Tithing in modern days is a confusing topic for many people. Tithing in the age of the patriarchs is an even more obscure theological concept. According to the statutes of the Torah, the notion of tithing (giving a percentage of produce) is most often associated with the priestly work in the Temple (e.g., Num 18:24; Neh 10:39). But if tithing was meant for the priests and the Temple, how and why did Abraham tithe?

We have only one example when Abraham gave “a tenth” (מַעֲשֵׂר; maaser) of his war plunder to Melchizedek (Gen 14:20; cf. Heb 7:4). Some use this example to show that tithing preceded the Sinai covenant, but notice that Abraham’s was not a gift to God, but to an earthly king and “a priest to Most High God” (כֹהֵן לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן; cohein le-El Elyon). Whoever Melchizedek might have been, Abraham understood that he was a priest — someone who served God. The image of Melchizedek is shrouded in mystery, and Messiah Yeshua is called a priest in his order (Heb 5:6-10; cf. Ps 110:4), which is quite an honor. Why did Abraham give him a “tenth”? The founding patriarch gave the priest this gift in order to honor the ruler of the land because Abraham was sojourning in his territory (see Gen 13:18).

But Abraham did not tithe only ten percent, as most people believe. Abraham returned all of the “goods of Sodom and Gomorrah” (Gen 14:11), which he took back from the attackers, to Bera the ruler of Sodom (Gen 14:21-24). He kept only the portions for his allies and what his soldiers consumed (Gen 14:24). Using this story to teach tithing in churches is problematic because Abraham did not just tithe, he actually gave away 100% of the goods and kept nothing. This is an example of giving “a tenth” (מַעֲשֵׂר; maaser) prior to Sinai. But this interaction between Abraham and Melchizedek should not be used to support the idea of tithing 10%, as though this percentage were a biblical mandate. Giving is biblical, but tithing in ancient Israel went far beyond 10%  (Read my other article “Should we Tithe Today?”)

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31 COMMENTS

  1. Then why use the word tithe or a tenth if more than that was given? I think you have failed to explain that the tithe is holy to God and that it’s practice is a recognition that everything belongs to God and that we are His stewards.

  2. Prof, you are remarkable. I have been looking for the answers for this topic of tithing. If you look around the world since we have so many churches which is good, there’s high volume of poverty to our society. In our churches this days, we are forced to pay tithe.

    • Many people do not wish to recognize that theologically the type of relationship Torah and Prophets describe (blessings and curses) are all stipulations of the covenant. God made promises to Israel, tied to that land, tied to the family he raised up from barren women. He did not make those same exact promises to people living in Alaska, China, or the Netherlands and to apply his words as “all the same for everyone” literally is shortsighted. And God does not expect from the nations of the world to live within the confines of the covenant he made with Israel. There is nothing wrong with giving. People should support churches and pastors and missionaries and etc. It is proper to do so. And there is a great blessing that comes with generosity. I just wish people stop twisting the Bible, especially to oppress people.

  3. When separating from its roots, the congregation among the Gentiles was invaded by Greek and Roman philosophical concepts and they lost much of their original teaching. To say that we should not tithe is to teach that we should not worship because what is known today as the New Testament does not teach to tithe, but neither to worship. It is obvious that we will never find in the apostolic letters teachings on tithing and worship because it was already written in the first 39 books as how we should do it. Prof. Pinchas Shir, excellent teaching Thanks and blessings.

  4. In Malachi it says’ “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be meat (food) in my house. And prove me now in this” A tenth is NOT the whole tithe.

  5. Amen and Amen great to here someone else who has a right view of this. I would also note that our giving should be out of cheerful heart. If there is no joy to be found perhaps the Spirit is saying not to give in the particular instance.

  6. I agree with this article. More profound, it seems to me, is there were clearly others who worshipped and followed YHWH. Not just Abraham! It was simply that Abraham was God’s choice to bless as He did. And it was not only in Canaan. Job in Arabia among others.

    • Yes, Abraham was chosen by God for a specific purpose, then Isaac, then Jacob. But Ishmael, though not chosen was blessed and Esau likewise. People can know God even if they are not chosen! That is an important key framework in theological thinking.

  7. Tithing in the Torah was part of a complex economic system. MINIMUM direct giving was 10% tithe and 10% for the Temple EVERY YEAR plus 10% more for benevolences every third year (23.3% annually). Volitional gifts ONLY started after this. Not harvesting field corners, sabbatical years, etc., increased giving further.

  8. Yes true man of God . The heart of giving cheerfully and willingly and abundantly is what goes in my life , not only a tenth ! Jesus in the temple watched both the poor and the rich gave , but a poor woman who gave only her coin she

  9. The ‘tenth’ was probably an arbitrary figure. It is known that giving to the work reaps its own rewards, well past the mere giving of 10% of one’s income or whatever we have. Abraham gave what he had and in the fufilment of the Law, our Messiah gave His all.

  10. Thank you. I think the story of the rich young ruler underscores your point of giving our “all” to the Lord, no holding back.

  11. Blessings and peace Tithe is a interesting subject, and a blessing to those who practice and apply, in Genesis after God created everything he gave man dominion over much. except one thing, the tenth. (The tree of knowledge of good and evil). After man touched it a curse came upon.

  12. I see your point. However as a baseline I think 10% tithe plus giving above that has worked out pretty well. I do however agree that using this as an absolute can oppress some. I think, for example, providing the basic necessities for one’s family comes first. Some who can’t even do that should not be required to tithe, but should become the recipients of our charity, to the point they can give just a little to those less fortunate than even themselves. I also agree for many the “10% buy in to heavenly real estate” idea then wasting the rest of our excess has shorted many on their blessings for giving. Furthermore, I don’t think the “tithe” only refers to our money, but to our time and talents as well. Good d’rash. Thought provoking!

  13. Who Did Not Tithe?
    To make it plain and simple, only the owners of farms and flocks were required to tithe. Indeed, the Israelite who had fewer than ten cattle did not have to tithe on nine of them because the requirement stated that only the tenth animal that passed….

  14. …. under the rod was to be tithed (Leviticus 27:32). Looking at this matter of the tenth animal being tithed from our present monetary point of view, a rancher could have many thousands of dollars invested in nine cattle, but unless he had a tenth he was not required to tithe a penny of his assets.

  15. Jesus and his disciples were supported by private funds from those who believed in his mission. Jesus was not a Levitical Priest and he could not legally receive tithe. The Book of Hebrews makes a major point of this. “It is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood” (Hebrews 7:14). Christ had to use personal monies for his work—not tithe.

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