Questions From Readers
Since the ancient priest named Melchizedek was a real human, why does the Bible say that he was “without genealogy”?
This statement is made at Hebrews 7:3. Note the verse in its context:
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him and to whom Abraham apportioned a tenth from all things, is first of all, by translation, ‘King of Righteousness,’ and is then also king of Salem, that is, ‘King of Peace.’ In being fatherless, motherless, without genealogy, having neither a beginning of days nor an end of life, but having been made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.”—Hebrews 7:1-3.
As mentioned, Melchizedek was a real human, as real as Abraham, with whom he had direct dealings. (Genesis 14:17-20; Hebrews 7:4-10) That being so, Melchizedek must have had parents, a father and a mother, and he might have had offspring. Hence, as a human he had a genealogy, or family tree. He also had an end of his physical life. At some point Melchizedek died, in line with the apostle Paul’s statement at Romans 5:12, 14. But since we do not know when Melchizedek died and so ceased to serve as priest, in that respect he served without any known end.
In Hebrews, Paul made comments about Melchizedek when discussing Jesus Christ’s role as a superior High Priest. Referring to Melchizedek as a type, or pattern, of Jesus in this priestly role, Paul said: “Jesus . . . has become a high priest according to the manner of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:20) In what sense?
Paul must have realized that the Bible record does not give details about Melchizedek’s family lineage—his ancestors or any possible descendants. That information is just not a matter of Biblical record. From the standpoint of what Paul knew or we know, therefore, Melchizedek could correctly be said to be “without genealogy” (New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures; American Standard Version), “without table of descent” (W. J. Conybeare), or with “no family tree.”—J. B. Phillips.
In what way was Jesus like that? Granted, we know that Jesus’ Father was Jehovah God and that his human mother was Mary of the tribe of Judah. Still, there was a similarity between Melchizedek and Jesus. How so? Jesus was not born in the tribe of Levi, the tribe for priests in the nation of Israel. No, Jesus had not become a priest through human genealogy. Neither had Melchizedek, who had not become a priest “according to the law of a commandment depending upon the flesh,” that is, by being born into a priestly tribe and family. (Hebrews 7:15, 16) Rather than becoming a priest through a human father who had himself been a priest, Jesus had “been specifically called by God a high priest according to the manner of Melchizedek.”—Hebrews 5:10.
Further, Jesus did not have any descendants or successors to his priesthood. In this sense too, he was without genealogy. He will eternally carry out his priestly service as a helpful instructor. Paul commented on this perpetual service, saying:
“[Jesus] because of continuing alive forever has his priesthood without any successors. Consequently he is able also to save completely those who are approaching God through him, because he is always alive to plead for them.”—Hebrews 7:24, 25.
Our consideration of Paul’s words at Hebrews 7:3 should therefore be more than a mere piece of knowledge to store away in our head. It should reinforce our appreciation for the loving provision that Jehovah God has made for us to obtain forgiveness of sin everlastingly and for the way he has arranged for us to receive help and guidance perpetually.