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The Church Ethic
Eternal Principle Argument (Part 2)
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
from previous segment...)
So far we have seen that the initial argument that tithing
was before the Law of Moses did not on its own prove that
tithing should continue after the Law of Moses under the New
Covenant. Then we saw how that failed argument might be propped
up by adding on that tithing was no only pre-Law but an eternal
principle that was always with men from the very beginning.
We have now seen that this additional qualifier also fails
leaving the initial argument still without any legitimacy.
At this point, one additional qualifier might be added on
to try to prop up this failing initial argument for the tithe.
In the absence of any specific mention of the tithe in the
2000 years of human history prior to Genesis 14:20, it might
be suggested that other Biblical events before the time of
Abraham involved the tithe, even though the specific word
for tithe ("ma'aser," Strong's No. 04643) does not occur.
At this point, we should take note that even if one were to
assume that tithing occurred before Abraham, it would still
be necessary to prove that it was from the beginning and that
it was required rather than voluntary. If these things cannot
be proved using scripture, then there is no reason to assert
that tithing is "an eternal principle from the beginning"
or that "tithing was a requirement from the beginning." The
only real opportunity before Abraham for trying to support
these two assertions about the tithe comes in the story of
Cain and Abel.
Genesis 4:1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she
conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man
from the LORD. 2 And she again bare his brother Abel.
And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the
ground. 3 And in process of time it came to pass, that
Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the
LORD. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings
of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect
unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and
to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very
wroth, and his countenance fell. 6 And the LORD said unto
Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou
doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall
be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. 8 And Cain talked
with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were
in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother,
and slew him. 9 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel
thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's
blood crieth unto me from the ground. 11 And now art thou
cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive
thy brother's blood from thy hand; 12 When thou tillest the
ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength;
a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
On a brief vocabulary note, as said earlier, there is no mention
of the Hebrew word "ma'aser" (Strong's No. 04643) or any other
word for "tithe" in this passage. Instead of "ma'aser" or
tithe, here in Genesis 4 we find the word for offering, which
occurs 3 times. In all 3 cases it is the word "minchah" (Strong's
No. 04503). We'll get to the meaning of "minchah" momentarily.
The story of Cain and Abel is useful for supporting the idea
that the tithe is an eternal requirement because it occurs
very near the beginning of human history (during the second
generation of men), it involves sacrifices to God, and it
involves one party receiving God's disapproval over the insufficiency
of their sacrifice. It is suggested that somewhere in the
middle of these details, we have evidence that Cain and Abel
were tithing and that Cain was disproved of because what he
gave did not meet the tithe requirements.
But were Cain and Abel giving the tithe? Were the offerings
given by Cain and Abel required or voluntary? Does the fact
that God rejected Cain's offering indicate that the offering
was required rather than voluntary? And is "ten percent" the
only reason that God would be displeased with an offering?
Let's assume for the sake of argument that Cain and Abel are
tithing in Genesis 4. Would that require Christians under
the New Covenant give a tithe to local pastors and ministers?
As we said above, when Jacob volunteers to give God the tithe
in Genesis 28:22 there is no mention of a priest. 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. And, when someone asserts that Cain and Abel
were offering tithes in Genesis 4, they give strong support
to this idea of giving the tithe directly to God without giving
it to a priest because that is exactly what Cain and Abel
As we will see later in the study, under the Law of Moses,
the tithe was not only for the priests but it was to be shared
by the family giving it and the poor as well, who were all
supposed to eat it together with the priest. In this way the
tithe was a meal shared and spent by all including the family
paying the tithe. And so it was primarily as means of fellowshipping.
Most importantly it was a means of fellowshipping with God
himself in the Tabernacle or Temple even under the Law. So,
the idea of the tithe as a sacrifice or even a sacrificial
meal for fellowshipping with God is included in the Law of
Moses. This gives even further support to the idea that no
priest was necessarily in Jacob's tithing and that his tithing
was instead something shared between simply him and God.
Those who hold Cain and Abel up in Genesis 4 as giving a tithe
already affirm this pattern in which tithing before the Law
of Moses did not require a priest but could be rendered simply
between God and the giver of the tithe. And if this was the
case, then if tithing before the Law of Moses is the basis
for tithing after the Law of Moses and is evidenced by Cain
and Abel, then tithing after the Law of Moses would not necessarily
require a priest since tithing before Moses did not either
if we assume that Cain and Abel were tithing.
Consequently, even if Cain and Abel were tithing, it would
neither prove that tithing is required (as opposed to being
voluntary) nor would it prove that Christians had to give
ten percent to their local church leaders. This is particularly
interesting since in Hebrews 7, a passage that tithe-advocates
often appeal to, puts Jesus himself in the place of Melchizedek.
Thus, if Abraham tithing to Melchizedek is meant in Hebrews
7 as a model for Christians tithing under the New Covenant,
then there would be no need to give to local church leaders
because the tithe could be given directly to Jesus who now
resides in heaven in the very same way that tithe advocates
suggest that Cain and Abel gave the tithe to God directly
without an intervening human priest. (We will examine Hebrews
7 in more detail later on in our study.)
But doesn't the fact that God did not approve of Cain's offering
prove that God had requirements for the tithe? No it does
We have not proven or established that Cain and Abel were
giving a tithe in Genesis 4. We simply assumed that above
for the sake of argument to show that even if it was the case
that would not lead to the conclusion that Christians are
required to tithe today, especially not to the conclusion
that Christians are required to tithe to local church leaders.
First, there is the issue of whether or not the vocabulary
indicates that a tithe was occurring in Genesis 4. Second,
there is the issue of whether or not the details about the
sacrifices in Genesis 4 indicate that they were tithes. Third,
there is the issue of whether God's rejection of Cain's sacrifice
indicates that a tithe was occurring.
With regard to the first issue, as said earlier, there is
no mention of the Hebrew word "ma'aser" (Strong's No. 04643)
or any other word for "tithe" in Genesis 4. Instead we find
the word for offering, which occurs 3 times. In all 3 cases
it is the word "minchah" (Strong's No. 04503), which means,
"gift, tribute, offering, present, oblation, sacrifice, meat
The meaning of "minchah" is significant. Although we cannot
be certain with Abraham, we do know that under the Law of
Moses the tithe was required. It was not a gift. Now, although
the word "minchah" is used with regard to required offerings
under the Law of Moses, just because something is an "offering"
does not mean it is a tithe. It is a simple matter of fact
that on a purely definitional level, the use of "minchah"
in Genesis 4 leaves open the possibility that Cain and Abel's
sacrifices were voluntary gifts or presents, rather than requirements.
This fact is clearly demonstrated by the very next occurrence
of this word "minchah," which can be found in Genesis 32.
Genesis 32:13 And he lodged there that same night;
and took of that which came to his hand a present (04503)
for Esau his brother; 19 And so commanded he the second, and
the third, and all that followed the droves, saying, On this
manner shall ye speak unto Esau, when ye find him. 20 And
say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us. For
he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before
me, and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he
will accept of me.
As we can see, the word "minchah" is used with regard to what
Jacob gave his brother Esau here in Genesis 32. Now, what
Jacob gives his brother in this chapter is no requirement.
It is voluntary. It was not a tenth of his possessions or
of what he had gained.
Instead, Jacob simply sought Esau's favor and to appease any
anger between them and so he voluntarily gave Esau a gift.
Since the same word is used in Genesis 4 with regard to Cain
and Abel's offerings to God, we might very appropriately conclude
that their offerings were also voluntary gifts unto God meant
to gain his favor and appease any anger against them, just
as Jacob sought to do with his brother Esau. Consequently,
even the vocabulary in Genesis 4 does not support the assumption
that Cain and Abel's offerings were tithes or that they were
even required. Furthermore, even if we assume that the offering
in Genesis 4 was a tithe (which is a big assumption), without
knowing if these sacrifices were required or voluntary acts
of worship, we have no basis to assert that the tithe was
an eternal requirement for men.
Also, we can look at the way this word for offering is used
elsewhere in the Old Testament to see if it is at all indicative
of a tithe or if it is instead simply an ordinary sacrifice
in which a full tenth was not required.
As we said above, although the word "minchah" is used with
regard to required offerings under the Law of Moses, not all
offerings were tithes. For example, the word "minchah" is
used in Leviticus 5:13 to refer to a trespass offering to
atone for certain sins that a man might commit. Because this
offering was given only if a certain sin was committed, it
cannot be regarded as a tithe or tenth of the income. Likewise,
in chapter 14, "minchah" is used concerning the offering to
cleanse a leper, in which case it cannot refer to a tenth
of income either. So, while the word "minchah" proves that
Cain and Abel were giving an offering, it does not prove that
Cain and Abel were tithing. On the contrary, given the fact
that "ma'aser" and "asar" were both available and used in
Genesis (14:20 and 28:22) to refer the tithe, the fact that
those two words (or anything related to them) are not used
is indicative that the a tithe was not in view. If the author
had meant Cain and Abel were offering a tithe he could have
and would have said so.
OK, so the vocabulary involved in Genesis 4 doesn't support
or even suggest the idea that Cain and Abel were giving tithes.
But what about the fact that God rejects Cain's offering?
Doesn't that mean that they were tithing?
No, there were other reasons to reject an offering in the
Old Testament besides the idea that it wasn't a full tenth
or perhaps the first tenth. (NOTE: Modern tithe advocates
often assert the idea that a tithe had to be the first ten
percent rather than the last ten percent. This concept is
not under discussion at this time.) An offering could be rejected
because it was not the best of the crop or livestock. For
example, if the owner brought in a lamb that was lame, that
offering would not have been accepted. The fact that Cain's
offering was rejected could indicate that he was giving some
useless or otherwise defective portion of his crop without
indicating that Cain was giving less than a full tenth or
something else related to a tithe. In short, the simple fact
that Cain's offer was rejected does not prove there was tithing
or a tithing issue at work because an offering could be rejected
for more than one reason. Again, to suggest that tithing is
in view here just because Cain's offering was rejected is
nothing more than an assumption with no backing from scripture.
But on this point we do not have to speculate. Scripture itself
tells us why God rejected Cain's offering. It had nothing
to do with issues about the tithe and therefore does not in
any way suggest that Cain and Abel were engaged in tithing
practices. In Genesis 4:6-7, God tells Cain why his offering
was not accepted.
Genesis 4:5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had
not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance
fell. 6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and
why is thy countenance fallen? 7 If thou doest well, shalt
thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin
lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and
thou shalt rule over him.
Here in Genesis 4, God tells Cain that his offering will be
accepted if he does well and rejected if he does not do well.
Cain's offering wasn't rejected over tithe issues. It was
rejected because Cain was not "doing well." What is meant
by "doing well?" Does that mean the tithe was required and
Cain wasn't giving it? Not at all.
The apostle John comments on Genesis 4 for us.
1 John 3:11 For this is the message that ye heard from
the beginning, that we should love one another. 12
Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew
his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his
own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. 14 We
know that we have passed from death unto life, because
we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth
in death. 15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer:
and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in
In this epistle, John is instructing Christians that anyone
who has hate for his brother will not be accepted by God and
will not receive eternal life. Or, as John himself articulates
in 1 John 4:20-21, if any person harbors hate in his heart
for his brother, he does not have the love of God in him.
1 John 4: 20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth
his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother
whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not
seen? 21 And this commandment have we from him, That he
who loveth God love his brother also.
In 1 John 3, John takes this need to include love for our
brothers in our devotion to God and contrasts it specifically
to Cain who in his devotion to God did not include love for
his brother and consequently was not accepted by God. And
according to John, why didn't Cain love Abel? Because Cain
was resentful of his brother because Cain knew that his own
deeds were evil while Abel's were righteous. This is why Abel's
sacrifice was better than Cain's. Not because of the substance
or quality or even quantity of the material being offered,
but because Abel offered his sacrifice with righteous deeds
and love for his brother while Cain's sacrifice was offered
with a wicked lifestyle and hatred of his brother whose better
morals reflected his own wickedness.
Second century Christian apologist Irenaeus adds his testimony
to John's account concerning why Cain's sacrifice was rejected.
"3. For at the beginning God had respect to the gifts of
Abel, because he offered with single-mindedness and righteousness;
but He had no respect unto the offering of Cain, because
his heart was divided with envy and malice, which he cherished
against his brother, as God says when reproving his hidden
[thoughts], 'Though thou offerest rightly, yet, if thou dost
not divide rightly, hast thou not sinned? Be at rest;' since
God is not appeased by sacrifice. For if any one shall
endeavour to offer a sacrifice merely to outward appearance,
unexceptionably, in due order, and according to appointment,
while in his soul he does not assign to his neighbour that
fellowship with him which is right and proper, nor is under
the fear of God;-- he who thus cherishes secret sin does
not deceive God by that sacrifice which is offered correctly
as to outward appearance; nor will such an oblation profit
him anything, but [only] the giving up of that evil which
has been conceived within him, so that sin may not the
more, by means of the hypocritical action, render him the
destroyer of himself." - Irenaeus, AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK
IV., CHAP. XVIII.--CONCERNING SACRIFICES AND OBLATIONS, AND
THOSE WHO TRULY OFFER THEM.
Irenaeus' comments concerning Cain are nearly identical to
John's. Irenaeus explains that Cain's offering was not accepted
because he did not offer it with single-mindedness and righteousness
as did Abel. Cain harbored sin in his life while Abel pursued
God and this not only caused Cain to despise Abel, but it
caused God to reject his sacrifice since God does not honor
or accept sacrifices mixed with sinful pursuits and envy.
The rejection of Cain's offering had nothing to do with tithing
or tithe requirements. God rejected his offering because Cain
did evil deeds and offered his sacrifice in pretense for which
cause he also hated his brother's righteousness adding that
to the sins, which kept his own sacrifice from being accepted.
OK so the fact that God rejected Cain's offering does not
indicate that Cain and Abel were giving tithes and neither
does the vocabulary used in Genesis 4. Both of those considerations,
in fact, provide evidence against the idea that Cain and Abel
were tithing in Genesis 4. But doesn't the use of the phrases
"in process of time" and "firstlings of his flock" in Genesis
4 indicate that Cain and Abel were making offerings on the
increase of the harvest and livestock?
First of all, these phrases do not indicate that Cain and
Abel were giving offerings based upon the amount of increase
from livestock or the harvest. These phrases simply indicate
that after time had passed for Cain to have crops and Abel
to have livestock bearing offspring, the two of them made
an offering to the Lord. The phrase, "in the process of time"
is clearly meant as a transition from the previous two verses,
which describe the birth of Cain and Abel. As such, the phrase
"in the process of time" is meant to denote that enough time
had passed for Cain and Abel to grow up and be tending sheep
and crops. Therefore, this phrase does not refer to or indicate
a regular cycle of offerings based upon yearly crop or livestock
Second, even if Cain and Abel were bringing God offerings
out of the increase from the harvest and livestock, that would
not on its own amount to a requirement to give out of a yearly
increase. After all, what else were Cain and Abel to give
an offering from other than what they had in their herds and
crops? They didn't have banks to write checks from. When they
wanted to give something, whether to God or to men, they had
to draw from their herds or fields of crops. And you couldn't
draw from your crops until the harvest came up. So again,
the fact that they were drawing from their crops and livestock
doesn't indicate or require that Cain and Abel were making
offerings based upon a required yearly cycle of crop or livestock
Third, even if Cain and Abel were bringing God offerings out
of the increase from the harvest and livestock, there's no
reason to assume that they were giving at least a tenth of
the increase. Bringing just one sheep or a lesser amount of
grain or produce would still constitute an offering regardless
of whether or not it was a full tenth of the total amount.
Offerings were made before and during the Law of Moses that
weren't in proportional amounts to possessions or income.
For example, Genesis 13:2 tells us that Abraham was very rich
in cattle and silver and gold. Yet in Genesis 22:4 when Abraham
makes an offering in the place of his son Isaac, he offers
only 1 ram. That offering was in no way a tenth of what Abraham
had. There's no reason that this couldn't be the case here
with Cain and Abel. Just because Cain and Abel give an offering
does not imply or even remotely require that what they are
giving is proportionally a tenth of what they owned or had
All we know from the text of Genesis 4 is that Cain and Abel
made an offering from what they had. We don't know that what
they offered amounted to a tenth of a larger total. That's
a mere assumption and one that isn't necessitated by the text.
People can assume all they want to but arguments that rely
upon assumptions rather than textual evidence only amount
to a pile of assumptions and not to sound biblical doctrine.
When we started this examination of Cain and Abel's offerings,
we made the following notes. Prior to the study of Cain and
Abel, we had seen that the initial argument that tithing was
before the Law of Moses did not on its own prove that tithing
should continue after the Law of Moses under the New Covenant.
Then we saw how that failed argument might be propped up by
adding on that tithing was no only pre-Law but an eternal
principle that was always with men from the very beginning.
We have now seen that this additional qualifier also fails
leaving the initial argument still without any legitimacy.
And finally, we turned our attention to examining whether
or not the story of Cain and Abel could provide desperately
needed support for the idea that tithing is an eternal principle
required from the beginning. We have seen that the story of
Cain and Abel does not support or even suggest the idea of
a required offering rather than a voluntary one or a ten percent
proportion to increase or possessions. Nor did the story of
Cain and Abel support or even suggest the idea of a regular
offering based upon cyclical increase such as harvest or livestock
yields. As such, while the story of Cain and Abel does include
the idea of offerings being made from livestock and crops,
it does not even remotely suggest or support the idea of a
tithe occurring from the beginning of Genesis. As such, the
story of Cain and Abel does not add any of the support desperately
needed to prop up the failed argument that tithing is an eternal
principle that should continue in the New Covenant.
There is, however, one last attempt that might be made to
demonstrate that tithing was present from the beginning. Having
found no evidence of the tithe in Genesis 4 with the offerings
of Cain and Abel, it has been suggested that the tree of knowledge
in the Garden of Eden was itself a representation of the tithe
in the sense that this tree was reserved for God alone from
among all that he has given man.
Genesis 2:8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward
in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And
out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that
is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life
also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge
of good and evil...16 And the LORD God commanded the man,
saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely
eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou
eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
But this suggestion has even less merit than the appeal to
Genesis 4. There is no mention of a sacrifice or offering
or of increase whatsoever. But there are many things that
God has restricted men and commanded them to abstain from.
The mere restriction to abstain from something doesn't in
any way imply that we are tithing that thing to God.
For example, men are commanded to abstain from fornication
(of various sorts, which won't be named in this article.)
God has given mankind sexual intercourse to enjoy (when it
is between a married man and woman.) Does that mean God is
reserving fornication as a "portion" while we can enjoy the
portion that is given to us? Does that mean we are tithing
fornication to God simply because we're commanded to abstain
from it? Of course not, God can command abstinence from one
selected portion of something while permitting the enjoyment
of other portions without it being a tithe. He can forbid
man from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and from fornication
while permitting the tree of life and marital intercourse
without referring to the forbidden group as "the tithe."
Or take another example. In the Law of Moses, God commanded
the Israelites to abstain from certain animals for food such
as pigs or carrion while many other varieties of animals and
food were permitted. Does that mean the Israelites were tithing
pigs and carrion to God? Of course not. Just because God commands
someone to abstain from one variety of a thing while permitting
them to enjoy another variety of that same thing does not
indicate or qualify as a "tithe." Nor does the command in
Genesis 2 to abstain from the tree of knowledge of good and
evil while permitting any other tree qualify as a tithe. As
such, Genesis 2 does not lend any support to the idea that
tithing an eternal principle or consequently, to the idea
that tithing should continue under the New Covenant.
Despite all the additional qualifiers and appeals made to
prop it up, we now arrive at the demise of the first argument
offered in support of tithing under the New Covenant.
Early on in our examination of this first argument, we stated
that just because something always been, does not mean it
always will be. 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. So, even if
tithing was around from the beginning that still wouldn't
prove that we should necessarily or automatically assume it
will continue "to the end," or at least into the New Covenant.
The failure of this first initial pro-tithing argument is
even more apparent now that we have shown the underlying premise
that tithing was around from the beginning to be biblically
unsupportable and a mere assumption.
Since the conclusion that tithing "always will be" is based
upon the premise that tithing "always has been," since we
can find no evidence in the Bible to support or even suggest
the idea that tithing has been around since the beginning,
we have absolutely no reason to believe tithing should continue
eternally after the Law of Moses into the New Covenant.