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I am a born-again, Bible-believing Christian. If you read through this blog at any length, then you will come to see that I am very very conversant with the Bible, and my attitudes are thoroughly shaped by the Bible. However, I believe that the so-called doctrine of tithing is a lie.
Below is the original article that I wrote to refute it. I have since been made aware of a few changes I need to make to it, but the essence of the article still stands.
To see more articles I have written about tithing please have a look at the tithing category.
Here is a Google search on the question “Is Tithing a Biblical Commandment?”
13th January 2013
This article was originally written as a note on my Facebook profile on April 12, 2011. The people I refer to are people who wrote comments on the original Facebook note.
Explaining why I wrote the article – 14th May 2011
Why I wrote *that* article (below)
I’m sorry if I did not make this very very clear on my earlier post. There was absolutely one reason only why I wrote my earlier article on tithing, and that was to defend my own viewpoint. I wrote it especially for people who were in church with me that Sunday, when I put my hand up to say that I did not believe that tithing was a biblical commandment. I knew that in a million years they would be unlikely to hear a strong defence of my own viewpoint from anywhere else, so that is why I provided it myself in the article I wrote.
It is very important to me to defend my viewpoint scripturally because I talk so much about my faith. I do, after all, write this Bible blog, and I am currently working to translate parts of the New Testament into a copyright free English version. It is so important to me that everyone should understand that my faith is totally grounded in the Bible as the true Word of God. I was thinking that if I did not write that article, then, because people would be unlikely to hear a defence of my own position elsewhere, they might be tempted to think that I was promoting heresy. However, I hope it is fair to say after my article that if people do not agree with me, they will at least agree that I have a point, and they might see the Biblical grounding of people who don’t believe in tithing as a Biblical commandment.
Unfortunately, since my viewpoints directly contradict those of other people, it can’t be helped that my article seemed to challenge those other viewpoints. May I also gently add that no-one has come forward with a (credible) refutation of my points…?
(I say “credible” because someone tried to argue that the simple fact that Abraham and Jacob gave tithes means that we are all commanded to do the same – do you agree?)
Thanks to everyone who has made initial comments on this article. Because of your input, I have realised that I forgot to emphasise something very important. This is that there is nothing wrong with choosing to give a tithe. In fact, it is good and right and commendable to give money for the work of God. If you are already giving a tithe, then please continue to do this, and I would even ask you to give as much as you can, for the sake of the work of God. Honestly, 10% is actually not a lot of money when it comes to the work of God – if you can afford it. If you can, then please go over and beyond to give more than this – as much as you can. Giving to the work of God is worthwhile and necessary and yes, commanded.
This article is not about giving money for the work of God. This article is about the phrases “the Bible says” and “God commands”. Even though it would be good and right and hugely commendable to give a tithe, the fact is that the Bible simply does not command this. This is my point in this article.
(I have also changed a few definitions in this article to reflect the above – by Pro-Tither, I now refer to someone who argues that to give a 10% of your salary in the modern world is a Biblical commandment, rather than something you can choose to do)
If you are someone who would argue that the Bible commands modern tithing (according to the definition given below), then know that I would have counted myself in this number right up until around 6 months ago. Could I ask you to give me an open mind as you read this article? Even if it argues for the opposite of what you believe, could I ask you to honestly consider this article in the light of Biblical teaching? If at the end, you still honestly disagree with me, then please feel free to carry on arguing in favour of tithing. If you can spot an obvious, or maybe more subtle flaw in my logic, then please let me know. If you can totally refute my argument, then once again let me know. I have written this article because I genuinely believe that the arguments here are true – solid, reliable, Biblically sound. If you can demonstrate otherwise, I would genuinely want to hear from you.
Firstly, let me define some terms.
Tithe – In the Bible, this refers to a tenth of your agricultural increase.
Modern Pastors, Churches and Christians use the word “Tithe” to refer to a tenth of all your monetary income.
To “tithe” – In terms of the modern church, to tithe means to give a tenth of all your monetary income to the church.
Tithing – This is the name given to this practice when understood in the modern sense as in, “I believe in tithing”
In this article, I will use the term “Pro-tither” to refer to someone who argues that to give a 10% of your salary in the modern world is a Biblical commandment, rather than something good and noble and commendable that is nevertheless not a commandment. This is my own word, that I have made up, to make it easier to write and read this article.
Secondly, some basic Bible foundations.
These points are central truths, I believe generally accepted by Christians, which are fundamental to Bible teaching, and to the points I have made in this article. If you can spot a mistake in any one these points, then you may be able to demolish any part of my argument that is based on it. Please take your time to understand these foundations. Please read them over and over again. I believe that if these simple foundations were correctly understood and applied in the church, so much error would be avoided.
The Bible is the Word of God. OK, this is quite obvious. However, my refutation of the principle of tithing comes from clearly examining the Bible. If the Bible is not after all the Word of God, or is not to be considered that way, then you can disregard this article. This is why other religions will obviously not look to the Bible to defend or refute their own giving systems.
The Word of God is an absolute. This means that the weight it carries or the validity of the teachings does not depend on who is teaching it. This is so, so important. It does not become more true because a renowned Pastor or leader or anyone, absolutely anyone is showing it in the Bible. It does not become less true because the person showing it from the Bible is not well known or is young or is uneducated. It is true because it is in the Bible. Period. In practice, this means that if someone “small”, like me, for instance, could demonstrate that the Bible says X about tithing, then this is truth, because the Bible says so. Not because of me. Truth remains truth regardless of the authority of the person showing it from the Bible. The converse of this is also true. If the Bible does not say X, then we cannot use the authority of anyone, literally anyone, to overcome this. The question is ALWAYS, ALWAYS ALWAYS: does the Bible really say so?
OK, I guess it could legitimately be argued that a renowned pastor might have greater understanding of what the Bible means than an ordinary person “off the street”. This is true. However, I will demonstrate to you in the case of tithing that the Biblical teaching is so clear. It really is not very possible to get it wrong to the stage where you need to appeal to the greater understanding of a Bible scholar. There are no complex shady concepts that need any deep revelation from a prophet. These issues are clear, transparent, easy. If you can read, then you can understand it. Simple.
The Bible should shape us, we do not shape the Bible. We do not define the Bible. We do not give meaning to the Bible. Rather, we submit to the teachings of the Bible. We throw away our own agendas to be corrected by the truth of the Bible. This is because the Bible is the Word of God. If God is speaking, and I would want to raise an alternative viewpoint, who should be the one to listen? Who should be the one throwing herself down to immediately submit myself to the other viewpoint? This is the attitude we should have to the Bible. This is the Word of God. It is not for us to twist to suit our own convenience or preferences. Rather, we should throw ourselves down in submission to its teachings, as we would do if God were physically present speaking to us.
Because of the above no teaching of the Bible needs to be considered in the light of anyone else’s teachings. You can of course look at what a Pastor or teacher has said. However, it is not mandatory. This is because the Bible is not supposed to be defined by someone else’s teachings, whoever that someone may be. (There is a difference between a definition and an explanation). Rather, every pastor’s teachings should be defined by the Bible. Any Bible teaching only has to be considered in the light of other parts of the Bible. I have put this here because someone might refer to a great Pastor or leader who said or says “X”. I do not know – I cannot possibly know what everyone might have said about any particular scripture. So I cannot address everyone’s viewpoint in this article. However, I can look at the Bible to see what the Bible on the whole says about tithes, for instance, to make sure that all my thinking about tithes is Biblically balanced. And as long as it is, I do not have to read anyone else, or consider anyone else’s opinion. If I do not understand it, or I’m not sure I understand it, then of course I am free to consult respected viewpoints. However, if I understand it, and I know that I understand it, then I don’t have to do this.
The point of this is that when considering the topic of tithing, or indeed any Biblical issue, the only thing I have to consider is the Bible, and presenting a balanced Biblical picture. This is the only thing I have considered in this article. Tradition should never be used to outweigh the Bible. Jesus in the Bible condemns the practice of elevating tradition above the Word of God.
OK, so these are the basic Bible foundations.
WHEN I WAS A PRO-TITHER
OK, as I launch into the main body of the article, let me explain that my parents were pastors for a long time as I was growing up. I grew up being taught that tithing as modernly understood was completely, non-negotiably God’s commanded law for Christians. It is because of my parents, and the ministries of so many other pastors whom I respect so highly, that I am hesitant to denounce modern tithing outright as a huge, big fat lie. There are so many pastors I know who are completely synonymous with integrity, purity, relentless pursuit of Christlikeness, who preach modern tithing as uncompromisingly as my parents did.
I also like people to know that in my pro-tither life there were times, as allowed by my finances, that I gave far more than 10%. For a long time I have sought to be outstanding in every area of my Christian life, including giving. And I quickly understood that if this was to be a tithe of your income, then it had to be 10% gross. This (as explained by my Dad, I believe) is because the money taken by tax is equally part of your income, which you genuinely benefit from. If this money was not taken by tax then yes, you would see the whole amount in your payslip but you would also need to pump your own water, pay for your own healthcare etc. The government does us a big favour by dealing with these issues through tax. It’s just that this tax is taken first, before it ever gets to us. So if you’re going to tithe, then please do it correctly!
I would never have dreamt that I would ever be in a position of writing an article to refute this practice. In fact, I had essentially made up my mind not to speak out about this topic, but rather to quietly nurture my own viewpoints. But then our pastor issued a direct challenge in church, for people to indicate if they did not believe in tithing. So yes, I tried to explain my reasoning and now I want to justify these views. I have a personal practice of not arguing on something unless I am already 100% sure that I am right. I’m not saying I’m always right. I’m saying that I don’t argue on something if I think I could be wrong. So please understand that the fact that I am arguing this shows that I believe that I at least have a robust argument to support my views, especially because these views are so unusual in the church.
WHAT WAS THE TITHE IN THE BIBLE?
In this section, I am going to look at what the tithe was, and what it was used for.
Now the reason why the topic might seem complicated, is because the Bible does indeed talk about tithes. This was largely in the Old Testament. There it is commanded as a non-negotiable law of God. However, the tithe referred to in the Old Testament was a tithe of all your edible products. You know why this is? It is because the tithe was to be eaten.
Leviticus 27.30: Here, it establishes the principle that all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is holy to the LORD. (Similarly, also the sheep etc)
And yet, what was to be done to this tithe that was holy to the LORD? Was it to be shut up behind the sacred portals of the tabernacle doors, never to been seen again?
Deuteronomy 14v22-29 explains to us the fate of this tithe. Verse 23 teaches that this tithe, which was holy to the LORD was to be eaten. And by whom was it to be eaten, even though it was holy to the LORD? By the Levites, by the priests? No. Rather by the people who had grown it. v23: “And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.”
So the first thing to point out is that if you are to insist on following this Old Testament principle, then it is the people who lay up the tithe who are to eat it, at least for 2 out of 3 years. It is (only) at the end of every 3rd year that the tithe is to be given to the Levite. Deut 14v28-29 Even then, it has still to be shared with the stranger and the fatherless and the widow. So then, even you were to give your whole tithe to the Church, every third year (not sharing it with the stranger etc as the Bible commands), then that would come to a tithe but only every 3rd year, or a third of your tithe or 3.3% of your income if spead out over every year . However, the Bible does command that this should be shared between the Levite and the stranger and fatherless and widow… so that would reduce the amount given to the church yet further, if we tried to follow this in modern times.
Let us consider here that the tithe was to be a tithe of edible agricultural products also known as food. Tithes were not commanded for inedible products like cloth or wood or wool. (I did earlier also refer to leather in this list. However, it then occurred to me that you did in a way give a tithe of this, except that it would still be attached to the animal it would be produced from). Firstly these tithes did not come into the storehouse anyway but were rather consumed by the people who had produced them.
Secondly, pro-tithers claim that Biblical tithing was their equivalent “in those days” of giving 10% of all your income – everything – gifts – everything. Well, how about all these items that still had financial value but were not covered by the instruction of tithing?
The Tithe as an equivalent of giving money
Pro-tithers accept that the Bible commands tithing on agricultural products. However, they argue that that was because “in those days” agricultural products were the currency. They argue that the giving of the tithe was equivalent to giving 10% of your salary, as we would do in our non agriculture-dependent economy.
Yes, to a certain extent agricultural products were used as a currency. This is seen in the Bible when Laban paid the wages of Jacob’s hard labour with flocks of goats etc, and also when Judah offered to pay the supposed harlot, actually his daughter-in-law Tamar, with a young goat. And yet, even in those days, money was also used as a currency. For instance, a full 400 years before the giving of the Law (where the Biblical Tithe was instituted), Joseph was sold as a slave for 20 shekels of silver.Gen 37v28. So money as a concept had already existed for at least 400 years before the Law of the Biblical tithe.
Furthermore, within the very same law where the Biblical Tithe is ordained, we see silver being used as a currency. The penalty to pay for the death of a servant was not denominated in flocks of goats, but rather in shekels of silver: Exodus 21v32
Moreover, in Nehemiah 10 it specifically refers to paying for the service of the sanctuary from money – right alongside talking about the tithe. v32: “We made ordinances to exact from ourselves yearly one third of a shekel (shekel=old testament Israelite unit of monetary currency) for the service of the house of our God.”
v37…”and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites”…
In the New Testament, where Jesus still referred to the Biblical Tithe – mint, anise, – once again these are food items – herbs and spices. The Greco-Roman Empire in which Jesus lived certainly had an established and consistent monetary and coinage system. In some of His parables Jesus referred to people being paid a denarius for their wages, in the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 Andrew and co referred to the money needed to buy food for this multitude, there was the parable of the woman who lost one of her silver coins.
So to argue that Biblical Tithing refers to agricultural products – and food – only because that was their currency, or they did not have money in those times, is demonstrably wrong.
So my point is, that it would actually have been possible to convert the value of the Biblical Tithe items into money, and give that to the Levites, if the Biblical Tithe was truly a representation of monetary value. In fact, in Deuteronomy 14, God makes provision for that. If it is too difficult for you to bring the actual items themselves, then exchange them for money and go to the place where the LORD chooses. But what happens then, on the other side? The money does not get given to the Levites as money, but it is then exchanged back for food! – which you then eat. This if anything emphasises the fact that this was not about money, or monetary value otherwise they would obviously just have accepted the value in money – yes? Or yes?!
And what were the Levites to do with the (3.3%) that they themselves received? Exactly what everyone else did – they were to eat it. It is completely unbiblical to teach that the Bible commands Biblical Tithes for the upkeep of the sanctuary. Biblical Tithes had one purpose only – and that was to be eaten. They were not converted to money to pay for candles or for musical instruments or oil lamps or anything that could correspond to the modern upkeep of our churches, to which modern churches direct modern tithes. It was eaten. It was also not used for the Levites’ donkeys or clothing or other expenses – rather it was eaten.
CURSED WITH A CURSE
This passage deals with the main passage pastors etc (including my Dad!) use to insist on modern tithing in the church
I will quote it here in full:
“Will a man rob God?
Yet you have robbed Me!
But you say,
‘In what way have we robbed You?’
In tithes and offerings.
You are cursed with a curse,
For you have robbed Me,
Even this whole nation.
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
“And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes,
So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground,
Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit of you in the field,”
Says the LORD of hosts;…”
I believe that this passage shows how seriously God takes the concept of the Biblical Tithe. God instituted it, and as with the rest of His commands, He wants and He expects people to obey.
However, this does not change the definition of what the Biblical Tithe is. In this passage God tells His people to bring in the tithes that there may be FOOD in His house. Not resources. Not oil for the light. Not money or gold or silver – but food.
This passage also does not redefine tithe in this sense: It does not say: this was the previous understanding of the Biblical Tithe, and this is to be the new understanding. Rather it charges the people with not doing what they have already been instructed to do. When it says “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse”, this does not change the fact that the Levites were entitled to a third of a tithe – to be shared with the stranger and the fatherless and the widow. It’s clear that the Israelites were not obeying the principle of the Biblical Tithe.
Nehemiah 10v38 gives an idea of the total amount of tithe that would be correctly brought into the storehouse – that is a tenth of a Biblical tithe – or 1%. This amount is a lot smaller than 10%, but it seems that the Israelites were failing to do even this.
So to summarise then,
Firstly, the tithe was food – always. It was not a money equivalent because a money equivalent was unnecessary as they actually had money those days.
Secondly, the people who produced it were to eat it.
Thirdly the Levite was to be entitled to a tithe only every 3 years, or an ongoing 3.3%, to be shared with the stranger and the fatherless and the widow
So if churches were to insist that this is a Biblical principle to be applied in our modern times, then the very maximum they could ask for is 3.3% as an ongoing percentage, to be shared with charities, or directly with people actually in need. Even if we do go ahead and give this 3.3% as a proportion of ALL our income, then to be Biblically correct we should use that money to buy food to bring into the church.
Picture of gold coins by Junior Libby at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net