Art Toombs Ministries 

Online Bible Commentary

The Superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham and the Priests 

Hebrews 7:4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5 And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6 but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8 Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9 Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. (NKJV)







The early church claimed that the Apostle Paul wrote the Book of Hebrews. Clement of Alexandria claimed that Luke translated the book into Greek.

Luke was Paul’s amanuensis in Paul’s final days (2 Timothy 4:11) and is believed to be his amanuensis for this writing. This letter is believed to be Paul’s last, written late A.D. 67-early A.D. 68.

The book of Hebrews has two main subjects: the superiority of Christ; and exhortations to obedient living. It is also interspersed with five warnings to the Hebrew Christians.

In previous commentaries I wrote of the superiority of Christ to the prophets, the angels, Moses and Joshua. The section 4:14-7:28 concerns the superiority of Christ to the priesthood.

Paul detoured from this subject to issue a warning in the section 5:11-6:20. With this passage he returns to the subject of the superiority of Christ to the priesthood from where he left off in 5:10.

After introducing Melchizedek in the previous passage, the writer of Hebrews continues in this passage to proclaim the greatness of Melchizedek, the High Priest. God appointed him the first priest in the days of the patriarchs. Abraham received a blessing from Melchizedek and paid him a tenth (a tithe) of his plunder, the amount that God determined that each person should pay to those who minster to His people.

Later, on Mount Sinai, God proclaimed to Moses that all priests should come from the tribe of Levi. The priests from the tribe of Levi were called Levitical priests.

The tribe of Levi was not given their own land like the other eleven tribes of Israel. Instead they were distributed throughout the lands of the eleven tribes, each representing an area.

God appointed Aaron, the great grandson of Levi, as the first High Priest, with his descendants being the High Priests. The High Priests from the family of Aaron were called Aaronic priests. The priests were given homes, land, and tithes by those whom they served, so that their needs would be met.

This passage begins Paul proclaiming the greatness of Melchizedek. Paul wrote “Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils” (v. 4). Abraham had recognized him as a representative of man to God, giving him a tithe.

Next Paul wrote “And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law” (v. 5a). The Mosiac Law required the Levitical priests to collect a tithe, a tenth, from the people, the Israelites.

Paul continues with “that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham” (v. 5b). The Israelites, their brothers, were descendants of Abraham.

Next, Paul writes “but he whose genealogy is not derived from them” (v. 6a), Melchizedek had no genealogy as a Levite, or even an Israelite. There was no record of Melchizedek’s parents, or descendants.

Paul continues with “received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises he was” (v. 6b). The greatness of Melchizedek was seen when, even though he was not a Levite, he was allowed to give a blessing to the one who had received God’s promise, Abraham, and, in turn, was given a tithe by Abraham.

Next, Paul writes “Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better” (v. 7). In the eyes of God, the one giving the blessing is greater than the one receiving the blessing. So Melchizedek was superior to Abraham.

Paul writes “Here mortal men receive tithes” (v.8a). In one case, the tithe is paid to men who die, a reference to the Levites.

Paul continues with “but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives” (v. 8b). But in the other case, the tithe is paid to him who is declared to be living, a reference to Melchizedek.

The phrase “of whom it is witnessed that he lives” contains a figure of speech called a heterosis of tenses. Paul commonly used figures of speech in his writings.

Here, he used a present tense to apply to a passed event. I, myself, use this figure of speech at times in these commentaries.

The proper interpretation is that Melchizedek lived in the past, not that he is living at the time of this writing. Melchizedek, lived in the time of Abraham, and is dead far before the time of this writing.

Both the Levite priests and Melchizedek died. The verse refers to their priesthoods.

The priesthood of the Levites died with them. The priesthood of Melchizedek was declared by God to last forever (Heb 7:3).

In verses nine and ten, Paul proclaims that Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical priesthood. Paul writes “Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak” (v.9). So, Levi was the one who actually paid the tithe to Melchizedek, through his ancestor Abraham.

Therefore, if Levi paid the tithe to Melchizedek, Melchizedek was superior to Levi, and the Levitical priesthood. Again, the one who blesses is greater than the one who receives the blessing.

Paul continues with “for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him” (v. 10). When Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was not yet born.

In conclusion, Paul has proclaimed that Melchizedek is superior to Abraham and the priesthood, represented by Levi. This is important because he later compares Melchizedek to Christ.

Paul is attempting to demonstrate to the new Hebrew believers that Christ is superior to everyone and everything they worshiped in Judaism. He wants them fully convinced of the superiority of Christ so that they will endure in the faith and become mature Christians.