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Genesis 14:18-20 NASB

And Melchizedek the king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of [p]God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of [q]God Most High, [r]Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be [s]God Most High, Who has handed over your enemies to you.”And he gave him a tenth of everything.

The subject in the above texts is Melchizedek who blesses Abraham and the pronoun 'he" seems to be referring to Melchizedek rather than Abraham.

I don't know much about Hebrew and its grammatical structures but i'm a little fazed out why the pronoun he will refer to Abraham in the above texts?.

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It is true that antecedents in Biblical languages can, and often are, confusing, even to the experts. However, in this case, we have extra information as follows:

  • Heb 7:1, 2 - This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High.a He met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham apportioned to him a tenth of everything. ...
  • Heb 7:4 - Consider how great Melchizedek was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder.
  • Heb 7:9, 10 - And so to speak, Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham. For when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the loin of his ancestor.

Thus, we can be sure that it was Abraham who paid tithe to Melchizedek.

Back to Gen 14:20. Here is a very literal translation of Gen 14:20 -

and blessed [be] God most High who had delivered your enemies into your hand and [he] gave to him [a] tenth of everything

Notice that the pronoun "he" is only implied by the verb and not explicit. The only explicit pronoun is "him". As a result of this ambiguity, most versions actually make the relationship explicit by inserting the names, eg

  • NIV: And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
  • ESV: and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
  • BSB: and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything.
  • CSB: and blessed be God Most High who has handed over your enemies to you. And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
  • HCSB: and I give praise to God Most High who has handed over your enemies to you. And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
  • CEV: All praise belongs to God Most High for helping you defeat your enemies." Then Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything.
  • ISV: and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your control." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

... all this, despite the fact that the name "Abram" does not occur in the text of V20. Nevertheless, the intent is clear - Abram paid tithe to Melchizedek.

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The Hebrew in Gen 14:

וּמַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן וְהוּא כֹהֵן לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן׃

וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ וַיֹּאמַר בָּרוּךְ אַבְרָם לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ׃

וּבָרוּךְ אֵל עֶלְיוֹן אֲשֶׁר־מִגֵּן צָרֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ וַיִּתֶּן־לוֹ מַעֲשֵׂר מִכֹּל׃

English:

And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him, saying, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your foes into your hand." And he gave him a tenth of everything.

I highlighted the subjects of each sentence in this portion. The he in each sentence is unambiguously referring to Melchizedek.

The Samaritan historian Pseudo-Eupolemus says:

Later, the Armenians waged war against the Phoenicians. After the Armenians won a victory and had taken Abraham’s nephew as prisoner, Abraham, accompanied by his household servants, came to the assistance of the Phoenicians, gained mastery of the captors, and captured the enemies’ children and women. …He was also received as a guest by the city at the temple Argarizin, which is interpreted ‘mountain of the Most High.’ He also received gifts from Melchizedek who was a priest of God and a king as well.

There is zero textual support in the context of Genesis 14 to render Abraham giving a tenth to Melchizedek.

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Booty Tithe The wording of this verse may, at first, seem indefinite. But it is, though, not without valid reason that the majority of Bible translators have inserted the word, Abram, instead of he. And it is with good reason that the author of Hebrews used "Abraham's action of tithing" as a valid illustration of the superiority of the Melchizedek priesthood.

Cultural Background Contrary to the belief of bible readers who have not studied the background of the Bible and its ancient cultures, tithing did not originate with Abraham. Rather, what Abram did was a common practice in ancient kingdoms. Archaeologists have records in parchments, shards, and monuments, of kings and generals returning from war, and designating part of their booty to be given to the local Temple or priesthood. They called this the tenth. This was the practice of the Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, and Greeks. [See The Sacred Tenth by Henry Lansdell, 1906, and Laws of the Tithe by Arthur Babbs, 1912, for a thorough history.]

Abraham Abraham, who migrated from Babylon, and temporarily lived in the commercial town of Haran, and who was aware of the great Egyptian empire to the south, would have known of this custom. It was therefore almost obligatory for Abraham to stop on the way home, and give a tenth to the local priest in Canaan, Melchizedek (of whom we know little about). It was the cultural custom of all the peoples around him.

Moses's Law Five hundred years later, Moses wrote the Torah [with the help of Joshua], and enumerated in detail the laws concerning the tithe that Israelites were to pay the priests. This practice was readily accepted by the Israelites who were aware of such in Egypt. The Temples there were supported by all their tithing. The Israelites were also aware of their forefather's tithe to Melchizedek, so Moses wrote.

Ancient Hebrew To solve this translation dilemma, notice that this action of tithing was preceded by a quotation (a blessing) by the priest. Then the next sentence is just a declarative sentence..one that can easily be considered a "response" by Abraham to the blessing.

There was no need or obligation for a priest "to tithe" to Abraham, since Abraham was not a priest! But there was a need for Abraham to tithe to the priest since Abraham had just gained booty from war that needed to be tithed according to custom (Abraham had earned income).

Ancient Hebrew is not the most accurate of languages. It's vowels, and pronunciation points only being introduced a 1,000 years after Christ! So we can excuse the grammar of Genesis 14:18-20, and the confusion it produced. But considering the normal practice of tithing booty (which Abram had just received), the author of Hebrews, and our modern translators can rest assured that they have translated this passage correctly.

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