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.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Paying the Temple Tax

When we think of tithing, most people think of the voluntary practice of giving to a local church. But where does this practice come from? Was it always voluntary? Like it or not, we have inherited many church traditions from our European church history. The tithe in European history has some similarity to a temple tax system in Jewish history.

In France
In France, the tithes—called "la dîme" -- were a land tax. Originally a voluntary tax, in 1585 the "dîme" became mandatory. In principle, unlike the taille, the "dîme" was levied on both noble and non-noble lands. The dîme was divided into a number of types, including the "grosses dîmes" (grains, wine, hay), "menues" or "vertes dîmes" (vegetables, poultry), "dîmes de charnage" (veal, lamb, pork). Although the term "dîme" comes from the Latin decima [pars] ("one tenth", with the same origin as that of the U.S. coin, the dime), the "dîme" rarely reached this percentage and (on the whole) it was closer to 1/13th of the agricultural production.

The "dîme" was originally meant to support the local parish, but by the 16th century many "dîmes" went directly to distant abbeys, monasteries, and bishops, leaving the local parish impoverished, and this contributed to general resentment. In the Middle Ages, some monasteries also offered the "dîme" in homage to local lords in exchange for their protection (see Feudalism) (these are called "dîmes inféodées"), but this practice was forbidden by the Lateran Council of 1179.

All religious taxes were constitutionally abolished in 1790, in the wake of the French revolution.

In Ireland
Tithes were introduced after the Norman conquest of 1169-1172, and were specified in the papal bull Laudabiliter as a duty to: ...pay yearly from every house the pension of one penny to St Peter, and to keep and preserve the rights of the churches in that land whole and inviolate. However, collection outside the Norman area of control was sporadic.

From the English Reformation in the 16th century, most Irish people chose to remain Roman Catholic and had by now to pay tithes valued at about 10% of an area's agricultural produce, to maintain and fund the established state church, the Anglican Church of Ireland, to which only a small minority of the population converted. Irish Presbyterians and other minorities like the Quakers and Jews were in the same situation.

The collection of tithes was violently resisted in the period 1831-36, known as the Tithe War. Thereafter, tithes were reduced and added to rents with the passing of the Tithe Commutation Act in 1836. With the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869, tithes were abolished.
I won't copy and paste all of Wikipedia into this post. You can go there, or research elsewhere, but it looks like much of Europe had systems in place where everybody was basically taxed to fund their church institutions.

The Jews of Jesus' day had a similar tax system for their temples. I believe the response Jesus gives is interesting.

The Temple Tax - Matt 17:24 - 26 (HCSB)
When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the double-drachma tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the double-drachma tax?”
“Yes,” he said.
When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon? Who do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes from? From their sons or from strangers?”
“From strangers,” he said.
Then the sons are free,” Jesus told him. “But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for Me and you.”
Jesus was questioning if it seems right that His heavenly Father would demand a tax on His children. Even earthly kings don't require their family members to pay them taxes.

But since this was a mandatory tax for a Jew of that day, Jesus complied.

Our governments require us to pay taxes, I recommend complying by paying your taxes to your governments. But the church and state are no longer joined to the extent that we are required to pay a tax to church institutions.

Do you think your Heavenly Father requires a temple tax of you?

Are you a child of God? Are you free?

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Eric said...


Thanks for this post. Good stuff.

In particular I like your observation about the sons being free. It reminds me of Paul's statements in II Cor. about giving not under compulsion.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Eric. And a fresh read of II Cor 8 - 9 confirms that was a situation where brothers from one town were giving freely a gift to brothers in another town who were in need. It seems along the lines of giving through an organization like World Vision. Certainly nothing like a temple tax.

8:13-14 highlights this nicely: "Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality,"

Thanks for the comment! God bless!