Many preachers claim that they are entitled to at least 10% of their congregation's income because they teach that the Tithing sacrifices of the old Testament still applies today. They need these funds to pay the church's taxes, ministers' salaries, church building expenses and so on.
The excessive funds are often spend to erect expensive church buildings, sometimes to fund a luxurious lifestyle of the leadership.
However, we read that 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) and their leadership lived a very simple life (1 Corinthians 9:18). They often laboured to earned their own income (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10), received donations (Luke 8:2-3, Philippians 4:15), but never claimed Tithes.
They were content with what they had (Philippians 4:11-13) and did not preach financial prosperity. Instead, they were concerned about saving lost souls.
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.
To understand why Tithing is necessary, we need to understand the real purpose of tithing:
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".
The Priest's Tithe
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe. And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress. So you shall also present a contribution to the Lord from all your tithes, which you receive from the people of Israel. And from it you shall give the Lord’s contribution to Aaron the priest. Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the Lord; from each its best part is to be dedicated. -- Numbers 18:25-29 (ESV)
This Tithe was paid only by the Levites and not the ordinary citizens to the priest.
To qualify as a priest:
- You have to be a direct descended from Aaron or his sons (Exodus 30:30)
- You have to be set apart and consecrate (Exodus 19:22; Psalm 132: 9; 29:2; Ezra 6:20)
- You have to fulfill your priestly duties which is not possible without a temple
- you are still keeping Moses' laws, and
- you are a Levite, and
- you somehow found a valid priest,
you do not need to pay this Tithe.
The Feasts' Tithe
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 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 (Deuteronomy 14:23)
- To rejoice and have a feast before the LORD (Deuteronomy 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.
If you do keep God's feasts, consider Jesus words:
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” -- Luke 14:12-14 (ESV)
The tithe for the poor
There was not supposed to be a lot of poor people around Israel if they obeyed God:
But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess — if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. For the Lord your God will bless you. -- Deuteronomy 15:4-6 (ESV)
However, under certain circumstances people will still be needy and for them the tribes were required to be generous:
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 (not toys or money) for the poor
- allow God to bless the donors (Deuteronomy 14:29) and Israel (Deuteronomy 26:15)
The Israeli were not allowed to:
- Eat from it when in mourning (possibly used for the Feast's Tithe too?)
- Use it for unclean use
- To sacrifice the food for the dead
If you try to keep this law in today's modern world you have to deal with the following challenges:
- This was the Israeli tax system to distribute resources to maintain the country and prevent poverty. Today we have different tax systems that already make provision for the poor (i.e. social grants). Does the modern tax system replace this Tithing?
- Are we even allowed to calculate a monthly average based on our salary or should we provide a large lump sum every third year as per law?
- How do you calculate Tithings in regard with the other Tithings?
- Do you accumulate the Tithings, for example you pay 10% for the feasts + (10% ÷ 3) for the poor which comes to a sum of 13% for Tithing?
- Do you combine the Tithings, for example from the 10% Tithing you use one third for the poor and two third thirds for the feasts or however you think it should be distributed?
- Is the poor's Tithing already included in the secular governmental tax if the government uses the tax money for "Social Grants"?
- Is Tithing calculated before or after your Income Tax is deducted from your salary?
- Are you allowed to save or invest your Tithing and pay it out later as a lump sum?
- To whom do you pay Tithing when there are no more Levites around?
- The stranger (foreigners) in Israel's time was not allowed to own farms in the agricultural society, banking systems did not exist yet, and journeys took days, therefore this was sometimes necessary to support those people. However, in modern society this might no longer be the case depending on your country's laws. Is it still required to support foreigners? What about the locals that are poor? In Moses' time this might not have been an issue (Deuteronomy 15:4-5), but today it is.
- Is it our or the church or the government's responsibility to look after the "fatherless"? You might already pay tax to the government to support the "fatherless", i.e. social grants, do you need to contribute even more?
- In some cultures, women were not allowed to own a business, farm or even an income. This made women completely dependent on their husbands. However, in most modern societies, this is no longer the case anymore. Do we still need to pay the widows? What about the widowers?
- Does this law prevent us to support friends, family or fellow believers who are in need, but who do not qualify to be a Levite, stranger, fatherless or widow?
- What if someone needs money not food (for example to pay the rent or bills)? Are you allowed to deduct that amount from this Tithing?
There are no solid or clear answers to these questions from our ancient bibles and as you can see it is impossible to keep this law even if you try.
However, the following principles might still apply:
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his deed. . -- Pro 19:17 (ESV)
This is also confirmed by the apostle Paul in the New Testament after Jesus' Crucifixion:
So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction [action of demanding and obtaining something from someone, especially a payment].
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
-- 2 Corinthians 9:5-11 (ESV)
Paul do not enforce any complex calculations, terms and conditions or limitations except that:
- "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart"
- To be cheerful a giver, not reluctantly or under compulsion
Perhaps 3% is a good start, perhaps 1% is also acceptable, perhaps you may contribute 13% or even more. Perhaps this is something you may grow into like starting with small donations and as your faith grows, you gradually increase the amount.
Here is an example of a lady who donated 100%:
Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." -- Luke 21:1-4
Jesus did not imply that this is his expected standard, but that it impress him if we are generous.
Myth: Money did not exist
Some people claim that money did not exist in Moses' time and that is why the Israelites 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: The "Acting" Levite or Priest's Tithe
The neither Levitical Tithe, nor the Priest's Tithe applies anymore today and either Tithing not even possibly pay according to Moses standards, because there are no longer any Levites, Priests or temples around to maintain.
However, many modern churches still uses these law today to justify why it is the church members' responsibility to pay 10% of their income to the preacher or the church who claims to be the "acting Levite" or the "acting priest" in the Christian churches.
This reasoning has the following problems:
- According to Jewish tradition, one can only earn the Levite status by inheritance from your father. Nowhere in the Bible it is recorded that someone could become a "Levite" by any other means like University qualifications.
- There are no proof that any of the apostles claimed "acting Levitical tithes" from their followers. (Acts 15:28-29)
- Even if a preacher was somehow considered a "Levite", the tithing is supposed to be food, not money. When you redeem your tithe to money, you need to pay an additional 20% penalty as per Leviticus 27:30-31
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 tax" 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).
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: 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, therefore Abraham was not obeying Moses' law.
- 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".
Myth: God commands church leaders to earn a double salary
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says,
“You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,”
“The laborer deserves his wages.”
-- 1 Timothy 5:17-18
There is a great debate on what is meant by "double honor". Some claim that this proof that God command that the church leader should at least receive double the salary than the average church member. This passage is often quoted to justify why ministries are allowed to run Christian businesses, charge entrance fees, charge service fees, sell sermons, and so forth.
Other claims that "honor" means "respect" as written in 1 Thessalonians 5:12
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
Either way, there are mention of compulsory Tithing.
Myth: God commands church members to support their ministers
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense?
Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit?
Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?
Do I say these things on human authority?
Does not the Law say the same?
For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.”
Is it for oxen that God is concerned?
Does he not certainly speak for our sake?
It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.
If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?
If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more?
-- 1 Corinthians 9:7-12 (ESV)
However, if you continue reading:
Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship.
What then is my reward?
That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.
-- 1 Corinthians 9:13-18 (ESV)
From this it is clear that Paul writes that he is not in the money making business and is content with any support that the congregation may or may not provide. He did not sell the Gospel for any kind of Tithing, financial support or luxurious lifestyle.
Paul even instructed the church of Thessalonians to work with their own hands and to depend on no one:
But we urge you, brothers, to ado this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. -- 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 (ESV)
Myth: Full-time ministers should not work
There is a perception that full-time ministers should have a second job or earn a living so that they can focus on their ministries. These ministers are usually supported by a congregation (usually by Tithing). Paul, however disagree:
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. -- 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10 (ESV)
There are no records anywhere in the Bible of any apostle or minister earning a monthly salary.