The following article is a summary of a message given by Mark on October 28, 2017. You can listen to the entire message here.
What does the Bible really teach about tithing?
In the modern church, it is usually taught that the Bible says you should give 10% of your income to your church. But is that really what the Bible says?
Where is tithing first mentioned in Scripture?
Tithing in the Torah
It is first mentioned in Genesis 14, when Abram tithes to Melchizedek, King of Salem, Priest of the Most High God, 1/10 of “everything” he got from the rescue of his nephew, Lot.
This is the principle of the tithe. It’s the first mention of tithing in the Scriptures, but by this point in history, tithing to the local king/priest of a “deity” was fairly common. For example, we see the principle of tithing in the Sumerian culture:
The “tithe” was a cultic ritual throughout the Ancient Near East, a mandatory contribution from agriculture and animals, or the equivalent payment in precious metals. Evidence suggests that the compulsory tithe probably amounted to one-tenth of the yearly production or income. These regularized payments were made to local shrines as well as to major temples. A worshiper could also present “gifts” and “offerings” – spontaneous, voluntary contributions – over and above the amount of the annual tithe in appreciation for benevolent acts of the deity or to compensate for sinful acts.
“Taxes” were regularized payments owed to the governing political authority, often charged as a percentage of income or as a specified activity fee; in other words, taxes were the secular version of tithes.
(From Temples, Tithes, and Taxes: The Temple and the Economic Life of Ancient Israel, by Marty E. Stevens, PhD)
Thus, by the time Abram came along, tithing was not an unheard of phenomena. However, the fact that Abram tithed to the only priest mentioned of the “Most High God”, after which he gives the remainder of the spoil back to the king of Sodom so that king couldn’t claim to have made Abram rich, is very important.
Immediately following this act, in Genesis 15:1, God makes a covenant with Abram. It seems that “after these things” God makes sure to tell Abram that his reward will be very great. Even though he gave all the spoils he’d gained to the King of Sodom, God was going to establish Abram’s wealth in ways he couldn’t imagine; God was going to establish Abram’s lineage.
This is the principle of the tithe – giving to God 1/10 of our increase, not because we’ll receive anything specific from it, but out of humility, deference, and confidence that God will bless us.
Just so we’re clear: the principle of the tithe does not constitute the actual Biblical tithe.
Since we just explored the principle of the tithe, let’s now take a look at the actual Biblically mandated tithe.
“Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the LORD’s; it is holy to the LORD. If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the LORD. One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.” These are the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land to which I bring you and when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall present a contribution to the Lord. Of the first of your dough you shall present a loaf as a contribution; like a contribution from the threshing floor, so shall you present it. Some of the first of your dough you shall give to the Lord as a contribution throughout your generations.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe. And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress. So you shall also present a contribution to the LORD from all your tithes, which you receive from the people of Israel. And from it you shall give the LORD’s contribution to Aaron the priest. Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the LORD; from each its best part is to be dedicated.’ Therefore you shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be counted to the Levites as produce of the threshing floor, and as produce of the winepress. And you may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward in return for your service in the tent of meeting. And you shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have contributed the best of it. But you shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, lest you die.’”
You may not eat within your towns the tithe of your grain or of your wine or of your oil, or the firstborn of your herd or of your flock, or any of your vow offerings that you vow, or your freewill offerings or the contribution that you present, but you shall eat them before the LORD your God in the place that the LORD your God will choose, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your towns. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all that you undertake. Take care that you do not neglect the Levite as long as you live in your land.
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you. At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORDyour God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.
“When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the LORD your God.
“And you shall make response before the LORD your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O LORD, have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God and worship before the LORD your God. And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you.
“When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, then you shall say before the LORD your God, ‘I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them. I have not eaten of the tithe while I was mourning, or removed any of it while I was unclean, or offered any of it to the dead. I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me. Look down from your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless your people Israel and the ground that you have given us, as you swore to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.’
Okay. I know that was quite a bit of reading, but it’s important for us to see this for ourselves. We need to understand what the Biblical tithe consists of. How else can we expect to know what is or isn’t a “Biblical” tithe?
What we just read is all that exists in scripture about the Biblical tithe. Every other instance where the word “tithe” is used is referring to one of these scriptures, with the exception of Abram in Genesis 14.
So, to recap, a Biblical tithe:
- Is of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, and of herds and flocks. In other words, it’s 100% agricultural in nature.
- Must be eaten before Adonai our God in Jerusalem (the place that He chose to make His name dwell), so that you may learn to fear Adonai our God always.
(This generally happened during the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, with special emphasis on Sukkot.)
- May be changed into money instead of agricultural goods, and be spent on whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.
- Was meant as a way to sustain the Levitical priesthood.
- Was given away in its entirety every third & sixth year to the Levite, the sojourner, the orphan, and the widow so they could come, eat, and be filled. And so that Adonai would bless Israel in all the work they undertook to do.
- A tithe of the tithe was to be given by the priests to the high priest, as the contribution for Adonai. This was the best of the best.
- Was to be the best of the produce.
That’s the Biblical tithe. It’s pretty simple and straightforward.
Now, we’re going to read a couple verses often used when talking about tithes in the modern church.
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts.
When this verse is cited, the idea is that the “storehouse” & God’s house = church, and the “devourer” is sometimes equated to the devil.
But now that we have a better understanding of what the Biblical tithe is, how does that affect our understanding of these verses?
Well, for one thing, the context of these verses isn’t money or the church. It has to do with God’s people, Israel, offering false worship to Adonai, of acting faithlessly towards their God and profaning the covenant He made with them.
Tithes are one example of how they did that. So, God is calling them to repentance and promising His blessing if they’ll do so.
The book of Malachi is very short; just four chapters, in fact. I would encourage everyone to read through the entire book in one sitting when you get home from service today. You’ll get a much better idea of what the God is saying here.
However, it’s clear that this “tithe” in Malachi 3:10-11 is not a tithe of our income given to the Church.
So, with that, we’ve more or less covered what the Tanach says about tithing, except for references to the verses we just read.
Tithing in the Apostolic Writings
What did Yeshua say about tithing?
Not much, it turns out. He spoke about money quite a bit, but not specifically about tithing.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
There’s a corollary passage in Luke, which is essentially a rewording of the Matthew verses. But that’s all Yeshua says about tithing directly.
If you were paying attention as we read those two verses, though, you may have noticed that Yeshua didn’t reprimand the Pharisees for tithing on their mint, dill, and cumin, or mint, rue, and every herb according to Luke. In fact, He says they should tithe on those things!
The interesting thing is that the Torah never mandated that those things be tithed on. What did we read earlier?
Tithing on crops seemed limited to grain, wine, and oil. Mint, rue, dill, cumin, and every herb weren’t in the picture until rabbinic law said they were.
There was a practice among very devout Jews during the Second Temple Period called “demai“, which means “doubtfully tithed”.
If there was any question to the devout Jew as to whether or not the food he was eating had already been tithed on or not, he would tear off approximately 1/100 of the food, and discard it. This way no one could benefit from it as it was regarded as consecrated and was not ordinary food. The idea being that this was equal to tithing off his portion of the whole.
As we read in Numbers 15 and Deuteronomy 26, only after a harvest had been tithed was it fit to be eaten. Eating it without first tithing was a sin. This is why this practice of demai was important.
And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.
I used to think the disciples were just trying not to waste anything. But now it looks like, just maybe, these 4,000 and 5,000 men, with their families, were practicing demai. Who were these 4,000 and 5,000 men and families?
Weren’t they Yeshua’s followers?
It seems, then, that Yeshua’s followers, and most likely His disciples, were so devout, and followed the Biblical tithe so much, that they discarded those portions of food because they were to be either given to the priests or destroyed since they were consecrated to God and weren’t qualified to be eaten by the commoners. So, they discarded it as a way to honor God and not eat the portion not designated for them.
I bring this up to demonstrate how important the tithe was to the followers of Yeshua. If it was that important to them, it stands to reason they could have derived that level of importance from Yeshua Himself.
Properly tithing was of utmost importance to Yeshua and His disciples.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee tells God that one of the reasons why he’s so pious is quote, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” So, apparently, by Yeshua’s time, tithing had been expanded to things other than grain, wine, and oil. In fact, it appears that it may have been expanded to apply to all forms of income. And it doesn’t seem like Yeshua was opposed to it.
However, since He didn’t ever expressly say that we should tithe on all we get, it’s a stretch for us to say that’s what He taught.
And you might be thinking, “tithing on everything isn’t the Biblical tithe!” You would be correct.
However, remember we started down this road by exploring the principle of the tithe?
Tithing on everything one gets is definitely in keeping with the principle of the tithe. Abram tithed on “everything”. Just like Abram tithed on everything, the Pharisee in Yeshua’s parable tithed on everything, and, it seems plausible to say, the Pharisees of Yeshua’s day tithed on everything.
How does the Biblical tithe apply to Jewish and Gentile believers today?
When answering this question there are a couple things we should keep in mind:
- We need to remember that it was only possible to pay the tithe as long as the tabernacle or Temple was still standing. Without the Temple, there’s nowhere for anyone to bring their tithe.
- The tithe, or at least part of it, was given to the Levites and priests. There is not an active Levitical or priestly order today.
So, there’s no practical way to “pay” the Biblical tithe today. However, once Messiah returns, it’s my assumption the Biblical tithe will once again be in force.
Now, to be clear – there is no way to actually carry out the Biblical tithe today in the manner outlined in the Torah.
HOWEVER… we should remember that besides the actual Biblical tithe we also have the principle of the tithe, which was established before the Biblical tithe and is found within the Biblical tithe.
An essential part of the principle of tithing is a willingness to give.
In fact, giving is one of the principle messages of the entire Bible. It’s the most important, overarching message, a thread sewn throughout the Scriptures.
In the beginning, God gave. He gave light, and life.
He gave His covenant to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to the Hebrew nation, and to David.
He gave His prophets.
And, finally, He gave His Son, the Messiah Yeshua.
He gave His Holy Spirit, along with the various gifts of the Spirit.
And, eventually, He will also give eternal life.
Having a giving heart is so important. It goes beyond what we do with our money. But what we do with our money shows so much of what’s in our heart.
There’s an episode in the book of Mark I think we should look at before moving on to the writings of the early believers.
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Remember, one of the main concepts of the principle of the tithe is demonstrating our humility and trust in God. This widow did that. She demonstrated that she had a giving heart. She demonstrated humility and that her trust was in God alone to take care of her needs, and Yeshua noticed.
Yeshua says we also need to be careful about how we give.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Because we have both this principle of tithing and direct instruction from the Apostolic Writings and early writings from believers, we are not without direction as to how we can carry out the principle of the tithe today. That’s what I want to focus on here at the end so we can walk away with practical application for our life.
It’s interesting to note that while the Apostolic Writings don’t talk about tithing specifically, outside of the book of Hebrews, there is very clear direction given on the subject of giving.
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.
2 Corinthians 9:6-12
While we can’t say giving money to a congregation is fulfilling the Biblical tithe, it think it’s safe to say that it is in keeping with the principle of the tithe.
But simply supporting a congregation isn’t necessarily fulfilling the entire principle of the tithe.
What should the tithe DO? What should it go towards?
That’s what the Biblical tithe and the other scripture we looked at inform us about.
Our tithe should support our local congregation.
But it should also provide for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, and the poor.
It should support the prophets and teachers.
It should clothe, feed, and house those in need.
It should help support fellow believers who are in need.
So, what should we take away from this in practical terms?
#1 – the principle of tithing includes money. Thus, tithing money does turn out to be Biblical. (I know, some of you are shocked right now!)
#2 – Though tithing money is Biblical, tithing our money does not directly fulfill any of the Biblical tithes. Malachi 3:10-11 refers directly to Biblical tithes.
#3 – While it’s fitting to use the tithe to support our local congregation and its leaders, our tithe should also be used to supply the needs of those we see in need around us, especially those who are of the household of faith.