Russell E Kelly’s Rebuttal to John C Maxwell on Tithing
John C Maxwell
What Is Tithing And Why Is It Important?
by John C. Maxwell
TITHING: A BIBLICAL FOUNDATION
Question: Isn’t Tithing Under the Old Testament Law?
Maxwell: Answer: No. While tithing one’s income was a lawful practice for God’s people, tithing was practiced by patriarchs 400 years before the law was even around (Gen. 14:20/ 28:22)!
Kelly: The Bible says nothing about Abram (not Abraham) tithing his “income.” The Bible does not tell us WHY Abram tithed; it does not say that he was commanded by God; neither does it say that his tithe of pagan spoils of war was a freewill decision. It is dishonest to twist God’s Word to make it say what you want it to say. The “tithing” which was practiced before the law did not qualify as “holy” tithes under the law as used by Malachi in 3:10 or by Jesus in Matthew 23:23. And Jacob’s tithe (not Israel) was an example of Jacob setting the terms and telling God what to do first. His tithe was also from pagan lands and his example is not for Christians to follow.
Maxwell: Abraham “tithed” to the Lord through the priest Melchizedek as a lifestyle principle, not a ritual.
Kelly: The only thing we know from the Bible is that Abram tithed spoils of war to a priest of El Elyon, God Most High. El Elyon was an extremely common name for god among the pagans of Canaan, Egypt and Babylon. It is as valid a question to ask why he did not include the name of Yahweh in his worship title as he should have per Genesis 4:26. Maxwell has no authority to add to God’s Word and call this a “lifestyle principle.” He should know better.
Maxwell: According to Deuteronomy 14:22-23, tithing was to be a practice of prioritizing God in life, and of recognizing that He is the source of our income.
Kelly: According to 16 texts, the contents of the HOLY (not pagan) tithe was always only FOOD from inside God’s HOLY land which God had miraculously increased. Tithes could not come from what man increased, from non-Israelites, or from outside Israel. The tithe is never the same as income. Although money was common in Genesis and essential for Sanctuary/temple worship, money is never a tithed item in the Bible. Only Hebrew food-producers who lived inside Israel could tithe. Lev 27:30, 32; Num 18:27-28; Deu 12:17; 14:22-23; 26:12; 2 Chron 31:5-6; Neh 10:37; 13:5; Mal 3:10-11; Matt 23:23; Luke 11:42.
Question: How Do We Know That “Tithe” Means 10%?
MAXWELL: Answer: Tithing is directly mentioned thirty-nine times in Scripture, and in each case it means “a tenth part.”
Kelly: This is deception by being half true. The “context” of a HOLY tithe is only FOOD from inside Israel.
Maxwell: Again, in Genesis 14 it states that Abraham “tithed to the Lord;” then, in the New Testament explanation of that event, Hebrews 7:2-4 says that it was 10%.
Kelly: Again deception by being a half-truth. Abram (not Abraham) “tithed to El Elyon” which does not necessarily refer either to Yahweh (LORD) or the Lord (Adonai) of Israel. Maxwell conveniently omits that Hebrews 7:4 says he tithed “spoils.”
Maxwell: Numbers 18:26 speaks of the Levites “tithing off of the tithe” by giving 10% to the Lord from their income.
Kelly: This is really a distortion of the contents of the text. Numbers 18:21-24 (Neh 10:37b) teachs that those Levites who received the first Levitical tithe were not the minister-priests, but were only their assistants. According to Numbers 18:25-28 (Neh 10:38) the Levites only gave one per cent (1%) of the tithe to the priests. Maxwell does not elaborate on this because those who received the tithe were not allowed to own or inherit land in Israel. Today gospel workers get the whole tithe and also own and inherit much property.
Question: What If I Go Broke Giving Up That Much Income?
Maxwell Answer: This is a natural objection, given that the person still operates off of this world’s rationale.
Kelly: This is an odd statement considering the fact that your definition of “tithe” reflects the world’s rationale and not the Bible’s usage.
Maxwell: In God’s economy, however, the more a person sows, the more he reaps (Galatians 6:7). Give and it shall be given unto you, (Luke 6:38).
Kelly: Irrelevant. These texts are not discussing tithing. They are eternal principles of giving.
Maxwell: Tithing is just one of the three ways to “invest” in God’s kingdom …
Kelly: There are no Bible texts given to validate this statement.
Maxwell: — and in every case, God promises to repay in abundance. There is nothing unspiritual about this.
Kelly: In the context of the blessings and curses of the law (Deuteronomy 28 to 30), abundant blessings only came to those who obeyed all 600 plus commands. The curse of the law fell on those who violated any one command per Deu 27:26 and Gal 3:10. God does not promise blessings for tithing when other parts of the law are being violated (Neh 10:29; Mal 4:4; Gal 3:10).
Maxwell: The Apostle Paul discusses how to invest in the ministry through giving in Philippians, then concludes with verse 19: “And my God shall meet all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Doubtless, prosperity preachers today can distort this sowing/reaping principle — but it remains a scriptural principle just the same.
Kelly: The context is freewill giving and not tithing. Because the Philippian church had assisted Paul financially, Paul said that God would bless it in return; this is the principle of sowing and reaping, not tithing. It is a conditional promise.
Maxwell: The classic test illustrating this is Malachi 3:8-12 where God instructs His people to bring their tithe to His storehouse in order to prove His generosity, as He blesses in return.
Kelly: Malachi 3:8-12 is the single most abused giving text in the Bible and Maxwell joins right in to abuse its context. (1) In 1:1-5 it is only addressed to Old Covenant Israel (Ex 19:5-6) and not the New Covenant church. (2) It is secondarily addressed to dishonest priests who were then cursed for giving God leftovers (1:6; 2:1 compared to 1:13-14) and for stealing the tithe from the Levites (Neh 13:5-10). (3) Most important the tithe was still only food over 1000 years after its description in Leviticus 27:30-34.(4) The literal storehouse was actually two large storerooms combined and only 10 ft. by 20 ft. (compare 1st Kings 6:6 with Neh 13:5). It could not possibly hold the tithe of the nation and did not need to since the people brought their Levitical tithes to the Levitical cities per Neh 10:37b.(5) The curse is the curse of the Old Covenant (Neh 10:29; Mal 4:4). (6) The church assembly is never compared to a storehouse building in the Bible. The early church building was not even legal until after A.D. 300.
Question: Does Jesus or The New Testament Teach Us To Tithe?
Maxwell Answer: People often mistake the New Testament truth that since “everything” belongs to the Lord, tithing is now obsolete. It is true that everything does belong to God, but far too often this becomes a cop-out for carnal people to hold on to money and material things.
Kelly: Although the sentiment is true, the implication is wrong. While “everything belonged to the Lord” even in the Old Testament (Ps 24:1), the HOLY tithe could still only come from FOOD from inside HOLY Israel. There is no precedent because only food-producers living inside Israel qualified as tithe payers. Jesus, Peter, and Paul did not qualify.
Maxwell: They prefer to spiritualize the issue just as the Pharisees did in Matthew 15:4-6.
Kelly: It is not a matter of spiritualizing the issue. It is a matter of “rightly dividing the Word.” Old Covenant tithing has not been brought over into the New Covenant after Calvary. Period. The covenant, priesthood, temple, and definition all ended. God did not command tithing and neither did he say that tithe-recipients could own or inherit property.
Maxwell: Jesus is concerned about both our understanding that God owns everything and that we ought to continue exhibiting our submission to God (tangibly) through the act of tithing.
Kelly: Without a Bible text to validate this, it is error and distortion.
Maxwell: Matthew 23:23. Luke 11:42 echoes the same truth, straight from Jesus’ lips.
Kelly: Read the text. (1) Being before Calvary, it is Old Covenant context. Jesus would have been sinning if he had commanded His disciples to tithe to himself and it was illegal to command Gentile disciples to tithe at all.(2) The audience is not the New Covenant church; it is “you scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites.”(3) The context is not New Covenant; it is “matters of the law.”(4) This is where proper hermeneutics must begin – in the text itself.
Maxwell: Tithing is brought up again in Hebrews 7:5-9 where the writer discusses Melchizedek receiving tithes as a “type of Christ.”
Kelly: Gross distortion. (1) 7:5 defines tithes as a commandment of the law to support the priesthood. (2) 7:12 says that it is necessary to change that law (of tithing) since the priesthood of Jesus is outside the law. And (3) in 7:18 the “change” was not “from Levi to gospel workers”; rather it was “from priests” to “an annulling of the commandment going before” “to collect tithes” from 7:5.
Maxwell: Clearly, this age of grace we live in was not to eliminate a biblical practice like tithing.
Kelly: It most certainly does. The covenant, temple, and priesthood supported by tithing was “abolished, annulled” per Hebrews 7:18-19.
Maxwell: if anything, we should be living an even greater, more supernatural life by giving more than our tithe!
Kelly: Again, tithing was only commanded to and received from food producers living inside Israel. It never was a standard minimum giving point for all Hebrews. Sacrificial equality giving for Christians does not look at a percentage. While some are not giving sacrificially at 10%, others are giving sacrificially at much less than 10% (2 Cor 8:1-16).
Question: Where Should My Tithe Go?
Maxwell Answer: This question has no dogmatic, scriptural answer, since the references to tithing aren’t specific as to where the tithe should be given. In the Old Testament, tithes were received at the place of worship …
Kelly: This shows a lack of deep study by Maxwell. The “tithe’ should go nowhere because there is no such thing as a tithe for the church. Jewish Christians in Judea kept paying tithes to the temple system per Acts 21:20-21. However “references to tithing were VERY SPECIFIC as to where the tithe was to be given”:(1) Levitical tithes went to the Levitical cities for the Levite servants of the priests (Num 18:21-24; Neh 10:37b).(2) Levites gave the best one tenth of their one tenth to the priests in the Levitical cities (Neh 10:38).(3) Levites and priests brought what they needed a week at a time to the Temple storerooms (Neh 10:39; 12:44).(4) The second festival tithe was brought to and eaten in the streets of Jerusalem during the festivals (Deut 12:1-19; 14:22-26).(5) The third year poor tithe was kept in the towns (Deut 14:28-29; 26:12-13).
Maxwell: … which, today could be interpreted as the local church. This practice continued, even into the New Testament.
Kelly: The local church was not a building to store anything; it was an assembly of believers. Church buildings were not legal until after AD 300. There is no historical verification of Maxwell’s statement “This practice continued, even into the New Testament” – that is a fabricated statement.
Maxwell: Malachi 3:10 instructs us to “bring the tithe into the storehouse.”
Kelly: No, it does not. It instructed Old Covenant Israel – not the church (Neh 10:29; Mal 4:4; Lev 27:34; Ex 19:5-6).
Maxwell: This is where the term “storehouse tithing” comes from.
Kelly: It is not found in the New Testament as a description of the church.
Maxwell: The storehouse represents God’s designated place of (corporate) worship; the place where His people are spiritually fed and nurtured. Again, this seems to imply the local church.
Kelly: No, it does not. Surely something this important would have texts. “Temple” is not equivalent to “storehouse.” The “storerooms” were only a very small part of the Temple and corporate worship was not held inside storerooms for food! Compare Neh 13:5 with 1st Kings 6:6.
Maxwell: The Apostle Paul argues that financial giving to the local church enables the elders or bishops to be supported, again implying that we should tithe to the body of believers where we are taught.
Kelly: You are teaching your false implications as laws for the church.
Question: But What If I’m Not Able To Do This?
Maxwell Answer: Obviously, God calls us to give what we cannot what we can’t. Nothing more and nothing less. If someone is unemployed or in school, under the financial care of someone else — then there may be no income to tithe. But the challenge God gives us in Scripture is to become a liberal giver; to practice the principle of giving our first and our best to Him.
Kelly: The error of this statement is in equating tithes with firstfruits. They are never the same in God’s Word. First-fruits were very small token food offerings given “first” (Deut 26:1-4; Neh 10:35-37a). First Timothy 5:8 overrides giving our first to the church. “If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
Maxwell: Hence, tithing becomes less an issue of the wallet, and more an issue of trust. Am I trusting God to meet my needs, as I put Him first with my finances?
Kelly: All invented.
Maxwell: No doubt, we live in the age of grace.
Kelly: Grace, not law. Tithing was the heart of the law. Tithing supported the activators of the law.
Maxwell: God calls us to freedom, not bondage.
Kelly: Paul said that those who add the law back to grace have changed the pure gospel and have been bewitched (Gal 1:8-9; 3:1).
Maxwell: But formal membership in a local church calls us to live above our rights. It’s not an issue of being God’s child; it’s an issue of being God’s example for others.
Kelly: Irrelevant in a discussion of tithing.
Question: But What If I Can’t Give “Cheerfully?”
Maxwell Answer: It is true, 2 Corinthians 9:7 calls us to only give offerings that we have purposed to give; not grudgingly, but with a cheerful heart. However, note two truths. The context of this chapter refers to a special offering for an outside need, not to tithing.
Kelly: True. But you omitted “not by commandment.”
Maxwell: Tithing is the base (which God owns anyway: Malachi 3:8).
Kelly: No. This is distortion. Only food producers who lived inside God’s HOLY land of Israel were the base. Tithing never did apply to everybody or even to people like Jesus, Peter, or Paul.
Maxwell: Offerings are what we give (or “offer”) to God over and above the tithe.
Kelly: Distortion of God’s Word. The Bible does not teach “tithe PLUS offerings” – it teaches tithes AND offerings” – tithes from food-producers inside Israel and offerings from others. The New Covenant teaches freewill generous sacrificial giving – not tithing.
Maxwell: Offerings are one of the three ways we can invest in God’s kingdom, alongside tithing and giving to the poor (Proverbs 19:17).
Kelly: No. Only freewill offerings which include helping the poor (2 Cor 8 and 9 and 1 Cor 16). The word “tithe” does not occur in Proverbs.
Maxwell: The second truth we should note is that if we cannot tithe with a cheerful heart — our goals ought to be to change our heart, not our tithing amount.
Kelly: This is another non-biblical invention. It should read “freewill giving amount.”
Maxwell: God enables the Spirit-filled believer to live above rights and the flesh. We should be living supernaturally, not naturally.
Kelly: Not legally according to a set percentage.
Question: Isn’t All This Just Legalism?
Maxwell Answer: Let’s talk for a moment about legalism, grace and commitment. In the Old Testament, a Jew was first required to give one tenth to God.
Kelly: Wrong. Not all Jews. Not Jews who lived outside Israel. Not Jews who earned their living through trades and crafts. Only Hebrews who earned their living from FOOD off God’s HOLY land.
Maxwell: Then at harvest time, the farmer must give the firstfruits to God, and that consisted of one sixth of his increase.
Kelly: Wrong. Edersheim said that the firstfruits were one SIXTIETH. The Bible does not tell us and Maxwell should not be stating “one sixth” as if it were a biblical fact.
Maxwell: Then every three years a second tenth was given for the poor — social security tax.
Kelly: Wrong. This was not a “second tenth”; it was a “third tenth” per Deu 14:28-29 and 26:12-13. The first tithe is Lev 27:30-34 and Num 18:21-28. The second tithe is Deu 12:1-19; 14:22-26.
Maxwell: In addition were the special offerings of cleansing and consecration.
Kelly: Vows and fines could include money. Tithes never included money.
Maxwell: That means that his total contribution to religion would be nearer to a fifth of his income that a tenth– and that does not include voluntary support to the local synagogue. It is not difficult to imagine the temptation in times of stringency to withhold the tithe. So there we have our answer as to how much of His income Jesus gave to God.
Kelly: Josephus agrees that there were 3 separate tithes. This would amount to over 20%. If you are going to teach biblical tithing, you should teach 20-23%. As a carpenter and not a food-producer, Jesus did not qualify as a tithe payer. Jesus gave freewill sacrificial offerings.
Maxwell: If we object that the Jews were under law and we Christians are under grace, and that for us the law of the tithe has been abrogated, another question arises. Will a Christian who is experiencing intimacy with his Lord wish to take advantage of grace so that he can give less to God’s work than the less privileged Jew who knew nothing of Calvary’s sacrifice and the inestimable blessings it has brought?
Kelly: This argument falsely assumes that everybody under the law was required to begin their level of giving at ten per cent. It also assumes a false modern definition of HOLY biblical tithes. It has no basis in God’s Word and it makes the poor feel guilty.
Maxwell: Was our Lord’s matchless generosity in becoming poor for us intended to beget parsimony in His children? Paul cited it rather as an incentive to sacrificial giving.
Kelly: Does our Lord want poor widows with sick children to give their first income as a tithe to the church and do without essentials contrary to First Timothy 5:8? Teaching tithes as firstfruits should be a criminal offense of stealing from the poor who are giving money from welfare checks to the church.
Maxwell: Tithing was practiced by the patriarchs four hundred years before the Law was given (Gen. 14:20; 28:22).
Kelly: And they probably learned it from Babylon and pagan tradition as the law of the land.
Maxwell: The usage of consecrated tithes prevailed among Romans, Greeks, and Arabians as well as with the Jews; so tithing seems to rest on the common law of God’s Kingdom rather than on special Hebrew legislation.
Kelly: This is a poor argument. It assumes that, if something is very old and very common, then it must reflect an eternal moral principle. Yet the same ancient civilizations which practiced tithing also practiced idolatry, worship of heavenly bodies, child sacrifices, and temple prostitution. Instead of arguing from common law, one should argue from the law of nature and the conscience (Rom 1:18-20; 2:14-16). Giving is written in the heart and conscience of every man but tithing is not.
Maxwell: Jesus gave tithes and offerings. Is the servant greater than his Lord?
Kelly: No, Jesus did not give tithes. He was a carpenter. HOLY tithes were only FOOD from God’s HOLY land. That which man crafted was not a tithe-able item.
Maxwell: It is a misconception of the meaning of “grace” to think that it leaves it open for a believer to do less than a devout Jew would have done.
Kelly: Maxwell keeps repeating this weak argument because it is the strongest tithers can devise. Again, it is based upon the false premise that everybody under the law was required to begin their level of giving at ten per cent. However tithes did not apply to Hebrew craftsmen, tradesmen, Gentiles, or anybody outside HOLY Israel.
Maxwell: If the true spirit of grace has gripped my heart, I will not be calculating the minimum I can get away with but the maximum I can give to my Lord. The New Testament standard is not lower than the Old.
Kelly: Repeat it enough and it becomes true! That is the tactic used so often by those who want to teach tithing. There was no such thing as a “minimum, maximum, or standard” in the Old Covenant except for food producers who lived in Israel. The repeated argument has no biblical foundation.
Maxwell: In speaking about tithing in Matthew 23:23 Jesus said, “You tithe mind and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
Kelly: By using proper hermeneutics, the text itself is addressed to “you scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites” and is in the pre-Calvary context of “provisions of the law.” It cannot be a commandment for the church. As a Jew under the full jurisdiction of the law, Jesus would have been sinning if He had not taught tithing TO THE TEMPLE SYSTEM.
Maxwell: Did that obligation cease a few days later when He died?
Kelly: Yes, it ceased when Jesus said “it is finished,” when the veil in the Temple ripped, when the Old Covenant ended, and when its priesthood ended. The Jews no longer had an obligation obey Jesus’ command to tithe to the temple system to support the Levites and priests per the context of Matthew 23:23. Instead of transferring tithing to gospel workers as might be expected from Hebrews 7:12, tithing from 7:5 was abolished per Hebrews 7:18.
Maxwell: Is the Christian not “under law to Christ,” with His higher law of love? “I am not free from God’s law,” said Paul, “but am under Christ’s law” (1 Cor. 9:21, NIV).
Kelly: The “law to Christ” and “higher law” are not a repetition of the Old Covenant law. See “not according to” in Hebrews 8:9, “ready to vanish” in 8:13 and “abolished” in 7:18. Our new law is freewill, generous, sacrificial, joyful, not by command, not grudgingly, and motivated by love for God and lost souls.
Maxwell: It would seem from an impartial weighing of the relevant Scriptures …
Kelly: What “impartial weighing”? I am almost certain that you think gospel workers should accept tithes and also own and inherit property. Nice. You have your cake and you eat it too.
Maxwell: … that though there is not legal obligation on a believer to give a tithe, or more, of his income …
Kelly: Amen. And neither is there a spiritual command for the church to teach tithing found in the pages of the New Covenant after Calvary.
Maxwell: … his experience of Christ’s matchless grace should provide a powerful incentive to emulate the example of his Master.
Kelly: Jesus did not give an example of tithing. He gave an example of extreme sacrificial giving to save lost souls.
Maxwell: As has been said, sacrifice is the ecstasy of giving the best we have to the One whom we love the most.
Kelly: Finally, something we agree on.
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
Author of: Should the Church Teach Tithing