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ABOUT TITHING

© Rosemary Bardsley

Question: Should Christians tithe?

Answer:

TITHING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

[1] There are two reports of tithing that was spontaneous, that is, it was not commanded.

Genesis 14:20: Abram gave Melchizedek, a priest of the Most High God, a tenth of all he had. There is no prior commandment requiring this. It appears to have been in response to Melchizedek blessing Abram.

Genesis 28:20-22: Jacob commits to give God a tenth of all God gives him, if God watches over him and brings him back to Bethel . This was in response to God reaffirming to Jacob the covenant he made with Abraham and Isaac. Again, there does not appear to be any commandment requiring this.

[2] In the Law of Moses there are clear commands to the Israelites that they are to tithe as a part of their covenant responsibility:

Leviticus 27:30-33. A tenth of all crops and animals belongs to the Lord. If this tenth is redeemed with cash, one fifth of its value must be added to the redemption price. This is the first commandment concerning tithes.

Numbers 18:21-24. These tithes [see previous reference] were to be given to the tribe of Levi who served in the tabernacle and had no tribal lands within Israel .

Numbers 18:26-32 . When receiving this tithe from the rest of Israel , the Levites were to present a tithe of that to the Lord; this portion, which was to be the best portion, was for the use Aaron, the high priest.

Deuteronomy 12:6,11. Burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes, special gifts, promised gifts and freewill offerings are to be brought to a central place of worship. It appears from verses 7 and 12 that at least some of these, including the tithe, were used for a great party of rejoicing before the Lord. This is verified in verses 17-19.

Deuteronomy 14:22-29. Tithes of everything produced by the land were to be set aside. These were to be eaten in the presence of the Lord, at a central place of worship. If it is too far to carry the tithe, the tithes can be exchanged for silver, then any produce could be purchased and eaten before the Lord. At the end of every three years the tithes were to be taken to a store in the towns for the Levites and the poor to eat.

Deuteronomy 26:12 . The three-yearly tithe is to be given to the Levites and the poor.

From the above we learn:

[3] Samuel warned that kings would demand tithes:

1 Samuel 8:15,17 . In response to Israel ’s demand for a king Samuel warns them that a king will take a tenth of their grain and wine and flocks.

[4] In the history of Israel we learn that as the people rejected God tithing ceased. National reform included a reinstitution of the tithe:

2 Chronicles 31:4-21. Under Hezekiah’s reform the tithe is gathered and distributed to the priests and Levites.

Nehemiah 10:37-39. In Nehemiah’s reform a commitment is made to tithe, including the tenth of the tithe to be brought by the Levites.

Nehemiah 12:44-47. Tithes for the priests, Levites, singers and gatekeepers. [also 13:12]

Amos 4:4. Sarcastic reference to tithes being brought by a godless Israel .

Malachi 3:8-11 . Withholding tithes and offerings is robbing God.

Summary: It is obvious also that tithing is only a part of the total giving expected of the Israelites. In some of the above references, and many others, we find reference to a range of giving practices. In fact, there are 623 references to ‘offering’ and ‘offerings’ alone.

Old Testament giving included:

An analysis of Old Testament indicates that the tithe was an extremely practical donation: its intended use was food for the Levites, the poor, and for joyous celebrations of God.

Its spiritual significance existed primarily in two aspects:

Other offerings had a more intimate and direct spiritual connection; for example, they were involved in obtaining personal or national forgiveness and atonement; they were involved in procuring ceremonial cleansing; they were expressions of personal or national thanksgiving; they were fulfilments of vows made to God.

 

GIVING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

[1] The only references to tithing in the New Testament are:

[1] Jesus rebuked some of the Jews for being meticulous about tithing small things such as herbs, while at the same time lacking moral virtues - Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42. This does not mean that he rejected tithing, indeed he affirmed tithing, but it does mean that Jesus exposed the wrongness of tithing done apart from any real love for God or man.

[2] In Luke 18:12 the Pharisee included tithing in his religious resume, and trusted in his own spiritual performance, including his tithing, for salvation rather than admitting he was a sinner and casting himself on God’s mercy.

[3] In Hebrews 7 the writer refers to Abraham giving tithes to Melchizedek as an indication that Jesus, whose priesthood is in the order of Melchizedek, is greater than the Levitical priests.

Apart from Jesus' comment to the Jews in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 'you should have practised the latter without neglecting the former' there is no command or encouragement to tithe in the New Testament.

[2] The apostles never tell their readers to tithe, nor do they refer to tithing in relation to Christian believers. They do, however, make it clear that God expects us to give and loves us to give cheerfully, and that we should give sacrificially to meet the needs of others in desperate circumstances.

Acts

Romans 15:

1Corinthians 9

1Corinthians 13

1Corinthians 16

2Corinthians 8

2Corinthians 9

Galatians 2:10

Ephesians 4:28

Philippians 4

1Thessalonians 2

2Thessalonians 3

1Timothy 5

James

TITHING AND CHRISTIANS

In response to questions about Christians and tithing the following comments are relevant:

The contrast between the rich ruler [Luke 18] and Zacchaeus [Luke 19] is instructive:

The rich ruler, in his self-centred quest for spiritual blessedness, cared little for either Christ or the poor. He cared far more for his possessions.

Zacchaeus, in his quest to find out who Jesus is, when he found out immediately loved not only Jesus but also the poor, and, seeing clearly the implications of his faith in Christ, spontaneously, without being asked, chose to do what the rich ruler had refused to do when commanded by Jesus. He paid back what he had stolen, multiplied by four, and he also gave half of all he had to the poor.

Zacchaeus’ new found knowledge of Christ as Lord made it immediately obvious what his attitude to his money, to the poor and to giving to the poor and needy should be. His resultant giving, flowing out of his knowledge of Christ, was not measured by or limited to the tithing concept.

Such was also the heart of Job, so many millennia earlier: out of his knowledge of God had come a deliberate, and yet spontaneous, compassion for the poor and needy, again, unlimited and unrestricted by the concept of tithing [Job 29:12-17; 31:13-23].