October 2, 2009
Question and Answer of the Week: the Old Testament Model of Tithing and Christians Today
Alcorn: I have mixed feelings on tithing. I detest legalism. I certainly don’t want to pour new wine into old wineskins, imposing superseded first covenant restrictions on Christians.
Russ: You are legalistic when you pour the old wine of tithing into the new covenant wineskin after Calvary. You false impose even more than the tithe on believers regardless of their ability to buy the essentials of life.
Alcorn: However, the fact is that every New Testament example of giving goes beyond the tithe. This means that none falls short of it.
Kelly: This is not a fact. According to Acts 21:20 the Jewish Christians in Judea never did stop paying tithes to the Temple system. According to 2nd Corinthians 8 and 9 (especially 8:12-15) many should give more while others give less. Those who give less may be giving sacrificially even though they are giving less than 10%.
Alcorn: The strongest arguments made against tithing today are “law versus grace.” But does being under grace mean we should stop doing all that was done under the law?
Kelly: Your error is teaching that everybody in the OT began their level of giving at ten per cent. Yet that is only true of food producers who lived inside Israel. Jesus, Peter and Paul did not qualify as tithe-payers and neither did the poor nor anybody who lived outside Israel.
Alcorn: I’m a strong believer in the new covenant’s superiority over the old (Romans 7; 2 Corinthians 3; Hebrews 8). On the other hand, I believe there’s ongoing value to certain aspects of the old covenant. The model of paying back to God the firstfruits (tithing) and giving freewill offerings beyond that is among those.
Kelly: You are wrong to define tithes as firstfruits. See Deut 26:1-4; Neh 10:35-38 and all other “firstfruit” texts. Firstfruits were only very small token offerings which could be carried in a small basket. Tithes were tenth-fruits after the crop had been fully harvested from inside God’s special holy land of Israel.
Alcorn: Because we are never told that tithing has been superseded …
Kelly: See http://www.tithing-russkelly.com/id171.html for details. Everything about tithing has very clearly been superseded after Calvary:
1. WHO #1: The Levitical servants to the priests who received the first whole tithe have been abolished. See Numbers 18:21-24.
2. WHO #2: OT priests who received a tenth of the tithe (only 1 per cent) have been abolished. See Num 18:25-28 and Neh 10:38.
3. WHAT: The definition of tithes as only food miraculously increased by God from inside His holy land of Israel has been abolished and replaced with the false unbiblical definition of income.
4. WHERE: The destination of the OT tithes first to the Levitical cities some to the Temple has been abolished. See Neh 10:37b and Mal 3:10.
5. WHEN: The time to tithe has been abolished. The Levitical tithe was paid yearly in the Levitical cities.
6. WHY #1: The covenant which prescribed them was abolished per Heb 8:8-13; Gal 4:21-26′ 2 Cor 3:6-10.
7. WHY #2: The “commandment” for Levites and priests to collect tithes was “annulled” per Hebrews 7:5, 12, 18.
8. WHY #3: The law which condemned believers has been rendered of no effect when the believer died in Christ per Romans 7:4. No law can tell a dead person what to do.
9. HOW #1: Jesus abolished the law of commandments contained in ordinances per Eph 2:13. Tithing was an ordinance per Num 18.
10. HOW $2: Jesus blotted out the handwriting of ordinances, per Col 2:14. Tithing was an ordinance per Num 18.
11. HOW #3: The Temple which tithes supported was abolished in AD 70. God’s temple is now within each believer per 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19-20.
12. HOW #4: The priesthood which was supported by tithes was abolished in AD 70. God’s priesthood is now within every believer per 1st Peter 2:9-10.
13. HOW #5: The blessings and curses of tithing as part of the whole law have been abolished per Galatians 3:10-13.
Would you continue to send money to a church after
1. The building is destroyed?
2. The preacher has been defrocked?
3. The workers have found other jobs?
4. The members have all left?
5. The land has been inhabited by non religious people?
6. The purpose for the church no longer exists?
7. You have died?
Alcorn: … because Jesus directly affirmed it (Matthew 23:23)
Kelly: The hermeneutic of Mt 23:23 demands that it be interpreted as “matters of the law.” Jesus could not have told his Gentile disciples to tithe. Jesus did not command Gentiles whom he healed to obey the law of Moses.
Alcorn: and prominent church fathers taught it as a requirement for Christian living,
Kelly: Prominent church fathers of the first two centuries opposed tithing. Only after the church became endorsed by the Roman emperor did tithing attempt to begin but it did not become legal until AD 777.
Alcorn: it seems to me the burden of proof falls on those who say tithing is no longer a minimum standard for God’s people.
Kelly: I can give you 16 texts which define tithes as only food from inside Israel for over 1500 years from Leviticus to Luke. The burden of proof is on you to show from the Bible where it changed. You cannot even prove that it was a minimum for everybody who lived inside Israel –much less anybody else.
Alcorn: Christ fulfilled the entire Old Testament, but he didn’t render it irrelevant. Old Testament legislation demonstrated how to love my neighbor. Although the specific regulations don’t all apply, the principles certainly do, and many of the guidelines are still as helpful as ever. Consider the command to build a roof with a parapet to protect people from falling off (Deuteronomy 22:8). When it comes to the Old Testament, we must be careful not to throw out the baby (ongoing principles intended for everyone) with the bathwater (detailed regulations intended only for ancient Israel).
Kelly: The English law (good and bad) was rendered irrelevant the moment the Declaration of Independence was signed. In the same way, after Calvary God took that which was good from the old covenant law and repeated in terms of grace and faith after Calvary in the New Covenant. Why is that so hard to grasp?
Alcorn: We don’t offer sacrifices anymore, so why should we tithe? Because sacrifices are specifically rescinded in the New Testament. As the book of Hebrews demonstrates, Christ has rendered inoperative the whole sacrificial system. But where in the New Testament does it indicate that tithing is no longer valid? There is no such passage. With a single statement, God could have easily singled out tithing like he did sacrifices and the Sabbath. But he didn’t.
Kelly: You are very wrong. In fact NOTHING about tithing is actually obeyed by any church today. Again see my article at http://www.tithing-russkelly.com/id171.html.
Alcorn: The disciples gave all that they had because “much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). It was obvious from the beginning that being under grace didn’t mean that New Testament Christians would give less than their Old Testament brethren.
Kelly: If you follow Acts 2:46-48; 15; and 21:20 you will discover that the Jewish Christians from Acts never stopped fully supporting the Temple system with its tithes. Almost every denomination’s church historians tell us that the church in Jerusalem eventually apostatized and became extremely legalistic for many centuries.
Alcorn: On the contrary, it meant they would give more.
Kelly: Your assumption is false and cannot be documented. According to 1st Timothy 5:8 the Christian should spend the first of income on medicine and essential food and shelter. You would have them do without medicine and give the first to the church. That is cruel.
Alcorn: Being under grace does not mean living by lower standards than the law.
Kelly: You keep repeating your false assumption that the law required everybody to begin their giving level at ten per cent. Your basic premise is wrong.
Alcorn: Christ systematically addressed such issues as murder, adultery, and the taking of oaths and made it clear that his standards were much higher than those of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-48). He never lowered the bar. He always raised it. But he also empowers us by his grace to jump higher than the law
Kelly: Mt 5:19-48 includes the whole indivisible law. Either teach that Christians must keep all of the law of Moses or none of it. The book of Matthew makes it very clear that Jesus completely fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law. Christians are under the New Covenant “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” per Romans 8:2.
Please reply. I would appreciate dialog with you.
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Note: Randy Alcorn has given a lot of good financial advice in areas other than tithing. For that I highly commend him
Randy Alcorn on Tithing
rebuttal by Russell Earl Kelly, Ph. D.
edited December 18, 2006
The following is a rebuttal by Russell Earl Kelly, Ph. D. of The Practice of Tithing as the Minimum Standard of Christian Giving and Money, Possessions and Eternity (chapter 7) by Randy Alcorn. Alcorn is the leader of Eternal Perspective Ministries, www.epm.org and has authored many books and articles which advocate tithing. Kelly is the author of Should the Church Teach Tithing, A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine. His web site is www.shouldthechurchteachtithing.com.
Alcorn’s most important argument is that, since tithing was the minimum standard of giving during Old Covenant times, then it should be the starting point for Christians under the New Covenant because Christians should be expected to exceed the legal requirements of the Mosaic Law.
Kelly teaches that Alcorn’s argument is based on a false assumption because tithing as a minimum standard never existed for all OT Israelites. Also, although money was already a necessity, tithing was limited to food from farmers and herdsmen. Kelly advocates total free-will giving motivated by a Spirit-driven desire for the salvation of the lost.
Alcorn begins his discussion with the account of Zaccheus from Luke 19:1-10 and the rich young ruler from Matthew 19:16-26. However, neither of these accounts concern or mention tithing. In both instances, Jesus told them to “give to the poor.” Therefore, Jesus was instructing them about free-will giving. It is noteworthy that He did not tell them to give anything, including a tithe, to the Temple or its Levites and priests.
Acts 2:42-47 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. … All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. NIV (quoted by Alcorn)
ALCORN: Concerning Acts 2 and 4, he wrote: “Proof of change, Holy Spirit’s work. Generous sharing and giving of money and possessions. People selling their possessions and giving to the needy. Liquidating assets for the good of others.”
KELLY: Alcorn uses Acts 2 and 4 to illustrate tithing. However, his conclusions are wrong. What he omits about these texts is important. (1) The texts are not discussing tithing. (2) While these earliest Jewish church members devoted themselves to the “apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42), that teaching did not include tithing because those Jewish Christians were still scrupulously observing the Law of Moses. That is why Acts 2:46 says that “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” (3) Thirty years later, James and the elders boasted to Paul, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law” (Acts 21:20). They must have been tithing – to the Temple and not to church leaders! There is simply no other conclusion from the wording of Acts 15:1-32 and 21:17-27.
Acts 4:32-35 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. NIV (quoted by Alcorn)
KELLY: Rather than teaching tithing, as Alcorn desires, Acts 4:32-35 merely states that the earliest Jewish Christians lived together in communes and shared their possessions equally. Twice he noted that the funds went to the needy and not to church leaders. Since this is not done by Alcorn and his fellow ministers, then it should not be used to prove any point, especially tithing. Since the distribution was equal, then the apostles had exactly the same as the poorest person in the church (which is not true about tithing). If these Jewish Christians had stopped paying tithes to the Temple system and had started giving them to their pastors, then Acts 2, 4, 15 and 21 make no sense at all. Alcorn offers no proof for his claim.
ALCORN: I’d like to focus now on the biblical foundation, the cornerstone of stewardship. It is not the whole superstructure of stewardship, far from it. It is not the ceiling of giving, but merely the floor of giving. [1st mention]
KELLY: (1) God’s Word does not say that tithing is the “biblical foundation, the cornerstone of stewardship.” (2) Neither does God’s Word say that tithing was the “floor,” or “minimum standard of giving” (which Alcorn will restate and repeat thirteen times to make sure that this unscriptural point will stick in the mind).
While using Leviticus 27:30 to demonstrate the “principle of tithing,” it will be seen that Alcorn’s strongest text fails to prove his arguments at every single point! The following is how Alcorn marks his emphasis of the verse. The underlined portions are my focus.
ALCORN: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.” NIV (quoted by Alcorn)
Lev 27:30 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.
Lev. 27:31 And if a man will at all redeem any of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof.
Lev. 27:32 And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passes under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD.
Lev. 27:33 He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.
Lev. 27:34 These are the commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel in mount Sinai. KJV
KELLY: Alcorn uses God’s Word very selectively. While only quoting paart of verse 30 out of context, he completely ignores the remainder of verse 30 and also the surrounding texts.
ALCORN: “Tithe”— the meaning of the word “tithe” is ten per cent. If someone makes $2000 a month and puts $50 in the offering box he hasn’t tithed. If you make $2000 a tithe is two hundred dollars. You cannot tithe 2% or 4% or 6% of your income any more than you can “whitewash” a wall with red paint.
KELLY: Alcorn’s definition of “tithe” is “10% of all income or increase” [usually gross income before taxes], only excluding business expenses. However his definition of “tithe” is wrong because it comes from a secular dictionary instead of God’s Word!
In God’s Word, “tithe” does not stand alone. It is the “tithe of FOOD.” The biblical tithe was very narrowly defined and limited by God Himself. True biblical tithes were always: (1) only food, (2) only from the farms and herds, (3) of only Israelites, (4) who only lived inside God’s Holy Land, the national boundary of Israel, (5) only under Old Covenant terms and (6) the increase could only come from God’s hand.
Therefore, (1) non-food items could not be tithed. (2) Clean wild game animals and fish could not be tithed. (3) Non-Israelites (Gentiles) could not tithe. (4) Food from outside God’s holy land of Israel was not a legitimate tithe. (5) Legal tithing did not occur when there was no Levitical priesthood. And (5) tithes did not come from what man’s hands created, produced or caught by hunting and fishing.
ALCORN: EVERYTHING [from Leviticus 27:30]: “Everything.” Doesn’t mean “some things.” Doesn’t mean “most things.” Means “everything.”
KELLY: Three times Alcorn stresses “everything” from Leviticus 27:30 and totally ignores the following words, “from the land” from the very text he quotes! This is unacceptable distortion of God’s Word!
Again, it is not a tithe “of everything.” Rather, God’s Word calls it a tithe “of the land” (Lev. 27:30), “of the herd” (Lev. 27:32), “of grain and wine” (Numb. 18:27, 28), “of grain, wine and oil” (Deut. 12:17; 14:23; Neh. 13:5), “the increase of your seed” (Deut. 14:22), “of the ground” (Neh. 10:37), “food” (Mal. 3:10) and “food” (Mt 23:23).
Tradesmen such as carpenters (Jesus), fishermen (Peter) and tentmakers (Paul) did not qualify as tithe-payers because their increase came from their own skillful work and use of their own hands rather than wholly from God’s increase and blessings which He increased from His holy land. Day-laborers at farms did not tithe because the land-owner paid tithes. And the “double portion” inheritance law of Deuteronomy 21:17 eventually pushed many into the cities to earn their livelihood by trades.
ALCORN: It “belongs to the LORD.” It doesn’t belong to me. It’s not my money. It’s not your money. It’s God’s money.
KELLY: (1) The O. T. tithe was never “money” at all! It could be exchanged for money because it was not money. It could also be converted into money because it was not money (Deut. 14:24-26). (2) In the O. T. the tithe “belonged to the LORD” because it had grown on God’s land, inside the boundaries of national Israel and had been planted or herded by an Israelite. If these conditions were not met, then it did not “belong to the LORD.”
ALCORN: It is “holy to the Lord.” “Holy” means “set apart.” It is to be set apart and given to God, and used for no other purpose.
KELLY: The tithe had “no other purpose” than to support the Levitical servants to the priests who then gave only a tenth of their tithe to the priests. It was a sin to use the tithe for “any other purpose.” Since the “purpose” of the tithe never changed, and since the tithe was never given to elders and preachers, then are not elders and preachers “robbing God” by receiving the tithe under one pretense and then using it for an entirely different purpose than used in the Old Covenant?
The O. T. tithe, like almost everything else in the book of Leviticus, was either “holy” or “most holy” to the LORD (Yahweh). (1) Again, it was only holy because it was increased on God’s land by God’s covenant people. (2) It was holy as an O. T. ceremonial worship statute, or ordinance. (3) The N. T. church rejects almost everything else in Leviticus which is also called “holy” and “most holy.” (4) O.T. Israel was commanded not to share its covenant statutes with any other nation (including Sabbath-keeping and tithing) (Ex. 23:32; 34:12, 15; Deut. 7:2). (5) The tithe was not to be given to prophets or synagogue rabbis (the forerunners of pastors). As “most holy” it must only be given to Levites (Numb. 18:9, 10; Neh. 10:37). Its sole “purpose” (to use Alcorn’s word) was to totally support the Levites who were only servants to the priests. Also, the Levites were guards, singers, bakers, craftsmen, animal skinners and political employees of the ruler — they were not the priests (1 Chron 23 thru 27).
The “purpose” of the OT tithe was NEVER to support missionaries of pay any Temple expenses other than salaries. Although the priests received one tenth of the first tithe, they also had many other means of support. See Numbers 18.
Mal. 3:8 Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. NIV (quoted by Alcorn)
ALCORN: “You rob me.” Stealing from God. “Thou shalt not steal.” Taking what isn’t yours and doing whatever you want with it.
KELLY: Malachi is in Old Covenant context and is never quoted in the New Covenant for the church. Compare 2:8-10; 3:7 and 4:4 with Nehemiah 10:28, 29 and Deuteronomy 27:26.The priests (not the people) had robbed God by keeping the tithes in Nehemiah 13:5 and Malachi 1:14.
ALCORN: In “tithes and offerings.” The mandatory giving and the voluntary giving. Not only are they not doing the voluntary—they’re holding back the mandatory. [2nd repetition]
KELLY: In Malachi the priests had robbed God. Especially in 1:6; 2:1 and 3:3, Malachi is addressed to dishonest priests. The priests had stolen the tithes from the Levites and the best offerings from God. Nehemiah 13:10 says “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.” The priests had stolen the Levites’ tithes and Temple worship ceased when the Levites returned o their fields. See Nehemiah 13:4-13; Malachi 1:6-14 and 2:1 to 3:7.
Mal. 3:9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. NIV (quoted by Alcorn)
Mal. 1:14 [To the priests] But cursed be the deceiver, which has in his flock a male, and vows, and sacrifices unto the LORD a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, says the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.
Mal. 2:2 [To the priests] If you will not hear, and if you will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, says the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because you do not lay it to heart.
Gal. 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
ALCORN: “You’re under a curse.” God promises the blessings of obedience and curses for disobedience.”
KELLY: Malachi’s audience was under the Old Covenant ordinances which included both blessings and curses. The general curses of Deuteronomy 27:26 were reaffirmed by Israelites in Nehemiah 10:28, 29. Specifically, the priests had already been cursed several times in Malachi for breaking their special “covenant of Levi” (Mal. 2:1-10).
Those who were cursed in Malachi were primarily the priests. See 1:14 and 2:2. In its context, “This whole nation of you” probably refers to “of you priests.” Otherwise, God would have switched from cursing the priests (from 1:6 to 3:7) to assisting the priests in 3:8-10.
Alcorn’s greatest error is in placing New Covenant believers back under a curse which Christ has abolished. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” the Old Covenant ended, along with its curses. Paul plainly states in Galatians 3:13 “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” God does not curse New Covenant believers for disobedince; instead, He disciplines them as His redeemed Spirit-filled children.
Mal. 3:10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. NIV (quoted by Alcorn)
ALCORN: God says “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse”-don’t hold back any of it. … Where does the tithe go? Into the “storehouse.” This was something in Israel that you didn’t decide for yourself. The whole tithe went into the temple, for the work of the Levites.
KELLY: The tithe is still only food. Malachi 3:10 is greatly misunderstood and misused. It is easy to prove from God’s Word that the “whole tithe” NEVER went to the Temple. (a) The Levitical cities must be considered and Jerusalem was not a Levitical city. The Levites and priests lived inside the Levitical cities with their families and herds. See Numb. 35; Josh. 20, 21; 1 Chron. 6:48-80 ; Neh. 13:10 and Mal. 1:14. Israel was commanded to bring their tithes first to the Levitical cities (Nehemiah 10:37, 38 and 2 Chron. 31:15-19). It makes no sense to teach that 100% of the tithe was brought to the Temple when most Levites and priests did not live in Jerusalem. (b) The 24 courses of Levites and priests must also be considered. Beginning with King David and King Solomon, they were divided into 24 families. These divisions were also put into place in Malachi’s time by Ezra and Nehemiah. Since normally only the older men of one family served in the Temple for only one week at a time, there was absolutely no reason to send ALL of the tithe to the Temple when 98% of those it was designed to feed were still in the Levitical cities (1 Chron. 24-26; 28:13, 21; 2 Chron. 8:14; 23:8; 31:2, 15-19; 35:4, 5, 10; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 11:19, 30; 12:24; 13:9, 10; Luke 1:5). (c) Therefore, when the context of the Levitical cities, the 24 families of priests, under-age children, wives, Numbers 18, Second Chronicles 31:15-19, Nehemiah 10-13, and all of Malachi are all evaluated, then it is clear that only about 2% of the total tithe was normally required at the Temple in Jerusalem. (d) Therefore God was telling only the priests to bring their “whole” share of the tithe to the temple because they had stolen it from the Levites and had kept the best for themselves while offering the lame and sick to God (1:14). Therefore normally only 1% to 2% of the “whole” tithe went to the Temple. See Neh. 13:4-13 and Mal. 1:6 to 2:10.
ALCORN: Closest parallel today to the temple is the church. … Seems to me the tithe should go to where the center of God’s program, which is the local church. Now, the ideal is for the church to support those ministries.
KELLY: By implication, Alcorn defines “church” as an organization and local building. Actually the only “parallel” to the O. T. temple (where God dwelled) is now the body of individual believers, the Body of Christ (where God now dwells) (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; 6:19). There is NOT a “storehouse building” parallel to the O. T. Temple building. Again, unfortunately, tithes were never used to support missionary activities, especially outside of God’s holy boundaries of Israel.
ALCORN: [The] NT church is not a storehouse, has a world evangelism focus temple didn’t have. It’s more a clearing house than a storehouse. Acts—apostles pass on to the needy.
KELLY: Right! The church is not a storehouse, a building, or an organization for the receipt and storage of food tithes. And the N. T. does not call it a storehouse either! It is an assembly of believer-priests. How can the NT church possibly be called a “storehouse” when for several centuries after Calvary Christians did not even have their own buildings for worship because Christianity was an outlaw religion?? They defiantly refused to call their worship locations “church buildings,” “tabernacles” or “temples.” It is wrong to translate the Greek word, ekklesia, as “church.”History indicates that the first church “buildings” were erected around AD 250 and they were soon destroyed in AD 260.
ALCORN: The closest parallel to the Levites is the elders of the church. You see that in Acts 2 in Jerusalem, where it says the money was laid at the feet of the apostles, who then decided how to distribute it.
KELLY: Wrong! (1) There is absolutely no parallel between the O. T. Levites and the N. T. church leaders. The Levites, who received the whole tithe, were neither priests nor ministers. They were only servants to the priests (Numb. 3 all; 18:21-25; 1 Chron 23-27 all. (2) O. T. priests only received one tenth of the whole tithe from the Levites (Numb. 18:25, 26; Neh. 10:38). This procedure is nowhere carried over into Christianity. (3) The apostles in Acts 2 were not receiving tithes because they were still devoutly supporting the Temple then and also years later as seen in Acts 15 and 21:20. (4) The apostles in Acts 2 did not become wealthy by teaching tithing; they shared the freewill-offerings with every church member. This is not done today among those who teach tithing.
ALCORN: In Malachi 3:10 God says something striking: “Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing. . . ”
Deut. 28:12 The LORD shall open unto you his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto your land in his season, and to bless all the work of your hand … [not merely tithing]
Mal. 4:4 Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.
KELLY: God does not tell post-Calvary believers to test Him, or else He will curse them. Malachi 3:10 is wholly in the context of the O. T. blessings and curses as mentioned earlier from Deuteronomy 27:26; 28:12 and reaffirmed in Nehemiah 10:28, 29. Only twelve verses later Malachi 4:4 reminds everybody of the context of 3:7-10.
Today the poorest uneducated classes are victims of unscrupulous persons and are easily tricked into the get-rich-quick magic of both the lottery and tithing. Yet for the vast majority neither works! In fact, it can be positively demonstrated that Malachi 3:10 does not work! U. S. Internal Revenue Service statistics prove that the very richest pay the smallest percentage to charity while the very poorest pay the largest. If Malachi 3:10 really worked for New Covenant Christians, then millions of poor tithing Christians would escape poverty and become the wealthiest group of people in the world instead of remaining in poverty.
ALCORN: No one asked, “Would you like me to tithe, Lord?” … You don’t have to ask—God has already told you. … But there is a debate about whether tithing is still a minimum mandatory standard. Some think there is no such thing as a minimum standard of giving any more. [3rd repetition]
KELLY: God never told Gentiles or even Jews living outside of Israel to tithe. God has not “told” the New Covenant believer to tithe because both His Temple and priesthood are now within every believer and its purpose has been abolished.
What principle of interpretation does Alcorn and other tithe-teachers use? Some say that the moral laws are still valid, but the statutes and judgments ended at Calvary. However, tithing was a ceremonial worship statute and all of the others in Leviticus have ended. Others say that God repeated in terms of grace that which He wanted the church to know after Calvary. Again, tithing was not repeated. God told Old Covenant Israel to tithe to support the Levitical priesthood and He plainly says that the Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the priesthood of every believer (Heb. 7:5, 12, 18, 19; Heb. 4:16; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:10).
Alcorn repeatedly uses the common false assumption that tithing was, and still is, the “minimum standard of giving.” The average church member does not realize that this has never been true! Tithing never was a “minimum” for anybody other than O. T. Israelite farmers and herdsmen who lived inside of God’s holy land. Even Jews do not tithe today because they realize that the old standards cannot be met.
Free-will giving built the sanctuary and the Temple. Non-tithe funds maintained the Temple. Free-will giving and ardent evangelism built most denominations in the United States until they became free of state churches (which mandated tithing) and formed their own tithing organizations.
O. T. tithes miserably failed to either perfect the giver or produce missions. Israel did not use tithes for missions. The system became “un-profitable” and was replaced by Spirit-guided and love-provoked grace giving. The problem with the church is not its failure to reintroduce legalistic tithing. Rather it is a failure to motivate personal evangelism through preaching the love for lost souls. See Heb. 7:18; 2 Cor. 3:10-18; 8 all; 9:7.
ALCORN: We don’t offer sacrifices anymore but that’s because the New Testament makes clear the sacrificial system has been fulfilled in Christ.
KELLY: The financial basis of the fulfilled sacrificial system was tithing. Tithing allowed the sacrificial system to function. The ceremonial worship ordinances/statutes clearly ended at Calvary. When the system ended, its support apparatus also ended. Now there is no need for tithe-supported priests to hear confessions and offer sacrifices. That is the clear point of Hebrews 7:12-19! See also Ephesians 2:14-16 and Colossians 2:13-17.
ALCORN: Nowhere are we told the tithe as a minimum standard of giving no longer pertains. [4th repetition]
KELLY: Like a bankrupt company, the entire system which tithing was legislated to financially support ended. (1) The old covenant “no longer pertains” (Heb. 8:10-13). (2) The physical temple “no longer pertains” and was replaced by the every-believer-temple. (2) The priesthood “no longer pertains” and was replaced by the every-believer-priesthood. (3) The Levitical cities ended. (4) The Levites, who received the whole tithe, disappeared. Most of the servant functions they performed are now performed by non-paid ushers and greeters (guards), choir members (singers), non-paid bakers and builders and repairmen who are not paid out of “tithe” funds. (5) The storehouse concept “no longer pertains.” There were no legal church buildings in the early centuries because Christianity was an outlaw religion. (6) The necessity for full-time paid clergy “no longer pertains” (Acts 20:29-35; 1 Cor 9:12-18). The early church followed the pattern of Jewish rabbis who had their own jobs and refused to be supported for teaching God’s Word. (7) Hebrews 7:5 reminds us that the OT priests collected tithes because they had a commandment (statute) to do so; 7:11 says that priesthood failed; 7:12 says that it was “necessary to change the law” (referring to tithing) because Christ was not from the tribe of Levi (7:13-16); and 7:18 says “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and un-profitableness thereof.” This was the “commandment” of tithing which financed the Levitical support through tithing in 7:12.
ALCORN: Tithing was practiced before the law, by Abraham and Jacob (Gen. 14:20; 28:20-22) and is never specifically rescinded in the New Testament.
KELLY: The argument that “tithing was practiced before the law” is extremely weak and does not constitute a biblical principle. The mere fact that something is very old and very widespread does not make it a moral principle and God’s will. The same pagans who practiced tithing before the law also worshipped idols and practiced child sacrifices and temple prostitution which are not moral principles.
For the following reasons, Genesis 14:20 cannot be used as an example for Christians to tithe. (1) The Bible does not say that Abraham “freely” gave this tithe. (2) Abraham’s tithe was NOT a holy tithe from God’s holy land produced by God’s holy people. (3) Abraham’s tithe was only from pagan spoils of war common to many nations. (4) In Numbers 31, Yahweh only required 1% of spoils of war. (5) Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek was a one-time recorded event and Abraham moved often. (6) Abraham’s tithe was not from his own personal property. (7) Abraham kept nothing for himself; he gave everything back. (8) Abraham’s tithe is not quoted anywhere in the Bible to endorse tithing. (9) Genesis 14, verse 21, is the key text. Since most commentaries explain verse 21 as an example of pagan Arab tradition, it is contradictory to explain the 90% of verse 21 as pagan, while insisting that the 10% of verse 20 was God’s will. (10) If Abraham is an example for Christians to give 10% to God, then he should also be an example for Christians to give the other 90% to Satan, or to the king of Sodom! (11) Since neither Abraham nor Jacob had a Levitical priesthood to support, they had no place to bring tithes during their many moves. (11) Jacob’s tithe was a free-will vow that probably was given to the poor.
ALCORN: There is no question that Jesus tithed. He was raised in a devout Jewish home, meaning that his parents obeyed the Scriptures, tithed and taught him to tithe.
KELLY: Since Jesus was a carpenter, and not a farmer or herdsman, then he did not qualify as a tithe-payer. The increase from one’s skill, efforts and ingenuity (works) did not qualify as tithes of food.
Matt. 23:23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
Matt. 23:2 The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
Matt. 23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
ALCORN: In Matthew 23:23 Jesus states that while they should have paid attention to more important things, the Pharisees were correct in being careful to tithe.
KELLY: The text actually reads “more important things of the law.” Jesus promoted tithing because He was a Jew living under the jurisdiction of the law (Gal. 4:4). In Matthew 23:2, 3 Jesus commanded his disciples to obey all of the (thousands of) things which the scribes and Pharisees taught. This is because the people had yielded to them as the legitimate interpreters of the Law. This is a pre-Calvary text and is not in New Covenant context. Just as Jesus did not instruct Gentiles whom he healed to show themselves to the priests, neither did he instruct them to begin tithing to the Levitical system.
ALCORN: The truth is the New Testament portrays the norm of Christian giving as far beyond the tithe.
2 Cor. 8:12-14 For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not. For I mean not that other men be eased, and you 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:
2 Cor. 9:7 Every man according as he purposes in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver.
KELLY: There is no “norm” or minimum commandment for Christian giving. The New Covenant teaches that both the poor and the rich should give to the best of their ability so that there may be an EQUALITY. The poor may not be able to give as much, but the rich should make up for their lack. The NT does not call freewill giving “tithing.” Christians were motivated through the indwelling Spirit and because they had a strong desire for evangelism.
ALCORN: It never suggests the “floor” set by the tithe was eliminated, but simply that the ceiling of Christian giving was far above it. [6th repetition]
KELLY: Tithing was only a “floor” for Israelite farmers and herdsmen inside Israel. There never was a “floor” for free-will offerings. Where free-will offerings were involved, the people often gave too much and were asked to stop giving.
ALCORN: Jewish Christians dominated the formation and policies of the early church. Because tithing was so deeply embedded in the Jewish consciousness, the Jewish Christians naturally gave their tithes to the local church assembly. This almost became a moot point because they went so far beyond the tithe, as we see in the early chapters of Acts. But their going beyond it did not negate it. [7th repetition]
Acts 21:18-21 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of you, that you teach all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
Acts 21:24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that you yourself also walk orderly, and keep the law.
KELLY: Alcorn is completely wrong here. The Jewish Christians in Acts 2 and 4 became the Jewish Christian church seen in Acts 15 and 21 and these texts absolutely must be fully explained by anybody trying to justify tithing as a valid New Covenant doctrine. (1) The Jewish Christians did not “naturally gave their tithes to the local church assembly.” In Acts 21:24, at the END of Paul’s missionary journeys, almost 30 years after Calvary, Jewish Christians were still fanatically observing all of the Mosaic Law. They were offering sacrifices at the Temple and still paying whatever tithes they had to the Temple – otherwise they would not have been allowed to worship inside it! (2) Since the food tithe only belonged to the Levites, then the Jewish Christians would have only given it to the Levites! (3) Acts 2 and 4 are not examples of tithing; rather, they are examples of free-will giving.
ALCORN: There is no indication the early church ever retreated from the concept that the tithe was the basic minimum to be given to the Lord. [8th repetition]
KELLY: The opposite is true. Every indication points to extreme asceticism, not tithing, as the practice of the earliest church. Respectable church historians from many denominations agree that the earliest church leaders all worked for their livelihood. My book, Should the Church Teach Tithing, pages 194-198 and 250-251, contains quotations from Robert Baker, H. E. Dana, Alfred Edersheim, George E. Ladd, R. C. H. Lenski, Lars Qualben and Philip Schaff.
ALCORN: Church Fathers on tithing. … For its first four hundred years the church considered the practice of tithing a vital minimum standard for giving. [9th repetition]
KELLY: Alcorn selectively quote a few (whom he labels as) “early” church fathers who (he says) taught tithing. (1) It must be noted that, after A. D. 321, Constantine removed the “outlaw” status of the church and granted it favor, political status and monetary support. When Alcorn quotes Jerome (345-419) and Augustine (354-430), he has gone beyond the boundary of authentic “early” fathers and is in companionship with leaders of the Roman Catholic Church system and hierarchy. (2) Even though Jerome and Augustine were later church leaders, their stated opinions on tithing did not convert tithing into church law. Today’s leading encyclopedias state that the first failed attempt to make tithing a church law did not come until A. D. 567 and 585. Tithing did not become church law until A. D. 777 after the pope crowned Charlemagne as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
ALCORN: Irenaeus (150-200), “The Jews were constrained to a regular payment of tithes; Christians, who have liberty, assign all their possessions to the Lord, bestowing freely not the lessor portions of their property, since they have the hope of greater things.” “Not the lessor portions” is a direct indication that the tithe was considered a minimal standard in the early Christian community. [10th repetition]
KELLY: Alcorn’s quotation is from Against Heresies, book 4, chapter 18, version unknown. “Lessor” means “less valuable.” Irenaeus was not teaching tithing. He was comparing what he thought that the Jews had been mandated to give with what Christians should be willing to give (100%). Irenaeus, like the church leaders of his generation, was an extreme ascetic who sought spirituality through extreme poverty. For him, the church was a dispenser of necessities for the poor.
In Against Heresies, book 4, chapter 13, paragraph 3, Irenaeus said, “Instead of the law enforcing the giving of tithes, [the Lord taught] to share all our possessions with the poor … and a gratuitous gift to those who take away our goods.” Therefore Alcorn’s use of Irenaeus is wrong because Irenaeus taught extreme asceticism, not tithing to church leaders. He interpreted Acts 2:44, 45 literally.
Alcorn would have preferred to quote the real “early” church fathers to support tithing. However, he could not because they did not teach tithing! Clement of Rome (c95), Justin Martyr (c150), The Didache (c150-200), Irenaeus (150-200) and Tertullian (150-220) opposed tithing. Although Cyprian (200-258) failed to introduce a modified tithing system, it was still based on dividing it equally with the poor. See my book, pages 246-262.
ALCORN: If we cannot rob God, then Malachi 3 has no relevance to us. But I’m convinced we can rob God today, and the truth is many Christians in America are doing exactly that. … We place ourselves under his curse.
KELLY: It is impossible for New Covenant believers to place themselves under an Old Covenant curse. However Christians today are robbing God; it is not because they are under the curse of the law in Malachi 3 which was renewed in Nehemiah 10:28, 29. It is because they do not have a burden for lost souls. Galatians 3:10, 13 explain how and why the curse of the Law was removed.
ALCORN: Galatians 3:24 says “The law is a tutor to lead us toward Christ.” The tithe is a way to get us started on the path of Christian giving. It is not the finish line of giving, but only the starting blocks.
KELLY: By application Alcorn equates “the law” (the Old Covenant law) with “tithing.” Why does he not quote the entire context? Gal 3:24,25 “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”
ALCORN: Tithing is the training wheels of giving. Steady bicyclists no longer need training wheels, but wobbly bicyclists do. [12th repetition]
2 Cor. 3:9-11 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious.
KELLY: Old Covenant tithing now has “no glory” because it was not endorsed by the Holy Spirit to the church. The “glory that excels” is now on grace giving principles. See 3:10-18.
Almost 2000 years after the Law ended, Alcorn still describes the church as needing legalistic training wheels! His illustration is wrong. Old Covenant believers could not be perfected through its sacrificial mediation, its Levitical priesthood and its tithing (Heb. 7:12-19). The “steady bicyclists” are New Covenant believers who are all perfect sinless priests “in Christ.” Since all believers are priests and since priests did not tithe, then it is evident that tithing is an un-profitable annulled ceremonial worship ordinance (Heb. 7:18).
ALCORN: Tithing is a way of putting God first. In fact, another term for the tithe in Scripture is the “first-fruits.” Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.”
KELLY: First-fruits are entirely separate from tithes. While the first-fruits and first-born went directly to the priests (Numb. 18:12, 13, 17, 18), the tithes went directly to the Levites (Numb. 18:21-24). The first-fruits and first-born went to the Temple while the tithes went to the Levites in the Levitical cities (Neh. 10:37). The priests only brought their one tenth of the tithe to the Temple (Neh. 10:38; Numb. 18:25, 26). Portions of the tithes were taken to the temple by both Levites and priests to feed the (l of 24) course of older men who were serving one week at a time (2 Chron. 31:11-19).
While the firstborn of every clean animal was brought to the temple the first-fruit of food was extremely meager indeed. Historians point out that often an entire village’s first-fruit could be packed onto one animal. According to Leviticus 27:33 the tithe of animals was neither the first-fruit nor the best –it was merely every tenth animal.
ALCORN: Without a guidepost, where do you start your giving? Why not start where God had his people start throughout the Old Testament? Why not start with the tithe? [13th repetition]
KELLY: Tithing was never a guidepost for all OT Israelites. Neither is it a guidepost for Christians. Old Covenant Levites and priests never used a single tithe to send out missionaries to convert the pagan world. The early church used the free-will resources from mostly women, children, slaves and poor soldiers to spread the gospel to the known world in less than one generation.
Gal 3:1-3 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?
KELLY: Free-will giving preceded tithing. The following New Covenant free-will principles are found in Second Corinthians, chapters 8 and 9: (1) Giving is a “grace. Second Corinthians, chapters 8, uses the word, “grace,” eight times in reference to helping poor saints. (2) Give yourself to God first (8:5). (3) Give yourself to knowing God’s will (8:5). (4) Give in response to Christ’s gift (8:9; 9:15). (5) Give out of a sincere desire (8:8, 10, 12; 9:7). (6) Do not give because of any commandment to give (8:8, 10; 9:7). (7) Give even beyond your ability (8:3, 11, 12). (8) Give equally. This means that those who have more should give more in order to make up for the inability of those who cannot afford to give as much (8:12-14). (9) Give joyfully (8:2). (10) Give because you are growing spiritually (8:3, 4, 7). (11) Give because you want to continue growing spiritually (9:8, 10, 11). (12) Give because you are hearing the gospel preached (9:13).
Alcorn attempts to influence the reader and/or hearer into believing that tithing is the expected “minimum standard” by repetition instead of sound biblical exegesis. Including the title, he calls tithing the “minimum” (5 times), the “floor” of giving (twice), “mandatory” (twice), the “norm,” “basic,” “vital,” the “standard,” our “guidepost,” ”starting blocks” and “training wheels.” He also says that NT giving should be “far beyond” tithing.
The problem is that Mr. Alcorn has not given any biblical arguments which prove his assumed viewpoints from their context. I invite Randy Alcorn to an open discussion of the validity of tithing for Christ’s New Covenant assembly, the church. Mr. Alcorn, “If a reasonable interpretation of the Bible would be made to you to change how Christians give, would you be willing to change? If I could show you that you are taking the Bible out of context, would you please engage the reasoning and state what is right or wrong with its conclusions? If your viewpoint is really God’s truth, then you should have no reason for refusing an open discussion. God blesses His Truth.
Mr. Randy Alcorn, my friends and I would appreciate a rebuttal/reply in order that we may engage in a dialog with you conerning this important matter of God’s Word.