When people advocate tithing as applicable for today, I am not automatically doubting their motives (unless given a reason to do so). There are many among tithe-advocating believers who want to do right by God. What I am doubting very much, however, is their Bible exegesis and hermeneutics.
Consider the following points:
- Biblical tithe has nothing do with money, and it never did. It was only collected in produce and livestock. Back then, you couldn’t tithe in money even if you wanted to. Therefore, when you refer to Old Covenant tithes, make sure you prepend the word “agricultural” before it – e.g., “agricultural tithe”. This would avoid the necessary confusion.
- Tithing was never done from firstfruits of harvest. The two are completely different. Firstfruits was a small basket of produce at the very beginning of the harvest, which was a tiny portion. Tithes were collected at the end, when all harvests were in. Therefore, the whole “bring your firstfruits to the Lord” is not a tithing text.
- Tithing laws only applied to Israel when they lived on the physical territory of the Promised Land. I repeat – it was only applicable to the physical land of Israel. That’s why when Israel was in the desert wanderings, they never tithed. When Israel was in exile – they never tithed, either.
- There were 3 tithes in Israel, not 1. One was to support the Levites and priests. One was to be eaten by you and your family at three Jewish annual festivals. One was collected every three years, to be stored as a local food bank for the poor folk. That makes it three.
- Income from trade, skilled labor, professional services, and fishery was not subject to tithe. Only cattle and produce grown in Israel was titheable. So, if you did carpentry or fished, you didn’t have to tithe off of that income.
- In order to collect agricultural tithes, you had to have a functional Aaronic priesthood, Levitical system, and the functional temple. You had to have all three at the very minimum for this scheme to work.
- Only physical descendants of Levi were entitled to Israel’s tithes. No one else was entitled to them, by law.
- All of the above-mentioned reasons are why Jewish synagogues today don’t collect money and call it “tithes” in a Mosaic law sense of the word. According to the law of Moses, it would be illegal. You won’t find a synagogue today that does so, due to these precise reasons.
- Jesus made all the Old Covenant trappings obsolete. Furthermore, he’s our high priest, and yet he is not a Levite (he’s from the tribe of Judah, not Levi). It would be illegal for him being a non-Levite to collect Mosaic law tithes, period. If you proof-text your tithes using the law of Moses – then in order for him to receive your tithes, he would have to SIN by breaking his own law. Oh, I am not kidding here either. Go ahead, ask your Jewish friends.
- Jesus commented on Pharisees’ agricultural tithing in 3 New Testament passages. He never approved of tithing practitioners in those passages, by the way. In fact, in all three passages he excoriated tithers as ungodly legalists in their religious outlook, which they were. But since those folks matched all the preconditions of the law of Moses, their tithing practices were in line with the Law of their day.
- Concerning Abraham. Once in his lifetime gave 10% of someone’s else’s goods (recovered booty of Sodom) to another person, who was a priest-king. It’s a financial transaction where the amount happens to 10%. Abraham also happened to have nearly slit his son’s throat for God, and he also had sexual relations with his wife’s female servant. We are never asked to follow any of these examples in the Scriptures, ever. We are to follow the example of Abraham’s faith, though.
- There’s nothing magical about Abraham’s 10% number. There a lot of numbers in the Bible, doesn’t mean they are magical. Joseph, who was highly attuned to God, was in charge of the entire economy of Egypt, and his “magic number” was 20%.
Tithing was NEVER EVER practiced by the early church. That fact is actually not contested by any serious academic or historical source.
Many of us don’t know that as this is not publicly taught, but here’s how Christian tithing came about in the first place:
“In the beginning [of Christianity” this [financial assistance] was supplied by the spontaneous offerings of the faithful. In the course of time, however, as the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law, and early writers speak of it as a divine ordinance and an obligation of conscience. The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the canons of the Council of Maçon in 585. In course of time, we find the payment of tithes made obligatory by ecclesiastical enactments in all the countries of christendom.”
The Catholic Encyclopedia, “Tithing” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14741b.htm)
So, as you can see – it was far from any kind of early church practice. It was co-opted and introduced into the institutional usage centuries later by early medieval churchmen. The tithing practice in the context of the Christian church came about a full 500 years after Jesus’ birth, and was legitimized only in 585 at the Council of Macon by the then already corrupt Catholic Church.
In the USA tithing was never practiced or even mentioned as practicable until late 18th century. It was slowly introduced into practice of only about 4 Protestant denominations, and only in the last 100-150 years. For more than 200 years after the first European settlers landed on American shores, no one ever tithed on anything to anyone. And most Christian denominations in the USA still don’t.
We need to be grounded in these historical realities before we can even begin to have a meaningful conversation about tithing’s applicability in the modern context.
In order for you to meaningfully tithe today Old-Covenant style, you would have to move to Israel, remove Jesus from his high priesthood role, replace universal priesthood of believers with the Aaronic one (which of course has to be genetically proven via genealogical records), replace the global living temple of believers with one temple building, begin sacrificing animals, and begin collecting sheep, goats, apples, potatoes, and other produce as tithables. You would also have to celebrate three mandatory Jewish feasts in physical Jerusalem on a yearly basis, as one of the tithes was to be eaten during those times at that place. All of those things have to be in place in order for the tithing scheme to work.
If you can’t do all those things, then what you do is not tithe in any kind of historical-Biblical sense. It’s just a poorly chosen label that you choose to apply to your financial donation. What you in fact do is give 10% to a religious non-profit organization. That practice is neither approved nor condemned in the Scripture. The Scripture is entirely silent on that matter. What’s important is not just the amount you give. What’s more important is what objectives will your money be used to promote, and how much of your money will go toward organizational overhead versus the actual mission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Scripture talks about being generous with our resources and time. In multiple places it directs us to support the poor and the disenfranchised. In multiple places it’s talking about supporting the “fellowshipping of believers” together, which may or may not happened in specially zoned buildings. It can just as easily happen in homes or outdoors during warm weather, without all the financial overhead. (Plus, in order for the actual “fellowshipping” to occur, the church gathering format has to transcend the typical format of “three songs followed by a monologue”.)
In multiple places we are instructed to contribute toward advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The New Covenant never talks about us just sitting in specially zoned air-conditioned buildings with soft chairs and coffee machines. Sure, it’s a nice convenience, but it’s only as good as the mission that it serves. The New Covenant is rather talking about actually ADVANCING the Gospel – as in “taking new territory” with the good news of Jesus Christ. Sure, this has to start in our own lives, but it also has to spread geographically. The Scriptures also talk about taking new territory at high levels, by embedding the Gospel in the way this world system is managed and run.
(Of course, if you don’t want God to be angry at you, and if you want your debts erased and and money miraculously multiplied – you can give to my own religious non-profit organization. Relax – I am just kidding. I don’t run an organization, and I have too much respect for my readers to suggest crassly manipulative things like that).
I talk about all those things, and a lot more in my upcoming book about God and money. Stay tuned!