Blessings to you dear reader.
Thank you for taking the time to read the following. It is my prayer that it will edify, and bring clarity, and provoke thought and a closer walk with our Savior. Please note that wherever scripture is quoted, it is taken from the American Standard Version (ASV)
In His service,
A debated doctrine:
One of the most heavily debated doctrines of the modern church is the doctrine of the tithe.
Many Christians generally accept that the Jewish law, (as part of the Old Covenant) was abolished upon Jesus’ crucifixion, when he fulfilled it. As such, for the most part, Christians do not follow Jewish community laws such as the extensive dietary restrictions in the Old Testament, for example, and tithing was part of that group of laws.
Others believe that because Jesus spoke about tithing, he was instructing his followers to continue the practice, and for many, not only is the tithe still an active doctrine, it is proof of one’s commitment to God.
What is ‘Tithing’?
The doctrine is a simple one: The believer is required to give 1/10th of their earnings/wages to their home church. The word ‘tithe’ means simply ‘a tenth’.
The doctrine is based on the following passages of scripture:
The first is Malachi 3: 8-11 which states:
Will a man rob God? yet ye rob me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with the curse; for ye rob me, even this whole nation. Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in my house, and prove me now herewith, saith Jehovah of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast its fruit before the time in the field, saith Jehovah of hosts. – (Malachi 3:8-11 ASV)
The second is found in Genesis 14, specifically verses 14-20:
And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued as far as Dan. And he divided himself against them by night, he and his servants, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. And the king of Sodom went out to meet him, after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, at the vale of Shaveh (the same is the King’s Vale). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth: and blessed be God Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him a tenth of all. – (Genesis 14:14-20 ASV)
While these passages are indeed admonition and example, two questions must be asked;
1) For whom? And
2) Do these passages constitute a doctrine that should be in effect for the church?
Specific Points re: the tithe
There are different tithes mentioned in the Bible, let’s take a look at a couple of them:
Section a: Abraham’s tithe
While Genesis 14, (and its reference in Hebrews 7) is commonly used to bolster the claim that we (Christians) should tithe, I think that we should take a closer look:
Please take a moment to read the ENTIRE 14th Chapter of Genesis… After you’ve read it, please consider the following:
- That Abraham’s tithe was a ONE TIME event. (There is no other Biblical record of Abram/Abraham EVER tithing again)
- Abraham’s tithe WAS NOT on his personal possessions; rather it was only on the war plunder that resulted from his rescue mission for Lot, his nephew. . (Note: In Numbers 31:31-41, God only required 1% of spoils of war.)
- There is NO evidence that Abraham tithed on his personal possessions to anyone at any time. 4. As it was from the spoils of war, and pre-dated the law, Abram’s gift was NOT a holy tithe from God’s holy land gathered by God’s holy people under God’s holy Old Covenant. For this reason alone, this example should not be used in conjunction of Malachi 3.
- Abraham kept nothing for himself; he gave everything back. Genesis 14, verse 21-23, is the key text.
- Abraham’s tithe is not quoted anywhere in the Bible to endorse tithing to Israel or to the church. If Abraham is an example for Christians to give 10% to God, then he should also be an example for Christians to give the other 90% to Satan, or to the king of Sodom! (Thanks to Russell E. Kelly PhD for that one)
(Please note that I am purposefully not dealing with the identity of Melchizedek. That discussion is for another time, and will only serve as a distraction from our central theme)
Section b: Malachi 3, and the Mosaic Law
- The Mosaic tithes were always edible and came from the crops and flocks.
Malachi 3 says to “bring all the tithes into the storehouse that there may be Meat/Food in my house.” Meat/Food is a very specific thing, in that it means something edible. In the Hebrew, the word is: טרף ṭereph (teh’-ref)
Meaning: From H2963; something torn, that is, a fragment, for example a fresh leaf, prey, food: – leaf, meat, prey, spoil.
- The teaching which states that everybody in the Old Testament was required to begin their giving to God at the ten per cent level is false.
The poor were not required to tithe at all! Neither did the tithe come from the results of man’s craft, hands and skill. Only farmers and herdsmen gathered what God produced as tithe increase.
Note: Please note the implication here, beloved: Jesus was a carpenter; Paul was a tentmaker and Peter was a fisherman. None of these occupations qualified as tithe-payers because they did not farm or herd animals for a living. It is, therefore, incorrect to teach that everybody paid a required minimum of a tithe and, therefore, incorrect to teach that in keeping with the law, New Covenant Christians should be required to at least begin at the same minimum as Old Covenant Israelites.
This common false assumption is very often repeated and completely ignores the very plain definition of tithe as food gathered from farm increase or herd increase. The easy argument to make here, is that being that we are no longer in a primarily agricultural society, we give money instead of food, but if we are honest with the text, how do we decide who is to tithe?
- There are three Different Tithes Described in the Bible.
The first religious tithe, called the “Levitical tithe,” had two parts. Again, the whole first tithe was given to the Levites who were only servants to the priests (Numbers 18:21-24; Nehemiah10:37). The Levites, in turn, gave one tenth of the whole tithe to the priests (Numbers 18:25-28; Nehemiah10:38]. According to Deuteronomy 12 and 14,
The second religious tithe, called the “feast tithe,” was eaten by worshipers in the streets of Jerusalem during the three yearly festivals (Deut. 12:1-19; 14:22-26).
The third tithe, according to Deuteronomy 14 and 26, called the “poor tithe,” was kept in the homes every third year to feed the poor (Deut. 14:28, 29; 26:12, 13).
Here is some more info re: the tithes discussed in Deut 14:
Occasionally, the discussion of Deut 14:22 comes up. This verse is often taken out of context, because if one reads verses 22-29 in context, the passage puts the tithing doctrine to bed once and for all: Here is it (continuing in the ASV)
22 Thou shalt surely tithe all the increase of thy seed, that which cometh forth from the field year by year.
23 And thou shalt eat before Jehovah thy God, in the place which he shall choose, to cause his name to dwell there, the tithe of thy grain, of thy new wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herd and of thy flock; that thou mayest learn to fear Jehovah thy God always.
24 And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it, because the place is too far from thee, which Jehovah thy God shall choose, to set his name there, when Jehovah thy God shall bless thee;
25 then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thy hand, and shalt go unto the place which Jehovah thy God shall choose:
26 and thou shalt bestow the money for whatsoever thy soul desireth, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul asketh of thee; and thou shalt eat there before Jehovah thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou and thy household.
27 And the Levite that is within thy gates, thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no portion nor inheritance with thee.
28 At the end of every three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase in the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates:
29 and the Levite, because he hath no portion nor inheritance with thee, and the sojourner, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that Jehovah thy God may bless thee in all the work of thy hand which thou doest.
So, in short:
— Here’s One Tithe—
v.25 exchange your livestock and/or crops for money if you have to travel too far,
v.26 Spend the money however you see fit
v.27 Don’t forget the Levites, because THEY CAN OWN NOTHING (Some of you who attend traditional or megachurches may wish to ask your Pastor about that one)
—And another Tithe—-
v.28 Bring the tithe every three years
v.29 so that the Levites (who could not own anything) , the travelers, the orphans and the widows may have food. THAT was the reason for the tithe… Clearly, this is NOT a New Covenant practice or doctrine…
Also, according to First Samuel 8:14-17, the ruler collected the first and best ten per cent for political use. During Jesus’ time Rome collected the first ten per cent (10%) of most food and twenty per cent (20%) of fruit crops as its spoils of war.
Conclusion: The current tithe teaching ignores all other tithes and focuses on an incorrect interpretation of the first religious tithe.
- What does the phrase ‘windows of heaven’ mean in context?
No other Scripture has had greater mileage than Malachi 3:10
“Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in my house, and prove me now herewith, saith Jehovah of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
Malachi 3 has been greatly misused for God’s blessing to come to his people.
A closer look of this verse in the context shows that it has nothing to do with wealth or material blessings. The term ‘windows of heaven occurs 3 times in the scriptures: We first find this same term used by God back in Genesis 7:11 the windows of heaven were open and rain contributed to the flood, as the fountains of the deep were broken open.
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11-12)
In Genesis 8:2 it says the windows of heaven were stopped and the rain from heaven was restrained.
And God remembered Noah, and all the beasts, and all the cattle that were with him in the ark: and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged; the fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained; and the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of a hundred and fifty days the waters decreased. (Genesis 8:1-3)
Clearly this phrase is consistently used for water. In Genesis it was a judgment. In Malachi 3 it was to be a blessing on their crops. The nation lived by their agriculture (Husbandry) and depended upon the rain. God’s blessing had to do with his provision of water; no rain and they would starve. If they did not give God their tithes which was part of the blessing in the Mosaic covenant God would bring a curse on them, the ground would not yield food because he would not allow it to rain.
The Jew vs The Christian
Let’s take a side by side look at the life of the Mosaic Law abiding Jew, and the Christian:
God’s Mt. Sinai legislation regarding tithing is spelled out in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. As we discussed earlier, there are as many as three separate tithes that can be distinguished:
1) The annual tithe for the support of the Levites, the tabernacle/temple workers Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-24). This was the only visible means of support for them, since they inherited no land when Canaan was conquered under Joshua. The Levites, in turn, passed along a tithe of this tithe to the priests, the highest echelon of worship leaders (Numbers 18:26).
2) An annual feast tithe, which apparently went for the support of the house of God and its services (Deut 14:22-27).
3) A “social ministry” or ‘poor’ tithe, received every third year, for helping the poor and needy (Deut 14:28; 26:12).
4) A further examination of point 1: According to Deuteronomy 18, and Numbers 18, the priests and Levites were not allowed to own anything. Please consider that carefully, beloved. The priests and Levites could not own anything.
The priests, the Levites, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the offerings of Jehovah made by fire, and His inheritance. Therefore they shall have no inheritance among their brothers. Jehovah is their inheritance, as He has said to them. (Deuteronomy 18:1-2 ASV)
And Jehovah said to Aaron, You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any part among them. I am your part and your inheritance among the sons of Israel. And behold, I have given the sons of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, the service of the tabernacle of the congregation. (Numbers 18:20-21 ASV)
5) Also remember that the Old Testament tithing code specified the bare minimum amount to be contributed; it commanded the starting point for giving, not a goal toward which the worshipper should strive. The tithing code presupposed an agricultural existence, targeting the offering of grain, wine, oil, and livestock.
1) Keeping in mind that several things happened After Christ died on the cross for our sins:
- He rose from death on the third day,
- Ascended into heaven to rule all things, and
- He sent his Spirit on all flesh.
As a result, the New Testament church is under a new (and better) covenant, of which Jesus is the surety of, and the Old Testament had been fulfilled. This means that the ceremonial laws which pointed to Christ have served their purpose, and are now no longer in effect. From the day of Pentecost onward the rite of circumcision, the temple sacrifices, and other observances have lost their Spiritual importance. Clearly, the early church knew this, which is why the practice of tithing seems to have fallen by the wayside in those days. The Jewish historian Josephus states that all three tithes listed above were firmly in place in first century A.D. Judaism, but nevertheless tithing is never mentioned in the New Testament’s description of the first century church.
If tithing was to be practiced by and in the church, I would think that it would have been mentioned in the Epistles, especially to the church at Galatia, because they were primarily a gentile congregation.
2) All three tithes became obsolete.
- The tithe for the Levites became unnecessary when the Levites were replaced by the apostolic ministry. Concerning the material support of ministers of the Gospel, all the New Testament says is that they should eat what is set before them (Matt. 10:10) and that the church should take care of them (Gal 6:6).
- Secondly, the tithe for the support of the temple services outlived its usefulness: the sacrifices of the temple, soon to be leveled in AD. 70, gave place to the one Sacrifice for all sin.
- Thirdly, the “social ministry” tithe was no longer needed because Christian brothers and sisters helped one another by way of special collections, as was the case with the famine-stricken Christians in Jerusalem (1 Cor 16). While giving for the Lord’s work obviously continued in the church, no amounts or percentages are prescribed in the New Testament. All that is said is that early Christians had everything in common (Acts 2:44 – this is not a tithe, it is 100%!), that they gave sacrificially (2 Cor 8:1-3), and that they gave as God had prospered them (1 Cor 16:2)
3) Jesus’ comments in Matt 23:23 were directed at those still under the Mosaic Covenant.
Clearly this is so, and the proofs of this are many, so I will not go into detail… Additionally, many things Jesus did and commanded would be sinful to bind on Christians.
– Jesus commanded animal sacrifice, in accordance with the Law. Once HE, the perfect sacrifice was given, there was no longer any need for animal sacrifice (Matt 8:4)
– Jesus observed the Sabbath (Luke 4:16) although he rejected their man made up regulations concerning the Sabbath.
– Jesus observed the Passover (Matt 26:18)
– Jesus commanded JEWS (Matt 23:23) to tithe their crops and flocks to support the Levitical priests, but such would not work well as the support system for the work of the Church.
4) The early church DID NOT TITHE!
According to the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of The Bible, P. 758
“For several centuries in the early Church there was no support of the clergy by a systematic giving of a tithe…rather freedom in Christian giving was emphasized.”
So what then do we say dear reader? Is tithing for the church? For the believer?
No, but GIVING is! Give freely, abundantly, and with Joy!
May God richly bless you!
Sources and Resources:
Pastor George Greene – In Your Bible Ministries
Dr. Russell Earl Kelly – Should the Church teach tithing?
Gary Amirault – The tithe is illegal
The ‘Let us reason’ website – Are you giving to God with a Cheerful Heart, or Tithing by law to Benefit Yourself?
Dr. James Bollhagen – Tithing: The 10% Rule and the Church: A Topical Summary for “Issues, Etc.”
Pastor CT Jermin – The Repairer’s Fellowship