The following post was my response to a question asked on wiki.answers.com. Someone else had originally answered the question, presented fully with traditional church-mindset on the matter rather than plain Scripture and sound reason, so I decided to take a stab at it. Here was my response…
Presuming the question refers to tithing as it is commonly understood in a Christian context, where churches typically request members pay a tithe of their income to support the church, I will offer the following answer, addressing Scripture as directly and plainly as possible…
The word “tithe” literally means “a tenth part” (i.e. 10%). Scripturally, the tithe was actuated on a number of occasions with alternate purposes. The practice of tithing did not continue into the New Testament period, post the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple since its purpose had forcibly expired and the practice itself holds no application to followers of Jesus in the Christian community.
The first recorded instance of tithing is the distribution of a tenth part of war spoils made by Abram (before his confession of faith in God) to a priest known as Melchizedek (Gen. 14:20; cf. Heb. 7:4-10). The text is silent as to whether or not this tithe was a freewill gift or a customary offering or that it ever occurred more than one time. The text suggests it was only a singular event.
Extra-biblical historical references suggest that it was common practice in Arab law to give the tenth of the spoils from a battle to the reigning prince of a region (which is what appears to have happened in this occasion of tithing; Abram had just recovered spoils in a battle to rescue his nephew Lot).
It is also important to reiterate that, at this time, Abram had not yet professed faith in God. Eventually God would change his name to Abraham once he believed God and it would be “accredited to him as righteousness” (as the Scripture says – Genesis 15:6). This important for Christians who like to use Abram as a pre-Mosaic Law example of tithing to acknowledge because what you really have here is an example of a “non-saved” person tithing. This does not parallel with any modern form of tithing. Christians generally believe it is the responsibility of the saved man to tithe… but here we have a non-saved man tithing.
Furthermore, this tithe was not used to finance a church organization or mission work, it did not come from Abram’s personal finances but from stolen goods belonging to other people, and it only occurred one time in Abram’s life. There is simply no literal way to draw from this instance some kind of parallel to inspire a regular religious ritual of tithing money to a church.
Genesis 14 makes mention of Melchizedek who was given these tithes by Abraham. Some Christians have theorized that this was basically an example of tithing to a religious leader for the support of a religious system BEFORE the Law of Moses was introduced; however, this opinion is problematic for several reasons. First of all, the Bible does not record any inference of a “religious system” or godly priesthood existing before Levi (under the Law of Moses). There was no Temple, no priesthood, and certainly no churches around when Abram gave this tithe. This is a significant point that cannot be dismissed.
Secondly, though an unpopular concept for some to consider (but which ought to be considered if someone is looking for the truth about tithing), it is actually logical to presume from the text of Scripture that the character known as Melchizedek very well may have been a pagan prince who worshipped the god Baal! Though many Christians would be quick to reject such a possibility on surface reaction, the fact is that a number of highly reputable Bible scholars, lexicons, and commentaries (and even certain passages of Scripture itself) bear out this reasoning where historical reference and a study of the literal Hebrew text itself is concerned. This is a subject too lengthy to cover in detail here, but I will touch on a few points for consideration.
Genesis records that Melchizedek was priest of “the Most High God” (most of our English versions of the Bible render it this way, thus leading most people to presume this title is a reference to God); though the literal Hebrew text records a title name “Elyon El” or “Elion” (look this up in your Bible concordance or Greek dictionary), which was the present day title for the high god of the Canaanite Pantheon (Baal, son of El – demonstrated elsewhere in Scripture). A number of well know, trusted Bible scholars note this in their works and it sometimes even appears in the footnotes of some Bibles. Other extra-biblical historical evidence of the period illustrate this understanding as well (and there are even pagan cultists today who still worship the god El). Elyon El, originally, was NOT a title for God (though it was later attributed to God as a title later in Scripture). In fact, Scripture NEVER uses this title for God BEFORE this occasion with Abram (as we shall see in a moment).
- Wikipedia: Genesis 14:18 introduces Melchizedek a “Priest of the Most High God” (El Elyon), a term which is re-used in 14:19, 20, 22. The term “Most High” is used another twenty times of the God of the Israel in the Psalms. Giorgio Levi Della Vida (1944) suspects that this is a late development, and Joseph Fitzmyer (1962) connects Genesis 14 with the mention of a god called “Most High,” who may appear according to one of three possible translations of a 750 BC inscription found at Al-Safirah in Syria. Remi Lack (1962) considers that the Genesis verses were taken over by Jewish redactor(s), for whom El was already identified with YHWH, El-Elyon became an epithet for the God of Israel.
The historian Josephus also refers to Melchizedek as a “Canaanite chief” in War of the Jews.
Readers of Genesis will notice that Melchizedek (in verse 19) identifies himself as priest of Elyon El (the Most High God). But Abram gives an alternate response.
After Melchizedek’s pronouncement of blessing and allegiance to “Elyon El”, Abram then gives him a tithe of the spoils (arguably according to Arab custom). Nothing is said about this tithe other than the fact that he gave it (which is wholly consistent with Arab custom). Melchizedek’s ambassador, the King of Sodom, then attempts to cut a deal with Abram to increase his wealth, but look at Abram’s sharp response:
Genesis 14:22-23 – Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I solemnly swear to the LORD (Jehovah), God Most High (Elyon El), Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from what belongs to you. Otherwise you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’
Notice that Abram does not simply acknowledge Elyon El (the title of the Canaanite Pantheon) as God the way Melchizedek did, but rather he says (at this first and bold occasion in Scripture) that he only lifts up his hand to JEHOVAH (the covenant name of God) and only recognizes Jehovah as God Most High. This is who Abram swears to! Abram is the first in Scripture to connect this title to “Jehovah” (the LORD) God. It is as though Abram, realizing that the true God has just given him this astonishing victory, he is now boldly proclaiming, “Elyon El is NOT ‘God Most High’ but only JEHOVAH is God Most High!” He then rejects the proposal of the priest’s ambassador, refusing to allow any credit to be given to anyone but God for his victory.
Most Christians overlook the fact that the King of Sodom (whom they know was the ruler of the wicked city of Sodom that God later destroyed by fire) was the very ambassador of the priest Melchizedek. This begs the question, would God have one of His holy priests appoint someone like this as his ambassador and, if so, why? And, again, they are presuming that Melchizedek is one of God’s holy priests; Keep in mind, there is NO RECORD of any system of priesthood in existence at this time for God’s people. Virtually all common sense logic seems to point to the conclusion that Melchizedek was, most likely, NOT a godly priest. This view is presented merely for discussion and in the interest of giving a fair, honest and thorough evaluation of the tithe as it is presented in Scripture compared with how it is often understood by most Christians.
Understandably, some Christians may initially have trouble with such a conclusion because of the reference to Melchizedek in Hebrews, which presents him as a typological image of Christ (some Christians also hold the belief that Melchizedek was Christ appearing in the Old Testament). But here is the crucial point for Christians to remember: the New Testament reference to Melchizedek is only significant in terms of what his name REPRESENTS (not who he actually was).
Hebrews 7:1-2 – This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against the kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him. Then Abraham took a tenth of all he had captured in battle and gave it to Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek means “king of justice,” and king of Salem means “king of peace.”
Scripture itself indicates this. Hebrews 7:2 clearly states that Melchizedek’s name is important only because of its INTERPRETATION. Hebrews 7:15 further demonstrates that the rest of the details about his life are important by reason of “SIMILITUDE” (the verse says). The passage is NOT saying that Jesus was or is Melchizedek or that Melchizedek even was actually a priest of God; but only that his title and historical reference bears out a typological message.
Hebrews indicates that he (Melchizedek) had “neither beginning of days nor end of life”, which simply means his birth and death are not recorded; In this way he SYMBOLICALLY represents Christ who is ETERNAL. The text also says he was a priest forever; thus showing a parallel to Christ who is the Christian’s one and only High Priest eternal! Hebrews chapter 7 also says that no reference is made to Melchizedek having a father or mother. This does NOT mean that Melchizedek did not have a father or mother, it only means that such is not mentioned and, in this way, he represents SYMBOLICALLY Christ who existed before His human entrance to this world (that He is not actually the product of human origin). Hebrews also says clearly:
Hebrews 7:13 – For the priest we are talking about belongs to a different tribe, whose members have never served at the altar as priests.
Thus the Scripture indicates (through this reference of typology) that Christ is like Melchizedek – ONLY IN THIS RESPECT – that He is completely SEPARATE from the entire Levitical system and priesthood! Hebrews is showing a complete contrast from the Law (and what shows more of a contrast than to reference a pagan prince as the recipient of tithes compared against the Levites who also received tithes under the Law). Such a comparison would likely have offended some Jews, but it would also highlight the point that Christ’s priesthood is so completely opposite that which existed under the Law…
And as for the significance of tithes here, Hebrews actually uses this as an example to show its expiration because Christ brings a change and finality to everything conducted under that old system of priesthood.
Hebrews 7:18-19 – FOR TRULY THERE IS A PUTTING AWAY (cancellation) OF THE COMMANDMENT which went before, because of the weakness and unprofitableness of it. For the Law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, by which we draw near to God.
Other passages of Scripture further highlight the reality that all ordinances under the Law of Moses have expired because of Christ (tithing is an ordinance – Malachi 3:7).
Colossians 2:13-14 – And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 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.
Ephesians 2:13-16 – But now in Christ Jesus you who were once afar off are made near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, He making us both one, and He has broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having ABOLISHED in His flesh the enmity (THE LAW OF COMMANDMENTS CONTAINED IN ORDINANCES) so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, making peace between them; and so that He might reconcile both (Jew and Gentile) to God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity in Himself.
Some preachers have suggested that because Melchizedek received tithes, that the modern-day church system is eligible to receive tithes as the representative for Christ (since the Levites received tithes of the people and then distributed a tenth of those to the priests), but this argument makes no sense. First of all, the Bible NEVER indicates that pastors are the modern-day equivalent of the Levites or the priests (and church buildings are not representative of the Temple – Acts 7:48-51). In fact, Hebrews is clear that this entire Levitical system has EXPIRED completely (Hebrews 10 also talks about this). Because of Christ, there is no longer a need for the Levitical system! Pastors who insert themselves as being eligible to receive tithes are misrepresenting what the Scripture teaches plainly.
Another, completely different, reference to tithing can be found in Genesis 28:22 where Jacob makes his own vow to God. Jacob was NEVER commanded to tithe, nor does the text say what that tithe was specifically comprised of. It only records a vow that Jacob himself chose, of his own accord, to make to God.
Genesis 28:22 – This memorial stone which I have set up will be the place where you are worshiped, and I will give you a tenth of everything you give me.
Though many Christians like to use Jacob as another pre-Law reference to tithing, once again they neglect to highlight the fact that Jacob was not yet a follower of God’s at this point of his life! This statement about tithing was him essentially cutting a bargain with God, that if God would prove to him that He was real, then (and only then) he would do this. Whether he ever did or not, Scripture does not tell us – but at least it’s significant to realize that this occurrence of tithing was of an “un-saved” man attempting to bargain with God, saying that he’ll only do this if God first gives him what he wants. Look again at the passage and regard the whole context of his statement:
Genesis 28:20-22 – Then Jacob made a vow to the LORD: “IF You will be with me and protect me on the journey I am making and give me food and clothing, and IF I return safely to my father’s home, THEN YOU WILL BE MY GOD. And this memorial stone which I have set up will be the place where You are worshiped, and I will give You a tenth of everything you give me.”
Would most pastors today wish to imply that people should only come to God if He gives them what they want first? Would most pastors encourage striking bargains with God? Would most pastors suggest that you only should tithe if God first gives you what you want? I think the answer to that questions is probably obvious.
We might also ask, what exactly was the “tenth of everything” Jacob intended to give to God? Jacob never said it was money… According to Jacob’s own terms that he put forth, it was “food, clothing and safety.” How would Jacob give God 10% of food, clothing and safety? Also consider this, that there was still no priesthood, no Temple, no churches… So who would actually be the recipient of this tithe on earth? Or was Jacob just saying that he’d start tithing once God invented a Temple system with priests and all manner of associated rituals? Maybe he was saying that he’ll basically do good stuff with whatever he is prospered with once he gets what he wants? Maybe he was expecting Melchizedek to show up and bless him like he did with Abe?
As you can see, there is absolutely no way to infer some kind of “Christian” principle of monetary tithing to support religious organizations from this text either. One could call it “inspirational” and then choose to give 10% of whatever they like to whomever they like and say that this text encouraged them to perform such actions, but the text gives no guidelines and presents no parallel to anything known as tithing today. It’s simply another different occurrence of something called a tithe. Remember that tithe only means 10%. It doesn’t mean “a ritual” or “a law” or “stewardship” or “church obligation” or “eternal principle” or something that could only be done by God’s people. As we have already seen, in both the previous examples, the tithe was mentioned in the context of “un-saved” people either performing the act or promising to do so.
Tithing did not exist as an action performed according to God’s Law until much later in history. In Num. 18:21-28 God directed that tithes be paid to the Levites, who in their turn give one-tenth of what they receive to the priests. This reference to tithing had nothing to do with war spoils or bargains with God, but was a tithe of FOOD ONLY to be given as specific times. This tithe was NEVER money at any time! It pertained only to agricultural produce. There were other laws under the Mosaic system that pertained to the use of money, but tithing was never one of them.
One reference to tithing is given in Malachi 3:8-18, in which it is shown that blessings from the “payment” of tithing are both temporal and long-term for Israel, and failure to pay an honest tithe is a form of robbery. This tithe was also given under the context of the Law of Moses and held no application to either money or Christians. It also had to be actuated within the boundary of Israel and was ONLY FOOD! Many church organizations today suggest this as a proof-text to motivate paying monetary tithes for the support of church leaders, church buildings, and organizational costs, but the tithe was neither money nor does Scripture ever teach that churches are modern versions of the Temple or that pastors are modern-day Levites worthy of receiving tithes. In fact, if a modern day pastor wishes to infer that he is eligible to receive the tithe (as presented in Malachi) then he is actually a law-breaker and a God-robber because he is taking what only belongs to a designated people in a designated location for a designated purpose that God himself CLEARLY defined in Scripture. They have no Scriptural authority to change the definition or application of tithing for their own purposes.
Some Christians make the argument that even Jesus approved of tithing, therefore Christians are supposed to tithe. Let’s look briefly at this occurrence.
Matthew 23:23 – “How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin, but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice and mercy and honesty. These you should practice, without neglecting the others.
First point: Jesus is talking to “teachers of the Law of Moses” and addressing their hypocrisy. He is NOT talking to His disciples or to any followers of His. This passage is presented in a “pre-New Covenant” context, for people were still under the Law of Moses, Christ had not yet died and risen from the dead and so the New Covenant had not yet been inaugurated.
Second point: Jesus would have, Himself, been excluded from this obligation since He was not a land owner or herdsman and did not deal in agriculture of any kind. In fact, since He walked among the poor as being poor Himself, He actually would have been one of the qualified recipients of the food tithe rather than one obligated to give it.
Third point: Jesus is NOT giving instructions for the financing of church organizations, for no such thing existed and neither did tithing have anything to do with money (as we have already pointed out). You’ll notice that Jesus qualifies the substance of this tithe in reference; MINT, DILL, and CUMIN.
Fourth point: The Law of Moses required that it be kept in its entirety, but the Pharisees were boasting in minor details of the Law while neglecting bigger details. Jesus told them that they “must not leave the other undone”; which means that if they expected to get brownie points from God for tithing, they had better be sure they kept EVERY DETAIL of the ENTIRE Law of Moses with absolute perfection! Christians are made free from the legalism of the Mosaic Law. Those who attempt to place others under it are ignorant of what the Scripture teaches:
James 2:10 – For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.
Christians are not under the Law of Moses and God does not judge Christians by this Law:
James 2:12 – So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free.
The Message version very adequately presents the following passage:
Galatians 5:1-4 – Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law. I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace.
Modern tithing is little more than a religious person’s “own religious plans and projects” which are (incorrectly) based off the expired Law of Moses and the Scripture says that the person who lives this way is choosing to forfeit the benefits of grace and are, inadvertently, CUT OFF from Christ!
The truth about tithing (as far as the Bible is concerned) is that it is an expired legalism of the Law of Moses. It does NOT apply to Christians today – or even Jews for that matter, since there is no Temple and no Levitical priesthood in place to serve the needs of such a Temple. Most people have heard of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; This is where Jews mourn the destruction of the Temple and pray for its rebuilding. Tithing simply has no application whatsoever in a modern context. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for a person to donate a tenth of their income to some good work, but it does mean that God does NOT require this and Scripture does NOT teach this.
All giving, as it pertains to Christianity, is to flow from love and total freewill volition!
2 Corinthians 9:7-9 – You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
Christians believe that Jesus is the example by whom His grace motivates their giving (2 Corinthians 8:9), so they might ought remember that Jesus did not give 10% of His life on the cross; He laid everything down because of love for the sake of others. This is how the true Believer is supposed to live; laying their lives down for others, giving freely to support the needs of others when those needs are made apparent.
Many Christians are fond of saying that tithing is just a benchmark, or starting point, for giving – but, again, the Bible does NOT teach this at all. Instead, it tells the Christian that their “benchmark” is Christ! Their “reasonable course of service” is to follow His example, even if it means to lay down their very lives for the purpose of helping others. This is not a comfortable thought, but it is what true Christian giving entails and which very few who call themselves Christian are willing to embrace fully. Tithing is such an inferior model and, as we have seen, is no model at all for the Christian and ought to be completely discarded. No Christian should be held in subjection to this legalism by any church or pastor.
Romans 12:1 – I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service.
There really is no “church offering system” present in the New Testament either, except for the admonition to set aside money and goods to support those who are suffering. There were no institutional church organizations in the first century so it would be laughable to presume that Scripture contains any such instruction for financing such human-created products. Giving is ALWAYS a matter of the heart and of love for others and obedience to God as He inspires a person to do so.
There are also no pastor salaries in Scripture (certainly not supported by tithes). In fact, Jesus said that a professional pastor is NOT a real pastor at all! (Keep in mind that the word “pastor” means “shepherd”)
John 10:11-15 – (Jesus said) “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him. I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary.”
There are more than 91 references on Tithing in the scriptures. NONE of them resemble anything known as tithing today, as it is commonly taught in most churches.
The truth about tithing is that (as it exists today in most churches) is not the truth at all. It is wholly a product of man-made tradition. It is not a Scriptural directive to any Christian. It was not taught by or practiced by Jesus or any of the apostles. It was never money. It had nothing to do with institutionalized religion. It ought to be discarded and forgotten, at least from the notion of it being required in any way by God or Scripture. If a person does not tithe, God will love them just as much as someone who does. If a person does not tithe, God will still bless them, protect them, provide for them, heal them, save them, and teach them to be His disciple. Tithing means NOTHING where true Christianity is concerned. Give if you want… even give 10% if you want… just don’t call it a commandment of God and don’t judge people by whether or not they believe in or practice this man-made legalism.
I heartily recommend Russell Earl Kelly’s book on the subject called “Should The Church Teach Tithing” if you want to study this subject in full detail. To research his specific comments on the subject of Melchizedek, you may visit this link.