A CLOSER LOOK AT TITHING
By: Victor T. Stephens
"People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it's served up."
~ George R.R. Martin
The Order of Melchizedek
The first account of tithing mentioned after Calvary occurs in the seventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews.
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated "king of righteousness", and then also king of Salem, meaning "king of peace," without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest who has come, not according to the law of a fleshly commandment, but according to the power of an endless life. For He testifies: "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek." For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Heb. 7:1-19)
Leaders in the church direct attention to this lengthy passage to allege that since Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, and by reason of Jesus being in the order of Melchizedek, then Christians are required to pay monetary tithes to the church.
Although tithing is mentioned several times here, it is not in the context of its applicability to the Christian church. The writer of Hebrews is simply referring back to tithing in Genesis 14:18-20 to illustrate that the priesthoods of Melchizedek and Jesus are superior to that of the Levitical order. Let me explain in greater detail.
Prior to the Mosaic Law, tithing was a man-made custom that was used to pay tribute to higher authorities such as kings and pagan gods. Abram embraced this custom to show appreciation to the one true God. Since Abraham gave a tithe of the spoils of war (Heb. 7:4) to Melchizedek, this indicates that Abraham recognized him as someone who was his superior. Furthermore, those who are greater bless those who are lesser; so the fact that Melchizedek blessed Abraham demonstrates his superiority over Abraham (Heb. 7:7).
Since the tribe of Levi was the descendants of Abraham (Heb. 7:5, 10), the Levitical Aaronic Priesthood was thus inferior to Melchizedek's Priesthood (Heb. 7: 11). On account that Jesus' Priesthood is in the order of Melchizedek, His Priesthood is also superior to that of the Levitical Aaronic establishment (Heb. 7:15-16).
This is explained further by the fact that the Levitical Aaronic Priesthood was temporal, imperfect, and was required to offer sacrifices for sins (Heb. 5:1-4). By comparison, the Christians’ great High Priest, Jesus Christ, is perfect, eternal and without sin. Thus, the Levitical priestly duties have come to an end; and sacrifices for sins are no longer needed.
Some pastors allude specifically to Hebrews 7:5 to argue that tithing is an eternal law. This assertion continues to display examples of the incredible proliferation of errors within today’s church. Contrary to their allegations, verse five is directly referring to tithing after the institution of the Mosaic Law and the Levitical Priesthood.
Proponents of tithing today also attempt to argue that the “change of the priesthood” and “change in the law” means that tithing was transferred from the old covenant priesthood to church leaders under the new covenant church. Sadly, many Christians accept this misrepresentation of Scripture as truth.
Such a ploy is farcical; and illustrates further evidence that false teachers easily exploit the lack of scriptural knowledge and incredible gullibility of many individuals within today’s church. Rather than emulating the noble Bereans who tested Paul’s doctrine (Acts 17:11), many people are simply content that whatever is taught from their “man of God” is truth without question. It is important for us to understand that gaining knowledge of God’s Word demands greater personal accountability than just “going to church”.
After the abrogation of the Levitical Priesthood and the regulations of the Mosaic Law (Heb. 7:12, 16, 18) tithing was actually rendered void. Moreover, as we learned earlier in our study, under the new covenant the priesthood consists of all believers; not solely leaders in the church (2 Cor. 3:6; 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6; 5:10).
Now … if we assume that tithing is valid today, does that mean Christians should receive tithes (since they are the new priesthood)? Moreover, if Hebrews 7:1-19 means that Christians should pay tithes to Jesus, then why wasn’t Jesus’ ministry supported by tithes (Luke 8:1-3)? Surely these questions demonstrate the error upheld by those who teach a doctrine of greed.
Considering what we have learned to this point, it should be clearly evident that church tithing today is a far cry from the historical traditions and the Mosaic Laws of tithing as expressed in the Bible.
The Catholic Church and Tithing
Man’s traditions should never exceed the authority of Scripture. Unfortunately, Catholicism has a different perspective. Leaders in Catholicism have asserted:
"It is an article of faith from a decree of the Vatican Council that Tradition is a source of theological teaching distinct from Scripture, and that it is infallible. It is therefore to be received with the same internal assent as Scripture for it is the word of God." (Attwater, 1961, Page 41)
"Whereas much of the teaching of Scripture could not be determined without Tradition; Tradition would suffice without Scripture; it is the safeguard of Scripture." (Attwater, Page 42).
"Catholic theologians maintain that as a source of truth, tradition is superior to Scripture. Scripture is after all, incomplete; it not only requires interpretation, but it required tradition in order that it might be recognized and established .... Scripture is not a textbook; in a sense, it is a dead word which must be brought to life in the living voice of tradition." (Brantl, 1961, Page 162)
This is clearly an abhorring routine. Ranking man’s tradition on a par with Scripture or appointing it superior to Scripture certainly dishonors and undercuts the authority of God’s Word. Moreover referring to Scripture as “a dead word” is a deliberate insult to God. For many years the Catholic Church has been exploiting and manipulating the Word of God.
"So, what does this have to do with tithing?", someone might ask. Well, pro-tithing teachers would like you to believe that the church has always paid tithes. As mentioned previously, there are no indications from Scripture to validate such an assumption.
In the course of time, however, the enlargement of churches accompanied by their development of secondary ministerial administrations lead to mounting operating cost. Due to these expenses, the Catholic Church admittedly employed a forced means of giving by illegally reinstating the Old Testament tithing law and refashioned the regulations to suit their needs. In the late 19th century, this new modified tithing doctrine crept into mainstream churches.
"As the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law ....The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the [canons] of the Council of Macon in 585." (The Catholic Encyclopedia)
"No law of tithing is found in the New Testament, although the principle of church support is laid down in Matt. 10:10 (see also Luke 10:7) and echoed in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14." (Roman Catholic Encyclopedia)
Justo L. Gonzalez, author of book “The Story of Christianity” stated that Charlemagne (742-814)
"enacted laws that there be preaching in the language of the people, that Sunday be kept as a day of worship and rest, and tithes be collected as if they were a tax." (HarperCollins: 1984, Vol.1, page 268)
So there we have it. Many years ago tithing was illegally introduced into the church by power hankering bishops and priests. These corrupt leaders conveniently discounted new covenant grace principles along with the new priesthood of believers. This unauthorized enactment has channeled tithing into human tradition at best and false doctrine at worst.