The Tithes of Abraham and Jacob
One of the key arguments of tithe proponents that the tithe is applicable to Christians is the fact that the tithe was instituted prior to the Mosiac Law. There are a number of issues with this stance that we will address in this post. Before we review them, however, let’s look at the two pre-Mosaic Law texts that tithing proponents use to back their assertion that the tithe is obligatory on Christians.
Genesis 14:20 is the first verse tithing proponents rush to in order to establish their claim that tithing is a Christian command. It reads, “And he (Abraham) gave him (Melchizedek) a tenth of all.” The main argument tithing proponents make is that this incident predates the Mosaic Law by 400-plus years, and is therefore apart from the Mosaic Law. The idea is that only those institutions started prior to the delivery of the Mosaic Law are obligatory on Christians. There is a huge problem with this line of reasoning, and that deals with circumcision. Do tithing proponents also promote the idea that circumcision is obligatory on Christians because it was instituted prior to the Mosaic Law, as found in Genesis 17:9-14)? Do tithing proponents advocate the sacrifice of animals, after all, were not animal sacrifices instituted prior to the Law (Genesis 12:8; 22:7)? Do these tithing proponents advocate the taking of concubines (Genesis 25:6)? The answer is a resounding, “No!” However, this is the logical progression of the sort of thinking that makes these arguments.
Some tithing proponents will say that Christians are to follow Abraham’s example of living a Godly life. This is an argument that has a huge amount of scriptural evidence to look at. In the New Testament there are 66 references to Abraham. In these references, Christians are only required to follow Abraham’s example of trust in God (Romans 4:11, 16; Galatians 3:6-10). There are no examples of scriptural promptings to follow Abraham’s example of tithing than there is to follow Abraham’s example of circumcision, animal sacrifices or the taking of concubines. It is clear that tithing proponents are guilty of cherry picking scripture that appear to justify their pet doctrine, but ignore those scriptures that demonstrate their error.
Further, this account of Abraham’s tithe does not tell us the purpose of the tithe, nor does it tell us of its frequency. It appears, from scripture, that this was a one-time gift from the spoils of war. Secondly, we have the Holy Spirit inspired commentary on this event in Hebrews 7:1-8 that appears to shed light on the significance of this event. In Hebrews there is no mention of this being a regular activity, and therefore it is appropriate to infer that this was a one time event. Third, if the tithe was a single incident, then it should follow that any future tithes are one-time gifts based on an increase of the givers wealth.
Since we are addressing Hebrews chapter seven, let’s look at the superiority of Melchizedek. Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek appears to be a response to Melchizedek’s serving of bread and wine. Based on this service the writer of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham. Now since every Christian is a member of a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), and being in Christ who is forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6), then every believer should be receiving tithes. Tithing proponents need to explain why Christians are paying tithes rather then receiving tithes, as Melchizedek did.
One last point regarding Abraham’s tithe is that it appears to be an offering of first fruits, as opposed to a tithe. The amount that Abraham gave to Melchizedek (ten percent) appears to be an amount chosen by Abraham in order to show his gratefulness to God for victory in battle. In the Mosaic Law there were tithes and first fruit offerings. These are two separate offerings given for different reasons and given by different people. We will address these details in a future post, and we will not go further on this post.
The second incident that tithing proponents turn to is the account of Jacob’s tithe as found in Genesis 28:22, “…of all that Thou dost give me I will surely give a tenth to Thee.” On first glance it appears that Jacob is instituting a more systematic approach to tithing than his grandfather Abraham. A more careful study of this passage appears to indicate something else.
This tithe was voluntary, as was Abraham’s, but was based on the condition that God help Jacob as he fled from Esau (Genesis 28:20-21). How was Jacob’s tithe given? Was it offered directly to God in the form of a burnt offering? Did Jacob give it to a servant of Yahweh, like Melchizedek? Was it given to the poor in the name of Yahweh, or was it disposed of in some other way?
If this tithe was a thanksgiving offering, then one-third of the offering was burnt, one-third was consumed by a priest, and the remaining third was consumed by the person making the offering.
As we have seen in Abraham’s account, Jacob’s account is too scant of detail to base systematic tithing. Further, both of these accounts rely heavily on false premises that when taken to their logical conclusion advocate circumcision, animal sacrifices, and the taking of concubines. We see that when the Holy Spirit has interpreted Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek in the book of Hebrews it is Melchizedek that is superior to Abraham. Lastly, it appears that these tithes are not a systematic payment of income back to God, but are one-time events of thanksgiving offerings to God for divine aid in some prior event. Therefore, it appears that using these passages to promote systematic tithing is the result of forcing passages into a preconceived notion.
Next time on the Jude3blog: Tithing and the Mosaic Law.