Tithing in the Bible: Change of the Priesthood, Change of the Law – Hebrews 7

Corey —  December 11, 2009 — 13 Comments

       Chapter 7 of Hebrews is the last example of tithing in the Bible that we are going to examine in this series, and it’s also the only mention of tithing that occurs in the Bible after Jesus’ death. For this reason, we should pay close attention to what is said here since it applies specifically to Christians.

       Hebrews is a book of better things. It talks about how Jesus and the New Covenant surpass Moses, the Law, the priesthood, and the Old Covenant. Chapter 7 in particular discusses how the high-priesthood of Jesus has replaced the Levitical priesthood. It also makes it clear that a change of the priesthood requires a change of law (from the Law of Moses to the Law of Christ). Since tithing was commanded to the Israelites as part of the Mosaic Law, it has been replaced by the Law of Christ which requires generous giving to anyone in need.

After the Order of Melchizedek

       The author of Hebrews begins chapter 7 by explaining how the high-priesthood of Jesus surpasses and replaces the Levitical priesthood. Since God declared Jesus to be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, the author of Hebrews uses the example of Abraham giving a tenth of his spoils of war to Melchizedek to highlight the reasons why Jesus’ priesthood is higher and better than the Levitical priesthood. You can read Hebrews 7:1-10 for the actual text, but here are the main points:

  1. The Levites only took tithes from the Israelites because of a commandment that was part of the Law that came from God. That tithe was clearly connected to the Law of Moses.
  2.        

  3. Melchizedek accepted a tithe of the war spoils from Abraham and blessed him – showing that Melchizedek is “greater” than Abraham.
  4.        

  5. The Levites receive tithes but die, while Melchizedek received a tithe but Psalm 110:4 testifies that the priest after the order of Melchizedek (Jesus) lives forever.
  6.        

  7. We can say that Levi and all his descendants (the Levites) paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham.

       All of these facts indicate that a priest after the order of Melchizedek, Jesus, is higher than the Levitical priesthood. After His death, Jesus replaced the entire Levitical priesthood and became the high priest of all those who choose to follow Him. His sacrifice replaces all the sacrifices the Levitical priests made, and it is through Him that we draw near to God (where previously only the Levitical priests could draw near to God).

A Change of the Priesthood Requires a Change of Law

       This change of the priesthood necessitates a change in law, because the Law of Moses is what established the Levitical priesthood and tithing is how the Levitical priesthood was supported. If the Levitical priesthood has been abolished and replaced, then the statutes and ordinances surrounding that priesthood have also been abolished and replaced.

       11 Now if there were perfection through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people have received the law), what further need was there for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, there is of necessity a change made also in the law.

Hebrews 7:11-12 (WEB)

       The Law made no one perfect. If it had, then Jesus would not have needed to die on the cross for our sins. We could have simply followed the Law of Moses and received our salvation that way. But we all have sinned and no one but Jesus has kept the Law perfectly. Therefore, God chose to replace the Old Covenant with a new and better covenant through His Son. Since we now have Jesus as our high priest and we are the priesthood of believers, the Old Covenant and its rules about the Levitical priesthood (including tithing) no longer apply to us as Christians.

The Priesthood of Jesus Brings Us a Better Hope

       We no longer have high priests who are weak and just as unable as we are to avoid sin. Instead, we have Jesus as our high priest forever. And it is through Him and the hope that He brings that we can draw near to God.

       18 For there is an annulling of a foregoing commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.

Hebrews 7:18-19 (WEB)

       By so much, Jesus has become the collateral of a better covenant.

Hebrews 7:22 (WEB)

       We no longer seek righteousness through the Law but through Jesus. We claim redemption of our sins through the blood of Jesus (an eternal sacrifice) and not through animal sacrifices. These are ways the New Covenant is better than the Old.

       In the same way, we no longer determine our giving based on the Old Covenant statute of tithing. We are to be led by the Spirit to be generous, cheerful, and sacrificial givers to the poor and needy. How is Spirit-led giving better than tithing? Because we must draw near to God through Jesus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know His will for our giving. You can’t figure out how much you should give by using a simple calculation. New Covenant Giving requires a close relationship with God, constant prayer, and careful discernment in order to glorify Him. Giving becomes a continual act of worship – we seek God’s will through prayer, we give according to His will, and then we repeat. This is a process that draws us nearer to God and helps us become more like Jesus.

Why Go Back?

       Now that we have a New, Better Covenant, why would we choose to go back to the Old? When you choose to limit how you give by the Law of Moses you are rejecting the guidance of the Holy Spirit and God’s desire for New Covenant Giving. Allow God’s Word to teach you how He wants you to give according to the teaching of Jesus and the examples we have in the New Testament. Here are a few articles that outline New Covenant Giving principles for Christians:

       Seek the guidance of His Spirit before deciding how much you should give. His will for you may be to give much more than just 10% or it may be to give less or nothing at all depending on your circumstances. Let God determine how much you should give instead of leaving it up to arbitrary percentages.

Corey

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Corey is currently pursuing a Master of Arts degree in religion. While he enjoys learning and writing about Christianity, another one of his new passions is writing about personal finances in order to help others make wise decisions with their money.

13 responses to Tithing in the Bible: Change of the Priesthood, Change of the Law – Hebrews 7

  1. Thanks for the article. A few observations however: 1. The practice of tithing was never meant to limit how much a person gave. It was the “at least measure”. It helps beginning believers to learn how to give. You may be shocked to learn that many non-tithing Christians eventually give well below what the tithe requires. 2. Hebrews 7 shows clearly that tithing must continue, in that it predates the law. The law only symbolically affirmed the important practice of being in a covenant of giving with God. 3. To discourage tithing because it is a law of the Old Covenant will be running the risk disregarding the commandments that Jesus warns against in Matthew 5:19. 4. If tithing is so archaic, what was the Hebrews writer’s preoccupation with Jesus’s priesthood and of priests receiving tithes about?

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Seth. I’ll respond to your points as you numbered them.

    1. I have never said that the tithe(s) was(were) meant to limit how much a person gave. But many who follow tithing treat it that way. They give their 10% and they’re done. I am not shocked that many non-tithing Christians give well below 10%. First, I think many of us are blinded by materialism. Second, I think many of us do not look to Jesus as our example for giving and rely on the love of God as our motivation instead of threats from tithe-teaching preachers. And third, I think setting an arbitrary standard for what all Christians should be giving ignores the nature of grace and is blind to each individual’s situation.

    2. Hebrews 7 does not show that tithing must continue because it predates the law. The author of Hebrews using that example to establish the greatness of a priest after the order of Melchizedek. He makes the point that even Abraham paid a tithe to this man and through Abraham all the Levites have paid their tithe as well. He does this to show how Jesus’ priesthood is higher and greater than that of the priests descended from Aaron. Jesus’ priesthood supersedes that Levitical priesthood.

    3. Do you discourage eating pork? Do you discourage wearing clothing of mixed fibers? These are laws of the Old Covenant as well. I am not disregarding the commandments but teaching that we should hold to a higher standard – just as Jesus did in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. I am not saying we should not give. I’m saying we should give it all over to God.

    4. As I mentioned before, his preoccupation was with showing how Jesus’ priesthood is higher, greater, and better than the Levitical priesthood. Tithing served as a good example of this since Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

    Regarding the Old Covenant, consider what the author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 8 – especially verse 13:

    “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” Hebrews 8:13 (NIV)

    Why hold to the old and aging when God has presented us with something so much better in the New Covenant through Jesus Christ?

  3. Thanks Paul. This is very polite.
    I was not attempting an academic response to your article. My comment was rather a sweeping response to the general tenor of the article. Your response tells me that your article is well-meaning. We know that some aspects of the law were ceremonial and other aspects were moral, etc. We will not argue this since we agree that giving under grace should be more, and not less, than that tithe. In that case the tithe is still a useful measure. Please let me share a few thoughts in this direction:

    1. The touchy issue is whether there are people so poor that they should not give even a tenth of their so-called “meagre increase” to the work of God! If the law did not exempt such people, is the law immoral?

    2. Jesus was always referring to elements of the law as a measure and urging his followers to rise above (not) ignore its requirements. If we want to rise above tithing without referring to tithes, or at least starting with tithing, what will we refer to (where will we start from). Jesus referred to tithing to tell the Pharisees and Scribes to do tithing and better (Matthew 23:23).

    3. The failure to tithe was not punishable by men (as was other elements in the moral code). Rather, Malachi hints at God’s direct reprisals. We know in the New Covenant that we cannot be punished (at least by any man) for not tithing, but many tithe in the hope of securing the benefits alluded to in Malachi. It holds a categorical promise. Is this promise annulled to the New Testament giver who chooses to go by tithing (and remember as a minimum rather than a maximum standard giving)?

    4. The beauty about the principle of tithing is that the practitioner does not give only when he can or feels like. He binds himself or herself to be a lifelong supporter of the work of ministry. If you discourage tithing, you may be discouraging more than you have thought about. Better leave it to those who want to live by that basic giving principle by which they secure their own giving and receiving covenant with God.

    5. The point of Hebrews is never to discourage tithing. I do not know why an apologetic against tithing should be inspired by that book in the first place. As a well-meaning friend, (I do not know for how long you will keep this corr.) kindly point me to one verse or more that make the point in reference to tithing. I can only be open-minded about this. Of all the aspects of the OT, why tithing is singled out beats my mind now.

    6. New Covenant church has priesthood aspects similar to temple worship of the OT whose sustenance depended on tithing: As God made Aaron and co priests for Israel, so has Jesus made many Apostles, Prophets, etc. (Eph. 4), the same oxen that grind the grain that must not be muzzled. For full-timers, suggest a more honourable way of securing their fare without reference to the generality of the body’s obligation (and a measured obligation without exemption). Even in the New Testament, minimum standards regularly apply.

    7. To me the mega endorsement is this: Abraham (without the law) met the first named Priest (whose identity is further fleshed out in Hebrews) and was moved to tithe. Hebrews is about the same Priest who now receives the tithe in the eternal temple in heaven. Who pays it and to whom?

    Thanks for the attention, brother.

  4. I’m happy to be polite in responding to you, Seth. I don’t see why believers should need to resort to anger or hatred in discussing Scripture. Again, my response corresponds to your numbers.

    1. I actually do believe that there is a point where the poor should not give. The Law makes several exceptions for poor who could not afford certain sacrifices. One of the tithes went specifically to the poor. And since the poor were not landowners and likely owned no livestock, the tithes would never have applied to them under the Law. If we are to give to the poor, does it make sense to demand that they give? I am not saying we should stop those who wish to give, but many who teach tithing use it to cause the poor to give far more than they can afford. (Side note: I don’t believe many Christians in America fall into this category of being too poor to give. It would be rare to find someone in America who cannot afford to give something.)

    2. First, we should not hold to a doctrine simply because it’s convenient for us. This also applies to #6 in your comment. Second, if we are going to use the Law as a guide in this respect, then the minimum should start at 23 and 1/3% – not 10%.

    3. The promise in Malachi is directed specifically at the Israelites who were under the blessings and curses of the entire law. So no, I do not believe it applies to Christians today. The idea of it may – but only in the sense that we are promised immeasurable heavenly riches. Consider how most of Israel’s promised blessings are material but our promised blessings in the New Covenant are primarily spiritual.

    4. I do not teach against planned giving. That is a good and wise way to honor the Lord. You do not need tithing to do that.

    5. You are right that Hebrews was not written specifically to discourage tithing. It was written to show how Jesus brings us better things through the New Covenant. In that sense, it is showing us how the way of Christ replaces the way of the Law. In the case of tithing we see it replaced by generous, sacrificial, and freewill giving. I was not particularly inspired by Hebrews to write about this. My goal was to look at every verse that mentions tithing in its context in a series on tithing in the Bible. This is simply the last article of that series. Tithing was not singled out for any other reason except that this is a personal finance blog and tithing is likely the most often taught financial principle from the Bible.

    6. As I said before, we don’t need to hold on to a doctrine simply because it is convenient. There is enough clear teaching about supporting those in ministry that you don’t need tithing to teach it. The passage where Paul mentions not muzzling the oxen is one, but there are others. We should simply give enough to meet the needs of those whom we have called to full-time offices in the church.

    7. There were plenty of chances for Jesus or the apostles to clearly endorse tithing for believers under the New Covenant. Instead, we see teaching about generous, sacrificial giving motivated purely by love (and not a desire for blessings). Jesus spoke mostly about giving aside from tithing. He had to tell the Pharisees that they should tithe because they were still under the Law and the New Covenant was not established yet. Again, in regards to Hebrews read verses 7:5, 7:11-12, 7:18-19, and 8:13. They clearly show that the Law which required collection of a tenth (referring to one of the three tithes) has been set aside and replaced by a better hope.

    My main point is that we cannot hold on to one aspect of the Law (in this case tithing, and only very loosely since no one teaches that we should give all the tithes) and hold to Grace at the same time. Would you rather base giving on the Law where it is motivated by blessings and curses, or on Grace where it is motivated by God’s pure love as shown through Jesus Christ?

  5. Thanks Paul
    Your attention has helped. Your conviction seems strong, and that is also needed. If you will we can go on a little about some of the issues you raised, which may even point our discussion to different dimensions of Biblical studies. Let me draw your attention to a few things that pertain to the issue under discussion:
    1. The title of your article has been premised on a change of the priesthood. Now I find it difficult to depart from Hebrews’ assertion that the same priesthood that kick started (if you like, for we know that the principle of measured accountable sacrificial giving began with Abel) tithing HAS NOT CHANGED.

    2. Tithing merely took on a legalistic character under the law. And even then, where was the enforcement similar to those of the injunctions against adultery, murder etc. ? This was left to God’s direct judgment.

    3. The motivations of blessings and curses prevail even in the New covenant. Blessings for generous giving so that you can enjoy giving is promised. Curses for stinginess (akin to being dishonest about giving to God according to how much He has blessed you, not only in monetary or wealth terms) is a New Covenant principle as espoused Jesus’ parable about the unaccountable servants, and the one who hid his talent (He who does not have, even the little he has…). Jesus is even more specific about monetary wealth in Luke 16:10-12.

    4. We have not been freed from the curse of the law, for we (gentiles) were never under the law. Is throwing in tithing specifications under the law (23 1/3%, etc.) helping this discussion? Because I have admitted that tithing as we are discussing is not a law matter at all. It is even part of Abraham’s faith practice that is commendable.

    5. Before the law tithing was not about the poor. It was about priesthood. You partially admit that in the title of your article. Those who teach not to tithe because it is not friendly to the poor therefore miss the point, I think. As I have stated, Hebrews teaches that the priesthood (whose mere shadow showed through the law).

    6. The effort to tithe itself is a blessing. It requires a discipline that eventually releases a person from the tag of poverty. To tithe accurately, one ought to
    (a) Acknowledge that God is the source of all that he has, and his tithe is but a token of such acknowledgement (You will notice that the first time we see Abraham tithing he did not even make use of any of those things he tithed from)
    (b) Admit to having, rather than not having anything (again the hidden talent)
    (c) Be accountable, and therefore practice the principles of good accounting that eliminate wastage (Jesus demonstrates this after feeding the multitudes). You may say one does not have to tithe to be good in basic accounting, but you realize that in tithing God motivates and schools us in the same, and makes us less dependent on financial coaches (at least to some extent, my apologies).
    (d) Give (for the expansion of the Kingdom of God and to the poor)
    (e) Be consistent and reliable in giving-receiving-accounting-having-giving (Peace of mind from want). Any poor person who begins to tithe conscientiously develops a mindset that take him out of poverty (and you know that). Plus God blesses His increase. The promise of blessing for giving is not limited to the law (I beg to repeat). Seed time-harvest time; What a man sows…, etc.

    7. Jesus did not make it His priority to teach tithing because wealth is not principal. Eternal Life is. Life on this side without wealth however is quite limiting. He gave enough hints that the principle is endorsed.

    8. I do not think it is right to assume that the law was not about the love of God. Perversion is perversion. Jesus repeated and so did Paul, that the law is good. The perversion of the law is what we should stand against. Law only tends to legalism when the spirit is quenched. Let us teach the spirit of the law, of the tithe. I am interested in how you begin to do that if you will not let the tithe be mentioned.

    9. Finally, I sense your warm fellowship and love for God in this enterprise. I think our common ground is this: If any teaches the letter of tithing he does injustice. If he teaches the spirit of tithing he does well. I am sure we should leave it at that, unless you insist that the priesthood that necessitate tithing (not legalistic tithing) has changed!

    Paul, my brother, having come this far, I think I qualify for some free basic tips on provident planning.

    May the Lord keep you, as you teach the have-nots to have.

  6. Thank you again for your comments, Seth. I feel as though we are going in circles with our discussion though, so I will simply reply with a few main points.

    1. I agree that our common ground is that teaching tithing under the letter of the Law is spiritually unhealthy. In your entire comment we could replace “tithe/tithing” with “give/giving” in nearly every instance and your points would still hold. My reason for moving away from tithing language is not to dismiss it as an example but to get away from using it as our basis for living. As the apostle Paul said, the Law was our tutor to guide us to Christ. Now that we have Christ – the Master Teacher – why would we cling to the tutelage of the Law?

    2. If we have not been freed from the curse of the Law, then why did Christ die for us? If not to free us from the curse of the Law, Christ died in vain!

    3. You are mistaken regarding the poor and the tithes. (I say this humbly.) There were three tithes – the Levitical tithe (which you reference), the Feast tithe, and the Poor tithe. Of the Levitical tithe, only 10% went to the priests – that is, 10% of the 10% meaning 1% of Israel’s agricultural increase went to the priests and the remaining 9% went to the Levites. The Israelites were to include the poor in their feasts, so that tithe went to benefit them as well. Finally, the Poor tithe was every three years and went specifically to care for the poor.

    4. Finally, my writing about tithing and giving is in no way meant to excuse Christians from giving at all. If anything, I have written that we should be giving more! My concern is that we teach tithing on the basis of the Law far too often – telling people to “be good”, give their tithe, and God will bless them (materially). But the message of the Gospel is that we cannot be good, we have nothing to offer God, and that spiritual riches are to be desired above all else. In teaching generous giving, my goal is that we would have the mind of Christ in us. He gave all for us and taught us to do the same – even for our enemies. That motivates me to give far more generously than “tithing” any day.

    Brother, I appreciate our discussions but again I think we mostly agree on things. I just have an aversion to teaching about giving by using the word “tithe” simply because of the misconceptions so many Christians have about it. If you read what I have written on this subject, I think you will see that my heart is for Christians to be extremely generous and compassionate – not stingy and greedy. To me, that is the spirit of tithing and it is what Jesus taught us about giving. May God keep you as well.

  7. Thanks Paul for the opportunity:

    I would like to shake your hands. Your civility in this discussion has been very refreshing. I look forward to visiting your site, praying for you, and sending you my observations and comments. Finally, we will meet in heaven and rejoice together, having served our calling with clear consciences.

    May the Lord keep you.

    Regards, Seth

  8. Seth, you’re quite welcome. I appreciate your civility as well. I’ve somehow managed to avoid the nasty comments (directed toward me) that I’ve seen on other websites that don’t teach tithing. I’m saddened when I see Christians treating each other that way over an inessential doctrine like tithing. (Though it is never inessential to those who cling to it.) We ought to be seeking unity and focusing on working together to fulfill God’s will.

    I’ll be looking forward to your comments. I do not wish to go unchallenged. It is healthy for us to encourage each other to examine our beliefs and throw off whatever may be unbiblical.

    May the Lord keep you as well.

  9. Dear Paul. Your article on Hebrews 7 and tithing
    is excellent. You nailed it. I have known this
    truth for a long time, yet the mainstream church is
    entrenched in this false doctrine you speak of.
    God has already shown me, and I do not say this lightly,that the mainstream church is “missing it” and
    Jesus is coming soon. The Holy Spirit is
    grieving considerably over this false doctrine of Man.
    Take care and please check out my recent book
    that came out nationwide: House Of Lords:
    America In The Balance.

    Blessings,

    Charles W. Frank(Chuck) lightofthenation.us

  10. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Chuck!

  11. I appreciate the sharpening of one another Paul and Seth. Especially since it was done in such a peacful manner.
    Im surprised no one mentioned the example of the poor widow.
    So, how was it that she gave more than all the rest with such a measely amount? Isnt it because the value of the offering is determined by the heart giving it rather than the amount? Therefore, in the spirit of what paul was pointing out, I would mention this: What is it that you have that is most valuable? Is it our money? So when we give, what is exceptable? If you look in the sermon on the mount, the Lord describes treasures that moth and rust destroy, and treasures from heaven. Which do we possess? And which should we offer?
    In a life dedicated to Christ, nothing is more valuable before the Lord than our very selves, sacrificing our will and honor for the will and honor of Him who teaches us wisdom. Let us take the example and heart of Able, who, under no command, nor law, gathered for the Lord the best of what already belonged to Him. Able had one thing, and one thing only to offer the Lord that did not already belong to Him…….his choice, which is the only thing given to us that belongs to ourselves. This is the spirit and higher order that Christ teaches us, and Im in agreement with you both. For who can give a tithe when we owe our very selves to Him? And the Law was but a shadow and baby sitter to the israelites, while a fulfillment was coming in Christ. Deny yourself and give your life to God. Peace.

  12. Thanks, Dale. I really appreciate your comments and think you’ve brought some valuable insights. Hope to hear from you more!

  13. Great comments, Dale. Hi Paul!

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