Should the Church Teach Tithing?
A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
TESTING GOD: Does Tithing Stand Alone?
By Russell Earl Kelly, PHD, August 15, 2009
One of the most common arguments heard from tithe-teachers is that Malachi 3:10 is the only text in the Bible in which God Himself tells man to put Him to the “test” — to “prove” or “try” Him. They emphasize that God is saying “Test me by tithing” and you will see that I will keep my promise and bless you with overflowing blessings.”
God treats Christians in the context of the New Covenant which began at Calvary. God cannot and will not bless a New Covenant Christian because of obedience to the Old Covenant Law! The Old Covenant with its ordinances-statutes which included tithing from Numbers 18:8, 11, 19, 23 has been “abolished” in Ephesians 2:15, “blotted out” in Colossians 2:14, “annulled” in Hebrews 7:18 and “vanished” in Hebrews 8:13. Even if that did not happen, the believer is “dead” to any law condemnation or curse in Romans 7:4 and 8:1-2.
No Christian can be cursed for not tithing or claim blessings because of tithing today. It is a contradiction of sound hermeneutics. One cannot be positionally “holy, just, perfect and sinless” in the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ while, at the same time, being “cursed” for not tithing! Christian spiritual principles are new covenant based on better promises (2 Cor 3:9-10; Gal 5:18, 22-23).
Mal 3:10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
If Malachi 3:10 were the only text in the Bible which discussed the conditions of God’s blessings and curses, it would appear to be exactly what God is saying. However, such a singular “test” is out of context (and even out of character) will all of the other conditions required for receiving God’s “overflowing blessings” in the Old Testament.
Was/is God unconditionally promising “overflowing blessings” to godless sinners who only obeyed Him regarding tithing? Was/is God promising backslidden Christians “overflowing blessings” if they tithe? Are there other conditions which must be met before one can claim the “overflowing blessings” of the tithe? Are any of the blessings (and curses) of tithing applicable to the Church and Christians under the New Covenant after Calvary? The answer is not as simple as “proof-texting” makes it appear.
The Hebrew word for “prove” in Malachi 3:10 is indeed the only place in the Bible where that particular word is used by God as a “test” to Him. The word ba-chan (Strong’s 974) occurs 29 times. It is usually translated as either “try” or “prove” but is translated as “tempt” only five verses later in Malachi 3:15. In Psalm 95:8 God said to Israel “your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work” for forty years in the wilderness (v9). Therefore they “tested” or “proved” God to see if He really would keep them out of the Promised Land for forty years. Therefore Malachi 3:10 is not the only text!
Although the following arguments are important, they are not elaborated here. (1) Malachi was only written to national Israel and specifically to the priests (1:6 ; 2:1). (2) Tithing in Malachi is neither written to nor for the Church and Christians. (3) The OT priesthood which received tithes has been replaced, not by church leaders, but by the priesthood of every believer. (4) The OT Temple storehouse (storerooms per Neh 13:5) only contained about 2% of the nation’s tithes because most tithes went to the Levitical cities per Nehemiah 10:37b. (5) The NT church is never called a storehouse and the early church did not have its own buildings for several centuries after Calvary. And (6) there are no post-Calvary blessings or curses associated with tithing.
The so-called “only test of God in the Bible” argument is simply not true. The Law itself was almost always worded by God in the form of a test. In Deuteronomy God said to Israel “(Prove me) Obey me by keeping ALL the Law and I will certainly bless you. Disobey me in any part of the Law and I will certainly curse you.” The words “obey” and “if” carry the same weight as the words “test” and “prove.” “If you obey Me I will bless you.” “If you disobey Me I will curse you.”
Another error is made when most tithe-teachers discuss the “test” of Malachi 3:10. That error involves hermeneutics (principles of interpretation). There is absolutely no biblical or scholarly justification for teaching that a Hebrew (or anybody else) could be blessed (or cursed) simply because one has tithed (or not tithed) according to Malachi 3:10. The faulty hermeneutic implies that obedience to the remaining 600+ commands of the Law were/are irrelevant and has no consequence on whether or not one is blessed or cursed for simply tithing.
Nowhere does God’s Word teach that one can be blessed by obeying only one part of the 600+ commandments of the whole law. Neither does God’s Word anywhere teach that one can evade the curse of the whole law by only obeying one of the 600+ commandments. Paul made that fact clear in Galatians 3:10 when he quoted Deuteronomy 27:16 “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.” No OT or NT inspired writer (Hebrew/Jew) ever sub-divided the Law in such a reckless manner!
In fact the blessings and curses of the OT law immediately follow a discussion of the third-year tithe which (it should be pointed out) very few churches (if any) attempt to obey. God had promised the Hebrews (in a “test me” situation) that “if” they faithfully tithed (26:12) AND obeyed all of the rest of the laws (26:13-14) THEN (26:13) they could expect to be blessed (26:15). In other words, the tithe did not stand by itself (which Christian tithe-teachers attempt to do).
Deut 26:12 When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled;
Deut 26:13 Then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them:
14 … I have hearkened to the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that thou hast commanded me.
15 Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey.
Malachi 3:8-10 places a curse on those Hebrews who do not tithe. Deuteronomy 27:26 places a curse on those Hebrews who do not observe all 600+ commandments of the law. It is the same curse! According to Galatians 3:13 Jesus has removed the curse of the Law “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us …”
Deut 28:1 And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth:
Deu 28:2 And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.
The “overflowing” BLESSINGS from “heaven” of Malachi 3:10-12 are the same identical blessings claimed for obeying the entire law in Deuteronomy 28-30. Read the entire chapters.
Deu 28:11 And the LORD shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers to give thee.
12 The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow.
14 And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee this day, to the right hand, or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.
The CURSES of Malachi 3:10-12 are the same identical curses which fall on those who disobey any one part of the entire law where the heavens will close. Read the entire chapters.
Deu 28:15 But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee:
Deu 28:16 thru 68 Cursed shalt thou be …
Deu 28:17 Cursed shall be thy basket and thy store.
Deu 28:21 The LORD shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee, until he have consumed thee from off the land, whither thou goest to possess it. [Compare Mal 3:11]
Deu 28:23 And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.
Deu 28:24 The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed.
Deu 28:29. … thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee.
Deu 28:33 The fruit of thy land, and all thy labours, shall a nation which thou knowest not eat up; and thou shalt be only oppressed and crushed alway:
Deu 28:38 Thou shalt carry much seed out into the field, and shalt gather but little in; for the locust shall consume it. [Compare Mal 3:11]
Deu 28:39 Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress them, but shalt neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them.
Deu 28:40 Thou shalt have olive trees throughout all thy coasts, but thou shalt not anoint thyself with the oil; for thine olive shall cast his fruit.
Deu 28:42 All thy trees and fruit of thy land shall the locust consume.
Deu 28:45 Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee:
Deut 28:52-57 cannibalism; eat each other and children during siege
When one compares the “prove me” or “test me” context of Malachi 3:10 with the “if thou will” and “if thou will not” context of Deuteronomy 27-30, there is absolutely no difference in what God was telling the Hebrew nation. It is absurd to teach that tithing was the only “test me” for Israel.
Deu 28:58 If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD;
Deu 28:62 … because thou wouldest not obey the voice of the LORD thy God.
Deut 29:9 Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do.
Deut 29:19 And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst:
Deut 29:20 The LORD will not spare him, but then the anger of the LORD and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven.
Deut 29:29 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
Deut 30: 2 And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;
Deut 30: 3 That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee …
Deut 30:10 If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.
Deut 30: 17 But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them;
Deut 30: 18 I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it.
Deut 30: 19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:
Deut 30: 20 That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life
Finally the context of Malachi 3 must be included in any correct interpretation. Nehemiah’s audience and Malachi’s audience are the same at the same point in history. That audience (not the church) had renewed the Mosaic covenant. That audience (not the church) had “tested” or “proved” God by saying to God “If we disobey, then curse us; if we obey then bless us” (Neh 10:29). And (most important) the “test” was the whole law and not merely tithing!
Neh 10:29 They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes.
Malachi ends with a commandment to “remember”, not only tithing, but the whole law –commandments, statutes and judgments. The church is not told to do that.
Mal 4:4 Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.
New Covenant giving is primarily sacrificial. That means much more than 10% for many and much less for others per 2nd Cor 8:12-14. This is the equality principle.
2 Cor 8:12 For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
2 Cor 8:13 For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened:
2 Cor 8:14 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 8:15 As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD