Abram, Melchizedek and “Christian Tithing”
Is it, or is it not, appropriate to call our giving to God in the church “the tithe,” applying Mosaic principles regulating the giving of it (“Will a man rob God?”), and stressing its importance (“The tithe is the LORD’s!!!”), or would it be more biblical to simply “purpose” in one’s own heart how much he ought to give, in order to ensure that it is given with love (1 Corinthians 13:3) or, as Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, as a “cheerful giver?”
It is held by many that tithing is only a part of the civil/ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic Law and it is, therefore, assumed to be abrogated in the New Testament, in which Paul gives a New Covenant principle of “cheerful giving.” In light of this argument, Christian tithing is defended on the grounds that Abram’s tithing to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20b) precedes the Mosaic Law and thus ought to be retained after the civil/ceremonial parts of the Mosaic Law are abrogated. For example, consider the Statement of Faith of the World Baptist Fellowship, International. In Section 20 on “The Grace of Giving,” it reads, Under grace we give, and do not pay, the tithe – “Abraham GAVE a tenth part of all” – “Abraham GAVE the tenth of the spoils” – Hebrews 7:2-4 – and this was four hundred years before the law, and is confirmed in the New Testament; Jesus said concerning the tithe, “These ye ought to have done” – Matt. 23:23.
This was the view with which I had been raised. In fact, the Statement of Faith I just cited was the one adopted by the church in which I was saved and baptized. Ever since I’ve been earning money, I’ve been striving to be faithful to this principle. My current church is the first to which I have belonged which specifically denies this concept of some kind of eternal principle about tithing that ought to be retained, even though the civil and ceremonial aspects of the Law have been abrogated. I have been considering the relative merits of both views for the last few years.
If tithing is an eternal principle which transcends the Mosaic administration of the covenant of grace by virtue of Abram’s tithing to Melchizedek, then tithing ought to be retained in Christian worship, further informed, I would say, above and beyond the letter of tithing by Paul’s teaching on evidencing one’s love for the Lord and the people of God by the cheerful giving of that which the believer purposes in his heart in gratitude for the Lord’s blessings (2 Corinthians 8-9).
But if it is a mere aspect of the temporary civil/ceremonial laws, then it is abrogated by Christ and the Pauline giving principle is the only rule for the people of God today. So the challenge for me has been to evaluate whether or not the Abram/Melchizedek tithe in Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7 is a valid basis for the idea that tithing is demanded outside the Mosaic Law.
One of the points that got me thinking about this issue is the claim that the New Testament does not expressly command tithing, therefore it ought not be retained. This argument that there is no explicit New Testament command to tithe was coming off as another application of the same argument invalidly used (in my mind, with all due respect) by Baptists when they argue against pedobaptism. It did not sit well with me to hear pedobaptists using this line of reasoning. So the question is raised in my mind as to just what it is about the New Testament that abrogates the practice of tithing?
There are New Testament Scriptures abrogating everything from sacrificing animals (Hebrews 10:9) to eating unclean animals (Acts 10:9-16); but nothing was surfacing as I searched the Scriptures in my mind that explicitly abrogates the principle of giving ten percent of one’s income to the church. In my mind, this pointed to the perpetuity of tithing as a New Covenant principle.
So that’s what helped me think to scrutinize the Abram/Melchizedek tithing account. How does the New Testament treat this passage? Does its treatment affect the tithing question? Simple answers:
The New Testament treats the Abram/ Melchizedek tithing account as a type fulfilled by Christ. The very same New Testament book which gives the apostolic interpretation also warns us against reinstating Christ-fulfilled types and shadows. So if the account of Abram tithing to Melchizedek typifies the superiority of Christ to the Levitical priesthood, then this Old Testament passage is irrelevant to the question of giving in Christian worship. Therefore, I conclude that the New Testament treatment of that Old Testament account does affect the tithing question by taking this event off the table as a passage to be considered in the context of Christian giving. To do so would be tantamount to returning to Old Testament types and shadows.
Therefore, it is not a misguided baptistic argument to say that New Covenant believers don’t tithe because the new Testament doesn’t command us to tithe but does command us to give cheerfully that which we purpose in our hearts to give as we have been blessed. This is an offering made in the context of New Covenant worship that is pleasing to the Lord!
An IFB associate pastor friend of mine counters this argument with the principle, “There is one interpretation, but there are many applications,” as justification to take this passage about how much greater Christ is than Levi and apply it to the doctrines of giving in New Covenant worship. While it may be true that there are (at least some of them) many applications, those applications are accountable to the one interpretation, rightly exegeted. Does the application of the Abram/Melchizedek type to “Christian tithing” meet this exegetical standard?
With types, I think there can be a dual meaning. Obviously the primary intent of that event was known by God to be a foreshadowing of Christ the Melchizadite being greater than Levi, and being eternal, etc. But also there is just plain teaching about Abraham’s life.
Now from the passage at hand, the key point of the passage is not that Abraham gave tithes, that is a minor element in the OT text.
Now is this a tithe? Is there any other passages supporting the idea of tithing prior to Sinai? Well Jacob promised to give a tithe, too, some wouuld say.
But consider the differences, the tithe for Abraham and for Jacob was a one-time event. Surely there would be income earned at later times, and that was never said to be tithed. Tithing was specifically regulated and structured as an ongoing thing.
To say Abraham’s gift foreshadowed the tithe, may be correct. But on the face of it, it was a one-time gift.
Therefore, I think you are right to stress the greater importance of the event is its teaching about Christ, and to minimize that we are supposed to be realizing from the passage that tithing is some universal principle.
Thanks for another good post, I’ll go read that wiki article now.
Great points, Bob. Thanks for being there. Amazing, the things that happen when you start to look for Christ in the text.
Sorry for throwing two at you in one day, I’ll be out of town all weekend, so I couldn’t wait to get part 2 out.
I’m glad you’re going to read the wikipedia article. It really demonstrates how it is true that, even though the church was reformed in the sixteenth century, there remains parts of it, like tithing, which are just beginning to be reformed.
Reformata, semper reformanda!
I want to take as broad a swipe with the brush here on this canvas and paint a big picture.
There is a deep sense in my spirit of this matter of “giving” and the reality of why or why not.
2 Chronicles 24 has all the elements of the simplicity of the major matter of giving and why and why one would not give to the Work of God.
2Ch 24:4 After this Joash decided to restore the house of the LORD.
This chapter chronicles the wrestling that is presently going on in the minds of the CHURCH and the world today.
The question is: Who am I going to SERVE, God or mankind/the devil???
It is interesting that all mankind serves mankind, self or other either for self, God or the devil.
The Abram gifts story mentioned already are based on what? A WAR, and the spoils of victory and defeat!
Fast forward to “spiritual” Melchizedek, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is one of the best descriptives for the HOLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH in this matter of giving, to itself, to repair or restore the “HOUSE OF THE LORD” and giving to the WORLD LIFE:
Joh 6:31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
Joh 6:32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
Joh 6:33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Joh 6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Joh 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Joh 6:36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
Joh 6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Joh 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
The deepest and most salient issue is WHO IS BEING SERVED BY WHO and why?
Paul writes about this matter of giving and receiving saying the farmer has a right to the “FIRST FRUITS” of the field.
Jesus uses the fishers of men analogy.
It is going to take money to accomplish the tasks at hand!
The story from 2 Chronicles cited pits wicked against righteous, God against the devil/baal and the story has no happy end for one side!
Today, the Church is acting more like a consumer event instead of a “life” poured out to the lost and dying world that needs a Savior giving His all as much today as He did literally in His day, a Life for a life!
It takes the VISION [Eph. 3:8…] in the hearts of a people of God to give their all.
In the book of Acts, if we have forgotten, tells the story of Ananias and Saphira holding back giving all they “pledged” to give to this purpose and suffered for it! It wasn’t the amount as it was the pledge of the amount from what was under their control to pledge that cost them their life and this memorial of them!
These snapshots that I am putting hereon simply goes to show that a number is not what is needed, but a revelation of God and what He wants us to be party too and then our commitment to seeing the will of God Our Heavenly Father accomplished in our generations is the major thing. What will that cost us? Will it be our all or a percentage of the gift of Life we have received from Him?
Is 3 percent to much or not enough to complete the task of restoring the HOUSE OF GOD? Is 90 or 99 or 100 percent?
I don’t know.
I do know that both the Church and the world will not live another day without GOD GIVING HIS ALL while HOLDING TOGETHER THIS CREATION BY THE WORD OF HIS POWER!
I was dead in my trespasses and sins. I have been made alive in Christ by the mercies of God!
I have since that revelation come to realize Jesus paid the ultimate complete plenary one hundred percent price so that I too can look forward to dwelling in Paradise when I die.
I rest in this that I will live for the Glory of God for the rest of my days and do my best with the tools of God, His Wisdom, His Grace and Mercy to inspire as many souls, lost or found to LIVE FOR THE GLORY OF GOD and not the BAALS.
We indeed are in the world. We should not at any time hereafter be of it.
Is giving a little or a lot to the Eternal Purpose a WORK OF GOD?
I would say yes.
Joh 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Joh 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Joh 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Joh 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Joh 3:20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
Joh 3:21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
The point of Melchizedek was to show the importance of the priesthood not the tithe. The tithe is not an eternal principle that should be given for our eternal lives. It is a standard. If it wasn’t a standard, but instead an eternal principle, then we could all agree that God himself practices tithing as it is his own principle. Sacrificially, liberally, gracefully, faithfully are all principles that we should give by because that’s how God gives. With that aside, i do believe that setting standards with our giving is a good and Godly thing to do, and would encourage everyone to do it.