SHOULD THE CHURCH TEACH TITHING?
A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine
by Russell Earl Kelly, PHD
THE STOREHOUSE TITHING ERROR
Those who teach “storehouse-tithing” teach that the local church has replaced the Old Covenant Temple as the expected recipient of tithes. Therefore, the most-often quoted text, Malachi 3:10, which commands “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse” is appropriate for them.
First, it is assumed that the ordinary people were commanded to bring all tithes of the nation to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Second, it is assumed that the Temple contained a storehouse large enough to hold the tithe of all Israel and that it was part of David and Solomon’s original Temple.
Third, it is assumed that the Church is called a storehouse in order to establish and justify a reason for bringing tithes to the church.
For the following reasons, the above storehouse assumptions are in error.
1. The overwhelming majority of the tithes of the nation were taken, not to the Temple, but to the Levitical cities.
Neh 10:37 And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.
The Levitical cities are not hidden in Scripture. They are mentioned or alluded to in Leviticus 25:32-34; all of Numbers 35; all of Joshua 20 and 21; 1st Chronicles 6; 2nd Chronicles 11:13-14; 31:15-19; Nehemiah 10:37-38; 11:3, 20; 12:27-29, 44; 13:10 and Malachi 1:14. At first there were 48 Levitical and priestly cities. Later Judah had 13, including Hebron and Jericho. Jerusalem is not listed.
2. The Levites and priests received the overwhelming majority of the tithe, not in the Temple, but in the Levitical cities.
Neh 10:37 … and the tithes of our ground [bring] unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.
Neh 10:38a And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes …
3. Only the Levites and priests, not the people, were commanded to bring tithes into the Temple.
Neh 10:38b … : and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house.
Mal 3:10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse …
Either Malachi 3:10 contradicts Nehemiah 10:37-38 or else it has been mis-interpreted. Since Nehemiah and Malachi occupy the same time in history, they must be describing the same circumstances. Malachi 1:6 and 2:1 are specifically addressed to the priests of Israel and not all of Israel. If one follows the pronoun “you” from 1:6 (except for the brief 3rd person sequence of 2:10-12), God never changes his address from the priests to the people in general. “Ye sons of Jacob” in 3:6 could easily refer only to the priests and “this whole nation” in 3:9 could easily refer to “this whole nation — of you priests.”
4. It was physically impossible for the Temple to hold all of the tithes of Israel.
1 Kings 6:6 The nethermost chamber was five cubits broad, and the middle was six cubits broad, and the third was seven cubits broad: for without in the wall of the house he made narrowed rests round about, that the beams should not be fastened in the walls of the house.
1 Kings 6:10 And then he built chambers against all the house, five cubits high: and they rested on the house with timber of cedar.
Neh 13:5 And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests.
Neh 13:9 Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.
The chambers, or store-rooms, which surrounded the Temple were only 7 1/2 ft, 9 ft and 10 1/2 ft wide and 7 1/2 ft high. (They were probably in 3 tiers giving the shape of wings.) According to Nehemiah 13:5, 7, 9, only two of these chambers held the tithes, offerings and others items.
5. There was no need for the Temple to hold ALL the tithes of the entire nation. Thus the typical interpretation of Malachi 3:10 that “ye” means “all people” makes no sense unless it only refers to priests.
2 Chron 23:8 So the Levites and all Judah did according to all things that Jehoiada the priest had commanded, and took every man his men that were to come in on the sabbath, with them that were to go out on the sabbath: for Jehoiada the priest dismissed not the courses.
Only about 2% of the Levites and priests served in the Temple most of the time. Ninety eight per cent (98%) of those who needed the tithe for food stayed in the Levitical cities. Only males older than 20 served one week at a time every 24th week in the Temple. The wives and younger children stayed in the Levitical cities. The 24 “courses” or “families” are mentioned or alluded to in First Chronicles 23 to 26; 28:13, 21; Second Chronicles 8:14; 23:8; 31:2, 15-19; 35:4, 5, 10; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 11:30; 12:24.
Therefore, since 98% of those who required tithes for food were not in Jerusalem, then it makes no sense to teach that ALL of the tithes MUST be kept in the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus the common interpretation of Malachi 3:10 must be in error. In this context Malachi 3:10 only makes sense if it refers only to priests per Nehemiah 10:38-39.
6. From careful contextual reading of Nehemiah 10:37-38; 12:42-44 and 13:5-10 one must conclude that the Levites and priests brought whatever tithes they required with them from their cities when they went to the temple to serve for one week at a time.
Nehemiah 13:5 says that the tithes were removed from “a great chamber” to provide quarters for Tobiah. Common sense teaches that these quarters were not extensive. Verse 7 again calls it a “chamber.” And in verse 9 Nehemiah cleans the “chambers” (plural). Most commentaries conclude that this means two small chambers turned into one large chamber
In other words, the phrase “storehouse tithing” actually only refers to “store-ROOMS” inside the Temple. The largest combined room would be 21 feet wide by 21 feet long by 7 1/2 feet tall (1 Kg 6:6, 10). Those dimensions could hardly accommodate the tithes from the whole nation! Again, it would have been impossible, improbable and illogical to conclude that two small storerooms inside the temple could hold all the tithe of the entire nation.
7. Another “storeroom” text is:
2 Chron 31:11 Then Hezekiah commanded to prepare chambers in the house of the LORD; and they prepared them,
2 Chron 31:12 And brought in the offerings and the tithes and the dedicated things faithfully: over which Cononiah the Levite was ruler, and Shimei his brother was the next.
This was the same Temple which David and Solomon had built and, evidently, it did not contain storage space for all the tithe of the nation. This lack should prove that it was never intended to store all the tithe at the Temple.
2 Chron 31:4 Moreover he commanded the people that dwelt in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the LORD.
In error King Hezekiah commanded the ordinary people to bring all the tithes to the Temple in Jerusalem. Due to his idolatrous predecessors the Temple had been closed and the exact location for tithes had been forgotten.
2 Chron 31:6 And concerning the children of Israel and Judah, that dwelt in the cities of Judah, they also brought in the tithe of oxen and sheep, and the tithe of holy things which were consecrated unto the LORD their God, and laid them by heaps.
2 Chron 31:7 In the third month they began to lay the foundation of the heaps, and finished them in the seventh month.
Many sermons on tithing are preached from these texts. Yet the food is rotting in the streets because there is no place to store it. Something is wrong.
2 Chron 31:9 Then Hezekiah questioned with the priests and the Levites concerning the heaps.
King Hezekiah had to “question” the priests and Levites because something was evidently wrong. All tithes of the nation were never intended to be brought to the Temple. The “storehouse tithing” concept was built on a mistake!
2 Chron 31:10 And Azariah the chief priest of the house of Zadok answered him, and said, Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the LORD, we have had enough to eat, and have left plenty: for the LORD hath blessed his people; and that which is left is this great store.
After gathering enough to feed the Levites and priests, the chief priest asks the assembled Levites and priests what should be done with the “great store” left over. First they “prepared chambers in the house of the LORD” to hold their immediate needs (31:11-12). This was the two small store-rooms mentioned in Nehemiah 13.
Second, they sent the remainder, the “great store” BACK TO THE LEVITICAL CITIES where it belonged. This is detailed in 31:15-19. And these texts are almost always completely ignored by tithe teachers who focus on verses 5-7 because it destroys their “store-house tithing” doctrine. In reality “storehouse tithing” only referred to two small store-rooms in the Temple while “Levitical city tithing” would be a far more accurate term.
8. There is no biblical reference to the New Covenant church as a “storehouse.” According to reputable historian Philip Schaff the early church did not have its own buildings for over 200 years after Calvary and they were quickly destroyed every time a tragedy was blamed on them by the idol-worshipping Roman citizens. Church buildings did not become legal until after AD 324 –almost 300 years after Calvary. Therefore there was no such thing as a church “building” to “store” anything when the New Testament was written.
Christian tithe-teachers say a lot about the “storehouse” of the church. In order to justify this they juggle the Greek verb thesaurizo, translated “storing up,” from First Corinthians 16:2 in order to manipulate the Greek text. The phrase is literally “by himself, to place, storing up.” The text does not call the church a “storehouse”; it merely tells the contributor what to do with the gift. Many commentators even say it means “store up at home” with no reference to a church building.
Those same Christian tithe-teachers will not use Second Corinthians 12:14 for their example of the church “storehouse.” Yet Paul used the same Greek verb, thesaurizo, while saying “the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” At least, as far as Paul was concerned, the gospel worker, should be working in order to provide for the needs of the poor in the church. He repeated this thought in Acts 20:29-35.
The Christian concept of the church as the storehouse is very unscriptural. In Malachi’s context, the storehouse was primarily the responsibility of the political authority, the governor, to ensure that it was maintained. Kings controlled the temple wealth. Scripture records seven times that kings gave away wealth from God’s temple storehouse and from their own royal storehouse (1 Kings 14:25-26; 15:18; 2 Kings 12:18; 14:14; 16:8; 18:14-15; 20:13-19; 24:13). Do you want your government to be able to do this?
For the following reasons, proper explanation of the context of Malachi does not convert its storehouse into the “storehouse of the church”:
One: From the discussion above, THE storehouse in Jerusalem did not permanently contain the whole tithe. Since most priests and Levites required the tithe in the Levitical cities where they and their extended families lived, most of it was kept there. The food went to where the people lived. According to Second Chronicles 31:15-19 and Nehemiah 12:44 and 47, only enough daily portions (or weekly for each course) were brought up from the Levitical cities to feed those currently ministering in their rotation. This was only a very small portion of the WHOLE tenth of the Levites and of the “tenth of the tenth” of the priests (Neh. 10:37-38).
Two: While Old Testament storehouses were considered to be the property of the religious state, most New Covenant churches are not.
Three: While Old Testament storehouses received political aid to collect its tithes, most New Covenant churches do not.
Four: While Old Testament storehouses held tithes of food, New Covenant churches collect money which was never included in the biblical definition of tithe.
Five: While the Old Testament festival and poor tithes provided food for the needy, most New Covenant churches which collect all of their so-called “tithes” keep most of them for themselves and do not become heavily involved in welfare work.
Six: While the Old Testament storehouse provided sustenance for its national priesthood, the New Covenant teaches a priesthood of all believers.
Seven: While the Old Testament storehouses promoted priestly sacrifices according to the Law, New Covenant church leaders are new offices under new principles.
Eight: While most of the Old Testament storehouse was for the priests’ portion of firstfruits, firstborn, temple taxes, and vow offerings, this pattern is not followed by New Covenant churches.
Nine: While Old Covenant tithing was a separate fund from free-will offerings for buildings and maintenance, many New Covenant churches place all needs into a total program and correctly eliminate the Old Covenant tithing principle.
Ten: Since orthodox Jews do not handle money or collect offerings on their Sabbath, it is doubtful that early Jewish Christians would have changed this tradition by handling money at a church. Yet Christians gather most of their money on their holy day.
Eleven: While the Old Testament Temple, like the pagans, became an illegitimate banking storehouse (treasury), the New Covenant church is not to be used as a commercial bank storehouse, or treasury.
Twelve: While those who received the first Levitical tithe to sustain their work in the Temple in exchange for no property ownership, the New Covenant gospel worker does not receive tithes and is not required to forfeit property ownership.
Thirteen: The OT Temple was replaced, not by the church building, but by the indwelling Holy Spirit in the Temple of the believer’s body (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19-20). God’s Word never describes New Covenant churches as literal “tabernacles,” “temples” or “buildings” in which God dwells! God’s church, God’s dwelling place, is within the believers. Believers do not “go to church” — believers “assemble to worship.” Also, since OT priests did not pay tithes, then tithing cannot logically continue. Therefore it is wrong to call a building “God’s storehouse” for tithes. (Eph. 1:22-23; 2:21; 4:12-16; Rev. 3:12).
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD