Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine


By Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Is Tithing New Testament?

Brown: Tithing began before the law was introduced.

Kelly: Yes – the pagan law of the land all around Canaan required tithes from spoils of war be paid to the local king-priest. Abram would have learned that in Babylon. However, the HOLY tithe from God’s HOLY did not exist before the Law which concered that HOLY land. The Law limited tithes to FOOD from inside God’s HOLY land which God had miraculously increased by His own hand. As used by Moses in Leviticus 27:30-34, Malachi in 3:10 and Jesus in Mathew 23:23, HOLY food-tithes could not come from what man increased, from Gentiles, or from outside Israel. Yes, pagan forms of tithing preceded the law, but that fact does not make tithing an eternal moral principle; so did idolatry, worship of the heavens, child sacrifice and temple prostitution. The argument for unholy tithes before law proves nothing but common tradition and the law of the land.

Brown: The Law simply regulated the tithe.

Kelly: Not true. The Law defined its tithe very different from the pagan pre-law tithe. It was only food from inside God’s holy land.

Brown: Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, 400 years before the time of Moses and the Law …

Kelly: Uncircumcised Abram’s (not Abraham yet) pre-law tithe was not holy. Since the Bible does not tell us WHY Abram tithed, it is wrong to teach that he gave freely or that God commanded him. He just as easily could have been obeying the law of the land.

Brown: … and according to Romans 4:12 we are to walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham.

Kelly: Yes, but we are not told that Abram’s tithe was faith-motivated and, again, it is simply dishonest to imply such. Not everything Abraham did was motivated by faith — such as lying about his wife being his sister (Gen 12:16).

Brown: If tithing was good for him, it should be good for us, too.

Kelly: It benefited Abram to lie about his wife being his sister; he gained much wealth from it (Gen 12:16; 13:2). Without texts, this is a poor argument.

Brown: We give tithes like Abraham gave them—not by the Law but by faith.

Kelly: It is recorded that Abraham tithed only once, that he only tithed pagan spoils of war, that he kept nothing, and that he gave the 90% to the king of Sodom. I seriously doubt that we should follow that example. Brown’s declaration here is a very common, but totally fabricated lie. It is not biblical and, again, it is wrong to teach ignorant believers that this is Bible truth.

Brown: And beside that, if the people of God paid ten percent before the Law, and ten percent under the Law, shouldn’t we, who live by grace, be doing any less when we have a better covenant (Heb 7:22).

Kelly: This common error is based on the false assumption that everybody under the Old Covenant was commanded to BEGIN his/her level of giving at ten per cent. In fact, only food producers who lived inside God’s HOLY land of Israel qualified as tithe-payers. There was no minimum starting point of giving for carpenters (Jesus), fishermen (Peter), and tentmakers (Paul), Gentiles, and anybody living outside Israel.

It is a great distortion of Scripture to use Hebrews 7:22 to teach tithing. First, since 7:5 is the first use of “commandment,” “tithes,” and “law,” it controls those words in chapter 7. Second, since Jesus’ priesthood follows the king-priest “order” of Melchizedek (a non-Hebrew), 7:12 says that it is necessary to change the law. Third, that “necessary change” was not to gospel workers. Instead that “necessary change” is 7:18’s “there is a dis-annulling of the commandment gong before” (for priests “to take tithes according to the law”) in 7:5.

Brown: There is a passage in Hebrews, which deals with this issue directly. It is Hebrews 7:8:
In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living.

Kelly: Notice the present tense verbs. 7:8 is merely reminding readers that the Temple system was still functioning around AD 65 and the current Temple ministry was a shadow of a living Christ. Brown totally ignores the surrounding evidence against tithing. The flow of logic from 7:5 and 7:12 to 7:18 is much stronger proving that tithing ended.

Brown: Melchizedek received Abraham’s tithe.

Kelly: Melchizedek received Abram’s tithe. We are not told WHY Abram tithed. The Arab law of the land required Abram to tithe spoils of war to any king-priest whose territory he might pass through.

Brown: The Hebrew writer shows that Melchizedek is a prefigure of Christ.

Kelly: Melchizedek’s “ORDER” and the “interpretation of his name” were a pre-figure of Christ – not his historical person. This is repeated 6 times in chapters 5 to 7. He was only a type “by interpretation” of his name and title (7:2) by “similitude” (7:15).

Brown: We can conclude that just as Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek we give a tithe to Christ who is declared to be living.

Kelly: No. Do we also conclude that those who receive Levitical tithes are not allowed to own or inherit property? Are we also to conclude that the doctrine of the priesthood of believers is wrong because gospel workers are the descendants of Levites and priests? Are we also to conclude that there are three tithes and the church should teach up to 23% instead of 10%? Are we to follow Abraham’s example and tithe only pagan spoils of war only once and give the 90% to the king of Sodom?

Brown: Some people think this is a new issue. It is as old as the second century when more and more Gentiles were being converted.

Kelly: Stop and read at least 4 different church historians on History of the Christian Church. Second century church fathers like Justin Martyr and Tertullian disagree. Brown is wrong and has not studied church history on this subject. Paul never taught Gentiles to tithe because he knew that HOLY tithes could not from Gentiles or Gentile land.

Brown: The early Jewish believers had no problem with tithing since they had done it under the Law and gave it to the priests.

Kelly: Read and consider Acts 15 and 21:20-21. The compromise wa that the church in Jerusalem would not place Gentiles under any part of the law (Acts 15 all). Over 30 years after Calvary Jewish-Christians were still “zealous of the law” and were very likely still paying tithes TO THE JEWISH SYSTEM. It would take several generations before Jewish Christians could fully understand that the law ended at Calvary.

Brown: They simply gave their tithe to the elders of the church and did by love.

Kelly: Here Brown simply took the liberty to play God, change His Word and made this up. Acts 15 and 21 strongly argue against it. It is wrong for Brown to state this as fact.

Brown: However, as the church became less Jewish this issue came up to the church fathers.

Kelly: Almost all of the earliest church fathers rejected tithing as a purely Jewish tradition. Should the Church Teach Tithing, A Secular Church History of Tithing, 246-262.

Brown: They answered the question of tithing with Matthew 23:23.

Kelly: Brown distorts the context of early church history. This only began to happen after Constantine legalized the church after A.D. 300. The church had become corrupted and had changed the doctrine of the priesthood of every believer into a false clergy-priesthood which then offered the sacrifice later called the mass. Yet even then, tithing was rejected. Regional attempts to restore tithing occurred in the 6th century and it did not have the force of law until late in the 8th century. Look this up in any reputable encyclopedia.

Brown: Mt 23:23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin.

(1) Before Calvary: therefore Old Covenant context.
(2) Addressed to “you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites” and not the Church.
(3) Holy tithes were still FOOD from inside Israel over 1400 years after first being defined. Tithes were still not an increase of income or money.

Brown: Mt 23:23 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.
Notice Jesus said, “You should have practiced the latter (justice, mercy and faithfulness), without neglecting the former (tithing).”

(1) Context: “matters of the law” for Old Covenant Israel, not the Church.
(2) “You”: you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites – interpreters of the law.
(3) “You” – not neglecting the latter (tithing): you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites – interpreters of the law
(4) Gal 4:4-5 living under the full jurisdiction of the law before Calvary, Jesus MUST teach tithing TO THE TEMPLE SYSTEM or be sinning.
(5) Gal 4:4-5 if Jesus had taught tithing to Himself of His disciples, he would have been sinning.
(6) Gal 4:4-5 if Jesus had taught Gentiles to tithe to Him or to His disciples, it would have been sin.
(7) Jesus’ literal words here are disobeyed by Brown and all tithe-teachers who do NOT teach their congregations to literally tithe “mint and cumin” in the offering plates.

Brown: The fathers argued, and rightful so, that Jesus’ word ends the discussion.

Kelly: Notice the lack of documentation. This kind of invented logic is typical for Word of Faith. “Rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15) means to consider (1) To whom was the text written, (2) which context, and (3) was this addressed to the church. Much of what Jesus taught was only for His Old Covenant Jewish audience (Mt 5:24; 8:4).

Brown: Since Jesus said not to neglect the former—being tithing—then no believer should neglect tithing.

Kelly: I eagerly wait to hear that Brown’s congregations are tithing mint and cumin into the offering plates. Jesus also commanded those whom he healed “See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.” Again, tithing ended at Hebrews 7:18 when compared to 7:5 and 7:12.

Brown: Some argue that Jesus words are not applicable to us today, because Jesus was under the Law and spoke to those under the Law. Their theory goes something like this: Jesus was giving an instruction to the Jews so His words are not binding to us.
The problem with this interpretation is that these teachers are bringing Christ down to the level of a Jewish prophet or Teacher of the Law.

Kelly: No. This interpretation keeps Jesus holy, sinless, and beyond reproach; Jesus fully knew and spoke within the context of the Law which he Himself had given to Israel. It is absurd to argue that Jesus’ words about tithing apply to the church while, at the same time, arguing that Jesus words in Matthew 5:24 and 8:4 are to be ignored as relevant only to Old Covenant Jews.

Brown: Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, so this means every word that comes out of His mouth is eternal.

Kelly: Only Word of Faith would dare say this. Jesus honored the covenant under which He lived and walked and taught full compliance to it (Gal 4:4-5).

Brown: He cannot say anything without it being “spiritual law” and everlasting.

Kelly: Again, this is Word of Faith lack of logic. It treats Jesus’ words like some kind of magic Ouija board and ignores His context. There is no conceivable way that every recorded word from Jesus’ lips has a higher spiritual meaning. For example, “Cast your net on the right side” does not mean the “correct” side in John 21:6.

Brown: Jesus emphasizes this point by saying, “Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt 24:35).

Kelly: Jesus’ words will be remembered and quoted throughout eternity.

Brown: These supposed Bible teachers are making the words of Jesus pass away—obsolete and out of date.

Kelly: If Matthew 5:17-18 are given Brown’s interpretation, then 5:19-48 means that the entire law of over 600 commandments, statutes, and judgments will never end because three examples from each are given in verses 21-48. Jesus inspired Hebrews and Hebrews 8:13 says that the Old Covenant has ended. Jesus taught tithing under the law but inspired the writer of Hebrews to teach that the Melchizedek priesthood would “of necessity change the law” of tithing in 7:5 by “disannulling the commandment going before” in 7:18 (compare 7:5, 12, 18).

Brown: Besides, these same teachers pick and choose which teachings of Christ in the gospels they believe is applicable to us.

Kelly: No. That is your own distorted warped un-biblical hermeneutic. You are the ones who lack a consistent hermeneutic. The consistent hermeneutic is: “That part of the Old Covenant which applies to the church has been REPEATED to the church after Calvary in terms of the New Covenant.” Just as even the good part of English law ended the moment the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, even so the U.S. Constitution started all over and wrote a new constitution incorporating the good parts of English law in a new context. The new covenant is “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers” (Heb 8:9; Jer 31:32) – a real change. The “new” covenant is not a fine-tuning of the old covenant.

What is your “consistent” principle of interpretation? What allows you to change God’s Word and re-define tithes as income and money? What allows you to change God’s Word of three tithes of about 23% into one tithe of income? What allows you to ignore the commandment that Levitical tithe-recipients cannot own or inherit property into “now you can receive tithes and own much property”? You are the ones “picking and choosing” only that which suits your purposes.

Brown: I notice that even these teachers agree that most of Christ’ teachings are for us.

Kelly: Again, the consistent principle of interpretation is: “None of Christ’s teachings are for the church UNLESS they have been REPEATED by the Holy Spirit to the church after Calvary in terms of the new covenant.”

Brown: however, because they are predisposed against tithing, they have had to come up with an excuse for not obeying the clear word of Christ in Mathew 23:23.

Kelly: Unlike yourself, we literally interpret the words of Christ in Matthew 23:23 where He was discussing “matters of the law” to “you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites” and not to the church. We are “predisposed” to follow the literal clear and inspired instructions for giving found in the pages of the Bible for the church: freewill, generous, sacrificially, joyful, and not of necessity (2 Cor 9:7).

Brown: As a believer, you have to show who your Lord is! Is it the teachers who tell you tithing is not New Testament and who tell you that Jesus word on the subject is out of date …

Kelly: False teachers treat the church as if it were under the Old Covenant but manage to own and inherit much property in contrast to it.

Brown: … or is it Jesus who clearly told us not to neglect tithing?

Kelly: Jesus never told “us” the church, His body, to tithe under the new covenant. His remarks to hypocritical scribes and Pharisees was very clearly and very literally “matters of the law.” Let Jesus interpret Jesus; the text itself (Mt 23:23) contradicts your words.

Brown: No modern teacher has the right to tell you to disobey Jesus instruction on tithing. Period!

Kelly: No modern teacher has the right to tell you that you are still under the Old Covenant Law when the Gentles and Church never were under that law.

Brown: Even if the only passages in the New Testament was Jesus word, then that would be sufficient …

Kelly: Again, not if that word were clearly and literally in the context of “matters of the law” to “you, scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites.”

Brown: … however, I want to present other New Testament passages on the subject. Let’s look at Paul’s teaching on giving.
Paul also uses the pattern of tithing under the law in 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 and says,
Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
Paul argues that just as the priests got their food from the tithes of the people, so the preachers should live the same way. This passage clearly shows the mentality of the apostle and his understanding of carrying over the concept of tithing into the church.

Kelly: The first word in 9:14 refers back to all of verses 7 through 13. The principle, or hermeneutic, is “Each group (secular and sacred) has a ‘right’ to share from that activity in which it works.” All six of the examples demonstrate that one is sustained by the principles of the activity in which he labors. “In the same manner” gospel workers live by gospel principles from which they labor.” Verse 14 is a final conclusion to all of verses 7-13 which change from secular to Law to gospel. In verse 15 “these things” again refer to everything mentioned in verses 7-13 and not merely verse 13. All of the context of 9:7-13 is considered and almost all commentaries agree. Do the research.

Arguing only from 9:13 is self-defeating because it proves too much! This is because Numbers 18 is not an exclusive reference to tithing, but includes ALL forms of Levitical support which tithe-teachers definitely do not want to allow! When they insist that gospel workers are to be paid “in the same way” that Old Covenant priests were paid in Numbers 18, they have recklessly opened the door wide to everything included in Numbers 18. In reality it is very good that they literally follow NONE of those OT principles!

It is more wrong than correct to say “It was the tithe that supported God’s servants in the Old Testament dispensation” because the priests received most of their support from things other than the tithe –things such as freewill offerings, vow offerings and sacrifices (Numbers 18:1-19). Priests only received one tenth of the whole Levitical tithe (Num 18:25-28; Neh 10:37-38). As previously pointed out, modern “Levite” equivalents in Christian churches are not ministers and are often unpaid. It is also wrong to equate New Covenant preachers as the replacement for the Old Covenant priests.

Adopting Old Testament giving principles “in the same manner” would force the church to also copy every other Levitical and priestly support principle found in the Old Testament. This logic would forbid missionary support and would require churches to abolish the doctrine of the priesthood of believers and put to death those who tried to worship God directly.

Second Corinthians 9:14 is quoted more than any other text by gospel workers to prove that they deserve “full-time” support for their ministry. My complaint is with those who twist Scripture and teach that all ministers must be full-time because the Bible teaches it.

Brown: The passage often used to contradict this is 2 Corinthians 9:7. … Under the Law, giving to the poor was a freewill offering. The Law commanded freewill offerings as well as tithes. …
Quotes Deut 12:5-6.
It is quite inconsistent for people to appeal to freewill offerings yet claim that tithing has been abolished. Both tithing and freewill offerings were incorporated in the Law as the above passage shows, but they preceded the Law, thus they both should be practiced.

Kelly: Freewill giving preceded the law, was included in it, and was repeated after it. However HOLY tithing did not precede the law and was not repeated after it. The tithes were HOLY because they came off God’s HOLY land from that which He miraculously increased.

Brown: The burden of proof is placed on those who teach that tithing has been abolished. If so, where in the New Testament does it clearly say that tithing has been abolished?

Kelly: Here is your biblical proof:
Heb 7:5 “And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law …”

Without any doubt Hebrews 7:5 very clearly and very literally says that only the sons of Levi were commanded by the Law to receive tithes.

Heb 7:12 “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.”

In context, 7:12 must, at the very least, include tithes from 7:5. When the high priesthood was changed from Aaron to Melchizedek, it was necessary to change the law which included tithing. How was that law changed? Was it changed to gospel workers?

Heb 7:18 “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.”

Since the only use of “commandment” thus far in Hebrews refers to tithing (7:5, 16), this text must be interpreted to mean that “the commandment going before” “to take tithes” has been disannulled.

Everything about tithing has ended. The covenant which included HOLY tithing ended, the Temple it partially supported ended, the priesthood it supported changed to every believer, and its high priest changed to a king-priest after the order of a non-Hebrew.

The burden is on the tithe teacher to explain: (1) how he can change God’s definition of a HOLY tithe, (2) how he can place the church under the old covenant law which has never applied to Gentiles and the church, (3) how he can ignore the priesthood of every believer and install himself as an old covenant priest mimicking a gospel worker and ask for tithes, (4) how he can identify himself as a Levite or son of Aaron to receive tithes, and (5) how he can legitimize both accepting tithes and also owning and inheriting property contrary to the Old Covenant tithing laws.

Brown: One last thing, notice the resemblance of the language Paul uses in the first passage in Galatians and compare it with the Old Testament passage about tithing: quotes Galatians 6:6 and Deut 26:11-12. Galatians 6 is dealing with giving to the teacher of the gospel and he uses the same language about the Levites receiving the tithe of the people and he calls it “all good things.”

Kelly: In all his writings the Apostle Paul never says a word about any obligation for Christians to tithe. “Similar” vocabulary is just that – similar. As a highly trained Jewish rabbi and possible Sanhedrin member, Paul very well knew that HOLY tithes only for the support of Levites and priests could never come from defiled pagan land or from Gentiles. Again, read two or three church historians. Rabbis considered it sin to be paid for teaching God’s Word. They all had their own vocations and were self-supported. See Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, Jewish Views on Trade, pages 1167-181.

Brown: This is pretty good internal evidence that the early church tithed to the ministers of the gospel; although, I admit it is not explicit evidence.

Kelly: Wrong. The evidence from reputable church historians is that tithing was shunned as a strictly Jewish practice for at least the first two hundred years after Calvary and did not become enforced church law until A.D. 777. See the Encyclopedia Britannica. A possible exception was the Ebionites, or Elkisites, of Jewish Christians who rejected Paul, stayed fanatical to the law, did not merge with other Christians, and lasted several centuries. Look it up for yourself if you really want to know the truth.

I encourage in-depth open dialog and a reply to my articles. Replies will be published.

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD