Genesis 14 includes three verses (18-20) about the most enigmatic figure in the Bible, Melchizedek.  Throughout the centuries, biblical readers have argued about the correct translation of the Melchizedek passage and its significance.  Besides these three verses in Genesis 14, Melchizedek is mentioned in Psalm 110 and briefly in Hebrews 5 and 6, and more extensively in Hebrews 7.

What I wish to present here is the traditional Christian understanding of Melchizedek, based largely on the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Melchizedek means “my king is the king of righteousness,” or simply “king of righteousness.”  Melchizedek is introduced in Genesis 14 as the “king ofSalem.”  The word Salem in Hebrew means “peace,” so this “king of righteousness” is the “king of peace.” 

There are three main reasons Melchizedek is important in Christian understanding.  First, Abram (later re-named Abraham) offers Melchizedek a tithe.  This offering would indicate Abram viewed Melchizedek as greater than himself.  Second, Melchizedek is the “king of peace” and a priest of God Most High.  These titles are taken to refer to Melchizedek as associated with whatSt Paulwould call “the heavenly Jerusalem” (for certainly the earthly Jerusalem has not been known as a peaceful place!).  Third, Melchizedek offers Abram bread and wine, two extremely important images in Christianity.

From all this we can understand the importance of Melchizedek in Christian thought.  Christianity moved away from the earthly, Levitical priesthood and theTemplesystem in favor of the idea of Jesus’ eternal priesthood and once-for-all sacrifice.  Furthermore, and quite related, Christianity left behind the Temple sacrifices and the notion of worshipping in one specific geographical location (i.e. the earthly city of Jerusalem) in favor of worshipping God “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24) wherever one is located.  Christians stress the pre-eminence of the “heavenly Jerusalem,” which will be a peaceful city, over any earthly city.  Finally, instead of offering a new sacrifice, Christian worship revolves around the remembrance of Jesus’ death, with the bread and wine being offered as antitypes of His Body and Blood sacrificed on the Cross.

Although Melchizedek appears for such a short time in the Bible, his importance is considered significant, serving as a reminder to us that we should read each and every verse of the Bible carefully.  If we gloss over the story of Melchizedek, we miss an essential aspect of the Bible.