A CLOSER LOOK AT TITHING
By: Victor T. Stephens
"People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it's served up."
~ George R.R. Martin
The New Testament: Was Tithing Commanded?
After unmasking the deception in the previous segments, it should now be evident that Old Testament tithing laws were relevant exclusively for the nation of Israel. However, the chicanery doesn't conclude there. Not only have numerous professing pastors twisted Old Testament tithing scriptures, they have also contorted New Testament tithing passages. Moreover, they continue to mirror the same stratagem of employing scriptures that have no relation to tithing to incorporate monetary tithing into the new covenant. Furthermore, if a commandment for tithing cannot be found under the new covenant, then some tithing advocates assume that tithing was carried over into the New Testament Church. For example, false prophetess Ellen G. White states:
“A tithe of our income is ‘holy unto the Lord.’ The New Testament does not re-enact the law of the tithe, as it does not that of the Sabbath; for the validity of both is assumed.” ("The Faith I Live By", page 244. The Review & Herald [May 16, 1882])
Ellen G. White’s reasoning here is that because the New Testament does not tell us to discontinue tithing, this means that God wants the Church to continue tithing. White is arguing from a very weak position. Simply because there are not any verses that directly state "You are not required to tithe." does not justify the continuation of a tithing law. There were over six-hundred (600) Old Testament laws; and many of them were not listed in the New Testament. For example:
"When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken." (Deut. 24:5)
"One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord." (Deut. 23:2)
"This is what pertains to the Levites: From twenty-five years old and above one may enter to perform service in the work of the tabernacle of meeting;" (Num. 8:24)
These three laws, among many others from the Old Testament were not addressed in the New Testament. Since the church does not follow them, then why is tithing exclusionary? To make matters worse, as we learned earlier, tithing today doesn't even resemble the true biblical tithing ordinances. By teaching monetary tithing, Ellen G. White and other tithing proponents have illegally altered new covenant teachings on giving. And large numbers of professing Christians ignorantly and purposely support these false teachers and those who call themselves prophets.
"An astonishing and horrible thing has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own power; and My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?" (Jer. 5:30-31)
"For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted --- you may well put up with it!" (2 Cor. 11:4)
Many professing Christians and pastors may seem like nice people, but the fact that they secretly enjoy, tolerate, and teach false doctrines indicate they do not believe in the authority of Scripture. False teachers love money; and idolatrous sheep love to be pimped, fleeced, and used like merchandise.
The Temple Tax
In their endeavors to validate monetary tithing for Christians, many leaders in the church use the following passage as proof that Jesus paid tithes:
When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?" He said, "Yes." And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?" Peter said to Him, "From strangers." Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you." (Matthew 17:24-27)
Because this passage illustrates money being collected for the support of the temple, the tithing advocates have found it advantageous to presume that the money was a tithe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Factually, the monetary tax was a two-drachma tax which was equal to a half shekel (two days wages) that was paid each year by every Jewish male twenty (20) years of age and older for the support of the temple (Ex. 30:12-14). Under Nehemiah, the temple tax was equal to one third of a shekel (Neh. 10:32). Nowhere does the Bible indicate or suggest that the temple tax was a tithe of money.
"The basic Greek coin was the drachma, roughly equivalent to a Roman denarius, or one day's wages. The Greek didrachmon (two drachma piece) was used by the Jews for the half-shekel Temple tax (Matt. 17:24). The silver stater, or tetradrachma, was a four drachma piece, used to pay the Temple tax" [Matt. 17:27].
(The Illustrated Dictionary of The Bible, Money of The Bible, p. 725, Herbert Lockyer, Sr. (Editor)
Let’s now examine Matthew 17:24-27 further and postulate momentarily that the temple tax was a tithe. Many teachers of tithing point out that since Jesus paid the temple tax, it is therefore the responsibility of every Christian to pay tithes in the form of a "religious" tax. While it is true that Jesus paid the temple tax, most believers are not cognizant of the fact that this passage discloses that God does not obligate Christians to pay taxes for the support of a church facility.
The Lord explains the spiritual aspect to this when in verse twenty-five (25), He says to Peter, "From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?" In verse 26, Peter rightly replies, "From strangers." What Christ is indicating to Peter is the fact that earthly kings do not collect taxes from their own sons but from the citizens. Therefore, in like manner, our Heavenly Father does not tax his sons. This is affirmed by Jesus, "Then the sons are free". On account of Jesus being the Son of God, and Peter, a son of God (Matt.16:16), they both were exempt from paying the temple tax. Since Christians are in a covenant relationship with God through the intercession of Jesus Christ, they are also sons of God; and thus exempt from paying any such taxes, much less a tithe as a tax (Gal. 3:26; 4:4-7, Rom. 8:15-17). Jesus paid the temple tax merely not to cause offense to the tax collectors (v.27).
Taxes Paid to Caesar
Most people in Western societies pay about 30% of their wages in taxes. In addition, churches are attempting to impose an additional 10% in the form of monetary tithes as a religious tax. Some churches go to the extreme of tracking the incomes of their members; and sending them bills detailing the amount they should tithe. As explained in the previous segment, Christians are not required to pay taxes to any religious authority. This leads us to another well-known passage the church adopts for the support of paying tithes as a tax.
"Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:17-21)
In this account, antagonistic inquirers attempted to entrap Jesus into adopting an unambiguous and precarious position on whether Jews should or should not pay taxes to Caesar. The taxes enforced on the Jews by Rome had led to some resistance. Thus, if Jesus approved of paying taxes, it would have left Him wide open to the charge that He was in disagreement to Jewish resistance to the Roman occupation and consequently opposed to God as well. Similarly, they were hopeful that Jesus would be in opposition to the tax, as their intention was to report Him to the Roman authorities as someone who was making an effort to inflame an insurgency (Luke 20:20).
Jesus’ inquirers presupposed that there was an unavoidable and dangerous dichotomy amid dismissing one's duty to the government and dismissing one's commitment to God. However, Jesus declined to challenge the dichotomy as structured by His inquirers. Jesus called them hypocrites, and then requested one of them to supply a Roman coin that would be appropriate for paying the tax. One of questioners presented Jesus a denarius. The Lord responded by asking them whose portrait and inscription were on the coin. They answered, “Caesar’s”. Then Jesus said:
"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Matt. 22:21)
Today this passage is a commonly cited synopsis of the correlation between the new covenant church and secular authority. The church zeros in on verse twenty-one (21) to prescribe the payment of governmental and religious taxes --- with the latter in the form of tithes since allegedly this is what belongs to God. Again, as we learned in previous segments, this endorsement of tithing is taught based on presumptions rather than facts.
In this account, Jesus raises the question regarding the coin, “Whose image and inscription is this?” Since Caesar’s image is engraved on the coin, Jesus is pointing out that the monetary coin belongs to Caesar. In the same manner, today’s currency is owned by someone as indicated by the inscriptions on it --- the Federal Reserve System (Government). From the money we earn, we pay back a portion in the form of taxes.
Now ... following the dialectic of Jesus, we must ask the following questions: “What belongs to God? Where has God placed his image? Is it on the first ten percent of our earnings?” The answers to those questions are indicated in the four biblical passages below:
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." (Romans 12:1)
"Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's."
(1 Corinthians. 6:19-20)
"And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God."
(2 Corinthians 8:5)
As noted earlier, Caesar’s image is inscribed on the coin. According to the above passages, God has His image engraved on us. That is what Jesus was referring to. It is the body of the believer which belongs to God. In the words of Leo Tolstoy, he wrote:
"Yes, it should be paid; Give to Caesar what is his, that is, the money, and give your life to God."
(Tolstoy, Leo, "Drózhzhin's Life and Death: We Won't Pay!", A Tax Resistance Reader, 2008, Page 223)
Under the new covenant, the Christian prime directive is to give his/her body and entire life to the Lord. They should devote themselves to God and make every effort honor Him with all things while zealously utilizing the spiritual gifts the Lord has bestowed to us. They should also show appreciation and give praise to God who has given us His Son's sacrifice so that they may have eternal life (Heb. 13:15-16). And finally, they should share with others the great privilege of God's grace through His Son, Jesus Christ.