Let My People Think

Tithing

money

It’s very interesting to note that I never heard anyone preach this verse from Deuteronomy 14:26 (KJV): “And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household”. Ouch. Yep, that’s in the Bible all right.

Old Covenant mentions tithes in several places, the two most significant legislative texts being:

Leviticus 27:30-33
30 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. 31 If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. 32 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. 33 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.

and

Deuteronomy 14:22-29
22 You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. 23 And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 26 And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. 27 You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you.
28 At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Now, the famous Malachi passage:

Malachi 3:8-12
8 “Will a man rob God?
Yet you have robbed Me!
But you say,
‘In what way have we robbed You?’
In tithes and offerings.
9 You are cursed with a curse,
For you have robbed Me,
Even this whole nation.
10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this,”
Says the Lord of hosts,
“If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
11 “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes,
So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground,
Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,”
Says the Lord of hosts;
12 “And all nations will call you blessed,
For you will be a delightful land,”
Says the Lord of hosts.

That is actually an interpretive passage, and it refers precisely to this scenario:

Deuteronomy 14:28-19
28 At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Notice how v. 29 makes the blessings of Israel’s efforts conditional on tithing (the entire Mosaic Covenant is conditional on man’s obedience, obviously, so this is no different). That’s the tithe of Malachi 3. Notice how often it’s given: once every 3 years. So, per year, it’s 3.34 percent (if you round it up to the nearest 100th of a percent).

Also, the way Israel viewed the tithes expressed in the above passages appears to be more than 10%. Jewish historian Josephus Flavius (who was a contemporary of Jesus) explains this in Antiquities 4.4.3, 4.8.8, and 4.8.22. Here’s an excerpt from 4.8.22:

Antiquities 4.8.22
Besides those two tithes, which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year a third tithe to be distributed to those that want; to women also that are widows, and to children that are orphans.

Notice the key word “Besides” which starts off the passage. So 23.34% as an average of your yearly tithe under OC is a distinct possibility, based on this text. Regardless of you treat this particular text (I won’t argue this point too hard here), the following points are clear:

  • The tithe that Malachi refers to amounts to 3.34% annually. Incidentally, the blessing on the work of one’s hands in OC was based on observing that particular tithe which mostly helped the underprivileged, and local (non-temple) ministers.
  • One of the tithes was for a joyous, abundant consumption, to be spent on self, before the Lord.
  • A full tithe went to support temple ministers. Incidentally, they and the rest of the Levites were prohibited from owning land, hence the tithe to make up for the negative economic effect of that prohibition. You can’t separate the two here.
  • A tithe was to be in livestock and produce; if you redeemed it for money – penalties were attached.
  • There’s no Biblical evidence for tradesmen (carpenters, fishermen, etc) tithing (since by definition they wouldn’t have increases of firstfruits and the first of the flocks.)
  • My point is if someone wants to observe tithing OC-style (despite Paul’s warning of going back under OC and of what it entails) and if they start taking passages from OC to support it, then they need to look at the entirety of what it entails, and how it was done then. Otherwise, we risk making priests into pastors, Sabbath rest into Sunday observance, Israel into church, etc.

    During the Gospels, Jesus was operating under Mosaic law, and tithing was required then. Post-crucifixion, I couldn’t find Jesus teaching (through Paul) on tithe anywhere. Specifically in 2 Cor 8-9, in Philippians 4, etc., Paul had ample chance to lay down the law, but he didn’t. He presented a very different argument – he said plenty about the benefits of giving, about a privilege of being a partner in the Gospel, about an attitude of giving, etc.

    Giving is not what we have to do, it’s what we get to do. There are plenty of us under NT that outgive what Israelites gave under OC. There are also plenty of others among us that, as Paul put it in 2 Cor 8:7, still grow in this grace. The bottom line is, we do it because we want to get things done, and that takes money.

    Now with that said, there may be non-profit religious organizations today that have certain financial contribution guidelines as their policy. In this case, I believe that it’s up to the individual to see if 1) the vision of that organization matches theirs, and 2) whether they are able and willing to follow its financial guidelines. As long as we know that such policies are not divine mandates, I believe we can make informed individual decisions.

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