Tithing in the Old Testament
The annual tithe
Deuteronomy 14:22-29 tells us that every year (v. 22) the tithe was to be taken to the designated place of tithing, and it was to be eaten there by the one who brought it (v. 23). Why did the Israelites have to eat their tithe there? So that they could "learn to fear the LORD your God always." (v. 23 NASB). Did you see who this tithe was to be given to? Did they have to give it to the priest? The priests assistant? The building fund? The televangelist? The temple? Or church? No they had to take the tithe and enjoy it themselves! The passage explains that if it is too far to take the tithe to the designated place of tithing, you should take your tithe, exchange it for money, and then take it to another place the Lord chooses. Now, see what we are to do with the money we got from our tithes! "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." (v. 26 NASB). When last have you been taught that if your church was too far, you could take your tithe and spend it on anything you wanted to? Now how do we get the money to the "priest?" That is, if we were ever told to tithe money! I’m just contemporizing it.
The tri-annual tithe
Deuteronomy 26:12 tells us that every third year you are to deposit your tithe in your town. Now see who this tithe is for! "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." (v. 29 NASB). This is the only tithe that went to the "storehouse!" AND, did you see that this happened only every third year? This is also not a tithe stretching over three years! We have already seen what happened to the annual tithe in Deuteronomy 14:22-29. This tithe was not just for the "priest," but also for the alien (not from UFOs), the orphan, and the widow in the town. This method of tithing was to bring equality. What do I mean? Someone said before, that in the Old Testament there were approximately 33 people to every Levite (I don’t know how accurate this is). How will this equalize everything between the people and the Levites. Imagine the average salary (assuming we were to pay tithes using money) of the 33 to be $50,000 per year. At the end of the third year they will pay $5,000 each for their tithes, which brings the total to $165,000. That will be $20,000 more than the average for the 33 over that three year period, which will be $145,000 for this period after tithes. This seems to be a bit unfair! The Levites then made more during the three year period than the people they served. Not at all! The $20,000, then, could be used for aliens, orphans and widows. However it worked out in reality in these times is besides the point. The point is that this tithed went to the Levites, the poor, widows and foreign travelers. So, for two years we use our tithes to celebrate with the Levites and the poor. This means we get to enjoy our tithes ourselves. In the third year, however, we deposit all our tithes in our towns for the Levites, aliens, orphans and widows.
What of Abraham’s tithe?
Genesis 14:18-20 gives us the well known story of Abraham giving tithes to Melchizedek. Note in this passage that Abraham gave a tenth of his war spoils. It was not given from the increase of his daily labors, nor does it say here that Abraham made this a principle to live by. As far as Scripture is concerned God did not even command Abraham to give the tithe, nor does it seem that Abraham ever did it again. So, for the idea that the "principle" of tithing is pre-law, makes for erroneous exegesis.
More on tithing
In Leviticus 27:30-33 we see clearly what was to be tithed: the seed of the land, the fruit of the tree, and herd or flock. It is easy to say that today hardly any of us are farmers and therefore we should give our tithe from our salary. We have to also look at who were excluded from the tithe under Old Testament law. Not all Israelites were farmers of some sort. That is a misconception. There were all kinds of "professions" in those days. Bakers, carpenters, soldiers, etc. The Bible never mentions anything that they should tithe! The Bible never mentions any money to be tithed. Your comment, please! Oh, so you say that they did not have money in those days? Money is mentioned as early as Genesis 17. So, money was used from early on. Should the tithe be the best part of what you have? Not according to Scripture! As the animals walked past, every tenth one would be chosen. Then the Lord says "He is not to be concerned whether it is good or bad" (v 33 NASB).
Many who teach that tithing is still applicable for the New Testament church teach that the pastor of the church is the priest of the local congregation in very much the same way as the Levite was. Let us look at Numbers 18:21-32 for some of the facts of the tithes the Levites received.
Deuteronomy 12:6-21 is a very interesting passage concerning tithing that probably (note that here I said probably, and not definitely) all tithe-teachers would love if it was not in the Bible. That is why you will not hear them teach from this passage in its context. Notice in verses 6, 7, 11, 12, 17, 18 and 21 what the Lord said concerning what should happen to your tithe. There is a popular teaching today that says that when you tithe to the church, you must not be concerned with what happens to your tithe. You have done your part, and the responsibility of that money no longer rests on you. You cannot tell the church what to do with your tithe. Let’s look at the verses that I want you to notice. In all the verses except verse 21 the Bible describes what should happen to your tithe when your designated place of tithing is near you. It describes how, when you take your tithe to that place, you and your household must take your tithe and eat it before the Lord together with the Levites. Isn’t this amazing? No wonder the tithe-teachers do not want to teach all the truth from this passage. This means that they are not going to get all their 10% or all the offerings brought to the Lord. This will surely cut their income by a large margin. The next time you take your tithe to the church, first stop off at the local convenience store, buy food with it, and then take it to the church, invite your pastors for a meal, and enjoy it together with them.
Verse 21 stands out among these. If the local place of tithing ("church") is too far from you, you may take your tithe and offerings, and enjoy them in your own home. Where is that 10% going? Oh my!
2 Chronicles 31:4-6 speaks for itself. After the temple was built, Hezekiah told the people in Jerusalem to bring the portion due to the priests to the temple. We have already seen above what was due to the priests according to their law. Also see Nehemiah 10:37-39.
The famous passage!
It will be good to quote Malachi 3:8-10 here, seeing that so
many know it.
(8) "Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, `How have we robbed Thee?' In tithes and offerings. (9) "You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! (10) "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."
Many of our pastors have preached
on this passage, and have made us feel quite condemned if we were not
paying our tithes into the "storehouse" of God. Now, before we even
look at this passage, let’s put it into its context. We will need to
quote the first seven verses here to find out what was really being
(1) "Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the LORD of hosts. (2) "But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. (3) "He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. (4) "Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. (5) "Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me," says the LORD of hosts. (6) "For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. (7) "From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you," says the LORD of hosts. "But you say, 'How shall we return?'" (Mal. 3:1-7).
This was a time in Israel’s life when they did not pay the tithes as God had instructed them. At this point in the history of Israel, the wage earner, the widow, and the orphan were oppressed by the leaders; the aliens were turned away and they did not fear God. If we look at the passages we have dealt with already, we will remember that the tithe was used for the widow, orphan and the alien. The purpose of the tithe was to learn to fear the Lord. So, Israel broke the tithing law on all counts. So, God said to them that since the "days of your fathers" they have changed what God had said concerning the tithe and "have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them." What follows logically on this then? Now we know why God said that the Israelites have robbed God in tithes and offerings! So "so that there may be food in My house." For who? The widow, the orphan and the alien! Deuteronomy 14:29 told us who the tithe was for: "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." (NASB). Can you now see why God said "'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.'" It was said way back in Deut. 14:29! All that God did here in Malachi was to remind them of the correct giving and purpose of the tithe, and that He would bless them if they did it correctly. So, will a simple tithe of 10% now make a difference? No! If we want to tithe, we have to ensure that the tithe is given correctly, and used correctly. Who is coming to the next "tithe" party?
Let’s go a little further with the Malachi passage. It has
become commonplace for those who teach tithing to equate the
"storehouse" with the "church." Is this really justified? No! The
reason for this is obvious. The storehouse in the Old Testament was the
temple. The temple was done away with in the New Testament. The temple
in the Old Testament was a shadow of the real, which was to come,
Christ. When Christ came, He fulfilled all types and shadows. The
temple was the ordained place of worship in the Old, but in the New
(when the Old was done away with) there is no centralized place of
worship. We see Jesus saying this in John
"Our fathers worshiped in this mountain,
and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to
worship." (21) Jesus *said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an
hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you
worship the Father. (22) "You worship what you do not know;
we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
(23) "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers
will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father
seeks to be His worshipers. (24) "God is spirit, and those
who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:20-24)
Here Jesus clearly shows that the idea of the centralized temple was to be done away with under the New Covenant. We see further examples of this given by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16: "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" and "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Cor 6:19) It is incorrect exegesis, therefore, to equate the "storehouse" of Malachi with the "church."
Of course, much is made of the sentence where God is to open "the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows." Many, if not all those who teach tithing will present testimony after testimony of these blessings that have been poured on those who have tithed. Now, even if tithing is the reason for these "blessings," since when are we to change what we teach based on our experiences? This is a departure from the evangelical ideal of "sola scriptura." The Scriptures are our sole guide in faith and practice.
Tithing in the New Testament
Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, perhaps more than any other Scripture, are used to "prove" that Jesus approved of the practice of tithing. "You see," they say. "Jesus said they neglected the more important stuff like justice, mercy and faithfulness, and that they should have done these without neglecting the other things like tithing." Before we make any assumptions about any given passage of Scripture we have to see it in context. A verse out of context is merely a pretext. Building doctrine on a verse out of context is presumption. You already know what you believe, and that is your context. What is the context of Matthew 23:23? Verse 4 says, "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." The Lord was condemning the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and for twisting the Scriptures to impose legal bondage on the people. It is amazing that "tithers" would use a verse out of Matthew 23 to impose tithing, the very passage where the Lord is condemning the Pharisees for misusing the Scriptures.
Those that propose tithing as our standard of giving teach
that when the Lord said we should show justice, mercy and faithfulness
"without neglecting the others" that Jesus affirmed tithing as a duty
for Christians today. The Law was to bring justice, mercy and
faithfulness, but the Pharisees used the Scriptures to impose bondage,
the very opposite of the intention of the Scriptures. Jesus showed them
that there was a place for tithing. Not of money as some assume, but of
that which was commanded in the Old Testament – the fruit of the soil –
"mint, dill and cummin." The Pharisees tithed these meticulously,
without regard for the "more important matters of the Law." Remember,
Jesus came to fulfill the Law, and as one under the Law, He showed the
Pharisees that as people under the Law, they should practice correct
tithing. Jesus was not speaking here to the subjects of the New
Covenant, but those of the Old. The Pharisees have been misusing the
Scriptures to get people into practicing their version of the Law in
order to gain salvation, when the Law have been pointing to the Messiah
who was to come,
But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (23) But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. (24) Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (25) But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Gal 3:22-25)
Many teachers of tithing use Hebrews 7:1-10 to prove that tithing was pre-law, and therefore the writer of Hebrews affirmed its practice for the New Testament. Again, it is imperative that we look at this passage in its context.
What was the main purpose for the writing of the book of
Hebrews? It was written to show that Christ was the fulfillment of all
the types and shadows of the Old Testament, and that Christ was
superior to the Levitical priesthood. Whenever we look at the meaning
of a passage, it is important to look for the main point of that
passage. As soon as we have the main point, we will see how individual
thoughts in the passage fit into the flow of the main point. So, what
is the main point of this passage. In order to find this main point we
have to look on in this chapter,
Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? (12) For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. (13) For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. (14) For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. (15) And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, (16) who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. (17) For it is attested of Him, "YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK." ( Heb 7:11-17)
writer shows that there was a change of the priesthood (from the
Levitical to the order of Melchizedek – or that of Christ), and if a
change of priesthood, then a change of the Law. He goes on to say that
the new priesthood, that of Christ, is greater than that of Levi,
because He was appointed "not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the
power of an indestructible life." and therefore, the new "priesthood is greater than the old". In
order to show that the priesthood of Christ is greater than the
Levitical priesthood, the writer tells us
Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. (5) 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. (6) But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. (7) But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. (8) In this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. (9) And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, (10) for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. (Heb 7:4-10)
What is the point? The order of Melchizedek ( of Christ) is greater than the Levitical order, because "through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes." Now that we are shown what the context of this passage is, are we still to believe that this passage teaches tithing? Far from it! It teaches that in the scheme of things, and in the teaching of the writer of Hebrews, Christ and the New Testament are greater than Moses and the Old testament. It teaches the superiority of Christ! Now that we see the context of the superiority of Christ, we find that this passage does not teach the practice of tithing for the New Testament believer.
The great giving passage can be found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. I
believe that these 2 chapters define Christian giving. Let us look at a
few verses from chapter 9,
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will
also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap
bountifully. (7) Each one must do just as he has purposed
in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a
cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:6-7)
Giving is a matter of decision, not a matter of law. God loves a cheerful giver, and therefore He wants us to decide what we want to give. He does not want us to feel like we are forced to give, leading to regrets and "what-ifs." Paul does give us a principle in giving in his statement, "who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." Paul does not want the Corinthians' giving to lead to hardship in their lives, so he writes in 2 Cor 8:12 "For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have." If Paul demanded more than they had, according to him, it would not have been fair (v. 13). The over-riding argument for Paul in giving, is to give with joy what has been decided in the heart, without compulsion.
Reasons for giving
Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. (28) One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. (29) And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. (30) And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders. (Act 11:27-30)
There was a definite purpose in their giving. We see this same thread in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and in 2 Corinthians 8 & 9. Read what John wrote in 1 John 3:16-17
We know love by this, that He laid down His
life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
(17) But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in
need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide
Our giving to our brothers in need must be through the same love as that shown by Christ who gave His life for us.
The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. (18) For the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."In the old days, as little as 20 years ago, there was the joke that the church would go to the Lord and pray about their pastor, "Lord, you keep him humble; we will keep him poor." Paul writes totally against this. We are to supply for those elders who rule well, and especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. Some have said that the phrase "double honor" refers to mere honor that we show to our teachers, while others have said that it refers to monetary honor. I believe that the last phrase in this passage is really the decider, "The laborer is worthy of his wages." This is conclusive that the honor spoken of by Paul was monetary, or at least in some way to sustain the teacher in his daily living.
Giving for the New Testament believer is not be in a the form of a tithing law. The Law has been done away with and that includes tithing. If, however, you feel you have to tithe, then you will have to follow the Law properly in your tithing as shown above in the section "Tithing in the Old Testament." Tithing is very ingrained in Christians' lives and is therefore not surprising that many believers assume it to be God's standard of giving. God expects us to give with a cheerful heart as we have decided to give. There is no need to feel under compulsion, because giving is a matter of fairness, and based on our ability to give. Remember, it is based on the age old principle of sowing. Sow sparingly, and reap sparingly. Sow bountifully, and reap bountifully.