Tithing is such a weird thing in the church today. People either love it or get their nickers in a knot about it. Tithing in scripture seems disjointed and confusing. As a result people either ignore tithing or make a big deal out of it. Church elders of course teach tithing as it guarantees a steady income despite their performance. To end my own confusion, I went to Blue Letter Bible, searched Tithe and Tithes, copy and pasted the results and read them as a unit. I had a wow moment, it was very cool. Please do not believe me. Go and look for yourself.
Tithing was never money.
I find the ‘what’ makes more sense if I understand the ‘why’ first.
After reading the 40 + scriptures on tithing, here is what I think the why and what of tithing is.
The Israelis left Egypt only after Pharaoh released them (with epic internal and external conflict). No longer under Egyptian law, Israel was technically lawless for a short time.
Three months later the Israelis accepted a ‘new’ law designed by God specifically for them. God used Moses to deliver The Law or The Torah to Israel. Including the Ten Commandments the law is an elegant system of 613 rulings that held Israel for approximately 1400 years.
40 years later, when Israel settled the Promised Land, the law governed their civic, personal and spiritual lives. The land however was not allocated to the 12 tribes of Israel but to 11 tribes. God told Aaron (from the tribe of Levi) that they would not receive an inheritance, because He was their inheritance. The Levites were to serve in the tabernacle/temple, not in the economy.
If Levite families were not given business’ or farms’, how did they support themselves?
Just quickly. Priests and Levites had different functions. The Levites were craftsmen, clerks, musicians, guards and so on. The Priests dealt directly with spiritual matters like offerings, prayer, burning incense and so on. Together they worked in the tabernacle/temple on a rotation basis.
To survive, people need food, shelter and clothing. God provided the Priests and Levites with these needs in three ways, food, shelter and revenue (money).
1) Shelter. – The Levites were given cities to live in. These cities were divided proportionally among the other 11 tribes. This solved the shelter problem.
These cities had common land where they grazed their livestock. (With no fridge, the best way to keep meat fresh is on the hoof).
2) Revenue. – Revenue was collected in a number of ways, however, most of the revenue was collected during Passover. Every man was expected to present himself at the tabernacle/temple and give a gift to the treasury.
No formula was attached to how much they gave, they were expected only to give what they could afford (“give as he is able”).
Scripture shows Lord Jesus watching people giving money during this festival.
Note: Wealth was perceived as a sign of God’s favor. Wealthy people were therefore seen to be more righteous than others. Lord Jesus turned this reasoning on its head when He stated that the poor widow giving two copper coins gave the most, implying that she was the most righteous.
3) Food. – Food was provided mainly through a system called The Tithe. Note: not “a tithe” or “a tenth” but The-Tithe. The tithe was always food and never money.
Some detail about The Tithe.
1) Scripture always refers to the tithe as seed, grains, fruit, dough, flour, flocks, herds, wine, honey, herbs and oil. (Not currency).
2) Scripture always refers to the tithe as being eaten (as in food) and never spent (as in money).
3) The only time the tithe was allowed to be money, was if it became too difficult for the tither to transport their tithe. Only in this case were they allowed to convert their tithe into money. Supporting the argument that the tithe was not money in the first place.
4) Tithes not only fed the Priests and Levites, they also fed widows, orphans and strangers (visitors or guests) on a daily basis.
5) For convenience, every third year, tithers were allowed to take their tithe to the local Levites (not to the tabernacle/temple).
6) Only Levites were authorized to collect the tithe. The Levites gave a further tenth of the tithe (the best parts) to the Priests (Aaron).
7) The tithes were stored in store rooms/store houses from where they were distributed.
So what? Are we hair-splitting and getting too technical? Most people do not farm today, is the tithe not equivalent to income? Wont I get cursed if I do not tithe?
Non-farmer Israelis could not tithe, why should you? If you wind the clock back 2000 years and visit ancient Israel, you will find that the locals understood the word Tithe as food. When Lord Jesus spoke about tithing He spoke about herbs. We can not use our culture to understand theirs. We incorrectly understand Tithe as money, they did not.
Non farmers like carpenters, tent makers, merchants and so on did not tithe, they gave money. The law told them that they were to give what they could afford not 10%.
We cannot change the rules of giving to suit our own inclinations. In fact, the rules of giving according to the Law of Moses never applied to Gentiles and were not used in the new covenant.
To law or not to law
Scripture is very clear in both the old and new covenant, that if you choose to obey the Law of Moses, you must obey it all. It is a package deal.
We cannot cherry-pick laws with cute blessings.
By the same logic we can say “I don’t mind stealing, but I will never murder”. Theft and murder are part of the same law; you cannot choose which laws to obey at your convenience.
Remember that blessing and cursing are built into the fabric of the Law of Moses. We might tithe and claim the “tithers blessing”, but what about the other 612 laws? For instance, the Sabbath is not Sunday, it is Friday sunset till Saturday sunset. If you do not keep the Sabbath you break the Law.
The Law forbids wearing cotton and wool together, it tells us how to eat, how to cut our hair. What about the sacrifices and festivals?
If you break the law you risk the curse. We cannot serve two masters. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2:10
This argument is not new. It occurred 2000 years ago in the early church. Remember that Christianity started as a Jewish thing. The book of Acts describes a dispute when gentile believers were told to obey the Law and get circumcised.
The argument was taken to Jerusalem. All the high-ups discussed this issue at length. Eventually Peter observed that by his hand, God had blesses the Gentiles who had never obeyed the Law of Moses as much as the Jews who had, so why bother.
It was concluded and further taught by Paul, James and others that Believers need not live by the Law, but should live by The Spirit.
The Law of Moses was a Jewish thing. Gentiles never had it nor lived by it. When gentile believers had an opportunity to obey the law, they were told not to by the Jewish elders.
Tithing was a Law of Moses system designed to feed those that depended on God’s House. Because tithing was food, only farmers and those that produced food could tithe.
Money was treated differently. You cannot bake a cake with a bread recipe.
Arguments for Tithing.
1) Abraham’s tithe. – Some argue that Abraham tithed before the Law therefore tithing is universal.
Abraham gave a tenth once but he did not tithe. He gave Melchizedek a tenth of what he had gained through a raid against some kings who had kidnapped his nephew Lot.
Scripture does not say what he gave. However, raiding parties typically took portable wealth like tools, weapons, money, clothes, slaves, food and so on.
Abraham lived to 175 years old. In his recorded life he paid a tenth once. The tenth he paid was not from his day to day business. There is no record of him paying a regular tithe before or after this event, it is history not instruction. History records Abraham having a concubine, if we take history as instruction, should we do the same?
2) Jesus told us to tithe. – When Lord Jesus spoke about tithing he was 1) speaking to Jewish people under the Law of Moses (Pharisees) and 2) He spoke about herbs not money.
3) Paul spoke about tithing. – When Paul spoke about tithing he was not teaching tithing. He was debating the authority of a non-Levite viz. Melchizedek to receive Abraham’s tenth. Paul encourages generosity but he never preached tithing.
4) Tithing is symbolic of The Word that feeds our spirit. The storehouse is symbolic of the church where we are fed. – 1) The storehouse fed Priests, Levites, Widows, Orphans and Strangers, not the greater congregation. 2) This type of reasoning is typical of an ugly called Eisegesis. Eisegesis is a fancy word to describe people reading into scripture, not reading out of scripture. In other words adding their own meanings to God’s Words. Probably not a wise occupation.
Where is the balance?
If we are to live by The Spirit or, Spirit-of-the-law, we must honor the original purpose of that law.
Tithing ensured that those that depended on God’s house were fed by that house.
The new covenant never teaches tithing, however, it extrapolates the principle that a threshing ox should not be muzzled, and a workman deserves his/her wages. If we know our Lord, we know that He liberally provided for His people.
The spirit-of- the-law concerning housing, revenue and tithing therefore, obliges us to support those that depend upon the place we call our spiritual home. Be that a church, home-group or website. The new covenant teaches us to contribute cheerfully, without remorse and with generosity.
For those that fear losing 10% of their congregation’s income, perhaps you should question if you are worthy of your wages? Are you building God’s kingdom or your lifestyle?
So should I tithe yes or no?
The answer is yes and no.
If God tells you to tithe your income, do so. However, you are not obliged to do so as tithing in the law does not relate to money at all (nor to gentiles).
If you tithe from your income, unless God tells you that you can, you cannot claim the “tithers blessing” unless you obey the whole law of Moses.
Tithing was a specific system in the Law of Moses. It was not taught or used before or after the Law. Abraham gave a tenth (not the-tithe) once in his 175 years, Lord Jesus agreed that the tithe was food and Paul argued about kings and priests, they never taught it. Tithing became redundant in 70 AD and 136 AD when the temple was destroyed and the Israeli nation dissolved by the Romans respectively.
My experience is that Christians are generous people who give when they see someone building God’s Kingdom.