Tithing & The New Testament Church — Part 1

In nearly every church, the members hear their preacher (or minister, or pastor, or whatever they call him in that particular denomination) remind them frequently and adamantly that they must tithe.

Tithing, of course, being the practice of donating ten percent of one’s income to the church. At a designated time during the service, a church member or two will pass a collection plate. The congregation fills the plate with their tithes. Or the church has a locked and secured collection box near the entry where the members slip in their tithes.

From this money the building is maintained and — most importantly of all — their preacher is paid his yearly salary. And so the preacher consistently reminds them, often in a thundering voice, to pay their tithe. He usually sites verses such as 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.”

He emphasizes that to fail to pay tithe is to rob God, and will bring down curses — and if they pay faithfully, God will shower them with blessings. And so, fearful of being cursed, not wanting to rob God, and desiring blessings in abundance, the church members throw ten percent of their money into the plate or box without fail.

But is tithing applicable to Christianity and New Testament law? Is the practice of tithing money Scriptural? Let’s find out.

ABRAM AND MELCHIZEDEK

Tithing advocates reference the story of Abram and Melchizedek in Genesis 14, when Abram rescued Lot from four invading kings. Abram was victorious and brought back spoils of war.

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). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered you enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all. The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.”

We know from the book of Hebrews that Melchizedek, king of Salem (later to be known as Jerusalem) was a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, which is what preachers will often be quick to point out. “Abram gave a tenth to Melchizedek, just as we should give a tenth of all to Christ,” they might say. However, notice several points:

  • Abram did not give Melchizedek a tenth of his spoils until Melchizedek brought him food and drink and blessed him. It was a gesture of appreciation for Melchizedek’s aid and support — a friendly gift — not something done for religious reasons.
  • Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth voluntarily, and not because God commanded him to. Giving to Melchizedek was all Abram’s idea, and Abram’s alone.
  • Abram did not lay claim to the rest, but gave it all (ninety percent of the spoils) to the king of Sodom. So while Abram gave only a tenth to Melchizedek, priest of God, he gave nine tenths to the king of Sodom. If Abram’s actions are to be emulated by Christians today, would we not, after tithing to God, give the rest away? Remember, Sodom was a notoriously corrupt and wicked city. Should we give ninety percent of our increase to homosexual programs?
  • Abram was pre-Christianity, even pre-Mosaic law. His example is not like that of Jesus or one of the apostles, to be held up as something to be mimicked to be a good Christian. Abram burned sacrifices. Should Christians do that? After all, if we are to follow his single gesture of giving ten percent to a priest of God, then we should also follow his example of burning animal sacrifices. Would that not be reasonable logic?

So we see how flimsy this example is in supporting the concept of New Testament tithing.

JACOB’S TENTH

Another story used in an attempt to support New Testament tithing is the tale of Jacob. We are all familiar with the account of Genesis 28, in which Jacob dreams of the ladder ascending to heaven and God extends the same promise he gave to Abraham and Isaac.

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to you.”

Again, we have points that must not go unnoticed in this passage.

  • The giving of the ten percent was not commanded of Jacob by God at any point. This was something done voluntarily, a token of thankfulness for God’s provision and protection as Jacob traveled.
  • This promise was given prior to the laying down of the Mosaic law, in which God does specifically command tithing. But as we will notice, since there was no Levitical priesthood in Jacob’s day, Jacob could not tithe in the manner described by God to Moses.
  • Again, if we are to hold up Jacob’s tithing as an example of what a godly person does, then should we not also build altars as God commanded him to do later at Bethel in Genesis 35? Why is tithing applicable to the Christian life, and not altars and burnt sacrifices?

“But,” some argue, “the fact remains that giving to God was something done by righteous men throughout Biblical history. Nothing says we are exempt.” True. I do not deny this. However, our concept of tithing has become skewed, as we shall see as we continue through this study. Shall we give our way, or God’s way? Which do you think God would prefer?

GOD COMMANDS ISRAEL TO TITHE

Finally we come to God’s commandments to Israel concerning tithing. The first time in Scripture that God commands tithing is in Leviticus 27:30-34.

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. If, therefore, a man wishes to redeem part of his tithe, he shall add to it one fifth of it. For every tenth part of herd or flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord. He is not to be concerned whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; or if he does exchange it, then both it and its substitute shall become holy. It shall not be redeemed.

Let’s continue this system of taking these passages point by point.

  • Nothing in this commandment says anything about tithing money. Tithing, as far as we have read, has concerned “seed of the land”, “fruit of the tree”, and “every tenth part of herd or flock”. Tithing in this passage is strictly in reference to produce and meat.
  • A tithe could be redeemed (bought back) for the worth of the items tithed plus a fifth of its worth. If tithing involved money, how could a person buy back their tithe in this fashion?
  • Tithes were a tenth of everything produced, whether good or bad, regardless of its condition.

God goes into more detail about tithing in succeeding passages. Let’s read Numbers 18:21-32.

“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 sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, or they will bear sin and die. Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.’ ” Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, ‘When you take from the sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe. Your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor of the full produce from the wine vat. So you shall also present an offering to the Lord from your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the Lord’s offering to Aaron the priest. Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the Lord, from all the best of them, the sacred part from them.’ You shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be reckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor, and as the product of the wine vat. You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting. You will bear no sin by reason of it when you have offered the best of it. But you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the sons of Israel, or you will die.’ ”

Remember while reading this that the children of Levi did not receive a portion of the land of Canaan. They resided in cities. They did not farm or raise flocks. Their job was solely to be God’s ministers to the rest of the children of Israel. Now, notice the following:

  • Again, God says nothing about money. He is speaking strictly of food and drink.
  • The children of Israel supported the Levites through their tithes, since the Levites did not have land with which to raise their own food.
  • The Levites were required to tithe from what they received through the tithes of the rest of Israel.
  • Unlike the rest of Israel, the sons of Levi had to offer to God the very best of what they received through Israel’s tithes.
  • The tithes the Levites received were compensation for their ministry. They were supported in matters of food by the rest of the Hebrews.

We still have a couple more passages to examine, but keep all the above in mind as we continue.

Let’s jump ahead to the next book and read Deuteronomy 12:17-19.

“You are not allowed to eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or new wine or oil, or the firstborn of your herd of flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the contribution of your hand. But you shall eat them before the Lord you God in the place which the Lord your God will choose, you and your son and daughter, and your male and female servants, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God in all your undertakings. Be careful that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land.”

This is where things start to get interesting.

  • The tithe again consists solely of food, not money.
  • The tither and his family were to eat of the tithe in a meal of rejoicing.
  • They were to eat of the tithe at a place of God’s choosing (to be later identified as Jerusalem).
  • They were to share the tithe with their local Levite as with their own family.

Remember, these are the laws God laid down concerning tithing. If we are to practice tithing in the New Testament church, should we not follow the rules God gave regarding the practice? Show of hands: Who has attended a tithing church where the tithes consisted of food, and those giving the tithes partook of the tithes in a meal of thanksgiving?

No one? Hmmm. Strange.

Let’s move on, still keeping the above points in mind.

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 wraps up the details on the tithing practice.

“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 first born of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord you 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 you 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 you 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. At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe or 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 you god may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.”

Talk about wrapping it up with a bang! If you have been paying attention, you’ll notice none of this sounds like the tithing practiced by churches today.

  • Tithing was a yearly, not weekly practice. It was a tenth of what came from the field and flock or herd — again, not money.
  • The tithe was to be eaten in the presence of God, at a place of God’s choosing (later to be Jerusalem).
  • If Jerusalem was too far to carry the tithe, the tither was allowed to sell the tithe, take the far more portable money to Jerusalem, and there buy whatever he wanted to replace the sold goods. This is the only instance in which tithing ever involved money — and the money was to be used to buy food for tithing, not given to the temple.
  • Tithers are again reminded to remember to give to the Levites.
  • Every third year, the Hebrews did not have to bring their tithe to Jerusalem. They simply brought it to the nearest town and left the tithe there, where not only the Levites but strangers, orphans, and widows could come and eat.

Again, this sounds nothing like the tithing we see in churches today! In fact, the above passage makes tithing sound a lot more like the American tradition of Thanksgiving Day! And notice the part about every third year. Do tithing churchgoers contribute a tenth of their earnings to charity every third year? Think about it.

TITHING AS GOD ORDERED IT

So, based on the above information, here is how the system of tithing really worked:

The Hebrews set aside a tenth of their flocks and herds for tithe every year at harvest. They then took the tithe to Jerusalem. If the tithe was too much to carry such a distance, they could sell the tithe, take the money to Jerusalem, and buy food and drink to replace what they sold. Then they gathered at the temple to participate in a feast of thanksgiving to God. Now, obviously they couldn’t eat the entire tenth of their produce at one sitting — therefore, once they had finished their feast, the rest went to the Levites so they would have sustenance.

The Levites, in turn, had to select the best tenth of what they received, and offer it to God. This was in the form of the food offering, which consisted of wave offerings and the like, which God laid down in His laws regarding food offerings. The rest they were free to do with what they desired.

Every third year, the Hebrews did not take their tithes to Jerusalem, but rather piled them in their towns so the needy, as well as the Levites, could eat and be satisfied.

Remember, doing something God commands requires doing it the way God requires — otherwise, we are not doing God’s will, but our own. In order to tithe properly, according to the way God laid down in the Mosaic Law, we would need to observe the following:

  • We would tithe with food, not money.
  • We would be sure the tithe went to the Levites.
  • We would take the food to Jerusalem every year.
  • Every third year we would pile the food in our local town for the needy.

Do you see the problem with this?

  • Most of us aren’t farmers anymore. We buy our food at the supermarket more often than not. This presents a problem to the average non-farming individual who wishes to tithe.
  • Nobody knows who is of the tribe of Levi anymore. Bloodlines within the Jewish circle have, for the most part, been mingled, muddled, or lost. This also poses a dilemma for the person who wishes to tithe.
  • Jerusalem is halfway around the globe for many of us. If we were to tithe properly, we would have to fly to Jerusalem every year — the cost of which would be prohibitive for most of us.
  • Again, since so many of us do not farm, how could we pile our tithes in the local food pantry? We would have nothing to contribute unless we went to the store, bought a bunch of groceries, and delivered them to the soup kitchen downtown.

But have you ever seen any hardcore, Bible-thumping, diehard tither of today do any of the above? I highly doubt it. Their tithe is always a wad of bills or a check that they drop into the collection plate every Sunday — and that money goes toward the building, their minister’s salary, and/or church projects.

This “tithing” is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the tithing God commanded of the children of Israel. And yet that is what they call it. Tithing.

TITHING UP TO THE NEW COVENANT

A cursory reading of Scripture will show that the way tithing was practiced throughout the Old Testament never changed.

In II Chronicles 31:4-7, we read about King Hezekiah restoring the observance of the Law in Israel after a long period of godlessness.

Also he commanded the people who lived in Jerusalem to five the portion due to the preists and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the law of the Lord. As soon as the order spread, the sons of Israel provided in abundance the first fruits of grain, new wine, oil, honey and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of all. The sons of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of sacred gifts which were consecrated to the Lord their God, and placed them in heaps. In the third month they began to make the heaps, and finished them by the seventh month.

No money involved here. Food was brought and laid up in heaps, exactly the way God commanded it be done in Moses’ day. Hezekiah and the people of Israel are in this passage adhering to tithing as it was originally intended.

When Israel returned from captivity in Babylon, the prophet Nehemiah was in charge of reestablishing the practices of the Mosaic Law. Throughout Nehemiah 10-13, he restores temple practices, the observance of the Sabbath, and tithing. You will notice that again, tithing always consisted of food, and never money.

In Malachi 3:8-10, we find the passage that ministers and preachers of today pound into their congregations’ heads on a regular basis.

“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.”

Read this passage again, slowly, keeping in mind everything we learned from the passages above. Do you notice something that emphasizes that tithes consist of FOOD and not money?

That’s right. “Bring the whole tithe into the STOREHOUSE, so that there may be FOOD in my house.”

God doesn’t say, “Bring the whole tithe into the treasury (or bank, or collection plate) so that there may be money in my house.” He is talking about food! He is talking about the same tithing practice he commanded of the children of Israel so long ago! The practice of tithing, of giving thanks for the year’s produce, of contributing to the Levite’s welfare, of giving to the needy NEVER CHANGED!

The Old Law was still in effect while Jesus walked the earth. During this time, tithing remained in practice. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy in following the rite of tithing to the letter but neglecting to lead a truly godly life in Matthew 23:23

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, 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.”

So we see that tithing — with food — was still in force at that time.

But Jesus was about to be crucified and rise again to sit at the right hand of God. The Law of Moses was about to be fulfilled.

Things were about to change.

 

The next post will wrap up this exploration of tithing and reveal some of the greatest misconceptions regarding tithing today. Watch for “Tithing & The New Testament Church — Part 2”!

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