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The Discovery that Changed My Life II

If you missed it the first installment can be found at The discovery that changed my life part 1I appreciate everyone that has read my thoughts and commented on them. I hope everyone understands I went through this very carefully over a great deal of time. This study isn’t one I entered into overnight and I have done my best to be faithful to the scriptures.

“Is it worth it?” It was asked, and I would like to answer yes, God’s truth is always worth it, even if it doesn’t go my way. I am the kid who was pissed when I found out I had been lied to about Santa, I want the truth.

Secondly Chris mentions Abraham, well most people consider this the first example of tithing in the Bible so I looked at it very carefully.

The Tithe in the Old Testament

I suppose it would be best to create a level playing field when it comes to the term tithe. A tithe in the simplest definition is a tenth; in fact the word tithe is the old English word which for a tenth. In fact if you study this topic out as I have you will discover that depending on which version of the Bible you read, sometimes words are translated tithe and sometimes tenth. It is also used by some Christians to mean that ten percent offering required by God in the old covenant or even the new covenant by some. This tradition did not originate in the Jewish culture, tithes were common in the ancient Near East as well as Lydia, Arabia, and Carthage[i] they were paid as taxes and tribute in ancient cultures.

Abraham and Melchizedek

Most people familiar with the Bible know that the first mention of the tithe occurs early in the book of Genesis, in the exchange between our Father Abraham and Melchizedek, perhaps one of the most mysterious personas of the Bible. To understand the exchange between Abraham and Melchizedek one must read the previous verses and understand the over all narrative.

13 One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshcol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. 16 He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

Abraham was forced to battle local kings in order to rescue Lot, his nephew, from their captivity; he does so and also recovers all of the spoils of war that were taken from the Sodom and Gomorrah. After he returns he is met by the King of Sodom, and Melchizedek.

17After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley).

18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
20 And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

This is where most people confirming the tithe to the New Testament tithe stop and assume that the tithe paid by Abraham was the same tithe the Mosaic Law talked about, however, to do so is intellectually dishonest to the history of the text. We know historically that tithing did not begin within the Jewish world; it was a common custom in many ancient worlds. We have no reason to believe that God commanded Abraham to give this tenth to Melchizedek, so what could have prompted such a generous gift?

Some would teach that it was because Melchizedek was a priest of “the Most High God,” but this is slightly misleading. The term translated “Most High God” is the term El Elyon, which was not a name used readily in the Pentateuch, in fact it is only used in reference to Jehovah three times in the Pentateuch, God refers to himself by “Elohim” and “Yahweh.” It isn’t until one thousand years later in 2 Samuel. In fact the name of God that Melchizedek uses to bless Abram, El Elyon (“God Most High”), is well known as a way of referring to the chief Canaanite god, El the father of Baal, in Canaanite literature[ii]. It is a disservice to translate this phrase instead of transliterate it so that we would know a few verses later when Abraham refers to Jehovah as “The Most High God” it is a different term than Melchizedek used, since they are both translated the same way we do not realize that Abraham used Yahweh, not El Elyon. Abraham used the personal name of God, not an ambiguous name. It is very likely that Melchizedek was not a priest of Yahweh but the king-priest of Salem, the city that would most likely become Jerusalem. Abraham paid him ten percent of his spoils of war because it was a custom in the region to pay a tribute to the superior King. As Dr. Kelly puts it:

Abraham was OBLIGATED to pay a special one-time tithe-tax of the spoils of war. While those spoils usually belonged to an enemy, in this case, they belonged to Melchizedek’s ally, ambassador-friend, and possible subject, the king of Sodom (and those he represented)[iii].

It is interesting that although Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils of war the Law only required one percent to the Levites and one tenth of a percent to the priests. (Num 31) when it came to spoils of war. It is also interesting to note that although many ministers use this passage to support their view of tithing the Law never looks to Abraham as a precursor to the tithe, Moses never says “As our father Abraham did, so shall we tithe” perhaps that is because they are not the same. And if we are to tithe as Abraham tithed then we should give 10% to the church and 90% to Satan (the King of Sodom) Abraham gave all of the spoils of war away, not just 10 percent.

Although my intention is to review this topic in chronological order I feel that I need to address the only post Calvary scripture with the word tithe, a misunderstanding of this passage can lead to confusion about Abraham’s tithe. The book of Hebrews was written to a Jewish people who had not yet converted to Christianity, and to those who had and but had merely added Christianity to their practice of Judaism. There is no legitimate reason to presume that these Christians, who saw themselves as Jews first and Christians second ever ceased paying tithes, to the temple. This historical context will be discussed further later on but, we must understand that this passage was not telling us to treat Jesus as Abraham treated Melchizedek but to show the Jews that what they have in Christ is greater than the Levitical priesthood they were still following.

Considering that the Pentateuch never makes a comparison to Abrahams tithe it is strange that we now make that comparison. Meaning the books of the Law never say anything like “tithe as Abraham tithed,” but most people use this incident as an arguments for why the tithing practice is outside of the Law of Moses, since it precedes the giving of the Law. I believe this examination should show that Abraham was not setting a biblical principle here any more than he was when he took Hagar to give birth to an heir; he was simply following an acceptable custom of the culture in which he lived.

The Discovery that Changed my life I
The Discovery that Changed my life II
The Discovery that Changed my life III
The Discovery that Changed my life IV
The Discovery that Changed my life V


[i] “Tithe.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 5 Sep 2006, 01:00 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 10 Sep 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tithe&oldid=73857410>.

[ii] Walton, John H. and Victor H. Matthews The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Genesis-Deuteronomy Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997.

[iii] Kelly, Dr. Russell Should the Church Teach Tithing; Lincoln, NE: Writers Club Press, 2000


 

4 replies on “The Discovery that Changed My Life II”

Interesting. What is the source that the book of Hebrews was written to jews who weren’t yet Christians. The commentators I’ve seen always say the audience was Christians of Jewish background, many who were questioning the cost of defying their Jewish background and following Christ (under persecution of some form to return to Judaism and reject Christ). Never heard it referred to as a letter meant to convince Jews who hadn’t accepted Christ for who He is.

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