One of the ideas advanced by those who teach that tithing is required under the New Testament is the belief that tithing is an eternal principle.
Those who teach that tithing is an eternal principle make appeal to two texts which predate the giving of the Law through Moses: (1) the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden, and (2) Abraham’s tithe to Mechisedek.
First, the belief that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was Adam’s tithe is a pervasive doctrine, mainly within Word of Faith theology, even though there is not a single text in all of scripture that hints to such a notion. This teaching is based solely on the private revelation of men, and it is not taught anywhere within the pages of scripture.
Well then, what about Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek?
In Genesis 14, we read of the battle of the Kings. There were four Kings: King Amraphel of Babylonia, King Arioch of Ellasar, King Kedorlaomer of Elam, and King Tidal of Goiim.
These four Kings went to battle against five other Kings
The five other Kings were: King Bera of Sodom, King Birsha of Gomorrah, King Shinab of Admah, King Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (aka Zoar).
Now the second group of kings (the five Kings), had came together in the Siddim Valley, which is the valley of the Dead Sea. They had been under the rule of King Kedorlaomer who is mentioned in the list of the first 4 Kings above.
The five Kings who joined forces had been his subjects for 12 years and in the 13th year they rebelled against him. Notice that two of the five Kings who were subjects to Kedorlaomer, were the King of Sodom and the King of Gomorrah.
These five Kings fought against the four Kings. In verses 10-16 we read the following:
As it happened, the valley of the Dead Sea was filled with tar pits. And as the army of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into the tar pits, while the rest escaped into the mountains. The victorious invaders then plundered Sodom and Gomorrah and headed for home, taking with them all the spoils of war and the food supplies. They also captured Lot — Abram’s Newphew who lived in Sodom—and carried off everything he owned. But one of Lot’s men escaped and reported everything to Abram the Hebrew, who was living near the oak grove belonging to Mamre the Amorite. Mamre and his relatives, Eshcol and Aner, were Abram’s allies. When Abram heard that his nephew Lot had been captured, he mobilized the 318 trained men who had been born into his household. Then he pursued Kedorlaomer’s army until he caught up with them at Dan. There he divided his men and attacked during the night. Kedorlaomer’s army fled, but Abram chased them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram recovered all the goods that had been taken, and he brought back his nephew Lot with his possessions and all the women and other captives. ~ Genesis 14:10-16 (The New Living Translation)
Notice that verse 16 says, “Abram recovered all the goods that had been taken…”
These “goods” are the specific contents, from which Abraham gave a tenth to Melchizedek (v. 17-20).
Abraham did not give Melchizedek a tenth of his own personal wealth. In fact there is no record that Abraham gave Melchizedek anything from his personal possessions. Abraham gave only that which was from the spoils of war to Melchizedek.
According to Russell Earl Kelly (a theologian on the topic of tithing) Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek was an ancient Arab custom.
Under the Arab custom, the spoil-tithe tax was ten percent of the spoil. However under the Mosaic Law, the spoil-tithe tax which came from the spoils of war was only one percent and was given to the Levites and (one tenth) of that (one percent) was given to the priests.
The required tithe tax from the spoil of war under the Law of Moses was actually LESS than what Abraham gave to Melchizedek.
Now, most people usually stop at Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek, but if we continue reading, we find that Abraham did not keep any of the spoils of war for himself, but returned them to their rightful owner: the King of Sodom!
The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give back my people who were captured. But you may keep for yourself all the goods you have recovered.” Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I solemnly swear to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will not take so much as a single thread or sandal thong from that what belongs to you. Otherwise you might say, ‘I am the one who made Abram rich.’ I will accept only what my young warriors have already eaten, and I request that you give a fair share of the goods to my allies —Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre.” ~ Genesis 14:21-24
Notice that Abraham acknowledges that the goods from which he gave a tenth to Melchizedek, actually belonged to the King of Sodom. If Abraham’s tithe is proof of an eternal principle, then it is an eternal principle to tithe from the goods which belong to another, and not from that which belongs to you.
There is no record in scripture that Abraham ever gave a tenth of his personal wealth. Abraham’s tithe was a one time gift to King Melchizedek, and the contents of that tithe was the spoils of war. The rest (nearly 90%), Abraham returned to its rightful owner, the King of Sodom.
There is absolutely nothing in the context of Genesis 14 which would lead the careful reader to come to the conclusion that Abraham’s tithe from the spoils of war establishes tithing is a eternal principle. It simply isn’t there!