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Jul 19, 2010

Rethinking the Tithe

by Douglas Weaver


In modern Christian circles the practice of tithing has, for all intents and purposes, become a litmus test for one's commitment both to God and to the local church. Indeed, for some congregations one is not allowed to "minister" if he or she is not a consistent tither. And as one recent church billboard read, "Tithe if you love Jesus, anyone can honk." Now admittedly, this is one of the most blatant displays I have personally seen, however it gives voice to a mentality that has become a core tenant of faith in both independent and mainstream churches: namely, that tithing is a God-ordained practice that finances the kingdom of God, and facilitates the blessing of God in one's life.

In this article I intend to examine an aspect of this idealism that is either avoided or simply unknown. For in as much as many have undertaken the argument of whether tithing is a valid practice under the new covenant, an issue I leave to the discretion of each individual, few have considered the purpose for which God initially instituted the tithe. Ironically, the purpose of tithing proves to be a more fascinating and understandable than the circular, often ambiguous arguments of its validity. So then let's begin with a careful examination of the institution of tithing by the Lord in Deuteronomy, and then consider several modern positions of the practice in light of what we discover. 

First, it is necessary to understand that tithing took on two distinct forms depending on the period of Israel's history that you consider. While in the wilderness the Lord commanded that the entire tithe should go to the sons of Levi in return for their service at the tent of meeting (Num. 18:11). However, when Israel settled in Canaan God, redefined the practice of tithing since the lifestyle of the people and their subsequent interaction with the priests and Levites markedly changed. It is this second form of tithing that the current practice is supposedly modeled after and therefore becomes the subject of our enquiry. 

We find its institution in Deuteronomy 14 immediately as Israel is preparing to cross the Jordan and enter Canaan. Now I will warn you, the scripture you are about to read will challenge your current understanding of this popular Christian paradigm. It is a direct quote from the New American Standard version and only the emphasis of certain words has been added.

You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year.

You shall eat in the presence of the Lord you God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 

If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the Lord your God chooses to set His name is to far away from you when the Lord your God blesses you,

 then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses. 

You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. 

Deut. 14:22-26 

Before we continue you may want to read this passage again. In fact you may want to read it out of your own bible just to verify that I quoted it correctly. When you are sufficiently satisfied that it really does read this way I encourage you to read on. 

In verse 22 it is clear that the Lord is commanding Israel to tithe saying, "You shall surely tithe…" However in the next three verses He clearly articulates His intended purpose for the tithe; an even cursory reading of which reveals a conflict with the current paradigm of the tithe. So striking is the contrast that an honest student of the Word must ask the following questions: 

Who does the Lord say should eat the tithe?

And who has control over the usage of the tithe?

Without question the answer is, the tither, "…so that (they) may learn to fear the Lord (their) God always." In fact the Lord even sanctions the tither to convert his or her tithe into money and subsequently "..spend the money on whatever (their) heart desires"! 

How can this be! Have we not been taught that the tithe belongs to the storehouse so that there might be meat in God's house? Have we not also been taught that we will be cursed if we eat our tithe? And have we not been taught that we learn to trust, or fear, the Lord by giving our tithe away, not by consuming it ourselves? 

Yet God Himself commanded that the tithe be eaten by the tither, and that in so doing they would learn to fear the Lord. He even went so far as to sanction the purchase of strong drink with tithe money for the express consumption of the tither! 

Pause and Think

What do you make of this passage in the light of modern Christian teaching? Is it possible the current paradigm is flawed? Could it be that the current teaching is filled with enough truth to sound biblical, but in reality is designed to bring believers back under the Law. Most importantly, would you be willing to reconsider your position on this paradigm and judge its validity by the Word? If so, read on. 

Let's begin by examining this opening passage, for it seems to stand in direct opposition to the current paradigm of the tithe. In verse 22 it is clear that the Lord is commanding Israel to tithe saying, "You shall surely tithe…" However the next three verses express His purpose for the tithe. Who does He say should eat the tithe? You! It is to be eaten by the tither, "…so that (they) may learn to fear the Lord (their) God always." In fact the Lord even sanctions the tither to convert his or her tithe into money and subsequently "..spend the money on whatever (their) heart desires"! 

How can this be! We've been taught that the tithe belongs to the storehouse so that there might be meat in God's house. We've been taught that we will be cursed if we eat our tithe. We've been taught that we learn to trust, or fear, the Lord by giving our tithe away, not by consuming it ourselves. And yet God Himself commanded that the tithe be eaten by the tither, and that in so doing they would learn to fear the Lord. 

The Lord's Mind Regarding The Tithe

To truly understand the Lord's mind concerning the tithe we must examine His instructions to Israel in their application of this practice. If you read the rest of Deuteronomy 14 you see that there was actually a three-year cycle of tithing. The first two years were to be used as a celebratory feast by each individual family and the third year the tithe was to be given to the Levite, who would then redistribute it to the alien, the orphan and the widow. Deuteronomy 26:12 further clarifies this point saying, 

When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger to the orphan, and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.

So then there is a distributive aspect to tithing, however the guidelines are very clear: for two years the tithe is yours to consume and the third year it is given to someone who will redistribute the tithe to the stranger, orphan and widow. To further clarify the matter, the Lord indicates that the two-years tithe is to be used for a feast or celebration or, one could even argue, a vacation. For did not the Lord sanction the conversion of the tithe into money and then allow the tither to "…spend the money on whatever their heart desired." Then the third-year tithe would insure that the storehouse would be full so that strangers, orphans and widows would be properly cared for. And since each family would be on a different harvesting cycle the overall effect is that feasting, celebration and giving were perpetual within Israel. 

Indeed, it becomes obvious that the Lord instituted the tithe as a method of insuring that His people would set aside annual time to enjoy His blessings, remember His faithfulness and acknowledge His love for those less fortunate. One can easily see how beautiful and wonderful this system is, and yet how distorted and manipulative it has become. 

Speaking of which, let us now turn our thoughts to modern Christianity's version of this divinely instituted practice beginning with what has become the cornerstone passage for it's defense - Malachi chapter 3. 

The Matter of Malachi 

"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings.

You are under a curse-- the whole nation of you-- because you are robbing me.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. 

Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 

Is it true that the Lord is addressing the mishandling of the tithe in this passage? Yes. And is it true that He delivers a strong rebuke and speaks of a curse for their errors? Most certainly! However, the important question is, to whom is He speaking? To find this out we must look at Malachi 2:1, which reads, "And now this commandment is for you, O priests." For although Malachi begins as a general address to Israel, from this point on to the end of the book Malachi is addressing only the sons of Levi. 

You see it was they who had defiled the nation by robbing the Lord, for they were spending the tithe on themselves and neglecting the alien, orphan and widow. Indeed, the all to familiar verse 9 is not saying that the whole nation is robbing God; rather the priests were robbing not only God but all of Israel as well! For in as much as they neglected the alien, orphan and widow, they brought a curse on the whole nation effectively robbing them of the blessing of God. 

Remember, only the third-year tithe went into the storehouse. Therefore, it is only that portion of the three-year cycle to which the Lord is referring: the portion over which the priest held responsibility. How ironic that the passage of scripture so widely used to validate and impose the practice of tithing is actually speaking against those who collect them! 

And What of Abraham?

There is also the matter of Abraham, the father of faith, who is said to have instituted the concept of tithing in his giving 10% of war spoils to Melchizedek, with the New Testament proof text for this argument being the discourse in Hebrews chapter 7. But what truly is the point of this passage? Is it really saying that, since Abraham paid tithes we should also? Remember, the writer of Hebrews is arguing in favor of a new covenant and priesthood that does away with the old. Would it make sense then to reinvigorate practices under the old covenant when the purpose was to substantiate the replacing of the old with the new? Indeed, an unfiltered reading will support the fact that the writer is effectively invalidating the old covenant, with its associated practices, by showing that Abraham, acting as the representative of all who believe, has tithed once and for all - for Levi, even for you and I! 

Unfortunately, the somewhat ambiguous nature of the Hebrews passage, gives rise to debate and speculation. And though most scholars agree that Abraham was not intentionally tithing since the law was more than 500 years distant, there is simply not enough information to establish doctrine either way. Historical records indicate that the practice of sharing a percentage of the spoil with spiritual figureheads was customary in Sumerian culture - a culture in which Abram was immersed. Still, there is no way to mount a conclusive argument. What we do know is clearly articulated in Deuteronomy when God instituted the practice throughout Israel. Beyond that we are simply exercising our opinion. 


"So then brother," you may now be asking, "what is the Lord's will concerning tithes and offerings?" What an excellent question, with such a simple answer. 

Remember, the tithe was a mandate imposed upon a people who did not have the Spirit of God dwelling inside them. They required a Law written in stone, for their hearts, not as yet transformed, were incapable of having the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus written on them. We, having been indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, have no need for the Law. Rather, we walk in His life and we give as liberally as we wish. As our dear brother Paul has said in 2 Corinthians 9:7, 

"Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Am I then saying that tithing is not a New Testament principle? Absolutely!

However, even if it were, the modern Christian paradigm regarding its purpose and practice would still be grossly errant. Simply put, the tithe was always for the people: be they tither, alien, orphan or widow. So then what has God revealed as His nature and intention in this matter? First, that we should feel free to enjoy the blessings of the Lord and celebrate Him according to our abundance. Second, that there should be no poor or needy amongst us for the Lord has blessed us that we might be a blessing. 

Remember, the law was crucified in Christ Jesus, and He has become the end of the law for all who believe. We are, therefore, no longer constrained or directed by a set of rules, but by His Spirit. And since the Spirit of Christ dwells within us we no longer need an earthly law to direct our generosity. Rather, we walk by His Spirit, giving as He provides and directs, thereby fulfilling the law, not by our adherence to it, but by our living of it. 

Beloved, there is much more to consider with regard to this matter but this is a good stopping point to allow for study, prayer and meditation. Next month we will consider the questions of "Why?" and "How?" the doctrine of tithing has become so prevelant in modern Christianity. Also, if you are interested in the publish date of the full treatment of this subject in book form please

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  1. Gravatar

    The treatment of the tithe in the modern church has made me sick for many years. I enjoy giving and doing for others, but I don't appreciate being told how much to give and to who. I've not found anyone who shares my feelings until I stumbled across this website. Thank you for the article. It gives me great joy to know that there are others who take the Word as it is without trying to add to it. It was also very enlightening. I read Deuteronomy 14 a long time ago and have wondered how the "church" went from there to its current doctrine. God bless you.

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    I attended a church that had a basket with a slot and a sign that read, "Feel free to tithe anything or nothing at all." How freeing, it seemed. But, as i started to attend, I noticed it was a coffee hour atmosphere with bagels and coffee, round bistro tables in the back where you can drink and have a bagel.There was preaching from the Bible, but no alter call for Christ and there was beer and wine allowed at their special events.The musicians were all paid and very talented and they sang their own original songs, even the Pastor would drink and partake and get merry.They had trips to broadway and to the movies to see the likes of Amazing Grace but yet you couldn't penetrate the place, you couldn't help in the kitchen or volunteer.I found out that it was started by a multi millionaire for people who had walked away from the church and that it was a new wave church.It was a gross mis- representation of Christ, it was full of pretentous people that didn't have The Spirit or a clue.

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    I actually feel free after reading/understanding the information presented in the articles. It's true that it's under legalism and fear that most of us Christians give, but if I have real love, I will know what it is like to truly be a giver.

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    I really believe giving should come from the heart like everything else in the Christian life comes from the heart. Demanding money doesn't seem too loving to me

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    I believe in tithing... Ive seen miracles as a result. Perhaps there are some churches who misuse it, but if your heart is right, God sees that. And I also believe in helping others out with your money too.

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    KBN Having studied this issue for many years now, I was finally freed from the "Law of the Tithe" when I was shown that circumcision like tithing, began with Abraham, and if circumcision was no longer required, neither is tithing. The Apostle Paul was constantly persecuted because he did not teach the Gentile Christians to keep the law of Moses and admonish those very same Christians harshly for falling from grace back under the law. (Read the book of Galatians) When you consider that he said anything that was added to what they were taught perverted the Gospel of Jesus Christ and even if an angel from heaven came teaching any other "gospel" should be accursed, you have to wonder how we should consider those who who use Ishmael to torment Isaac today in the Church. I now give liberally as I have purposed in my heart and I refuse to brought back under those "weak and beggarly elements".

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    Ben Hardy

    While I appreciate the article, and agree with the theological argument, church buildings still need to be paid for, and then there are electric bills, and salaries for pastors and staff who often work long hours visiting shut-ins and needy. There are mission projects, community projects, benevolence ministries to widows, orphans, and single mom's etc. All of these ministries cost money. While I agree that the legalistic tithe is not a New Testament teaching, we as believers still need to be givers. We need to love others as we love ourselves. We need to "bear one another's burdens". In prayer, and in practical ways. Your time, your money, and other resources are very valuable to further the Gospel, and to minister to others. Lets not get legalistic in reverse and close our wallets while others are in need. Jesus said in Matt 25 that when we do to the least of these, we do unto Him.

  8. Gravatar
    Darin hufford

    No one is disputing that giving is a good thing. This article doesn't even suggest that we should all stop giving. It's confronting whether or not we are required to pay ten percent of our income to the church. I have found that Christians naturally give to people around them who are in need. They are becoming less and less willing to pay someone else to do the job like in the past. All of those church expenses youre taling about are slowly becoming obsolete because people are realizing they don't need the building, the salaries and the extra expenses.

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    Andre van der Merwe

    If God doesn't live in manmade buildings anymore like He did in the Old Testament, but now resides in living, breathing, walking temples (inside PEOPLE), it is therefore not accurate to say that by giving money to the "church" it means giving money to the manmade institution which calls itself "the church". Rather, if we wanted to give money to the church, we ought to be giving money to PEOPLE, believers, who ARE the church. Sow to yourself therefore so that you do not become a burden to other people. Here's an article I wrote sometime ago:

  10. Gravatar

    Thank you, thank you for writing this. I have always been generous. When I was supporting my sister and her two children on one salary (trust me, there wasn't ever any extra $$ after bills were paid), the 'friends' I had in church tried to convince me that I was the most terrible of sinners and there was a special place in hell for me because I couldn't give financially to the church. I spent plenty of time serving the church in many ways, but in their eyes, the money was the only important thing. They'd point out that there were costs to maintain the church and I was responsible to help maintain it. We don't need a physical church to serve God, my family and friends have church whenever we are together. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." ~ Matthew 18:20

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    Tim C

    One of the issues that I have with tithing is that it limits the ability of God to work in the lives of individual believers. The church is teaching that giving 10% is appropriate and in this we meet the obligation to the faith. Whilst at that same time the Lord may be encouraging us to give more to the outcast, the poor, the destitute, and the needy or whoever. Especially in a day in which so many have so much to give. The people of God who are supposed to be zealous for good works and acts of generosity, a city on a hill, the light of the world, are hamstrung by the law of the modern day church doctrine which dictates the appropriate level of generosity.

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    Jesus says Give tithing is not the real issue hear i would say if we walk like him then it should be no problem to any one if we go to Acts Chapter 2 verses 44 to 47 it says That all that beleived were together,and had all things common. And sold their possessesions and goods and parted it to all men as every man had need.And they,continuiong daily with one accord in the temple,and breaking bread from house to house,did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. Prasing god,and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the Called out ones daily such as should be saved. I dont see the Tithes involved hear as the Old Testament we should do as the lord tells us to Love every one Help the poor the old The weak and so forth if a person does this tithes is not really a issue in any way from what i can see is that not what Jesus came to Show and tell every one as well. So we must pick up our cross and follow him if we do he will show us what is needed for us to do.

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    Part 1 of 2 Linked Comments: Someone please help me! My confusion abounds. I would love to hear directly from God on this, but He seems to be letting me “rightly divide the Word for myself.” My first problem is that I am living in fear of “robbing God,” bringing condemnation upon myself if I do not tithe. Secondly, I am fearful of cancelling the “ten, hundred, thousand-fold” blessing on the other 90% of my income. Here’s the rub: this post, and many others with similar opinions make a lot of sense. I was raised in denominational churches, and spent later years in charismatic churches. All taught on the importance of the tithe. But it wasn’t until I was under the ministry of B.D. Hyman (daughter of Bette Davis) that tithing took on a whole new level of importance. She linked Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek with references in the New Testament of Jesus being a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. Hence, our mandate to tithe circumvents the Law altogether.

  14. Gravatar

    Part 2 of 2 Linked Comments. So B.D. Hyman makes a very nice argument that takes any talk of the Law completely out of the picture. That leaves me confused. But my confusion continues as I have been following the teachings of Joseph Prince, who teaches a totally liberating and freeing revelation about living under God’s grace, without any works on our part counting at all. We are to receive His grace and all that comes with it once we become a believer. He goes on and on about not being able to do anything in the natural to increase our abundance and favor with God. Then Joseph Prince heaps confusion on me by apparently teaching on the importance of the tithe in releasing blessings from God! Well, which is it? It seems that tithing is a “requirement” to do something, which seems to go against Joseph’s teachings. Help me.

  15. Gravatar

    Jesus was the tithe. It is finished. If our works can't get us saved/sanctified/blessed physically and spiritually, why is it so hard for us to believe the same financially? Giving money (our works) does not determine God blessings for us. We can give in His grace freely. Or not, freely.

  16. Gravatar

    In Matthew 23:23 Jesus in His Own Words puts Tithes as Law. Hebrews 7 & * and Galatians 3 are grea reading to clarify our position. Paul twice repeats his warnings about the ' circumcisers'..those who would have us come again under the curse / bondage of the Law. As for buildings and Ministrys that need funding, I do not know a Christian that would not say that ' The Lor5d is our Provider ( pays our bills, morgage, gives us work ect)..but then when it conmes to the WORK of God, he needs a hand , by laying ;curses' on His children, to fund His work. If the money is not forthcoming, either the congregation are not being taught rightly the things of God, or God is not in the work and the sooner its 'baqnkruopt' the better. Tithes alowed the beast of Rome to flourish and impose bondage across Europe. it also allows the Works and Temple of Men to prosper and decieve. Church is a Divine apperatus operated by God not a members Only Counmtry Club run by and for Man.

  17. Gravatar

    Jesus said, Luke 11:42,What sorrow awaits you Pharisee, for you are careful to tithe,(which means tenth) even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes but do not neglect the more important things. This statement is also found in Matthew 23:23. Jesus also said in Matthew 5:17, that He didn't come to do away with the law of Moses or the writings of the Prophets but to accomplish their purpose.

  18. Gravatar
    SF Bob Y

    Check out also some of the items available through David Yeubanks' website to get a lot more in-depth (longer) into the ideas of church, pastors, the tithe, etcetera. Some here seem misinformed about a number of these things. There are too many incorrect suppositions to address without starting fresh from the very beginning. An example: the Lord never set up a 'church,' in any form. What He did was call us out from the world's system unto Himself . . . thus, Ekklesia: 'called out' or 'assembly'. The box that has become Christianity (some call the church) cannot contain the work, nor the Spirit, of the infinite God. Nor can we, individuality. The point of Darin's efforts here is to show that we are free in Him. Why do 'we' always seem to want to retreat into a man-made religious environment? Let's live in that very costly freedom that our God purchased for us and stop trying to corral believers back in to a lifeless system.

  19. Gravatar
    SF Bob Y

    Here's the rest of Douglas' article also, in case you didn't already find it:

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