There are no New Testament references to believers giving a tithe to the 'church' when they gathered. There are references to New Testament believers giving generously to those in need, but nothing sounding like tithe or tenth.
Old Testament passages are frequently used to encourage believers to give 10% of their income to the 'church'. So to understand what they are talking about let's look at tithing in the Old Testament.
What was collected?
Leviticus 27:30 (NIV)
“‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD."Deuteronomy 14:22-23 (NIV)
2 Chronicles 31:5-6 (NIV)
Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.
As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, new wine, olive oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything. The people of Israel and Judah who lived in the towns of Judah also brought a tithe of their herds and flocks and a tithe of the holy things dedicated to the LORD their God, and they piled them in heaps.We may think... well back then everyone was farmers. So a tenth of all income would be equivalent to a tenth of the agricultural produce.
However we know some people earned wages for their work as well. There would be hired hands, paid workers on the farms, and in the towns. We know they used shekels of silver as payment for services. For some reason fishermen, and carpenters seem to be excluded from theses lists. There were also "millers, bakers, weavers, barbers, potters, fullers, locksmiths, jewellers, etc." (Ancient Israel: its life and institutions By Roland De Vaux, page 77)
I don't know why, but it seems the tithing was not based on the income of all people. It was more of a collection of food.
Abraham tithed to Melchizedek in Genesis 14 - Once. I'm not sure why this passage sometimes gets used to support current tithing practices. If I gave 10% of last years income tax, a one time gift, that may be equivalent to what happened here.
But for the nation of Israel, from what I understand there were 3 different types of tithes:
It was actually more like 23% annually on average. There were three tithes in the Law of Moses. The first tithe was paid only by agrarian families three times yearly to the Priests in Jerusalem. The second tithe was saved by the agrarian families to support this annual trip. It was called the festival tithe. It was for a family vacation. The third tithe was given every three years to the local storehouse, so it amounted to about 3% annually. This was the poor tithe collected for those in need. This is the tithe that Malachi wrote about. None of these tithes were money. They were only food. Those who earned their livings by other occupations did not pay a tithe of anything. However, they did give offerings required by the Law some of which were in silver, gold, bronze and copper coins. Nowhere does the New Testament change this legal obligation of tithe food for some agrarian Israelites in the Law to money tithing for all Christians.
Deuteronomy 14:24-27 describes this family trip tithe:
But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.Deuteronomy 14:28-29 describes the Levite and poor tithe:
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.Who was it given to?
As we read above, some was used by the families themselves on a trip/festival.
Some was used to feed the Levites, the priests, and the poor.
If you think the Old Testament tithing is still for us...
- Why would you think it is now for all believers and not just for farmers?
- Do you think 'church' staff today are the same as Priests and Levites?
- Do you tithe differently every 3 years?
- And please don't forget the poor.
Other related posts:
- Are gentiles to tithe - why is Acts 15:23-29 silent on tithing?
- Let your alms sweat in your hands
- Should pastors be paid a salary
- The Wealthy Church
External related links: