We have been asked: "Was tithing only for Israel under the Old Covenant? Wasn't it a form of national taxation in ancient Israel?" Others inquire: "Should non-Christians, as well as Christians, tithe?" Here is the New Testament teaching on this much misunderstood subject!
ALMOST no one, it seems, understands HOW tithing began, WHO instituted it, and WHY!
It is often assumed today that tithing was first instituted at Mt. Sinai, that it was a form of national taxation under the Old Covenant. Therefore, it is reasoned, tithing must be "Levitical."
Nothing could be further from the truth! Understand why!
Tithing Not Levitical Did you know your Bible reveals tithes were being paid to the Creator God long before the first Israelite was born?
That tithing was, in fact, a divine institution centuries prior to the making of the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai? And, after the Old Covenant was broken, and after everything that was nailed to the cross was ended, tithing continued as a living principle under the New Testament?
The proof has been in your Bible all these years! You will find it in the book of Hebrews, the seventh chapter. In it Paul expounds the New Testament teaching on tithing.
Why Paul Wrote Hebrews Paul wrote the book of Hebrews to make plain to Christians the office and present duties of Jesus Christ as our Mediator and High Priest in Heaven.
But what does Christ's office as High Priest in Heaven today have to do with tithing ?
Far more, probably, than you realize!
First, Paul explains that Jesus Christ, our High Priest, holds the rank — office, or order — of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:5-6). Who this Melchizedek is, very few understand! It's made plain in our reprint article "The Mystery of Melchizedek Solved."
Briefly, Melchizedek is called "priest of the most high God" in Hebrews 7:1. One of His names is "King of Peace" (Hebrews 7:2). Is it coincidence that Christ is also a priest, and that the Prophet Isaiah names Jesus Christ "Prince of Peace"? (See Isaiah 9:6.) The priestly rank or office of Jesus Christ and Melchizedek is the same!
Furthermore Melchizedek, High Priest in Abraham's day, is alive today -"having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually" (Heb. 7:3). Christ, too, is alive today!
Melchizedek — note — was "made like unto the Son of God." Could anything be plainer? Melchizedek and Christ are One. That One became the human Jesus. As a human being — God in the flesh — He was also the Messiah or Christ — the Anointed. And He is now, as He was before, High Priest. He has the same office or rank He had in Abraham's day, when He was known as Melchizedek — meaning "King of Righteousness"!
Received Tithes Consider, now, what Melchizedek or Christ, in His office as High Priest, received from the patriarch Abraham.
"For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings [See Gen. 14:18-20], and blessed him; to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all..." — a tenth is a tithe. ("Tithe" is an old English word for tenth.)
Continuing: "Now consider how great this man was" — Melchizedek — "unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth [a tithe] of the spoils" (Heb. 7:1-2 and 4).
Melchizedek — who later became the human Jesus — collected from Abraham God's tenth — the tithe. That is one of the functions of Christ's priesthood which continues today.
But how did Abraham know to tithe? Because "Abraham," says God, "obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws" (Gen. 26:5). This was centuries before the law of Moses and before the Old Covenant!
God's laws are eternal principles. They have existed from the beginning. They are living, active principles today!
So tithing was a law centuries before the Old Covenant was made at Sinai. Abraham was paying tithes about 140 years before Levi, the father of the Levites, and Abraham's great-grandson, was born.
Tithing is not "Levitical"! Tithing, of course, was included in the laws revealed to the Hebrew ex-slaves at Sinai. It had to be. Tithing is a living financial law. It did not begin with Moses, and it did not end when the law of Moses ceased. The law of Moses could not end what it did not bring into existence!
Later we find Jacob, Abraham's grandson, promising God He would pay Him the tithe. "And of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth [the tithe] unto thee" (Gen. 28:22). It is important to whom the tithe is paid — "unto thee," said Jacob. Not to imposters!
What Christ Does with the Tithe What is the purpose of the tithe? How did Melchizedek use the tithes He received in Abraham's day? To what use does Christ put tithes today?
There is a great PURPOSE being worked out here below. Man can know nothing of that purpose unless it is revealed to him. That takes a Revelator. Christ is that Revelator. He reveals the Father's will. It is one of His duties as High Priest!
Now understand what the priesthood of Christ has to do with tithing.
God the Father works through Christ. But how does Christ work? On occasion, He works in person on earth. He worked from time to time with the patriarchs. He worked continuously in the flesh for 3½ years with the apostles. Most often — and for the past 1900 years — He works from heaven through His chosen human instruments.
But what is Christ's WORK? What WORK has Christ been carrying out through human instruments on earth these near six thousand years?
The Work of preaching the good news — the Gospel — of the Kingdom of God!
When on earth with the apostles, "Jesus went.. . preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matt. 4:23). His commission today is: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). He carried on the same WORK 4000 years ago. As Melchizedek, He preached "the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed" (Gal. 3:8).
It cost money for the apostles to travel from city to city, to rent halls in which to speak, to have letters laboriously handwritten. Even in Abraham's day it cost to carry out the WORK of God. Abraham had at least three hundred men in his employ (Gen. 14:14). Including wives and children there must have been between 1500 and 2000 who traveled with him. To preach the gospel to them, facilities had to be provided in which to meet for special occasions and for weekly services.
Today, to reach the whole world with the Gospel of the Kingdom of God on the superpower facilities of radio and via the printing press costs very large sums of money.
To pay for His WORK God ordained from the beginning a definite financial plan — tithing. God does not come down on earth today and ask owners of radio stations and printing presses for their facilities free. God believes in justly paying human beings for the facilities He entrusts to them.
What the Creator does is to reserve for Himself, out of all that is produced out of the earth He created, only 10%. The remaining 90% He willingly releases to man for his personal use after man first renders the first 10% to his Maker. He commissioned Christ, as High Priest, to collect that 10% — the tithe — from those who voluntarily want to become Co-Workers with Him. As Melchizedek, He received it personally in Abraham's day. Today — and ever since His ascension in 31 A. D. — Christ, as High Priest, authorizes His servants whom He has chosen as His ministers to receive it for Him and to disperse it, as He directs, for the WORK of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
How many of you knew that is one of the functions of Christ, our High Priest, today? It's time we understood why tithing is included in the one book in all the New Testament which specifically explains Christ's priesthood!
"But," some will ask, "what about the Levitical priesthood? Didn't the Levites receive tithes?"
That is just the point Paul makes! If the Levites — a priesthood of merely human rank — received tithes under the Mosaic dispensation, how much more worthy to receive tithes is Christ, who, since His resurrection, has again the rank of Melchizedek — the "King of Righteousness" ?
Why the Levitical Priesthood? The Mosaic dispensation was purely materialistic, fleshly, with physical rituals and sacrifices. In Hebrews 4:2 we read: "For unto us was the gospel preached" — in New Testament times — "as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it."
The Holy Spirit was not promised under the Old Covenant. The Mosaic ceremonies did not impart the gift of faith. That was not the time God was trying to save all Israel. It was not the time for the Gospel to go to all the world. God was only calling a very few, primarily the prophets, who were used in Christ's Work to write the Hebrew Scriptures for us.
The nation Israel formed a flesh-born congregation, not a Spirit-begotten Church. During those years a priesthood of lower rank was in office — of mere human rank. It was vastly inferior to the spiritual and divine rank of Melchizedek. The priests were of the tribe of Levi. It was called the "Levitical Priesthood." It administered physical rituals — called "the works of the law" in the New Testament.
Yet this lesser priesthood had to be financed. Once again God used the tithing system. "And verily they that are the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take TITHES of the people according to the LAW" (Heb. 7:5).
Since tithing is God's permanent, continuous financing system, it continued through the Mosaic dispensation. During that period, when the Levites were the ministers, their physical work had to be financed.
But when Christ came and the priesthood was changed, God did not change His financing system. Christians in Paul's day did not need to be instructed that TITHING is an obligatory and permanent law of God. They did need to have it made clear that the Levitical Priesthood was superseded by that of Jesus Christ — the Melchizedek priesthood restored! The only question was to which priesthood tithes were now to be paid!
To make this point plain, Paul explains the superiority of the Melchizedek priesthood.
"Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. 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.
"But he whose descent is not counted from them [the Levites} received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him [Abraham] that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less [Abraham] is blessed of the better [Melchizedek]" (Hebrews 7:4-7).
Continuing the comparison of the two priesthoods: "Here men [the Levites] that die receive tithes; but there he [Melchizedek] receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth" — as He does today, in heaven, as our High Priest!
"And as I may so say," continues Paul, "Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him" (verses 8-10).
Figuratively, even Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek — that is, the One who became Christ. Similarly, Judah, the father of the Jews and the brother of Levi, paid tithes "in Abraham" — hundreds of years before Sinai!
The Melchizedek priesthood is far superior. It has precedence! It is again in force under Christ.
Christ is now carrying out the WORK of God. It, too, has to be financed. So we read: "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the LAW" (Heb. 7:12).
New Testament LAW! Paul does not say the law was abolished. The change in priesthoods makes necessary a change in the law. What law was thus CHANGED? The very law this chapter is instructing New Testament Christians about — the TITHING LAW! "The sons of Levi... have a commandment to take TITHES ... according to the law" (verse 5).
Tithing, far from being abolished, is NEW TESTAMENT LAW ! Actually, the law is merely restored as it was from the beginning!
Jesus Christ Personally Taught Tithing In speaking to the scribes and Pharisees, who often made a self-righteous display of strictly keeping some of the smaller points of God's law, Jesus said: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done [these weightier matters], and NOT TO LEAVE THE OTHER [carefully tithing!] UNDONE" (Matt. 23:23).
Isn't that clear enough? Jesus said that carefully and strictly paying tithes on every little plant that might grow in your garden ought not be put ahead of spiritual qualities such as mercy and faith. But Christ said "NOT to leave the other undone" — NOT to fail to pay your full tithes as God has commanded!
How plain! Tithing is God's law — His system for financing His WORK today. It's commanded, now! Our peoples, says Malachi's prophecy, are under a divine curse because they disregard that law! Every individual who breaks it is under a curse! Notice it — Malachi 3:8, 9: "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee?" — Don't we own everything? The answer is NO! — "In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation."
Let each one ask, "Does that mean me?"