The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 1


The following post is the first in a series on the subject of tithing, as it’s taught in many churches today. This series is taken from a term paper I wrote in April 2006, and it examines all 17 passages in Scripture which mention tithing: 13 times in the Old Testament and four times in the New Testament. As noted in the outline below, all sources will be listed in the Reference section in the final part (out of discretion, one source is kept anonymous here).

OUTLINE

A. Introduction
B. A look at the 17 Scripture passages which mention tithing

I. Described prior to the Law of Moses: in the lives of Abraham and Jacob

1. Genesis 14:8-24
2. Genesis 28:8-22

II. Prescribed under Mosaic Law: three different tithes

3. Leviticus 27:30-33
4. Numbers 18:21-32
5. Deuteronomy 12:5-19
6. Deuteronomy 14:22-29
7. Deuteronomy 26:12-15

III. Reforms of King Hezekiah, Nehemiah, and the prophets Amos and Malachi

8. II Chronicles 31:4-12
9. Nehemiah 10:28-39
10. Nehemiah 12:44
11. Nehemiah 13:4-13
12. Amos 4:1-5
13. Malachi 3:5-12

          IV. Spoken of in the New Testament by Jesus and the author of Hebrews

14. Matthew 23:23
15. Luke 11:42
16. Luke 18:9-14
17. Hebrews 7:1-10

C. Tithing in history
D. Ways of viewing the Law of Moses today and a summary of Galatians
E. Tithing in light of Christ fulfilling the Law
F. New Testament giving
G. Conclusion/References

A. INTRODUCTION

Tithing is commonly understood to mean the practice of giving a tenth of anything. The term has a secular use, particularly with regard to finances. However, it is best known as a practice among religious groups. Webster’s Dictionary (1988), in defining the word “tithe,” even notes that it is “especially collected to support churches.”

Is it Biblical for churches and ministries to compel their people to tithe? Is the modern practice of tithing Biblical? In light of Christ’s fulfillment of the Law, I believe it is not. At the heart of this issue is one’s view of the Law of Moses, also known as Mosaic Law.

The Barna Group (2005), a well-known research company, determined that 65% of American Christians gave part of their income to churches or parachurch ministries in 2004. During the same year, however, only 6% “tithed” to a place of worship.

According to another study by Ellison Research (2006), a marketing research company out of Phoenix, 68% of all clergy in the US say that tithing is a Biblical mandate for Christians today. Pentecostal clergy are the most agreeable, at 95%. On the other hand, 20% of clergy affirm that Christians are commanded to give, but say that no specific amount or percentage is required.

Among Protestant laity, 59% believe that God’s people today are required to tithe. Pentecostals (80%) and Baptists (75%) are the most likely to hold this view.

Among tithing proponents, there is considerable disparity over whether tithes must be paid only to the local church, or whether a portion can also be given to other Christian ministries. They are almost equally split on whether to tithe on net income (48%) or gross income (52%). Clergy, interestingly, are much more in favor of tithing on gross income (72%).

If these statistics are true, then nearly 60% of Protestant Christians in the US believe that tithing is a Biblical requirement, but only 6% practice this belief. Many would say that the 94% who don’t tithe are guilty of disobeying Scripture. Some would even insist that they are under a curse for robbing God.

In looking into this practice, we will take a look at ALL the Scripture passages which mention tithing. Too often, when a case is made for tithing, only a few select passages are chosen to build the case, and they are often not viewed in their proper context.

I also intend to address the following relevant questions:

[1] How many tithes were commanded in Scripture?
[2] Who received the tithes?
[3] Do those who promote tithing today follow the prescriptions under Mosaic Law?
[4] Why isn’t tithing still required of believers today?

By quoting from those who don’t share my view, I do not intend to judge or attack them. Where they are serving the Lord and His people, I appreciate their sacrifice and their hard work. Their teachings and views, as well as mine, are always subject to the light of Scripture.

B. A LOOK AT THE 17 PASSAGES ON TITHING

I. TITHING DESCRIBED PRIOR TO THE LAW OF MOSES

Although Abram’s tithe is the first recorded in Scripture, some teach that he tithed because he was following an eternal principle. Pastors David Carter and Bryce Clark (2006) suggest that the offerings of Cain and Abel were a form of tithe, with Cain being faulted for what he failed to give. They conclude that from the beginning God had set in motion a law requiring either tithes or firstfruits, but Cain held back what was due to God. His sin was that his offering was lacking in quantity. The implication is that those who fail to tithe are like Cain.

Anonymous Pastor (2003) goes back even earlier: “The principle of tithing is one that can be traced throughout the entire Bible. In actuality, it was involved in the Garden of Eden, when mankind took of something which belonged to, or was designated for God.”

Before the Law was given through Moses, there were two accounts of voluntarily tithing. The first story was of Abram’s tithe to Melchizedek, and the second story involved his grandson, Jacob. These are both narratives, which, according to Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (1993), are the most common form of literature found in the Bible (p. 78). Fee and Stuart point out that in narratives we are not always told how or why the characters did certain things (p. 81). Narratives are more likely to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive.

Passage 1: Genesis 14:8-24

And the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out and joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim against [4 kings]… Then [the 4 kings] took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed. Then one who had escaped came and told Abram… Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants… So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people. And the king of Sodom went out to meet him… Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he gave him a tithe of all. Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich’— except only what the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men who went with me: Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.”

Abram and his men not only rescued Lot, they also brought back all the goods and people taken from Sodom and Gomorrah. Melchizedek, king of Salem, blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth of all the spoils of war. The king of Sodom then told Abram to keep the rest of the spoils, but to give him the people. Abram, however, gave everything to him, except for what his men had eaten, and a small portion for three of his men.

Abram tithed on the spoils of war, not his income. Any idea that Abram regularly practiced tithing can only be presumed, for it is not in the text. Nor does the text say he was commanded to give this tithe. Abram gave away almost the entire remaining 90% of the spoils to the king of Sodom, whose territory was soon to be destroyed by fire and brimstone.

The Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2006) states that “a one-tenth tax was quite common in ancient Babylonian culture,” as well as throughout the ancient Near East, Lydia, Arabia, and Carthage, “and would have been well known to Abraham.” Carter and Clark (2006) say that because of this fact, Abram “kept God’s law of tithing.” They insist that Abraham tithed frequently, and that this instance illustrates “the tithing law given at Creation.”

Matthew Narramore (2004) would disagree. He says that by tithing on the spoils of war, Abram couldn’t have been following an eternal principle. God gave very different instructions to Israel in Numbers 31, regarding the spoils from their war with the Midianites. No tithe was involved. If Abram followed a universal principle, he says, then God would have required the same from His people in Numbers 31. He adds that Abram didn’t give a tithe on his own possessions. In fact, he tithed on something he had vowed to give away, so it actually cost him nothing (Chapter 2).

Jay Snell (1995), a frequent guest on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, has a different take on it. He believes Abram’s motive was to obtain a steady flow of wealth: “The first of the two things that he did to ‘begin and maintain’ the flow of wealth to himself was he gave a tithe” (p. 3). According to Snell, Abram recognized and tapped into the “Law of Sowing and Reaping.” He says that in order to gain wealth like Abram, we also need to take this same step and tithe (p. 5).

Passage 2: Genesis 28:20-22

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.

Jacob made a conditional vow, one that implied He might not even make the Lord His God unless he returned home safely and received protection, company, food and clothing from the Lord. There is no record that Jacob actually fulfilled his vow by giving a tenth back to the Lord, although we can’t assume he failed to do so either. As in Abram’s case, we don’t see that he was commanded by the Lord to tithe.

Going back several verses earlier (28:13-15), we see that God had already promised Jacob that He would be with him, never leave him, protect him, and bring him back to his land! God had also identified Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac, and repeated the promise He had made to both his grandfather and father. Narramore (2004) notes several things about God’s promise and Jacob’s vow:

[1] It was God’s promise to him and it was based on faith alone. It did not depend on any conditional requirements such as tithes, offerings, or sacrifices… All God wanted Jacob to do was to believe him. God wanted to keep the promise for Jacob just like he did for Abraham, who became the father of faith… Jacob didn’t respond to God’s promise in the same way that his father and grandfather did.

[2] Faith takes God at his word; Jacob did not. Jacob responded to God’s promise by making a vow, which showed his unbelief. He said, ‘If You will do all this, then You will be my God, and I will give you a tenth of everything you give me.’ God had just promised to bless, protect, and fulfill the original promise that he made to Abraham. He didn’t ask for a tithe or anything else… Jacob wouldn’t even commit to having the Lord as his God. God didn’t ask for a tithe. He wanted faith… God didn’t praise Jacob for his vow to give him a tenth.

[3] Just because a story is in the Bible doesn’t mean that it portrays the will of God for the people involved. It certainly doesn’t mean that it is God’s will for us today in the New Covenant. The Bible records many things that men did which were not the will of God (Chapter 3).

——————————————————————————–

In Part 2, we will look at tithing as it was prescribed under the Law of Moses, and we will see just how different it looked from the way tithing is so often taught today. 

All posts from this series, and on the subject of tithing, can be found here.

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6 thoughts on “The Modern Practice of Tithing in Light of Christ Fulfilling the Law: Part 1

  1. do you have any information to the current and recent circumstances that middle eastern countries require monies from churches and Christians inorder to maintain their churches and religious work

    Like

  2. John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    :2 He was in the beginning with God.
    :3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

    The numbers that you show for preachers who probably preach more about money than the free gift of salvation is simply astonishing. God does not need our money, He wants our hearts to be completely devoted to Him. The tithe or offering that believers give to the church is a personal determination. Any preacher that says you have to give a tenth of all you earn is an imposter, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    God does not need our money. Ask yourself, what was it that Jesus said to the rich young ruler?

    There are 168 hours in a week. Most church attendees only spend about 2 hours at that church that is 1.2% of their time. What do you have to say about that?

    It is truly amazing what the church in America accomplishes without God!

    Joel

    Like

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