“Can you explain why Hebrews 5:7–8 refers to Melchizedek instead of to Christ?” Ensign, Aug. 1987, 21
Robert J. Matthews, Dean, College of Religious Education, Brigham Young University. The footnote to Hebrews 5:7 in the LDS edition of the Bible refers to an entry on the manuscript of the Joseph Smith Translation. The entry for Hebrews 5 reads: “Note—the seventh and eighth verses of this chapter are a parenthesis alluding to Melchisedec and not to Christ.” (JST manuscript, NT 2, folio 4, p. 139.)
Still, although Hebrews 5:7–8 does not refer to Christ directly, it does so indirectly. These verses are part of a lengthier passage about Jesus that reads as follows:
“So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee.
“As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
“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, and was heard in that he feared;
“Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered;
“And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
“Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.” (Heb. 5:5–10.)
The nature of the message in chapter five is that ministers must be called of God, by revelation, as was Aaron (Heb. 5:1–4); Christ was not a usurper of authority but was properly called by his Father, and is a priest forever, after the order of Melchisedek (Heb. 5:5–8); Christ is the author of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9–10); and there are many doctrines to be learned when the hearers are ready (Heb. 5:11–14).
As can be clearly seen, verse six introduces the name and priesthood of Melchizedek (spelled Melchisedec in these verses). Verses seven and eight follow as a reminder or suggestion of who Melchizedek was. These verses recite something of his faithfulness, even as a child, as if to explain why a priesthood was named after him and why even Jesus, the Son of God, would be called after that priesthood.
Note that the passage makes perfectly good sense and reads smoothly if one moves directly from verse six to verse nine, skipping verses seven and eight. The message about Jesus flows comfortably, even without the parenthetical allusion to Melchizedek.
The reference to Melchizedek was undoubtedly inserted because Melchizedek was a type or a foreshadowing of Christ. This is made evident in JST Hebrews 7:3, where the verse states that Melchizedek and “all those who are ordained unto this priesthood are made like unto the Son of God, abiding a priest continually.” Hence, Hebrews 5:7–8 [Heb. 5:7–8], while referring specifically to Melchizedek, has equal, though indirect, application to Jesus Christ because Melchizedek typifies Christ.
Elder James E. Talmage in Jesus the Christ, page 135, uses Hebrews 5:8 [Heb. 5:8] in this manner, detailing the fact that Jesus in his mortal life was subject to infirmities of the flesh and was tempted in like manner as are other men. This shows that Jesus, though a Son, gave voluntary obedience to the gospel. Elder Bruce R. McConkie in Mormon Doctrine, in the entry for “Obedience,” likewise cites Hebrews 5:8–9 [Heb. 5:8–9] as an example of Jesus’ perfect obedience.
If we read Hebrews 5 [Heb. 5] in the spirit and the sense of its intended meaning, we can see that verses seven and eight refer directly to Melchizedek, but that Melchizedek is used here as an example of Christ. Elder Bruce R. McConkie dealt with this subject in commenting upon Hebrews 5:7–10 [Heb. 5:7–10]:
“These verses make clear reference to Christ and his mortal ministry and are in complete harmony with other scriptures which bear on the same matters, as also with sermons of the early brethren of this dispensation. …
“The fact is, verses 7 and 8 apply to both Melchizedek and to Christ, because Melchizedek was a prototype of Christ and that prophet’s ministry typified and foreshadowed that of our Lord in the same sense that the ministry of Moses did. (Deut. 18:15–19; Acts 3:22–23; 3 Ne. 20:23; JS—H 1:40.) Thus, though the words of these verses, and particularly those in verse seven, had original application to Melchizedek, they apply with equal and perhaps even greater force to the life and ministry of him through whom all the promises made to Melchizedek were fulfilled.” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–1973, 3:157.)