Tithing: What Does the Bible Really Say About It?
Tithing is a doctrine that I have wrestled with for years. Recently, my church embarked upon a building program where they were asking for people to give above and beyond their normal tithes to pay for the new buildings. I wasn’t convinced at the time of the necessity of the new buildings but (loving my church and wanting to support it), I decided to try and find out the reasons for the new buildings. If I was convinced that it was of God, then I would need to see what God wanted me to give. However, since I wasn’t tithing, it became necessary for me to tackle the whole issue of tithing before I could determine what to give “in addition” to the new building program.
What I discovered was surprising and I have put together the results of my research into this simple paper. However, after reading this, I encourage you to read the Bible from an unbiased perspective on the issue and do your own research. There are much more detailed treatise available on the internet.
WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF THE TITHE?
Numbers 18:20,21 Then the LORD said to Aaron, "You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel. To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting.”
The rest of the tribes of Israel were given land…with the exception of the Levites. The Levites were chosen as priests. Therefore, the priests had no way of supporting or feeding themselves. The tithe was given to the Levites in return for the services which they performed. The best of the tithes were sacrificed and the rest was for consumption by the priests (specific procedures can be found in Numbers 18).
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE TITHED?
Levticius 27:30 'Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S; it is holy to the LORD.”
In other words, a tenth of all livestock or agricultural products (grain, wine, oil, etc) were commanded to be given. Note that money, fish, timber, mining products, nor the work of artisans and craftsmen were required to be tithed (they could be given as an offering but not a tithe)(Deuteronomy 12:6). If for some reason someone was unable to make the journey with their agricultural products to Jerusalem to give their tithe, there were rules for selling it and giving the money instead (Deuteronomy 14:24,25).
If, for instance, you made something and sold it or bought something and resold it for a profit, you were NOT required to tithe it!
HOW FREQUENT WAS THE TITHE?
There were two cycles for tithing:
The Annual Tithe: Deuteronomy 14:22,24 “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you”
Deuteronomy 26:11 and you and the Levite and the alien who is among you shall rejoice in all the good which the LORD your God has given you and your household.
This tithe was to be mostly consumed by those who were giving it (bet it would be easier to convince people to tithe if they were told they could spend most of it themselves)! It was essentially a time for feasting and celebration for all the Lord had done for you! However, they were to include the Levites and strangers in their celebration.
The Tri-Annual Tithe: Deuteronomy 14:28-29 At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.”
Deuteronomy 26:12 When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
The purpose of the tithe was to provide for the Levities since they were fulltime priests who worked in the temple with no land and no way to support themselves. The only things to be tithed were livestock or agricultural products (NOT money or goods although both were an integral part of the Jewish economy). The tithes were given annually and (with the exception of the 3rd year) were partially consumed by those giving the tithe at a feast with the remainder going to the Levites, strangers, and the poor.
There is no commandment in the New Testament (either in the Gospels or the Epistles) from Jesus or any of the apostles for Christians to tithe.
Christ gave many discourses and parables with respect to monetary matters and financial stewardship, yet never once did He indicate that:
The practice of tithing was common knowledge for the Jews but not for the Gentiles. Paul, a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), at no time advocated nor did he suggest a system of tithing for Christians. If tithing was part of the Christian church’s responsibilities inherited from Judaism, why did Paul not once in all of his letters to the Gentile churches explain this requirement?
Once Jews became Christians, did they stop giving the tithe to the Synagogue and start giving it to the Christian congregation that they participated in? Did the apostles accept tithes?
In 70 AD, with the temple destroyed, the need to provide for and sustain the Levites in their temple duties ceased. Although the NT Church began forty years earlier, there is no evidence that Christ or the apostles, even before 70 AD, authorized any change in the Old Covenant Law. Like Christ, the early Church did not receive, nor could have received, the tithes. It was not entitled to these Levitical tithes, as by definition they belonged to the Levites. So it was understood that that which was the entitlement of the Levites and priests was not automatically the prerogative of the ordained servants and shepherds of the spiritual Temple. All the children of God came under a new agreement, a covenant driven by the Spirit (Jer 31:31-33).
Furthermore, the Gospel did not, and does not today, revolve round the service of the Levites in the temple, nor is the Christian Church governed by the physical rituals associated with the temple services in Jerusalem. Was tithing excluded when the physical ordinances of the Levitical system became unnecessary for Christians?
Even prior to 70 AD, the Scriptures give no indication that the early Church, after Christ's death and resurrection, made any claims on the Levitical tithes or imposed any tithing obligations upon its followers. Furthermore, there is also no evidence, in the NT nor in early Church history, that the Christian Church founded by Jesus Christ used the tithing system of the OT, in either its original form, or in any amended form, to support its nurturing of the sheep and evangelization.
Consider also the effects on Jewish society of any such transfer of the Levitical tithe to the NT Church ministry. If the abandonment by the Church of mandatory circumcision and its associated rituals as legal requirements helped create such an uproar among the Jews that the Acts 15 conference had to be convened, what sort of tumult would have ensued amongst them if the Christian Church, certainly prior to 70 AD, had laid claims to the Levitical tithe? Yet no such problem is delineated or documented in any NT writings-because the scenario never eventuated. Church and temple coexisted, albeit often in conflict, until about 70 AD.
For the first-century landowning Jew called into the Church, the ordinances and sacrifices of the Levitical system were no longer requirements. Why should the Levitical tithe alone have been exempted, as some would have us believe, whereas circumcision, rituals, and various specified offerings were erased from Christian practice?
Israel's tithing system was tailored to the needs of the nation whose religious life was centered round the tabernacle/temple and whose people were governed by Levitical laws. God does not require Christians to conform to the tithing laws given to ancient Israel to help support the priests/Levites serving in the temple, just as there is no requirement to pay a temple tax. From about 70 AD, the need for the agricultural tithe, to feed the Levites in their rotation, passed away. Even the Jews today do not tithe according to the First Covenant laws for these same reasons.
The method used by the early Church to support itself and its work is the method Christians should employ today. God's Spirit convicts the Christian to give according to his heart, as a "cheerful giver" (2Cor 9:7), giving "not as of necessity, but willingly" (Philem 14), not according to prescribed limits laid down by some sort of "tithing law," but as convicted by the Holy Spirit
What passes for tithing today more closely resembles the half shekel “atonement money” given in Exodus 30:11-16 that was used to pay for maintenance of the Temple (later reduced to one third shekel in Nehemiah 10:32.33).
ARGUMENTS USED TO JUSTIFY TITHING TODAY
Back before Abram’s name was changed to Abraham to reflect the covenant which God had made with him, Abram went out to rescue his brother Lot. In the course of that rescue, he accumulated the spoils left by the men he defeated who were holding his brother. Afterwards, the King of Sodom met with Abram to discuss the fact that the same king that had held Lot captive had taken his people and he wanted them back. At that meeting, a priest named Melchizedek served them bread and wine and blessed Abram. In gratitude, Abram gave him a tenth of all his spoils.
This verse is often used to imply that tithing was established before the Law and that, therefore, it (like the promise that God gave Abraham) is not to be considered in the same fashion as ceremonial laws and sacrifices as no longer applicable. The line of reasoning used is usually that Abraham is the “spiritual” father of all of us (Romans 4:16, Romans 2:28,29, Galatians 3:29) and that Jesus was “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7:17). Therefore, since our “spiritual” father set the example of giving a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek (who was a foreshadowing of Jesus), that we should do the same.
There are a couple of flaws in that line of reasoning. The first is that this was a one time event for Abram. No where in the Bible is it said or implied that Abram EVER gave a tenth of his spoils to a priest again (unlike tithing which is performed on a cyclical basis). Abram was NOT setting a tradition nor was he commanded of God to do this. It was simply a one-time gift of gratitude. Therefore, if we were to actually follow Abram’s example, we could give a one-time gift of our profits from a particular financial event. Abram’s grandson (Jacob) performed a similar act in Genesis 28:20-22 when he vowed to give God a tenth of all that He gave him if God would take care of him and return him safely to his father’s house. Jacob returned to his father’s house over 20 years later but there is no record of his having paid the vow nor was there any indication that he gave a tenth of his profits to anyone on a cyclical basis.
The second flaw in the above reasoning is that simply because an event or tradition occurred before the giving of the Law to Moses, that we are to follow the example today. If true, then we would still be performing sacrifices since Jacob did so before the coming of the Law (Genesis 31:54, Genesis 46:1).
One argument which could be used to say that Abram WAS tithing is found in Hebrews 7:4-10:
“Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.”
Read in the context of that chapter and the next, it is evident that the point that Paul is making to the Hebrews is that Jesus supercedes the commandments given in the Old Covenant. The key phrase concerning tithing here is “so to speak.” He is making an analogy. He is NOT saying that Abraham gave a cyclical tithe of everything he received. First of all, who would he give a tithe to? There was no synagogue or temple and there were no Levites. If he returned to Melchizedek on a regular basis to give him a tenth of his spoils, why is it not mentioned in the scriptures?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
To build a doctrine of tithing money based on this verse is seeking to rationalize an existing position without objectively analyzing what Jesus is saying. First of all, Jesus is rebuking a Pharisee for being a hypocrite. Secondly, tithing of garden herbs comes from Jewish tradition and the Talmud NOT the Bible. Thirdly, if we are to build a doctrine of tithing from this verse then we would be tithing our seasonings instead of our money. I’m sure the Pharisee had money but Jesus didn’t berate him for not giving 10% of his monetary profits to the Temple because it WAS NEVER REQUIRED. Again, to attempt to build a doctrine of tithing from this verse is missing the whole point of what Jesus was saying. Even if God does not require tithing now, will He bless those who do?
Malachi 3:8-10 "Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this," says the LORD of hosts, "if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
God rewards giving (Luke 6:38) and whenever the people of God obey their church leaders by giving in an act of faith towards God, I believe that God will reward them (Hebrews 13:7). There is absolutely no argument that God encourages people to give to help those in need (1 John 3:17). After all, everything that we have (including our life) belongs to God and He may call upon us to give up part of or all that we have at any time (1 Corinthians 6:20, 1 Corinthians 4:7, Matthew 19:27-29) . And God looks upon the heart. However, those in a position of leadership who teach unsound doctrine and lay burdens which He did not intend on His people will be held responsible by God.
Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness
James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.
Matthew 23:4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.
Money has never (in the Old Testament or New Testament) been required to be tithed. Tithing, like the remainder of the Levitical law, was a command given by God for a specific purpose and a specific time. The purpose no longer exists. Tithing of agricultural products and livestock became no longer applicable with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. There is no indication in the New Testament that Jesus, the apostles, or the early church collected tithes or taught tithing (needs were met instead by people giving freely).
I believe the reasons for the tradition of tithing being so strongly advocated today are self-evident. I believe that many pastors teach tithing because they sincerely believe it is God’s will for today. And then there is the momentum of tradition. However, it is extremely helpful when considering salaries, mission efforts, building programs, etc. to have a reliable and documented revenue stream. The teaching of tithing is at least self-serving (whether intentional or not) and represents a potential conflict of interest for the pastor who is seeking to help his congregation while teaching what my research concludes to be a no longer valid doctrine that burdens them.
How would the church of today function without a dependable revenue stream enforced by the doctrine of tithing? How would they get loans, hire staff, pay for air time? We should notice that, with remarkable consistency, the Gospel was carried forth, not by the might of organization, advertising, media efforts, corporate coordination, not by the pooling of human resources and money into centralized control, but all was done by the Power of God-the Spirit of God (Zech 4:6).
However, don't just take my word for it. Research what the Word of God has to say about it yourself. Below are a list of verses pertaining to tithing.
VERSES CONCERNING TITHING
Several passages are loosely taken from http://www.alphalink.com.au/~sanhub/tithing.htm