Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tithing in the OT

When we talk about tithing in the modern church, what are we referring to?

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)

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.
2 Chronicles 31:5-6 (NIV)
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.

How often?

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.

In Summary

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:

External related links:


Carla said...

I have major issues with the teaching of "tithing" for today. The tithe was a tax. The children of Israel were no more 'giving generously' than we are when we pay our income tax--we are simply doing what was required. I also find it quite interesting that if they gave money instead of food they had to give more than 10%...I believe it was about 13%...so if we want people to apply tithing to the church today than why is 10% being taught? Modern churches don't want my potatoes and carrots--they want money. I would argue that it is because 10% is pretty easy to figure out and because there is fear that 'give generously' is a little ambiguous and most people don't do well with ambiguity.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Carla,

Yes in many ways it was a tax for their society. The Priests and Levites were part of the ruling government structure.

Some of my taxes in Canada go toward the ruling government, and some also go towards government assistance for the poor.

I'm not suggesting paying taxes is all Christians should do. But I do see some similarities between the taxes we pay, and the tithing they did in the OT.

Thanks Carla.

Like a Mustard Seed said...

Not only was the majority of the O.T. tithes comprised of food-goods, but also it seems completely forgotten today that the Levitical priesthood was forbidden to own property...

If that priesthood is the basis for today's paid pastor model, then how is it that only certain portions of it are regarded as having carried on into the church age, while other aspects are completely rewritten or ommitted?

If the Levitical priesthood is really the "blueprint" for the modern pastoral office, then pastors shouldn't buy homes, or cars, and should live in some kind of property or community that has been set up by the rest of the Body for such a purpose (just like the Levite priests had to live in...)

Now, I'm not actually advocating any of that, (because Christ did away with the temple and the entire temple system), I'm just saying, that if you're gonna be consistent with your so-called "Biblical basis for tithing", then you'd better submit yourself to everything the O.T. has to say about it!

Jonathan said...

Thanks Like a Mustard Seed,

Yes. I agree. We all like to pick and chose what parts of scripture we need to support our traditions...

But just because a tradition is not found in scripture, it doesn't mean it is all wrong. Just don't claim you are following what the Bible teaches on a topic when you are not considering the full picture.


Frank said...

The church uses all sorts of guilt, blackmail, and manipulation, to extract money from the silly sheep in their pews.

I am not particularly against paying for service though, ie. if you go to a movie you don't expect to get it for free. However we need to stop pretending that this giving serves the purposes of Christ for anything more than a few percent of the total given.

For many many years whilst I was in the church system, (I escaped captivity years ago) I would only give where I felt the spirit led me to give. I would give a little support for the heating and hire of the hall etc. but that was all.

Regarding tithing though, I feel we must detach it from the OT law. This is because it is shown in Jacob and Abraham and was evident at least 430 years before Moses.

Therefore we ought to consider what it is saying, and it is certainly NOT law.

There is an important principle in the tenth, which we must not just dump. The principle is ancient, and is recognised in all societies. The accepted principle is that the tenth represents the whole.

This can be seen when you put a deposit down on a purchase, for most of history this has been a tenth of the total amount. By paying a tenth, you are saying "I promise to pay the rest". The tenth is meant to be representative of the whole sum.
Therefore if we give a tenth of the increase of our money or possessions, we are telling God that he has the title of the whole sum.

From my point of view, because I am carnal and forgetful, when I am giving I like to consider giving a tenth if only because it enables me to be disciplined and faithful with my increase. I do not do it because of law. Nor am I greatly concerned if i fail. It is just a personal measure.