Abreast the typical argument that tithing is an “eternal moral principal,” the only places in Scripture where tithing is actually commanded are under the auspices of the geopolitical nation of Israel, and only under the Old Covenant. Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek was according to an ancient Arab custom. Jacob’s tithe was a conditional vow to God to test that he was the recipient of God’s covenant promise. In neither case is anyone else commanded to do likewise. Indeed, if we are to take the accounts of Abram and Jacob at face value, we could not do what they did.
The following passages of Scripture are commands to the nation of Israel given under the Old Covenant:
- Leviticus 27:30-33 Tithes were to be from crops and livestock. The tithe of crops could be kept if the tither paid its estimated value plus 20%. The tithe of livestock had to be given. This commandment from God was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai for the Israelites to follow when they were in the Promised Land. At this moment, they were in the wilderness.
- Numbers 18:20-28 Aaron and his sons–the Levitical priests–received no land inheritance. Their inheritance was God and His ministry as mediators between Him and the nation. The tithes of the people were to go to the descendents of Levi. The Levites, in turn were to give the best tenth of these tithes to the priests–descendents of Aaron.
- Deuteronomy 12:1-32; 14:22-27 The people were to bring a tithe of their crops “year by year” to a certain place where they would gather together (later, Jerusalem) and eat together. If this place was far away from where a family lived such that it would be difficult to haul their tithe, they could sell their tithe for money, bring the money to Jerusalem, and buy food again. They had to share with the Levites and poor who did not own land. When God would enlarge the borders of the nation such that traveling itself would be difficult, residents could have local feasts.
- Deuteronomy 14:28-29 Every three years a tithe was to be “laid up within the gates” (likely in a storage structure like a barn or silo) so that Levites and poor could come and eat.
- Deuteronomy 26:12-14 When the people first came into the Promised Land, after performing their third-year tithe obligation, they were to swear before God that they obeyed the command and did not cheat on it.
These commands were only for citizens of the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant and only for those who received and owned land for their inheritance, and for Levites and priests respectively. Does any “tithing obligation” carry over to the New Covenant?
God prophesied the New Covenant when the nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of “Israel” and the southern kingdom of “Judah.” The northern kingdom was already captive to Assyria, and the southern kingdom was on the verge of captivity to Babylon. In the promise of a New Covenant, God said that He would bring the two kingdoms back together and that it would be different from the Old Covenant.
31: Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:
33: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
34: And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
One difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant was that the Law of God would be in their hearts. The Apostle Paul elaborates on this by contrasting the New Covenant as a “ministration of the spirit” versus the Old Covenant as a “ministration of death written and engraved in stones.”
2 Corinthians 3:3-6
3: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
4: And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward:
5: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;
6: Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
Under the New Covenant, the law of God is written on the heart, and it is administered by the Holy Spirit. It is contrasted with the tablets of stone that Moses received on Mt. Sinai along with tithing commands. The New Covenant is not a covenant of outward ordinances written in a “stony” book, but rather a renewal from the Holy Spirit and a personal relationship with God.
The New Covenant was ratified with the blood of Christ (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). According to Jesus, the bread and wine of the Passover symbolized His body and blood that He would shed on Calvary. His death and resurrection ushered in the New Covenant.
Another distinguishing factor of the New Covenant is that the priesthood changed. According to the writer to the Hebrews, the priesthood of the order of Melchizedek (which preceded Aaron) replaced the priesthood of the order of Aaron.
5: And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham:
12: For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
17: For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
18: For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
Melchizedek was the “priest of the Most High God” that Abram met after his victory to rescue his nephew Lot. Abram gave a tithe of the spoils of this battle to Melchizedek. Although God gave instructions to the Levitical priests concerning the boundaries of their ministry, no such qualifiers explain why the mysterious Melchizedek was a priest. According to Hebrews 7:1-3, Melchizedek was “priest of the most high God… without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life.” There was no record of Melchizedek concerning his birth, death, or lineage. For one to be a priest after the order of Aaron, one had to be a physical descendent of Aaron (record of father and mother and descent: Exodus 28:1) and had to be between 30 and 50 years old for Kohathite priests, or between 25 and 50 years old for the rest (beginning of days and end of life: Numbers 4:2-4; 8:24-25). The Melchizedek order of priesthood obviously differed from the stringent requirements of the Aaronic order of priesthood.
Jesus Christ, Who was not a descendent of Levi, but rather of Judah (Hebrews 7:14), which would not qualify for priesthood under the Old Covenant. Yet, Jesus with the blood of the New Covenant is said to be a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6; 7:17). If Jesus is a priest and His shed blood is “the blood of the new covenant,” then according to Hebrews 7:12 “the priesthood… changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” The change of the law is that “the commandment [to take tithes] is disannulled.” (Hebrews 7:5,18)
Why is the command to tithe under the priesthood of Melchizedek cancelled? Did not Abram himself tithe to Melchizedek? Yes, Abram did give a tithe to Melchizedek. However, he did this only once. He did not give a yearly tithe to Melchizedek. One possible argument for this tithe was to establish for us the veracity of the priesthood of Melchizedek. Abram tithed to Melchizedek once for all time. In similar venue, according to Hebrews 10:9-10 the sacrifice of Christ as both priest and offering was “once [for all time],” and in doing so, He “took away the first [covenant] that He may establish the second [covenant].” The priesthood of Aaron offered sacrifices continually and required tithes continually. The priesthood of Melchizedek provided the perfect one sacrifice and was verified by one tithe.
The tithes for the Levitical priests were necessary to sustain their lives as mortal human beings. No tithe is necessary to sustain Jesus Christ as “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Jesus Christ Who died and rose again “ever liveth to make intercession.” (Hebrews 7:25) He does not live and make intercession as a mortal human on a physical altar in a physical temple needing food. After making His perfect sacrifice on the altar of the Cross, He ascended 40 days later into heaven and “sat down” at the right hand of the throne of the Father. (Hebrews 1:3; 10:12-14) The priestly work of Christ is in heaven where He needs no tithe!
The tithe commands from God are clearly associated with the Old Covenant only. The Old Covenant is no longer in effect. Dispensationalists and Covenant Theologians alike should agree: there is no tithe for those who are in Christ!