Of all the pro-tithe arguments, the example of Abraham tithing to Melchizedek is their flagship scripture for a “tithe was and is forever” doctrine. Actually it is more than a flagship, it is practically their whole navy.
I mean, this is the one lone scripture in the pro-tithe line-up that even comes close to being worthy of consideration as evidence. Unlike all the other pro-tithe scriptures that require everything from assumptions, to mis-applications, to outright fabrications in order to make their point; this scripture actually does say that Abraham tithed, and that he did so outside of the Levitical/Mosaic Law paradigm.
If not for having this unique scripture to lean on like the keystone of an arch, all their other pro-tithe arguments would collapse into non-existence.
On the other hand, even Genesis 14:20 is weak evidence, and far from being conclusive as pro-modern-tithe proof of anything. This flagship of theirs under closer examination looks more and more like an overinflated life raft.
If this event were detailed with just a little more information that tied it in with the Levitical tithe or a modern tithe, it would have provided a basis for a much more effective and respectable pro-tithe argument; unfortunately it does not.
In fact this scripture is such a brief and thumb-nailed account that it would have almost no significance at all but for two reasons:
First, it is magnified and manipulated by the special attention it gets for its usefulness as a money making scripture. Think about it: If Genesis 14:20 said something non-commercial, like that Abraham greeted Melchizedek with a kiss, would we be hearing about this scripture repeatedly, with the preacher insisting that we kiss him every time we meet him somewhere? Of course not.
In fact, this is not a hypothetical comparison since Paul gives these very instructions not only in Romans 16:16, but also 1Corinthians 16:20, 2Corinthians 13:12, 1Thessolonians 5:26, and so does Peter in 1Peter 5:14. So ask yourself: Why have you not heard those scriptures expounded upon, with threats of God’s curse if you do not “greet each other with a holy kiss”, as often as you have heard the preacher give this same attention to Abraham’s tithe?
I would bet that you have never heard Romans 16:16 or the rest of these scriptures taught at all. You have never heard it because there is no money in it, even though it is certainly not an unknown or undocumented concept.
The same can be said of many teachings of Jesus himself. He said in John 13:15 “For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”
Any Christian ought to feel compelled to find out what this example is, so that they might obey it. Am I right? In this case the example is humility: Having enough humility, particularly by a leader, to wash the feet of others. An example and instruction followed by no one today but a few obscure sects of Christianity.
And why should they? When someone has the arrogance of a Star-bellied Sneetch, they do not engage in “nonsense” like that because their personality type will not allow it. Not to mention once again the standard basis for rejection: There’s no money in it. Therefore it is spiritualized away as being some vague, easily forgettable lesson in something-or-other, if it is addressed at all.
The second reason Genesis 14:20 is not lost in the hinterlands of scripture is that its true noteworthiness is elaborated upon in Hebrews 7. The significance has nothing at all to do with legitimizing a modern tithe. We’ll look at Hebrews 7 in Chapter 7 of this book.
The Abrahamic Tithe
The pro-tithe flagship scripture, Genesis 14:16-24 reads: “And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people.
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.
And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.
And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the LORD, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”
I have been unfairly accused of trying to minimize this passage – of trying to make it seem unimportant. On the contrary I believe it is very important; so important in fact, that I want to enlarge and deconstruct it, examine it, and understand it as much as possible, because it is anomalous to the rest of minimize this scripture by subjecting it to as little examination as possible. They read into it what they wish, and preach accordingly: The most superficial answer
- “Abraham paid the tithe, it’s right there in black and white just like Moses told all of us to do; so you should do the same” is what they’ll invariably preach, and that’s that. They treat it like a self-evident, air-tight case simply because it contains the word “tithe”.
“Nothing else for us to see here folks… just move right along and pay your tithe at the door…”
However, by reading and understanding this story for what it actually says, we can see that this was an exceptional event and that there was much more to it because there was no Levitical tithe-on-increase involved here at all.
This was a tithe of some type, we cannot argue against that. Hebrews 7 makes that clear and treats this event as being very significant; but not for any purposes of establishing the practice of a modern tithe.
The questions that we really need to ask are:
- What kind of tithe was it?
- Does this event have any relevance whatsoever as a reason to support today’s commercial church tithe industry?
First off, we need to keep in mind the established fact that tithes of various types and reasons were not uncommon at that time in history. Furthermore, we know that this event was not a Mosaic/Levitical type tithe for four obvious reasons:
- There were no Levites at the time of Abraham, as stipulated in tithe law.
- This tithe included things other than food items, another tithe law requirement.
- The story depicts a historically notable and special one-of-a-kind event.
- Abraham had no gain or increase at all from this victory. An increase is also a pre-requisite for tithing, by Mosaic/Levitical standards.
All four of these characteristics contradict Old Covenant Law. Yet the pro-tithers promote the impossible position that Abraham’s tithe was indeed an example of a typical pre-Levitical, Levitical tithe, and that it thus somehow defines for us today’s presumed post-Levitical, Levitical New Covenant tithe. This modern church tithe has next to nothing in common with either the Levitical or Abrahamic tithes.
Because of the brevity of the account, we are working with only sketchy information regarding this story, but a sketch can still be a pretty good picture. If we rule out the impossible (applying the Mosaic tithe paradigm to Abraham’s actions) we can then search for the most probable explanation of the event.
To start with, I think we can all agree on the first two bullet points: there were no Levites at that time, since Levi was not even born until years later, and I said earlier that “whenever you see the word ‘tithe’ relating to the Levites, it has to be relating to food, because if it were money they would have used a different word instead of ‘tithe’ for it.” Well, in this example Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils that apparently included things other than food, and may have included money, but it was still only ten percent. This fact alone indicates that it was more closely related to the worldly tithes of that day, than to anything else.the second point that there were more than just food items tithed, is obvious from the reading the whole chapter itself.
Regarding the other two bullet points – Nowhere does it say that Abraham ever gave anyone ten percent of his increase on a regular basis. In fact when Hebrews 7:4 refers back to this account, the purpose is not to set a New Covenant tithe precedent as tithe promoters claim. Instead it was written to impress upon the Abrahamic/Mosaic-oriented original readers of Hebrews just how great Jesus is by juxtaposing Him with the only other known Melchizedek priest with whom these readers might have been familiar. The issue of a tithe was simply the means to the end of proving that point.
Hebrews 7 and Genesis 14 portray this one particular incident as a special occasion – a unique event.
Hebrews talks about Melchizedek “To whom a tenth Abraham gave out of the choicest spoils”. Notice that it mentions nothing like “To whom he yearly gave a tenth of his harvest” or anything along those lines. It only describes the gift made from the spoils during this one particular incident. Abraham’s offering to Melchizedek was technically a tithe, because it was 10%, but that is where the similarity to any other scriptural tithe ends.
This appears to have been a one-time gift, and not a regular tithe within the same definition as the Levitical tithes. The only connection is that they were both 10%, which is not that terribly significant considering the historical backdrop of the widespread use of tithes by other cultures in that part of the world at that time.
A Tithe with No Increase
The fourth reason I say it was not a Levitical type tithe is because Abraham gained nothing from his victory. Not a dime – nothing that did not belong to him or his kin, or his allies in the first place. He simply recovered people and things that were stolen, and he clearly did not accept the King of Sodom’s reward offer.
Abraham set off to rescue Lot and his family, but ended up recovering the whole shebang which included the people and property of Bera, the Sodomite king. Abraham could have easily left the people and property where they were, as he obviously did not want to own any of it, while he brought back only Lot’s family and possessions.
If Abraham was living by a morality that was similar to that which was later written into God’s Law, then he was at that point pretty much expected to return these things according to the premise of Exodus 23:4-5:
“If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.”
So we can see that Abraham did not have to be on good terms with Bera or his friends in order for him to feel obligated to return the captured people and property to them.
If a Levitical tithe is on an increase (which the Law states it is by its very definition), then Abraham’s offering does not qualify as a “tithe” as we know it, because he had no increase from which to tithe. It is a tithe of some kind, clearly, but the nature and characteristics of this tithe are not explained in scripture like the Levitical tithe is.
It appears from the context of the story that Abraham purposed in his heart to return all recovered goods to these kings anyway, and this seems to be the understanding that he had with them, so he was actually making the tithe/gift to Melchizedek with what entrepreneurs call OPM – Other People’s Money.
I did a little word study that I found interesting. In the King James Bible Hebrews 7:2 says “To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all;” which is almost always preached to mean “of all the property”, with the assumption that this property somehow belonged to Abraham. The Greek Interlinear Bible however,
states “to whom a tenth part from all divided Abraham”. That’s quite a big difference.
This led me to examine the original Greek words used in this verse, and “from” is a more accurate translation of #575 than “of” is, because it has the connotation of a separation taking place. Without getting too detailed, I’ll sum it up to say that Hebrews 7:2 can easily and very reasonably be read as “Abraham separated a tenth of everyone’s possessions from them”.property somehow belonged to Abraham. The Greek Interlinear Bible however, states “to whom a tenth part from all divided Abraham”. That’s quite a big difference.
Adding more weight to this interpretation is the fact that Hebrews 7:4 says
“Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.”
The “of” in “of the spoils” is #1537. This word means in effect “out of” or “as a portion of” and has a much different meaning than #575 does in verse 7:2.
If “To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all;” meant “a tenth part of all the property” as pro-tithers say it does, then it most likely would have used #1537, just like it did in verse 7:4 where it says
“unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils.”
This may all sound like hair-splitting, but it is really not. If this scripture in fact originally meant that “Abraham divided from everyone a tenth of their property for the purpose of gift-tithing it to Melchizedek” as opposed to the establishment pro-tithe theory that “Abraham tithed on all of his newfound personal prosperity,” it would further underscore the already-apparent uniqueness if this event. In essence it is one person tithing to a second person the property of several third persons.
This updated translation does make more sense in light of the fact that we know from the scriptural context that Abraham did not consider any of this property as belonging to him at any time.
In any event, where in God’s Law does it say you can tithe property that belongs to someone else? It does not. So that is another anomaly which makes the pro-tithe application of “pre-Levitical tithe” theory to this event an impossibility. This also indicates that Abraham was working with some other, unknown tithe protocol.
Who is the thief? Who is the Liar?
Was Abraham a “thief”, as one tithe promoter emphatically stated had to be the case, for tithing property that belonged to others?
That type of sensational statement (calling Abraham a thief) is a manipulative device used by professional speakers that plays on emotions, and is no substitute for facts or reason. This is some of the “yellow preaching” that I defined earlier. It implies a limited false choice: (Either Abraham was a thief, or he gave a Levitical type tithe), and this is a manipulative trick that should be identified.
A third and more obvious option is that there is plenty of reason to assume that Abraham had the king of Sodom’s (Bera’s) consent for this gift (It looks like this king was the only one present of the allied kings, apparently representing the others), but the fact remains that none of this tithed property belonged to Abraham at any time.
After all, those kings just got their clock cleaned, were lucky to be alive, and had pretty much kissed their people and property good-bye. So you can imagine their joy and relief with word from Abraham to meet him and get their stuff.
Melchizedek was speaking to Abraham who was the man of the hour, and Abraham did the honor of presenting the tithes to him as a tribute. What is wrong with that? That does not make Abraham a “thief”.
Abraham had possession of it but did not own it, and Bera did not seem to care one way or the other about the property, he just wanted his people back. So, why not honor Melchizedek as a condition of returning everything to the original owners? It made an impressive gift and was quite a significant gesture.
The real question here is: Why did this tithe take place at all? Was it to honor Melchizedek as king? Or to submit to him as the only true priest of God until the messiah arrived? Hebrews Chapter 7 (also Chapter 7 of this book) holds the key to that answer.
The Pro-tithe “Rules of Possession”
The tithe-promoting preacher tried to make the following case as to how this all must have transpired
According to the pro-tithe premise, Abraham owned all of this spoil recovered in battle. In order to believe that, the following must also be accepted: If you steal you are a sinner, but if you steal as a large enough group, or gang, or if a government steals by using its military force, that is all kosher. By doing so they now own the stolen property fair and square according to what that pro-tithe preacher calls some undefined “rules of war”. This might makes right principle of his says that the victorious army now rightfully owned the property and slaves that they stole, simply because it was done by orders of a political leader like a king. By taking this position, that preacher in effect has elevated government entities to a status that is above God’s Law, because God’s Law de-legitimizes ownership of anything obtained via theft.
According to this pro-tithe theory, the Assyrians rightfully owned what they had taken by force. If Abraham could steal this property back from the new owners, then Abraham would be the new “rightful owner”.
The pro-tithe preacher goes on to say that the only way that Abraham could not be a “thief”, (even though he, in theory, just stole it back from the supposedly then-rightful owners) would be that, from the time Abraham recovered the goods and people, to the time he tithed it to Melchizedek, Abraham actually owned this property and actually had an increase that he was obliged to tithe from. Since these were spoils of war, (how can a private citizen like Abraham declare a “war”?) Abraham momentarily owned them fair and square, and immediately tithed from them. Or so this pro-tithe interpretation of the story goes.
According to that preacher, this proved that, not only was the law of the tithe on increase in effect since the beginning (pre-Mosaic), but that this story also proved that the tithe is on all income, from any source, not just agricultural.
I have not heard other pro-tithe preachers go into fantastic explanations like this as to why Abraham owned this property, even though Abraham himself never considered it as belonging to him. They do, however, promote the false assumption that Abraham did indeed own it.
Unfortunately for them, even the best preachercraft cannot make this strange scenario and bizarre conclusion work as being a plausible explanation. This
temporary ownership hypothesis has some obvious fatal flaws, beside what I have already explained above.
First, Abraham recovered the stolen property for the defeated kings (of Sodom, etc), not from them. So Abraham never owned anything after this battle that he did not already own before the battle took place, and this amounted to exactly nothing. Abraham did not personally lose anything to these plunderers, and he did not personally gain anything with their defeat. He simply set out to rescue his nephew Lot with his family and possessions, and ended up retrieving the kings’ property as well.
Again, here is Exodus 23:4-5 “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.”
Imagine this analogy – You chase down someone who just snatched a family member’s purse. You scuffle with the thief, and are successful in recovering not only the purse for the owner, but several wallets belonging to third party strangers. Do the wallets now belong to you? Does the purse and its contents now belong to you, or are you instead a temporary custodian of all this property until it is returned to the rightful owners? Would you now owe a tithe on what the wallets, and the purse and contents were worth, before you gave it back to the people that it all belonged to? It would be absurd to think so, but that is exactly the pro tithe position on the issue.
It is precisely the same kind of situation we have here in Genesis 14, and it is just as absurd to claim that Abraham now owned the property that he recovered for his nephew or for the kings; property that Abraham never claimed ownership of.
That is the nature of a family – to protect each other, and each other’s property. It is not a “finders keepers” situation. Even if words like prey or spoils are used, in this case it just means something taken by force. It does not necessarily mean that the one who took it now rightfully owns it.
Due to the context of the story, it is clear that ownership was not a debatable issue, and that this tithe took place for reasons totally independent of any alleged but non-existent gain on the part of the tither, Abraham.
That is also the nature of class and integrity – you do not prosper on someone else’s misfortune, as is so common today. Abraham only claimed part of the expenses, which was the food that his people ate while they returned. He did not take advantage of the situation to enrich himself in any way. This is very characteristic of Yahweh God’s prophets, Apostles, and His true workers on Earth.
The second evident flaw in the pro-tithe “Abraham owned it” reasoning is this: What right would Bera have to tell Abraham words to the effect of: “you go ahead and keep all the stuff, and I’ll keep the people” if Abraham already owned all of it? This does not make sense. Would this pro-tithe preacher, after he had been beaten at poker, then tell the winner with the pile of money “I’ll let you keep all the quarters, and I’ll take the nickels and dimes”?
He might try it, but he would only be making a fool of himself and get his hand slapped. It is the owner of the property that has the authority to make a determination as to what to do with it, not the loser of the property. In this case Bera was making the determination (or offer), not Abraham, because the king’s ownership of it was apparently restored right from the moment that Abraham recovered it from the plunderers, and it seems that everyone involved understood this.
Abraham also stated that he would not let the King of Sodom “make him rich” with a reward. How in the world could this king do so if he would be giving Abraham a gift of things that Abraham supposedly already owned via these alleged rules of war according to the pro-tithe yarn?
Obviously, in the mind of Abraham, and all involved, the ownership of this property rightfully belonged to these other individuals right along, and Abraham clearly identifies the recovered items as belonging to Bera in Genesis 14:23. Abraham knew this property did not belong to him, Bera knew it, I know it, and now you know it. Everyone seems to know the obvious fact that Abraham claimed nothing for himself, except the pro-tithers themselves who, by necessity of their invalid doctrine, must assert that it was his personal tithable gain.
Any attempt by tithe promoters to wrangle these scriptures into saying that Abraham actually took ownership of the recovered items, and considered it all a so-called increase to tithe from, is nonsense and a total prevarication.
Based on this pro-tithe preacher’s “finders-keepers” attitude about situations like this, I would hate to be the person who lost a wallet in this guy’s church parking lot. Good luck in ever getting it back, as he obviously equates possession with ownership in cases like this.
To subscribe to the pro-tithe position on this issue and follow through with it, you would have to agree that:
- Abraham paid a tithe for his brief possession of the property because it was an “increase”,
- Then when he returned 90% of everything to Lot and the kings, they had to pay another tithe on the same property because they now momentarily possessed it as an “increase” before returning 81% of it to the individuals in their group who originally owned it,
- Then, the original owners would have to pay yet another tithe on this “increase” of the return of 81% of things they owned to begin with. In other words they are tithing 8.1% on property that represents a 19% loss of what they originally owned before they were robbed.
Only a tithe-preacher or a government tax attorney could come up with something as irrational as this. But that would truly be the end result of the pro-tithe teaching if you take the preacher’s position and carry it through to its logical end.
If you think this pro-tithe theory makes sense, go for it. I believe it is an absurd conclusion, but it is made because they have to make it. They have to make up something, anything to obscure the facts of this scripture. It shows the desperate lengths they will go to, to make their tithe doctrine work.
An example of God-Ordained non-tithing on increase
I will further prove my point. If Abraham paid a typical tithe on increase as the pro-tithers said he did, then for scripture to be consistent we would see other similar situations handled the same way, would we not?
Let’s go to Numbers 31:27-30. It is fairly self-explanatory, but I will summarize: We have here a detailed story of a tremendous military victory for Israel, very similar to Abraham’s situation, only this time it was God ordained retribution against the Midianites, not a personal decision to engage in conflict. This tremendous gain in material goods made by Israel was legitimized by God’s instructions. So it was not a theft as nearly all other war plunderings in history are, and it was not a recovery of property as was the case with Abraham. It was an actual massive haul of an increase that they got to keep after killing the original owners, and there were lots of spoils to divide up.
So does God instruct Moses to set aside ten percent, as the pro-tithe theory would demand? No, not at all.
God instructed them to divide the spoils in half; to give one half to those who actually participated in the battle, and one half to everyone else in Israel. Then
the soldiers were to give 1/500th of their take (that’s .2% of what you’d call earned income) and give it to the priests, and the rest of Israel was to do the same with 1/50th of their take (2% of unearned income), giving it to the Levites. That’s 10 times more for the Levites, because there were many more Levites than there were priests.
These are clearly worded instructions right from the mouth of God on how to handle a windfall situation. It is not conjecture, not extrapolation, not my opinion, but very plain statements of instruction.were many more Levites than there were priests.
If every word of Scripture is an example unto us and profitable for learning (2Timothy 3:16), why have you not heard the example of Numbers 31:27-30 discussed in a professionally presented Bible study?
If Abraham was following a law, as the speculators say, or even just setting an example for others to follow, why were God’s instructions in Numbers 31 so extremely different, even though the situations were nearly identical regarding miraculous victory and lots of spoils?
Why did the Levites not get a straight 10% instead of getting only 2%? Maybe a pro-tithe, Law-teaching preacher needs to explain the correct tithe law to God, since Yahweh’s instructions do not fit the current preacher-created tithe doctrine at all.
When asked about this scripture, all one preacher could say in his CD presentation was that these were “special instructions” specific to them for that particular victory, and not of any concern for us today.
Oh, really? And Abraham’s victory and meeting with Melchizedek was not a special situation as well? Again, these arrogant “Law-teachers” have no compunction about negating the intent of God’s Word with a simple off-the-cuff comment whenever it profits them to do so.
In 1Samuel 30:26-30 it appears that David followed a similar example of wealth distribution after his men smote and looted the Amalekites.
David spread the wealth around as gifts to a detailed list of many, many people, but there is no mention there of any tithe. Why? You would think that there would be at least a quick mention of it, if it was an example of the thing to do.
The answer to all of the above is this: Because these spoils were not an agricultural increase, which would have been tithable in that era under Mosaic Law; but instead was the product and result of battle, which, among many other increase-producing occupations, was never subject to a tithe under God’s Law.
Speaking of windfalls and sudden prosperity, FYI – What about Job? Job is on record for his many sacrifices, but not as ever having tithed; either during his pre-calamity prosperity or in his second, post-illness prosperity. There is no mention at all of a tithe to anyone by this iconic example of righteousness.
The first thing a pro-tithe preacher would have asked Job at his bedside would be “Have you been tithing to avoid misfortune, like you’re supposed to?” Of course no one in the Book of Job even mentions the tithe because it was apparently not a normally expected activity during Job’s time.
If the victory spoils in Numbers 31, very similar to Abraham’s, was not tithable under God’s Law, along with the implications of any other analogous
case in scripture, we have to conclude that Abraham’s situation was not tithable either by any standard of known tithe law; Particularly since he had no gain, while the Israelites of Numbers 31 had a great gain.
So then what was the tithe to Melchizedek all about? How is it that Abraham presented a tithe when he had no increase, while the Israelites paid no tithe for a great increase? There’s more to that story, and some answers in Chapter 7 which examines Hebrews Chapter 7.