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
Old Testament Tithing During the Mosaic Law
Although the commandment for tithing was initiated in Leviticus 27:30-34, the tithing system was not put into practice until 40 years later after the Israelites left their life of slavery in Egypt and settled in the land of Canaan aka Israel (Exodus 16:35; Deut. 12:1-7, 10-14; 14:22-28; 26:1-19).
Did the Law of Tithing Include Money?
Some promoters of tithing allege that tithing is not true giving since the tithe already belongs to the Lord. Their allegations would be correct if God specifically commanded Christians to tithe money under the new covenant. As we progress to the section, "The New Testament: Was Tithing Commanded?” we will learn that God never instructed believers to tithe from their monetary incomes. Even during the old covenant, monetary tithing was not applicable to the nation of Israel.
If you're a reader who is unsure of how to define tithing, the word "tithe" simply means one tenth of something. In this case, we must ask, "a tenth of what?"
"And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD's. It is holy to the LORD. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed. These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel on Mount Sinai." (Leviticus 27:30-34)
During the law, Leviticus 27:30-34 is very specific. It indicates that the tithe consisted of fruit, grain, herd, and flock; nothing more, nothing less. There are no indications from Scripture that suggest any deviations of the tithe to include money.
Many church leaders contend that the ancient Israelites lived in a bartering or agrarian society rather than a monetary society as we do today. Thus, it became necessary to redefine the constituents of the biblical tithe to money earned from an occupation in our industrial age. On the contrary, there is overwhelming biblical evidence that does not support this general consensus.
Although agricultural products and livestock were valuable assets for commerce, bartering was not the only form of commodity exchange during biblical times. Apart from farming, those who made a living by other avenues such as tent making, carpentry, stone-cutting, fishing, etc., were paid monetary wages. Four-Hundred years prior to the Mosaic Law, Abraham bought land for four hundred shekels of silver.
"And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants." (Gen. 23:16)
A few other examples of the use of money include:
1. Priests and prophets taking pay:
Her heads judge for a bribe, Her priests teach for pay, And her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the LORD, and say, "Is not the LORD among us? No harm can come upon us." (Micah 3:11)
2. The half-shekel temple tax:
"This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the LORD." (Exodus 30:13)
3. The selling of Joseph by his brothers:
"Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt." (Gen. 37:28)
4. The value of a chariot and horse:
"Also Solomon had horses imported from Egypt and Keveh; the king's merchants bought them in Keveh at the current price. Now a chariot that was imported from Egypt cost six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse one hundred and fifty; and thus, through their agents, they exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria." (1 Kings 10:29-29)
5. The parable of the vineyard workers:
"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard." (Matthew 20:1-2)
6. Jesus and the tax collectors:
Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you." Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?" So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages." (Luke 3:12-14)
There are many other passages of scripture throughout the Bible that illustrate the use of money as a means of financial transactions. Let’s consider one more example. It is located in the very chapter where tithing is initially commanded:
"Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When a man consecrates by a vow certain persons to the LORD, according to your valuation, if your valuation is of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels; and if from five years old up to twenty years old, then your valuation for a male shall be twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels; and if from a month old up to five years old, then your valuation for a male shall be five shekels of silver, and for a female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver; and if from sixty years old and above, if it is a male, then your valuation shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. (Lev. 27:2-7)
In this passage, we see that persons dedicated to the Lord could be redeemed for money (shekels of silver). If we move forward to verses 30 to 32, it is interesting to note that no form of money was included to be tithable. Only agricultural production is scheduled as mandatory tithing requirements. The only correlation between money and agricultural tithing was for redemptive and provisional purposes (Lev. 27:31, Deut. 14:24-26).
If an Israelite optioned to redeem any of his tithe (consisting of crops only; animals could not be exchanged [Lev 27:32-34]), he was required to pay its value in money, plus an additional twenty percent. Once the money was paid to the Levites, it was used to purchase food products -- the original materials defined by the law of tithing. Surely, if God wanted to include money as a tithable resource, He would have clearly mentioned it as one of the designated items in Leviticus 27:30-32.
No matter how we look at it, to necessitate that money be given as a tithe just doesn't fit with the biblical account. Scripture is given by God and it is not to be modified by man. When man alters God's sacred Word, it ceases to be the Word of God and becomes the word of man.
For the sake of argument, let's assume that monetary tithing is valid today. In such instance, we should ask, "then for what can money be redeemed?" Some pastors teach that ten percent of a person's time and talents can be substituted for money. As in the case with the monetary tithe, we will not find one passage of scripture where time and talents were sanctioned as "tithable". Such claims are nothing more than extra-biblical theorizations designed by misguided leaders and false teachers in the church.