Tithing Stared Before Abraham
And Was Never Denied After
Tithing is a topic widely mentioned in Scripture with a long history beginning in the early stages (Abraham, Genesis 14) and extending all the way to the latter end of the New Testament (Hebrews) with a few touches in between (Malachi 3:10 and Matthew 23:23 are examples). Unfortunately the connection between these passages, while obvious to some, is not always appreciated or accepted.
Extreme arguments are fabricated to dismiss the connection and one of these arguments is the focus of this post.
The first and only place tithing as a principle of giving was mentioned is Leviticus 27 and, therefore, no other reference before or after the law has theological significance.
One person in particular makes this argument using word studies in an excessively restrictive way. Take, for example the following:
- Abraham “gave” tithes, the Israelites “paid” tithes (“gave” representing a free will offering, “paid” representing a required offering)
- “Tithe” used in reference to Abraham was a mathematical term and had no reference to a principle of giving.
And he smokescreens the issue by suggesting . . .
- Abraham’s tithe only applied to the spoils of a particular war. There is no evidence he paid a tithe at any other time on any other increase.
- Jacob vowed to pay a tithe on everything but there is no evidence he actually paid anything to anyone and he put conditions on God as part of his vow.
In response, I would make several comments:
You can’t use words so restrictively
Words are to context what planks, bricks and nails are to buildings. The materials used to construct buildings (or paragraphs) don’t define the end result. One building is a home, another is an office block and so on, but the materials are the same. Bricks can also be used as weapons or doorstops. How the word is used, context, is more important than the raw definition of the word.
Bernard Ramm, author of “Protestant Biblical Interpretation,” a widely referenced book, makes several cautionary comments about the use of words, one of which is:
“If we pack too much meaning into one specific word in Scripture we will then be embarrassed when confronted with synonyms of that word which in turn undermines the theology we have tried to pack into the word.”1
That has particular relevance to the “gave” vs “paid” arguments against tithing.
If we were this restrictive with words consistently we would reject the Trinity also. The “three-in-one” idea associated with the nature of God is determined by context not the meanings of words obsessively applied.
Besides, the Bible actually uses the terms “gave” and “paid” interchangeably. The same tithe Abraham “gave” was said to be “paid” by the Levites. Obviously, the bare definition of a word does not determine its meaning or application.
Additionally, a very important principle of interpretation is . . .
“Scripture interprets Scripture.”2
Segmenting the Bible into disconnected parts is not a good strategy and Hebrews 7:4-10 illustrates this truth. This passage is far removed from Abraham and Moses but it identifies the tithe paid by Abraham as the same as those paid in the Law. A portion of the text reads:
“In the one case tithes are received by mortal men (Levites), but in the other case, by one, of whom it is testified, that he lives (Melchizedec). 9 One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham.”
If the principle of tithing for Abraham was not equal to the principle of tithing under the law then the Hebrews passage has no meaning at all. When God takes space in the Bible to identify the use of a word in one place with the use of the same word in another place it isn’t wise to dismiss it.
Abraham’s public actions reflect his private devotions
Abraham didn’t make personal offerings in Genesis 14 because this wasn’t the time or the place to take care of personal business. He was making a point publicly about his relationship to God AND his disavowal of Sodom. This wasn’t an appropriate setting to give offerings from personal income. Those offerings were given at appropriate times as the occasion arose.
The fact he paid tithes following a battle with warring tribes shows his dedication to the principle under all circumstances. The fact he paid the tithe on the wealth of unbelievers shows it to be universal in application.
Jacob’s “condition” restated God’s promise
And it is actually a hoot to suggest that Jacob placed conditions on his vow to tithe. Jacob’s statement did nothing more than acknowledge the promises God made to both Abraham and Isaac previously and even to Jacob in this very passage. Read it for yourself:
God said to Jacob,
“The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring…Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Jacob said in response,
“If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”
The only thing Jacob did was acknowledge what God had already promised (for a couple of generations) and he wasn’t being greedy or demanding. He didn’t ask for millions or even more than he already had. He possessed the financial savvy and material wisdom to realize he would need at least the basic necessities, food and clothing (not to mention protection), for God’s promises to be fulfilled and he still vowed to tithe on whatever he received. He was agreeing with God, signing the contract, ratifying the deal.
A very mature response.
Even if Jacob had been placing conditions on God it would NOT have been totally wrong. Tithing is the one area in which God has encouraged us to test Him.
Bravo to Jacob for making the commitment! Shame on those who try to diminish it.
Tithes were paid/given on everything
On what kind of income should the tithe be paid? Well, Abraham tithed on the spoils of war, Jacob promised to tithe on EVERY form of increase and the Law of Moses mentioned seed, fruit and animals specifically. Later, Jesus said the Pharisees tithed on herbs: mint, dill and cumin and He commended a very poor widow when she offered two small coins.
In other words, everything found its way into the offering plate.
That series of observations illustrates another consideration to be made when interpreting the Bible. Revelation is progressive. Truth, of course, is eternal and never changes but our understanding is clarified as more revelation is supplied. If we compare Scripture with Scripture, without dissecting it beyond recognition, one gets the sense that we should tithe on every form of increase.
In Tithing, Douglas Leblanc provides much more than a narrow discussion on a traditional issue. It isn’t the same old arguments presented the same boringly technical way.
Instead, because he admits he is “no theologian or exegetical writer,” Douglas has found an intriguing way to cut to the real heart of the issue. He shares the experiences of eleven different couples and one lone Monsignor, all of whom endorse tithing for a very similar reason: selflessness.
1 Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1970), p. 133
2 “Scripture interprets Scripture” is a principle recognized by every serious expositor of the Bible.