Tithing: Genesis 28:18-22
Jacobus Erasmus, 08 October 2018

The final passage in Genesis that allegedly demonstrates that tithing is beyond the Mosaic Law is Genesis 28:18-22. This is an interesting passage. Jacob was heading toward Haran. One night, during his journey, Jacob had a dream in which God told him that God will give Jacob and his offspring the current land. Jacob wakes and the passage continues,

So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you" (Genesis 28:18-22 ESV).

How can one infer the principle of tithing from this passage? I am unsure. It baffles me that some think this passage supports tithing. First, the passage does not say, or even suggest, that God commanded Jacob to tithe (Jacob's vow to tithe appears to be voluntarily). Nor does the passage say that God commands others to tithe. Nor does it say that Jacob actually tithed (Jacob just vowed to tithe given some condition, and we have no evidence that Jacob ever made this tithe). Nor does the passage say that Jacob vowed to make a recurring tithe. Nor does the passage rule out the possibility that Jacob's vow to tithe stemmed from his cultural setting, as it was common in Jacob's time for people to pay tithes to kings and others.

Second, if Jacob was commanded by God to tithe, then it becomes inexplicable as to how Jacob would perform the tithe as there were no priests or temples that were ordained to collect the tithe.

Finally, Jacob's vow to tithe was a conditional vow, unlike the principle of tithing. Jacob said that "If God will [do this and that]..., then I will give a full tenth to God." That this was a conditional vow is made even more evident by the fact that Jacob was unsure about whether God was going to fulfil his promise (Genesis 32:8-16). For this reason, some commentators do not view Genesis 28:18-22 as offering a good example to us readers. Rather, the passage makes Jacob look like he is bribing God, which is not a good thing to do.

Hence, Genesis 28:18-22 offers no support for the principle of tithing. If we want to find support for this principle, we must look elsewhere.

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