“The driving force behind this lesson was not to attack the church; but rather, to set individuals free from a form of bondage that has distorted their view of God, with the hope that people would give to God’s ministry without a burden of guilt, and perhaps restore the joy of giving back into the Christians heart.” -Jourdan Ortiz
The Truth about Tithing
In today’s lesson we are going to take a journey through the topic of Tithing in the bible. I felt led to create this blog based on a few things. First, I have a close friend whose view of God’s character was completely distorted based on the faulty teachings and manipulation concerning the topic of tithing; and as a result, this friend always lived with the guilt of not knowing whether or not God loved them because they based their relationship with God on their performance and financial contributions; and knowing that there are many out there who are suffering just like my friend—I felt compelled to help. Second, I have witnessed many false teachers mistreat and mishandle God’s word with no regard for biblical context, mostly because they prioritized profit over people. Lastly, I want people to know God and His character correctly so that they can learn to love and trust God again; thus, hopefully resulting in an over abundance of giving to help His ministry without having to be manipulated to do so.
I already know that this blog will ruffle some feathers and perhaps cause some of my dear brothers and sisters in Christ to want to separate from my company. My hope and prayer is that this will not happen, but I am willing to endure such an event should it come to pass for the sake of biblical truth.
I truly believe that many of us are afraid to have our presuppositions and traditions challenged because we are fearful that we will lose friends, family, notoriety, or in extreme cases be ostracized and cast out of our congregations as heretics. This cognitive dissonance is nothing new to Christians. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that people who have held to these views are in anyway evil or not Christian. I just believe that like many of us, we have not always allowed scripture to be our primary guide for what we believe. I believe that peer pressure, group–think mentalities, and fear have also at times played a primary role in what we believe.
As a matter of fact the parents of a blind man who was healed by Jesus responded in this way when their beliefs and loyalty were questioned by the Pharisees. In John 9:22 it reads, “His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue.” These parents (like many of us today) were fearful to confess what they knew to be true because they feared men, and were afraid of being shunned. The thought of being cut off from the one thing you believe to be a direct conduit to God can fill you with such immense fear that you would rather accept the status-quo, versus questioning or even examining your beliefs more closely. This is why I am going to try my very best by God’s grace to teach this topic with love, accuracy and precision, because I know that what I am about to teach can put some of you at risk for losing everything, and because the risk is so great, I feel burdened to teach the truth of God’s word so that you will have as much information as possible to make an informed decision.
The topic of tithing is a hotly debated topic. Questions such as:
- What is tithing in the bible?
- What percentage should Christians tithe?
- Is tithing required today?
- Should I tithe if I have debt?
- Should I tithe on the net of my income or the gross?
- Will I be cursed by God if I do not tithe?
Those are just a few of the many questions that people have today. Though some of these questions may seem trivial to some, these questions have plagued the minds of many believers and have hindered their relationships with God. My hope is that after studying this lesson you will understand what tithing really is, and as a result, will be truly free to serve and give to the Lord’s work with every blessing that he has given you… without fear or guilt.
Let’s get started!
My intention for this is lesson is for us to travel from the Old Testament to the New Testament in context while addressing some common misconceptions along the way to give you a proper understanding of tithing. We will begin our Journey in Genesis 14:18-20 where we will encounter a man by the name of Abraham as he offers a tithe to a priest named Melchizedek.
In Genesis 14:18-20 it reads, “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.”
There has been much debate as to who exactly this priest was. Some believe that He was an early physical manifestation of Christ, while others believe that he was simply a man who served as God’s priest. As this topic can be a blog all on its own, I will refrain from delving too deep into it for the sake of brevity and to stay on course, let’s just say as the scripture states that “He is a priest of God most high.” The reason why I started here is because many have used this verse as a proof text to say that, “We don’t need the law of tithing to enforce tithing because we have Abraham tithing before the law was given, and since Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, we as Christians are mandated to give a tithe of all of our income to the church.”
First, let us look at the word tithe. The Hebrew word used here for the word tithe is ‘Ma-asser’ which is defined as: a tenth; or tenth part. Simply put, the word ‘tithe’ means a tenth…it is not speaking of the law of tithing given by God later on. The next question we should ask is, what did Abraham give him a tenth of? The text in Genesis gives us a clue when it states, “Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” But it is not specific. Was this a tenth of his crops? Was it a tenth of his animals? Or was it a tenth of his money? We actually find a more definitive clue in Hebrews 7:4 which states, “Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.” The word spoils here in Greek is translated as ‘akrothinion’ which means the best of the plunder or spoils. When one reads the context of Genesis we come to understand that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war… not a tenth of everything that he owned.
For example, if I were to give my wife ten percent of my April paycheck; then technically I would have given her a “tithe” not out of obligation to a command, but out of my desire to show her love, but it is only a tenth of April’s paycheck. Not a tenth of every paycheck, not a tenth of my house value, not a tenth of my car value, but a tenth of that month’s paycheck. Now, would anyone say that I was keeping a principle or law of tithing when I did that? No. Does that mean that everyone is now mandated from my generation onward to do the same with their wives? No. This was an act of love that Abraham displayed to one person in a single moment of time. There is no evidence in scripture that states that Abraham did this on a consistent basis. Plus, God did not command Abraham to do this. Therefore, using this scripture as an example to manipulate people into giving money is not biblically accurate, and must cease. Let us continue.
Another text that is sometimes misused to wrongfully enforce mandatory tithing on people today comes from Genesis 28:20-22 which reads, “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.”
Here we have Jacob making a vow to God. In his vow he states that IF God provides for him then he will give a tenth (tithe) back to God. Notice that the parameters of this covenant are being created and dictated by Jacob, and that Jacob only promises to give God a tenth AFTER He has blessed Him, not before. This is not a command that God is giving to Jacob, but rather a deal Jacob is trying to make with God. This may seem simple to comprehend but there are many people who use this text to say that the Law of tithing has always been enforced, and should be enforced in churches today. That is simply not the case. Therefore, this scripture doesn’t teach a mandatory tithe. If anything it teaches us how NOT to bargain with God in order to get what we want. Imagine a church filled with individuals who made the statement, “I will only give to God’s work if He blesses me.” This is not the Spirit of giving that is taught by God, and neither should this scripture be used to enforce mandatory tithing in the church. Up until this point in our lesson we have seen that tithing hasn’t been enforced in scripture as a mandatory law, but there was a time where tithing was mandatory and enforced by God in the Old Covenant in the lives of the children of Israel, and this is what we are going to delve into now.
In the books of Exodus and Leviticus there were a plethora of Laws codified and given to the children of Israel to follow and keep. One of these laws was tithing. Here is a list of questions we should ask about tithing before we move forward to get us thinking:
- Who were given the tithes and why?
- What is the law of tithing?
- What were the tithes for?
- Who gave tithes?
- What were the details concerning tithing?
- Off of what products were individuals commanded to tithe?
Given that there are numerous scriptures dealing with freewill offerings, grain offerings, sin offerings, tithes, and sacrifices–there is no way for me to cover them all in a single blog. What I will do is give you numerous scriptures that clearly identify and describe what tithing is and isn’t, and what it meant to the children of Israel under the Old Covenant.
When one reads the books of Exodus and Leviticus you will discover that when the children of Israel were led out of Egypt by God, He had to organize and retrain them on what was right and wrong, and prepare them to be set apart and Holy as His people. Israel rebelled against God many times throughout their journey, and though many times the Lord came close to wiping them out for their disobedience and faithlessness…He remembered His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in that he would make them a great nation. One of God’s many blessings that He gave to the children of Israel was the tabernacle and sacrificial system. Many of the sacrifices and laws given in this system were given so that the people could be forgiven for their trespasses and to point to a future messiah who would be the ultimate sacrifice, but the individuals who were responsible for carrying out these rituals, ordinances, and commandments were the sons of Aaron and the Levites. One only needs to read the book of Leviticus once to grasp that this undertaking would require a lot of work. These individuals would not have the time to do any other work to provide for their households; and thus, were in a predicament. With the responsibility of carrying out all of the commands concerning the temple, sacrifices, and offerings—how would they be able to make a living to survive?
In Numbers 18:21 the Lord puts a system in place to make sure that the Levites are compensated for their work, it states, “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting.”
God makes it clear that the tithes were given to the Levites as compensation for the work they performed in the tabernacle, but we are still left with the question as to what was given to them. Was it money? Did people give ten percent of everything they earned? Or Did they make the Levites rich as a result of their tithing?
Let us look at two scriptures that make it clear as to what was given to the Levites. In Leviticus 27:30 it states, “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 to the Lord. In Leviticus 27:32 it states, “And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.”
Both of these scriptures make it plain that the mandated law of God for tithing or 10% was to be taken from agricultural production and the Increase of the animals, but we are still left with a pressing question. What if a person did not have farmland or crops, or land or animals, but instead, were leather workers, coppersmiths, metal workers, or fisherman? What did they tithe to the Levites? The answer to that question, as shocking as it may seem is…..They didn’t tithe; now they probably gave offerings, but they didn’t tithe, and they were never condemned by God. Nowhere in scripture were these workers mandated to take ten percent of their earnings from their businesses and give it to the Levites. Again, the mandatory tithe was given as a way of supporting and fulfilling the priest’s needs at that time in Israel’s history; and only came from the fruit of the land or the animals. Interestingly enough there are two other reasons that God mandated a tithe in Israel.
One was to provide for the many festivals that Israel celebrated so that everyone would have enough to eat. In Deuteronomy 14:22-27 it reads, “You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. 23 And you shall eat before the Lord your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. 24 But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 26 And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. 27 You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you.”
This portion of scripture is packed with great information that I believe is extremely valuable to understanding this topic. Let us dissect it. Notice that in verses 22-23 the tithe is immediately identified as grain, wine, oil, and animals, and that these tithes were to be eaten before the Lord. This further drives the point home that these tithes were of agriculture and animals, because out of a sense of practicality Israel was never commanded to eat money.
As we continue in Deuteronomy the Lord gives a solution to a problem that some of the children of Israel would have encountered when preparing to bring their tithes to Jerusalem. The feasts of the Lord took place in Jerusalem, but that does not mean that everyone lived in the heart of Jerusalem. Many individuals lived miles away, and some had great numbers of cattle and produce, so much in fact that the journey would be impossible to make, or at the very least, exhaust a great amount of resources. Instead of making those individuals travel with all of their tithes the Lord states that they, “…should exchange it for money.” Notice, the IT in this sentence refers to the tithe of the land and animals; not the money, Thereby; separating the term of tithes from money. Some may say, “well, okay, there you have it; the Lord made them convert the fruit of land to money to give to the Levites; therefore, since we do not have land today then we are mandated to give ten percent of our money to the church.” Not so fast! The command doesn’t end there, in verse 26 it continues by stating, “And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” Notice that the money then had to be reconverted back to food items when they arrived at Jerusalem. Also, when the text states they are to get whatever their heart desires, it is not speaking of things riches, homes, or anything like that; but rather, of whatever food or wine they like. They were then told to eat what they brought before the Lord with their families. Verse 27 then brings our understanding of tithes full circle from what we learned earlier in Leviticus when it states, “You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you.” The text makes it clear once again that the Levites are not to be forgotten, because unlike the rest of Israel, they did not inherit any land or animals because of their obligations to the work of the tabernacle and so it was Israel’s responsibility to feed them.
The second reason that tithes were collected from the children of Israel was to support the poor. In Deuteronomy 14:28-29 it states, “At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.” The tithes that were collected from Israel were gathered into storehouses to provide for the Levites and those people who were unable to provide for themselves. Not only did God make provision for the poor, the widows, and the orphans, but also for any stranger that was living among them. They didn’t collect money into storehouses; only food.
In part 2 of our next tithing study we will delve into what the storehouses were and whether or not we are robbing God if we don’t give money to churches.
Jourdan Ortiz, Founder of Servant of Christ Ministries