Tithing: Genesis 14:18-20
Jacobus Erasmus, 05 October 2018

The next biblical passage often used in support of tithing is Genesis 14:18-20:

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave him a tenth of everything (Genesis 14:18-20 ESV).

The argument in support of tithing usually runs along these lines: Genesis 14:18-20 shows that Abraham (or Abram) tithed. But Abraham lived about 430 years before the Law of Moses. Therefore, Abraham must have received the command to tithe from God. Since this command pre-dates the Law of Moses, it is a universal principle or command that applies to Christians today.

This argument, however, results from poor biblical interpretation principles. A closer look at this passage reveals several facts that imply that one cannot infer the principle of tithing from the passage. Let us look at these facts.

First, unlike the principle of tithing, Abraham gave a tithe on the spoils of war (or booty). Indeed, there is no evidence in the Bible that Abraham ever tithed on the increase of his possessions. Why think that Abraham tithed on the spoils of war? Because (1) the immediate context is the war, (2) the very next verse (v. 21) discusses the spoils of war, and (3) Hebrews 7:4 affirms this: "See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!".

Second, unlike the principle of tithing, Abraham did not give ten percent away and keep the rest; instead, he gave all (100%) of the goods away. In the very next verses, we read:

And the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself." But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have lifted my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich.' I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share." (Genesis 14:21-24 ESV).

This passage illustrates that Abraham actually decided to give away all of the spoils of war.

Third, unlike the principle of tithing, Abraham did not consistently tithe. This was a once-off event and we have no evidence that Abraham tithed regularly.

Finally, there is no evidence that Abraham was commanded to tithe. In fact, it is well known that tithing (not necessarily to God, of course, but to others, such as kings) was a common practice in surrounding cultures during Abraham's time (see, for example, Henry Lansdell's book Sacred Tenth). Consequently, it is likely that Abraham offered this one-time tithe on the spoils of war because it was a common practice in ancient societies. Nevertheless, the important point is that one cannot infer from this passage that God commanded Abraham to tithe.

For these reasons, Abraham's act of giving away the booty in Genesis 14:18-20 is vastly different from the principle of tithing. Therefore, one cannot use this passage in an argument to the affect that Christians are required to tithe today.

<< Previous -- Next >>