For a time, I no longer believed the tithe was the biblical standard for giving, but I wanted to avoid making a fuss about it. Then as I was reading the book of Galatians, I suddenly realized that the tithe debate of today is identical to the circumcision debate of the early church. Just as there were apostles and leaders on each side of the circumcision debate in the early church, there have been leaders on both sides of the tithe debate today.
As I share in this chapter, some people may continue to have objections such as “We never said anybody was saved by tithing. We just teach that it’s the fruit of faith and obedience to God.” I know. I once believed in tithing and would have heartily rejected the notion that anybody is saved by tithing. But I realized I was deceiving myself. Imagine somebody saying “We don’t teach salvation by circumcision. We just teach that it’s the fruit of faith and obedience to God.” They would still be falling into the error of the Galatians.
Acts chapter 15 tells us more about the controversy which was the backdrop to the book of Galatians. Although the focal point of the controversy was circumcision, the broader issue was whether the Gentile Christians should be required to obey the Jewish law.
Acts 15:1-2, 5-12 (KJV) “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved. And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, the brethren appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, it is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter. And when there had been much questioning, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.
Now therefore why make ye trial of God, that ye should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in like manner as they. And all the multitude kept silence; and they hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through them.”
This is just one place where the New Testament clearly teaches against requiring a tithe from God’s people. The apostles concluded that requiring gentile Christians to follow the Jewish law was “making a distinction” that the Holy Spirit did not make, testing God, and putting a heavy yoke on the disciples that “neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” As we go, we will see that even the tithe of the Jewish law was a light burden compared to the tithe of today’s tradition.
Acts 15 alone makes it absolutely clear that the apostles did not teach the Gentile believers to tithe. The only things of the law that they asked the Gentile Christians to keep were to abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication. Of those things, the only one that has much relevance to us today is abstaining from fornication.
Acts 15:19-32(KJV) “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.
Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia. Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth.
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation. And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them.”
Besides testing God and putting a heavy yoke on the gentiles, those who wanted to impose the Jewish law on gentile Christians were “troubling” them and “subverting their souls.” Demanding a tithe does all of this. It makes distinctions between God’s people that God himself did not make. The modern tithe tradition puts a heavy yoke on many Christians, such as did not even exist under the law. It troubles believers and subverts their souls by undermining the fundamentals of how they relate to God.
Of course, we’ve heard that “The tithe isn’t law. It came before the law.” Yet nobody who makes this argument applies it consistently. Every argument you can find that says the tithe is not of the law can also be applied to circumcision and animal sacrifices. Abraham also was circumcised and offered animal sacrifices before the law. Did the apostles in Acts 15 determine that circumcision was an “eternal moral principle” and the “fruit of true faith for all believers” because it predated the law? No! The tithe question of today is no different than the circumcision issue of the early church. In fact, “it’s the fruit of faith” would be a stronger argument for circumcision than for tithing. At least scripture expressly says that circumcision was the sign of Abraham’s faith, even though it is the faith that matters for us, not circumcision.
Dr. David Croteau says that that besides circumcision, the closest issue we can find to the tithe issue is the levirate law. This was the law that said if a man died childless, his brother should sleep with his wife and raise up children for him.
Like tithes, this law was found in many cultures around the world before the law of Moses, and it was incorporated into the Mosaic law. Yet we don’t know anybody who tries to claim that the levirate law is an “eternal moral principle” because it predated the Mosaic law, just as we don’t know anybody who says circumcision is an “eternal moral principle.” Imagine if somebody today wanted to sleep with his childless brother’s widow! We’d never say he is “acting under grace” because he is following the “eternal moral principle” of the levirate law. We would think he was crazy!
By calling circumcision the law when circumcision came before Moses, Galatians makes it clear that relating to God through the law came long before Moses. In fact, it goes back to the garden of Eden. The tree of life was the knowledge of God. John 17:3 says “This is eternal life, that they may know you.” The tree of life bears fruit of holiness that flows out of communion with God. It is grace.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the law that brought death. Here’s a short excerpt from “Present Access To Heaven.” It contrasts the old law we have been freed from with the new law we have in Christ, and shows the correlation between these two laws and the two trees in the garden. The statements are compiled directly from scripture.
The veil that 2 Corinthians 3 speaks of is the Old Covenant law that was done away with. The law was good, but it was powerless to justify us or bring us into the knowledge of the Lord; through it came the knowledge of sin, and not of righteousness. Since the law did not lead to the knowledge of the Lord, but to the knowledge of sin, it was from the “good” part of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Just like the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil did, the law brought death. Rather than freeing from sin, the law caused sin to multiply, aroused our sinful passions, and revived sin. The law was flawed, and perfection was simply not attainable through it.
The old law was abolished and became obsolete because it was weak and ineffectual, and a better hope was introduced, through which we may now approach God and enter heaven itself. This was a new law, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ, the Spirit of God dwelling in man; the knowledge of the Lord.
This law of life was not in letter, but was written on our hearts by the Spirit of God. Unlike the old law which was of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, this law was the knowledge of the Lord which was made possible through the forgiveness of sins. Under this new commandment, we love as God loves, because we have received God’s love and that love has become our nature.
John 17:3 (NRSV) “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NRSV) “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
2 Corinthians 3:5-6 (NRSV) “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”
We had to die to the old law, which was of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to live in the new law, the knowledge of the Lord. This knowledge of the Lord comes by justification through grace and produces grace.
This law, of the knowledge of the Lord through grace, is Christ’s new commandment that we love as he loves us. This law empowers us. This is the law of righteousness and of being led by the Spirit of God. Let’s look at some scriptures which contrast the law of the old covenant with the new law of grace and righteousness which we have received:
Romans 6:14 (NRSV) “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
Romans 7:4 (NRSV) “In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.”
Romans 10:4 (NRSV) “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes”.
Galatians 5:18 (NRSV) “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.”
One reason Christians presently experience much less than heaven’s reality, struggling with sin and lacking in power, is that they have been bewitched into following the old law that is in letter but not in the knowledge of the Lord through grace. Just as we first received salvation through grace, we must continue in it by grace.
Galatians 3:1-5 (NRSV) “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?”
Galatians 3:10 (NRSV) “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse…”
Galatians 5:4 (NRSV) “You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
When Adam and Eve sinned and became aware of their nakedness, they tried to cover themselves with leaves. Then God killed an animal to cover them with the animal skin. The leaves were symbolic of their own works, but the animal God killed pointed to Jesus, by whose perfect sacrifice we would be clothed in God’s righteousness. The leaves pointed to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but the animal skin pointed to the free gift of righteousness which puts us in communion with God, by which we eat the fruit of the tree of life.
The point is that the law and grace go back to the two trees in the garden of Eden. Galatians refers to the son of the slave woman and the son of the free woman as the two covenants, and the story it is referring to happened long before the Mosaic law was given. There’s no sense in saying that the tithe, the levirate law, circumcision, or anything else were not of the old law that brings death because they came before Moses.
The law of sin and death is externally imposed, but under the law of life holiness comes from the inside out as the fruit of communion with God. The law which brings death is in letter, such as a percentage of your money. Under the law of life, circumcision or uncircumcision is nothing. Giving more or less than 10% of your money is nothing. The only thing of any value is faith expressing itself through love.
Galatians 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Boasting in a percentage is boasting in the flesh and in outward appearances, just as is boasting in circumcision. In scripture we see some very wicked circumcised men, as well as gentiles who were uncircumcised but commended for their faith. The argument Galatians makes is that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised, and so it was really his faith that mattered. Galatians rejects the notion that all who have faith then need to be circumcised to show that faith.
Likewise, 10% of a person’s money is absolutely worthless as a measure of where people’s hearts are. There are tithers who are defrauding others and are thieves, while there are people who are giving less than 10% of their money to a local church but who are living 100% for Jesus. May I not boast of anything except the cross of Christ!
Under the law of sin and death, the motivations are guilt, trying to measure up, and trying to do good enough to gain God’s blessing and avoid punishment. The law of life works from a place of rest, having already been made righteous, delivered from the curse, and abundantly blessed. It is life that comes out of participation in God’s nature.
I believe that by the end of this book, it will be very hard for any sincere reader to claim the tithe is of grace and not of the old law that brings death.
Let’s look at the argument that claims Jesus said we should tithe. If it were valid, by the same logic we must adhere to animal sacrifices and the levirate law today.
Matthew 23:23-24 (NRSV) “’Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!’”
Who was Jesus talking to? Scribes and Pharisees, who were under the law, before his death and resurrection which inaugurated the New Covenant, and before the destruction of the temple which brought a final end to the Old Covenant. Of course, it was right for the Scribes and Pharisees to tithe!
Those who say the tithe is “not law” should note that in this passage, Jesus not only referred to the tithe as the law, but as one of the lesser matters of the law. If Jesus was affirming the tithe for gentile Christians in this passage, he also affirmed animal sacrifices and the levirate law. Where?
Luke 5:14 (NRSV) “And he ordered him to tell no one. ‘Go,’ he said, ‘and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.’”
Jesus said this to a man whom he cleansed of leprosy. What was the offering Jesus was referring to?
Leviticus 14:1-7 (NRSV) “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This shall be the ritual for the leprous person at the time of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest; the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall make an examination. If the disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command that two living clean birds and cedarwood and crimson yarn and hyssop be brought for the one who is to be cleansed. The priest shall command that one of the birds be slaughtered over fresh water in an earthen vessel. He shall take the living bird with the cedarwood and the crimson yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered over the fresh water. He shall sprinkle it seven times upon the one who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease; then he shall pronounce him clean, and he shall let the living bird go into the open field.’”
Similarly, in Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus commands to be reconciled with your brother before offering your gift at the altar. The gift he was talking about was an animal sacrifice, yet none of us would dream of taking this passage and saying “Jesus affirmed animal sacrifices in Matthew 5. It was a given, what they were supposed to be doing, therefore all Christ followers must offer animal sacrifices.” How could we conclude that such logic is absurd when applied to Matthew 5 and animal sacrifices, yet is valid when applied to Matthew 23 and tithing? It shows that maybe we are reading the Bible with an agenda and looking for something to confirm what we already want to believe.
I once posted on Facebook that we must be circumcised and offer animal sacrifices because both came before the law, and Jesus condoned animal sacrifices in the New Testament by his command to the leper. A friend who is a Lutheran minister thought I was serious and, as Paul did in the book of Galatians, she argued vehemently to the contrary! I explained that I fully agreed with her position and her reaction was quite appropriate, but I was posting facetiously to make a point. Why would we reject such logic without a thought when it comes to circumcision or animal sacrifices, yet embrace it in order to argue tithing? By the way, she fully agrees with me on tithing, as did Martin Luther.
If Jesus was affirming the tithe for gentile Christians in Matthew 23, he was also affirming animal sacrifice for gentile Christians in Luke 5 and Matthew 5. We read Luke 5 and Matthew 5 and conclude that Jesus was talking to a Jew under the Jewish law and not to us. How can we then read Matthew 23 and not realize the same thing?
I have so often heard the argument in favor of tithing “Jesus didn’t say anything against the tithe. He never abolished it.” Let’s read what Jesus said about another matter right before Matthew 23:
Matthew 22:23-30 (NRSV) “The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman herself died. In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.”
Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
Jesus didn’t abolish Levirate marriage or say anything against it in this passage, just as he didn’t say anything against the tithe in Matthew 23. He told them they were wrong concerning the resurrection, not Levirate marriage. If we use the argument that Jesus “accepted” the tithe, why don’t we apply the same reasoning to Levirate marriage and continue to teach it today?
Now just say we consider all this, but choose to ignore it. We will stick to the same reasoning we have always used to support our dogma that the tithe is not law and Jesus affirmed it for the church today, even though we are unwilling to apply the same logic to any other matter in scripture. We must then consider: What was the tithe that the scribes and Pharisees gave?
It was a tenth of their garden herbs, and not money! We cannot ignore the Old Testament scriptural context for the tithe Jesus was talking about. According to the Jewish law, the tithe was always food. It was illegal to give your tithe in money, unless you added a fifth to redeem it! In that case it was 12%. The law said that you could sell the food if the trip was too far to carry it all, but when you arrived at your destination you must use the money to buy food again.
In fact, this is why Jesus did not have Peter tithe on the four-drachma coin he took from a fish’s mouth in Matthew 17:27. This was a significant amount of money, about four days pay for a skilled worker, and Jesus had Peter give it wholly for the temple tax. This story highlights what both the Old Testament and Jewish historians agree on: money was not tithed.
I can hear voices of many people again saying “You just don’t want to give. If you were generous, what would it matter?” We’ll deal with that later, but that’s not the point. The point is integrity with how we handle scripture. Why would we lie to ourselves? Why would we convince ourselves to accept reasoning that we refuse to apply to anything else, if not that we are choosing to believe what we want to believe?
We have to go through layer after layer of irrationality to support the modern tithe tradition. If you ignore one issue there are others that are even stronger. Some insist that the tithe is not law regardless of all the problems with that reasoning. Some insist that we are still under the law of Moses, even though our freedom from that law is one of the primary themes of the New Testament. Even if you convince yourself of that, you then have to consider that the modern tithe is not based at all on the tithe under the law, but contradicts it in even the most basic principles. The closest thing to the modern tithe is the Babylonian tithe that God warned his people about even in the Old Testament!
Ancient literature and archeological evidence point to the fact that the nations around Abraham practiced tithing the spoils of war to a king. Hebrews chapter 7 uses the ancient knowledge of this tradition to make the argument that, since one who is lesser would tithe to one who was greater, the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than the Levitical priesthood.
Many people have tried to argue from Hebrews chapter 7 that Christians today are supposed to tithe. This is in spite of the fact that Hebrews chapter 7 doesn’t say this anywhere and is not even about money by a long shot. The whole point is arguing the supremacy of Jesus over the law.
Hebrews 7: 1-8 (NKJV) “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.”
I recently was listening to a popular “grace preacher” who still teaches tithing. He pointed to the words “there he receives them,” saying “It’s present tense! This means tithing is for today!”
The KJV and NKJV use italics when words were added for clarity by the translators but are not in the original text. The words “receives them” are in italics. The pronoun “he” is referring to Melchizedek, who received tithes in the past from Abraham, as the passage says just a little earlier.
Earlier in that sentence it says “Here mortal men receive tithes.” This is very clearly speaking of the Levites and Priests, since the temple was still standing when Hebrews was written. The Jewish system continued until the destruction of the temple, and the first Christians were Jews. Scripture indicates that the Jewish Christians continued to keep the law until the destruction of the temple, while, as we saw in Acts 15, they determined not to hold gentile Christians to the Jewish law.
The “mortal men” who received tithes were still Levites and Jewish priests, not church leaders or any non-Levites. This is one of the reasons that until recently it was “universally agreed” that the early church did not take tithes. For church leaders to have received tithes, the early church would have needed to add a fourth tithe to the three that were, according to most scholars, already in effect. Jesus himself was of the tribe of Judah, not a Levite, and thus not qualified by the law to receive a tithe. Until the destruction of the temple, Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism, and Jewish Christians continued to observe Mosaic law.
This preacher argues that Melchizedek was Christ pre-incarnate. Starting from this assumption, he then uses words that were not in the original text but added by translators to argue that Christ receives tithes today. Again, I ask, how can we go to such lengths based on assumptions which are not stated in scripture, from a passage which is not even about giving, to argue that tithing is God’s command for today’s church? Are we approaching the subject with sincerity and truth, or are we just trying to find support for the way we know of doing things?
The idea that Melchizedek was Christ pre-incarnate is extremely dubious. Scripture says that he was like the Son of God, not that he was the Son of God. Consider D.W. Burdick’s commentary:
“The verb aphomoioo always assumes two distinct and separate identities, one of which is a copy of the other. Thus Melchizedek and the Son of God are represented as two separate persons, the first of which resembled the second”
Psalm 110 also clearly distinguishes between Jesus and Melchizedek. It is speaking to Jesus in the second person, and speaks of Melchizedek in the third person.
Psalm 110:4 (NKJV) “The Lord has sworn and will not relent, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.’”
Melchizedek was the priest of “El Elyon,” often translated in Hebrews as “The Most High God.” Yet according to Dr. Russel Earl Kelly, the title “El Elyon” would mean “Baal” to any Canaanite, and was only later used by the Israelites as a title for the true God. When it says Melchizedek was the “king of righteousness” and “king of peace,” the original words are “Salem” and “Zedek.” These were both lower gods in the Canaanite Pantheon. “Salem” was the goddess of the dawn as well as the name of a city, and “Zedek” was Jupiter, the god of justice. Dr. Kelly notes that, giving the extreme importance ancient cultures placed on knowing the name of a god, it is conspicuous that Melchizedek did not swear in the name of “Yahweh God Most High” as did Abraham. Abraham identified Yahweh as the Most High God. Melchizedek did not.
I found Dr. Kelly’s case to be convincing, but it was obviously a point of contention with many people. Some people find it offensive that God would use a pagan priesthood as a type of Christ’s priesthood. My thoughts were that the people of that day had very little revelation of who God was. Even Paul in the New Testament found a pagan altar to “an unknown god,” and Paul said “What you worship in ignorance, I announce to you….” If Paul could use their altar as a springboard for announcing the gospel, I don’t see why God couldn’t use Melchizedek’s priesthood as a type of Christ’s. The Canaanites of the day didn’t know that “The Most High God” was Yahweh. They thought it was one of their deities. Yet Abraham knew better, and scripture went on to use Melchizedek, a pagan priest, as a type of Christ’s priesthood.
Because of the questions people asked me, I did some research myself and it strongly confirmed Dr. Kelly’s conclusions. I found quite a bit of information that would be too overwhelming to share in great detail here. However, I learned that many scholars specializing in the region’s history consider Melchizedek to have been a priest of pagan deities. The following confirms this, as well as explaining how Abraham used the term “El Elyon” immediately after his encounter with Melchizedek in reference to Yahweh, the true God.
Joseph Blenkinsopp explains that the very name “Melchizedek” is theophoric, denoting him as a worshipper of Zedek. It can be translated either “King of righteousness” or “My king is Zedek.” As to “El Elyon,” “El” could refer to Yahweh or the Canaanite god El, and “Elyon” could refer to a certain Phoenician god but it was also a common epithet applied to different gods.
“The clearest example of ‘Elyon’ functioning autonomously is found in in the fragments of Sanchuniathon’s ‘Phoenician Theology’ preserved by Eusebius using Phylo of Byblos as his source. According to Sanchuniathon, a certain Elioun, called ‘Most High,’ dwelt in the neighborhood of Byblos, as well as his wife Berouth. To them was born a son, Epigeius or Autochthon, who was later called ‘Ouranos’ (Heaven) and a daughter, Ge (Earth.) Sometime later, Elioun died in an encounter with wild beasts and was there-upon deified. His children also became deities, and through the union of Ouranos and Ge, the god Kronos was born. Later, a union of Ouranos and his favorite mistress produced Zeus (Demarous). With certain exceptions, this cosmology is closely related to others in the ancient Near East. Texts such as the Hurro-Hittite ‘Song of Kamurbi’ (also known as ‘Kingship in Heaven’), Hesiods Theogony, and various Ugaritic myths about El and Baal all display striking similarities to the ordering and functioning of gods in Sanchuniathon.” 
So the Phoenician god Elioun’s children were named Heaven and Earth? This certainly gives some context to Melchizedek’s identification of El Elyon as “possessor of heaven and earth!” Notably, Zedek was also a deity mentioned in the writings of Philo of Byblos and attributed to Sanchuniathon. In fact, one hypothesis is that Zedek was an epithet of the god El.
“In contrast to the mixed evidence to support the identification of “Elyon” as autonomous, there is a wide range of evidence to suggest that “Elyon” was a common epithet in the West Semitic region, applied at different times and in different cultures to any god thought to be supreme.”
The text continues, talking about the use of “Elyon” in reference to Baal, Zeus, and Isis. In summary, Thus the epithet “Elyon” seems to have enjoyed a rich and widespread usage in the ancient West Semitic world. Not only was it associated with the “high gods” of different cultures, but it could also be used within the same culture for different gods as one ascended in significance to become the “Most High God.” As to the meaning of El, “El” may refer either to “God” (of Israel) or to Canaanite El.
What stood out to me in the above quote is the term “Elyon” could be used in the same culture in reference to different gods as one ascended in importance over the other. In Genesis 14, Melchizedek simply speaks of “El Elyon,” but Abraham swears in the name of “Yahweh El Elyon.” Melchizedek did not know the name “Yahweh” that was revealed to Abraham, which in ancient times meant that he did not know Yahweh. “The Most High God” meant a different thing to a Canaanite worshipper of Zedek than it did to Abraham. Abraham made it clear that the true “Most High God” is Yahweh and not Zedek or any other!
These facts make it obvious that Hebrews is using Melchizedek figuratively, as a type of Christ. After writing most of my book, I went back and read Dr. Kelly’s full book. He further develops the case that Melchizedek was a pagan priest, making some strong arguments and giving other examples of scripture using terms and names with negative meanings and origins, and turning them into very positive spiritual meanings.
It would be absurd to imagine the pre-incarnate Christ worshipping Baal, Jupiter, or the goddess of the dawn. Hebrews chapter 7 is actually a strong text for the annulling of tithing, used as an argument against it by many opponents of tithing in church history:
Hebrews 7:18-19 (NKJV) “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.”
“The former commandment” includes Deuteronomy 14 and Leviticus 18, the tithe passages of the Old Covenant. Hebrews doesn’t say “the former commandment is a good principle to follow,” or that it’s a “a good starting place for Christlikeness.” Rather, it’s unprofitable, weak, and powerless to produce the nature of Christ manifesting through you. The tithe is absolutely worthless for the purposes of producing Christ’s nature of generosity manifest through the church. As we will argue in a future chapter, it actually works against giving as truly led by the Holy Spirit.
Did God Command Abraham to Tithe? Was Abraham a Regular Tither? Did Abraham Tithe on His Own Income?
The facts we’ve just examined have already totally destroyed the argument that the tithe was not law. Nobody will apply the same logic to any other matter, and the tithe remains an external standard of doing by the letter in order to become something rather than living by the Spirit as the outflow of what we’ve become by grace.
Even so, let’s consider a few more layers of irrationality which we will have to plow through if we are going to insist that we should imitate everything Abraham did before the Mosaic law. First, did God command Abraham to tithe? Can you show me where?
Of course not! This means that the position of the circumcision faction which Paul argued against in Galatians was at least much more defensible than that of the tithe faction, because at least Abraham was circumcised by God’s command. But he did not even have a command from God to tithe. It is probable, however, that Abraham was not tithing by free will alone, but in obedience to the local Canaanite laws.
Was Abraham a regular tither? Did he tithe on his personal income? Scripture records that he tithed once, on the spoils of war. The text does not say he tithed at any other time, nor does it ever describe him tithing on his own income. In this story, found in Genesis 14, Abraham gave the other 90% to the king of Sodom. Should we also remit 90% to the king of Sodom, a type of Satan? How can we look at Abraham’s one-time spoils of war tithe, which was according to the tradition (or law) of the surrounding Canaanite nations, and use it as support to argue that “Tithing is an eternal moral principle that came before the law, and all obedient Christians must now regularly give a tenth of their gross income to God.”
We’ve heard again and again that Abraham became rich because he tithed. But God blessed Abram (Abraham) and gave him the promises long before he gave a tenth to Melchizedek. Genesis 12 tells us of how God blessed Abram, and Genesis 13:2 tells us that Abram had become very rich with livestock, silver, and gold.
Many have pointed to Jacob’s vow as another example of the tithe mentioned before the law. We don’t know if Jacob ever fulfilled his vow, yet there was no command from God. Did he make his vow rashly? The Bible doesn’t say, although it does warn against making rash vows. Some point out that Jacob made his vow in unbelief, ignoring everything that God had just promised him.
The very fact that it was a vow shows that it wasn’t for everyone. Scripture records various types of vows in Leviticus 27 and in other passages, and we would never teach that any of those other vows are binding on all Christians today because someone in the Old Testament made them.
Scripture doesn’t say if Jacob’s vow pleased God, or if this kind of bargaining was another case of Jacob acting as the supplanter, as when he bargained for Esau’s birthright. If he fulfilled the vow, we don’t know how. Would it have been a burnt offering? That seems to be the most likely, considering his culture. Nevertheless, let’s look again at what Jacob said:
Genesis 28: 20-22 “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.’”
Notice that Jacob didn’t tithe so that God would bless him. On the contrary, he promised God a tithe if God would first take care of him. Jacob’s father had already blessed him with the blessings of Abraham in verses 3 and 4 of Genesis 28, and God himself had already blessed him in a dream, recorded in verses 12 to 15.
The point is that in the case of both Abraham and Jacob, God’s promise and blessing came long before any mention of the tithe. This proves that neither the promise nor the blessing was contingent on the tithe. If it were so, God would not be faithful.
Talking about the promise brings us back to Galatians chapter three. I encourage you to read the whole chapter again with this in mind, but here is verse 18:
Galatians 3:18 “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.”
Teaching that the promise of blessing depends on the tithe is precisely the error of the Galatians. There is no question in scripture that the promise came before and apart from any mention of tithes.
Ok, so let’s just ignore those points for a minute. Let’s imagine that Melchizedek was the pre-incarnate Christ and God had commanded Abraham to tithe to him. How do we tithe to Christ today? The most common teaching is that we give the tithe to Christ by giving the tithe to the local church.
But how do we come up with that conclusion? Hebrews 7 talks about a change in the priesthood and an abrogation of the earlier commandment. Even if the tithe would somehow carry over to the new priesthood, who are the new priests? Besides Jesus, every one of us has been made a king and priest to our God?
In fact, it was God’s intention even for the nation of Israel that they should be a kingdom of priests. God said this when they came to Mount Sinai. However, they withdrew and told Moses “We’re afraid that we’ll die if God speaks directly to us. So, you speak for him, and we will listen.” It was only after this the people asked Moses to approach God for them that God gave directions for the Aaronic priesthood, the Levites’ duties, and the tithe to support them.
You might say “Yes, we are all kings and priests, but not everybody is in full-time ministry.” Yet even under the Old Covenant, the majority of those who received the tithe were not in full-time ministry. The Levites received nine tenths of the tithe and they worked at the temple in two-week shifts. Many of them were worship leaders or were involved in helps ministries.
And then what about those who are in full-time ministry, but are not “the pastor” of a church? What about those who are working 40 hours a week in ministry and 40 hours a week in a secular job? What about missionaries, or, in other words, modern-day apostles? What about those working for relief organizations, who are in full-time helps ministry?
And what do we do with the fact that the New Testament, in the original language, does not distinguish between pastors and elders? It teaches a plurality of elders and nowhere states that there is one pastor for each congregation. Many common teachings of how to give the tithe to Jesus are based fully on arbitrary assumptions and human tradition, not on scriptural teaching.
There is, however, one way that scripture explicitly teaches we can give directly to Jesus:
Matthew 25:34-40 “’Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”’”
The early church considered the poor the “altar of God.” I wonder how the vast majority of tithe-teachers, considering this scripture along with church history and even the use of the Old Testament tithe, can teach that your tithe goes to the “local church” and only after your tithe can you give to the poor, missionaries, or other ministries? There is not one iota of Biblical support for it. The way churches distribute the tithe today falls far short of the instructions Israel had for how to distribute the ancient tithe.
In fact, the notion that we give our tithe to Jesus by giving it to the pastor is built on an ecclesiology that even many tithe-teachers fully reject.
We’ve mentioned that Abraham tithed according to the tradition, and probably the law, of the Canaanite nations around him. Many ancient cultures included a tithe. The tithe that has the most in common with the tithe of today, and with Abraham’s tithe, is the Babylonian tithe. You can find ancient references to this with a Google search of “Babylonian tithe” or “Chaldean tithe.”
The Babylonian tithe differed from the Jewish tithe under the Old Covenant in that it was taken not only on crops and livestock but also on manufactured goods and money. The Jewish tithe applied only to the fruit of the land and livestock. This means that the poor hired laborer, who received his pay in money, would be compelled to pay the Babylonian tithe, while he would be exempt from the Jewish tithe. The Jewish tithe provided for the orphan, the widow, and the Levite, who had no land of his own. The Babylonian tithe oppressed the weak. The Jewish tithe was distributed according to very specific instructions which God laid out in the law. The Babylonian tithe was received by a king and used as he saw fit. The Babylonian tithes went to a temple, but most of the Jewish tithe was to go to the Levitical cities. Here are a few ancient references to the Babylonian tithe:
“…eleven garments as the tithe (on 112 garments)”
“…(the sun-god) Shamash demands the tithe…”
“four minas of silver, the tithe of (the gods) Bel, Nabu, and Nergal…”
“…he has paid, in addition to the tithe for Ninurta, the tax of the gardener”
“…the tithe of the chief accountant, he has delivered it to (the sun-god) Shamash”
“…why do you not pay the tithe to the Lady-of-Uruk?”
“…(a man) owes barley and dates as balance of the tithe of the **years three and four”
“…the tithe of the king on barley of the town…”
“…with regard to the elders of the city whom (the king) has **summoned to (pay) tithe…”
“…the collector of the tithe of the country Sumundar…”
“…(the official Ebabbar in Sippar) who is in charge of the tithe…”
Scripture also talks about the Babylonian tithe! Along with Deuteronomy 14 and a few other passages, this is one of those scriptures about the tithe that I never heard anybody mention in all the tithe sermons I heard growing up:
1 Samuel 8:4-11, 15-18 “So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.’
But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.’
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, ‘This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights…He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’”
Israel embraced the Babylonian tithe when they rejected the Lord as their king, even though God warned them that it would lead to their oppression. Their desire to be like the other nations lead them further into idolatry and eventually to captivity in Babylon, whose ways they had embraced. In fact, scripture names the whore of Revelation 17 and 18 as “Babylon the Great,” and warns God’s people to come out of Babylon so as to not share in her judgements.
How did we end up embracing a Babylonian tithe that goes to a king, curses the poor, and oppresses the weak? Abraham’s tithe is no more of an example to us than was sleeping with his wife’s slave woman to bear a child. This practice, along with the tithe, was found in the code of Hammurabi, ancient Babylonian law.
History is clear that the church began to mandate tithing only hundreds of years after Christ. It came along with several other changes that most of us don’t view very positively, such as the mixing of Christianity with Roman politics and worldly systems.
If Abraham Tithed Based on an Eternal Moral Principle, Why Didn’t God Himself Follow that Principle in His Instructions for Dividing Spoils of War?
We’ve already examined the basis on which Abraham tithed. However, yet another point deals a crushing blow to the notion that Abraham’s tithe followed an eternal moral principle which was written on men’s hearts from the beginning.
Remember what Abraham tithed on? It was the spoils of war. The Mosaic law gives instructions for dividing spoils of war in Numbers 31. The high priest received one one-thousandth of the spoils of war, and the Levites got one one-hundredth. This was much less than a tithe! If Abraham’s spoils-of-war tithe were an “eternal moral principle,” surely God would have incorporated that “eternal moral principle” into his own instructions for dividing the spoils of war!
 Croteau, David A. You Mean I Don’t Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010.
 Brenneman, Jonathan. Present Access To Heaven. Lancaster, PA: Propiv Press, 2016. Pages 52-55
 Romans 7:12, 16
 Galatians 2:16, 3:11
 Romans 3:20
 Romans 7:5, 9-10, Romans 8:2, 1 Corinthians 15:56
 Romans 5:20
 Romans 7:5
 Romans 7:9
 Hebrews 8:7
 Hebrews 7:11+19, 10:1
 Ephesians 2:15
 Hebrews 8:13
 Hebrews 7:18
 Hebrews 7:19
 Hebrews 9:24, 10:19
 Romans 8:2
 Romans 3:24, Titus 3:7
 2 Peter 1:2
 John 13:34
 Leviticus 27:31
 Deuteronomy 14:24-26
 You can easily find information about this with a Google search of “Babylonian tithe.” Here is one article with quotes from ancient writings: http://nazarenespace.ning.com/profiles/blogs/tithing-amp-slave-wives-in Accessed July 29th, 2019
 Hastings, James. Dictionary of the Apostolic Church. Edinburgh: Clark, 1915.Tithes Online: https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/tithes.html
 “Melchizedek,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia – Revised, G.W. Bromiley, Ed., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986, Vol. 3, p. 313
 Kelly, Russell Earl. Should the Church Teach Tithing?: a Theologians Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine. New York: Writers Club Press, 2007. Chapter 2: Genesis 14 Abraham, Melchizedek, and Arab Customs. Also online, although in lesser detail: http://www.tithing-russkelly.com/id8.html Accessed December 15th, 2019
 Acts 17:22-31
 Gesenius, Wilhelm, Edward Robinson, Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament: with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic. Boston, NY: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906. Pg. 575.
 Van der Toorn, K.; et al. (1996). Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 560.
 Toorn, Karel van der, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Extensively Revised Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999. Page 294 https://books.google.com.br/books?id=yCkRz5pfxz0C&pg=PA295&lpg=PA295&dq=el%20elyon%20baal&source=bl&ots=aIswi1o_-o&sig=ACfU3U20siw5wifKoMDaHTR6FXJy5cOAwQ&hl=pt-BR&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjth_jHmqvmAhWwJrkGHddVDkMQ6AEwBXoECAcQAQ&fbclid=IwAR3Ij-fAnONbyYTzdAmqjnvwahK7d8fC_R3xSrbNDWbpFTEgcwTiFS71Or0#v=onepage&q=el&f=false
 Toorn, Karel van der, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Extensively Revised Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996, entry Zedek
 Toorn, Karel van der, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Extensively Revised Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999. Pg.295 and 296 https://books.google.com.br/books?id=yCkRz5pfxz0C&pg=PA295&lpg=PA295&dq=el%20elyon%20baal&source=bl&ots=aIswi1o_-o&sig=ACfU3U20siw5wifKoMDaHTR6FXJy5cOAwQ&hl=pt-BR&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjth_jHmqvmAhWwJrkGHddVDkMQ6AEwBXoECAcQAQ&fbclid=IwAR3Ij-fAnONbyYTzdAmqjnvwahK7d8fC_R3xSrbNDWbpFTEgcwTiFS71Or0#v=onepage&q=el&f=false
 Toorn, Karel van der, Bob Becking, and Pieter Willem van der Horst. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. Extensively Revised Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999. Pg. 296 https://books.google.com.br/books?id=yCkRz5pfxz0C&pg=PA295&lpg=PA295&dq=el%20elyon%20baal&source=bl&ots=aIswi1o_-o&sig=ACfU3U20siw5wifKoMDaHTR6FXJy5cOAwQ&hl=pt-BR&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjth_jHmqvmAhWwJrkGHddVDkMQ6AEwBXoECAcQAQ&fbclid=IwAR3Ij-fAnONbyYTzdAmqjnvwahK7d8fC_R3xSrbNDWbpFTEgcwTiFS71Or0#v=onepage&q=el&f=false
 Green, Jay. The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew – Greek – English; with Strongs Concordance Numbers above Each Word. London: Hendrickson, 2011. Genesis 14.
 Kelly Pages 17-23, 28
 1 Peter 2:9
 Exodus 19:6
 Exodus 20:18-29
 1 Chronicles 23 and 24
 1 Chronicles 16:4, 37-38, 23:4-5, 28-31
 I examined this in my book “I Am Persuaded.”
 For example, see John Chrysostom’s Homilia 20.3 in Epistulam 2 ad Corinthios
 Deuteronomy 14:27-29
 Taken from “The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago” Vol. 4 “ E,” compiled by Ann Wilson online: http://nazarenespace.ning.com/profiles/blogs/tithing-amp-slave-wives-in Accessed November 22nd, 2019
 Revelation 18:4
 Genesis 16:1-4
Code of Hammurabi Online: http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/ah/Assyria/Hammurabi.html Accessed November 16th, 2019