I think the controversy between Paul and the Judaizers in Galatia and the subsequent church council may be relevant to the question of how biblical the concept and practice of tithing is. As we all know, the apostles who actually walked and talked with Jesus during his earthly ministry stuck around Jerusalem and did little in the way of what Jesus said they’d do in Acts 1:8 as far as being his witness not only in Jerusalem and Judea, but then to move over to preach to the Samaritans and then extend the preaching of Christ to the “uttermost parts of the earth.” It took the providence of God through the unpleasant means of persecution at the hands of, among other Jewish leaders, one Saul of Tarsus. This persecution chased the First Church of Jerusalem to begin “planting” churches in Gentile lands for the sake of their very skins (after all, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”). Then, as he was on his way to Damascus to continue persecuting Christians, Saul is confronted by, and converted to, the very one he was ultimately persecuting, the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-6). In this event, the Lord informs Paul of his plan to send him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-17). Among the churches born out of this foundational missionary work came the churches of Galatia.
These Galatian churches are the ones which were plagued by the Judaizing heresy, in which Gentile Christians were taught by their elder Jewish Christian brethren, that now that they were following the Jewish Messiah, they needed to take things a step further and begin receiving the sign of the Mosaic covenant (circumcision). The Judaizers became so influential that even the apostle Peter was motivated to endorse their dangerous emphasis (Galatians 2:11-14). This is what sparked the controversy. Paul confronted Peter about how they shouldn’t be teaching Gentiles to incorporate the types and shadows of the Mosaic Law into their faith and practice, because this tendency is compromising the gospel, and endangering the eternal souls of Gentile professing believers. The controversy became so significant that the apostles decided to deliberate about this issue in what we now know as the Jerusalem church council. This apostolic council’s conclusions are recorded in Acts 15. Considering just what, if any, practices based on the civil, ceremonial and dietary laws of Israel ought to, or can profitably, be imposed on Gentile Christian converts, they resolved to reduce the burden to four things, three dealt with food (Acts 15:29), its preparation and its relevance to unbelieving religious customs, and one issue relevant to the purity of the New Testament temple of the Holy Spririt (sexual immorality, cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Notice, here, what Mosaic Covenant practices are not included. The one that applies to this writing is the laws regarding the tithe (Numbers 18:24-28). The apostles thought about it, and decided (in so many words) that, among other things, they didn’t need to teach Gentile Christians to give specifically (or even at least) ten percent of their produce or income in whatever form it may exist.
But the question may be raised: did the tithe not predate the Law, since Abram tithed to Melchizedek? We’ll examine this issue next time.