Hebrews 7, Genesis 14 - Abraham's Tithe
One of the more often used passages to "prove" the universal, long-lasting ordinance of tithing is taken from Genesis 14 (and Hebrews 7). Basically, Hebrews 7 gives us the lens at which to view the events of Genesis 14:18-20. To summarize, Abraham presents a tithe to Melchizidek, and thus, the argument is that this demonstrates that the practice of tithing occurs centuries before it is mandated for the Israelites in the Law of Moses. Therefore, tithing is meant to be practiced, it is said, by everyone following God, not just the Israelites bound by the laws found in the Old Testament.
(Before continuing, I recommend that you click on the links above and read the text of these passages for yourself. In fact, while linked to the Bible Gateway site, you can even read them in a few different translations.)
Some observations and questions about these passages:
1. As with most verses taken out of context, the mistake is usually taking what is a description of what happened there and then, and turning it into a prescription of what should happen here and now. Genesis 14 describes what Abraham did. There is no dogmatic commandment to tithe or not to tithe in these passages.
2. Abraham does indeed give a tithe. Let's not pretend that is up for debate. The nature of his tithe is that it was a voluntary gift/offering of the plunder from battle. In other words, it was the stuff he had just taken from other people, not his own belongings. This is the only record of Abraham ever tithing, so the only evidence we have is of a one-time act, but admittedly, the "absence of evidence" doesn't necessarily equate to "evidence of absence."
3. What is the point of Hebrews 7? Is it telling the reader to model behavior after Abraham? It clearly emphasizes that Jesus is in the "order of Melchizedek." Melchizedek is described as an extraordinary priest with extraordinary authority that supercedes the role and position of the Levites. The 16th verse explains that he was a priest of a different sort to say the least, "not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancenstry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life." He blessed Abraham, not the other way around. That makes him the greater figure, according to Hebrews. What kind of man/king/being was this Melchizedek? We're left wondering to some extent, but Hebrews paints him as a type of Christ, a foreshadowing of the Messiah! In fact, I would encourage anyone to enjoy the blessing of reading through the rest of chapter 7 and even on in to chapters 8 and 9 of Hebrews. There is tremendous theological content here that helps make clear just how special, powerful, and sufficient Jesus is as our High Priest. There is also much said that highlights the "new covenant" over the "old covenant." In short, the question needs to be asked, "Is the point of the passage what a great example Abraham is because he gave a tithe, or is the point what a profound example Melchizedek is because of his authority to receive a tithe?"