe about which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests."
  6. Did the writer of Hebrews actually mean in absolute truth that the human king Melchizedek had no "beginning"? Would this make Melchizedek himself equal to God?
  7. Did the writer of Hebrews mean in reality Melchizedek the human king of Salem never died? Elsewhere he writes about those in the Book of Genesis: "In faith all these died, although they did not get the [fulfillment of the] promises." (Hebrews 11:13) It would seem strange that he would not mention the one person in Genesis who "had no end."
  8. In what manner was Melchizedek "made like unto the Son"?

Are we forced to accept what the writer of Hebrews speaks in a most literal fashion without giving him some latitude in the comparison he draws? Some argue from Hebrews 7:3 that the Son Jesus Christ is ‘without father, descent, or beginning’ for according to their belief the Son is part of the plural God who exists in Three Persons. We must admit that no where in Hebrews does the writer introduce such a Trinitarian idea. We must admit that the writer of Hebrews has been trying to prove that the Son, though made lower than God (Psalm 8:5), has become better than the angels. He has been arguing that such a Son was appointed to his office as priest.

3) Did this "Son" have a "beginning" in any manner?

May we raise the question whether the Son was begotten, created, or had an origin? There can be no question that the Son of God was "begotten" for Hebrews 1:5, 6. In addition to this we have seen from the second chapter that the writer of Hebrews believes Jesus and his "brothers" all have the same source or origin. Additionally, the writer of Hebrews points to the fact that Jesus become the Son in the fullest since upon his resurrection and enthronement. (Hebrews 1:5; Hebrews 5:5; Hebrews 10:12, 13; compare also Romans 1:4; Acts 13:33)

What does the Bible mean by "begotten" in this context of the Son? There is a series of verses which combine the word "create" and "begotten" in the same breath. (This text was always applied to the pre-existent life of Jesus Christ by the earliest church fathers.) Consider Proverbs 8:22-30:

Proverbs 8:22 The LORD created me [NJB, LXX; JPS: made; NAB: begot], at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Proverbs 8:23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. Proverbs 8:25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth [LXX: begotten; LAM: conceived]. Proverbs 8:30 then I was beside him [John 1:1; John 17:4], like a master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always. (RSV)

For details on these verses as well as commentary by scholars and early church fathers research the words created me or Proverbs 8:22 in NAZARENE COMMENTARY. It seems fair to conclude that the Son was "created" and this was how he was "begotten." In addition to this Paul asserts that the Son was created when he writes: "Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature." Colossians 1:15 KJV)

May we ask in view of this if the Son had a "beginning"? It seems obvious that a father exists before his son, so that there was a time when only the father existed until the son was procreated. Thus just from the designations given the Father and the Son there must be a time when the Father existed alone and thereafter the Son came into existence. Revelation 3:14 makes it clear from a literal rendering from the Greek that the Son had a "beginning" for the verse reads: "And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God." It seems fair and reasonable to conclude that the Son did have a "beginning."

Now, may we speak of the Son as having an "origin" -- something that could not be said if he had existed from all eternity. "Origin" is not a word that can be used of God. We note that, indeed, the word "origin" is used to describe the beginning of the Son of God. We find it in a context which is applied to Jesus by the inspired writer Matthew. (Matthew 2:6) Micah 5:1, 2 reads: "But you, O Bethlehem Eph'rathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days." On the scholarship of rendering this Hebrew word "origin" see Gesenius and other translations in NAZARENE COMMENTARY.

Summary

Thus, we have discovered that the Son was begotten, created, and thus had an origin unlike God. On the basis of the context and arguments in the Letter to the Hebrews, as well as what the rest of the Bible teaches on the subject of the Son’s beginning, how are we to understand Hebrews 7:3?

"Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually."

Giving the writer of Hebrews some literary latitude and not forcing his words into an inconsistent literality, we understand the verse to draw on the unusually appearance in Genesis of the human king-priest Melchizedek: from the standpoint of his occurrence in the account about Abraham, the man is "without a father who can be named, a mother who can be identified. Also there is no beginning to his story, nor any record of the end of his life. Literally none of this contrasts in any absolute way with Jesus Christ. It seems the main thrust is that, like Melchizedek, the priesthood of the Son is not based on his genealogy (something repeated in Hebrews 7:14), nor his beginnings, but on the call of God. In addition since the Genesis account reports no end to Melchizedek the Son is a "priest forever." (Psalm 110:5)

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