What does the Bible say about tithing for Christians today?
How was the Temple in the Old Testament supported and
how is God's work supported today?
Every time I read 2 Cor 11:8 (“I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you”), I wonder why the apostle Paul had to resort to this way of financing his ministry when one would assume that the tithing system, as portrayed by so many churches today, would provide the money to cover preaching the gospel – and, we all want to follow what the Bible says!
When it comes to Church finances, I have observed the splendour and opulence of Church’s Headquarters, whether it be buildings, colleges, aircraft or vehicles, all purported to be for doing the ‘Work’ and supplied by God.
There is no doubt that worldwide ministries cost money and the members, or supporters, should support the ‘Work” financially. It is the method of financing a ministry that is in question. Some organisations require their members to pay tithes, citing different categories namely a ‘1st Tithe’ – for the ‘Work’, a ‘2nd Tithe’ for your Feast of Tabernacles expenses, and a ‘3rd Tithe’ for the widows and orphans, as well as others – namely a ‘Tithe of the Tithe’ at the Feast time to contribute to the expenses of running the Feast, and on it goes.
There are also other methods of raising money, from the ‘Building Fund’ or the new ‘Jet Aircraft Fund’ to special collections for other projects.
It is quite acceptable to require the membership to help finance operations, charities depend on donations for their work to provide for people in need.
In some churches, tithing (giving 10% of your income) to the church is practised. Tithing is described as allocating the first 10% of your income (whether gross or net) to the church for financing the work. Enormous sums of money are raised for the headquarters and sometimes used in a lavish manner.
Why do members give to an organisation, or more importantly what is the reason? To find out one has to discover the origin of this doctrine in God’s Word, the Bible. What better place to establish a doctrine than where it can be shown that this is the way God wants His Work to be financed and it becomes a ‘command to tithe’ which brings dedication to the Tither.
This dedication by members can in itself bring issues which affect families in various ways -especially if they are committed to supporting all of the organisations’ fundraising regimes. Now donating money to finance a ‘Work’ is a good thing, but, is there a problem with a doctrine that church hierarchy implore on their supporters in such a way that it is presented as a ‘commanded by God’ rule where people do it to obey God?
What is the authority churches give for this command?
There are a few basic scriptures that churches use to establish the law of tithing in the Bible. They are stated here and will be elaborated on later in this article.
- Gen 4:17-20 (Abraham)
- Gen 28: 20-22 (Jacob)
- Mal 3: 8-10 (Rob God, promise for tithe)
- Matt 23:23 (Scribes and pharisees tithed)
- Heb 7: 11-13 (Change in Law?)
These scriptures have been loosely relied on to command tithing. Lets leave them for a while as we explore the original intent of the law of tithing and who it applies to.
We have to go back to when God led His people out of captivity in Egypt when he created a “Nation of priests, God’s own possession” Exod 19: 5-6. The story of God making the Covenant with them is explained in verses 7-25 of chapter 19, starting with the 10 Commandments and then the Laws and ordinances of the Old Covenant.
This giving of the Covenant occurred in the third month after leaving Egypt (Ex 19:1). Whilst Moses was on Mt Sinai receiving the tablets of stone the people rebelled and created a Golden Calf for worship. (Exod 32: 1-6)
Now God had foreseen the disobedience of Israel (the People) so established one of the 12 tribes – Levi, to minister to the people as a priesthood, (Num 1:50). The High priests, however, had to be of the son’s of Aaron. (EX 28:1)
Having established a Tabernacle for worship in (Ex 36-40), the Priesthood (Sons of Aaron Exod 28:1) and the temple workers (Tribe of Levi Num 1:50) God now had a system for His chosen people to be a theocracy based on God’s Law with all the trappings of worship, sacrifices, offerings and Holy Day observance rituals.
Now, here’s where tithing comes in. The Levites and Aaron’s Sons (the priests) had no inheritance in the coming promised land, they were supported by the people as they had no way of earning a living by normal means.
The people were required to support those in the office of the Tabernacle with tithes of the increase of their agricultural gain. This was the way the people supported the temple system - in produce not money.
An exception to this, and little written about in the tithing literature produced by churches, is the method of support by the people for the running of the Tabernacle. In Exod 30:11-16, Atonement money was taken from the people.
Prior to the formation of the official Tabernacle, the system of financing the cost of building the Tabernacle was instigated on the people, which amounted to a half shekel per person (for those 20 years and over). This was not tithing, it was the Lord’s offering, a once off thing.
So, we have learned that the tabernacle system consisted of the Priesthood (Son’s of Aaron), the Tabernacle workers (the Tribe of Levi) and no others included, most importantly, they were the only ones eligible to receive the tithes under the legal system of the Old Covenant.
In Heb 7 verses 1-28, we see that the Law was changed to accommodate the Priesthood of Jesus Christ – as He was of the tribe of Judah – not the tribe of Levi. (We will leave this point and study it later as it applies to New Covenant church tithing.)
Going back to the Biblical examples that churches use as evidence to command tithing – let’s look at the first one, mentioned in Genesis 14: 17-20:
“17) After his return from the defeat of Ched-or-laomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). 18) And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19) And he blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; 20) and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!" And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” RSV
Here we see Abram giving Melchizedek one tenth of the spoils from the defeat of “King Ched-or-laomer and the kings who were with him”. Churches use this scripture as their proof for regular tithing, but it clearly says it was a once off gift to Melchizedek and it ‘was spoils’ of war not one’s increase from production of agriculture as required in Leviticus. There is no indication of a change in the source of the collection of tithes, so this lacks evidence for instigating tithing as a command.
The second example used to establish tithing as a command is found in Gen 28:10-22:
“10) Jacob left Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. 11) And he came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12) And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13) And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; 14) and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves. 15) Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you."
16) Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place; and I did not know it." 17) And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." 18) So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone which he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19) He called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20) Then Jacob made 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 clothing to wear, 21) so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22) and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that thou givest me I will give the tenth to thee." RSV
Jacob experienced a dream in which the promise of the extent of his descendants was revealed by God. Jacob was also amazed at the vision of the ascending and descending angels on the ladder that reached up to heaven, so much so that he acknowledged God’s presence and in verse 22 he vowed to give a tenth if God would be with him and supplied him with food and clothing. It seems like Jacob made a deal with God, this wasn’t a commanded tithe but more of an offering! We should not read anything into scripture that is not there.
A third passage in the Old Testament which is used to establish tithing as a command is in the book of Malachi. This book is directed to the Levitical Priesthood – this is evident when the complete book is studied.
See verses 6 of Malachi 1 & 2:1; 2:4,7 and 8. The Levites in their priestly duties were neglecting the duties God gave them regarding their use of the Nation’s tithes - this book was severely reprimanding them for their attitude to God (Mal 2:1) and God threatened them with a curse.
Their duties are recorded in Numbers 18: 1-32. In this example in Malachi, there is no passage showing a Law of Tithing for others except for the Levite Priests mishandling the Nation’s tithes which instigated when the nations of Israel came out of Egypt in the book of Leviticus.
These three references to tithing in the Old testament are used to establish a command to tithe, and applied to Christians in modern day churches, but there is no evidence of a law of tithing as stated by God.
New Testament Tithing
To continue to explore the reason why religious organisations impose tithing, a New Testament example is given, albeit a weak one – in Matt 23:23 Jesus berated the Scribes and Pharisees for neglecting the weightier matters of the Law but fastidiously tithing on mint, dill and cumin. This passage correctly says that the Scribes and Pharisees were tithing. It must be noted that they were under the Old Covenant and it was commanded that they should do this. Now Christ was teaching a new message which differed from the teachings of Moses. When Christ died the New Covenant was ushered in abolishing the sacrificial system that the Scribes and Pharisees operated under.
This is not a definitive statement that modern day Christians have to tithe.
Now this leads into the last example of tithing. Some leaders of modern-day churches maintain that there are scriptures which command tithing.
In Hebrews 7: 1-28 we find a chapter about tithing with examples referring to Abraham with regards to tithing. It mentions Levi tithing whilst in Abraham’s loins. Also, we see that as mentioned previously the Levitical Priesthood received the tithe from the people to administer the operations of the Tabernacle/Temple.
But we read in Hebrews that Jesus abolished the Old Covenant, making it obsolete and replacing it with a better, more excellent ministry with better promises. Heb 7, 8, 9 and 10.
Following on, we find that Jesus is from the tribe of Judah, a tribe not permitted to officiate at the Tabernacle. Verse 12 of chapter 7, says “For when there is a change in the priesthood …” (Levitical), to Jesus (of the tribe of Judah) ”…there is necessarily a change in the law as well.“ Or as the King James Version puts it “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” The Law had to be changed so Jesus could be our High Priest.
This important point is made because some churches claim that the change in the Law gives them the authority to collect the tithes from the people as a modern-day priesthood, doing God’s work.
So, we ask again, why did Paul have to ‘rob’ other churches to pay for his ministry, and work for a living, why didn’t he take tithes, after all he was an apostle?
The tithing Law was instigated to provide a method to support the operations and functions of the priesthood who had no means to accumulate their daily needs.
So how should organisations raise the necessary funds to provide a ministry and have resources to preach the gospel?
When studying the New Testament, it can be shown that the principal emerges which reveals that providing for the preaching of the gospel is by faith and giving. Luke 6:38, 1 Cor 9:14. The ones who have received the gospel should support the gospel financially and generously.
In conclusion, it can be seen that a system used to finance a church should be provided by dedicated Christians willing to support financially and fulfill the job. If a person wants to allocate a tenth of their increase to the work of God, that is fine, and will be blessed for it.
Coercing members to tithe, either first, second or third tithes, creates an unscriptural burden on co-workers while leaders live in luxury. It is quite acceptable to give generously to a church and many do, but, you can’t use the Bible, God’s word, to command tithing as it is only applicable to the tribe of Levi and not to Churches today.