Tithing: The conflict between law and grace
A Bible study by Fred Kenison, edited and revised by Merrill Douglass
First published as Appendix B in Ephesians and James: Comparing Grace and Works
No one has a monopoly on understanding scripture, and this study is not presented as the only "correct" explanation for tithing; however, it is a point of view that churches never present. While the conclusions in this study are contrary to what most churches teach, we believe it is much more closely aligned with what scripture teaches.
Many churches and para-church organizations today teach tithing as a biblical principle applicable to all believers. It is usually defined as a tenth of a person's income, which is required of them by the Lord.
The purpose of this study is to examine the scriptural teaching about tithing. What is its foundation? What end did it serve? Is the same need there today? Does the New Testament teach tithing after the ascension of Jesus, the Christ?
Every section of scripture in the Bible containing the words tithe, tithes, tithing, or tenth was examined. We also examined the verses containing gift, gifts, give, giver, and giving. All verses quoted in this study are from the King James Version.
The first mention of a tithe in the Bible occurs in Genesis.
"And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all."
Note that Melchisedek, a Gentile, spoke of "the most high God." Later, in Genesis 14:22, Abraham equated the Gentile's most high God with Jehovah.
"And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth."
Jehovah was the highest god that Abraham knew.
The second mention of a tithe was when Jacob tried to use the tithe, or tenth, as a bargaining tool with God. He said he would give a tenth after God met certain conditions. Sound familiar?
Human nature has not changed much. There are still many like Jacob who give in order to receive God's blessing, not necessarily because they love God.
"And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee."
The ownership of the tithe was established in Leviticus. It all belonged to God.
"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 unto the Lord.
"And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord."
In Numbers, we discover that Aaron and the Levites were to be God's servants, and that they would not receive an inheritance like the other tribes of Israel. Instead of an inheritance, God gave them the tithe.
"And the Lord said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy father's house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood. And thy brethren also of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of thy father, bring thou with thee, that they may be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee: but thou and thy sons with thee shall minister before the tabernacle of witness."
Numbers 18:20-32 :
"And the Lord spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel. And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation. Neither must the children of Israel henceforth come nigh the tabernacle of the congregation, lest they bear sin, and die. But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance. But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the Lord, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the Lord, even a tenth part of the tithe. And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshingfloor, and as the fulness of the winepress. Thus ye also shall offer an heave offering unto the Lord of all your tithes, which ye receive of the children of Israel; and ye shall give thereof the Lord's heave offering to Aaron the priest. Out of all your gifts ye shall offer every heave offering of the Lord, of all the best thereof, even the hallowed part thereof out of it. Therefore thou shalt say unto them, When ye have heaved the best thereof from it, then it shall be counted unto the Levites as the increase of the threshingfloor, and as the increase of the winepress. And ye shall eat it in every place, ye and your households: for it is your reward for your service in the tabernacle of the congregation. And ye shall bear no sin by reason of it, when ye have heaved from it the best of it: neither shall ye pollute the holy things of the children of Israel, lest ye die."
This latter passage also gave the purpose of the tithe for Israel. Since the Levites received no allotment of land when Israel entered the promised land, they were given the tithe from the other 12 tribes (yes, there were 13 tribes!)
Furthermore, the Levites were to take a tenth of their tenth (the tithe of Israel) for a heave offering, and give it to Aaron and his sons to live on. Of the total tithe paid by Israel, 90 percent went to the Levite tribe, and 10 percent went to Aaron.
These verses also reveal what the Levites were to do with the tithe they received. Verse 18:31 said they were to eat it. Nothing was said about using the tithe to construct a church building or send missionaries to evangelize the world.
Deuteronomy contains even more instructions about how the tithe was to be used.
"But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come: And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks: And there ye shall eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the Lord thy God hath blessed thee."
"But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord: And ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God, ye, and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your gates; forasmuch as he hath no part nor inheritance with you."
"Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thy oil, or the firstlings of thy herds or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy freewill offerings, or heave offering of thine hand: But thou must eat them before the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates: and thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God in all that thou puttest thine hands unto. Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest upon the earth."
"Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always. And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the Lord thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the Lord thy God hath blessed thee: Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose: 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, And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee. At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates: And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest."
"When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled; Then thou shalt say before the Lord thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them: I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, neither have I taken away ought thereof for any unclean use, nor given ought thereof for the dead: but I have hearkened to the voice of the Lord my God, and have done according to all that thou hast commanded me."
Believe it or not, God told the Israelites to have a party with their tithes. What a wonderful idea! God told them to bring their tithes to a place he would choose. In case it was too far away for them to carry the grain or animals, he told them how to convert it into money.
The tithe was only brought before the Lord every third year, which is when the party took place. Carefully note that the tithe was to be only upon the increase, not the total income. These instructions are repeated again in Deuteronomy 26:12.
So far we have seen that the tithe was to support the Levites, Aaron and his family, and to provide for a party for the entire nation every three years.
II Chronicles told how Hezekiah cleansed the land of the Earth Goddess' temples and altars and restored the priesthood and the tithe to the people. The amount of the tithe was so great that it took four months just to stack the sheaves of corn. At this time, Hezekiah also created storehouses for the tithe, and appointed men to oversee the storage and distribution of the tithe.
II Chronicles 31:1-20:
"Now when all this was finished, all Israel that were present went out to the cities of Judah, and brake the images in pieces, and cut down the groves, and threw down the high places and the altars out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh, until they had utterly destroyed them all. Then all the children of Israel returned, every man to his possession, into their own cities. And Hezekiah appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites after their courses, every man according to his service, the priests and Levites for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the Lord. He appointed also the king's portion of his substance for the burnt offerings, to wit, for the morning and evening burnt offerings, and the burnt offerings for the sabbaths, and for the new moons, and for the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the Lord. Moreover he commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the Lord. And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly. And concerning the children of Israel and Judah, that dwelt in the cities of Judah, they also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of holy things which were consecrated unto the Lord their God, and laid them by heaps. In the third month they began to lay the foundation of the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month. And when Hezekiah and the princes came and saw the heaps, they blessed the Lord, and his people Israel. Then Hezekiah questioned with the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps. And Azariah the chief priest of the house of Zadok answered him, and said, Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the Lord hath blessed his people; and that which is left is this great store. Then Hezekiah commanded to prepare chambers in the house of the Lord; and they prepared them, And brought in the offerings and the tithes and the dedicated things faithfully: over which Cononiah the Levite was ruler, and Shimei his brother was the next. And Jehiel, and Azaziah, and Nahath, and Asahel, and Jerimoth, and Jozabad, and Eliel, and Ismachiah, and Mahath, and Benaiah, were overseers under the hand of Cononiah and Shimei his brother, at the commandment of Hezekiah the king, and Azariah the ruler of the house of God. And Kore the son of Imnah the Levite, the porter toward the east, was over the freewill offerings of God, to distribute the oblations of the Lord, and the most holy things. And next him were Eden, and Miniamin, and Jeshua, and Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah, in the cities of the priests, in their set office, to give to their brethren by courses, as well to the great as to the small: Beside their genealogy of males, from three years old and upward, even unto every one that entereth into the house of the Lord, his daily portion for their service in their charges according to their courses; Both to the genealogy of the priests by the house of their fathers, and the Levites from twenty years old and upward, in their charges by their courses; And to the genealogy of all their little ones, their wives, and their sons, and their daughters, through all the congregation: for in their set office they sanctified themselves in holiness: Also of the sons of Aaron the priests, which were in the fields of the suburbs of their cities, in every several city, the men that were expressed by name, to give portions to all the males among the priests, and to all that were reckoned by genealogies among the Levites. And thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God."
After Israel came into the promised land and became more agriculturally minded, the tithes grew larger. Nehemiah repeated the order to give the tithe to the Levites and gave instructions concerning their tithe of the tithes. The Levites were still to give a tenth of the tenth they received from the other 12 tribes.
"And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage. And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house."
"And at that time were some appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the offerings, for the firstfruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them out of the fields of the cities the portions of the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited."
Chapter 13 of Nehemiah includes a description of another breakdown and restoration of the system.
"And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense. And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren."
The prophet Amos took Israel to task for their ungodliness even though they are still giving their tithes. Tithing without godliness does not please God. Beth-el and Gilgal were holy places of worship.
"Come to Bethel, and transgress; at Gilgal multiply transgression; and bring your sacrifices every morning, and your tithes after three years: And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, and proclaim and publish the free offerings: for this liketh you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord God."
Thus far the Old Testament scriptures have shown that the purpose of the tithe was to provide for the Levites who served as servants of the Lord. They received the tithe from the other 12 tribes of Israel as their inheritance, and they in turn gave a tenth of what they received to the Aaronic priesthood.
This was their livelihood, or inheritance from the Lord. This tithe was to be brought to Jerusalem every three years where much of it was eaten as they rejoiced before the Lord for his goodness. The rest was stored to feed the Levites and Aaronic priesthood until the next gathering three years later.
The last Old Testament scripture concerning the tithe is in Malachi. This is one of the scriptures often used today to convince people that they should pay a tenth of their income to the church. Unfortunately, this scripture is often used to make those unlearned in the word of God feel guilty.
"Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we return? Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts."
Taken out of the Old Testament context, when all were under the law, this scripture can make people today feel like thieves, cursed by God, and lacking in faith if they do not give a tenth of their income to the church. Actually, it has no application whatsoever to this present day because we are now under grace, not law.
Many of today's messages on giving are designed to wring more money from people. Extreme examples of this have been the scandals of some radio and television evangelists who hold out the bait of rewards from God if people only give their money to the evangelist. In addition, the Israelites were to take their tithe to the storehouse, which was not a church building by any stretch of the imagination.
The New Testament scripture normally used in conjunction with the Malachi text is found in I Corinthians.
I Corinthians 16:1-2:
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come."
The Malachi and I Corinthians verses are two of the scriptures most often used to support today's teaching on tithing. Neither is appropriate. One is definitely Old Testament law given to the nation of Israel. The other, when read in context, does not concern tithing, but describes gifts for the unfortunate believers in Jerusalem.
There are three references to tithing in the synoptic gospels. All three of these scriptures took place under the Old Testament order of law. Please remember, Jesus came under law, lived under the law, and died under the law. Until his resurrection and ascension, the Old Testament laws were still in force.
"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
"But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
"Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
Jesus criticized the Pharisees for their legalistic religiosity while ignoring the greater issues of justice and mercy. In other words, he said, yes, you should have tithed, but you should also practice justice and mercy. The Pharisees were using some of the law (the tithe) to elevate themselves above others.
However, the emphasis in the New Testament is on giving, not on tithing. Jesus spoke often of giving, especially to the poor.
"Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away."
"Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."
"For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward."
"Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me."
"Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again."
"Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again."
"And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also? But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you."
"Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
Giving was often tied to changing a person's thoughts about money. If you gave all to the poor, then you would have nothing, and you would have to rely on God. It is better to have faith focused in God rather than in money.
It is true that Jesus never told people not to tithe. He could not do that. Jesus was born under the law, lived under the law, and died under the law. His death, however, ended the rule of law and ushered in the rule of grace. That is why he emphasized giving as an expression of faith and love.
The theme of giving is also evident in the writings of the New Testament. The apostles never advocated tithing, but they often talked about generous giving.
"I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive."
"And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do."
Instead of tithing, the theme of the New Testament is for those who have plenty to give to those who lack. This theme is not only seen in Acts, but also in Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, I Timothy, and finally in I John.
"For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things."
I Corinthians 16:1-3:
"Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem."
II Corinthians 8:1-2:
"Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality."
II Corinthians 8:11-15:
"Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack."
II Corinthians 10:12:
"For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."
"Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth."
I Timothy 5:16:
"If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed."
I John 3:17:
"But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?"
The strongest passage on giving versus tithing is found in Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church.
II Corinthians 8:19-21:
"And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men."
II Corinthians 9:1-15:
"For as touching the ministering to the saints, it is superfluous for me to write to you: For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many. Yet have I sent the brethren, lest our boasting of you should be in vain in this behalf; that, as I said, ye may be ready: Lest haply if they of Macedonia come with me, and find you unprepared, we (that we say not, ye) should be ashamed in this same confident boasting. Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up before hand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty, and not as of covetousness. But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work: (As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever. Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;) Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God. For the administration of this service not only supplieth the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; And by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift."
If we compare Malachi 3:10-12 to II Corinthians 9:6-11, we find an amazing similarity in these two passages. In Malachi, the rewards are based on tithing; in II Corinthians, the rewards are based on giving. In Malachi we see law; in II Corinthians we see grace.
In spite of all the emphasis in modern religious circles, the apostles never mentioned tithing! In fact, except for the three scriptures in the synoptic gospels, the only other reference to tithing in the New Testament is found in Hebrews. These scriptures in Hebrews recount the event described in Genesis when Abraham met Melchisedec and gave him a tithe of the loot captured from Chedorlaomer.
"For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him. If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore."
Please note several points. Verse 7:5 recounts that the sons of Levi collected the tithe of the people according to law. Verses 7:12-28 explain that there was no longer any need for the tribe of Levi to collect the tithe to care for themselves and the Aaronic priesthood. The reason was that the Aaronic priesthood had been changed and supplanted by Jesus himself as our high priest. He needs no tithe for his support!
Why is tithing taught when there are no scriptures to support it in this day of grace? Is it through ignorance or design? After the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, which ushered in the age of grace, there is no direct mention of tithing in the scriptures, and certainly no command to tithe. The only mention of tithing after the death of Christ occurs in Hebrews, which refers back to the Old Testament time of the law.
If tithing has been replaced by giving in the New Testament, where is the money to go? Who should receive it? Who should distribute it, and to whom should it be distributed?
The early group of believers in Jerusalem sold all they had and brought it together, and it was distributed to those who had need.
"Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need."
The situation in Jerusalem is often cited as a reason to bring money to the church. But is this authentic? If every member of a congregation sold their belongings, perhaps this would be the correct way to see that everyone's needs were met. But, that is hardly the normal situation today. The example cited in Acts represented giving to fulfill a specific need.
The early church also used gifts to support needy widows.
"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."
The Greeks complained that their widows were neglected more than the Hebrew ones. Deacons were selected so the apostles could concentrate on prayer and ministry of the word. Many present day congregations place too much responsibility on their pastors. Pastors, bogged down with administrative work, do not have enough time for prayer and study in order to minister the word of God to those under their care.
But what about pastors? In I Corinthians and in I Timothy, Paul dealt with the question of pastors. He said not to muzzle the ox that treads out the corn, and then used that example to explain why he, as an apostle, had the right to be fed by others. However, Paul chose not to live that way so he would not be tempted to abuse his power. That is very different than what we see today. Paul made tents so he would be free to preach without charge.
I Corinthians 9:13-18:
"Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
I Timothy 5:17-18
"Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward."
The implication is that anyone who truly ministers the truth of God's word is worthy of being supported. But that does not mean you have to tithe a tenth of your income to the church.
In fact, in many churches today, pastor's rarely minister the truth of God's word from the pulpit. Many of today's sermons are little more than
parsimonious piddlings, pious platitudes, and puny psychological pablum presented in an entertaining way to pacify those who are not seeking hard biblical truth in the first place. Throwing in a Bible verse every now and then hardly qualifies as teaching the scriptures.
Unfortunately, the money you give to the church mostly goes to pay for the buildings and administrative overhead. It takes a lot of staff just to keep the buildings operational. Full-time staff people require salary and taxes and fringe benefits. Very little of the money given to most churches goes to the needy, the poor, the widows or those teaching the truth of God's word.
As we examined the scriptures on tithing and giving, the transition from one to the other appears clear. In the Old Testament, we find tithing under the law. In Jesus, the emphasis shifted to giving. In the New Testament, we find giving under grace.
The tithe was established as a means of supporting the Levites. When Jesus died on the cross, the priestly role of the Levites was finished. Jesus no longer needs tithes for his support. Instead, we are to give generously to those in need.
Lifting a few verses out of context, which many still do, is dangerous because it easily leads to error and misunderstanding. The result is often an attempt to "prove scripturally" what you already believe, without objectively studying what scripture actually says.
Paul strongly warned the Galatians about listening to people who wanted to place them back under the bondage of the law. Yet, that is exactly what most churches today are trying to do.
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be."
Why do church leaders still teach that tithing is binding on believers today? It may be from ignorance of God's word. Or, it may be because that was what they were taught and they have never challenged it. Or, it could be as simple as man's greed for more, preachers getting rich at the expense of the congregation.
Or, it just might be that the religious organizations of our day simply could not survive without teaching tithing. Whatever the reason, whether by deliberate deceit or unintentional error, it is wrong to place people under the bondage of tithing.
When the Levitical priesthood was done away with, the tithe to support them was no longer needed, and it was also done away with. But, before long a new priesthood (church) appointed itself to tell people how to be "saved," and they again instituted the tithe in order to exist.
This has resulted in one of the biggest swindles of all time, perpetrated upon people who have been put back under the law of the tithe and made to feel guilty if they do not "give to God." Ironically, God's address always seems to be the church building or some post office box designated to collect all the money to "support the work of God." God never intended this, nor did he require it; however, myriad religious organizations do!
So, what should you do? First, stop thinking that you must tithe. That idea is not based on scripture. Do not place yourself under bondage to tithe. You are not bound by the law, and do not let anyone convince you that you are. And, do not feel guilty about not tithing. Jesus freed you from that guilt trip forever.
Second, remember that grace freed us from the law, enabling us to give freely of our substance because we love God. By all means give to those who are needy. As John pointed out, those who look on the needy and fail to give do not have God's love in them.
Believers should give generously of what they have to those in need, whether in the church or not. By doing so they express God's love and bring glory to God.
Should believers give to the organized church? That is something each believer must determine, under the guidance of holy spirit. They are under no command to pay a tithe to the church, but neither is there any prohibition from giving freely to the church.
Our suggestion is that you should pray with an open mind, asking God to show you the truth of his word.