There are a number of obvious problems with this argument, of which I will mention a few.
The first and most obvious reason why Abraham’s tithe is an ineffective example is because, even though this occurred before the Law, Abraham did NOT receive the promises. Indeed he was blessed by God for his faith and God proclaimed His promises to Abraham, but Abraham did NOT receive these promises in his lifetime.
“…these (the faithful people of old – including Abraham) all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Hebrews 11:12-16
It shouldn’t be necessary to point out this truth, but the fact of the matter is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His New Covenant trumps EVERY OTHER COVENANT BEFORE IT! Yes the blessings that are realized in Christ are the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham, but as Christians we do not now receive these promises by keeping either the Law of Moses or by trying to mimic some pre-Law example, even of Abraham. Faith in Christ Jesus is the ONLY requisite for receiving ALL the promises of God! Tithing benefits you NOTHING AT ALL!
That is not to say that you cannot tithe (i.e. give 10% of) a portion of your income for some kind of Gospel work, but the Bible does not teach or require any such legalism. In fact, it does not even suggest such as a recommendation. God shows favor only to those who Believe in Him through Jesus Christ and ONLY on the basis of Christ’s unmerited grace (by way of the cross). No one is blessed because they keep a ritual like tithing.
Secondly, the Bible only records ONE EVENT of Abraham giving a tithe. There is no indication, nor is there any reason to presume that Abraham tithed more than once in his lifetime. It becomes very difficult to support a doctrine of paying a tenth of one’s income to a religious organization on a continual basis, when Abraham only tithed once… not to mention there was no religious organization involved and the substance he tithed was not even his own money, but was spoils of war (which is property belonging to other people). It is obvious that no logical parallel can be made from Abraham’s tithe to the modern monetary church tithe… unless someone was to argue that they believed they should take other people’s goods by force and then give ten percent of those goods to a holy man.
As a supplementary argument, I would add that even Genesis 14 may not necessarily indicate that Melchizedek was a priest of God (i.e. a priest of Yahweh, Father God, Jehovah), but rather a priest of Baal. Radical concept right? Maybe not… There is some very good logic supporting this (and there are actually many respected biblical scholars that agree on this idea), which I believe also agrees with Scripture. I offer this merely for discussion and encourage readers to do their own research.
Genesis 14:18-19 – And Melchizedek the king of Salem (note: Salem was not occupied by God’s people at this point in history) brought forth bread and wine. And he was the priest of the most high (“Elyon”) God (“El”). And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God (“Elyon El”), possessor of Heaven and earth.
The original Hebrew text indicates the title “Most High God” is actually the name “Elyon El” (alternatively “El Elyon”), which is also a reference to the Canaanite deity. There is no records of this “title” being applied to Jehovah God until almost a millennia later! Baal was referred to as “Possessor of Heaven and Earth”… Extra-biblical historical sources also lend to this understanding.
Dr. Russell Earl Kelly, PhD.: “Melchizedek worshiped El Elyon, the very common title for pagan Baal. Israel did not worship God using this name until 1000 years later—after King David captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites.”
Fausset’s Bible Dictionary comments on the name “El Elyon” by saying, “The Phoenicians so named their chief god according to Sanchoniathon in Enseb. Praep. Event., doubtless from primitive revelation.”
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “Like El Elyon, “Baal” (Babylonian “Bel”), the supreme Canaanite god, was also called “Lord,” “master,” and “possessor of heaven and earth.” At least from Melchizedek’s point of view, “Baal” is equally a logical, though usually ignored, meaning of “El Elyon.”
Journal of Biblical Literature (Vol. 28-29, pg.68): “If we grant any historic reliability to Genesis 14 we find a similar phrase in Melchizedek’s blessing by “El Elyon, possessor of heaven and earth” (v. 19 cf. v. 22). And I am strongly inclined to think that in this fragment of ancient Canaanitish religion, as I believe it to be, in place of the unique and colorless form, “possessor”, once stood; El Elyon was Baal of heaven and earth.”
It is an undeniable fact that there are literally scores of scholarly books from both Christian and non-Christian bible scholars and historical scholars that detail the fact that Salem was a pagan region at this time of history and Melchizedek was almost certainly a pagan king who worshiped pagan gods.
Furthermore, it would be odd to find a “priest” of God in existence before Levi, since the Bible records no such evidence of a pre-Law priesthood of God. Also Melchizedek was the prince (i.e. King) of Salem. At this time in history, Salem was still under pagan rule.
Again, Theologian Russ Kelly explains:
Melchizedek worshiped Salem (Shalim), goddess of the dawn, and Zedek (Tsadeq) (Jupiter) god of justice—two very common lower gods in the Canaanite pantheon (research under ‘Phoenician gods’)…”
Melchizedek also came out with the King of Sodom (and we know how evil Sodom was). This would be an odd pairing if Melchizedek was a priest of God, but it makes perfect sense if he was a Canaanite prince.
Notice how Abram, in response to Melchizedek’s mention of the “Most High God” (Elyon El), countered by saying, “I lift up mine hand unto JEHOVAH, the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth.” This appears to show Abram declaring that Jehovah (translated as “the LORD” in the KJV) is the true God, rather than acknowledging Baal as such. This is also significant when you consider that righteousness had not yet been attributed to Abram for his faith. Shortly after though it would be and God would change his name to Abraham. All key points in my opinion… So, if you will allow me to put it this way, Abram was not yet “saved”… so you merely have evidence of an unsaved tither here. In the next two chapters we have the story of Abram being told he would have a child even though his wife was old and not able to… Abram believed God and God responded to his faith, called him to serve the one true God, made a covenant with him, to which Abram fell on his face in worship and then God said to him:
Genesis 17:5 – What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations.
But back to Genesis 14, we have “pre-saved” Abram choosing to proclaim the covenant name of God, so Abram is already showing his heart has been turning to God. Melchizedek did not identify the covenant name of God, which is suspect… especially if he was supposed to be a priest of God. But if he were a priest of Baal, this would make perfect and logical sense.
As a side note here, I will add that it I think it is also possible that Melchizedek was indeed acknowledging (in this instance) the true God of Abram… That is not to say that Melchizedek, up until this moment, was a priest of the true God. Instead, it is much more logical to presume that he was, indeed, a Canaanite prince (a pagan), but perhaps this incredible victory by Abram motivated him to acknowledge the God of Abram as being the true possessor of heaven and earth. In other words, Abram could very well have been the instrument of God in leading this pagan prince to the true God! That, to me, is a very a cool thought! But whether Melchizedek was acknowledging his own god, Baal, or whether he may have been truly acknowledging Abram’s God, the best historical evidence (even biblical evidence) seems to clearly point to the likelihood that Melchizedek was a pagan king and NOT a priest of the true God. There is simply no biblical reason to presume he was a follower of the true God. Perhaps after this encounter that all changed. There is not enough evidence to affirm. Certainly not enough for anyone to conclude that he is an example of a pastor receiving money tithes from church-goers. No idea could be more laughable!
A third point to consider is that Abram also refused to keep ANYTHING for himself of the spoils apart from what his men needed for sustenance. So it appears he gave the reigning prince his due (the tithe) and he gave the King of Sodom the rest AND KEPT NOTHING FOR HIMSELF. I find it funny that, even if Christians think Abram is an example for New Covenant tithing, why don’t they follow the logic all the way through and give the other 90% of their money to wicked organizations? Abram did! Abram kept NONE of it.
Genesis 14:22-24 (MKJV) – And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lifted up my hand to Jehovah, the most high God, the possessor of Heaven and earth, that I will take from all that is yours, not from a thread even to a shoestring, lest you say, I have made Abram rich. NOTHING FOR ME, only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.
Fourthly, there is also ample historical evidence that tithing was an ancient Arab custom (where anyone who conquered in a battle was obliged to give a tenth of the war spoils to the reigning prince).
Russell Kelly remarks:
“…tithing did not originate in the Bible… It was a well-known pagan practice from Phoenicia, Egypt, Canaan, Mesopotamia and lands around the Fertile Crescent. It was a mandatory customary tax to a pagan god or ruler. The Roman Empire continued this tradition by requiring its defeated subject nations, like Israel, to return the spoil of the first tithe of the land to them! From a comparison of discussions of verse 21, Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek was in obedience to this old Arab war custom and was not a command from Yahweh. Evidently, the Arab war custom specified that ten percent of the spoils of war be given to the local priest-king, while the ninety percent belonged to the victor.
Abraham was OBLIGATED to pay a special one-time tithe-tax of the spoils of war. While those spoils usually belonged to an enemy, in this case, they belonged to Melchizedek’s ally, ambassador-friend, and possible subject, the king of Sodom (and those he represented).”
But, assuming what we have just discussed about Melchizedek, why would God use a pagan prince to show typology in Christ? This probably offended the religious Hebrew leaders as well when the author of Hebrews made this claim that Christ was likened to another priest that held no connection to Moses or Levi. In other words, this seems to be language intended to show the extreme chasm created by the Gospel concerning the way of Christ vs. the Law of Moses, which had been set aside and fulfilled completely in HIM. The Bible is clear that Melchizedek is referenced because of what his name means, not because of who he literally was.
I’ve heard Christians try to say that Melchizedek was Christ before the Law and all kinds of silly things that the Bible nowhere claims (and by-the-way, even Hebrews 7 tells us he was a MAN… if he were Jesus, how could He be a human man before he was born of Mary and became a human man?). People are missing the point of why he was referenced.
Hebrews 7:2 – To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being BY INTERPRETATION King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; (7:3) 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 words “made like unto” simply indicates that the meanings of his name and title REPRESENT a likeness to Christ and His priesthood. Melchizedek is NOTHING compared to Christ. This is merely an example to illustrate a profound truth that the Hebrews would have seen as an enormous hurdle to get over because of their long-held union with the Law of Moses. For them this was as extreme as a pagan prince being compared with Christ.
Another biblical example we might reference is the character Adonizedek. His name means “Lord of Justice” and he was the King of Jerusalem… Sounds pretty positive right? Sounds similar to Melchizedek… Most Christians are aware of the name “Adonai” and relate it as a name of God… but was Adonizedek a man of God? NOPE!!! He, like Melchizedek was a Canannite prince. Adonizedek ruled Jerusalem BEFORE Joshua and the children of Israel conquered it. He was NOT a follower of God.
Of course there are other examples in the Bible of wicked men that God used for His purposes despite the fact that they were not followers of His. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that the same might be true of Melchizedek….
This is but a few of the reasons why Abraham (or, literally, “Abram”) is NOT an example of the modern false doctrine of monetary tithing to support religious organizations. Even if a person chooses to disregard the evidence supporting the notion that Melchizedek was likely a pagan king, and even if a person happens to believe (without any help from Scripture) that Abram gave his tithe to this man freely, and even if a person disregards the fact that it was Abram (not Abraham) that tithed, and even if we disregard the fact that Abram gave the other 90% to a pagan king, and even if we ignore the fact the NO PART OF WHAT ABRAM TITHED WAS FROM HIS PERSONAL INCOME (BUT RATHER FROM GOODS HE PLUNDERED FROM OTHER PEOPLE), even disregarding all of that – the text still provides no easy parallel to the modern tithe doctrine practiced in churches. You simply cannot find any similarity from this passage of Scripture to the practice of a Christian giving 10% of his paycheck to support a religious organization.
Compound that along with the fact that there were NO CHURCH ORGANIZATIONS in the entire New Testament period! Every reference to “the Church” in Scripture, is a reference to God’s People and NEVER a building or a religious social club! In the New Testament there were no such thing as “professional pastors” and even when money was collected from the saints, it was NOT to finance pastor salaries or the building of religious edifices. It was to supply for the needs of other impoverished saints!
1 Corinthians 16:1-3 (NLT) – Now regarding your question about the money being collected for God’s people in Jerusalem. You should follow the same procedure I gave to the churches in Galatia. On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once. When I come, I will write letters of recommendation for the messengers you choose to deliver your gift to Jerusalem.
Notice that this money was NOT given to a church… Rather, the people were told to keep an amount aside within their own home. The gifts were then sent to help the impoverished Christians in the city of Jerusalem who were suffering.
ALL reference to New Testament giving is ALWAYS FREE WILL!!! And, most often, the reference is to the support of the poor and the weak. There are no examples of tithes, religious taxes, or mandatory support of professional religious leaders! NONE!!!
2 Corinthians 9:7-9 (CEV) – Each of you must make up your own mind about how much to give. But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel that you are forced to give. God loves people who love to give. God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others. The Scriptures say, “God freely gives his gifts to the poor, and always does right.”
2 Corinthians 8:12-14 (NLT) – Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.
There are not many church organizations that operate under the mindset that tithers can expect the church to share its wealth with them when they are in financial need. Nor do most churches who teach tithing believe that a person doesn’t have to give if they cannot afford to do so. The Bible disagrees with the tithing concept on so many levels that it’s not even funny. Yet the lie continues to be taught and so-called Bible teachers continue to twist the Scriptures in the course of manipulating people to coheres them to actions that God has never commanded, never required, never expected, and never even hinted at! Woe unto them!
James 3:1 (GW) – Brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers. You know that we who teach will be judged more severely.
Luke 20:46-47 (NLT) – “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished.”
Finally, to those who insist that we should tithe because Abraham did it, I would ask another simple question… Abraham also made animal sacrifices, so should we also sacrifice animals? Since it does not seem to matter to tithers that Jesus’ covenant actually spells the END of tithing, why would they assume that it indicates the end to animal sacrifice? Abraham also took his son up a mountain with intent to slay him with a knife and offer him as a human sacrifice… The New Testament even recounts this event as evidence of Abraham’s great faith in God. Is this, therefore, an example for Christians today? Should men attempt to sacrifice their sons in the name of God? Would we have a problem with someone if they told us that God told them to sacrifice their child as an act of faith? How might we react to a statement like that? Wouldn’t it be entirely legitimate for such a person to use the same argument that tither’s use when they cite Abram’s tithe?
Oh sure, it’s true that God was the one who asked this of Abraham (and we don’t see any indication that this was some kind of regular practice Abraham engaged in) and we all know the story, that Abraham did not have to do it anyway because God provided a lamb… This was just one unique occasion in Scripture… BUT then why isn’t the same logic applied to Abraham’s tithe; that it was only one, unique example in Scripture? Many Christians are able to understand that the obedience of Abraham to offer up his son as a sacrifice has a clearly prophetic significance… Why can’t the same folks who understand that, see the prophetic significance of tithing (as Hebrews 7 shows us – that it represents the Believer’s relationship with Christ, our High Priest… not to mention the absolute expiration of tithing).
Hebrews 7:18-19 (ESV) – For on the one hand, a former commandment (tithing) is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
Perhaps a crude argument someone could make is the event of Abraham sleeping with his wife’s maidservant, Hagar. There does not appear to be any record of God rebuking him for adultery… Indeed Hagar’s son (Ishmael) did not receive the blessing of Isaac, but God still did bless Ishmael (as well as his mother). So maybe someone could make the argument that this could be a modern Christian practice for consideration as well; when a couple is not able to have a kid, maybe the wife could recommend the husband to have sex with another woman? You can see how the logic falls apart and starts to sound absolutely ridiculous when people try to impose a doctrine into the Scripture that is not present on its own. But even setting aside this crude argument and even if tithing is held on to in a positive light because of its mention in the New Testament in Hebrews (comparing Abram’s tithe to the Levitical tithe), the simple evidence just supplied from chapter 7 ought to make it plain that tithing, whether of Abram or under the Law, ENDED!!! And since we know that Hebrews 7 connects the Abramic tithe to the Levitical tithe, and the Bible clearly identifies the Levitical tithe as an ordinance, the New Testament makes even more clear that ALL the ordinances of the Law were nailed to the Cross and expired completely!
Ephesians 2:13-15 (ESV) – “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace…”
Colossians 2:14 (MKJV) – “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and has taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross.”
Certainly there is plenty of example in the New Testament for charity; that is LOVE! Our primary example is Christ, who gave His life on the cross. He did NOT give 10%… He gave ALL… And this is a key point, because Jesus walked in obedience, NOT TO MEN, but to the Father! If this be our example, how can anyone who is a genuine servant of Christ ever fail in giving? If we follow His example and His voice speaking to us, how can some ancient tithe ritual (that has been infected by religious men) ever be more efficient than someone who walks in relationship with their Father in Heaven? The Bible teaches that we ought to offer our WHOLE BODIES to God as a living sacrifice because THIS is our reasonable service to Him (Romans 12:1)! Whereas many who teach tithing tells us that tithing is your “reasonable service” (i.e. “the least you can do, a benchmark, a starting point”), Jesus on the other hand says, “No, you must take up your cross and follow Me every day!” (Matthew 16:24). In fact, Jesus said that if a person does not take up their cross and follow Him in this way, that person is NOT worthy of Christ at all! (Matthew 10:38).
I see no 10% money offering there… I see Christ who calls us to lay our lives down and yield to His Spirit and to walk in His love and to give according to example He gave us and to do so FREELY as our heart is moved to do so! THAT is what the Bible teaches… NOT TITHING! NOT EVER!!! Your giving may involve money or it may not. It may involve service. It may involve time spent with another person. It may have nothing at all to do with a “official” religious work or program, but may simple be part of your interaction with another human that God has placed on your heart. It seems that giving in Christendom today is always defined in the context of giving money to a church, but NO SUCH EXAMPLE EXISTS IN SCRIPTURE! A Christian ought to be a giver by nature, obviously. But that giving may manifest uniquely and severally as the Spirit moves each person and as their own heart is motivated by Christ’s love and example.
God will give you increase NOT BECAUSE YOU KEEP SOME RITUAL LIKE TITHING, but because you do things that have His approval. In other words, you need to be listening for His voice and obeying when He speaks and acting in righteousness. The Scripture says that the righteous person GIVES FREELY!!!! And God will bless those who do so from a cheerful heart as they walk in relationship with Him. We are motivate to be a giving people, NOT BECAUSE OF ABRAM’S TITHE TO MELCHIZEDEK, but because we are overwhelmed by the wonderful grace of God; Jesus Christ who gave His life for others! Let this mind be in us who desire to be known as His followers and His friends… God bless you!
2 Corinthians 9:9-15 (GW) – Scripture says, “The righteous person gives freely to the poor. His righteousness continues forever.” God gives seed to the farmer and food to those who need to eat. God will also give you seed and multiply it. In your lives he will increase the things you do that have his approval. God will make you rich enough so that you can always be generous. Your generosity will produce thanksgiving to God because of us. What you do to serve others not only provides for the needs of God’s people, but also produces more and more prayers of thanksgiving to God. You will honor God through this genuine act of service because of your commitment to spread the Good News of Christ and because of your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else. With deep affection they will pray for you because of the extreme kindness that God has shown you. I thank God for his gift that words cannot describe.