1 Peter 2:9-10: Your Priesthood Abolishes Tithing

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 21

Video version of essay point 15; Priesthood of believers

[Original Purpose of God’s Total Plan]

Exod. 19:5 Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure to me above all people, for all the earth is mine.

Exod. 19:6 And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.

[Temporary Purpose of God’s Total Plan]

Num. 18:7 Therefore you and your sons with you shall keep your priest’s office for every thing of the altar, and within the veil; and you shall serve: I have given your priest’s office to you as a service of gift: and the stranger that comes near shall be put to death.

[Re-establishment of God’s Original Purpose]

1 Pet. 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light–

1 Pet. 2:10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God, which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

The New Covenant doctrine of the “priesthood of believers” is yet another important doctrine that abolishes tithing practices. In order to prove this statement, it is necessary to retrace the history of the concept of priesthood. Each of the following italicized quotations is from the New Scofield Reference Bible notes at First Peter 2:9.

“Until the law was given the head of each family was the family priest (Gen. 8:20; 26:25;31:54).”

The patriarchs were nomadic herdsmen who moved wherever pasture was good. They would live under the jurisdiction of any number of pagan warlords such as the Egyptians, Philistines, Ammonites, Moabites and other Canaanites. Although they might occasionally pay taxes to the local priest-king, the family head was the family priest. Each man built his own altar and offered sacrifices directly to God for himself and for his family. Since there was no social structure by which to help the poor, each family priest took it upon himself to aid those who were less blessed than himself.

“When the law was proposed the promise to perfect obedience was that Israel should be to God a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exod. 19:6); but Israel violated the law, and God shut up the priestly office to the Aaronic family, appointing the tribe of Levi to minister to Israel, thus constituting the typical priesthood (Exod. 28:1).”

In other words, the Levitical priesthood, like the entire Old Covenant, never was God’s ultimate purpose for Israel. Even before the Ten Commandments, the ordinances, and the judgments of the law were given, God had declared his ultimate desire for Israel to become a “kingdom of priests” (Exod. 19:5-6).

However, instead of progressing from the family-head priesthood to the priesthood of every believer, Israel proved itself unworthy and forfeited God’s originally purposed universal priesthood. The Levitical priesthood was actually a digression because of Israel’s sin in worshiping idols while Moses was away receiving the Ten Commandments. This sad story is found in Exodus 32. The result of Israel’s sin was the limited Levitical priesthood with its death decree on any who would dare “come near” to sacrifice to God directly.”Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering; of every man that gives it willingly with his heart you shall take my offering” (Exod. 25:2). “And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Exod. 30:16).

What would have happened if Israel had not sinned in making and worshiping the golden calves? The sequence of events is not difficult to imagine.One: Israel would have immediately become a “kingdom of priests,” fulfilling Exodus 19:5-6.Two: If all were priests, then all would inherit land equally. Tithes would not replace land inheritance.Three: Since there would be millions of priests to assist Aaron and his family, none would be gone from home long enough to require sustenance from tithing.Four: The tithing ordinance of Numbers 18 would have never been enacted.

Five: The servant duties performed by the non-priestly Levites would be shared by all priests from all of the people.Six: Freewill offerings and the temple shekel would provide sufficient funds. This was God’s plan before the Levites were chosen to substitute for all of their brothers (my speculation).

“In the Church Age, all Christians are unconditionally constituted a ‘kingdom of priests’ (l Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6), the distinction which Israel failed to achieve by works. The priesthood of the Christian is, therefore, a birthright, just as every descendant of Aaron was born to the priesthood (Heb. 5:1).”

Tithing is not mentioned in the book of Exodus which assigned priestly duties only to Aaron and his sons, but did not detail the system or assistants. Since three priests could not possibly handle millions of worshipers, logic dictates that a more involved priesthood would follow. In God’s original purpose, this “more involved priesthood” was a priesthood of every believer (Exod. 19:5-6) to draw near to him. However, when Israel sinned, this purpose was temporarily replaced by the Levitical priesthood and the tithing ordinance of Numbers 18 was enacted to support them. Therefore, tithing was only enacted as an ordinance of the law after God had replaced His national priesthood purpose with the very limited priesthood of the Levites.

Consequently, since tithing was not an ordinance of God until the Levites replaced the universal priesthood concept, there is no valid reason to believe that tithing should exist under the Christian concept’s return to God’s original purpose for the universal priesthood of believers! The believer-priest now stands in the same position today in which God originally wanted all Israel to stand in Exodus 19:6.

“The chief privilege of a priest is access to God. Under the law only the high priest could enter ‘the holiest of all,’ and that but once a year (Heb. 9:7); but when Christ died, the veil, a type of Christ’s human body (Heb. 10:20), was rent, so that now the believer-priests, equally with Christ the High Priest, have access to God in the holiest (Heb. 10:19-22). The High Priest is corporeally there (Heb. 4:14-16; 9:24; 10:19-22).”

Not only does the believer-priest replace the Levitical priests, he has the same privileges as the Aaronic high priest. The Aaronic priesthood definitely preceded the Levitical system and the tithing ordinance. Although the extension of this concept to abolish tithing seems odd to most of us, this is because we have constructed a system of salaries, buildings, and dependencies beyond that which is taught or implied in the New Covenant. While the Apostle Paul was a very great evangelist who established many house churches, he worked as a tentmaker for his sustenance and never seriously complained. In fact, he preferred it that way. (See the chapters on First Corinthians 9 and Acts 20.)

“In the exercise of his office the N.T. believer-priest is a sacrificer who offers a fourfold sacrifice: (1) his own living body (Rom. 12:1; Phil. 2:17; 2 Tim. 4:6; Jas. 1:27; 1 John 3:16); (2) praise to God, “the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name to be offered continually (Heb. 13:15; cf. Exod. 25:22, ‘I will commune with you from above the mercy seat’ (3) his substance (Rom. 12:13; Gal. 6:6, 10; Tit. 3:14; Heb. 13:26; 3 John 5-6); and (4) his service, i.e. ‘to do good’ (Heb. 13:16). Second, the New Testament priest is also an intercessor (Col. 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:1).”

It is important to realize that, in the New Covenant, Christ is the high priest, and every believer is a priest (1 Pet. 2:9-10; Heb. 10:19-22; Rev. 1:6). The primary teacher of the church is neither priest nor preacher, but the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17; 16:12-14). God said “I will put my laws into their mind and write them in their hearts” and “no longer will a man teach his neighbor” because “all shall know me” (Heb. 8:10-11).

The believer-priest is at the heart of the New Covenant! Instead of priests being responsible for teaching the Mosaic Law, every believer is responsible for his or her own spiritual seeking after God’s will. Every function performed by the Old Covenant priest who received tithes is NOW performed by every believer-priest. Again, the believer-priest, and NOT the pastor-teacher, replaced the Old Covenant priest! What this truth does to the Mosaic Law ordinance of tithing should be self-evident.

The “pastor-teacher” of the New Covenant church fills an entirely new office not found in the Old Covenant rules for priests (Heb. 7:14-15). This office does NOT exist because of Mosaic Law provisions, but functions under principles of grace and faith (Heb. 7:16). Since the connection is not linear (straight-line), there is no Scriptural justification for shifting law-tithing from Old Covenant priests to the pastor-teachers. In fact, there is Scriptural justification for not transferring the tithe obligations from Old Covenant priests to New Covenant pastor-teachers (Heb. 7:14-19). Also, tithing is not included in the list of qualifications for elders and deacons in Timothy and Titus.

The New Covenant pastor-teacher has more in common with the Old Covenant prophet, and, later, the rabbi, than its priest. Many Old Covenant prophets were not Levites. They ministered by faith, depending on God’s provisions and their own hands at a trade. Therefore, it is erroneous to act as if the New Covenant pastor took up where the Old Covenant Levitical priest left off and is, therefore, due the priest’s “tithe.”

One final important comment must be made about the doctrine of the priesthood of believers. The earliest church fathers and church historians give ample evidence that there was no distinction between the laity and clergy for almost two hundred years. When this non-distinction was lost, when the clergy evolved into a superior hierarchy, when the local bishop was transformed into a ‘bishop-priest,’ when the doctrine of the priesthood of believers was pushed out of the way –then a full-time paid clergy began to emerge in church history which opened the way for tithing to re-enter much later in support of an unscriptural exclusive “priesthood” in the church. Unfortunately even most Protestant churches treat their preachers and pastors as “priests” by expecting them to perform most of the priestly functions for the laity.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with a full-time paid clergy supported from free-will offerings, the original advocates of tithing in the church (such as Cyprian) did so on the false premise that the priesthood of believers had been replaced by an Old Testament equivalent of the priesthood and its rituals.