Garry Pifer is an elder in the United
Church of God, Bloomington.
By Garry D. Pifer ( His E-mail address is: email@example.com )
Presented with permission by: The Master's Table
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.--This is a study from the Bible of a subject we probably think we understand pretty well: tithing. We have read many booklets and articles and heard many sermons and Bible studies over the years.
We know, or think we know, that tithing is a universal law given by God to all of mankind, that Scripture teaches more than one tithe (three, to be exact), that Jesus Christ taught tithing in the New Testament and that the law regarding who was to receive the tithes was changed in New Testament times.
We know that now it is the ministry of Jesus Christ that is to receive the tithe.
When in Berea
Nevertheless, let's go through it again and search the Scripture whether those things be so. Notice the example of some of the brethren in the early church:
"And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:10-11).
The early Christians in Berea were commended for being of an open and ready mind to accept new understanding, but not just because someone said so (and not just because it was contained in a booklet or article).
It says they "searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." What they were hearing had to be what Scripture said before they would accept it and act upon it.
That should be our criterion as well. We have to prove what we hear and read and what we have been taught over the years as well, by what the Bible actually says, not what someone says it says.
In this study we will not have room to quote every scripture, but we will examine many if not most of them that pertain to the subject. Others we will referto.
A beginning point is to define the word tithe. The two primary words translated "tithe," "tithes" and "tithing" are maaser (No. 04643 in Strong's) and asar (No. 06237). Maaser is defined "tithe, tenth part." Asar (depending on the tense) means "to tithe, take the tenth part, give a tithe, take a tithe." The basic meaning is "a 10th" or, as we might say, "10 percent."
The first account of "giving" in the Bible is the story of Cain's and Abel's offerings. Some have taught that the reason Cain's offering was not accepted was that he figured the tithe incorrectly. You can read this in Genesis 4:3-8 for yourself, but note that it says "offering," not "tithe," and when we later come to the prescribed manner for tithing we will see that even Abel's accepted offering was more similar to the offering of the firstborn or firstlings than to tithing. Tithing cannot be proven from this passage. We must look further.
Tithes and tithing are mentioned only two times before the time of Moses and the Exodus. We need to look at both of those passages.
We are familiar with the story of Abraham meeting Melchizedek upon his return from battle and the statement that he "gave him a tithe of all" (Genesis 14:17-20). Most of us have been told, and we have made the assumption, that this shows a lifelong practice of Abraham tithing on his increase.
But what does Scripture tell us?
What it does say, and you can turn to it and read it for yourself, is that Abraham gave God thanks for the victory and gave a tithe, or a tenth, of the spoil from the battle to Melchizedek.
But this was not Abraham's increase to tithe upon. He didn't keep any of it for himself. Read verses 21-24. He said he wouldn't take "from a thread even to a shoelatchet."
Neither does the Scripture tell us anywhere that Abraham always tithed on everything he received. If he did, why does the book of Hebrews refer only to his giving a tenth of the spoils and not to his "practice" of tithing? (We will look at the passages in Hebrews later in this article.) We can assume that he always tithed, but we cannot prove such from Scripture.
One thing we can be sure of is that the spoils of war were not items upon which God required tithes to be paid. Let's see what the Scriptures tell us of what God required regarding the spoils of war.
In Numbers 31:25-30 God commanded the Israelites to take vengeance on the Midianites. Israel attacked them, defeated them and took their children, livestock and everything else they owned as the spoils. Did God require a tithe, 10 percent? No! He required only 2 percent from the congregation for the Levites and 0.2 percent (one in 500) from the warriors for the priests, not a tithe. If there had been a universal tithing law, why was it not applied here?
Some have said that tithing is a personal, individual act of worship, therefore no tithe would have been required until after distribution was made. I would point out in the account of Abraham the 10th was given before any distribution. Furthermore, Abraham didn't take any of the spoils for himself.
As we continue reading (verses 28-50), we do see that the officers were grateful for the victory God had given them, and they brought an additional offering of gold.
From the story of Abraham in Genesis 14 we see only a one-time event, Abraham giving 10 percent of the spoils of battle to Melchizedek. To try to prove he always tithed is adding to what the Scripture says. The Bible cautions us against doing that. It appears the tithe here was an offering given out of appreciation for the victory.
Perhaps the second place mentioning tithing before Moses will give us more information. That is found in Genesis 28 and the story of Jacob.
Jacob had a dream. He saw a ladder reaching from the earth to heaven. God stood above it, spoke to Jacob and repeated the promise He had previously given to Abraham and Isaac. Jacob awoke and was "afraid" and apparently shaken from this dream. He rose up early, set up the stone he had used for a pillow and poured oil upon it. Then notice verses 20-22:
"And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee."
Notice carefully what the Scriptures say. Jacob made a vow, a conditional vow. He says, in effect, "If God does such-and-such, I will do such-and-such."
This passage is often referred to with the interpretation that "Jacob promised" to tithe. It wasn't just a promise, however. Jacob vowed. You can check the Hebrew for yourself.
Also, you can read what God says about making vows and keeping them (Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21; Ecclesiastes 5:4).
Jacob made a vow, a contract with God. He said if God took care of him he would make sure of three things:
oThe Eternal would be his God.
oHis pillar stone would be "God's house."
oHe would give 10 percent of what was given to him to God.
These don't all fall into the same category. Jacob should have been doing the first of the three points anyway, whether God blessed him or not. The second points seems to have been Jacob's idea. No command is recorded that someone should set up a pillar. Was the third point also Jacob's idea? From these verses we cannot tell if this was a requirement like the first point or his own idea like the second one.
However, since Jacob made a vow, a contract with God, to give 10 percent of all that God was going to give him, it would be good to understand what he was going to receive.
The preceding verses (13-14) tell us it was the land that was to be given to Jacob and his "seed." When we read of Jacob's vow in context, we see clearly that he was promising to give a 10th of it back to God. Study the scriptures and you will see that Jacob did not receive the Promised Land in his lifetime. His descendants later received it (Exodus 33:1).
Jacob died in Egypt, and his body was returned to the Promised Land. It was this land that was given to Jacob's descendants by God, and, as we will see shortly, it was the tithe of that land that God said was holy. We find no biblical evidence that God received any tithes from Jacob or his descendants until they were given the land. There is nothing in the following chapters about tithing.
Jacob worked for Laban for 14 years for his wives, and six more years for the livestock, yet nothing is mentioned about tithing.
We read of Joseph down in Egypt, but we see nothing about Joseph tithing. Egyptian law required 20 percent to be given to Pharaoh to prepare for the coming famine, but nothing is said about tithing to God.
No tithing on manna
Then we come to the time of Moses. We are familiar with the story of God bringing Israel out of Egypt. During the years of slavery, the Israelites had forgotten most of God's laws. We know that God used the miracle of manna (Exodus 16) to restore the knowledge of the Sabbath. Although He could have restored tithing (if that had been His will) by directing the Israelites to tithe the manna to the Levites, we see no indication of His doing so.
As a matter of fact, verse 16 says "every man" gathered, indicating this included the Levites. Nothing is mentioned about tithing.
In chapter 20 God gives the Ten Commandments, along with other laws and statutes. Chapter 21 discusses judgments. In chapter 23 God's feasts are mentioned. We do not find a single reference to tithing.
Then we come to the account of the building of the tabernacle. We all remember that before leaving Egypt the Israelites "plundered" or "asked" their neighbors for articles of gold and silver. In this manner God saw that they were compensated in some small measure for the years they had spent in slavery.
Now, shortly after coming out of Egypt, we find them receiving instructions from God for the building of the tabernacle. At this time we read of God asking the Israelites to bring an offering.
Notice Exodus 25:2: "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering."
Notice the lack of instructions to tithe on this material from the Egyptians.
Chapter 35 tells us more of the story about the tabernacle: "Take ye from among you an offering unto the Lord: whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the Lord; gold, and silver, and brass" (verse 5).
This was an offering from a "willing heart," from "everyone whose spirit was willing" (verses 21-22).
In chapter 36 we see clearly that this was an offering, not a tithe. No command was made to bring 5 percent, 10 percent or any set amount. You can check out the Hebrew words translated "offering," "freewill offering," etc., in these passages. All indicate an offering, not a tithe. You can study the entire story and you will not find any command to tithe on the plunder of Egypt.
In fact, as you read through and study the book of Exodus where God reveals to Israel His Sabbath, the Ten Commandments, numerous ordinances and laws--even a separate Sabbath covenant--you find absolutely no mention of tithes or tithing.
First tithing instruction
We come finally to the first biblical instructions on tithing. First some background: After the book of Exodus comes the book of Leviticus, which contains numerous details about types of offerings and sacrifices and how the Levites were to perform their duties.
Leviticus includes the account of the consecration of Aaron and his sons. Clean and unclean animals are enumerated. Laws dealing with childbirth and leprosy are expounded. Chapter 16 deals with the Day of Atonement. We read laws dealing with morality. Chapter 19 mentions the keeping of the Sabbath a couple of times. Chapter 23 deals with the feasts of God. The land Sabbath and the year of jubilee are discussed in chapter 25. Chapter 26 tells of the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.
Notice Leviticus 26:42: "Then I will remember my covenant with Jacob . . ."
Verse 46 seems to be a conclusion: "These are the statutes and judgments and laws which the Lord made between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses."
Yet one chapter remains, Leviticus 27. In the last five verses of the last chapter of the book, we finally find the subject of tithing.
Why is it included with this last chapter rather than earlier in the book or in the book of Exodus? Notice the subject matter of Leviticus 27: vows, the redeeming of vows, and tithes.
Remember Genesis 28 and Jacob's vow? Jacob's vow was conditional. I quote here from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, article "Vow":
"The conditional 'vow' generally had a preceding clause before the oath giving the conditions which had to come to pass before the 'vow' became valid: 'And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will [watch over me] . . ., so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God . . . and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee' (Gen 28:20-22).
"'Vows' usually occurred in serious situations. Jacob needed the assurance of God's presence before setting out for Padan-aram . . . Though conditional 'vows' were often made out of desperation, there is no question of the binding force of the 'vow' . . . First, a 'vow' is always made to God . . . Second, a 'vow' is made voluntarily. It is never associated with a life of piety or given the status of religious requirement in the Old Testament. Third, a 'vow' once made must be kept. One cannot annul the 'vow.' "
Jacob had made a vow to God. It was, from all we can discern from Scripture, voluntary. Now the conditions were coming to pass; that is, God was about to give the Promised Land. The time had come for the vow to be paid. Jacob, through his descendants, was to begin fulfilling the vow he had made, to "give the tenth" of all that God should give him back to God.
Notice Leviticus 27:30: "And 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."
God said the tithe of the land (which was what was promised) was holy unto Him. The Hebrew word qodesh (No. 06944 in Strong's) means to "set apart," usually for a divine purpose. So we see that the tithe is set apart for whatever purpose God gives. At this point we do not learn that purpose. We will see that a little later. But we are given some other information.
What to tithe on
What does the Scripture say specifically is to be tithed upon?
The Bible is clear that the tithe was owed on agricultural products: the seed of the land, the fruit of trees, and livestock.
Don't take my word for it. As you study the subject, you will find this description of tithing consistent throughout Scripture. Never is tithing mentioned on anything other than food substances: that which is produced from the land God gave the Israelites. (See 2 Chronicles 31:5-10; Nehemiah 10:37-38; 13:5, 12.)
Many people have drawn other conclusions and made other statements, but the only items to be tithed on we ever find in the Bible are food items. We find no mention of tithing on money, manufactured goods or anything besides agricultural produce.
Most historical sources also tell us that tithes were collected on agricultural products. I found it interesting to read the definition from the dictionary on my bookshelf, the New Lexicon Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, 1991 edition: "Tithe, n. a tenth part of agricultural produce etc. paid as tax or as an offering, esp. (hist.) such a tax levied to support a church."
Many of us have been under the impression that, since Israel was an agricultural society, no mention of tithing on money was made. Yet, if we are honest with the Word of God, we will find there was money, a monetary system and monetary offerings. Exodus 30:13-16 discusses an offering of money to be brought by each person to the tabernacle. This was what became the "temple tax" that Jesus Christ paid.
We read where money was paid in redemption of people and animals (Numbers 3:44-51; 18:15-16) and in the redemption of vows here in Leviticus 27.
While we are consulting Leviticus 27, let me draw something else to your attention. Our understanding has been that we are to tithe the "first 10th." But let's read verse 32: "And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the 10th shall be holy unto the Lord."
Notice it does not say the first, but the 10th. (Firstlings and firstfruits are treated differently.) If one had only 19 animals, the tithe was one. Of nine animals, no tithe was required. There is no instruction to prorate or estimate the value and then tithe on that.
We also have been led to believe that the tithe was to be the best of all. Again, what does the Book say? Verse 33: "He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed."
Tithing was by random selection. God says not to "search whether it be good or bad."
In other words, whenever the animals came down the chute and passed "under the rod," the 10th animal was holy unto the Lord. It didn't matter whether it was the prime show animal or the runt.
Purpose of the tithe
We notice more information concerning the tithe as we continue our study in the book of Numbers. Numbers 18:21, 24 tells us the purpose for the tithe, which was not revealed in Leviticus 27.
Numbers 18:21: "And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation."
Verse 24: "But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the Lord, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance."
The tithe went to the Levites. Why? It was in lieu of an inheritance for the work they performed in the tabernacle. They had no inheritance.
Review Numbers 3:5-13. God said all of the firstborn were His. He took the tribe of Levi instead of every firstborn child of every other tribe. God did not allot the Levites any land when they entered the Promised Land as He had allotted the other tribes. This does not mean, however, they had nothing.
Leviticus 25:32-34 speaks of the cities of the Levites. Numbers 35 gives us more details. The Levites had 48 cities from all of the other tribes that God gave them, along with land for pasture for their livestock. Based on a cubit of 17-18 inches, the Levites would have had an area of slightly more than 200 acres around each city.
Numbers 18:26-28 tells us the Levites were to tithe what they received from the rest of the nation. All that they received was to be "reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshing floor, and as the fulness of the winepress."
Although they did not have land upon which to produce corn or wine, what they received was reckoned as if they had produced it. This tithe was given to Aaron the priest.
We find no instructions for the priests to tithe. In the following verses, 29-32, we find the specific instruction to the Levites that their gift was to be the "best" or the "fat." The Hebrew indicates the "choicest or best part."
We see in these verses the obvious fact that the tithe was to go to the Levites for an inheritance. Verse 31 then says it was specifically their "reward for [their] service in the tabernacle of the congregation." The Hebrew word translated "reward" means "hire, or wages."
Statutes and judgments
Let's move on to the book of Deuteronomy, which dates from just before the time the Israelites were to finally go into the Promised Land, 38 to 40 years after the recorded information in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.
The first 11 chapters of Deuteronomy are a review of all that has transpired and an introduction to the rest of the book.
The primary theme is obedience of God's law, of proper worship and warnings against falling into the veneration of the gods of the nations they were entering the land to replace.
Chapter 5 is a repetition of the Ten Commandments. Chapter 8 spells out the purpose for the Israelites' wanderings for 40 years. God clearly tells them in chapter 9 that He was not giving the land to them because of their righteousness (verse 6) but because of His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Chapter 12 then begins specific instructions. Notice verse 1: "These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the Lord God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth."
As you study the following chapters, you will see statutes and laws that are new and some that are slightly different from what God had given the people 38 to 40 years earlier.
Why would that be? Obviously it was because the situation was changing. No longer would all of Israel camp around the tabernacle. The people would now live in cities, in a settled condition, throughout the land.
Chapter 12 warns the Israelites not to fall into worship of the gods of the people they were displacing. Verse 5 tells them to seek the place God selects and go there to worship. Verse 6 tells them that they will no longer be able to take the tithe and various offerings over to the tabernacle in the center of camp. They will have to take them up to the place God chooses.
Verse 8--concerning "every man [doing] whatsoever is right in his own eyes--is not a condemnation for doing evil, but instruction that the Israelites must no longer take possession of produce at odd times. Now, God was saying, this practice would change. The harvested items would have to be brought up at specific times. We find when those times were a little later.
Verse 9 says the Israelites hadn't yet come to the rest and into possession of the inheritance (the land), but when they cross over the Jordan River (verse 10) then they shall arrive at a place (verse 11) that God chooses, and it is to that place that they shall bring all of the tithes and offerings.
Verses 17-19 give specific instructions regarding these items. The Israelites are not to eat "within [their] gates," but they "must eat them before the Lord."
How many of us have an "inspired margin" saying this is referring to "second tithe"? But neither this verse nor any other says anything about a second tithe. The term second tithe is not found anywhere in Scripture! We will say more about this a little later.
The concluding verses in this chapter again warn the Israelites not to fall into worshiping the gods of the nations, nor attempting to worship Him in the manner the nations worshiped their gods.
Deuteronomy 12:32 bears repeating: "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it."
We, also, need to be careful that we do not add to or detract from what God says.
Coming to chapter 14 of Deuteronomy, we find the reminder of what animals were clean and good for food and which ones were not to be used for food.
In verse 22 we find the same command, to tithe the increase of the grain that the field produces year by year. Over the years some people have spent a great deal of time trying to define what is one's "increase." It seems clear here when we look at the meaning of the Hebrew word and how it is used in context.
No. 08393 in Strong's is defined as "produce, product, revenue." In context this passage could be translated to read: "Thou shalt truly tithe all the produce, product, of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year."
Verses 23-27 do not say second tithe, although our inspired margins may indicate that. We see the same reminder here as we saw previously, that the Levite doesn't have an inheritance with the rest of the tribes. What we do see here is an expansion of the usage of the tithe.
Now God says the person is to use a small portion of it, the tithe, to eat, drink and rejoice before God. What was it to be used for? Specifically, it says items to eat and drink. Nothing is said about travel, lodging and gifts.
Although we have read articles, heard sermons (and some of us have given them) concerning proper uses of second tithe, we read of no term "second tithe" here and, secondarily, no mention of these items for purposes other than food and drink.
Verses 28 and 29 are most often cited as evidence for a "third tithe." But guess what? The term third tithe does not appear in Scripture, either. What we find in these two verses is another modification of the use for the tithe God said in Leviticus 27 was "holy," or set apart.
Some, and maybe most, of the tithe was still to go to the Levite as his inheritance or wages. But in this third year a portion was to be given as a special boost to the poor, the fatherless and the widows.
This was not the only support for these people, however. If you will recall, God had given numerous laws with the poor in mind, laws concerning "gleaning," not cutting the corners of the field, not going back for missed sheaves of grain, etc.
These instructions on tithing are repeated in Deuteronomy 26:12-15. From the context in both of these passages, it appears this procedure was to apply every third year out of a seven-year cycle. The Bible isn't clear on this. It came to be "third and sixth years" by some if not most of the rabbis. Most of us have heard and have assumed it to be the third and sixth.
Second and third tithes
We mentioned that the Scriptures do not use the terms second tithe and third tithe. Then where did we get them? The Jewish historian Josephus makes statements that we have adopted.
"Let there be taken out of your fruits a tenth, besides that which you have allotted to give to the priests and Levites," he wrote. "Besides those two tithes . . . you are to bring every third year a third tithe . . ."
The editors of the works of Josephus refer to Tobit paying three tithes. The book of Tobit is a fictional book included in the Apocrypha. In my opinion, basing doctrine on such sources, when numerous other historical sources and commentaries disagree with their comments, is unsound. Our test has to be: What does the Bible say?
Will a man rob God?
Now let us come to the scripture perhaps most quoted and referred to on the subject of tithing, Malachi 3:8-10:
"Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
Before we look at these verses in detail, let us look at the context, a cardinal rule in Bible study, and see specifically who this is written to.
Malachi 1:6: ". . . If I be a master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name."
Verse 7: "Ye [priests] offer polluted bread upon mine altar . . ."
Verse 8: "And if ye [priests] offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And if ye offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil?"
Verse 10: "Who is there even among you [priests] that would shut the doors for nought? Neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for nought. I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand."
Verses 11-13: ". . . For my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts. But ye [priests] have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the Lord is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible. Ye said also, Behold, What a weariness is it! And ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord."
Malachi 2:1: "And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you."
I could go on. You can read for yourself verses 2-13 of chapter 2.
Now let us come to Malachi 3. Notice verse 3: ". . . And he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness."
It is extremely clear the book of Malachi is written to the Levites and the priests of Aaron. It is an indictment for their improper practices including the way they sacrificed. It wasn't written to the Israelite nation or to the tribe of Judah or you and me specifically. Since these words are in the Bible, there are lessons we can learn from them, but let us read verses 8-10 with the understanding now of who they were specifically written to.
Verses 8-9: "Will a man rob God? Yet ye [who? The priests] have robbed me. But ye [the priests] say, Wherein have we [priests] robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye [priests] are cursed with a curse [See Malachi 2:2]: for ye [priests] have robbed me, even this whole nation."
Undoubtedly the whole nation was robbing God in not tithing properly because the citizens usually followed the example set by the Levites and priests. However, I believe the proper understanding of the statement here would be: "Ye are cursed with a curse, even this whole nation, for ye have robbed me."
Verse 10: "Bring ye [priests] all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house . . ." Is this speaking of sending all the tithes to headquarters or a home office or to "the church"?
Let us understand. The Hebrew word translated "storehouse" is owtsar (No. 0214 in Strong's) and is used 79 times in the Old Testament. Most of the time it is translated "treasure" or "treasures" (61 times) and several times as "treasury" (10 times) or "storehouse" or "storehouses" (three times). Other renderings are "armoury," "garners" and "store."
The definitions are "treasure, storehouse"; "treasure (gold, silver, etc.)"; "store, supplies of food or drink"; "treasure-house, treasury"; "magazine of weapons (fig. of God's armoury)"; "storehouses (of God for rain, snow, hail, wind, sea)."
The Levites were to bring their tithes, the tithe of the tithe, into the storehouse.
Note Nehemiah 10:37: "And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage."
Verse 38: "And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house."
Verse 39: "For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God."
In verse 38 "treasure house" is from the same Hebrew word translated "storehouse" in Malachi 3:10. There were firstfruits and offerings to be brought to the priests to be placed in the chambers of the treasure house. The tithes were to be given to the Levites. The Levites then were to tithe that and bring it to the chambers. Then the priests, the ones who ministered, were to use it for the service in the tabernacle.
It is interesting to note that the books of Malachi and Nehemiah were written at the same time, about 430 B.C. Whether the reform taking place and recorded in Nehemiah had anything to do with what Malachi wrote is unknown, but it may have been. It would have been the outcome that would have been desired.
The New Testament
No matter what we believe or conclude about tithing in the Old Testament, we need to see what the New Testament commands for us. What kind of bridge do we find from the Old to the New?
In all the New Testament we find only eight verses that speak of tithing. We will look at all of them. We will see what the Book actually says.
In addition, we will read a few verses often quoted or referred to that some feel give instruction or teach the "principle of tithing."
The first verse mentioning tithing is Matthew 23. It is often cited as a proof that Jesus taught tithing. Let us look at verses 23-24:
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel."
What is Christ doing? Is He giving instructions on tithing?
It seems clear He is delivering a rather scathing indictment to the Pharisees for their omission of the weightier matters of the law. Yes, He mentions tithing. He is supporting the Levites' continuing service in the temple and acknowledges they were still receiving tithes. He also mentions specific agricultural products. But we find no instructions here, directed to you or me, regarding what we should be doing. We must look further.
Luke 11:42 is a parallel account to the scriptures we just read in Matthew. We do not find any specific instructions pertaining to the subject here, either.
The next passage that mentions tithing is found in Luke 18. Christ is giving a parable, beginning in verse 9, about two men going up to the temple to pray. Notice what the point of the parable is.
"And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others."
Jesus is here addressing a self-righteous attitude, and He specifically uses the Pharisee as an example.
Verse 12: "I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess."
If this man were fasting two times a week, it was because he felt these actions made him righteous. Nowhere will we find a command to do this.
Likewise, if he were giving tithes of all he possessed, he was doing more than was ever commanded.
Remember the command stated the tithe was on agricultural products. Why was he doing more than the command? Again, it was because he thought doing more made him more righteous. He "trusted in himself that he was righteous," but we see he also despised others, which was the point Christ was making in this parable.
Jesus does not give us any command regarding tithing here. This contains absolutely no instruction about tithing. What we are given is a valuable lesson and warning regarding self-righteousness, of adding to what is commanded in an attempt to be more righteous.
Our High Priest
The remaining five scriptures that mention tithing are all to be found in Hebrews 7.
Let's begin in the last verse of Hebrews 6 to get the setting. Verse 20: ". . . Jesus [was] made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec."
The context is Jesus Christ becoming our High Priest. The account continues. Note Hebrews 7:1-4:
"For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils."
Let's notice verse 4, which mentions the incident we looked at in Genesis of Abraham giving 10 percent of the spoils to Melchisedek.
The author of Hebrews is showing that Melchisedek was someone worthy of honor. The only times he is mentioned in all of Scripture are in the story of Abraham showing him honor by giving him the 10th of the spoils and in a prophecy in Psalm 110:4. That prophecy is quoted several times here in Hebrews (chapter 5), the prophecy of Jesus Christ to become the High Priest.
Verses 4-6 and 8-9 are the five verses of Hebrews 7 that mention tithes and tithing.
Verse 5 states that the sons of Levi received the office of the priesthood and were designated to receive tithes from their brethren.
Verse 6 points out that the one who received tithes (10 percent of the spoils) from Abraham was not of the family of Levi.
Verse 8 shows that men who died were receiving tithes, but the one who received them of Abraham "lives."
In verses 9 and 10 the author shows that Levi, although not yet born, did in essence pay tithes through Abraham to Melchisedek, showing that this individual was worthy of honor.
In verse 11 comes a rhetorical question: "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood [which, of course, it wasn't] . . . what further need was there that another priest should rise. . .?"
Furthermore he mentions the new Priest would "not be called after the order of Aaron."
Now notice verse 12: "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law."
We have been told, and it has appeared in numerous writings and probably is in your inspired margin, that a change in the law pertained to who is to receive the tithe.
But that is not what your bible says! The change was in the law regarding who was to be a priest.
Jesus was a Jew
The law stated a priest was to be of the tribe of Levi. The priesthood was being changed. The one becoming a priest was not of Levi.
Notice verse 13: "For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar."
Verse 14 tells us even more: "For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood."
The law of the priesthood spelled out in the writings of Moses specifically says the priestly tribe was Levi, not Judah.
The rendering in the Jewish New Testament of some of these verses can help our understanding. Notice verses 15-16: "It becomes even clearer if a 'different kind of cohen [priest],' one like Malki-Tzedek, arises, one who became a cohen not by virtue of a rule in the Torah concerning physical descent, but by virtue of the power of an indestructible life."
Clearly, the law being changed was the law regarding who was to be a priest.
Read the remainder of Hebrews 7. You will find no command or instruction there about tithing. The context is Christ becoming priest after the order of Melchisedek. The chapter shows we no longer need the human, Levitical priesthood. No longer would there be a priesthood of men who died and had to be replaced by another. We would have an unchangeable priesthood. The daily sacrifices of animals are rendered unnecessary since our Priest offered up Himself for the sins of mankind.
Hebrews 8:1: "Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens."
Here is the bottom line, we might say: The point being made concerns the change in the priesthood. Verse 4 points out again that if Christ were still on earth He wouldn't be a priest, because Levites were available who were of the proper physical lineage.
As you read through the rest of Hebrews you will find the discussion of Christ's sacrifice and shedding of blood whereby we have forgiveness of sins. It points out that the blood of animals could not do that.
We recognize that animal sacrifices are no longer needed or required. After A.D. 70 there was no place to sacrifice, and, we see here in Hebrews, there was no need. If your workplace is gone and your job has been eliminated, would you expect to continue to receive your wages? I think not. The Levites received tithes as their wages for their service in the tabernacle and later the temple.
The leap of logic has been made by many that the "ministry" is somehow the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament Levitical priesthood and thus is entitled to receive tithes.
We started this study with the premise that we need to do as the Bereans and search the Scriptures whether statements such as these are true. I have not been able to find scriptures to support that reasoning. You will need to study that for yourself.
Those who preach the gospel
Many times we have been referred to 1 Corinthians 9 to show that the apostle Paul taught the principle of tithing. Let's look at the passage beginning with verse 7 and continuing through about verse 14.
Verse 14 says "they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel."
But does that mean the "ministry" of the church is to receive tithes? Notice Paul never once mentioned tithing. He did quote from the Old Testament, but it wasn't a passage about tithing. He quoted Deuteronomy 25:4: "Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn" (1 Corinthians 9:9).
Certainly Paul shows that the physical needs of those serving the spiritual needs of the church, going to the world with the gospel, etc., should be taken care of. But let's consider why he didn't tell them then, or have it written for us today, that we should tithe to the "ministry."
The first book to the Corinthians was written around 55. The temple was still standing. The Levites were still sacrificing and were still receiving tithes. The members of the church in Corinth, Jews and gentiles alike, knew the Scriptures plainly said the tithe was to go to the Levites.
If Paul had told them to give the tithe to him, they probably would have been ready to stone him, for they knew, as is recorded for us, he was of the tribe of Benjamin.
Apparently the church in Philippi was the only congregation that helped Paul financially when he began preaching and teaching. Notice Philippians 4:15. He doesn't say they were the only ones that sent tithes to him; he stated that "no church communicated with me concerning giving and receiving, but ye only."
There is no command in all of the New Testament regarding tithing. On the other hand, there is verse upon verse speaking about and teaching giving, sharing and proper stewardship. The author of Hebrews, in his concluding remarks, admonishes us concerning our giving.
Hebrews 13:16: "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
The rendering in the Jewish New Testament, I feel, is much clearer: "But don't forget doing good and sharing with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
Our Lord's brother, James, gives us the definition of what real Christianity is all about.
James 1:27: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."
The word translated "visit" is episkeptomai, No. 1980 in Strong's. It is defined as "to look upon in order to help or to benefit" and "to look after, have care for, provide for." The same word appears in Christ's words of instruction in Matthew 25.
Verse 36: "I was sick, and ye visited me." Verse 40: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
If we are practicing what Christ said and are giving and sharing what we have been given stewardship of, then we are giving to Christ, our High Priest.
We need to search the Scriptures. We should study what Christ and the apostles had to say about finances, wealth, abundance, money, "filthy lucre," treasures, covetousness and the love of money.
The list could go on. It is a major study. But, as we noted in the beginning of this article, we need to search the Scriptures and see what they actually say. Let us not assume what someone tells us is what the Book says. Then, once we see what it says, let's be like the Bereans and receive the Word with all readiness of mind.
You might want to read... Did Jacob Tithe?
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