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The Church Ethic
Eternal Principle Argument (Part 1)
Tithing: Intro and Eternal Principle
Argument (Part 1)
Tithing: Eternal Principle Argument
Tithing: Matthew 23 and Hebrews 7
Tithing: The Absence of An Explicit
Early Christian writers on the Tithe
the Law of Moses, in extremely general terms, there was a
requirement to share a tenth of one's income with the Levitical
priests. However, this definition of the Old Testament tithe
is very much a bare minimum description, which will require
a greater examination of the details concerning the Old Testament
tithe later on in this study. But for now the preeminent question
of this study is this: are Christians required to give 10
percent of their income to the church?
It is our intention in this article to analyze the typical
arguments put forward on this issue in order to answer that
First, we should state what is perhaps obvious to anyone already
reading this article. The technical scriptural term for the
requirement to give 10 percent is "tithe." The practice is
known as "tithing." The word tithe is the English translation
of the Hebrew word "ma'aser" (Strong's No. 04643), which simply
means, "tithe, tenth part." It is the idea of whether or not
giving a tenth part is required under the New Covenant that
is the subject of this study.
Second, we should say up front that like any doctrine, whatever
doctrine a person asserts concerning the tithe must be driven
entirely by scripture itself. It is not correct to assert
that a doctrine is "biblical" when in fact that doctrine is
determined by information that is not found in the Bible but
obtained from some other source apart from the Bible. In such
cases, the doctrine is actually the product of external information
dictating how the Bible is interpreted and in some cases,
external sources rather than the Bible supplying the information
that is essential to the doctrine and without which the doctrine
could not stand. It is our goal in this study to determine
the proper doctrine concerning the tithe under the New Covenant
using only the Biblical evidence without relying upon external
information from sources outside the text of the Bible to
build up arguments.
Fortunately, even in their more extensive format, the arguments
on this subject are relatively simple and easy to analyze.
So, without further delay, we now turn our attention to analyzing
the specific arguments surrounding the tithe. We will first
address the four primary arguments made in favor of a tithing
requirement in the New Covenant coupled in each case with
the rebuttals offered by those who reject any requirement
to tithe under the New Covenant. Once we have completed this
examination of the four primary arguments in favor of the
tithe, we will provide a brief summary of the reasons for
rejecting each argument in the closing conclusions.
Argument 1: Tithing is an Eternal Principle
The fundamental premise of this tithing argument is that the
tithe existed before the Law of Moses and, therefore, it continues
after the Law of Moses is replaced with the New Covenant.
However, this is not true. Just because something was required
before the Law of Moses does not mean it continues after the
Law of Moses.
The clearest example of this is the pre-Mosaic practice of
circumcision. Circumcision was a requirement given to Abraham
and his descendants over 430 years before Moses gave the Law.
In Genesis 17, God commands Abraham to circumcise himself
and his children as part of his covenant with Abraham.
Genesis 17:9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt
keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee
in their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which
ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee;
Every man child among you shall be circumcised. 11 And
ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall
be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. 12 And
he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you,
every man child in your generations, he that is born in the
house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not
of thy seed. 13 He that is born in thy house, and he that
is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my
covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.
14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin
is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people;
he hath broken my covenant.
Some three generations later, Abraham's grandson Jacob came
to live in the land of Egypt with his sons, the patriarchs
of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Exodus 1:1 Now these are the names of the children
of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household
came with Jacob. 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3
Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan, and Naphtali, Gad,
and Asher. 5 And all the souls that came out of the loins
of Jacob were seventy souls: for Joseph was in Egypt already.
6 And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation.
7 And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased
abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and
the land was filled with them.
The Israelites lived in Egypt keeping the commandment of circumcision
for 430 years before Moses came and the exodus from Egypt
Exodus 12:40 Now the sojourning of the children
of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty
years. 41 And it came to pass at the end of the four
hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came
to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the
land of Egypt.
Paul himself sums it up for us telling us that the covenant
with Abraham, which included circumcision, came 430 years
before Moses came with the Law.
Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were
the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many;
but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17 And
this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of
God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty
years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the
promise of none effect.
Yet despite the fact that the requirement to circumcise existed
before the Law of Moses, we know that it does not continue
into the New Covenant.
Therefore, on its own, the argument that "because the tithe
was a requirement before the Law of Moses means that it continues
after the Law of Moses" is shown not to be true. A requirement
can be pre-Law and yet not continue into the New Covenant.
On its own, the fact that tithing was pre-Law does not mean
it continues after the New Covenant replaced the Law of Moses.
Because this argument is insufficient on its own, 2 additional
qualifiers might be added to provide the argument what it
lacks. The first addition to this basic argument is that tithing
is not only pre-Law, but it is eternal and because it is eternal,
it continues under the New Covenant. The second addition to
the basic argument is that circumcision and tithing are different
because circumcision is specifically discontinued in the New
Testament whereas no specific statements occur in the New
Testament to discontinue tithing. Thus, with the help of this
additional distinction, the modified argument becomes that
all things that are pre-Law continue in the New Covenant unless
the New Testament specifically proclaims their cessation.
We will cover this second argument later on in our study.
For now we will turn our attention to the first addition to
this basic argument - the question of whether the tithe is
an eternal principle.
But we need to be clear about the arguments. Tithing is not
eternal in the way that God is eternal. There would have been
no tithe before men existed. (Or even someone wants to suppose
that angels tithed, there would be no tithe before angels
existed.) So, tithing has not "eternally" existed. Tithing
had a beginning, presumably somewhere within the history of
man. When someone says that tithing is eternal, they mean
that tithing has been a requirement from the very beginning
when man was first created. And more to the point, when someone
argues that tithing is an eternal principle, what they mean
is that tithing has been around, and because it has been around,
we should conclude that it always will be (or at least "will
be" until maybe the end, however one might define "the end.")
There are several problems with this argument.
First, the conclusion that tithing "always will be" is based
upon the premise that tithing "always has been." But just
because something always been, does not mean it always will
be. There is no reason to conclude that. This is a logical
fallacy known as a non sequitur, which means, "it does not
follow." In this case, it does not logically follow that just
because something was around from the beginning that it will
continue to the end. In the beginning God put man in the Garden
of Eden to tend to it and fellowship with himself and eat
from the tree of life, but even though that was how things
were in the beginning, it was put to a stop when men sinned.
So, God is free to put to a stop things he put into affect
in the beginning based upon how he deals with men's sin. Things
can conceivably be around at the start and then stop before
the end arrives. Even if the tithe was instituted in the beginning
of man that alone would not prove or necessitate or even indicate
that it should or must continue until the end of human history
(or perhaps beyond.)
Second, the idea that the tithe was around from the beginning
is not one that comes from scripture or can be supported by
scripture. In other words, the idea that the tithe was around
from the beginning comes from sources outside scripture. And
consequently, scripture's statements about the tithe and sacrifices
get interpreted in light of this idea that does not come from
scripture itself. This contradicts the goal of exegesis, which
is the technical term for letting the text of scripture speak
for itself without being colored or guided by outside biases.
(For more on exegesis and its necessity in interpretation
of scripture, please visit our article entitled, "Intro: Exegesis
and Hermeneutics," in our section, "Foundations of Our Theology
But more to the point, since we want to establish the doctrine
concerning tithing from the scripture itself without depending
upon outside information that comes from somewhere other than
scripture, all arguments concerning the tithe must be based
strictly on information provided in scripture. And as we said
above, the idea that the tithe was around from the beginning
is not one that comes from scripture or can be supported by
Earlier we noted that the Hebrew word from which we get the
term "tithe" is the word "ma'aser" (Strong's No. 04643), which
simply means, "tithe, tenth part." The first mention of giving
a tenth part comes in Genesis 14, concerning the spoils Abraham
had captured during his fight to free his nephew Lot.
Genesis 14:14 And when Abram heard that his brother
was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born
in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued
them unto Dan. 15 And he divided himself against them, he
and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them
unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. 16 And
he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his
brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.
17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return
from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that
were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king's
dale. 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread
and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.
19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the
most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: 20 And
blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies
into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
Here we see in verse 20 that Abraham gave Mechizedek the king
of Salem and priest of God a tithe of the spoils that he had
obtained in the battle. Please note that it is the spoils
that Abraham is paying tithes on here and not all he owned.
The Apostle Paul asserts this clearly in Hebrews 7:4, where
he states concerning Melchizedek, "Now consider how great
this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the
tenth of the spoils." In saying this, Paul is clearly demonstrating
that it was only out of the spoils that Abraham paid his tenth.
The text does not say why Abraham gave them. The text does
not say that Abraham was required to do so. The text does
not say that tithing was already going on before this event.
And most importantly the text does not indicate that tithes
were paid under any circumstances apart from spoils gained
Any information on these points has to be assumed on the part
of the reader because the Bible doesn't tell us those pieces
of information. But what good is an argument about the tithe
that is based upon the reader assuming things that the Bible
doesn't tell us? Anyone can make arguments by assuming information
that the Bible doesn't state. But that is no basis for making
doctrine. Doctrine must be based upon what the Bible does
say not upon what we assume when the Bible does not say.
So, if we are to judge simply from what the Bible states rather
than from people's assumptions, we are forced to conclude
that Abraham's tithe to Melchizedek is the first occurrence
of the tithe. The tithe is not mentioned before this. And
in this first mention of the tithe, there is no statement
or indication that tithing was taking place before this instance
with Abraham and Melchizedek. Therefore, we must conclude
that according to the information contained in scripture,
Genesis 14:20 is the first time that anyone tithed. Any assertions
that tithing was taking place before Genesis 14:20 are mere
speculation and assumption, both of which do nothing to establish
the idea that tithing occurred before Abraham gave to Melchizedek
in this instance.
While it is possible to speculate that Abraham or other men
tithed before this instance, it is also extremely possible
that tithing began with Abraham, that this was a special and
unique occasion between Abraham and Melchizedek, that as this
was the first time Abraham tithed, and that perhaps this was
the only time that Abraham tithed. All of these are equally
possible and plausible given the notable and weighty importance
of Abraham winning such a battle.
Furthermore, even if we assume that tithing was taking place
before Abraham, we have no reason to believe that the protocols
surrounding the protocols for tithing didn't change over time
before, during, and after the Law of Moses. For example, later
on in this study we will examine that those who require the
tithe under the New Covenant have dramatically changed the
rules concerning the tithe given in the Law of Moses. Since
by their own actions modern tithe advocates demonstrate that
the protocols concerning the tithe can change, even if tithing
did occur before Abraham or was a regular practice by Abraham
and his descendants afterward, we would have no reason to
assume that any tithe before the Law was the same as during
the Law. Specifically, if tithing can change, there would
be no reason to assume that it wasn't voluntary before the
Law rather than required as it was under the Law.
The infrequent references to tithing including the mention
of it in the case of Jacob, offer further substantiation of
the voluntary nature of any pre-Law tithing, including the
tithe practiced by Abraham.
Genesis 28:18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning,
and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set
it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. 19
And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name
of that city was called Luz at the first. 20 And Jacob
vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep
me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and
raiment to put on, 21 So that I come again to my father's
house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: 22 And this
stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house:
and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the
tenth unto thee.
There are several points worthy of noting here in Genesis
First, the word for "tenth" is related to but different than
"ma'aser." It is the Hebrew word "asar" (Strong's No. 06237),
which means "to tithe, take the tenth part of." "Asar" is
in fact the primitive root word from which "ma'aser" is ultimately
Second, while this passage does demonstrate that Abraham's
tithe to Melchizedek was not the only occurrence of the tithe
in Abraham's lineage before the Law, it does not demonstrate
a frequent or required practice of the tithe. To the contrary,
Jacob's promise to give God the tithe is entirely conditional.
If God does certain things for Jacob, Jacob promises to give
God a tenth of all he obtains in the process of God doing
those things for him.
The fact that Jacob only promises to give God the tithe conditionally
and the fact that Jacob himself it initiating the agreement
and setting the terms all indicate that Jacob did not perceive
he was already required by any existing requirement to pay
a tithe. For, if Jacob perceived that he was already required
to give a tithe to God, it would not be Jacob's place or right
to negotiate how or when or if he did so or to dictate conditions
for doing so. Nor if the tithe was already required would
Jacob have vowed to give it as if it was within his power
to grant it or not. Thus, Jacob's dictation of terms along
with his vow all indicate his perception that his tithing
to God was a voluntary agreement rather than an already existing
Furthermore, if Jacob perceived that giving God a tenth was
something that was in his power to initiate, then this gives
strong indication that if Abraham passed on anything to his
descendants about the tithe before the Law, it was that the
tithe was voluntary and for special occasions wherein God
blessed someone in unique rather than everyday gain.
Third, there is no mention of a priest here. So, it is entirely
possible that Jacob was giving the tithe to God by simply
sacrificing it before God as a means of fellowship with God
rather than by giving it to a priest such as Melchizedek as
Abraham did. This will become significant as we examine Cain
and Abel a bit later on.
So, where does this leave us concerning the argument that
tithing is eternal?
Since Genesis 14:20 is the first mention of tithing in the
Bible, there is no reason or biblical basis to assert that
tithing ever occurred before this instance between Abraham
and Melchizedek. Or more specifically, there is no reason
or biblical basis to suggest that tithing is eternal. Based
solely on the Biblical evidence, the first mention of the
tithe is with Abraham and not before and so, since Abraham
lived around 2000 B.C., we are left with the conclusion that
tithing did not occur until at least some 2000 years after
the creation (using the information in Genesis pertaining
to the length of time between Adam and Abraham).
Consequently, with no Biblical evidence of tithing in the
first 2000 years of human history, it is a mere extra-biblical
assumption to assert that tithing is eternal or for that matter
that tithing existed at all before Abraham. And since the
idea that tithing was around from the beginning is the premise
for asserting that tithing continues under the New Covenant,
with no evidence to support the idea that tithing was around
from the beginning, we are left without any reason to believe
that tithing continues in the New Covenant, at least not as
far as this first argument for tithing is concerned.
(Continued in next segment...)