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
Did Jesus Collect and Pay Tithes?
Since Jesus lived His entire life under the Mosaic Law, tithe-advocates claim that Christ paid tithes. Not merely did he pay a tenth of his income, they assert; but the Lord far exceeded the tithe by giving all that he possessed.
While it is true that Christ gave one-hundred percent of Himself, there is no evidence that He tithed in accordance with the Mosaic Law. Why not? Because Jesus was a carpenter, not a farmer. Thus, he did not have the requisites to pay tithes. Under the Law of Moses, only those who owned land and were engaged in farming were required to tithe. There were no stipulations to collect tithes from those who occupied trades apart from farming since they did not possess the required substances (fruit, grain, herd, flock).
In addition to alleging that Jesus paid tithes, tithe-proponents contend that Jesus received tithes during his earthly ministry. Their argument is based on Hebrews 7:8. Again, what we have here is a distortion of scripture. I will correct this misinterpretation later in this study when we examine the segment "The Order of Melchizedek".
In any event, Christ gave a number of discourses and allegories regarding monetary issues and financial stewardship; yet not at any time did He suggest that He was to be a recipient of the tithe. Let's examine the following passage:
"Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities --- Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance." (Luke 8:1-3)
Here we observe Jesus traveling to various communities proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God. The twelve (12) disciples accompanied him as well as numerous women. In verse three, it is interesting to note that the women helped support Jesus and his disciples "from their substance". The NIV, ESV, Berean Study Bible, and several other versions render Luke 8:3 as "out of their own means". Suffice it to say, there is not one Bible translation which exegetes this verse as Jesus and His disciples receiving a tithe for support.
Ananias and Sapphira
Some leaders in the church reference the account of Ananias and Sapphira to promote tithing.
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. (Acts 5:1-5)
To enforce their psychological rhetoric, some pastors will couple the account of Ananias and Sapphira with Malachi 3:8-10. They allege that Ananias withheld a portion of his monetary tithe; and therefore, he was guilty of lying and stealing from God.
Here, we have another example of the extreme abuse that is taking place in many of our churches. Some church leaders use these accounts to insinuate that God will either curse you or kill you for failing to tithe.
This passage has nothing to do with tithing money or anything else. In this account, the passage does not state how much money Ananias brought to the apostles; nor does it state how much money he kept for himself. However, I think it would be reasonable to believe that the amount given by Ananias was well over ten percent of the price of the property.
Just as Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit about how much money he received from the sale of his property, many church leaders are lying to the Holy Spirit by deceiving Christians to tithe.
In the words of Sir Walter Scott, he says:
"O, what a tangled web we weave; When first we practice to deceive!"
Did Paul Teach Tithing?
Paul clearly communicated new covenant principles of giving during his ministry. He never once, however, appealed to tithing for the new covenant church. In his first letter to Corinthian Church, Paul indicated that He had a right to receive support for preaching the gospel.
Don't we have the right to food and drink? Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For 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? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? But 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 serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
(1 Cor. 9:4-14)
Teachers of tithing allude to verses eight (8) through fourteen (14) to establish a pastor’s lawful right to receive tithes. They contend that since temple workers received tithes, so in the same manner, those who preach the gospel today are entitled to be paid tithes. Is this what Paul is claiming?
Before responding to this question, I would like to point out again that the Levitical Priests did not receive the entire tithe from the Jewish community. Their tenth was acquired from the Levites (the tithe of the tithe) every three years (Num. 18:26; Deut. 26:12-13). So in effect, the Levitical Priest received one percent (1%) from the people every three years. This averages to point three three percent (.33%) on a yearly basis. Moreover, tithes were never used to build and maintain the temple. This is in sharp contrast with the manner of tithing to ministries today.
Now ... beginning with verse seven, notice how Paul states that soldiers, farmers, and shepherds are recompensed for their services.
1. Abram, Moses, and David paid their soldiers (Gen. 14:24; Num. 31:27; 1 Sam. 30:22-25).
2. Farmers who plant vineyards eat its fruit (Deut. 20:6).
3. Shepherds drink milk from the flock they tend (1 Chronicles 4:39-41; Luke 2:8).
In verse nine, Paul reiterates Christ’s moral principle that workers must be granted the right to enjoy the rewards of their labor (Matt.10:10, Luke 10:7, 1 Tim. 5:18).
"nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food." (Matthew 10:10)
"And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house." (Luke 10:7)
For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages." (1 Tim. 5:18)
In 1 Corinthians 9, verses 13 to 14, Paul moves forward by drawing a comparison between Levitical Priests and gospel workers.
Similarly, just as old covenant Levitical Priests received compensation for work performed, gospel workers today have a right to receive support for preaching and teaching. It is today’s method of support, however, that is in question.
Because Paul was an expert in old covenant law and new covenant grace, he knew that it would be illegal to claim rights to a tithe on account that the Levitical Priesthood was abrogated. Thus, if we take into account the entire passage in its rightful context instead of conveniently selected verses taken out of their context, it should become evident that Paul was affirming the eternal moral principle of compensation for work performed rather than an individual prescribed tithing principle.
"Paul's vocabulary and teaching suggest that giving is voluntary and that there is no set percentage. Following the example of Christ who gave even his life (2 Cor. 8:9), we should cheerfully give as much as we have decided (2 Cor. 9:7) based on how much the Lord has prospered us (1 Cor. 16:2), knowing that we reap in proportion to what we sow (2 Cor. 9:6) and that we will ultimately give account for our deeds (Rom. 14:12)." (Elwell, Water A., [tithing] Editor, Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of the Bible, Page 207)
Let’s examine the following passage:
"Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house.' And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you." (Luke 10:3-8)
Notice that the needs of the disciples were to be supplied by freewill offerings, not tithes. And these offerings were denoted as “wages” (“for the worker deserves his wages”).
Paul was a great man of integrity. Under no circumstances did he ever deceive anyone with his erudition of old covenant laws for the purpose of skillfully extorting money in the form of tithes. He was a man who genuinely loved God and believed in the principles of faith, love, and grace. He was more interested in building love than acquiring possessions via a tithe or other ambiguous means. Paul's love for people, rather than money, is demonstrated in the following passage:
"Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself." (2 Cor. 11:7-9)
Although Paul had a right to receive support, he taught the gospel free of charge so not to be a burden to the Corinthian church. Paul accomplished this by accepting support from the Macedonian church as well as other churches while teaching in Corinth, which so to speak Paul “robbed other churches”.
If the Corinthians, as some preachers allege, were supposed to pay tithes, then Paul could be held under scrutiny for influencing them to breach that law by declining to exact tithes from them. Suffice it to say, Paul's language does not imply that they were violating a tithing law. Yet, many professing pastors today will resort to Scripture twisting and psychological tactics for the purpose of misleading their congregants into believing that they are required to hand over ten percent of their hard earned money each time they get paid.
Did Paul Work for a Living?
As noted in the previous segment, the Paul made it abundantly clear that those who teach the gospel have a moral right to receive financial support. Nevertheless, Paul, who labored harder than anyone for the sake of spreading the gospel, had to occasionally work to support himself and his ministry. This great man of God, attaining the apex of genuine nobility, established the most impressive standards for himself and for those who had the opportunity to hear him teach the gospel.
If we read Acts 20:33-34, Paul says:
"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me." (Acts 20:33-34)
During times when he did not receive adequate financial support from various churches, Paul worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3). There are no indications from Scripture that Paul taught tithing or received tithes as a means of support.
Let’s take a thorough look at the following key passages:
"So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God." (1 Thess. 2:8-9)
"For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat." (2 Thess. 3:7-10)
"For what is it in which you were inferior to other churches, except that I myself was not burdensome to you? Forgive me this wrong! Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning!" (2 Cor. 12:13-16)
These passages clearly indicate that Paul’s primary concern was not money, but rather he was focused on teaching the gospel, self-sufficiency, the needs of his friends, and the needs of the church.
Surely, Paul was a man of enormous love and self-denial. His unwillingness to take pay from those who were in a financially precarious position was likened to a parent’s reluctance to accept financial support from their dependent children. And he wanted leaders in the church to follow his example of demonstrating sacrificial love.
"I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:35)
In Acts 20:35, take note again that Paul is addressing the church leaders. With that in mind, it is fair to ask, "Are pastors today following Paul’s example?" That question will invoke feelings of discomfort for those who teach tithing. For the answer reveals a fact that is difficult for them to accept. And understandably so since it stifles their plans of promoting tithing for financial gain.
Rather than following Paul’s example of earning money from a trade, many tithing proponents would instead prefer to scream "Will a man rob God?" to force their congregants to support them and their ministries … even at the expense of causing tremendous financial hardship for some believers. Such a course of action is nothing
more than clever manipulation that robs Christians of their legitimate freedom in serving the Lord.
It is also interesting to note that, during "offering time", many pastors will quote and lay emphasis on the latter part of Acts 20:35 ("It is more blessed to give than to receive.").). However, regardless of the circumstances, they will ignore the former part of verse thirty-five (35) where Paul instructs church leaders to work and support the poor.
Let's consider the 2 Corinthians 8:10-14:
"And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack --- that there may be equality." (2 Cor. 8:10-13)
While Paul understood his right to receive financial assistance, it was his desire to live a lifestyle comparable to those whom he taught the gospel. This principle is pointed out in verse thirteen (13) in the passage above. Paul waived his right to support when such support would burden other believers. Notice that verse thirteen (13) says "For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened ...." A person who is "burdened" is synonymous with someone who is experiencing hardship. Such a condition is in harmony with 2 Cor. 12:13-16; 1 Thess. 2:8-9; and 2 Thess. 3:7-10.
"The leaders [before A.D. 100] usually worked with their hands for their material needs. There was no artificial distinction between clergy and laity." … "The earliest bishops or presbyters engaged in secular labor to make their living and performed the duties of their church office when not at work."
(Baker, Robert A., "A Summary of Christian History" [Pages 194, 250], Nashville: Broadman, 1959)
"We give because it benefits the body of Christ that we are a part of. We give so that the needs of the less fortunate are met and so there could be some level of equality in our midst. Paul in 2 Cor. 8:13-15."
(Larry Richards' New International Encyclopedia of Bible Words, Pages 307-310)
Undoubtedly, today’s erroneous version of monetary tithing is a significant burden to many believers in the church. Paul feared that some men would take advantage of the sheep after his departure. And he gives a firm warning to the church to be aware of savage wolves that would arise among them.
"For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears." (Acts 20:30-31)
This passage shows that Paul was very concerned that the savage wolves he referred to were bound to misrepresent the gospel he taught by entering the church and fleecing the flock out of their financial resources. Needless to say, the same savage wolves that existed during Paul’s day are very prevalent in the church today. And monetary tithing has been a great tactic that these self indulgent false teachers employ to acquire a great deal of wealth. Paul was a true man of God who would rather work than burden others or pervert the gospel for financial gain.
In 2 Corinthians 2:17, Paul also says:
"For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ." (2 Cor. 2:17)
To keep this issue in proper perspective, I am not against full-time financial support of those who teach the gospel. However, it is important that we understand the various circumstances in the church that may or may not require a pastor to work. Although a pastor has a right to receive support, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he should exercise such right. A man has a "right" to take the nearest seat on a crowded bus and make an elderly woman stand, but does that mean he should do so? Similarly, there may be some conditions that warrant a pastor to sacrifice his right to receive support and work for the sake of other believers who are less fortunate.
Pastors who refuse to work because they are more interested in getting paid off the backs of others are not interested in living up to the integrity of Paul. Needless to say, such men do not represent true servants of Christ. These elements deserve nothing but the judgment that they will encounter in due season … if they don't repent.