Tithing

Many Christians today believe that one should pay 10% of their income to their local church. This supposedly replaces the sacrifices that the Israelites had to bring to the temple in the Old Testament.

This is necessary to pay the church's taxes, salaries, church building expenses and so on. However, there are no proof in the Bible that God commanded believers to erect expensive church buildings. The first believers meet in houses (Acts 2:2, Acts 5:42, Acts 20:20, Acts 28:30) and at the existing public temple (Acts 5:42), but there are no evidence that they erected any new temples or church buildings or made any plans to do so. Instead, we read that they were concerned about saving souls and getting the message of salvation out.

Even Jesus said that justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42) and humility (Luke 18:9-14) were more important to him than keeping the tithing law, which was still applicable at that time.

So what is the real purpose of tithing?

The tithe of the feasts

And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of

  • your grain and
  • your new wine and
  • your oil,
  • of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks,

that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. -- Deuteronomy 14:23-26 (NKJV)

This tithe was also food and not finance, but you were allowed to "exchange it for money" with the purpose to buy food again.

The purpose of this tithe was to feast.

  • The people who paid for the feast were also the same people who were allowed to eat the food (Deu 14:23)
  • To rejoice and have a feast before the LORD (Deu 14:22-26)

Unless you are keeping God's feasts, there won't be any point to buy food for a feast you do not keep.

The tithe for the poor

When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year (the year of tithing) and have given it to

  • the Levite,
  • the stranger,
  • the fatherless, and
  • the widow,

so that they may eat within your gates and be filled, then you shall say before the LORD your God:

‘I have removed the holy tithe from my house, and also have given them to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all Your commandments which You have commanded me; I have not transgressed Your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. I have not eaten any of it when in mourning, nor have I removed any of it for an unclean use, nor given any of it for the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that You have commanded me. Look down from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the land which You have given us, just as You swore to our fathers, "a land flowing with milk and honey".

-- Deuteronomy 26:12-15, Deuteronomy 14:27-29

This tithe was only every third year, known as "the year of tithing" (Deuteronomy 26:12)

This tithe was "increase" that the field produces every third year (Deuteronomy 26:12), not the gross income.

Examples of food that was considered tithes:

  • grain (Deuteronomy 14:22)
  • wine (Deuteronomy 14:23)
  • oil (Deuteronomy 14:23)
  • honey (2 Chronicles 31:5)
  • oxen (2 Chronicles 31:6)
  • sheep (2 Chronicles 31:6)
  • fish (Amos 4:2-4)

The purpose of this tithe was

  • to provide food for the poor
  • allow God to bless their work (Deuteronomy 14:29) and Israel (Deuteronomy 26:15)

So in this case the tithing people were not allowed to eat the poor people's food, neither did the tithes went to their local churches' coffers.

Myths

Myth: Money did not exist

Some people claim that money did not exist in Moses' time and that is why the Israelintes paid 10% of their seed, flock, food and so forth.

If a man dedicates to the LORD [part] of a field of his possession, then your valuation shall be according to the seed for it. A homer of barley seed [shall be valued] at fifty shekels of silver. -- Lev 27:32

Myth: God will not bless you unless you tithe

Some Christians loves to quote:

Honor the LORD with your possessions, And with the firstfruits of all your increase; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine. -- Prov 3:9-10

Direct translation according to the Interlinear Bible of Bible Hub:

Honor Yahweh with your (possessions/wealth/riches), the (firstfruits/best/choice part) of (all/any/every/total) (increase/produce/revenue/yield/crops)

This is a universal principle that God blesses people who are honouring Him with their wealth. There are no direct association to any tithing laws in this verse.

The word "honor" according to the NAS Exhaustive Concordance also means:

abounding, achieve honor, became fierce, became heavy, boasting, glorified, heavier, honored, make rich, respected

In other words it does not say, "pay your tithe" or "waste your money on the poor" and God will bless you. The gift must honor the LORD, which means your sacrifice must make the LORD more important or respected (glorified).

In addition, Paul also understood it this way:

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. -- 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

Myth: God will curse you if you withold your tithe

Some Christians loves to quote:

"Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me!"
But you say, "In what way have we robbed You?"
"In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, [even] this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try 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 [such] blessing That [there will] not [be room] enough [to receive it.] -- Malachi 3:8-10

Out of context it seems like you will receive a curse if you withold your tithe and a blessing when you tithe, but this is not what the prophet Malachi said.

With these specific words, he was addressing the priests (Malachi 1:6, Malachi 2:1, Malachi 3:3). How can you "rob the nation" if you are not the priest handling the nation's tithes? (Malachi 3:9)

In contrast to this reasoning, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:7-9:

So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written:

“He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.”

Myth: The Levites' tithe

To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting...

For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. -- Numbers 18:21,24 (ESV)

This tithe was not finance. It was paid with food and nothing else:

  • 10% of the seed / fruit (Leviticus 27:30), for example:
    • grain (Numbers 18:28)
    • wine (Numbers 18:28, Nehemiah 10:37)
  • Every tenth animal passing under the rod of the heard/flock (Leviticus 27:32)
  • Jesus rebuked the Pharisee for tithing herbs and spices (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, Luke 18:12)

The LORD said, "I have given to the Levites every tithe that the people of Israel present to me. This is in payment for their service in taking care of the Tent of my presence." -- Numbers 18:21 (GNB)

This tithe was paid every year (Deu 14:22).

Unlike the other tribes, the Levites had no income producing farms. There were 11 other tribes in Israel and if each tribe paid 10% to the Levites, they would have had 11 x 10% = 110% of the average income of Israel. However, the Levites, themselves were also requested to offer 10% of their income to the LORD (Numbers 18:26,30,32). This was a practical arrangement for the Levites to survive in Israel without farms.

This was therefore a form of Israeli taxation. Therefor, unless you live in Israel and found any Levites in your area that is rending a "service", there is no point to pay this tax to any "Levites".

However, many modern churches still uses this law today to justify why it is the church members' responsibility to pay 10% of their income to the pastor or preacher in the Christian churches.

This reasoning has the following problems:

Myth: Abraham paid tithes 600 years before the law

The reasoning is that tithing is not part of Moses "deprecated" laws and that the intention was never about the Levites, but that you need to pay your tithe to a "priest" (or preacher in modern churches). Scriptures that these Christians loves to quote:

And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand. And he gave him a tithe of all. -- Gen 14:20

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated "king of righteousness," and then also king of Salem, meaning "king of peace," without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. Now consider how great this man [was,] to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he [receives them,] of whom it is witnessed that he lives. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. -- Hebrews 7:1-10

Problems with this reasoning:

  • Abraham only paid his 10% income once and there are no further recordings of any other tithing that Abraham had to pay to the priest.
  • Abraham paid his 10% from the spoil of war (Hebrews 7:4) and not for his own property, usual income or harvest.
  • After Abraham "paid his expenses", he gave 10% to King Melchizedek and the remaining 90% to the King of Sodom (Genesis 14:18-24). This contradicts that Christians believe that after they paid their tithe (like tax), they may keep the remaining 90% for themselves.
  • Abraham, ancestor of Levi (Hebrews) was supposed to receive a tithe, not pay a tithe as Paul noted in Hebrews 7:9. So Abraham was not obeying Moses' law, which was not yet written.
  • There is no proof that Melchizedek commanded Abraham to pay a tithe.
  • Moses' law required to pay tithes to the Levi priesthood, however:
    • We are not under Moses' laws.
    • There are no more Levi priests left.
    • The temple had been destroyed for thousands of years.

Hebrews 7 was not written to force Christians to pay tithing, instead it was written to contradict the Levi-priesthood against the Melchizedek-priesthood. He mentions tithing to make the point that even "Levi" paid Melchizedek which means Melchizedek was a greater priest than "Levi".