Should the Church Teach Tithing?
A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Malachi 3:10 is the Most Abused Tithing Text in the Bible
Should the Church Teach Tithing?
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Two Questions: (1) Since the Levites and priests lived in 48 cities throughout Israel before the Assyrian captivity and at least 13 afterwards, WHY would God tell the people to bring ALL of the tithe to the Temple storehouse? (2) Did God expect all the Levites and priests to go to the Temple every time they wanted to eat? (Numb 35; Josh 21; Neh 10:37; 13:10).
It just does not make sense, does it? The
Answer: (1) God did not cruelly expect the Levites and priests to travel to the Temple every time they needed food to eat. (2) In fact, the ordinary people were to take their first Levitical tithes to the Levites and priests in the Levitical cities (Neh 10:37). (3) In turn, only the Levites and priests were to take small portions of the tithe to the Temple to feed those ministering in one week rotations (Neh 10:38; 12:44). (4) Solomon’s Temple (still sanding in Hezekiah’s time) had no facilities to store large amounts of food as seen in 2 Chron 31:1-5 and most of it was redistributed to the Levitical cities (31:15-19). (5) The temple “storehouse” was actually two small rooms enlarged into one about 10 ft. by 20 ft. (compare Neh 13:5 with 1 Kings 6:6). (6) Malachi 3:10 only makes sense when the “you” only refers to priests who had removed the tithe per Neh 13.5. The “whole” tithe never was supposed to go to the Temple! Malachi 3:10 is telling the priests to bring all the tithe back which they removed in Nehemiah 13:5-10.
A. CONTEXT: Malachi is Old Covenant and is never quoted in the New Covenant to validate tithing (Lev. 27:34; Neh. 10:28-29; Mal. 3:7; 4:4). Christians and the Church never were under the Old Covenant Law.
B. CONTEXT: In Malachi 3:10-11 tithes are still only food 1000 years after Leviticus 27. There was no minimum standard for everybody; only food producers were required to tithe.
C. LAW: Malachi’s audience had willingly reaffirmed the Old Covenant (Neh.10:28-29). The blessings and curses of tithing are identical to and inseparable from those of the entire Mosaic Law. The rain in Deuteronomy 28:12, 23-24 and Leviticus 26:1-4 is only obtained by obedience to all 613 commandments. Galatians 3:10 (quoting Deu 27:26) “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.” Trying to earn God’s blessings through tithing only brings curses for failure to keep all of the law. See also Galatians 3:19.
D. PRIEST-THIEVES: Beginning in 1:6 “you” in Malachi always refers to the dishonest priests and not the people (also 2:1-10; 2:13 to 3:1-5): “Even this whole nation of you –priests” (3:9). In 1:13-14 the priests had stolen tithed animals vowed to God. In Nehemiah 13:5-10 priests had stolen the Levites’ portion of the tithe. God’s curses on the priests are ignored by most tithe-teachers (1:14; 2:2 and 3:2-4).
E. LEVITICAL CITIES: The Levitical cities must be included in a correct interpretation of Malachi 3:10 and they are not. Most tithe-recipients lived outside of Jerusalem (Numb 35; Josh 21; Neh 10:37; 13:10).
F. 24 Courses: The 24 courses of Levites and priests must be included in a correct interpretation of Malachi 3 and they are not. Normally only 2% of the total Levite and priest work force served at the temple one week at a time. Subtract wives, males under the age of 30 and daughters. Therefore 2% did not require all of the tithe. See 1 Chron 23-26; 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.
G. Nehemiah 10:37-39 is the key to understanding Malachi 3:10. The people were commanded to bring their tithes, not to the temple, but to the nearby Levitical cities. Verse 38 says that the priests were with the Levites in the Levitical cities when they received the tithes.
H. STOREHOUSE: According to Nehemiah 13:5, 9 the “storehouse” in the Temple was only several rooms. The real “storehouses” were in the Levitical cites per Nehemiah 10:37b. Only the Levites and priests normally brought tithes to the Temple (10:38). Two rooms in the Temple were far too small to contain the tithe from the entire nation and 98% of the Levites and priests lived too far away to eat from them. Therefore, Malachi 3:10’s “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse” only makes contextual sense if it is only commanding dishonest priests to replace the tithes they had removed from it or had failed to bring to it. While the 3:10 of the Law in Malachi is so important to tithe-teachers they ignore the 3:10 of the Gospel in Galatians and 2nd Corinthians. Perhaps those wanting to enforce the 3:10 Law of Malachi should also enforce the 3:10 Law of Numbers. They share the same context.
I. HERMENEUTICS: Those who follow the principles of COVENANT THEOLOGY should not use Malachi 3:10 or Matthew 23:23 because both get their definition of tithes from the ceremonial statutes-ordinances of the Law – which covenant theology teaches have been abolished.
J. HERMENEUTICS: Those who follow the principles of DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY should not use Malachi 3:10 or Matthew 23:23 because dispensationalists teach that the Church never was under that Law, that the entire Old Covenant Law was abolished, and that tithing was never repeated to the Church after Calvary in terms of grace and faith.
K. HERMENEUTICS: Those who define tithes as an eternal moral principle because it was pre-Law should not use Malachi and Matthew because both define tithes as only food from inside holy Israel. Abraham’s tithe was the traditional law of the land in 2000 B.C. for spoils of war.
CONCLUSION: Christian giving is freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, regular and motivated by love. That is enough to provide the needs of the Church.