Monday, August 3, 2009

Tyranny of the Tithe: The Abrahamic Fallacy

Here's the story: In Genesis 14, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are sacked and looted, and Abram's nephew, Lot (who was living in Sodom), was taken captive. Abram (soon to be renamed Abraham) caught wind of this and went out to rescue his nephew. Abraham was successful and brought back everything that was stolen, along with all the people who were captured. When he returns, he is greeted by the king of Sodom and Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of the Most High God. Melchizedek blesses Abraham, and Abraham gives him a tenth of all (the book of Hebrews says he gave a tenth of the spoils of the battle).

Now (buckle your seatbelts - we're going on a twisty, windy road), since this story takes place some 400 years before the law of Moses is given, the tithe advocates are able to say that when the law was fulfilled and cancelled at the cross, it did not cancel tithing because tithing existed outside of the law.

Furthermore, since Jesus is referred to as a priest in the order of Melchizedek and Christians are children of Abraham, we are to tithe to Jesus just as Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (this tithe is to be collected and administered by your local neighborhood church administrative board, finance committee, and council members). The conclusion reached by the tithe teacher is that Abraham's tithe to Melchizedek seems to teach us that tithing is meant to be a continuing part of the New Testament Christian's life.

This kind of jigsaw hermeneutics can be very convincing and has developed quite a following. In fact, it is the strongest argument the tithe teachers have. But the problem is that Abraham's tithe looks nothing like the tithe the local church requires today. Let's take a closer look at Abraham's tithe:

Bad Bible study principles
Every first-year seminary student learns that Old Testament narratives cannot be used to establish doctrine, only to illuminate or illustrate a doctrine clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. As we discussed in an earlier post, Christians are never taught to tithe - NEVER. When expositing an Old Testament story, the student must determine the purpose for that story. In this case, we are given the purpose of this story in Hebrews 7. This story is used to illustrate the truth that Jesus (a priest in the order of Melchizedek) is greater than Abraham and the entire Levitical priesthood. The Jews needed to understand this because they were still holding to the Old Testament traditions and commands that were made obsolete at the cross.

Tithing was a cultural offering that existed in many cultures
The practice of giving a tenth to a reigning monarch was not new, neither was it unique to the Jewish people. This was a common practice at the time among cultures as disparate as the Greeks, Chinese, Arabians, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians: when one entered the realm of a king, one was expected to give a tithe of his possessions to that king - presumably one-tenth was the standard because it made the math easy to calculate on the fingers. It's very possible that this custom is the reason for Abraham's tithe - notice that the tithe is not mentioned as being connected to worshipping God (as in an offering) - the only one mentioned worshipping is Melchizedek.

One time gift
Abraham is never recorded as having ever tithed again. And he's not recorded as having ever tithed before. Based on this, we cannot say that tithing was a defining element in his relationship with God (and as discussed previously, Abraham's tithe may not have even been an act of worship). Abraham is recorded as offering up sacrifices and burnt offerings (as acts of worship), but never a tithe.

The tithe-teacher likes to point to Jacob's tithe to show that the practice was common to Abraham's family - hey, Jacob had to learn it somewhere! But, again, the tithe to a monarch was a well-known, customary practice among many cultures in that day. Besides, Jacob is a very poor example of a willing, cheerful giver. Jacob promised to tithe (we're never told whether he actually did or not) if, and only if, God came through on certain demands. Today's tithe-pastor would cringe at teaching his congregation that practice. When have you ever heard a tithe-teacher tell you to lay out a set of conditions you want God to meet and then, if He does, give the church ten percent of whatever you have at that time?

Not out of personal possessions
Hebrews points out that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war. Abraham did not give a tenth of his personal wealth, even though he was a very wealthy man. This is a far cry from the church mandating you give ten percent of your regular paycheck every payday.

Quickly, I want to point out two real problems the tithe-teacher has to answer:

What about king of Sodom?
There's another character who plays a significant role in this story, but the king of Sodom gets forgotten in this whole discussion. The passage indicates that Abraham gave everything else to him because he didn't want it to be said that Sodom made him rich. What are we to do with that? Sodom was well-known as a wicked, immoral city and represents man's rebellion against God - that's why Abraham wanted nothing to do with the place. If this story is indeed teaching us that tithing is to remain a part of the Christian's life, what is it teaching us about the other ninety percent?

What about circumcision?
Abraham carried out circumcision as well - long before the law of Moses was given. If we are to argue that we are to tithe because tithing preceded the Law, we might as well pick up circumcision as well. Circumcision preceded the Law. But how did Paul and the other apostles respond to some people's insistence that circumcision was necessary for believers?

Gal 5:1-5
(1) Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
(2) Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.
(3) And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.
(4) You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
(5) For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

Based on the above, couldn't it be said that if you accept the law of tithing (just as circumcision), you are obligated to keep the entire law? Have you not then fallen from grace?

So, I say to you as well: Stand fast in the liberty that Christ has purchased for you! If you submit to this tithing nonsense, you take up the yoke of slavery again: Christ does not require a tithe from you.

Next, we'll take a look at what Jesus had to say about tithing . . .


Russell Earl Kelly said...

Good post. Please send me the name and address of your church and I will add it to my list and direct visitors your direction.

Anonymous said...

Tithing was under and is under the law with a curse for Christians seeking salvation under the law, Galatians 3:3-13, Malachi 3:1-18. When pastors and priest quote Malachi 3:1-18, under the law IN OLD COVENANT , how many Christians line up to be served with food when tithes and offering under the law are given? Is the storehouse pastors' and priests' house or the Church? Saved Christians by grace IN NEW COVENANT , lead by the Holy Spirit are ministers of the new testament born of love with exceeding glory which surpassed the glory that was in law in Moses and we have been redeemed from the curse of the law to adoptions of sons and are not under the law, Galatians 5:1, Galatians4:4-5,2 Corinthians 3:1-18 . Salvation under the law one attains it at last breath on earth having done all that pertains to the law which is hard for one to accomplish. Even the tithe which was given by Abraham was under the law of sin and death from the fall of Adam and Eve. Those who cheat would like to deceive Christians that tithe was before the law but before which law. When Christ was born He was given gifts and not tithes Mathew 2:11-12. Salvation under spiritual law of love by grace is freely given and attained, Ephesians 2:4 -9, Ephesians 2:13 -20. Under Leviticus priesthood tithes were given for the tribe of Levi and tithe of tithe to the high Priest for they shared no land apart from the walled towns they were allocated to stay in for their continuous sacrifice to God, Numbers 18:20 -29.Widows, strangers ,fatherless and orphans benefited from tithes and offerings given to Levites, Deuteronomy 14:22-29. In Christianity widows were asked to be catered by close brethren to ease burden to the Church. There were also tithes of different kinds in Israel.