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In Hebrews 7:6 several versions translate Melchizedek as “receiving tithes” in the plural (KVJ, NKJV, ESV, HCSB, ASV, and YLT) while many other versions have it in the singular “collected a tenth.” (NIV, NLT, NASB, and CEV) Is it acceptable to translate this verb either way? Does the Greek verb δεδεκάτωκεν from δεκατόω [Strongs 1183] allow for both a singular or plural translation?

I ask the question because this section (Heb 7:1-10) is referring to both the event in Genesis 14 of Melchizedek and Abraham and also to the Levites who received tithes continually and the author of Hebrews uses the same cognate δεκάτη [Strongs 1181] to refer to both situations (Hebrews 7:2,4,8,9). I’m curious to know what rules of Greek grammar help decide the best way to translate δεδεκάτωκεν in Hebrews 7:6?

Examples:

NKJV but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.

ESV But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.

NASB But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.

NIV This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.

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The Greek verb is δεκατόω (dekatoó) which occurs only in Heb 7:6 and 9. Its definition is given in BDAG as:

collect, receive tithes

Thayer provides a little more detail:

δεκατόω, δεκάτῳ: perfect δεδεκάτωκα; perfect passive δεδεκατωμαι; (δέκατος); to exact or receive the tenth part (for which Greek writers use δεκατεύω (Winer's Grammar, 24)): with the accusative of person from whom, Hebrews 7:6 (on the perfect cf. Winers Grammar, § 40, 4 a.; Lightfoot St. Clement, Appendix, p. 414); passive to pay tithes (Vulg.decimor): Hebrews 7:9. (Nehemiah 10:37.) (Compare: ἀποδεκατόω.)

In the case of the OP's reference of Hebrews 7:6, the form of the verb is, δεδεκάτωκεν, Perfect Indicative Active - 3rd Person Singular, and so is translated, "collected a tenth".

This is a past completed act; a one-time action by Abraham who paid tithe to Melchizedek after obtaining the bounty.

There is nothing in the verb form or meaning that suggests repeated action. In this particular case, it was a once-only action.

The use of the same verb in Heb 7:9 simply says that,

And so to speak, Levi, who collects (λαμβάνων) the tenth, paid the tenth (δεδεκάτωται) through Abraham.

The verb form here is δεδεκάτωται which is Perfect Indicative Middle or Passive - 3rd Person Singular. Again, there is nothing here that suggests a repeated action - just a once only completed action.

However

There is the other verb "collects" which is λαμβάνων from the root form λαμβάνω = I receive , I get. In Heb 7:9 the form is λαμβάνων which is Present Participle Active - Nominative Masculine Singular and so is translated, "collecting", or "receiving". This suggests an on-going process.

This was obviously true of the (much later than Abraham) Levites who regularly collected/received tithe from the people.

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  • I asked because it is difficult to reconcile the claim that the nature of Abraham's tithe and the Levitical tithe are different. Hebrews 7:9 makes no sense unless the nature of the tithe is the same, If these tithes are as different in nature as apples and oranges then how could the author of 7:9 claim that Levi paid oranges through Abraham's apples? Understanding this verb in 7:6 helps highlight this question.
    – Derek
    Apr 4 at 0:20

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