Should the Church Teach Tithing?
A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Giving and Tithing
Note: Larry Burkett and Howard Dayton have helped a lot of people with good financial advice in areas other than tithinng. I commend them for that.
Giving and Tithing, Larry Burkett, 1991, 1998, 62 pages.
Crown Ministries’ current CEO is Howard Dayton
Review by Russell Earl Kelly, Ph. D.
If you are a lay person with little depth of contextual Bible study, this book will be very appealing and a delight to read. Larry is a financial planner, not a theologian, and is more skillful in getting people to agree with him than instead of correctly teaching God’s Word.
PLUS: (1) When New Covenant principles such as those in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 are discussed, the book has a lot of worthwhile comments, although they are still in proof-text style. (2) On pages 32-33 he correctly points out that the real biblical “tithe” was actually 23 per cent, although he does not go into embarrassing detail. (3) He correctly concludes that a great deal of the Old Covenant tithe went to the poor and needy in the community and even states the churches should give a portion of their “tithe” income to individuals or para-church organizations that are filling in the gap (page 35).
NEGATIVE: (1) Pages 14-15: While claiming to spend many hours studying the Bible in its context, Mr. Burkett does not show any knowledge about the correct definition, contents, covenant, limited purpose, or failure of tithing. (2) Page 29: In reality the tithe was always only food from landowners and herdsmen inside Israel and never applied to craftsmen or the poor. His definition of tithing ignores the food only contents of every legitimate tithing text after Moses. Although Abraham was before the Mosaic Law, he was obeying the Arab law which is clear by Genesis 14:21 in most commentaries. (3) Page 29: Burkett says “no punishment was indicated for not tithing.” King Saul (1 Sam 8:14-17), David (1 Chron 23-27), Hezekiah (2 Chron 31), and Nehemiah (Neh 10-13) sent soldiers to collect tithe-taxes to support their Levitical government workers. (4) Page 30: Since tithes were collected and stored in the king’s storehouses, it was not voluntary, as Burkett, and thus is disqualified under free-will principles of the newer and better covenant of grace. (5) Page 31: Burkett also missed the “purpose” of the tithe by ignoring its key chapter, Numbers 18. The tithe was a temporary replacement for the “priesthood of believers” and only its supported priests could draw near to God. When tithing ended at Calvary, Exodus 19:5-6 was fulfilled in 1 Peter 2:9-10. (6) Page 31: The wicked “they” were most likely the disobedient cursed priests from Malachi 1-3. (7) Page 32: Says that the tithe was considered a minimum without giving any supporting texts. This is not true. The poor gave what they could and were not covered by the definition of the tithe. (8) Page 34: “The priests and the tribe of Levi would be the equivalent of the pastors, church staff, missionaries, and evangelists today.” This is also not true, because the believer-priest replaced the old priesthood and the pastor-teacher is a new entity comparable to the rabbi, who was usually self-supporting.
(9) Page 34: Says that the system of tithing was “kept nearly intact by the early church.” Actually, while the earliest church was very strong on helping the needy, tithing was not reintroduced until Cyprian’s time in the 3rd century. Tertullian, his teacher, taught otherwise. (10) Pages 16-17: Claims that Paul’s “material suffering” following his great sacrifice was “unique” and, therefore, not the norm, which contradict his own survey found on page 16. (11) Page 17: The statement that “Paul amplifies” the statement that “those who give less than a tenth of their income limit what God can do for them” is absurd when compared to New Covenant principles found in 1 Tim. 5:8 and 2 Cor. 8:13-14. (12) Page 17+: While quoting Mal. 3:10-12 numerous times and 3:8 once, he does not quote the curse of 3:9 because it contradicts his statements about no “fear” of being “punished” on pages 22-23. The old covenant curse context of 3:5-7 from Neh. 10:29 and Deut. 27-28 is totally ignored. Actually, the priests in Malachi were cursed for keeping the best of the tithe for themselves and not giving it to the poor in verse 5. The curse of the law for not tithing does not apply to Christians, per Galatians 3:13. (13) Page 17: “A lack of giving is an external material indicator that spiritual changes need to be made” is an insult to the devout Christians in Judea who were being helped by the early church; and also to those today who are suffering under tremendous medical bills. Burkett sacrifices the love Jesus shows to the poor for his viewpoint of “weak and unprofitable” “abolished” principles of tithing (Heb 7:18).
Burkett might succeed as a family financial counselor, but he fails miserably as a theologian and church historian. When asked to speak for the church in such matters, he should defer the biblical application to those persons. Burkett is not inclined to dialogue with those who disagree with him. Since the book contains so many biblical errors, I do not recommend it at all.