Surely you have heard that members of a church are supposed to tithe to the church, that is, the church leaders. They explain that this means you are to give money regularly to the church teachers and the amount is variously described anywhere from 10 to 20 percent or more. What does the Bible say about this?
The tithe is described in the Bible as being a tenth of the flocks or food grown by the Israelite people (Leviticus 27:32). This is said to be "Holy to the LORD" but what does this mean, to whom was the tithe given and why?
First we need to examine some roles of the men in the Old Testament community of believers.
|Genesis 14:17-24||17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. 21 The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself." 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the Lord , God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.' 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share."|
|Abraham goes to war with four kings to rescue his
nephew. These 4 kings have taken people and their belongings as loot. When
Abraham goes to war, he does not take all his personal belongings, his
money crops and animals but he takes men equipped for war. He then fights
and is victorious. On return he meets with two allies, the king of Sodom
and the king of Salem (who was also a priest of the True God). He did not
have his year's crops with him nor did he run home to get a tenth of his
He explained to his allies that he wished to share the plunder and keep nothing for himself. Those who went into battle with him will receive their fair share and the remaining portion will be divided between the two kings. He does this by offering 10% to the king of Salem and the rest to the king of Sodom. The king of Sodom wants only his captured citizens back but Abraham insists on giving him all of the rest of the goods. While the tenth of the plunder given to Melchizedek was somewhat like a tithe (Hebrews 7:4) because of the stated amount, 10%, there the similarity ends. Abraham was not giving to God 10% and keeping 90%. Nor was he giving 10% to God and 90% to a king. Rather he was returning the stolen goods to their owners and sharing 10% with a neighboring king, while keeping only enough to cover expenses.
Further, if Abraham was deciding to keep nothing for himself, that indicates where the goods came from. If the goods had included his own personal wealth and increase, then after giving it all away, keeping nothing for himself, then he would have had nothing left to eat or to feed his household. This is clear evidence that this distribution of goods had nothing to do with giving a tithe from his own personal income.
|43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee
to Haran, to my brother Laban! 44 Stay with him a few days,
until your brother's fury subsides, 45 until your brother's
anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will
send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one
19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."
35:1 Then God said to Jacob, "Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau." 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone." 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. 5 Then they set out, and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. 6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.
|Jacob promises to give a tenth back to God but there is no tithing to any priest. Jacob fulfills the promise by completing the altar and possibly offering his increase as animals in a burnt sacrifice.|
|Deuteronomy 14:22-29||"22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields
produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain,
new wine and 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. 24
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), 25 then exchange
your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place
Lord your God will choose. 26 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.
27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. 28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, 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."
|All that a family received from their fields and
herds was to be evaluated and a tenth calculated. That tenth was not given
away for someone else's consumption. It was used by that family for their
spiritual "vacation", that is, it was used to support their three trips
to Jerusalem for the required Jewish religious festivals. The grain or
animals could be taken to the festival and used as part of the sacrifices,
which they would eat, or they could be sold and the money taken to the
festival. At the festival they would use that money to buy the animals
and grain. Likely they would take only enough for the particular festival
and leave the rest home. Thus it was like a bank account that they would
dip into only for their trips (see Deuteronomy 26:14 below).
Over time this 'family spiritual savings account' might accumulate. At the end of every third year, after the three festivals, all that was still in the tithe accounts was to be taken from the home farm and brought together to the town 'spiritual savings account' and was to be used locally in a town-feast. Deuteronomy 26:10-14 clarifies this and shows that people would come to the town rather than "come" to Jerusalem for the festival. The goods were intended to be shared with others who had no income, like the Levites (the wood gatherers, the "holy attendants"), the poor, the orphans and widows. Thus all could share in a national or regional spiritual time of refreshment. Further, I suppose it is possible that these tithes were collected and kept for the benefit of the poor so that they could go to the festivals over time but that is not clear here.
Also note that this third-year tithe was not an additional tithe for it says "bring all the tithes of that year's produce". It does not say an additional tithe.
|10 "and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O Lord , have given me." Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 And you and the Levites and the aliens among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. 12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 Then say to the Lord your God: "I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them. 14 I have not eaten any of the sacred portion while I was in mourning, nor have I removed any of it while I was unclean, nor have I offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the LORD my God; I have done everything you commanded me.|
|This reflects what Deuteronomy 14:22-29 says about the tithe of the third year. Here it is called "the year of the tithe" since it is a collective tithe for the nation rather than for the family, the only tithe that was given away to others. It was to be used for the local poor and the Levite workers (the non-priests) who worked full-time in the temple and had no income.|
|Nehemiah 10:37-39||37 "Moreover, we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God, to the priests, the first of our ground meal, of our grain offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and oil. And we will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all the towns where we work. 38 A priest descended from Aaron is to accompany the Levites when they receive the tithes, and the Levites are to bring a tenth of the tithes up to the house of our God, to the storerooms of the treasury. 39 The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and oil to the storerooms where the articles for the sanctuary are kept and where the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the singers stay. "We will not neglect the house of our God."|
|The people bring their tithe to the Levites. These
then take a tenth of that income, the first fruits, and gave that to the
priests. So at the end of the third year the priests get a tenth of a tenth,
that is 1%. The 9% that they keep, they use for themselves and their
|Numbers 18:21-32||21 "I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting. 22 From now on the Israelites must not go near the Tent of Meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. 23 It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting and bear the responsibility for offenses against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. 24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord . That is why I said concerning them: 'They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.' " 25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 "Speak to the Levites and say to them: 'When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord 's offering. 27 Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. 28 In this way you also will present an offering to the Lord from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the Lord 's portion to Aaron the priest. 29 You must present as the Lord 's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.' 30 "Say to the Levites: 'When you present the best part, it will be reckoned to you as the product of the threshing floor or the winepress. 31 You and your households may eat the rest of it anywhere, for it is your wages for your work at the Tent of Meeting. 32 By presenting the best part of it you will not be guilty in this matter; then you will not defile the holy offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die.' "|
|At the end of the third year, the year of the national tithe, a tenth of the national income went to the entire tribe of Levi for every task they performed, such as singing the worship songs, preparing the temple for worship, preparing animal sacrifices and gathering wood. A tenth of their income (that is 1%) was then given to the priesthood.|
|Malachi 3:4,8-12||4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord , as in days gone by, as in former years. . . .8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse - the whole nation of you because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the Lord Almighty. 12 "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the Lord Almighty.|
|Those who earned an income and a profit apparently were not giving their proper tithe to be distributed to the poor, the widows and the temple workers, so these persons were said to be robbing God. As in the past they should have been bringing the proper tithe, the tithe of the tithe (1% as explained in Nehemiah 10:37-39) to the storehouse of God.|
The tithe was primarily meant for the family to save for its own use
for their travel needs when going to the three annual festivals where they
gathered to worship God. In the third year they were to take their increase
to the town repository where it would be delivered to the Levites for proper
handling. The foodstuffs were meant for those in the town who had no income,
like the poor, the widow, the orphan and the Levite worker who had no land.
The Levite workers were to take a tenth of what they had been given and
were to give it to those serving as priests since they had no land either.
Thus every third year the priests received a tenth of a tenth. In other
words, the priests received one three-hundredth (1/3% - when
averaged over a period of 3 years) of the nation's income.
|Luke 21:1-4 (Mark 12:41-44)||1 As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3"I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."|
|Jesus observes wealthy Jews who are putting money
into the temple treasury. This does not specifically mention tithing but
much can be learned regardless.
The wealthy Jews were never accused of giving less than the proper tithe
This account gives a clue how the tithe might have been calculated. Was the tithe based on ALL moneys a person received or was it based on ONLY those funds that were above the fundamental daily needs for food, clothing and shelter? In this account the monetary gift was normally out of a person's surplus, and noticeably different from the widow's gift out of her need. It seems reasonable to conclude that the tithe was to be calculated based on a person's savings that were beyond the basic needs. For example suppose a person did a resale business, buying goods and delivering them to others while charging extra money for the delivery. If had his buyer purchase a cow for 100 coins and then sells the cow for 101 coins. What was increase? Until the books are processed and the profit is calculated, the person would not know the true increase. If someone demanded simply 10% of the gross income of 101 coins, the 10% would be $10.10. But in reality the increase was only 1 coin and therefore the tithe would be 1/10 of a coin. So simply stated, when the Bible speaks of 10% of the person's increase, it means 10% of the true increase, that is, 10% AFTER expenses! That would include 10% after the basic living expenses and after the cost of daily living.
The poor received tithes and were permitted to glean grain from the edge of a neighbor's fields. So they did have an income but since it barely covered their daily needs they paid no tithe. Those who had a surplus over their daily needs paid a tithe. God did not demand a tenth out of their 'want' rather only a tenth out of their surplus. Thus a widow who had an income that was not enough to cover the normal daily need, was not expected to tithe, and if she did, it would be considered extraordinary.
|2 Thessalonians 3:6-12||6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." 11We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.|
|Although Paul could have asked for monetary support for his ministry he did not do this so that he could set the example for all in the congregation. Not an example focused on giving, but focused on working.|
|1 Corinthians 9:6-18||6Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?7Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? 8Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? 9For it is written in the Law of Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain. "Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? 13But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 15But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. 16Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.|
|Paul explains the basis for why he could ask for
monetary support for his ministry. He refers to the Old Testament Law but
|1 Timothy 5:17-18||17The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages."|
|Paul teaches that the elders who share in preaching
and teaching are worthy of monetary help and quotes from the Law to support
his reasoning. As in
If Paul believed the Old Testament tithing law applied to Christians, why does he never refer to it but only refers to the law regarding the feeding of oxen? Why does Paul prefer to make tents so as not to be a burden (Acts 17:33 - 18:5)?
|James 1:18||In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.|
|Revelation 14:4||These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.|
What are the first fruits that are to be brought into God's house?
Although all workers in the Christian church deserve monetary assistance
If a Christian who had an income with enough left over for others wanted to voluntarily give a material tithe as in the Old Testament they would first calculate what moneys they had and of this how much exceeded their basic needs. This excess is their surplus. This is what the tithe would be based on.
From this surplus, calculate 10%, this is the material tithe. But this tithe is to be distributed in 3 ways:
|Leviticus 27: 30-32||All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD's; it is holy to the LORD. If a man wishes to redeem any of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. And all the tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman's staff, shall be holy to the LORD.|
|Deuteronomy 12:5-19||5 But you shall seek the place which the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there; thither you shall go, 6 and thither you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering that you present, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herd and of your flock; 7 and there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. 11 then to the place which the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, thither you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering that you present, and all your votive offerings which you vow to the LORD. 12 And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your menservants and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. 13 Take heed that you do not offer your burnt offerings at every place that you see; 14 but at the place which the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you. 15 "However, you may slaughter and eat flesh within any of your towns, as much as you desire, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which he has given you; the unclean and the clean may eat of it, as of the gazelle and as of the hart. 17 You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstlings of your herd or of your flock, or any of your votive offerings which you vow, or your freewill offerings, or the offering that you present; 18 but you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, and the Levite who is within your towns; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you undertake. 19 Take heed that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land.|
|2 Chronicles 31:5-12||As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the first fruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. And the people of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the dedicated things which had been consecrated to the LORD their God, and laid them in heaps. 12 And they faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes and the dedicated things. The chief officer in charge of them was Conani'ah the Levite, with Shim'e-i his brother as second;|
|Nehemiah 12:44,47||On that day men were appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the law for the priests and for the Levites according to the fields of the towns; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered. 47 And all Israel in the days of Zerub'babel and in the days of Nehemi'ah gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers; and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.|
|Nehemiah 13:5,10 - 12||5 prepared for Tobi'ah a large chamber where they had previously put the cereal offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. 10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them; so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. 11 So I remonstrated with the officials and said, "Why is the house of God forsaken?" And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses.|
|Amos 4:4||"Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days;|
|Matthew 23:23||"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.|
|Luke 11:42||"But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.|
|Luke 18:10-14||10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."|