Leviticus 27:30-34 Tithing and Holy and Most Holy Statutes

An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"

Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Section 5

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 to the LORD.

27:31 And if a man will at all redeem any of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof.

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 to the LORD.

27:33 He shall NOT search whether it is good or bad, NEITHER shall he change it; and if he changes it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.

27:34 These are the commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai.

The key phrase, “It is holy to the Lord,” appears in verses 30 and 32. Those who believe that New Covenant Christians should continue to obey their own (greatly modified) tithing definition employ this phrase as their most powerful argument for its eternal nature.

For example, Eklund writes, “The most basic reason for tithing is the fact that Scripture clearly teaches the tithe is the Lord’s. [He quotes Leviticus 27:30 and 32.] God owns everything in the heavens and on the earth (see Ps. 24:1). Yet the tithe belongs to him in a distinctive sense. God allows man to use nine tenths, but the tithe is sacred and must not be expended. The tithe is ‘holy to the Lord,’ set apart, to be used only by God.”

The Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, Vol. II, tithe, is foundational for Eklund. After stating that the tenth is “basic in quite a number of traditions,” it then ignores all of the other pagan laws and customs of these other traditions (such as the Canaanites) and says “The early observance of the tithe, coming as it did before the Law was formally given (i.e. Gen. 14)…is evidence of the fact that the giving of tithes is a part of the basic moral nature of men who genuinely worship God.”

The basic principle of the “not an eternal moral law” view is presented by William Kaiser. “Law based not on the nature of God but on his particular sayings on a special occasion is called positive law. . . . The commandment about the Sabbath is the only one in the Ten Commandments that is mixed with both moral and positive aspects. It is moral in that it says that God is owner of all time and therefore has a right to receive back a portion of our time in worship of himself. But it is positive, or ceremonial, in that it spells out the seventh day as that time.” Like the Sabbath, there is a moral aspect of giving because God is the owner of all creation and there is also indeed a positive, or ceremonial, aspect of giving in that the exact ten, twenty, or twenty three percent was specified in the law for Israel.

A third approach by Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas (though rejected by Protestants) is only a variation of Kaiser’s statement. Both Kaiser and Aquinas conclude that the “ten percent” of the tithing ordinance was not moral law and not part of the eternal principles of God. Aquinas argues that tithing was partially moral because natural reason tells man to give and partially judicial because the divine institution of the Church had the authority to decree the exact percentage to be given” (Summa Theologica, Vol. 3, The Second Part of the Second Part).The Context of Verses 30-34

For many biblical reasons, this author disagrees with the statement by Eklund. The phrases “It is the Lord’s,” and “It is holy to the Lord,” cannot possibly be understood as meaning, “It is an eternal moral principle which pre-existed the formal law.” Why? Because these phrases are very common in the book of Leviticus and apply to many other ordinances which almost all churches correctly conclude ended at Calvary when Jesus said “It is finished.” In the context of verses 30-32 the tithe is “holy to the Lord,” (1) because it comes from Israel’s holy promised land of Canaan, (2) because it is given to the sanctified Levites in exchange of their land inheritance, and (3) because the Levitical priests had replaced the priesthood of believers with a cultic priesthood under the temporary ordinances of the Old Covenant. Consequently, those who received tithes were not supposed to be land owners. Yet none of these reasons for declaring the tithe holy are appealed to today by Christian churches who teach tithing!

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (published by Southern Baptists) places tithing in the same category as the ordinance for animals when it says, “The tithes belonged to the Lord and were subject to the same redemption rules as the clean beasts that had been dedicated (vv. 9-10).”

Tithe advocates very often refer to Psalm 24:1 in support of tithing, as if it were directly connected to it. “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” David, however, does not connect tithing with Psalm 24:1. As a matter of fact, the word, “tithe,” never appears in any writing attributed to King David! While it is true that God is the Creator who made and owns everything, it is also true that the tithes of Leviticus 27 could not be received from proselytes, from non-Israelites, from unclean animals, from defiled lands inside Israel, nor from the defiled lands outside of Israel. Tithing was only an Old Covenant Israelite thing! There is simply no universal eternal principle stated, or implied, in the immediate context itself.

Any serious claim that tithing must be obeyed because it is part of the eternal law of God, which reflects his eternal character, certainly needs to be proven to be accurate by other than proof text methodology or simple “because I said so” arguments. Sincere supporters of New Covenant tithing should desire to enter into extended discussions and defend their position with sound reasoning. However, rarely are any attempts made to support their claim without using proof-text methodology. Consider the following: One: When using proper principles of interpretation to explain this passage, the literal text itself limits the contents of the tithe to “all the tithe of the land” (verse 30) and “the tithe of the herd” (verse 32). This is thoroughly discussed in chapter one under the definition and limitation of the tithe. The Mosaic Law tithe never went beyond products of the land of Israel to include products or profits from any of the many other occupations in Israel. Tithes were always only food, and never money.Two: Most so-called tithers today only apply it to their gross income. They replace the literal definition with their own man-made definition. Webster’s Dictionary outweighs the Bible.Three: Contemporary tithers stress the BEST, while verses 32 and 33 specifically forbid this concerning the herds. God demanded every tenth animal, whether it was the best, or not the best, to be given to the Levites for the whole tithe. However, he did command the Levites to give the best of their “tithe of the tithe” to the priests (Num. 18:29-30).Four: The context limits the tithe to the nation Israel under the Mosaic Law in verse 34. It is noteworthy that, although there are many texts such as Psalm 24:1 which declare God’s ownership over the entire earth, neither God nor the Israelites ever used this world-ownership principle as authorization to gather holy tithes from pagan lands or from non-Israelites.Five: Tithes originally could come from any part of the land of Israel used by Israelites. However, Alfred Edersheim states that this requirement later was made much more narrow rather than being expanded. [Preached expanded the definition; the Jews limited the meaning.] After the return from exile, the land was subdivided into three different zones of holiness. The second and third tithe could not come to the temple from land beyond the Jordan. While Israelite land which had been captured by King David [O.K.], parts of Egypt [not biblical], and part of Babylon [not biblical] could be used for lesser tithes to local Levites, most other land was considered defiled and incapable of producing acceptable holy tithes for the temple in Jerusalem.

The Context of the Preceding Verses 28 and 29

27:28 Nevertheless, no devoted thing, that a man shall devote [vow] to the LORD of all that he has, both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing [vowed to destruction: NAS] is most holy to the LORD.

27:29 None devoted [vowed to destruction: NIV], which shall be devoted of men, shall be redeemed; but shall surely be put to death.

The point is: In the immediate preceding verses to the tithing verses 30-34, it is very clear that the phrase “it is most holy to the Lord” does not mean “it is an eternal moral principle.””Every devoted thing is MOST holy to the LORD,” in verse 28, elevates this holiness to an even higher level than tithing which is only holy to the LORD! People, like Achan, who were under an official ban to be put to death for their sins are called “most holy to the Lord.” “Most holy to the Lord” meant that the condemned criminal was under an absolute unredeemable grant to God. Albert Barnes says that some even interpret this “most holy” ban as a “curse.” A person could even place himself under such an oath by promising not to fail to accomplish a specific purpose; however this may only mean lifelong devotion. Although Israel did not sacrifice humans, its government did have the death penalty. (See Josh. 6:17; 7:13-26; Deut. 25:19; 1 Sam. 15:3.)

Again, the point is that, if tithing, which is only called “holy” to the Lord, reflects an eternal moral principle, then how does one explain the “most holy” to the Lord of the previous verses? Naturally, it is extremely rare (if not non-existent) for sermons about the “holiness” of the tithe to explain the “most holiness” of the previous verses of its chapter context. Proof-text methodology is essential in order to ignore this context.

The Context of Chapter 27

In addition to tithing, the chapter also contains other things which are “holy to the Lord.” Leviticus 27:9 calls all devoted [vow] offerings “holy to the Lord”; 27:14 describes sanctified houses as “holy to the Lord”; 27:21 describes vowed fields as “holy to the LORD, as a field devoted; the possession thereof shall be the priest’s.” These things were “holy” because they, like the tithe, belonged to the Levitical priest under the Mosaic Law! They were not holy because of any inherent eternal quality.All of chapter 27 is an “ordinance,” or “statute” of “devoted” [vowed] things which derives its basis from the ordinance itself, which is Numbers 18. As long as the Levitical priesthood replaced the priesthood of believers, and as long as the it received tithes in exchange for land inheritance, all devoted things, including the tithe, belonged to them and were thus “holy to the Lord.”

The Jewish Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Judaica, even states that this tithe was voluntary. And, while the tithe in Leviticus 27:32-33 occurs in the chapter dealing with sacred free gifts of various kinds, the first offspring in verses 26-27 are an exception to the rule.

The Context of the Book of Leviticus “Be Holy for I Am Holy”

The book of Leviticus is clearly the most ceremonial, religious, and cultic book of the Mosaic Law. By cultic, I mean “specifically and exclusively concerned with national Israel under the Old Covenant.” “Holiness” and “most holiness” are the major themes in every chapter. Concerning the unclean food ordinances, God said, “For I am the LORD your God: you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (11:44). “You shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy” (19:2). Concerning all of his ordinances, or statutes, God said, “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy: for I am the LORD your God. And you shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which sanctifies you” (20:7-8). Therefore, basic to every ordinance of the Mosaic Law, including tithing, is the principle that “God is holy.” Since God is holy, the things he describes as holy under the law are holy in the context of that law. However, it is clear that this does not mean that everything under the law is an “eternal moral principle” to be observed beyond the end of the Old Covenant (Heb. 8:6).

Again, the phrases, “It is the Lord’s,” and “Holy to the Lord,” are common in Leviticus. “Holy” things to God in Leviticus include all of its religious festivals and holy days (11 times in chapter 23), the sanctuary (4:6), the crown of the high priest (8:9), God and his people (11:4; 19:2), the linen garments of the high priest (16:4), the peace offering (19:8), the fourth year’s fruit of a new tree (19:24), God’s name (20:3), the priests (21:6) and, lastly, the tithe (27:30, 32). “Most holy” things to God in Leviticus include the priest’s portion of the grain and sin offerings (Lev. 2:3; 6:17), the trespass offering (7:1), the inner room of the sanctuary (16:2) and persons under a ban to be punished by death (27:28-29) — things which are even more holy than the tithe!

Finally, the most common division of the law (for study purposes) separates it into commandments, judgments, and ordinances. The book of Leviticus is almost entirely a collection of “ordinances,” or “statutes” for the religious life of Israel. Leviticus instructs the priests concerning offerings, consecration, atonement, religious festivals, food laws, redemption laws, devoted things, and, lastly, tithing. One “misses the point” by retaining tithing while rejecting almost all of the other ordinances as merely Old Covenant! Such is simply using poor principles of interpretation!

Again, Numbers 18 (especially verses 20 and 21), not Leviticus 27, nor Malachi 3, is the foundational, or chair, chapter which gives the reasons for tithing. Biblical tithing was NOT an eternal moral principle reaching to eternity with God. True biblical tithing BEGAN as a command to national Israel in Numbers 18! The “principle” it teaches is a religious ordinance of the Mosaic Law. Again, tithing was in exchange for land inheritance and was payment of service to the Levite servants and Aaronic priesthood. Tithing was the Old Covenant “ordinance” which commanded the Israelite to return to God a portion of that which he claimed from the special promised land of Canaan. Although, in a sense, God does own all land, he only demanded a tithe from the very special land of Canaan which he had specifically chosen and specifically blessed.

Not only was tithing an important “part” of the Old Covenant Law, it was the basic part which allowed all of the rest to function under its priesthood. Clearly, the ordinance of tithing established and funded the Levitical priesthood. This, in turn, allowed for the daily ritual and religious services of the nation. Therefore, it is impossible to separate tithing from its context in Leviticus.