Should the Church Teach Tithing?
A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine
WELCOME to my web site. Your questions and comments are always welcome. I am eager to engage in serious dialog about biblical tithing. In my opinion this recently added shackle of the Old Covenant Law is hindering the Church from a spiritual awakening. May love for Christ, His Word, His Church, His children and lost souls coupled with strong integrity, honesty and selflessness motivate everything we do is my prayer.
RUSS KELLY’S CONVICTION:
New Covenant giving is: freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, regular and motivated by love for God, fellow Christians and lost souls. Do not burden or curse God’s poor who struggle to feed and shelter their family.
TITHING IS NOT A CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
Essay by Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
January 31, 2015
1. DEFINING THE TITHE
True biblical holy tithes were always only food from the holy land and herds of Israelites who lived inside God’s holy land, the boundary of Israel. They were the tenth of crops after the full harvest (not the best); they were the tenth increase of clean animals (not the best) (Lev. 27:30-34).
Common sense demands that, if one is going to quote Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Malachi and Matthew to teach tithing, then one should use the exact definition used by Moses, Nehemiah, Malachi and Jesus. Yes, the basic word tithe means tenth. However in God’s Word tithe does not stand alone; its meaning is very limited. Although money existed before tithing, the source of God’s holy tithe for over 1500 years [Moses to Jesus; Leviticus to Luke] was never money (Mal. 3:10; Mt 23:23). The increase was not from man’s hand or ability; the increase was from what God Himself miraculously produced from His own holy land. No holy tithes could come from non-food items, from Gentiles or from unclean pagan lands.
There are 16 verses from 11 chapters and 8 books from Leviticus 27 to Luke 11 which describe the contents of the holy tithe. And those contents never included money, silver, gold or anything other than food from inside Israel! Yet the incorrect definition of tithe as “the first tenth of income” is the greatest error being preached about tithing today! Lev 27:30,32; Numb 18:27-28; Deut 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. In order to be honest tithe-teachers must honestly use the biblical definition of the holy tithe.
2. MONEY WAS NOT TITHED
Although money in the form of gold and silver existed in the Bible and was essential for sanctuary/temple worship, money was never included in any of the 16 descriptions of the holy tithe.
According to Jesus’ literal words, money with the image of Caesar (civil government) or the unholy language (such as English) could not be used for Temple worship and must only be “rendered untdo Caesar” (Mark 12:17).
One argument to support non-food tithing is that money was not universally available and barter from food was used for money. That argument misses the point! While it is undeniable that food was also used for barter, it is also undeniable that money was never used for tithing.
Genesis alone contains the word money in 32 texts and the word occurs 44 times before the holy tithe is described in Leviticus 27:30-34. The words jewelry, gold, silver and shekel also appear often from Genesis to Deuteronomy.
Abram was very rich in silver and gold (Gen 13:2); money in the form of silver shekels paid for slaves (Gen 17:12+); Abimelech gave Abraham 1000 pieces of silver (Gen 20:16); Abraham paid 400 pieces of silver for land (Gen 23:9-16); Joseph was sold for silver pieces (Gen 37:28); slaves bought freedom (Lev 25:47-53). Court fines (Ex 21 all; 22 all), sanctuary dues (Ex 30:12+), vows (Lev 27:3-7), poll taxes (Numb 3:47+), alcoholic drinks (Deut 14:26) and marriage dowries (Deut 22:29) included money.
Joseph gave Benjamin 300 pieces of silver (Gen 45:22). In Genesis 47:15-17, food was used for barter only after money had been spent. Banking and usury laws exist in Leviticus even before tithing. Therefore money was common. Yet, from God’s inspired Word, the holy contents from Leviticus to Luke never include money from non-food products and trades. Pagan money with pagan images could not be brought into the temple as offerings.
3. ABRAM AND JACOB’S TITHES WERE FROM PAGAN SOURCES
Abram’s tithe (Gen 14:18-20) to Melchizedek and Jacob’s freewill vow (Gen 28:20-22) were from pagan sources and would not have been accepted by Moses, Malachi or Jesus as holy tithes.
Many reputable books document the existence of spoils of war tithing from Babylon to Egypt before Abraham’s time. For the following reasons, Abram’s (not yet Abraham; 17:5) pre-circumcision tithe in Genesis 14:20 cannot be used as an example for Christians to tithe. (1) The Bible does not say “why” Abram tithed pagan spoils of war or that he freely gave his pagan-source tithe. (2) Abram’s gift was NOT a) a holy tithe b) from inside God’s holy land c) miraculously increased by God’s hand d) gathered by God’s holy people e) under God’s holy Old Covenant. (3) Abram’s tithe was clearly only from pagan spoils of war [Sodom] and was required in many nations as the law of the land. It was not the same as the holy tithe reference by Moses, Nehemiah, Malachi and Jesus. (4) In Numbers 31:21-31, God’s Law only required 1% of spoils of war as an ordinance. Therefore if the Law had existed in Abram’s time, he would have only given 1%. (5) Abram’s tithe to the priest-king Melchizedek was a one-time recorded event; it is never mentioned under the Law.. (6) Abram’s tithe was not from his previously-owned personal property; we are not told that he tithed anything from what he previously owned. (7) Abram’s (ignored) example was to keep nothing for himself; he gave everything back. (8) Abram’s tithe is not quoted anywhere in the Bible to endorse tithing from Israel or by the church. Why not if it were so all-important to merit mention almost weekly? (9) Genesis 14, verse 21, is the key text. Since most commentaries explain verse 21 as an example of pagan Arab law, it is contradictory to explain the 90% of verse 21 as pagan, while insisting that the 10% of verse 20 was obedience to God’s will. (10) Abram gave the 90% to the King of Sodom. Would it not have been better to give it all to Melchizedek? If Abraham is an example for Christians to give 10% to God, then should he also be an example for Christians to give the other 90% to Satan, or to the king of Sodom? (11) As priests themselves, neither Abraham nor Jacob had a Levitical priesthood to support. Their tithes were probably for the poor at their altars to Yahweh.
4. THE GOD’S- OWNERSHIP PRINCIPLE.
Even though it is true that “God owns everything” (Psalm 24:1), that does not prove that God expects tithes from all believers. Psalm 24:1 actually proves that tithes were limited and not universal. It proves that God did not consider all land on earth to be holy and capable of producing holy tithes. Otherwise God would have accepted food from outside Israel as holy tithes; He did not!
Yes, “God owns everything” but He only received tithes under the Old Covenant Law from food He increased from within His HOLY land of Israel! That is the biblical fact! Tithes were never merchandise, gold, silver or precious stones. If God had expected all Israelites to tithe in the Old Testament time, such would not be true.
5. NO MINIMUM STANDARD
Tithing was not a minimum requirement from all Israelites. Tithe-advocates teach that Christians must begin their level of giving at a minimum of the first 10% of total increase. They erroneously teach that 10% was the least required from Old Covenant Hebrews and, therefore, the New Covenant believer must begin there. This is wrong because tithes could only come from the HOLY increase of food from inside God’s HOLY land. There was no minimal beginning point of giving for Hebrews who worked non-food trades and crafts and for those living outside Israel; there was no minimum precedent for comparison. Carpenters like Jesus did not qualify; tentmakers outside of Israel did not qualify.
6. THE PURPOSE OF THE TITHE
The purpose of the first tithe was (1) to replace the loss of any inheritance or portion of Israel’s wealth in the land and (2) to pay Levites and priests for their labor in the sanctuary and temple.
Numb 18:20 And the LORD spoke to Aaron, You shall have no inheritance in their land; neither shall you have any part among them: I am your part and your inheritance among the children of Israel.
Levites and priests were to have no inheritance “in the land” (not “of the land”). That meant they were neither to inherit land nor to inherit anything else from any other source. “Neither have any part among them” meant they were not to share in the wealth of other Israelites. That explains why Levites are first in line among the poor in Deuteronomy 14:29. In other words, they were expected to remain among the poor and humble. See comments on the third tithe.
Tithe-advocates totally ignore the clear declared purpose in the tithing statute/ordinance of Numbers 18 and keep repeating their devised purpose that the tithe is to “acknowledge God’s ownership of everything.” Though their supplanted purpose may sound good, it is not biblical. Few, if any, tithing sermons are preached from Numbers 18:20-29.
7. THE FIRST LEVITICAL TITHE
The tithe of Leviticus 27:30-34 and Numbers 18:20-29 was very different from the modern teaching of tithing. It was divided into two categories. The first whole 10% did not go to the priests who ministered at the altar (Numb 18:20-24; Neh. 10:37b). Instead it went to the Levite-servants to the priests who functioned as bakers, singers, musicians, guards, animal skinners, janitors, builders, craftsmen and treasurers in the sanctuary/temple. King David also used them as judges, rulers and politicians (Numbers 3; 1st Chronicles, chapters 23 to 26). This is certainly not taught today as it seriously changes modern tithing concepts.
According to Numbers 18:25-28 and Nehemiah 10:38, the Levites, in turn, gave their best tenth of their tenth (1%) to the priests who ministered at the altar. God was their unique inheritance and their unique part. The tithe ended there; priests did not tithe. For obvious reasons, this is also not taught today. While priests were not commanded to tithe, they were evidently expected to give freewill vow offerings (Malachi 1:7-14). The main income of priests was not from tithes; it was from freewill offerings (Numbers 18 all; Nehemiah 10:35-38). Today all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9-10; Rev 5:10) and priests did not tithe. This fact should have a profound impact on post Calvary giving principles.
Also, tithe-advocates do not include Leviticus 27:34 in their sermons, “These are the commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai.” They only preach from their greatly distorted versions of 27:30-33. It is obvious why they omit 27:34 from its context of 27:30-33. It limits the tithe of Moses, Nehemiah, Malachi and Jesus to Old Covenant Israel.
8. NO INHERITANCE OR SHARE
God forbade Levites and priests who received the first whole tithe from owning property in his land or receiving any other inheritances. He also forbade them from sharing wealth with other Hebrews (“no portion among them”). This Bible fact is found an amazing 12 times in (Numb 18:20, 26; Deut 10:9; 12:12; 14:27, 29; 18:1; Josh 13:14, 33; 14:3; 18:7; Eze 44:28). Evidently God meant what He said to repeat it so often! If gospel workers want to preach tithing principles, this one should definitely be included! Even if tithes were New Covenant they would first go to the deacons, singers, musicians and builders who vaguely correspond to Old Covenant Levites and the minister would only get a tenth of their tithe.
9. HOLY AND MOST HOLY
The phrases, It is Holy to the LORD and It is Most Holy to the LORD do not make tithing an eternal moral principle. An eternal moral principle is one that is known by nature and conscience (Rom 18:1-20; 2:14-16; John 1:9). It does not require special revelation. Giving, worship-rest and 9 of the Ten Commandments are eternal moral principles because they are written in the heart; how much to give and which day to worship are not. Both the holy and most-holy phrases are very common in Leviticus. However, except for modern tithing, almost every other use of them has long ago been discarded by Christians. These phrases are used to describe all the festivals, the sacrificial offerings, the clean foods, the old covenant priests and the old covenant sanctuary. Especially read verses 28 and 29 in chapter 27.
While the tithe of the tithe (1%) which was given to the priests was the best of what the Levites received, the tithe which the Levites received was only one tenth and was not even the best (Lev 27:33). Yet most tithe-teachers refer to the tithe as the best and first ten per cent.
10. THE SECOND TITHE
Old Covenant Hebrews were clearly expected to bring a second tithe at their three annual feasts, or festivals (Deut. 12:6-7; 14:23). Distinct from the first tithe which was only for Levites and priests, this was to be eaten by all in the streets of Jerusalem. It did not go to the temple; its purpose was “that you may learn to fear the LORD always.” The first-born of the herds was in addition to this tithe (proof that first and tenth were different). This meant that the tithe was at least 20% instead of 10%. Yet most tithe-advocates do not teach 20% tithing.
11. THE THIRD TITHE
Old Covenant Hebrews were also commanded to keep a third tithe at home in their cities every third year (Deut. 14:28-29). This was an extra subsidy for Levites who were expected to be first in line among the poor (14:29). This meant a total tithe of around 23% instead of 10% (plus another 10% government tax (1 Sam. 8:14-17). Some teach that this replaced the 2nd festival tithe every third year. However, if this were true, there would be no food for the three yearly festivals. Again, it is obvious why this is not taught today.
In God’s Word, firstfruits and firstborn are never the same thing as tithes. Firstfruits were the first wave-sheaf of the whole harvest, not the best (Lev. 23:10); in addition to the tithe, they were the “first offspring of your herds and flocks,” not the best (Deut. 12:7). Unlike the food-tithe, it was a very small token amount of the first crops harvested and was small enough to fit into a hand-held basket (Deut. 26:1-10). Firstfruits were a very small token offering — like a handful of grapes or olives. And, like tithes, first-fruits and first-born were always only food from inside God’s holy land of Israel.
In Nehemiah 10:35-37a first-fruits and first-born offerings went directly to the Temple and were required to be totally consumed by ministering priests only inside the Temple. While the Levites ate only the tithe, the priests could also eat from the first-fruits, first-born offerings and other offerings. All of this is very clear from God’s Word.
1 Tim 5:8 But 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.
First Timothy 5:8 is the new Spirit-taught “first.” A Christian’s first obligation is for the needs (not wants) of his/her immediate family. God wants you to make sure you can buy medicine, feed and shelter your family. Even the heathen do that (Rom 2:14-16). A Christian who neglects his/her family’s necessities is worse than unbelievers. And a pastor who convinces Christians to give their first to the church to the neglect of caring for their own family is guilty of sin against God’s cleat post-Calvary command.
Because the differences between firstfruits and tithes are so clear, one must conclude that educated tithe-teachers deliberately lie when they equate firstfruits with tithes! There is simply no honest excuse for this distortion of God’s Word. Yet almost all of them tell this lie. It is an outrage almost to the point of blasphemy and must stop!
13. THE COVENANT OF MALACHI
Tithing is nowhere commanded in the New Covenant (post-Calvary). The only covenants mentioned in Malachi are God’s special covenant with the Levitical priesthood (2:4-5) and the Old Covenant Law (4:4). The New Covenant was 0ver 400 years away (Jer. 31:31-37; Heb. 8:8-13). The New Covenant was truly “new”; it was not a re-statement of the Old. It was “… not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers” at Mount Sinai (Jer. 31:32; Heb. 8:9). The New Covenant did not include post-Calvary tithing to support a Levitical priesthood which was forbidden from owning property.
Tithe-teachers who preach tithing from Deuteronomy, Nehemiah, Malachi, Matthew and Luke ignore proper principles of interpretation, the covenant and the context of those books. Malachi is addressed to Old Covenant Israel and not to the Church (1:1). It is never quoted in the New Covenant (after Calvary) to validate tithing. In fact Malachi specifically reminds its readers of its context of the Law, “Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments” (4:4) (also Neh. 10:28-29).
14. THE REAL GOD-ROBBERS OF MALACHI
The God-robbers of Malachi were actually the dishonest priests of Judah and not the general population. Beginning at Malachi 1:6 God addresses the dishonest ministers at the altar of Judah as “you”: “… unto you, O priests that despise my name.” Follow the pronoun “you”; it does not change in the remainder of Malachi. Priests offer polluted bread on the altar (1:7). Priests offer inferior animals for sacrifice (1:8). Priests are in charge of the doors and starting sacrificial fires (1:10). Priests had better animals in their flocks received as tithes (1:14; Numb. 18:25-29). Priests were cursed (1:14). Priests are addressed again: “And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you” (2:1). The blessings of the priests are cursed (2:2). Priests had broken their special covenant with Levi (2:4-5). Priests had not taught God’s Law (2:6-10). Priests covered the altar with their tears (2:13). Priests had married Gentile wives (2:14-16). Priests mock God and ask why He had not judged them (2:17). God promises to punish the priests (3:1-7). Every priest in the nation has helped steal the tithes from the Levites (Neh 13:5-10). God curses the priests once again (1:14; 2:2; 3:9). Priests are told to return the stolen tithes (from Neh 13:5) back to the temple storerooms (3:10).
This contextual sequence makes sense because, contrary to what most of us have been told, the ordinary people were to take their tithes, not to the temple, but to the Levitical cities where the vast majority of the Levites and priests needed them for food (Neh 10:37b). King Hezekiah discovered too late that the small storeroom in Solomon’s temple was far too small to hold the tithe of the nation and it piled up in the streets before being re-distributed to the Levitical cities (2 Chron 31:1-19) (1 Kings 6:6). This also perfectly explains Malachi 3:10.
15. TODAY’S TITHE-TEACHERS STEAL TITHES
Many gospel workers who receive “tithes” and teach that Christians must give the first ten per cent of their income are even more guilty of stealing from God. They chastise their own New Covenant Christian congregations: “If you are not paying your tithes, you are stealing from God. You are wearing stolen clothes, driving stolen cars and are living in stolen houses.”
Again the Bible says 12 times that those who received the first whole tithe were not allowed to own property. If these tithe-teachers connect post-Calvary stewardship to pre-Calvary tithing, they are guilty of stealing from God (1) by owning property, (2) by receiving other inheritances, (3) by sharing in the wealth of fellow believers (“have no part among them”), (4) by receiving more than the O.T. priests’ share of the tithe at 1% (Numb 18:20-28; Neh 10:37b-38) and (5) by equating first and tenth in order to squeeze government welfare checks from the poorest in their flock.
Receiving tithes did not mean that Old Covenant Levites and priests must have been full time and could not work other jobs. It only meant that they could not own property inside Israel. In fact it was necessary for them to learn and work other trades in order to build and maintain the sanctuary or temple (Numbers 3; 1 Chronicles 23-26). Most church historians document that even high priests in Jesus’ time also had and worked other vocations.
What remains? Preach the truth: freewill sacrificial giving principles endorsed by the Holy Spirit after Calvary (2 Cor. 8 and 9).
16. THE CURSES OF MALACHI
Without a doubt the curses of Malachi are the curses of the Law (1:14; 2:2; 3:9; Neh. 10:28-29). “Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10 quoting Deut. 27:26). The blessings and curses of tithing are identical to (and inseparable from) those of the entire Mosaic Law. One must keep the whole law in order to be blessed (not simply tithe); breaking one part of the law brought its curses.
The rain in Malachi 3:10 is the same in Leviticus 28:1-4 and Deuteronomy 28:12, 23-24; it is only delivered after obedience to all 600+ commandments. The devourer of Malachi 3:11 is the same as Deuteronomy 28:21.
Some tithe teachers go beyond credibility to place blood-washed redeemed New Covenant believers under the curse of the Old Covenant. In fact Gentile Christians never were under that Law; they were condemned by nature and conscience (Rom 1:18-20:14-16). Hebrew Christians who were once under it are now dead to it (Romans 7:4). God’s Word clearly declares that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). Certainly this text is also in the tithe-teacher’s Bible! The question is: “What post-Calvary New Covenant principle of interpretation give tithe-teachers authority to say that Christians who do not “tithe” are cursed?” What curse is it? You are quoting Malachi 3:9; is it the curse of the Old Covenant? Since the whole 10% went to the Levites (Numb. 18:20-24) and the priests only received a tenth of their tenth (Numb.18:25-28), are not gospel ministers who teach tithing cursed if they receive more than one per cent?
17. THIS WHOLE NATION
With the exception of Malachi 2:11-12 which is speaking third-person to all Judah, the “you” of Malachi is only the priests from 1:6 onward. “Even this whole nation” (3:9 KJV) is “the whole nation -of you” (NASU, NIV, RSV). It means “every priest in the whole nation had been involved in stealing the tithes from the storeroom in Nehemiah 13:5. This forced the Levites to return to their cities for food and the temple was closed (Neh 13:5-10). Nehemiah is the likely context of Malachi 3:8-10.
18. BRING ALL THE TITHE INTO THE STOREHOUSE (MALACHI 3:10)
If this is speaking to all the people of Judah, there is a logistics’ problem. (1) The temple complex had no huge storage facilities to hold all the tithe of the nation. King Hezekiah discovered this in 2nd Chronicles 31:5-9 and re-distributed the tithes to the Levitical cities (31:15-19). (2) According to Nehemiah 13:5 at least some of the tithe had been stored in a large room; the largest combined storage room in the temple complex was no larger than 20 feet by 20′ feet (1 Kings 6:6). (3) There were 24 courses of Levites and priests which only served in the temple a week at a time (twice a year). Thus 23 of 24 courses, all women and all men under 20 stayed in the Levitical cities. That means about 2% of Levites and priests served in the temple at any normal week (2 Chron 31:2, 15). Therefore, it makes no sense whatsoever to store 100% of the tithe in the temple if 98% of its users were elsewhere and Malachi 3:10 is very confusing indeed. Also see 1 Chron 23-26; see also 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.
However, ,if “you” in Malachi 3:10 only refers to the dishonest priests from 1:6-14; 2:1-10, 13-17; 3-1-5 and Nehemiah 13:5-10, then the text makes sense. (1) The general population brings their Levitical tithes to the Levitical cities where it is needed (Neh 10:37b). (2) The Levites and priests together receive the tithes in the Levitical cities (Neh 10:38). (3) Levites bring what is needed for a week to the temple storeroom (tithes and offerings) (Neh. 10:39). Levites are assisted by the population which brings their firstfruits-offerings (Neh. 10:35-37a, 39). Nehemiah 10:35-39 is the key to understanding Malachi 3:10. (See Joshua 20-21 and Numbers 35 for the Levitical cities.)
19. THE TEMPLE STOREROOM
It is wrong to compare the temple storeroom to the church. (1) The church (assembly of believers) is never called a “storehouse” or “building” in God’s Word; there is no precedent. (2) The temple was not a “storehouse” for the tithes of the nation; the great tithes were brought to the Levitical cities where those who needed them for food lived (Neh 10:37b-38). (3) The largest room in the temple was about 10 feet by 20 feet (1 Kings 6:6). Doubling that room as suggested in Nehemiah 13:5 would still make it too small to hold the tithe of the nation as King Hezekiah discovered in 2nd Chronicles 31:9. (4) 1st Corinthians 16:2 does not teach storehouse-tithing. a) it concerns freewill offerings for famine relief and not support of gospel workers (16:1). b) the text probably refers to setting aside food at home and c) there were no legal church buildings for almost 300 years after Calvary.
20. Matthew 23:23
The post-Calvary New Covenant does not teach tithing. It did not begin at the birth of Jesus, but at his death (Gal. 3:19, 24, 25; 4:4, 5). Tithing is not taught to the church after the cross! When Jesus discussed tithing in Matthew 23:23, “you” referred to “teachers of the Law,” “you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” who had made the Law a burden. As a faithful (and sinless) Jew, Jesus endorsed and supported the entire Old Covenant law until the cross. (Note “matters of the law” in 23:23). It would have been SIN to teach otherwise. The context was before Calvary.
In Matthew 23:2 and 3 (the context of 23:23) Jesus told his Jewish followers to obey the scribes and Pharisees “because they sit in Moses’ seat.” Yet He did not (and could not) command Gentiles whom He healed to present themselves to the priests and obey the Law of Moses (compare Matt 5:23-24 and 8:4). If pastors literally obeyed Matthew 23:23, they would literally command Christians to tithe from garden herbs as Jesus commanded.
There is not a single New Testament Bible text which teaches tithing after the cross! Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35 are not examples of tithing to support church leaders. According to 2:46 the Jewish Christians continued to worship in the Temple. And according to 2:44 and 4:33, 34 church leaders shared what they received equally with all church members. (This is not done today).
Finally Acts 21:20-25 proves that Jewish Christians were still zealously observing all of the Mosaic Law 30 years later -and that must include tithing- otherwise they would not have been allowed inside the Temple to worship. Therefore, any tithes collected by the early Jewish Christians were given to the Temple system and not to support the church.
21. PAUL PREFERRED TO BE SELF-SUPPORTED
The Bible is silent about whether gospel workers should be part time or full time. It does tell us that Levites, priests and prophets worked in many professions (1st Chronicles, chapters 23 to 26). As a Jewish rabbi, Paul was among those who insisted on working to support himself (Acts 18:3; 1 Thes. 2:9-10; 2 Thes. 3:8-14). While Paul does not condemn those who are able to receive full-time support, neither does he teach that full-time support is the mandatory will of God for advancing the gospel (1 Cor 9:12). In fact, twice, in Acts 20:29-35 and also in 2 Corinthians 12:14, Paul actually encouraged church elders to work to support needy believers inside the church.
For Paul, living of the gospel meant living by gospel principles of faith, love and grace (1 Cor 9:14). While Paul realized that he had a right to some support, he concluded that his liberty, or freedom to preach unhindered was more important in order to fulfill his calling from God (1 Cor 9:12, 15; 2 Cor 11:7-13; 12:13-14; 1 Thes 2:5-6). While working as a tent-maker, Paul accepted limited support but boasted that his pay, or salary, was that he could preach the gospel for free, without being a burden to others (1 Cor 9:16-19). With the possible exception of Hebrews, Paul never mentioned tithing. Most young preachers today do not want to follow this example given by Paul.
22. TITHING DID NOT BECOME A LAW IN THE CHURCH UNTIL A.D. 777
The earliest Christian assemblies patterned themselves after the Jewish synagogues which were led by rabbis who, like Paul, refused to gain a profit from preaching and teaching God’s Word. There are many books on Jewish social life which explain this in great detail.
From Christ’s death until Christianity became a legally recognized religion almost 300 years later, the majority of great church leaders took self-imposed vows of poverty. This is historically documented! They took Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler in Luke 18:22 literally “sell all that you have, give it to the poor, and follow me.” Most church historians agree that these early church leaders for at least the first 200 years worked for a living and were self-supporting. A Christian leader could not tell a Roman census-taker that he was a full-time preacher of an outlaw religion.
Clement of Rome (c95), Justin Martyr (c150), Irenaeus (c150-200) and Tertullian (c150-220) all opposed tithing as a strictly Jewish tradition. The Didache (c150-200) condemns traveling apostles who stay longer than three days and ask for money. And travelers who decided to remain with them were required to learn a trade. These early opponents of tithing are not quoted by tithe-teachers.
Cyprian (200-258) tried unsuccessfully to impose tithing in Carthage, North Africa around A. D. 250. At his conversion Cyprian gave away great wealth to the poor and lived under a vow of poverty. His idea of tithing included equal re-distribution to the poor. And -we must remember-his ideas of tithing were not adopted.
When tithe-teachers quote Ambrose, Chrysostom and Augustine as church fathers they conveniently leave out the first 200 years of church history. Even after Christianity became legal in the fourth century many of the greatest spiritual leaders took vows of deep poverty and preferred to live unmarried lives in monasteries. If these tithe-teachers are quoted, then the church should also be told what kind of lives they usually led.
While disagreeing with their own theologians, most church historians write that tithing did not become a legally enforced doctrine in the church for over 700 years after the cross. According to the very best sources it took over 500 years before a local church Council of Macon in France, in the year 585, tried unsuccessfully to enforce tithing on its members. It was not until the year 777 that Charlemagne legally allowed the church to collect tithes. That is the history of tithing found in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana and the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia.
Tithe-teachers use their own blended pick-and-choose principles which are extremely inconsistent. (1) Unlike John Owen, Covenant theologians reject their basic principles which discard tithing as part of the worship statutes. (2) Unlike Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dispensationalists reject their basic principles which discard the entire Mosaic Law unless it is repeated to the Church in terms of grace. (3) They forget that the Old Covenant and tithing were only given to Old Covenant Israel (Ex 19:5-8; 23:33; Lev 278:34; Deut 7:2). (4) They forget that the New Covenant is not the re-worded Old Covenant (Heb 8:9). (5) They forget that pre-Calvary Gentiles were never under the formal Law but were judged by nature and conscience (Rom 1:18-20; 2:14-16; John 1:9).) (6) They attempt to teach that the whole Law is still in effect in order to include tithing and then discard almost everything except tithing. While quoting Matthew 5:17-18, they ignore 5:19 and the context of 5:20-48. Yet 5:17-18 demands either all of the Law of Moses or none of it in the Old Covenant context. 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. The tithe-teachers blended compromise is a modern scandal of God’s Word.
24. BETTER GIVING PRINCIPLES
(1) According to Galatians 5:16-23, there is no physical law which controls the fruits of the Holy Spirit. (2) Second Corinthians 3:10 says that the Old Covenant has “no glory” when compared to the “surpassing” glory and liberty of the Holy Spirit. (3) Hebrews 7 is the only post-Calvary mention of tithing and it is an explanation of why the Levitical priesthood must be replaced by Christ’s priesthood because it was weak and unprofitable. Study Hebrews 7 and follow the progression from verse 5 to verse 12 to verse 19. (4) The manner in which tithing is taught today reflects a failure of the church to believe and act on the far better principles of love, grace and faith. Mandatory giving principles cannot, has not and will not prosper the church more than principles guided by love for Christ and lost souls (2 Cor 8:7-8).
Christians are commanded to give freely, sacrificially, generously, regularly, joyfully and with the motivation of love for God and man. The following New Covenant free-will principles are found in Second Corinthians 8 and 9: (1) Giving is a “grace.” These chapters use the Greek word for “grace” eight times in reference to helping needy saints. (2) Give yourself to God first (8:5). (3) Give yourself to knowing God’s will (8:5). (4) Give in response to Christ’s gift (8:9; 9:15). (5) Give out of a sincere desire (8:8, 10, 12; 9:7). (6) Do not give because of any commandment (8:8, 10; 9:7). (7) Give beyond your ability (8:3, 11-12). (8) Give to produce equality. This means that those who have more should give more in order to make up for the inability of those who cannot afford to give as much (8:12-14). (9) Give joyfully (8:2). (10) Give because you are growing spiritually (8:3-4, 7). (11) Give because you want to continue growing spiritually (9:8, 10-11). (12) Give because you are hearing the gospel preached (9:13).
Tithing failed national Israel and it has also failed the Church (Heb 7:5, 12-19). Churches showcase success stories but fail to mention the testimonies of those who have tithed for generations without escaping poverty. Today the very lowest income class pays the largest percentage to charity. Yet most remain in poverty. Meanwhile many atheists become wealthy by simply following principles of money management which also makes many tithers successful. Neither the lottery, nor the tithe is a magic get-rich-quick answer to replace education, determination and hard work. If Malachi 3:10 really worked for New Covenant Christians, millions of poor tithing Christians would have escaped poverty and would have become the wealthiest group of people in the world instead of remaining the poorest group. There is no evidence that the vast majority of poor tithe-payers are ever blessed financially merely because they tithe. The Old Covenant blessings are not New Covenant blessings (Heb 7:18-19; 8:6-8, 13). In God’s Word, tithe does not stand alone. It is the tithe of FOOD. The HOLY biblical tithe was very narrowly defined and limited by God Himself. True biblical tithes were always: (1) only food, (2) only from the farms and herds, (3) of only Israelites, (4) who only lived inside God’s Holy Land, the national boundary of Israel, (5) only under Old Covenant terms and (6) the increase could only be gathered from what God produced.
Therefore, (1) non-food items could not be tithed; (2) clean wild game animals and fish could not be tithed; (3) non-Israelites could not tithe; (4) food from outside God’s holy land of Israel could not be tithed; (5) legitimate tithing did not occur when there was no Levitical priesthood; and (6) tithes did not come from what man’s hands created, produced or caught by hunting and fishing. I invite church leaders into an open discussion of this subject. The careful and prayer-full study of God’s Word is essential for church growth.
As long as credit is given, this essay may be freely copied and freely distributed with my permission. See my 2-hour essay on You Tube. See my 90-minute debate on Revelation TV from London on You Tube. Your feedback is encouraged and appreciated. May God bless you.
In Christ’s love
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD