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I am not against tithing January 9, 2012

Posted by Henry in Tithing.
Tags: , , , ,

I am putting this post out to clarify my position on tithing. The reason for doing so is that “pro-tithers” (if you can call them that) will often misinterpret and misrepresent what others who don’t share their view says in opposition of tithing. As such anyone who says that tithing is not biblically binding upon the New Testament church are often considered anti-tithers. I am however NOT an anti-tither. This might sound confusing to some who read my posts because they may ask, “if you are not against tithing then why do you write so many posts attacking tithing?” However I will demonstrate in this post why I am not attacking tithing and why I am not against tithing at all.

What is tithing?

For most people in the New Testament church tithing is separating 10% of your income/earnings (indeed 10% of all you receive whether regular or unexpected) and giving it to God via the local church. It is believed by many that this portion belongs to God as this is what God commands or demands. This view is largely based upon the Law of Moses. Support for this practice is also drawn from Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek in Gen 14, where he gave the Priest a tithe of all the spoils he recovered in battle to rescue Lot, and to a lesser extent Jacob’s vow to give a tithe to God of all God gave him.

Let me state categorically here that I am not against anyone giving 10% of their income to their church and neither do I wish for anyone to stop giving their 10% to their church. However 10% of ones income given to the church should NOT be confused with the tithe that God required of Israel. So what exactly was the tithe that God required? The following verses tell us clearly what these were:

Lev 27

30And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S: it is holy unto the LORD. 31And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. 32And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD.

Now some will argue here that they tithe food and animals because money was not available and that people at that time were engaged in the practice of barter. This of course is not true because money was mentioned as far back as Gen 17:12 and occurs at least 9 other times in the book of Genesis. As a matter of fact verse 31 of Leviticus where it speaks of redeeming the tithes, this was a reference to buying back part of the tithes with money as the NLT translation more clearly shows:

If you want to buy back the LORD’s tenth of the grain or fruit, you must pay its value, plus 20 percent. Lev 27:31


What we note from these verses is that although it was possible to convert (or buy back) some of the tithes with money (plus 20% mind you), God did not command Israel to tithe money specifically but only produce of the Land.


If this is not sufficient evidence that money was readily available, we also find in Deut 14:24-25 where the tithing law was more clearly outlined also mentions money – here the Lord commanded that if the way was too far so that the tither wasn’t able to carry the tithe (to the place where the Lord chose to place His name), he should convert it to money and take it and buy whatever his heart desired. What Deut 14 also shows is that tithing was not only about giving (i.e. to the Levites and the poor etc) it was also about the tither eating their tithes before the Lord and only the third year tithe was given to the Levites etc.


Was the temple financed through the tithe?

In the previous section I attempted to define what the tithe under the Law constituted and it was clearly nothing to do with income or money. Here is a puzzling thought though. If only produce of the land were to be given as a tithe then were people not engaged with agriculture exempt from tithing? The simple answer to that question is yes! We have to remember here that whilst the Land was given to Israel as a nation the Levite tribe (from which the priests would come) did not get any portion of it. The tithe OF THE LAND was therefore given to the Levites to inherit [(Num 18:24, 26). The Levites in turn gave a tithe of all the tithes to the priests [(Num 18:28) Note they also received first fruit offerings and such as well which I will not go into as this topic is focused on tithing].

Having considered the foregoing therefore several questions might be raised. If only food was tithe to the Levites and Priests how was the tabernacle or the temple supported and how were the other needs of the Levites met such as for clothing, household things etc? Did they therefore sell some of the tithe to get money to fund their other living costs and the temple costs? Scripture does not tell us that any of the tithe was to be sold in this way. Rather, the purpose of the tithe was to provide food for the Levites (and the Priests) and there is no indication that any other expenses were to be derived from it as we see here:

12When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled; Deut 26

Mal 3:10 also demonstrates that the purpose of the tithe was so that there would be food in God’s house. Here is where “pro-tithers” argue that produce cannot pay for the needs of the church. The point needs to be stressed here though that unlike the church today the tithe was eaten and not used as a means of funding the temple. The point needs to be highlighted here also that the storehouse in Malachi’s day was NOT the temple itself so equating the church to the ancient storehouse is somewhat silly. The storehouse was where the food was kept and certain Levites acted as treasurer over the storehouse.

Where then did the money come from to meet the expenses of God’s house in ancient Israel if it did not come from the tithes (of produce of the Land)? And how were the expenses of the Priests and Levites met?

Firstly, we note from Num 35:1-4 that the Levites had possessions of goods, cattle and beasts and they were given cities to dwell in when they entered the Land and suburbs around their cities to hold their animals. Note also from Lev 25:32 that the Levites could sell their houses for money at anytime.

In contrast to the view that the tithes are used to fund the expenses of the church, money (not food) was collected separately by the priests and Levites from all Israel annually to maintain the temple (see 2 Chron 24:5, Neh 10:32). There was also other freewill giving of money to the house of God as seen in 2 King 12:4.

Aside from the tithe of produce the priests received money as a type of poll tax on the first-born of Israel(Num 3:45-51). They also collected money for the atonement of sins demonstrated in Exo 30:16, and which was used for the service of the tabernacle. In 2 Kings 12:16 the priests received the sin and trespass money which was not brought to the house of the Lord but belonged to the priests.

One of the clearest passages of scripture which demonstrates that the tithe was nothing other than food can be found in Neh 10. In this chapter we see in verse 34 where wood for example, was given as an offering but it was not included in the tithes. In verse 32 we also note they contributed money annually for the service of the temple and again this was separate from the tithes which we come to realise when we get to verses 37 and 38. Here we note that the tithes were collected from the agricultural cities (cities of the tillage) only thus confirming what I said earlier that only food producers were required to tithe and that the tithe was never money. To add to that, what we notice from the New Testament scriptures is that the practice of tithing produce existed up to Jesus’ time as the Pharisees tithe herbs of mint, dill and cumin (Matt 23:23). This was clearly the practice of tithing and money was given separately to the temple treasury as we see in Mark 12:41. It is noteworthy to mention here that those who argue that Jesus did not abolish tithing, citing Matt 23:23, by the same logic refuses to acknowledge that the tithe was not money or the equivalent of earnings but food produce from food producers only. If Jesus did not change the tithe law then the tithe remains a tenth part of produce only from food producers. This point however is lost on “pro-tithers”. We note from Luke 16:14 that the Pharisees loved money yet Jesus did not rebuke them for tithing herbs instead of money and this is because under the law only produce could be tithed. It should be noted here also that people who were engaged with other professions but who also tilled the land on the side were also required to tithe of the produce of the ground. They did not however tithe of their income from their profession.

Who changed God’s Law to require a tithe of income from all Christians? By this misinterpretation of the Law all Israel would have been required to tithe yet that is not what scripture teaches.  

To recap

There are a great number of misconceptions concerning the tithe and as the debate rages on the misconceptions proliferate. In this article I have merely addressed a few of them. However, I think that if we start from the position that the biblical tithe that God commanded had nothing to do with income nor had it anything to do with money or finances then we would be well on our way to resolving all the various disputes. I believe I have demonstrated why tithing is not something done in the New Testament church. Giving 10% of ones income to the church is not equivalent to the Mosaic tithe and therefore the tithing Law should not be used to support this practice in the church. I am not against anyone freely giving 10% of their income to their church if they so wish but this is not an observance of the biblical tithe, nor could it ever be. I pray that people would learn the truth about tithing and be set free of bondage.