Not long ago, I read a paper which defended the position that Melchizedek of the Old Testament was the ante-mortal Messiah. The paper made a great analysis, which included philology, legend, and canonical scripture.
Today, it seems reasonable to assemble my thoughts on why LDS teaching does not leave much room for this possibility.
The JST presents Melchizedek as a mortal
The JST for Gen 14:25-40 presents Melchizedek as a mortal man, even to the extent of having had a childhood (2000 years before Jesus’ childhood): “and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire.”
If you would contend that these miracles could be presented as prophecy for the actual childhood of Jesus, about which little is known, I cannot definitely tell you otherwise, but John the Revelator, at least, did not think that Jesus did any such thing in his childhood: speaking of the miracle at the marriage in Cana, he said, ‘This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee.’ (John 2:11)
Other excerpts from JST Gen 14 which hint at Melchizedek’s life being mortal, though they are far from conclusive on their own, include:
- Now Melchizedek was a man of faith (nowhere in canon is God called ‘a man’ or even ‘man’, except for the sobriquet ‘man of holiness’)
- having been approved of God (unless we apply divine investiture to this text, it’s self-referential)
- he was ordained … after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch (why would Enoch be treated as antecedent if Melchizedek were the ante-mortal God?)
- his people … sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken
Names appear not to interchanged in writ
Scriptural writers may have many names for Jesus (e.g. Lamb of God, Son of God, Messiah, Christ, etc.), so if Jesus and Melchizedek were in fact the same person it is possible that a writer might interchange Melchizedek for any of the better-known names of Jesus. However, an interchange is not what we see. Rather, the names are compartmentalized in the scriptures, with the only intersection being ‘Prince of peace’.
The name ‘Prince of peace’ is nowhere (in canon, at least) actually used as a referrer for Melchizedek; rather, we read that he was king of Salem (whose name means ‘peace’) and “therefore he … was called the prince of peace.” (Alma 13:18; c.f. JST Gen 14:33) What’s more the term ‘prince of peace’ is not reserved for Melchizedek and Jesus alone but is applied also to Abraham. (Abr 1:2)
Moses, David, Alma, Paul, and Joseph Smith mention Melchizedek by name, but never refer to him by any other name in context. If Jesus and Melchizedek were one and the same, the scriptural writers either didn’t realize it or decided not to disclose it.
This is at least the case for Joseph Smith, who gave us D&C 107:
Why the first [priesthood] is called the Melchizedek Priesthood is because Melchizedek was such a great high priest. Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God. (D&C 107:2-3)
If the writer knew that the two were one in the same and didn’t mind letting on, this language makes no sense.
God visited Abraham as Jehovah
Despite the segregation of the two personas in scripture, one might yet hold to an idea that Melchizedek was God but that Abraham failed to recognize the fact, which gave rise to Melchizedek’s treatment as a different character in later scripture. After all, did not the resurrected saviour keep company with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, yet they did not recognize him? (Luke 24:13-31) And did he not speak of himself in the third person, as though he were not the Christ? (vs. 26)
However, Abraham had already had dealings with the ante-mortal Jesus (Gen 18) and known him as God, which is something that his disciples appeared not to have grasped.
Without beginning of days or end of years…
A (ostensibly) compelling argument for the unity of Jesus and Melchizedek comes in a Paul’s (ostensible) description of Melchizedek:
Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God… (Heb 7:3)
However, the Joseph Smith Translation for that scripture places the description on the priesthood, not Melchizedek.
For this Melchizedek was ordained a priest after the order of the Son of God, which order was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life. And all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the Son of God, abiding a priest continually.