A Question I Was Asked:

Does Hebrews 7:7-9 Support Tithing?

The Question:

Does Hebrews 7:7-9 support tithing? I have heard that it does.

UK Apologetics Reply:

It is actually now illegal under divine law to claim or demand a tithe from God's people. Why? Because this ten percent tax could legally only be claimed by the Levites from other Israelites during a certain period of time in Israel's history, a period long since concluded. Of course, entirely voluntary giving - of a tenth or anything else - continues.

I find it hard to see how these verses can ever be claimed to 'support tithing,' but let us look at this anyway. First of all, Melchizedek is under consideration. I won't go into this person right here and now since we have other articles which do that (look at the foot of this page), but let's pick this up from verse 4. I will be interjecting a few comments as we go through these verses:

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him [Melchizedek], a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people - that is, from their fellow Israelites - even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however [Melchizedek], did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises [the promises of numerous descendants and much land, plus the line through which the Messiah would come; these were all passed to Abraham, then continued on through the line of Isaac]. And without doubt the lesser [Abraham] is blessed by the greater [Melchisedek]. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die [the Levites]; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. (Hebrews 7:4-10, my insertions. NIV throughout).

Why does it state that "the tenth is collected by people who die"? because it would later, of course, fall to the Levites to collect this ten percent tax, but their office and function only had existence under the old covenant. The Levite priesthood is now completed and fulfilled. But now let us continue on in this very same chapter:

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood - and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood - why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. (Hebrews 7:11-12).

The point is: both the old covenant with its system of tithing (which the Lord gave to Israel, even though it was apparently not a new system at that time and can be found among other ancient peoples), and the system of the Levite priests who served at a physical temple (Whether we speak of the portable tabernacle in the wilderness, or the temples later built at Jerusalem), are now gone, they are extinct religious systems! The last few verses of Hebrews 7 say the following:

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Such a high priest truly meets our need - one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:23-28).

So the point being made here is all about the greatness of Christ and what a supreme high priest He is compared to the temporary physical ones of the old covenant. Melchizedek was unquestionably a somewhat mysterious figure; these verses are in awe of him. Some suggest that he was the One who was later born as Jesus, that is, the Second Person of the Godhead, others feel he might have been The Angel of the Lord in human form, although, of course, he is referred to as 'this man' here. Frankly, we do not know. But here he is typical of Jesus Christ. The 'tenth' which Abraham gave to Melchizedek was in the old tradition of 'giving tribute' to a great man or leader; this mysterious man was very possibly conducting a work of God among another people when he came into contact with Abraham. Of course, this was not a 'tithe' in the way that term is now usually understood (a tenth of one's normal income), it actually referred to the spoils of war!

And I think that that, hopefully, should answer this question. The writer of Hebrews is teaching the Jews that the time has arrived to move on to the New Covenant because the old covenant is now fulfilled and set aside. Indeed, the entire Book of Hebrews has that message. As it states in the very next chapter:

By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:13).

Within a few years of these words being written the temple at Jerusalem was totally destroyed by the Romans (AD70) signalling the final and complete end of the old covenant system.

I must say it amazes me that some still try their hardest to live by a now obsolete and defunct system, namely, the old covenant. Meanwhile, tithing - as a financial system - is now dead and buried. If it were not, Paul the Apostle, who wrote quite a substantial portion of the New Testament, would surely have been charged by the Eternal God - who inspired the words of Paul - to make that very clear! After all, Paul does mention financial matters in his writings several times but no, he is silent on that. I think the problem is that certain greedy ministers (who should know their Bibles better) seize on this teaching because they copy each other and know they can enjoy a comfortable living by imposing this old covenant tax on naive people. This is actually illegal under divine law. It could legally only be claimed by Levites from other Israelites during a certain period of time in history, now long gone.

Do you want to give a tenth of your income to your church? That's fine, it's a personal matter, but do not tell others they should be 'paying their tenth.' None of us should try impose an outmoded system (part of the old covenant and not backed up in the New Testament either by Jesus, nor by a single New Testament contributor).

The Book of Acts does indeed introduce a new giving pattern in which all Christians should share their available substance, with the spreading of the Gospel also being financed from that (see Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-35). The Church, however, has almost always ignored that instruction.

Robin A. Brace. March 24th, 2014.

Our comprehensive consideration of tithing is HERE.

More on Melchizedek HERE