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A New Interpretive Paradigm for Melchizedek in Hebrews 7New Testament/Early Christianity/Rabbinic StudiesEuropean Association of Biblical Studies 2014EABS 2014 & SBL IM2014Vienna, Austria. July 6-11, 201410-39 New Testament/Early Christianity/Rabbinic Studies (EABS)July 10 Thursday 1-4 PM Room: SR IÖGF - Hauptgebäude

Richard K. Min

The University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, Texas, USA

Instituto Teologico Bauptista Pablo (ITBP), Chiapas, Mexico


  • Gopal Gupta for his support and guidance in my study and research at University of Texas at Dallas.
  • Moses (HyunGu) Kim and yungGuen Lee at Paul Theological Seminary (ITBP) and Ko-Mex Mission in Chiapas, Mexico, Sam Underwood at FBC Farmers Branch, Jung-O Kim at Dallas Eastern Presbyterian Church, In-Gyun Oh at Hanuri Church, Richard Crawford at FBC Richardson, Katy Barnwell at Wycliffe Bible Translators & SIL, David (Hosik) Kim at Korean Bible University, Paul Miller at Gramcord, and SeJune Hong at IBM, for research opportunity, support, and encouragement.
  • E. Earle Ellis for New Testament studies, and Carl F. H. Henry for my study in John, Theology, and Christian Philosophy.
  • Cathy Drewry for Editorial Support.
  • Mi Min (my wife) for her support and encouragement, and being my first and best audience.
note on terminology
Note on Terminology

These terms are used somewhat informally and interchangeably:

  • Cycle סבֵב)or κύκλοςin Ecclesiastes 1:6)
  • Circularity, Vicious Circle, Circular Reasoning
  • (Infinite) Loop
  • Self-reference, Self-witness, Self-testimony
  • Reciprocal Interiority (Malatesta 1978)
  • Co-induction, Coinduction, Coinductive Logic
part 1
Part 1
  • Introduction and Background
circular rhetoric and paradox in biblical studies
Circular Rhetoric and Paradox in Biblical Studies

In the past,

  • The major work on circular rhetoric is viewed as Semitic influence in repetitive or tautological expression (often treated as useless or nonsensical) [Howard “Semitisms in NT”, 1929]
  • Only serious and major scholarly works on Circular Rhetoric: the reciprocal indwelling relationships in 1 John (be-in and dwell-in) by Malatesta (1978), followed by Brown (1982).
  • Paradoxes: mostly in Philosophy or Theology except one recent and noteworthy work on Mark by Santos (1995).
      • self-denial discipleship (Mark 8:34),
      • saving by losing one’s life (Mark 8:35), and
      • servant-leadership (Mark 9:35).
circular reasoning and paradox
Circular Reasoning and Paradox
  • Russell discovered: Paradox is caused by any type of vicious circle (Principles of Mathematics, 1903)
  • Russell’s Paradox and Logical Atomism
    • “An analysis of the paradoxes to be avoided shows that they all result from a kind of vicious circle.” (Whitehead & Russell,1910)
    • "one who shaves all those, and those only, who do not shavethemselves.“(Barber’s Paradox)

=> The question is: does the barber shave himself? …

(Russell 1918 Lecture: The Philosophy of Logical Atomism)

cf. “Physician, Heal Yourself!” Luke 4:24

  • The Liar Paradox (Titus 1:12) [the most famous & classical example]

Even one of their own prophet has said, “Cretans are always liars”

(Epimenides circar 600 BC)

two traditional approaches
Two Traditional Approaches
  • Logical Atomism 1 (Russell):
    • Philosophy to provide a sound epistemological foundation
      • If not now, then hopefully in future.
    • Classical Logic (by Tarski): to avoid circularity (paradox), to treat circular reasoning as invalid, and to have a hierarchy of language to prevent the circularity
  • Logical Atomism 2 (Wittgenstein):
    • Philosophy to point out linguistic mistake: “metaphysics and ethics were literally nonsensical”
      • Deconstructionism (Postmodernism) (by Derrida): to treat the languages as incapable and helpless.
        • “Is Zombie alive or dead?”
      • Reconstruct one’s own personal & subjective meaning of the text (for there is no such a thing as objective “truth” expressed in a text).
circularity in everyday life
Circularity in Everyday Life
  • Circularity in every day life
    • Social interactions are cyclical:
      • Conversation = (1stspeaker speaks, (2ndspeaker speaks, (Conversation)))
    • Many natural phenomena are cyclical
      • Cyclical movement of the earth, four seasons, day & night, etc.
      • Self-reference as a proof-method

“I think; therefore I exist.” (Descartes)

Scripture explains by Scripture (Augustine)

      • Numerous examples (Barwise & Moss 1996)
    • Any 7x24 system or process (once up and running, meant to run forever): web server, mobile server, operating systems, life-support system, GPS & navigation system, etc..
two familiar examples
Two Familiar Examples
  • “Cogito ergo sum” (René Descartes)

“I think, therefore I am.” in Specimina Philosophiae (1644)

This proposition became a fundamental element of Western Philosophy, as it was perceived to form a foundation for all knowledge. (Wiki)

  • “Scripturae ex Scripturae explicanda est.”

Scripture explains scripture.

    • Augustine: When we wish to examine passages made obscure by metaphorical expressions, the result should be something which is beyond dispute or which, if not beyond dispute, can be settled by finding and deploying corroboratory evidence from within scripture itself”

(On Christian Doctrine III.86-86, p. 87).

    • Luther: In this manner Scripture is its own light. It is a fine thing when Scripture explains itself. (Franz August Otto Pieper, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3:362)
breakthrough by kripke 1975 and emerging new development with circularity
Breakthrough by Kripke (1975) and Emerging new development with Circularity

Kripke (1975): “Outline of a Theory of Truth”, and

“Kripke-Kleene 3-valued Semantics for Logic Programs” by Fitting (1985), and various computational approaches & implementations, including:

  • Coinductive Logic Programming (co-LP) by Simon et al (2006),
  • Coinductive Logic Programming with Negation as Failure by Min et al (2009), and
  • Its application to the study of Biblical Paradox by Min and Gupta (SBL IM 2010), Min (SBL IM 2011), Min (SBL IM 2012), Min (SBL IM2013), and Min (SBL AM2013).

current state of biblical scholarship
Current State of Biblical Scholarship
  • Einai En and Menein En in Johannine Literature
    • Dodd (1946), followed by
    • Malatesta (1978) and Brown (1982; 1995), notes about this “remain in” (or “abide in”) formula in 1 John 2:5, as characteristic of the Fourth Gospel, “not found (verbally) in the sources which are our authorities for Hellenistic mysticism.”
    • Brown (1982) further elaborates this concept of divine indwelling as an “important Johannine idea in the Old Testament and intertestamental Jewish writing” and “to keep the Johannine view of divine immanence distinctive,” noting that “this formula avoids that identification with divinity that marked many Hellenistic systems” by Hauck (Kittel 4:576).
part 2
Part 2
  • Survey - Selected Examplesof Biblical

Circular Rhetoric and Paradoxes

example 2 john 14 10
Example 2: John 14:10

Edward Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant: A Study of Einai En and Menein En in the First Letter of Saint John [Analecta Biblica 69] (San Francisco: Biblical Institute Press, 1978): 34–36

Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995): 195–96;

example 4 three paradoxes in matthew 22 15 46
Example 4 – Three Paradoxes in Matthew 22:15-46

(1) Matthew 22:15-22

To Pay Tax to Caesar or not

(2) Matthew 22:23-33

Marriage vs Resurrection

(3) Matthew 22:41-46

David called Christ, “My Lord” in Psalm 110:1


Example 4. (3) Paradox in Matthew 22:41-46Christ - Whose son is he? Son of David. Paradox of Lord-Servant (Father-Son) RelationshipWhat is Human vs Divine in crash!

a new look at matthew 22 15 46
A New Look at Matthew 22:15-46
  • All dealing with Biblical Law (Legal Reasoning)
      • thus the problems of Biblical Legal Reasoning (Halakoth)
  • Two Laws in Conflict or Contention (and not yielding to each other)
    • Matthew 22:15-22. Tax Law
      • the law of God vs the law of Caesar (this World)
      • Who is my Master (Matthew 6:24)? Whose servant am I?
    • Matthew 22:23-33. Marriage (Family) Law
      • the law of Marriage (Mosaic Law) in this age vs. in the age to come
      • the old law to be perished (time-expired) vs. the new law in resurrection
      • Old Law vs. New Law (to repeal the old law)

A Note in Matthew 22:34-40. Order in the Laws (legal precedence)

      • Hierarchy of the Laws, legal authority, highest law, legal precedence and superseding law.
    • Matthew 22:41-46. Law of Inheritance (for Title of Lordship)
      • the law governing the Son of God in flesh vs. divine (Psalm 110:1)
a classical example in contemporary nt studies
A Classical Example in Contemporary NT Studies
  • Luke 17:20-30 “Already” and “Not Yet” in Tension
    • Two-stage coming of the Kingdom of God, expressed in temporal-modal logic of “already” and “not yet” in tension
    • Oscar Cullmann: Christus und die Zeit (1946) in the framework of History of Salvation (1965). Heilsgeschichte

It took over a half-century to uncover the underlying critical method of Cullmann in temporal-modal logic, and to be correctly recognized and rightfully appreciated.

      • E. Earle Ellis. Luke (1974), The Christ and Future in New Testament History (2001).
      • G. E. Ladd. The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (1974)
  • Similarly by John the Baptist in Primitive Christianity

He who comes after me [“not yet”] … he was before me [“already”].

(John 1:15, 30 in Circular temporal-modal logic)

cf. Matthew 22:41-46; Hebrews 7:3,15 with Psalm110:1,4]

two proof methods in john 8 12 19 self testimony vs testimony of two men
Two Proof Methods in John 8:12-19[Self-Testimony vs Testimony of Two Men]

John 8:12-19 (NIV)

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

13 The Pharisees challenged him,

“Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.”

(1) John 8:12. one of “I am” sayings in John: ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου

(2) John 8:13. Objection and Accusation by the Pharisees (lawfully)

It is self-witness or self-testimony (Circular Reasoning).

(3) The Pharisees (just like us in 20th century) declared it invalid !

two proof methods in john 8 12 19 self testimony vs testimony of two men1
Two Proof Methods in John 8:12-19[Self-Testimony vs Testimony of Two Men]

14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf,my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.

But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.

17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid.

18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Note: Two proof methods being presented side by side.

John 8:12 “I am …” as Self-Testimony – Circular/Coinductive Reasoning

John 8:17 Testimony of two men according to the Law – Legal/Inductive Reasoning

(1) Thus all metaphorical “I am” sayings of Jesus in John are essentially Circular

(2) Contrary to the contemporary biblical scholarship/exegesis/interpretation/logic

1 john 3 9 5 18 versus 1 8 10
1 John 3:9 & 5:18 versus 1:8-10
  • A Difficult Problem in 1 John 3:9 & 5:18 vs1:8-10
    • Sin-state of Christian in need of confession for the forgiveness of God versus
    • Sinless-state (impeccable state) of Christian
  • 1 John 3:9 one “born of God” in circular logic

Πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ,

ὅτι σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει, καὶ οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν,

ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται.

  • Johannine Literature: einai en & menein en
    • Edward Malatesta, Interiority and Covenant: A Study of Einai En and Menein En in the First Letter of Saint John [Analecta Biblica 69] (San Francisco: Biblical Institute Press, 1978): 34–36;
    • Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995): 195–96;
part 3
Part 3

Hebrews: A Masterpiece of Circular Rhetoric and Logic of Paradox in Action (4+ Major Paradoxes)

  • The Son of God vs David-Melchizedek in King-Priest Christology (Psalm 110:1, 4; Hebrews 7:3, 15). [Paradox of Temporal-Modal Logic]
  • The oath of God, sworn by himself (Hebrews 6:13; 7:21). [Paradox of Self-Reference]
  • According to the Scripture, as it is written, the Son of God has come to fulfill what had been written about himself (Psalm 40:6–8; Hebrews 10:5–9). [Paradox of Self-Reference and Mutual-Reference]
  • The Son of God the High-Priest of God offering Himself as the sacrifice (Hebrews 10:8–10). [Paradox of Self Reference]
hebrews a masterpiece of circular rhetoric and paradoxes in action
Hebrews: A Masterpiece of Circular Rhetoric and Paradoxes in Action

Paradox 1.

The Son of God is both divine and human, preexistent and yet to be born as a man to be the priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:1, 4; Hebrews 7:3, 15). [Paradox of Mutual-Reference in Temporal-Modal Logic]

In the past on Hebrews 7:1-3, Scholarly Opinions or Debates focus on

(1) Rhetoric & Logic: Jewish vs Greek Influence (Qumran vs Philo)

(2) Melchizedek: Human vs Divine (or Supra-Human)?

(3) Type vs Inverse Type (Melchizedek vs Christ)

(4) Reading in Canonic Faith vs Blind Faith (or Skepticism)

But in the state of contention and disagreement (and for how long?)

hebrews 7 3 15 melchizedek
Hebrews 7:3,15 - Melchizedek

1 Οὗτος γὰρ ὁ Μελχισέδεκ, βασιλεὺς Σαλήμ, ἱερεὺς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ὑψίστου, … 3 ἀπάτωρ ἀμήτωρ ἀγενεαλόγητος,

μήτε ἀρχὴν ἡμερῶν μήτε ζωῆς τέλος ἔχων, ἀφωμοιωμένος δὲ τῷ υἱῷ τοῦ θεοῦ,

μένει ἱερεὺς εἰς τὸ διηνεκές. . . .

15 καὶ περισσότερον ἔτι κατάδηλόν ἐστιν, εἰ κατὰ τὴν ὁμοιότητα Μελχισέδεκ ἀνίσταται ἱερεὺς ἕτερος,

15 And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest.

hebrews a masterpiece of circular rhetoric and paradoxes in action1
Hebrews: A Masterpiece of Circular Rhetoric and Paradoxes in Action

Paradox 2.

This priesthood is ordained by the oath of God, sworn by himself in an act of self-reference, for no higher authority exists whereby to swear (Hebrews 6:13; 7:21).

Cf. Exodus 3:14, John 8:12-20

hebrews a masterpiece of circular rhetoric and paradoxes in action2
Hebrews: A Masterpiece of Circular Rhetoric and Paradoxes in Action

Paradox 3

According to the Scripture, as it is written as in due time, the Son of God has come to fulfill what had been written about himself to do the will of God (Psalm 40:6–8; Hebrews 10:5–9).

Here the Son is reading the scroll, which was written to speak about himself (as it is written in the scripture [Epistle of Hebrews] which refers to the scripture [the scroll]). This is one remarkable and mysterious example of circular rhetoric and paradox, as a literary masterpiece, noteworthy in biblical prophecy and logic.

hebrews a masterpiece of circular rhetoric and paradoxes in action3
Hebrews: A Masterpiece of Circular Rhetoric and Paradoxes in Action

Paradox 4.

The Son is not only the high priest of God, but also the sacrifice himself with his own body (or blood) in circular rhetoric, once for all to set aside the first to establish the second (Hebrews 10:8–10).

This is another remarkable and mysterious example of circular rhetoric, literary wonder and mystery, and a literary masterpiece on the Son of God.

hebrews 5 10 14 as pedagogical preparation for hebrews ch7 thereafter john 3 12 13
Hebrews 5:10-14 as Pedagogical Preparation for Hebrews Ch7 & thereafter (John 3:12-13)
  • Difficult to understand, yet Hebrews is a literary treasure and masterpiece with noteworthy circular reasoning and paradoxes.
    • The author is aware not only of the difficulty of his materials in teaching, but also the level of his readers in learning (Hebrews 5:10–14).
      • Expressed on behalf of the community (of “we”), the author’s pedagogical assessment is not only a personal opinion, but also a communal consensus.
      • In order to effect spiritual awakening and introspection, he directly and authoritatively addressed his concern to his readers, even at the risk of embarrassing them in public (Hebrews 5:11–14).
      • However, just as any good teacher might do, the author takes his time and space for his students to review the basic materials in order that they will be prepared (Hebrews 6:1–20).
    • After a lengthy pedagogical digression to cover the basic materials reviewed (Hebrews 5:10–6:20), the author returns to the main course of discussion in Hebrews 7 (for a “Critical” Lesson for a Mature Christians)
difficult lesson ahead cf john 3 12 13
Difficult Lesson Ahead (cf. John 3:12-13)
  • The Well-Known Lesson: the Christ is the Lord (Psalm 110:1, Matthew 22:41-46, 1 Corinthians 12:3)
  • The Difficult Lesson (to be explored): Jesus Christ is the High Priest forever (Psalm 110:4)

in the order of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7 and thereafter. (cf. John 3:12-13 on Heavenly matters)

Ἰησοῦς, κατὰ τὴν τάξιν Μελχισέδεκ ἀρχιερεὺς γενόμενος εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα (Hebrews 6:20; 8:1)

The key thesis in progression is centered in the correct understanding of this key passage in Psalm 110:4.

  • The Son of God is both divine and human, preexistent and yet to be born as a man to be the priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

(Psalm 110:1, 4; Hebrews 7:3, 15). Cf. John 1:15, 30 by John the Baptist.

hebrews 7 1 3
Hebrews 7:1-3
  • By the time of Hebrews 7:1, the audience is well–prepared and alert spiritually.
  • Additionally, they are now familiar with the key phrase, “according to the order of Melchizedek” with regard to the eternal high priesthood of Jesus Christ who is not only human but also divine.
  • Hebrews 7:1–3 is a passage somewhat like a handle to the divine scroll yet to be unrolled to reveal the hidden mystery of the Son of God regarding his high-priesthood.
  • What has happened in the heaven after all?
hebrews 7 1 31
Hebrews 7:1-3
  • Mechizedek
    • He is the king of Salem and the priest of God Most High in Genesis 14:18–20, superior to Abraham and all of his descendants including Levi.
    • Here Melchizedek is presented and interpretively applied to the Son of God in the continuing framework of King-Priest Christology in Hebrews (Psalm 110:1, 4).
    • In Circular Rhetoric and Logic of Paradox
    • Proem Midrash to make and set a ground work for biblically consistent, coherent, sound, and valid Christological exposition of Psalm 110:4 and thereafter.
summary two paradoxes of the son of god in psalm 110
Summary: Two Paradoxes of the Son of God in Psalm 110
  • As warned by the author of Hebrews, two passages in Psalm 110 generate the enormous controversies and difficulties in the New Testament study and exegesis.
  • The first controversy and paradox about the Son of God is the problem of the divine Lordship of Jesus Christ (human and divine).
    • He is the son of David. Yet he is being addressed by David as “my lord” (Psalm 110:1).
    • The paradox deals with the extended human “father-son” relationship in the law, with the divine-human relationship (of lord-servant) in Matthew 22:41-46
summary two paradoxes of the son of god in psalm 1101
Summary: Two Paradoxes of the Son of God in Psalm 110

(2) The Second Controversy and Paradox of the Son of God in Psalm 110:4 is the problem of the priesthood of Jesus Christ who is from the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14–15).

  • According to the law, to have a priest outside of the tribe of Levi and according to the order of Aaronic lineage is impossible.
  • The legal question is how it could be possible for Christ, the son of David, to be a priest of God.
  • This controversy has never been dealt with or resolved in any part of the New Testament except in Hebrews.
  • The writer has engaged in lengthy and delicate discussions with great care and thorough discussion; otherwise, he could easily mislead his audience.
  • Circular Rhetoric and Logic of Paradox
    • Abundant text-samples within the biblical (canonic) framework and uniquely biblical (for example, Malateste 1978 & Brown 1982)
  • Paradox caused by Circular Rhetoric
  • It is about the Semantics
    • To express a concept (in circular rhetoric) in a valid and meaningful way.
    • It was impossible with induction (or the semantics based on induction): semantics of what is “finite and linear”.
    • Current scholarly bias or ignorance against circular rhetoric and logic, to treat it as “meaningless, invalid, or nonsensical”.
  • Consistent & Coherent Framework of Interpretation
    • Circular Rhetoric and Logic of Paradox (for exegesis of Hebrews)
    • King-Priest Christology
afterword by solomon
Afterword by Solomon

13 Now all has been heard;

here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,

whether it is good or evil.

(Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV)