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 Versus Church Tithing: The Distinctions
I've heard numerous sermons on tithing and have discovered that many leaders in the church have an inaccurate and limited perception of biblical tithing. Some time ago I was engaged in a very brief email conversation with Mr. Frank Cox, Pastor of "North Metro First Baptist Church" in Lawrenceville, Georgia. I contacted him and respectfully refuted several errors he made during a sermon where he attempted to justify tithing for the new covenant church. Mr. Cox's response was simply:
“Thanks for your input. I wish you well on your journey.” ~ Frank Cox
Needless to say, Mr. Cox's evasive approach to a strong doctrinal rebuttal is of no surprise. Wayward ignorance, ignoring correction, and continuing to propagate error are frequent behaviors of false teachers who seek money. In the words of Upton Sinclair:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
~ Upton Sinclair
Mr. Sinclair is right on point. What many leaders in the Church conveniently do not understand is that the purpose of the biblical tithe was not used to pay salaries, erect and maintain buildings, etc. Throughout the old covenant law, the purpose of tithing was to fairly compensate an equitable supply of food to the Levites, strangers, widows, and orphans in the land of Israel (Num. 18:24; Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12-13).
As we learned earlier, there was one tithe used for two distinct purposes. Let's now examine each purpose as well as some important surrounding details of tithing that God gave to Israel. We will then contrast these points with the manner of tithing in many of today's churches.
Purpose and Pattern 1
During years one and two; and years four and five of a seven year tithing cycle, each tribe in Israel traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the "Feast of Ingathering", aka “Feast of Tabernacles”. In an atmosphere of worship and celebration the tithe was consumed by the Israelites and the local Levites who accompanied them to the festivities.
Prior to their journey to Jerusalem, provisions could be made for the Israelites to exchange their tithes for money (Deut 14:25). The only condition that warranted such an arrangement was transportation difficulties. Once the tithe was exchanged for money, the Israelites would use it to purchase the required substances (food items) after arriving at the central place of worship.
Now, the vast majority of congregations will scarcely hear Deuteronomy 14:26 read in their churches when tithing is discussed. Conversely, I'm certain some of you have heard it said by those behind the pulpit, "Your tithe belongs to God. Don't ever eat your seed or you will be cursed. Tithing is for your own benefit!" Is tithing in fact for your benefit or for the benefit of the pastor's bank account? This type of pseudo-psychological rhetoric is deceitfully designed to hijack one's finances for the purpose of extracting monetary tithes.
Here, we have documented proof that illustrates instances where the Israelites were permitted to eat their tithes. And it is interesting to note that the tithes were required to be consumed at the central place of worship --- a practice that has no congruency to the manner of tithing today. Apparently, many leaders in the church carefully elect which tithing laws to employ and twist to their financial advantage.
Purpose and Pattern 2
During years three and six of a seven year tithing cycle, the tithe was not transported to Jerusalem. Rather, it was stored locally and given to the Levites, the stranger, the fatherless, and widows who lived within each tribal community.
Contrary to popular opinion, it was only during the third and sixth years that the tithe was fully payable. Since most church leaders allege that monetary tithing is valid today, do they teach their congregations to tithe every three years? Of course not! Thus, again we must take note of the fact that the practice of tithing in our modern churches has no resemblance to the methods of tithing in ancient Israel.
Let's now consider other details that are associated with tithing under the Mosaic Law and compare them to the current paradigm of church tithing. If tithing is currently a valid principle for Christians, then there should be a legitimate parallel between the two systems.
There was no full scale tithing by the Israelites during the seventh year (Sabbath Year) of a seven year tithing cycle.
"Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove." (Exodus 23:10-11)
"Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land. And the sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you, for your livestock and the beasts that are in your land ... all its produce shall be for food.'" (Lev. 25:2-7)
'And if you say, "What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce?" Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years. And you shall sow in the eighth year, and eat old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall eat of the old harvest.'"
The preceding passages indicate that the entire harvest tithe remains in the ownership of the Israelites since God does not require it during the seventh year of each tithing cycle. The land could be toiled for the first six years, but during the seventh year, the Lord commanded that the land observe a sabbath. The Israelites were prohibited from planting or harvesting anything that grew of itself. Thus, tithes from produce were cancelled during the Sabbath year.
"Based on the cycle of working six out of seven days, Israel was to work for six years and then rest during the seventh year, the Sabbatical, when no fields were to be sown and no full scale reaping was to occur. Both people and animals were to eat of what grew in the fields. Everyone was to rest, Israelites and their servants as well as their livestock."
(Baker Commentary on the Bible, (The Sabbath Year and Jubilee, p.82 [Walter A. Elwell, Editor])
In order to prevent a deficiency of food during the seventh year, every sixth year God enabled the land to produce a miraculous quantity of sustenance that would be adequate for three continuous years. What the land yielded on its own during the Sabbath year supplied food for the Israelites, their servants, the hired workers, the poor, wild animals, and temporary guests who resided with them. In the ninth year the people of Israel recommenced tithing from the new crops that were harvested.
Since church leaders allege that Christians are required to tithe money, the following questions must be asked:
1. What portion of one's monetary salary is exempt from tithing every seven years?
2. Are Christians required to refrain from working every seven years?
3. Is God blessing all Christians with an enormous quantity of money every six years to offset any shortage of funds during each seventh and eighth year?
4. If tithing money is applicable to Christians, are they not breaking the law for tithing during the seventh year?
5. If tithing money is not applicable to Christians, are not church leaders breaking God's law by adding to His word? (Proverbs 30:6)
The answer to these questions should further indicate that today's version of monetary tithing lacks conformity to the legislations of tithing under the Mosaic Law. So remarkable is the disparity that any reasonable biblical scholar would question how tithing is taught and practiced today.
There are some teachers who allege that the first ten percent of monetary wages earned from employment are the "best" parts of our money; and therefore should be offered as a tithe. In other words, the "man of God" should have first access to our paychecks. Numbers 18:29 is usually referenced to support their case.
"Of all your gifts you shall offer up every heave offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the consecrated part of them.'" (Num. 18:29)
Tithing advocates who subscribe to this line of thinking have overlooked the following errors:
Firstly, if we read verses 26-28, it becomes very clear that it is the tenth of the tithe (10% of 10%, or .01) that is considered the "best" part of the tithe, not the first 10% of the Israelite's harvest.
"Speak thus to the Levites, and say to them: 'When you take from the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them as your inheritance, then you shall offer up a heave offering of it to the LORD, a tenth of the tithe. And your heave offering shall be reckoned to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor and as the fullness of the winepress. Thus you shall also offer a heave offering to the LORD from all your tithes which you receive from the children of Israel, and you shall give the LORD's heave offering from it to Aaron the priest.'" (Num. 18:26-28)
Secondly, the "tenth of the tithe" was paid by the Levites who received the first level of tithes from the eleven tribes of Israel. By contrast, in view of the fact that Christians do not receive tithes in order to pay a "tenth of the tithe", it is therefore inappropriate for any pastor to allude to Numbers 18:29 as justification to receive payment of the first tenth on one’s monetary income.
Thirdly, as we learned earlier, the biblical tithe did not consist of money, but rather fruit, grain, herd, and flock. With food products, one can determine which portions are best. However, such a determination is not possible with money.
In their efforts to validate receiving tithes, it is the conjecture of many preachers that they have replaced the Levitical priesthood and the church building is a modern day temple … the “Household of God”. They typically reference Hebrews 7:12 and Ephesians 2:19.
"For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law." (Hebrew 7:12)
"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." (Ephesians 2:19)
Factually, Christian ministers today are not likened to the old covenant Levitical priests. Furthermore, the Tent of Meeting, Tabernacle, and temple are not comparable to a church facility. The words "priesthood" and "household of God" alluded to in Hebrews 7:12 and Ephesians 2:19 respectively are taken out of context by proponents of tithing. In proper exegetical context, those verses imply that the priesthood consist of all believers; and the body of the Christian is the new temple (1 Peter 2:5, 9; 2 Cor. 3:6; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:16).
In the old covenant Tent of Meeting/Tabernacle, there were areas where only the Levitical priests could enter. Since the Israelites were not permitted to go near the Tent of Meeting, the Levitical priests acted as mediators between God and the nation of Israel. By contrast, it is permissible for Christians to go in close proximity to and enter a church building.
Moreover, no leader in the church can claim to be an appointee between God and man. The Word of God states:
"For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim. 2:5)
Any person who has accepted Jesus Christ by faith requires no other earthly mediator to draw near to God in worship (Heb. 4:14-16). Thus again, for any leader in the church to link himself with the old covenant Levitical priesthood to rationalize receiving tithes does so without plausible biblical basis.