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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

Tithing: Intro and
Eternal Principle Argument (Part 1)

Tithing: Intro and Eternal Principle Argument (Part 1)
Tithing: Eternal Principle Argument (Part 2)
Tithing: Matthew 23 and Hebrews 7
Tithing: The Absence of An Explicit Discontinuation
Early Christian writers on the Tithe

In 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 question definitively.

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 occurred.

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 and Hermeneutics.")

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 scripture.

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 in battle.

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 28.

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 derived.

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 requirement.

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...)