Notes on a Study of the Tithe, by George, spring, 1997
What prompted this study was the fact that, even though my wife and I had tithed faithfully ever since we married in 1972, at times giving 30-50% of our gross income, we had never been able to enter into the "three-fold tithe’s blessing" promised by many ministers. Malachi 3:10-12 says:
"Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD 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, (the first blessing - superabundant provision). And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts (the second blessing --protection from loss). And all nations shall call you blessed for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts (the third blessing - the visible testimony of God's approval)."
Though we have been blessed in many ways, we have never experienced anything close to what might be called a blessing that there would not be room enough to receive. Yet we continued to tithe, not regarding our meager circumstances, believing that to do so would be to doubt God's Word. Some even told us that to question at all would be to pit our own understanding against the wisdom of God.
When I finally went to our pastor for counsel, I was told that, if we were tithing and not seeing a return on it, then we must not be giving with a right heart-attitude. Or maybe we were giving "automatically" instead of as an act of worship. Hearing this, I plunged into deep despair and resentment against God. My feeling was that, as important as this was, and as much time as we had spent agonizing in prayer over what could be the matter - not to mention our years of sacrificing on the mission field, God should be willing to TELL us where we were off the mark. I thought, "After all we've done, God, you OWE us!"
I resolved to put away everything I had ever been taught on the subject of tithing and do my own research. But first, I had to get over some of my personal anger and frustration. I was willing to ask some hard questions. That was good. But my cynicism and hardness of heart would work against my ability to hear from the Lord if I didn't make some adjustments in my attitude. The passage in Hebrews 3:7-9 became a guidepost for me:
"Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, 'Today if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tested me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.'" This seemed to say that it was not the testing or the proving that were the problem. It was that in their questioning they became hardened to the point that they were no longer really interested in the truth.
About this time I ran into an acquaintance with a background in the Worldwide Church of God. Since I knew that they were extremely observant of all the Jewish ordinances and that my friend was a tireless student of all things biblical, I decided to ask him what he thought. He recommended a book called "The Tithing Dilemma," by Ernest L. Martin. I was immediately put off by the tone of the book ("It is a SIN to tithe; it is a SIN to ask people to tithe"), but I found some of the information to be very valuable, and it was a good starting place.
The Bible itself turned out to be my best source, and I have now examined every verse or passage that deals, even indirectly, with the tithe. Additionally, I have found excellent information in The Encyclopedia Britannica and The Encyclopedia Judaica. Since there were still some gaps in my research, I eventually consulted Rabbi Honan, of Temple Emmanuel, of Longview, Texas. He is one of only a few scribes in the United States, and has access to a lot of Jewish historical material. Much of what I used here to confirm my own findings came from the Mishnah which is the record of how the commands given in the Torah were actually carried out.
My hope is that understanding of this subject will allow each of us to give "according as he purposeth in his heart,…not grudgingly, or of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7)."
Notes on a Study of the Tithe - George (outline)
The tithe was instituted to support the temple and its ministry. The temple is no longer in existence. The priesthood has been abolished. Jews today do not tithe, and have not since the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Should we?
I.Tithing before Levitical laws of tithing.
A. No tithe mentioned in the first 2000 years (Genesis 1-11).
B. First mention is Abram to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:16-24), 400 years before tithing law.
1. Abram tithed on spoils of war. Law of tithing later recorded in the book of Leviticus required tithing only on increase of land (produce) and animals (Lev.27: 30,31).
2. Law concerning spoils of war was given by Moses (Num. 31:9, 27-29). Spoil divided evenly between the congregation and those who went out to battle. Congregation gave 1/50th to Levites from their half. Warriors gave 1/500th to priests from their half.
3. Abram's tithe was, in fact, a free-will offering.
C. Next mention is Jacob, again before the institution of the tithe (Gen.28: 20-22). Offered on Jacob's terms (If thou wilt be with me, and keep me, and give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, and protection, then…)
D. Joseph did not tithe at all to God, but called for 2 tenths to go to Pharaoh. Shows that tithing was not universal, as some say.
E. Moses raised money before the institution of the tithe.
1. Spoiled Egyptians (Ex.13:35). No tithe paid on this.
2. Tithe still not mentioned when the first commandments were given (Ex. 20-22, "The Book of the Covenant")
3. Free-will offering taken to finance building of tabernacle (Ex.35: 22,29; 36:3,7
II. Initial tithe set up, after 1 year in the wilderness (Lev.27: 30-33).
A. Included ONLY agricultural products (seed of the lad and fruit of the tree) and animals (herd or flock) - the TENTH one to pass under the rod, not the first (Lev. 27:30-32). Also, tithe was not owed unless more than 9 were owned, and tithe paid only on increase. The Mishnah says "whatsoever is kept watch over, cultivated and grows from the soil; whatever is used for food (excluding unclean). So, if a man made his living harvesting clams, none of his profits would be tithe-able. If he raised walnuts, the part that was sold for food would be tithe-able, but if he sold the husks, to make dye, or to stuff beanbags, or to use in sandblasting, none of those profits would be tithe-able
1. Exception - one could give money instead of produce, but was required to pay an extra 1/5th (2%). This exception did not apply to animals ("shall not be redeemed" v 33).
2. Other occupations mentioned, but never told to tithe (including EMPLOYEES of farm and ranch owners) - fishing (Lev. 11:9-12), mining (De. 8:9,10), timber business (I Kgs. 5:7-12); construction work (including stonecutters and stonemasons I Kgs.5: 13-18). Also weavers and other crafts, as well as all types of manufacturing or merchandising; military and government workers.
B. Levites commanded to pay one-tenth of tithe they received to priests (Num.18: 25-28).
C. Priests exempt from the tithe.
III. Adjustments made to original tithe as Israel was leaving wilderness (nomadic existence) and going into Canaan (settled life). Deut. 1-11 gives introduction to changes. Since Israel was going to be scattered over large areas, Levites and priests would live in 48 priestly cities where tithes could be stored or paid (Joshua 21).
A. Moses said that in the wilderness people had done "Whatsoever is right in his own eyes" as far as tithe, burnt offerings, sacrifices, heave offerings, vows, free will offerings, firstlings (De 12:6,8), but that in the land of promise there will specific laws covering these things. Note that laws concerning firstlings (first fruits) are different than tithing laws (Num.3: 12,13,40-45; 8:16-18, Lv.23:10-14, Num.18:12-28; De. 18:4).
B. Moses did not want Levites to have ruler ship over Israel.
1. People set aside 10% of their crop and animal production each year. This was called the "first tithe" - Maaseroth. Brought to central tabernacle (later temple) - De. 14:22-24. People who lived too far to transport tithe could convert to money - with no penalty - v25.
2. Israelites told to use part of their tithe to rejoice before God with their families, and to share it with the Levites (De 14:26,27). This was to be done in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of the 7-year tithing cycle. Maasersheni was 1/60th to 1/40th.
3. In the third and sixth years, the tithe was not to be brought to the central sanctuary, but was to be given to the Levites and the needy people in their own areas (De.14:28,29). N
IV. Levites' place in society.
A. Authorized to receive tithe, except for parts of tithe used by families in feasts and for ministry to the poor by the families themselves ("Peah" was the poor man's tithe, given every 3rd and 6th year - De 14:28. The "gleaning" laws were part of this same poor man's tithe, and were in effect every year.
B. Had other ways of earning money.
1. Levites were not given territories like other tribes, but they were given reasonable amounts of acreage for cattle, fields and vineyards just outside the priestly cities (Nu.:1-5). Actual square mileage owned by Levites in Israel was very close to what was given to Benjamin and Zebulon - it was just divided up around 48 cities.
2.Other than the third and sixth years, the only Levites that received the tithe were those who ministered in the central tabernacle, and then they only got the part left over from the Family celebrations before the Lord.
3.Levites lived off the tithe only when it was their turn to minister in the temple (De 18:6,8; Luke 1:5,8,9).
4. Levites also served as teachers (De 24:8; 33:10; II Chr 35:3; Ne8:7), judges (De 17:8,9; 21:5; I Chr 23:4; II Chr 19:8; Ezk 44:24), tended to medical situations (Lev 13:2; 14:2; Luke 17:14), performed as singers and musicians (I Chr 25; II Chr 5:12-14; 34:12), scribes, officers and doorkeepers (II Chr 34:13 officers and doorkeepers refer to security), architects and builders (II Chr 34:8-13). The tithe, paid every third year, provided all these service, plus aid to the poor.
V. Funding the temple
A. Tithing applied ONLY to territorial Israel (Lev 27:30).
B. Tithe not acceptable from Gentile lands, as even the dust was considered defiled (Edersheim "Life and Times" vol 1, page 9).
C. Temple was not supported only from the tithe of crops and animals. Additional, primary funding came from the yearly half-shekel offering required from every Jewish male 20 years old and older, whether living in Israel or abroad (Ex 30:11-16). Half a shekel was about 2 days' work. One shekel from the fish's mouth paid the annual tribute for both Jesus and Peter (Mt 17:27).
1. It is estimated that3-4 million Jewish males were paying tribute to the temple in Jesus' day. Two days' work, at $60 a day would be $120. That would be $360 million to $500 million per year for the temple treasury, not counting the tithe.
VI. New Testament references to tithing vs. supporting Christian ministry through voluntary giving.
A. Jesus to Pharisees - Mt 23:23 - pertained to Old Covenant, as did His instruction to a leper to offer animal sacrifices (Luke 5:14), and to disciples to pay temple tribute (Mt 17:24-27). He also acknowledged the authority of the scribes and Pharisees (they sit in Moses' seat), and told His disciples to do as they commanded (Mt 23:2,3).
1. OT forms of worship in force "until the time of reformation" (He 9:10).
2. Done away as partial (2 Co 3, Heb 8,9,10).
B. Jesus considered Himself ineligible to receive tithes, being from the tribe of Judah, not Levi.
1. Supported by private funds; voluntary giving (Luke 8:3; 10:3-16).
2. Lived by faith (Mt 6:25-34).
C. Paul did not collect tithe, but took free-will offerings from churches (II Co 11:8; Ac20:28, 33, 35), and worked at tent-making.
D. No record of tithe being collected during age covered by apostles and their immediate successors. Earliest record of ecclesiastical tithing law is 6th century. Enforced by secular law by 8th century. Persisted as church tax throughout Europe until 1800s. Still in force in Germany, unless citizens formally renounce church membership. Eastern Orthodox churches have never accepted the concept of tithing. (Encyclopedia Britannica).
E. Melchizedek - a change in the law? (Heb 7:12)
1. Change in the priesthood. Levitical disannulled (Heb 7:18, 28). Only the Melchizedek priesthood is now valid.
2. Unchangeable priesthood, or "a priesthood which passes not from one to another" (Heb. 7:24). No one but Melchizedek can ever be a Melchizedek priest. Christ represents Melchizedek, but the priesthood itself does not pass to another person.
3. Tithe would have to be given to Christ directly. Arguments that we should tithe to the Body of Christ on earth do not hold up, since all believers are the Body, just as we are all priests (I Pet 2:5, 9). The only way we can be certain of giving to Jesus is Mt. 25:31-40, "If you have done it to the least of these, My brethren, you have done it unto Me."
F. Tithing is a legal observance. Jesus fulfilled the law (Col. 2,3). Our legal debts are paid "in Christ," just as Levi paid tithes "in Abraham" (Heb 7:9). This answers the original question raised in Mal. 3. Compare with Duet. 28, and Gal.3. We walk in the blessing of what Christ has ALREADY done.
G. What about the claim that "offering" is only what is given over and above the tithe? According to II Co 9:7, it is anything offered, not under compulsion.
VII. General giving principles. God wants to cultivate a spirit of generosity in us (grace), that we might demonstrate the blessing of God which is already provided in Christ (Prov. 22:9).
A. Material goods:
Mt. 5:42 Give to him that asketh.
Mt. 7:11 Give good gifts to your children.
Mt. 10:8 Give to the poor.
Mt. 10:21 Freely give, because you have freely received.
Lu. 6:38 Give and it shall be given.
Lu. 11:41 Give alms of what you have.
Lu. 12:33 Sell something to be able to give alms.
Ro. 12:20 Give drink to your enemy.
II Co. 9:7 Give as you have purposed in your heart - not grudgingly or under compulsion. Verse 8 ties into grace, "that we, having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work."
Ep. 4:8. Work with your hands, so you can have to give.
Ja. 2:16. Give them what they need, ALONG WITH the pronouncement of God's blessing.
B. Sowing the Word, and things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
Mt. 13:37 "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man."
Mk. 4:14 "The sower soweth the word."
John. 4:35-38 Sowing this kind of seed will have as its harvest eternal life. We even reap what others have sown.
D. Sowing material goods (also means "investing" or "planting"):
I Co. 9:1-14 Sow spiritual, reap material.
II Co. 9 Sow material, reap material.
Gal. 6:1-10 Sow into (invest in) each other.
VIII. What God gives to us (a scripture containing the words gave, give, given, giveth, giving)
Mt. 4:6 He gives His angels charge over us.
Mt. 6:11 Our daily bread.
Mt. 7:11 Good gifts.
Mt. 10:1 Power against unclean spirits; power to heal all manner of sickness/disease (also Mk. 6:7, Lu. 9:1)
Mt.10:19 What to say.
Mt. 11:28 Rest.
Mt. 13:11 To know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
Mt. 16:19 The keys of the kingdom.
Mt. 20:28 His life as a ransom.
Mk. 14:22, 23 Bread (His body) and wine (His blood).
Mk. 15:37 Gave up the ghost (Lu. 23:46, Jn. 19:30)
Lu. 1:77 Knowledge of salvation by remission of sins.
Lu. 1:78 Light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
Lu. 10:19 Power to tread on serpents and scorpions; power over all the power of the enemy.
Lu. 11:9 Whatever we ask.
Lu. 11:13 The Holy Spirit.
Lu. 12:32 The kingdom.
Lu. 12:51 Division.
Jn. 1:12 Power to become children of God.
Jn. 1:17 Grace and truth.
Jn. 3:16 His only begotten Son.
Jn. 4:14 Living water.
Jn. 6:27 The meat (food) which endureth unto everlasting life.
Jn. 6:32 The true bread from heaven (His flesh, v. 51).
Jn. 10:28 Eternal Life.
Jn. 13:34 His new commandment - love.
Jn. 14:27 His peace.
Jn. 17:8, 14 The words given to Him by God.
Jn.17:22 His glory.
Ac. 2:4 Utterance.
Ac. 17:25 To all, life and breath.
I Co. 1:4 Grace.
I Co. 3:5 To every man.
I Co. 3:6, 7 The increase.
I Co. 2:12 Disposition (spirit) to know the things that are freely given to us of God.
I Co. 12:7 The manifestation of the Spirit (to profit withal)
I Co. 15:57 The victory.
II Co. 1:22 The earnest (pledge/security/down-payment) of the Spirit in our hearts.
II Co. 5:18 The ministry of reconciliation.
Gal. 1:4 Himself for our sins.
Gal. 3:18 Promise of inheritance to Abraham.
Gal. 3:22 The promise by faith of Jesus Christ.
Eph. 1:22 Him (Jesus) to be head over all things to the church.
Eph. 4:7 Grace according to the measure of Jesus Christ.
Eph. 4:8 Gifts unto men.
Eph. 4:11 Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
Eph. 5:2 Himself.
Eph. 5:14 Light.
Phil. 1:29 To believe and to suffer for His sake.
II Th. 2:16 Everlasting consolation.
I Tim. 2:6 Himself a ransom (Tit. 2:14).
I Tim. 6:17 All things richly to enjoy.
II Tim. 1:7 The spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
II Tim. 2:7 Understanding in all things.
II Tim. 2:25 Repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.
II Tim 3:16 All scripture.
Jas. 1:5 Wisdom - liberally, without chiding.
Jas. 4:6 More grace.
I Pet. 4:11 Ability.
I Pet. 5:5 Grace to the humble.
II Pet. 1:3 All things that pertain to life and godliness.
II Pet. 1:4 Great and precious promises.
Rev. 1:1 The revelation of Jesus Christ.
Rev. 2:7 To eat of the tree of life (to him that overcometh).
Rev. 2:10 A crown of life(to those faithful unto death).
Rev. 2:17 A white stone with a new name; the hidden manna.
Rev. 21:6 The water of life (to him that is athirst).
Rev. 12:12 Reward (to every man according as his works shall be).
As shown by the verses above, God has a giving nature. I believe He wants to see that same nature developed in us as Christians. Any church or ministry we really care about is worth supporting generously, even sacrificially. Actually, there is nothing wrong with affixing a percentage to our giving -even ten- percent -- for the sake of convenience in bookkeeping or goal-setting. We can exhort and encourage and inspire each other to give, but it should now be perfectly clear that it is wrong to use Old Testament tithing laws to coerce other believers into giving.
If tithing laws were not universal under the Old Covenant, how could they ever be made to apply universally under the New Covenant of grace?