Monday, December 3, 2007
"Is Tithing Biblical?"
Tithing is Not a New Covenant Doctrine
The following essay is a summary of my book, Should the Church Teach Tithing? A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine. The book itself is a greatly expanded version of my PH. D. thesis. I challenge Bible educators to be bold, to open up their seminary level research and to promote studies on this subject in the Masters, Doctorate and PH. D. levels. This doctrine is simply too important to ignore.
The doctrine of tithing, in many churches today, has reached the level of a modern scandal. While on the one hand, most seminary-level textbooks and church theologians omit tithing, on the other hand, the practice is quickly becoming a requirement for church membership in the very denominations who insist on solid Bible-based doctrines. There is also increasing evidence that lay persons who question the legitimacy of New Covenant tithing are usually criticized as being troublemakers or weak Christians.
Modern Tithing is Based on Many False Assumptions
One denomination’s statement on stewardship is typical of what many others teach about tithing. It says that "tithing is the minimum biblical standard and the beginning point which God has established that must not be replaced or compromised by any other standard." Let me repeat this false statement: "tithing is the minimum biblical standard and the beginning point which God has established that must not be replaced or compromised by any other standard." They add that the tithe is from gross income which is due to the church before taxes.
The following points of this essay contrast the false teachings used to support tithing with what God’s Word actually says.
Point #1. In God’s Word, the Tithe is Always Only Food and Never Money!
The false teaching is that biblical tithes include ALL sources of income. This is the Webster Dictionary definition and it is not the biblical definition!
Settle this question once and for all! Open a complete Bible concordance and you will soon discover that the false definition is wrong. This is very important. **True biblical tithes were always only food from the farms and herds of only Israelites who only lived inside God’s Holy Land, the national boundary of Israel.**
There are 15 verses from 11 chapters and 8 books from Leviticus 27 to Luke 11which describe the contents of the tithe. And those contents never, I repeat, never included money, silver, gold or anything other than food! Yet the incorrect definition of "tithe" is the greatest lie being preached about tithing today! (Lev. 27:30, 32; Numb. 18:27, 28; Deu. 12:17; 14:22, 23; 26 12; 2 Chron. 31:5, 6; Neh. 10:37; 13:5; Mal. 3:10; Matt. 23:23; Luke 11: 42).
Point #2. Abraham’s Tithe to Melchizedek is Not an Example for Christians.
The false teaching is that Abraham freely gave tithes because it was God’s will.
However, for the following reasons, Genesis 14:20 cannot be used as an example for Christians to tithe. (1) The Bible does not say that Abraham "freely" gave this tithe. (2) Abraham’s tithe was NOT a holy tithe from God’s holy land produced by God’s holy people. (3) Abraham’s tithe was only from spoils of war common to many nations. (4) In Numbers 31, God only required 1% of spoils of war. (5) Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek was a one-time recorded event and Abraham moved often. (6) Abraham’s tithe was not from his own personal property. (7) Abraham kept nothing for himself; he gave everything back. (8) Abraham’s tithe is not quoted anywhere in the Bible to endorse tithing. (9) Genesis 14, verse 21, is the key text. Since most commentaries explain verse 21 as an example of pagan Arab tradition, it is contradictory to explain the 90% of verse 21 as pagan, while insisting that the 10% of verse 20 was God’s will. (10) If Abraham is an example for Christians to give 10% to God, then he should also be an example for Christians to give the other 90% to Satan, or to the king of Sodom! (11) Since neither Abraham nor Jacob had a Levitical priesthood to support, they had no place to bring tithes during their many moves.
Point #3. The First-Tithes Were Not Received by Priests.
The false teaching is that Old Testament priests received the first tithe.
The truth is that the "whole" tithe, the first tithe, did not go to the priests at all. Instead, according to Numbers 18:21-24 and Nehemiah 10:37, it went to the servants of the priests, the Levites. Next, according to Numbers 18:25, 26 and Nehemiah 10:38, the Levites gave the best tenth of this tithe which they received to the priests who ministered the sin sacrifices and served inside in the holy places. Priests personally did not tithe at all.
It is also important to know that, in exchange for receiving these tithes, both Levites and priests forfeited all rights to permanent land inheritance inside Israel (Numb. 18:20-26; Deu. 12:12; 14:27, 29; 18:1, 2; Josh. 13:14, 33; 14:3; 18:7; Ezek. 44:28). Also, the Levites, who received the first tithe, were prohibited from ministering blood sacrifices under penalty of death (Numb. 18:3). There is no continuation to the New Covenant here.
Point #4. The Phrase, "It is Holy to the LORD," Does Not Make Tithing an Eternal Moral Principle.
The false teaching is that Leviticus 27:30-32 proves that the tithe is an "eternal moral principle" because "it is holy to the LORD."
However, these false teachers must ignore the stronger phrase, "it is MOST holy to the LORD," in the immediate preceding verses 28 and 29. This is because verses 28 and 29 are definitely not eternal moral principles in the Church.
In its context, the phrases "it is holy to the LORD" and "it is MOST holy to the LORD" cannot possibly be interpreted "eternal moral principles." Why? Because almost every other use of these phrases in Leviticus has long ago been discarded by Christians. Similar phrases are also used to describe all of the festivals, the sacrificial offerings, the clean food distinctions, the old covenant priests and the old covenant sanctuary.
Point #5. There are Four Different Tithes Found in the Bible.
The false teaching ignores all other tithes and focuses on part of the first religious tithe.
In reality, the first religious tithe, called the "Levitical tithe," had two parts: again, the whole first tithe was given to the Levites who were only servants to the priests (Numb. 18:21-24; Neh. 10:37); the Levites, in turn, gave one tenth of the whole tithe to the priests (Numb. 18:25, 26; Neh. 10:38). According to Deuteronomy 12 and 14, the second religious tithe, called the "festival tithe," was eaten by worshipers in the streets of Jerusalem during the three yearly festivals (Deu. 12:1-19; 14:22-26). And, according to Deuteronomy 14 and 26, a third tithe, called the "poor tithe," stayed in the homes every third year and was used to feed the poor (Deu. 14:28, 29; 26:12-13). Also, according to First Samuel, chapter 8, the King collected the first and best ten per cent for political use. During Jesus’ time Rome collected the first ten per cent (10%) of most food and twenty per cent (20%) of fruit crops as its spoils of war.
One wonders what "churches" are trying to hide when they only single out the one religious tithe which best suits their purposes and ignore the other three tithes.
Point #6. Jesus, Peter, Paul and the Poor Could Not Tithe!
The false teaching is that everybody in the Old Testament was required to begin their giving to God at the ten per cent level.
In reality, the poor were not required to tithe at all! Craftsmen did not tithe. Fishermen did not tithe. Only farmers and herdsmen possessed what was defined as tithe increase.
Jesus was a carpenter; Paul was a tentmaker, and Peter was a fisherman. None of these occupations qualified as tithe-payers because they did not farm or herd animals for a living. It is, therefore, wrong to teach that everybody paid a required minimum of a tithe, and, therefore, New Covenant Christians should be required to, at least, begin at the same minimum as Old Covenant Israelites. This common false assumption is very often repeated and completely ignores the very plain definition of tithe as food from farm increase or herd increase.
It is also wrong to teach that the poor in Israel were required to pay tithes. In fact, they actually received tithes! Much of the second festival tithe and all of a special third-year tithe went to the poor. In fact, many laws protected the poor from abuse and expensive sacrifices which they could not afford (see also Lev. 14:21; 25:6, 25-28, 35, 36; 27:8; Deu. 12:1-19; 14:23, 28, 29; 15:7, 8, 11; 24:12, 14, 15, 19, 20; 26:11-13; Mal. 3:5; Matt. 12:1, 2; Mark 2:23, 24; Luke 2:22-24; 6:1, 2; 2 Cor. 8:12-14; 1 Tim. 5:8; Jas. 1:27).
Point #7. Tithes Were Often Used as Political Taxes.
The false teaching is that tithes are never comparable to taxes, or taxation.
However, in the Hebrew economy, the tithe was used in a totally different manner than it is preached today. Once again, those Levites who received the whole tithe were not even ministers or priests -- they were only servants to the priests. Numbers, chapter 3, describes the Levites as carpenters, metal workers, leather-craftsmen and artists who maintained the small sanctuary. And, according to First Chronicles, chapters 23-27, during the time of King David and King Solomon, the Levites were still skilled craftsmen who inspected and approved all work in the Temple: 24, 000 worked in the Temple as builders and supervisors; 6,000 were officials and judges; 4,000 were guards and 4,000 were musicians. As political representatives of the king, Levites used their tithe income to serve as officials, judges, tax collectors, treasurers, temple guards, musicians, bakers, singers and professional soldiers (1 Chron. 12:23, 26; 27:5). It is obvious why these examples of using biblical tithe-income are never used as examples in the Church today.
When it came to mission work, Old Covenant tithes were never used for evangelism of non-Israelites. Tithing failed! In other words, tithes never stimulated Old Covenant Levites or priests to establish a single mission outreach or encourage a single Gentile to become an Israelite! Old Covenant tithing was motivated and mandated by Law, not love. In fact, during most of Israel’s history the prophets were God’s primary spokesmen – and not the tithe-receiving Levites and priests.
Point #8. Levitical Tithes Were Normally Taken to the Levitical Cities.
False teachers want us to think that tithes were formerly all taken to the Temple and should now be taken to the "church’s" building.
In reality, the overwhelming majority of Levitical tithes never went to the Temple. Those who teach otherwise ignore the Levitical cities and the 24 courses of the Levites and priests.
According to Numbers 35, Joshua 20, 21 and First Chronicles 6, Levites and priests lived on borrowed land in the Levitical cities where they farmed and raised animals. And it is clear from Numbers 18, Second Chronicles 31:15-19 and Nehemiah 10:37 that the ordinary people were expected to bring their tithes to the Levitical cities. Why? Because that is where most of the Levites and priests lived with their families most of the time. See also Nehemiah 13:9.
Point #9. Malachi 3 is the Most Abused Tithing Text in the Bible.
The false teaching about tithes from Malachi 3 ignores several important Bible facts.
(1) Malachi is Old Covenant context and is never quoted in the New Covenant for the church. (2) In 1:6; 2:1 and 3:1-5, Malachi is addressed to dishonest priests who are cursed because they have stolen the best offerings from God. (3) The Levitical cities must be considered and Jerusalem was not a Levitical city. It makes no sense to teach that 100% of the tithe was brought to the Temple when most Levites and priests did not live in Jerusalem. (4) The 24 courses of Levites and priests must also be considered. Beginning with King David and King Solomon, they were divided into 24 families. These divisions were also put into place in Malachi’s time by Ezra and Nehemiah. Since normally only one family served in the Temple for only one week at a time, there was absolutely no reason to send ALL of the tithe to the Temple when 98% of those it was designed to feed were still in the Levitical cities (1 Chron. 24-26; 28:13, 21; 2 Chron. 8:14; 23:8; 31:2, 15-19; 35:4, 5, 10; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 11:19, 30; 12:24; 13:9, 10; Luke 1:5).
Therefore, when the context of the Levitical cities, the 24 families of priests, under-age children, wives, Numbers 18, Second Chronicles 31, Nehemiah 10-13, and all of Malachi are all evaluated, only about 2% of the total tithe was normally required at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Point #10. Tithing is Not Taught in the New Testament.
The false teaching is that Jesus taught tithing in Matthew 23:23 which, they say, is clearly in the New Testament.
The problem here is the arbitrary division of our Bible. The New Covenant did not begin at the birth of Jesus, but at his death. Tithing is not taught to the church after Calvary! When Jesus discussed tithing in Matthew 23:23, he was only commanding obedience to the Old Covenant Law which he endorsed and supported until Calvary. In Matthew 23:2, 3 Jesus told his followers to obey the scribes and Pharisees "because they sit in Moses’ seat." There is not a single New Testament Bible text which teaches tithing after Calvary – period!
Point #11. Old Covenant Priests Were Replaced by Believer-Priests.
The false teaching is that New Covenant preachers are simply taking up where the Old Covenant priests left off and are due the tithe.
Compare Exodus 19:5, 6 with Second Peter 2: 9, 10. Before the incident of the golden calves, God had intended for every Israelite to become a priest. Like other ordinances of the Law, tithing was only a temporary shadow until Christ. In the New Covenant every believer is a priest who offers spiritual sacrifices to God. OT priests did not tithe!!! Old Covenant priests were replaced by the priesthood of every believer. Therefore, every ordinance which had applied to the old priesthood was blotted out at Calvary. Therefore, the original temporary purpose of tithing no longer exists. (Compare Numb. 3:12, 13; Heb. 4:16; 10:19-22; 13:15, 16 and Rev. 1:6 with Gal. 3:19; Heb. 7:12-19; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:13-17).
Point #12. The New Covenant Church is Neither a Building Nor a Storehouse.
The false teaching is that Christian buildings, called "churches," "tabernacles" or "temples" replaced the OT Temple as God’s dwelling places.
God’s Word never calls New Covenant "churches," "tabernacles" and "temples" "buildings" in which God dwells! God’s church, God’s dwelling place, is within the believers. Believers do not "go to church" -- believers go "to meet the church." Also, since OT priests did not pay tithes, then tithing cannot logically continue. Therefore it is wrong to call a building "God’s storehouse" for tithes. (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 6:19, 20; 12:12-14; Eph. 1:22, 23; 2:21; 4:12-16; Rev. 3:12). For "storehouse" compare First Corinthians 16:2 with 2 Corinthians 12:14 and Acts 20:17, 32-35.
Point #13. The Church Grows By Using Better New Covenant Principles.
The false teaching implies that principles of grace giving are not as good as principles of law-giving. Which church obeys Leviticus 25:4-7 which forbids collecting tithes every seventh year?
(1) According to Galatians 5:16-23, there is no physical law which controls the fruits of the Holy Spirit. (2) Second Corinthians 3:10 says that the Old Covenant has "no glory" when compared to the "surpassing" glory and liberty of the Holy Spirit. (3) Hebrews 7 is the only post-Calvary mention of tithing and it is an explanation of why the Levitical priesthood must be replaced by Christ’s priesthood because it was weak and unprofitable. I encourage the study Hebrews 7 and follow the progression from verse 5 to verse 12 to verse 18. (4) The manner in which tithing is taught today reflects a failure of the church to believe and act on the far better principles of love, grace and faith. Mandatory giving principles never can, never have and never will, prosper the church more than principles guided by love for Christ and lost souls.
Point #14. N. T. Giving Principles in 2nd Corinthians 8 and 9 Do Not Include Tithing.
The false teaching is that tithing is an assumed doctrine. Yet the early church thrived through the witness of women, slaves and soldiers who had nothing to tithe.
The following New Covenant principles are found in Second Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9: (1) Giving is a "grace. Second Corinthians, chapters 8, uses the word, "grace," eight times in reference to helping poor saints. (2) Give yourself to God first (8:5). (3) Give yourself to knowing God’s will (8:5). (4) Give in response to Christ’s gift (8:9; 9:15). (5) Give out of a sincere desire (8:8, 10, 12; 9:7). (6) Do not give because of any commandment to give (8:8, 10; 9:7). (7) Give even beyond your ability (8:3, 11, 12). (8) Give equally. This means that those who have more should give more in order to make up for the inability of those who cannot afford to give as much (8:12-14). (9) Give joyfully (8:2). (10) Give because you are growing spiritually (8:3, 4, 7). (11) Give because you want to continue growing spiritually (9:8, 10, 11). (12) Give because you are hearing the gospel preached (9:13).
Point #15. The Apostle Paul Preferred That Church Leaders Be Self-Supporting.
The false teaching is that Paul taught and practiced tithing.
Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth. As a Jewish rabbi, Paul was among those who insisted on working to support himself (Acts 18:3; 1 Thess. 2:9, 10; 2 Thess. 3:8-14). While Paul does not condemn those who manage to receive full-time support, neither does he teach that full-time support is the normal will of God for advancing the gospel (1 Cor. 9:12). In fact, twice, in Acts 20:29-35 and also in Second Corinthians 12:14, Paul actually encouraged church elders to work to support needy believers inside the church.
For Paul, "living of the gospel" meant "living by gospel principles of faith, love and grace" (1 Cor. 9:14). While Paul realized that he had a "right" to some support, he concluded that his "liberty," or freedom to preach unhindered was more important in order to fulfill his calling from God (1 Cor. 9:15; 11:7-13; 12:13, 14;1 Thess. 2:5, 6). While working as a tent-maker, Paul accepted limited support but boasted that his pay, or salary, was that he could preach the gospel for free, without being a burden to others (1 Cor. 9:16-19).
Point #16. Tithing Did Not Become a Law in the Church Until A. D. 777.
The false teaching is that the historical church has always taught tithing.
However, even in Acts 21:20-26, several decades after Calvary, the early Jewish-Christians in Jerusalem were still carefully following the Old Covenant law and were still worshiping in and supporting the Jewish Temple. As obedient Jews, logic forces us to conclude that they must have still been sending any tithes they had to the Temple.
While disagreeing with their own theologians, most Church historians write that tithing did not become an accepted doctrine in the church for over 700 years after Calvary. In fact, the early church leaders practiced asceticism. This meant that being poor was the best way to serve God. They patterned their worship after that of the Jewish synagogues which had rabbis who were self-supporting and usually refused to receive money for teaching God’s Word.
According to the very best historians and encyclopedias, it took over 500 years before the local church Council of Macon, in the year 585, tried unsuccessfully to enforce tithing on its members and it was not until the year 777 that Emperor Charlemagne legally allowed the church to collect tithes.
Conclusion: The false teaching of tithing is driving thousands of sincere Christians out of our churches today. People are not stupid! They can read the Bible for themselves, as they should. Almost every day I receive e-mails from all around the world thanking me for speaking up for the truth of God’s Word. Tithing is not part of New Covenant doctrine for Christ’s church. May God richly bless your dedicated and prayerful study of His Holy Word. Thank you. My web site is: www.shouldthechurchteachtithing.com.