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?