Genesis 14:16
He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people .... //cut

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything

verse 23:
I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich‘

From reading the Genesis, I thought that Abraham gave the tenth from his family's possessions which are stolen by the bad kings before, then Abraham take it back later.

But then I don't quite understand as in Hebrews 7:4

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder!

the word "plunder" to me has a negative sense as from the internet's dictionary it says : "the violent and dishonest acquisition of property"

And from this link, it seems the sentence in this link does support that the tenth is from the bad kings possession :

Abraham never tithed on his own personal property or livestock.

So the question is:
is the tenth from Abraham's own family possession or is it from the bad kings possession ?

  • "plunder" can be a type or design of jewelry Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 19:22
  • Your link says "Abraham never tithed on his own personal property or livestock" while Gen 14:20 says Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything. Abraham could have started his trip with nothing; it doesn't say he had anything. Commented Dec 3, 2019 at 19:58
  • @JohnMartin, thanks for the comment. I am sorry I don't get your comment. Do you mean that the tithe is the tenth from the bad kings jewelries possession ?
    – karma
    Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 4:54
  • Sorry. In a way I was laughing...The only way both Gen 14:20 (Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of "everything") and your link ("Abraham never tithed anything of his own") could possibly be true is if Abraham started his trip...carrying nothing of his own. (Then "everything" later wouldn't include anything of his). Commented Dec 4, 2019 at 21:17
  • If Abraham started his trip carrying nothing of his own, but 100 pieces jewelries (the "everything") which are the bad kings own possession (not Abraham's family possession which Abraham get it back after defeating the king), doesn't that mean Abraham has the 90 jewelries which are the kings possession, so then the king can say "I made Abraham rich with my 90 jewelries" ?
    – karma
    Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 6:57

2 Answers 2


"Best things" or "firstfruits" may be a better translation, but the reasons are a little complicated. I try to explain below.

The word the NIV translates as "plunder" is ἀκρόθινα (akrothina), the plural form of ἀκροθίνιον (akrothinion). This is the only place in the entire Bible - even the Greek Septuagint - that the word appears. The root of the word is ακρον (akron) - which does not appear in the New Testament - meaning something like "top".

The primary and perhaps original meaning of the word seems to have been something like "topmost", "best part", or "first fruits", suitable for an offering to the gods. Herodotus (c. 484-425 BC), for example, uses the word, here translated as "victory-offering":1

λαβόντες δὲ αὐτὸν οἱ Πέρσαι ἤγαγον παρὰ Κῦρον. ὁ δὲ συννήσας πυρὴν μεγάλην ἀνεβίβασε ἐπ᾽ αὐτὴν τὸν Κροῖσόν τε ἐν πέδῃσι δεδεμένον καὶ δὶς ἑπτὰ Λυδῶν παρ᾽ αὐτὸν παῖδας, ἐν νόῳ ἔχων εἴτε δὴ ἀκροθίνια ταῦτα καταγιεῖν θεῶν ὅτεῳ δή

The Persians took him and brought him to Cyrus, who erected a pyre and mounted Croesus atop it, bound in chains, with twice seven sons of the Lydians beside him. Cyrus may have intended to sacrifice him as a victory-offering to some god (The Histories I.86)

Because soldiers often take the best goods from the conquered, the word seems to have become synonymous later with "booty" or "plunder".2

This verse apparently also had to be clarified for some Greeks, who apparently knew that ἀκρόθινα could either mean "best things" or "plunder", but weren't sure which sense applied here. John Chrysostom's 4th century Homily XII on Hebrews included this explanation:

“Now consider” (saith he) “how great this man is to whom even the Patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils [ἀ κροθίνια].” Up to this point he has been applying the type: henceforward he boldly shows him [Melchisedec] to be more glorious than the Jewish realities. But if he who bears a type of Christ is so much better not merely than the priests, but even than the forefather himself of the priests, what should one say of the reality? Thou seest how super-abundantly he shows the superiority.

“Now consider” (he says) “how great this man is to whom even the Patriarch Abraham gave a tenth out of the choice portions.” Spoils taken in battle are called “choice portions [ἀ κροθίνια].” And it cannot be said that he gave them to him as having a part in the war, because (he said) he met him “returning from the slaughter of the kings,” for he had staid at home (he means), yet [Abraham] gave him the first-fruits of his labors.

(Even though Chrysostom is quoting Hebrews and using the same phrase - ἀ κροθίνια - each time, the NPNF translator decided to use two different English words to make intelligible to an English reader what a Greek would have understood from context.)

Although some Greek words carry the same double meanings in Greek that the translated word might in English, ἀκρόθινα is apparently not one of them (at least not according to the archaic meanings listed in the Complete Oxford English Dictionary). The translator needed to decide which of the two meanings to insert: "spoils" or "best things". A precedent seems to have been set by Tyndale (1536), who also translated from Greek, to employ "spoils":

Consyder what a man this was unto whom the Patriarke Abraham gave tythes of the spoyles.

Later English Bibles derived from Greek translations carried on this tradition:

But cōsider how greate a man this was, to whom the Patriarke Abraham gaue tithes of the spoyles (Bishop's Bible, 1539)

Now consider how great this man was, unto whome even the Patriarke Abrahã gave the tithe of the spoiles (Geneva Bible, 1560).

Rule #1 laid down by King James to his translators was:

The ordinary Bible read in Church commonly called the Bishopps Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the Originall will permitt.3

There is no note in the original 1611 set of notes regarding an alternate translation, but the translators were almost certainly aware of an alternate meaning - if not through Herodotus or other classical sources, then from the Latin Vulgate (first compiled around the 4th century):

Intuemini autem quantus sit hic, cui et decimas dedit de præcipuis Abraham patriarcha.

Wycliffe (c. 1382-1395) translated this:

Forsoth biholde ȝe hou greet ʽis this man, to whom and Abraham patriark ȝaf tithes of the beste thingis.

The later Douay-Rheims translation (1582), which the King James translators had on hand, read:

Now consider how great this man is, to whom also Abraham the patriarch gave tithes out of the principal things.

They may also have been aware that the 2nd century Aramaic Peshitta also expressed the verse similar to how early Latin translators had seen it:

But see how much greater is This One than the man Abraham, Chief of The fathers, to whom he gave the tithe of the best? (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Given the King's prime directive, however, they were probably loathe to innovate on what was in the Bishop's Bible- on this occasion anyway - and left "spoils" (Now consider how great this man was, vnto whō euen the patriarch Abraham gaue the tenth of the spoiles). As a result, quite a few fantastical extrapolations have resulted, including:

Notice how great Melchizedek was! Our famous ancestor Abraham gave him a tenth of what he had taken from his enemies (CEV)

You see, then, how great he was. Abraham, our famous ancestor, gave him one tenth of all he got in the battle (GNT)

Just look at how great this man was! Even Abraham—the patriarch himself—gave him a tenth of what he had captured! (ISV)

1. See also Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Early Christian Literature (2d ed.; University of Chicago Press, 1979). There is now a 3rd edition out now that is available from Amazon for Kindle for a paltry $140.
2. Ibid.
3. Adam Nicolson, God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. Nicolson further comments here: "The Bishops’ Bible was acknowledged by everyone to be not as good as the Geneva Bible, which the king hated because of its marginal notes, but the Bishops’ Bible was the official Bible and as such had to be respected. Its language was heavy with latinisms and strange phraseology, loathed by Puritans (one said he would prefer to read ‘the alKoran’), and avoided phrases like ‘a pissing she-mule’ which the bishops thought vulgar. But that was its problem. The Bishops’ Bible was too elevated for its own good, cloth-eared and inaccessible. Famously, instead of ‘Cast thy bread upon the waters’, the bishops had written, ‘Lay thy bread upon wet faces’. Pompous, obscure and often laughable, it was never loved."

  • Thank you for the explanation, user33515. But I'm sorry as I still wonder whose possession in that "ALL" Abraham got in the battle. In my mind the "story board" analogue with a simple example like this : Mr.A rob 100 USD money from Mr.B then Mr.A flee. Mr.C chase Mr.A then rob that 100 USD money from Mr.A then give tenth from 100 USD to Mr.D. From NihilSineDeo comment, the version is like this : "when Mr.A rob 100 USD money from Mr.B, Mr.A has 50 USD in his pocket". So, Mr.C take 150 USD from Mr.A, give back the 100 USD to Mr.B, then give 10 percent from 50 USD to Mr.D :).
    – karma
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 18:46
  • He did not get anything in any battle. Plunder, booty and spoils are all bad translations.
    – user33515
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 22:24
  • @user33515 not according to Hebrews7:4 which says it was the spoils. Also Abraham could not give a tenth of the things that didn’t belong to him. And he clearly wanted nothing that belonged to Sodom. He only took for himself that which were spoils of war, Sodom’s recovered property belonged to Sodom. That’s why he went in the first place to recover and not to plunder Sodom. Commented Apr 4, 2020 at 12:32
  • @user33515, "He did not get anything in any battle. Plunder, booty and spoils are all bad translations". I'm inclined to agree that. Or... if it's in my mother language, sometimes that negative words (plunder/booty) is used in the point of view at the state of that "things" itself, something like "stolen car". For example : the police bring the stolen car back to the owner <===> the police bring the plunder (stolen good) back to the owner.
    – karma
    Commented Apr 4, 2020 at 17:58

What did Abraham give in his tithe?

Abraham gave a tenth of the choicest spoils.

Genesis 14:17-20 (NASB)

17 "Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of [b]God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of [c]God Most High, [d]Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be [e]God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all."

At that Abraham gave the king-priest "He gave him a tenth of all" that is, of "the choicest spoils" he had acquired in his successful warfare against the allied kings.​

Hebrews 7:4 (NASB)

4 "Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils."

  • Ok ... so after Abraham rob ALL the possessions of Sodom and Gomorah from the four kings Abraham defeated, he give the best tenth from that ALL to Melkizedek. To me, logically that "ALL" is including the possessions of the King of Sodom. Back again to the same question : how come Abraham said "I will take nothing" to the King of Sodom, while actually Abraham already take everything ?
    – karma
    Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 18:15
  • @karma: Suggest you read chapter 14. Lot lived in Sodom, the King of Sodom and his allies (Gen. 14:8) went to war against Chedorlaoʹmer King of Eʹlam, and his allies (Gen19:9). The King of Sodom was defeated and consequently, Lot was taken captive by King Chedorlaoʹmer, the victor. It is King Chedorlaoʹmer that God delivered to the hand of Abraham. Commented Apr 3, 2020 at 19:30
  • I think your answer is on point however the key point spoils is not emphasized enough because the OP seems to equate the recovered property of Sodom as Abraham’s spoils. Rather the spoils are ONLY the belongings of the defeated kings, And this did not include any of Sodom’s recovered property and people (which at one point were the spoils for the later defeated kings but to Abraham were the recovered property of Sodom). You might want to make this a little clearer but still a +1 because it seems obvious to me that you understood this distinction. Commented Apr 4, 2020 at 12:23
  • @OzzieNicolas, I've read that and I know that. Chedorlaoʹmer King of Eʹlam, and his allies win and rob all the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 14:11). Later, Abraham rob all the possessions of Chedorlaoʹmer King of Eʹlam, and his allies.
    – karma
    Commented Apr 4, 2020 at 17:35
  • @NihilSineDeo, do you have some back-up text that the word "plunder" in Hebrews 7:4 means ONLY the belongings of the defeated kings ? And what kind of belongings do the four kings bring during in the battle with the five kings ? Livestock ?
    – karma
    Commented Apr 4, 2020 at 18:19

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