Hebrews 7

The book of Hebrews is comparing the Old Covenant and the New, demonstrating that we have a totally different and better relation to God than men under the Law of Moses. The discussion of tithing in Hebrews chapter 7 was only included to prove that the priesthood of Melchizedek was superior to the Levitical priesthood. By proving that point the writer would also prove that Jesus is superior to the priests of the Old Covenant because Psalm 110:4 had prophesied that he would be a priest forever, “after the order of Melchizedek.” That was the ultimate purpose of the argument, to prove that Jesus was greater than the Old Covenant priests.

Tithing is part of the comparison and the argument because the tribe of Levi was symbolically in the loins of their great-grandfather Abraham when he met Melchiz-edek and gave him a tithe. Therefore it can be said that Levi paid a tithe to Melchizedek and received a blessing from him. Paying the tithe to Melchizedek and receiving the blessing from him are both considered by the writer of Hebrews to be proof that Melchizedek was greater than Levi and all the Old Covenant priests, which came from the tribe of Levi. (Heb. 7:1–17)

The priesthood of Melchizedek can also be considered greater than the Old Covenant priesthood because Melchizedek was a king and a priest and the Levitical priesthood was forbidden to hold the office of king. Furthermore, under the Law of Moses there was a constant succession of priests as men would die and be replaced. The priesthood of Melchizedek can also be considered superior to this aspect of the Levitical priesthood due to the fact that there is no Biblical reference to his birth or death or being replaced by any other after him.

Not Teaching Tithing to the Church

Hebrews 7:8 has been taken out of context and misinterpreted. It is erroneously considered by some to be teaching that tithing is the customary way of giving in the New Covenant. This passage of scripture is part of a weighty and complex theological argument. The casual reader may not comprehend its meaning. It requires a careful study of the whole passage, verse by verse and word by word, to get a clear understanding of what is being said.

Hebrews 7:8 in the King James Version reads:

And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.

This verse is absolutely not saying that the practice of tithing was being followed by the New Testament church at the time the book of Hebrews was written. It is also not talking about a practice of tithing that is supposed to be in effect permanently, throughout the church age. The phrase “here men that die receive tithes” is not talking about Christian ministers in the church, now or then. It is talking about priests at the temple in Jerusalem. The “he” that is being referred to by the phrase “but there he receiveth them” is Melchizedek, 4000 years ago, not Jesus.

This verse is incorrectly interpreted by some to say in effect:

And here (in the New Covenant), men that die (our pastors and other ministers) receive tithes (from born-again Christians); but there (up in heaven) he (Jesus) (is the one who actually) is receiving them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.

This erroneous interpretation of the verse does not comprehend the theological argument that is being made in the passage. This misinterpretation is carelessly taken to be a scriptural proof that tithing is the will of God and the standard mode of operation in the New Covenant.

Objectively interpreted within its context, the verse is actually saying:

And here (in Israel at the time that Hebrews was written) men (who are priests under the Old Covenant) that (will eventually) die (and be succeeded by another mortal man after them) receive tithes (from those who are following the Law of Moses); but there (2000 years prior, during the time of Abraham in Genesis 14) he (Melchizedek) receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.

Scholars and theologians debate whether this language referring to Melchizedek's endless life is literal or symbolic. In either case the verse is not a reference to tithing in the New Covenant. “Here men that die receive tithes” is referring to Old Covenant priests not to New Covenant ministers. “There he receiveth them” is referring to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18–20, not to Jesus up in heaven now. Nowhere in the verse is the New Covenant being referred to. This passage is not teaching that tithing is the way of giving that God has ordained for the New Covenant.

Consider some other translations of Hebrews 7:8:

Furthermore, here [in the Levitical priesthood] tithes are received by men who are subject to death; while there [in the case of Melchizedek], they are received by one of whom it is testified that he lives [perpetually]. (The Amplified Bible. Copyright © Zondervan Publishing House 1965)
And here, on the one hand, men subject to death are receiving tithes, but there he [Melchisedec] receives them, concerning whom the testimony is that he is living. (The New Testament: An Expanded Translation by Kenneth S. Wuest. Copyright © Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1961)

The “he” referred to in Hebrews 7:8 is the same “he” referred to in verse 6. That “he” is Melchizedek. That “he” is not referring to Jesus in the New Covenant. Melchizedek is the subject of verse 1 and is referred to in verses 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 15, 17, and 21.

Therefore the tithe mentioned in verse 8 is not a reference to tithing in the New Covenant. It is a reference to the tithe Abraham gave to Melchizedek. Even if Melchizedek was actually a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, he was in a different relationship to Abraham than he is to the born-again man in the New Covenant. God's relationship with man changed drastically at the resurrection of Jesus. We don't relate to God like Abraham did.

Higher and Better Than Abraham

We have a far higher and better relationship to Jesus Christ than Abraham had to Melchizedek. The dynamics of our relationship, through spiritual union with Christ, are completely different than those between Abraham and Melchizedek. We are sons of God through Christ, sharing his position, status, and relationship to the Father. Jesus isn't tithing to the Father so neither do we. We don't tithe to Jesus because we are one with him. That would be inconsistent with our relationship.

Everything in our possession is already jointly possessed by Jesus Christ because he is our life, living in us. Everything we have is presumed to be committed to his purposes. We are stewards who live to accomplish his will on earth. But tithing is not the pattern we follow today. The Holy Spirit is the leader now, not the principle of tithing.

Hebrews 7 is part of a theological argument that Jesus is a greater high priest than the high priest of the Old Covenant and that we are living in a completely different spiritual system in the New Covenant. Tithing was only included as part of the comparison between Melchizedek and the Old Covenant priests. Hebrews 7 is not a description of tithing or giving by Christians in the early days of the church. It cannot be used to support the statement that tithing was “after the Law.” It is not an instruction to tithe. It is not a suggestion to tithe. It is not even a comment on tithing in the New Covenant.