Tithing proponents point to the tenth that Abraham gave to Melchizedek. This account is found in Genesis 14:16-20:
And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
Tithing proponents say that this is an example of tithing before Moses. They then say that because tithing predates Moses, that it continued past the doing away of the Mosaic law when Christ came. But is this incident between Abraham and Melchizedek an example of true tithing?
Please notice these points essential to this topic: 1) There is no mention of Abraham being under a compulsion to tithe. He freely gave the tenth to Melchizedek. No tithing commandment is ever cited. 2) This was a one-time event. The Bible never says that Abraham tithed before this incident, and it never says that he tithed after it. 3) Related to the previous point, Abraham tithed only the spoils of war. He did not tithe the increase of his flocks or a tenth of all he had. This was a one-time, voluntary giving of a tithe of the spoils of war. 4) Melchizedek’s blessing of Abraham was graciously given before Abraham gave the tithe. Despite the rhetoric from some pulpits that tithers are blessed and non-tithers are cursed, Melchizedek did not bless Abraham for tithing. So we see that Abraham’s tithing to Melchizedek was a one-time, voluntary event. It was unrelated to tithing as it was detailed under the law of Moses. The promoters of tithing contradict themselves by admitting that the law of Moses was done away at the death and resurrection of Jesus while trying to impose on Christians tithing rules from the law of Moses. They do so with the lame excuse that Abraham tithed. But as we have seen, Abraham’s tithe had nothing to do with tithing as it was taught by Moses and as it is taught today. Conclusion: Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek does not even remotely support the notion that Christians are to tithe.
Another pre-Mosaic mention of a tithe is in the account of Jacob’s life. In Genesis 28, we read that Jacob was on his way to find a wife in Padanaram. He stopped overnight in a place that was originally called Luz. He used some stones from the place as his pillows (ouch!) and has a dream of a ladder reaching up to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it (this is a picture of the mediatorial role of the Messiah, see John 1:51). He also hears God repeat the promises He had given to Abraham and Isaac. When he wakes up, he is awed and afraid, and he considers that the place is “none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (verse 17). So he takes a stone and sets it up for a pillar, pours oil on it, and names the place Bethel, which means “house of God.” Then, in verses 20-22, we read, “And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”
Interestingly, this account is often not mentioned by the proponents of tithing. Likely they see that rather than being evidence for their cause, it is clear evidence against it. Here’s why.
If God had instituted tithing at any time prior to this incident, Jacob would be obligated to tithe. He would be sinning if he did not tithe. But notice that Jacob says, IF God does such and such, THEN, “of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” Not only is the initiative to tithe coming from Jacob, and not from God, but Jacob is even setting stipulations. If God does something, then Jacob will tithe. From this, we see that Jacob was obviously not already under an obligation to tithe. If he had been, what he says here would have been extremely wicked. Instead of proving that there was a tithing law at this time, this incident proves just the opposite. It proves that Jacob, just as Abraham, was under no compulsion to tithe. By the way, there is no record that Jacob ever followed through with this and actually tithed.
The New Testament and Tithing
Jesus and the Pharisees. In only three places do the Gospels record Jesus as mentioning tithing. Two of these places are records in two of the Gospels of the same incident. In Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, Jesus blasts the religious legalists of His day for missing the weightier matters of the law: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Yes, Jesus said that they should also have been tithing. But to whom was He speaking, and when? Jesus was speaking to the Jews who were still under the law before His crucifixion and resurrection.
In Luke 18:9-12, Jesus gives the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The Pharisee prays by telling God of his good works, including giving tithes of all he possessed (Luke 18:12). This does not justify him. The publican, however, is justified because he confessed his sinfulness and begged for mercy.
While Jesus does not condemn tithing in these Scriptures, He does liken tithing in the absence of judgment, mercy, and faith to straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). It is also something that obviously does not justify. What must be stressed concerning these Scriptures is that they are the only times that Jesus mentions tithing. Jesus never tells His disciples to tithe, and He never established tithing for Christians.
Hebrews 7: Another place where tithing is mentioned in the New Testament is in Hebrews 7. Here we read again of Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek. In verse 3, we read that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.” The author makes this point because he wants to show that Melchizedek was greater than any of the Levitical priests, or even Abraham, because they were mortal men but Melchizedek has no “beginning of days, nor end of life.” The reason this is important is because it makes Melchizedek’s priesthood greater than the Levitical/Aaronic priesthood. In fact, the Melchizedek priesthood supersedes the Levitical priesthood: “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (verses 11-12). This change in the law has far more ramifications than I can go into in this article. Suffice it to say that Hebrews 7:12 proves that those who say “because God does not change therefore the law does not change” are wrong. Hebrews 7:12 clearly says that the law has changed. And it also says that the priesthood has changed. Does this mean that the Melchizedek priesthood should receive tithes from Christians?
Certainly, Melchizedek received Abraham’s tithe of the spoils of war. But, as already explained, this was a one-time event. There is no biblical command that Christians are to pay tithes to the Melchizedek priesthood. Anyway, Jesus Christ and all Christians are the Melchizedek priesthood (Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 15, 17, 21; 1 Peter 2:5-9). We would only be paying tithes to ourselves. Hebrews 7 contains no evidence to support the idea that Christians must tithe. The author’s point is to show the superiority of the Melchizedek priesthood over the Levitical priesthood.
Silence: Have you ever heard complete silence? Of course not, because there is nothing to hear. That is the way the rest of the New Testament is on the subject of tithing. Complete silence. Paul, although he has much to say about giving (as we shall see), says nothing about tithing. Although he chastens his readers for many sins and exhorts them to avoid others, he never once mentions non-tithing as a sin. The same holds true for the other New Testament writers. Certainly, Christians have the freedom to tithe if they like, but tithing is not a part of the New Covenant, and Christians are under no obligation to tithe. Therefore, preachers should not preach tithing, and churches should not discipline or judge others for not tithing. Old Testament tithing laws are not what God intends should motivate Christians to give. Christian giving is something far more wonderful than a legal obligation.
Copyright © 2004-2009 Peter Ditzel