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Daniel Wee
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Post by Daniel Wee » Sun 19 Aug 19 2012 11:04 pm

Someone recently asked me for my opinion on tithing. For many people, this is a pretty cut and dry issue but I think that it isn't. In fact, I think that most Christian ministers, pastors, have little understanding of actual biblical teaching on the matter and are mostly regurgitating what they have been taught on it. Before we venture into my opinion on the principles behind this issue - it is probably best to get some idea of what the bible itself teaches on the matter of tithing. Instead of re-writing everything from scratch, I am reproducing an article here by Jack Poirier that is a good place to start:-

Are Christians supposed to tithe?
Jack Poirier

Within popular piety in America today, it is widely believed that the Bible instructs Christians, either explicitly or implicitly, to give ten percent of their income to their local churches. Pastors teach this in the name of the biblical notion of “tithing”, a term applied to the giving of ten percent of one’s crops and flocks to the Levite.

As we will see, however, the Bible nowhere even remotely suggests that Christians are supposed to give ten percent of their income to the church, or anything. Moreover, the plain facts about biblical tithing contradict the very possibility of any sort of Christian tithing, or at least of the possibility of basing such a practice upon a biblical model. Let us leave aside the question of whether Christians are bound to the Old Testament commandments for now, and look first at some of the specifics concerning tithing during the days of the Temple.

In the Bible there are three different tithes (although the third is really a part of the second). The first (Leviticus 27) is the best known, but even it, when properly understood, does not correspond at all with the notion that a tithe represents the giving of ten percent of everyone’s income to the Temple. There are two central facts about this first tithe that contradict the common conception. First, it did not apply to everyone’s income. Rather, it consists of ten percent of the crops grown and the livestock raised by Israelite (later Jewish) farmers within the land of Canaan. Israelites living in the land of Canaan who made their living by any other means did not have to pay this tithe, and Israelites farming outside of the land of Canaan did not have to pay this tithe. This is because the first tithe was not a required payment for livelihood per se, but rather it represented payment for tenancy on God’s land. In other words, the first tithe was not a sort of thank offering for one’s livelihood, as it is commonly construed today: rather, it applied only to those farming within the land of Canaan.

The second misconception about the first tithe is just as significant: although farmers gave ten percent of their produce to the Levites, only one percent of their produce actually wound up going to the priests who minister in the Temple (Num 18:20-32), for whom it represented their livelihood, and none of it went to the administration of the Temple generally. This is because the first tithe was used primarily as a sort of social security system: the Levites were prohibited, by the Law, to own land, so God provided for their welfare by giving them ninety percent of the tithe paid by those who were land tenants. The farmer gave all his tithe to the Levites, and it was only the latter who separated out the portion going to the priests officiating in the Temple. (As far as the farmer was concerned, all the tithe went to pay for the welfare of the Levites.) In other words, if the tithe corresponds to anything in today’s society, it is not the giving of a set amount to a church, but the payment of a social security tax to the federal government. The Old Testament “church” (viz. the Temple) actually wound up with none of the farmer’s income, except insofar as the priests officiating were given a tithe of the Levites’ portion to eat as a heave offering. This is a far cry from the idea that Christians (whether they’re farmers or anything else) are supposed to give ten percent of all their income to the church.

There was also a second tithe, discussed in Deuteronomy 14. The procedures for this tithe vary according to a seven-year cycle. In the first, second, fourth, fifth, and (probably) sixth years of the cycle, a tithe of one’s produce was to be taken to Jerusalem, to be offered up and consumed (by the tither) within the holy city. If a farming family lived too far to carry its produce all the way to Jerusalem, it could redeem its tithe and bring the money (adding twenty percent extra) to Jerusalem, where they were to buy, according to the language of the King James Version, “whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink” (Deut 14:26). In other words, this tithe was not really given away, but rather consumed by the tither as an offering to the Lord. Obviously, this tithe is also a far cry from the dominant notion of tithing in the church today. It corresponds more to a sort of potluck dinner and drinking party, for farmers only. (Needless to say, few pastors are in the habit of quoting this verse: When is the last time you heard a pastor tell his flock that they should spend their tithe on a steak dinner or a bottle of liquor?)

The third tithe was simply the tithe from the third year of the seven-year cycle (Deut 14:1-29; 26:1-19). (There was no tithe in the seventh year since the land was not permitted to be farmed that year.) In this year the tithe was to be given to the Levites, the widows, and the orphans. (In Deut 26:12, the third year is called “the year of tithing”, which seems to imply that the arrangement we called the “second tithe” wasn’t really a tithe.) This also does not correspond with modern ideas about tithing. Rather, it is strictly for poverty relief. Again, none of this tithe went toward the Temple.

If none of any of the three tithes went towards the administration of the Temple, then how was that institution supported? This was done through a Temple tax, leveled on all male Israelites over twenty years of age, to help subsidize Temple operations (Exodus 30). It should be noted, however, that this Temple tax was a fixed amount, and was not based on a percentage of income. Everyone, rich and poor alike, paid the same amount.

We have not even asked about the relationship of the church to the cultic law, but we can already see a terrific problem with the idea that Christians are supposed to give ten percent of their income to the church: none of the biblical tithes even remotely corresponds to this scheme. The closest correspondence between the biblical system and any modern church practices of which I am aware is found in the relationship between the Temple tax and the present-day arrangement, used by many Eastern Orthodox churches, of charging a set annual amount for membership dues (usually around $300-$500 per family). The idea of everyone paying ten percent of their income to the local church is utterly foreign to the Bible.

We have seen that the Old Testament laws cannot be made to fit with modern ideas of tithing, but what about the question of whether these laws, in principle, can be extended to the church? Here, I will repeat what I said above: the Bible nowhere even remotely suggests that Christians are to tithe. All of the references to tithing in the Gospels refer to the Israelite/Jewish system, and when Jesus, in response to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, expounds on the proper way to tithe, that cannot be construed as a warrant for Christian tithing any more than his expounding on the proper way to offer an animal sacrifice can be construed as a warrant for Christian animal sacrifices. Jesus’ remarks about tithing (Matt 23:23) are made within a series of injunctions that cannot possibly be extended to the church in its entirety. (Two verses later Jesus affirms for the Pharisees the necessity of observing the ritual purity laws with respect to the washing of cups and plates.) This immediately raises the question of whether one can arbitrarily decide that a particular injunction is binding upon Christians. We cannot practice selective reading simply for convenience’s sake.

This goes for how we read Malachi 3: How can anyone categorically state that Malachi’s reference to tithing is relevant for Christians, when the same book speaks, in the same terms, about the proper way to sacrifice an animal upon the altar? One cannot have it both ways. Unless one actually believes that Christians should offer animals as sacrifices, one must accept the burden of proof for claiming that the references to tithing in Matthew 23 and Malachi 3 are binding on Christians. (Since pastors often quote Malachi 3 to support their beliefs on tithing, it bears mentioning that that passage is not directed at the farmers who give the tithe, but at the crooked priests, who were collecting the tithe from the farmers but taking a cut off the top before depositing it in the storehouse.)

I should also mention that Paul’s remarks about giving have nothing to do with tithing. When he told believers to put something aside at the beginning of the week, he was talking about a discretionary amount for a one-time relief offering for the poor saints in Jerusalem. There is no allusion anywhere in his writings to the giving of a set amount, nor is there any allusion to any sort of regular giving to the local congregation. (In late antiquity, synagogues and churches were built by well-to-do benefactors, who donated different parts of the building in their entirety [and were usually credited for it in an inscription].)[1] All of this, of course, calls into question the common “observation” that Jesus tithed. Unless we have good reason to think that Jesus was a farmer or a Levite (or an overscrupulous Pharisee who tithed what he ate just in case the farmer who grew it failed to tithe it), then there is correspondingly little reason to suppose that Jesus ever tithed.

How do we account for how widespread these errors in understanding are today? The obvious answer is wrapped up in the fact that pastors and other church officials have a vested interest in the income that tithing provides. God cannot be pleased with the misinformation campaigns that are being waged from pulpits, and God cannot be pleased with the financial strain that pastors are putting on church members by making them believe that tithing is a scriptural obligation. If Jesus censured the Pharisees for loading burdens upon the people that they could not bear, would he not censure today’s pastors for doing the same thing?

[1] By the way, we do have an idea when the shallow reading of these passages on tithing was first adopted by the church, that is, when the idea of Christian tithing began: it was in the sixth century. (There’s a chapter detailing the sixth-century origins of Christian tithing in R. Kottje, Studien zum Einfluss des Alten Testamentes auf Recht und Liturgie des frühen Mittelalters (6. - 8. Jahrhundert) [2nd ed.; Bonner historische Forschungen 23; Bonn, Ludwig Röhrscheid, 1970].) The practice was advocated by the Council of Tours in 567 and the second Council of Macon in 585, and it became obligatory (by law) in the Carolingian empire (in 765).

Joycelin Ng
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Re: Tithing

Post by Joycelin Ng » Fri 24 Aug 24 2012 2:55 pm

Thanks for this article.

Why then do we still get churches to "give tithes", when the more appropriate term is probably an "offering" or giving to the Lord, as when Cain and Abel, or Job gave? No stated amount was given or instituted, other than the fact that for Cain and Abel, God looked at their hearts and only received from one of them.

Is it a matter of convenience/tradition to call these "tithes"- when after knowing that there isn't much biblical basis to continue this?

Joycelin Ng
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Re: Tithing

Post by Joycelin Ng » Fri 24 Aug 24 2012 3:28 pm

Here's something else I read from John Piper's sermon:

"Yet one might say that he (Jesus) is only talking to Jews in an essentially Old Testament setting. Maybe so. But there is another pointer that the principle was preserved in the early church. In 1 Corinthians 9:13–14 Paul says,

Do you not know that those who perform sacred services [in the temple] eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar [of sacrifice in the temple] have their share with the altar?

In other words he reminds the church that in the Old Testament economy there was this system in which the Levites who worked in the temple lived off the tithes brought to the temple. Then he says in verse 14:

So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

The least Paul is saying is that those who spend their lives in the service of the Word of God should be supported by the rest of the Christians. But since he draws attention to the way it was done in the Old Testament as the model, it seems likely that tithing would have been the early Christian guideline, if not mandate.

In other words when we tithe today, we honor a principle and plan of God that sustained the ministry in the Old Testament and probably sustained the New Testament ministry as well."

*** http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-lib ... and-beyond

In his sermon he talked about many other reasons why Christians ought to tithe and I agree with all of them. What I have been trying/struggling to understand though is "why should we do this as if it's a carry-over from OT times, but we don't carry over so many other things". But I think John Piper nicely phrased it as "honoring an OT Principle", of how God provides for the people He calls to ministry full-time- that is His designated way of providing for them (us, and all other kingdom ministries the church is involved in). It is similar to what I think is God's way of providing for the poor and the needy- it is us, God's people.

Daniel Wee
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Re: Tithing

Post by Daniel Wee » Fri 24 Aug 24 2012 11:10 pm

I think the principle of supporting those who work full-time, whether they be Levites of old serving in the temple, or church workers today, is a pretty straight-forward one. The problem really starts when people start insisting on a "tithe" which literally means 10%. The moment they try to defend this from a biblical basis, they will have to do a number of things:-

1. Assert that the tithe laws are still in force
2. Extend that law to apply to the church

This is a far cry from teaching a principle of giving and neither #1 or #2 is properly defensible on the grounds of exegesis or doctrine. As such, most people who adamantly insist on an OT tithe are usually ignorant of what the bible in fact teaches on this matter.

Arguing for a principle of giving is a completely different issue, however. And there are many biblical exhortations to give towards people in ministry. What you cannot, however, do is to insist that this must be a 10% quantum, or even on an obligatory offering. The moment you stop insisting on a 10% quantum, then the terminology of "tithing" makes no sense. They are all offerings and a tithe is a specific type of offering.

What then is the correct amount to offer? 2Cor 9:7 tells us:-
"So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver."

There are many other facets to this particular debate but the long and short of it is that from the standpoint of biblical scholarship - you'd be hard pressed to defend the OT tithe in modern Christian churches. Voluntary giving to support the ministry and people in ministry, on the other hand, finds strong support. Having said that, I think that:-

1. Most people use "tithe" in the sense of "offering" and have not really thought through the issues in depth.

2. I think there are also other pertinent issues that can come into this debate as to why a church instituted rule of a tithe (as opposed to a biblically mandated one) isn't altogether a bad or wrong thing either. We just need to be clear when it is the church instituting it and not the bible.

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Re: Tithing

Post by danielTEU » Mon 19 Nov 19 2012 12:16 pm

Thanks for sharing the article, sharing my initial conclusion, including some questions that arose in my mind.

Tithing to me is restricted to OT Levitical worship, particularly to sustain the Levites and the temple workers. But the amount (10%) wasn’t fixed per se, but served as a guideline and was adjusted according to economic conditions (exodus 30:13, Nehemiah 10:32), in fact it was done away with altogether temporarily when the temple was destroyed, i think the tithe was instead directed to the emperor's treasury.

Tithing during OT times exists not ONLY for the upkeep of ‘religious infrastructural’; the other, perhaps more important purpose/usage was meant for the marginalized and less fortunate, and the farmers themselves.

While the NT did not give us many examples on tithing to ‘religious infrastructural’ (other than Jesus paying the temple tax via Peter, albeit grudgingly at it seems), and Paul’s fund raiser for the Jerusalem church (’s poor) (for unifying purposes?), it does however make a number of references to giving to the ‘marginalized and less fortunate’, i.e. the widows (1 Tim 5:17), the inflicted (Acts 11:290), the poor (Galatians 2:9-10).

People back then and now may have missed the point God was trying to make, we should give out of gratitude, and not out of legalism. When the latter takes over, we usually end up giving 10%, nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps driven out of fear that the Lord will be displeased and withdraw His blessings from our lives should we stop meeting the target.


1. Tithing is not compulsory to the NT churches today but giving is…
2. While there is no amount set, our giving should be substantial and within our means (10% remains a good guideline?)
3. It should be given cheerfully within our ability (2 Cor 9:7)
4. Givers who are willing can give beyond their abilities (8:3)
5. MORE IMPORTANTLY, giver should first give themselves to the Lord (2 Cor 8:5)
6.We should give to whoever/wherever there is need outside the church but,
7. Giving to outside the church should not be at expense of the needs of the church, unless the church is extremely inward looking. We only hope that the church will not only spend the tithe wisely in meeting its immediate needs (organization cost, salaries etc…) but also meet the needs of the needy around it. Ideally, the operation cost should not be more than the cost of ministry (to me at least)


1. The challenge is how do we teach this, because chances are people, when given the choice will stop giving or start ‘tipping’ the church instead.

2. Do we leave it to chance for each believer to find out the ‘truth’ about tithing/giving for him/herself. Some will probably never find out.

3. By not teaching it, wouldn't we be painting an untrue picture of the church to non-believers, I used to do coffee shop evangelism, and a often repeated joke is that the church is not ‘hallelujah’, but ‘Ai Li Eh Lui La.’ Loosely translated into hokkien as ‘want your money la.’

Alas, these is one of many other many theological stands that we need to discuss for greater clarity, including divorce and marriage, speaking in tongues, etc…

Having said all these, I am actually grateful for the teaching (10% is mandatory), I received as a new believer, it disciplined me into giving.

Daniel Wee
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Re: Tithing

Post by Daniel Wee » Tue 20 Nov 20 2012 9:03 pm

I agree that our obligation is to teach the truth.

Having said that, I do think that there is a middle ground and sufficient teaching for a kind of regular support for the ministry. The fundamental difference is that the quantum is purely voluntary and individually determined.

This is where institutions feel afraid because they lose control on the strength of their income.

We will then have to ask ourselves - why else do we want to give to the ministry?


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