An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"

Should the Church Teach Tithing?
A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD


Section 3 -  Genesis 28:22 Jacob's Bargain With God


(Genesis) Gen. 28:20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,

Gen. 28:21 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace--then shall the LORD be my God,Gen. 28:22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you shall give me, I will surely give the tenth to you.

Jacob’s pre-Law promise to tithe is not an example for the church. This event records the only other pre-Mosaic Law mention of tithing. Also, this is definitely not a spoils-of-war-tithe as in Genesis 14. However, although there may have existed a tradition to help the poor, Jacob, like Abraham, was not responding to a command from Jehovah to tithe to a particular ministry of holy service. The formal law was yet centuries future.

True to his character, Jacob made a rash vow to God. He promised to give God a tenth of all his possessions. However, Jacob’s promised tithe was conditional -- God must first bless him and then bring him back to Isaac’s house in peace. Jacob set the conditions, not God. Jacob made a vow to tithe; God did not ask for it. Although God greatly blessed Jacob in Haran, there is no further mention of tithing in Jacob’s life (or in the book of Genesis).

In all fairness to the subject, we must ask ourselves, "To whom did Jacob give these tithes?" It is not enough just to say that he "gave them to God." God does not reach down from heaven and receive them to himself! Like Abraham, Jacob was surrounded by pagan Canaanite priest-kings. If he gave a tithe to them, he would actually be promoting idolatry, child sacrifices, sex with animals, and worship-prostitution! There was no God-called Levitical priesthood to receive them. Neither was there a temple in Jerusalem as promised and commanded later in Deuteronomy. As head of his own household, Jacob, like all patriarchs from Adam until the Law, was a priest himself and did not require a hierarchy of priesthood. Unless we are willing to accept the extreme liberal contention that Abraham and Jacob are merely mythological traditions written after Bethel had a temple in northern Israel, then my question is valid.

Again, as the head of household before the law, Jacob served as his own priest. He built altars to Yahweh and sacrificed on them (Gen. 35:1, 10). He asked for "food to eat and clothes to wear." He promised to give God "a tenth" "of all that you give me." Was Jacob promising to give God a tenth of food and clothes? How would he do that? We do not know. Perhaps Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built and dedicated shrines to Jehovah (Yahweh). They could then bring food to those shrines for the poor and needy. We know that Jacob did build an altar at Bethel. However, if any commandment to tithe had been involved, there would have been no room for bargaining.

Both Abraham’s tithe and Jacob’s tithe are completely out of context with tithing in the Mosaic Law. However, it must be pointed out that, under the law, Israel would later consider even the dust of the Gentile land as defiling and requiring ceremonial cleansing. Whatever Jacob did tithe, it originated in pagan Haran or (at that time) pagan Canaan and did not meet the exact definition of tithes given under the Law. Perhaps this is why his tithe is not used as an example by Moses. Of course, there is no prohibition against the source of the tithe from a holy land in the book of Genesis.

Again, to whom did Jacob (and Abraham) tithe when they were wandering nomads? Except for the unfounded claims that Melchizedek was a faithful true priest-king serving Yahweh, no similar claim is made for any of the other priest-kings in which territories Jacob and Abraham lived. Like the temple of the moon god in Haran, except for their own shrines, all of the other shrines and priest-kings were clearly pagan.

NOT IN BOOK: From John Owen, Famous Calvinist Apologist’s Commentary on Hebrews, Chapter 7.

Owen: [Genesis 28] And as for the instance of Jacob, who vowed unto God the tenth of all, it is so far from proving that the tenth was due by virtue of any law, that it proves the contrary. For had it been so, it could not have been the matter of an extraordinary vow, whereby he could express his obedience unto God.