The Poor and Jesus Did Not Tithe

An Exhaustive Examination of "Tithe," "Tithes" and "Tithing"

Should the Church Teach Tithing?

A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine

Russell Earl Kelly, PHD

Section 9

Deut 26:12 When you have made an end of tithing all the tithes of your increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within your gates, and be filled,

Deut. 26:13 Then you shall say before the LORD your God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of my house, and also have given them to the Levite, and to the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all your commandments which you have commanded me; I have not transgressed your commandments, neither have I forgotten them. [See also 14:28-29.]

Mal. 3:5 And I will come near to you [priests] to judgment [against]. . . those who oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.

1 Tim. 5:8 But if any does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.The Old Covenant does not command the poor to tithe! As a matter of biblical fact, just the opposite is true! The Mosaic Law commanded the people of Israel, especially the priests, to feed and care for the poor, widows, fatherless, strangers, and Levites from the tithe. The poor received from the tithes, offerings, gleanings, and Israel’s bounty.

The Code of Jewish Law says, “He who has barely sufficient for his own needs, is not obligated to give charity, for his own sustenance takes precedence over another’s.” The Jewish Mishnah contains other exemptions of poor persons. Unfortunately, it is all too common to find large churches with many poor who give above and beyond their means out of fear of the Old Covenant curse of Malachi 3:9. Expecting the poor to pay tithes from welfare and Social Security checks is a disgrace. Many poor who tithe are then forced to depend even more on welfare because the church does not give more back to the poor than it receives from them. Such treatment is oppression of the poor and is a modern scandal.

In his book, Stewards Shaped by Grace, Rhodes Thompson writes, “Some disagree that people are ever too poor to tithe. But my experience in the Third World [India] and inner-city St. Louis exposed me to people whose poverty I had wittingly or unwittingly helped to create and whose liberation from it still receives too little of my time and resources. Luke’s biting words to first century scribes and Pharisees jump across the centuries: ‘Woe to you twentieth-century religious leaders! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers (Luke 11:46).’ Watching poor folks in St. Louis facing the winter choice between ‘meat’ and ‘heat,’ I could not lay on them the burden of tithing that would have forced them to forego both at the risk of health and life.”

At least concerning the poor, Dr. James Kennedy has it right. In an undated widely distributed four page article entitled “Tithing” from Coral Ridge Ministries, he writes “2. Those who are poor do not give tithes, but receive them either directly from loving neighbors and friends or through the ministry of the clergy. Any gift given by a poor person would be a free-will offering, not a tithe. The tithe is God’s tax, required for those who make a profit from their labor. It is not required from those who are on welfare or who are living from their savings. 3. Our first economic duty is to allow for the essential food, clothing and housing for our families. The tithe was not intended to prohibit us from providing essential, physical support for those who are members of our household (1 Tim. 5:1-8; Matt. 15:3-9).”The Ordinance of Gleaning

Deut. 24:19 When you cut down your harvest in your field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go again to get it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Deut. 24:20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.

Deut. 24:21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.The tithe of the land did not include all of the land. God commanded landowners not to harvest the corners and not to pick up what had fallen after being harvested. These holy gleanings were for the poor. Concerning the gleaning law, Edersheim wrote, “Bicurim, terumoth, and what was to be left in the corners of the fields for the poor were always set apart before the tithing was made.” He added that a poor person with less than five sheep was not required to bring the firstfruits of the fleece. Certainly the poor did not tithe from gleanings!

Because the Levite was intended to be a poor servant of God with no land inheritance or personal wealth, he was often placed at the beginning of the list of the needy and poor. As such he and his household received tithes (Deut. 14:29; 16:11, 14; 26:11-13). However, the list of qualified tithe-receivers also included other non-landowners such as the stranger, the fatherless, the orphan, and the widow. As mentioned earlier, the stranger, the fatherless, the orphan and the widow are part of a recurring theme found in the Pentateuch and the major prophets. As poor non-landowners they received tithes, but were not exempt from certain offerings. Law Ordinances Legislated Smaller Sacrifices from the Poor

Lev. 14:21 And if he is poor, and cannot get so much [two lambs], then he shall take [only] one lamb for a trespass offering to be waved, to make an atonement for him, and one tenth deal of fine flour mingled with oil for a grain offering, and a log of oil.

Lev. 27:8 But if he is poorer than your estimation, then he shall present himself before the priest, and the priest shall value him; according to his ability that vowed shall the priest value him. In addition to receiving from the tithes, the poor were also allowed to bring smaller required offerings and were allowed to pay less redemption money. The poor had many other special laws protecting them. They were always allowed to recover property (Lev. 25:25-28); equal justice was demanded for them (Exod. 23:6; Prov. 31:9); Israel was to open its doors for them and freely lend to them without interest (Deut. 15:7-8, 11; Lev. 25:35-36); clothing given as pledges for loans must be returned before sunset (Deut. 24:12); and wages were to be paid daily before sunset (Deut. 24:15; Matt. 29:8; Jas. 5:4). These laws applied to both Israelite and strangers (Deut. 24:14).

Israel was commanded to give special gifts to the poor during festival days (Esth. 9:22) and every seventh year all farmland lay un-tilled and was available to the poor (Lev. 25:6). The same was true of every fiftieth Jubilee Year; the great Jubilee festival was especially for the poor and needy (Lev. 25:8-16, 23-35; 27:16-25; Num. 36:4; Ezek. 46:17).

God honors the amount of sacrifice in giving more than the value of the things given (Mark 12:42-44). He makes it clear that oppressing the poor is sin (Deut. 10:19; Prov. 14:31; Jer. 22:16-17; Ezek. 16:49; Amos 2:6-7; 4:1; 5:12; 6:4; Zech. 7:9-10; Mal. 3:5-6). God will certainly punish those who oppress the poor (Isa. 3:14-15; 10:1-2; 11:4), and the righteous will be known according to their treatment of the poor (Deut. 12:13; 15:11; Ps. 140:12-13; Prov. 19:17; 31:20; Jer. 22:16).

How will the rich religious leader escape Isaiah 3:14, “The LORD will enter into judgment with the elders of His people and His princes:’For you have eaten up the vineyard; the plunder of the poor is in your houses’” (NKJV)?Joseph and Mary Paid the Smaller Offering of the Poor

Luke 2:22 And when the days of her [Mary’s] purification [from child-birth] according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him [Jesus] to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord

Luke 2:23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord); [Lev. 12:6-8]

Luke 2:24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.Jesus’ parents did not qualify to pay tithes. They were poor carpenters which were not required to tithe land increase if they did not own land. When presenting the baby Jesus at the temple, the customary offering of a first-year lamb was not required because of their poverty.Jesus Did Not Tithe

Jesus did not pay tithe! Blasphemy? Not at all. The titles of this chapter come as a real surprise to most tithe-advocates. The simple reason for these true statements is found in the biblical definition of the tithe as explained in chapter one. The Bible clearly teaches that only Israelite landowners and Israelite herdsmen inside Israel were required to tithe their increase. This very narrow, but true, definition eliminates all non-landowners, all tradesmen, and all who were too unfortunate to afford raising stock animals for a living in Israel. Neither was this narrow definition of tithing ever changed among Jews for over a thousand years; it was still the definition during the time of Jesus.Jesus Did Not Pay Tithes with His Disciples; Matthew 12:1-2; Mark 2:23-24; Luke 6:1-2Matt. 12:1 At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the grain; and his disciples were hungry, and began to pluck the heads of grain, and to eat.

Matt. 12:2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, Behold, your disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.Jesus did not qualify as a person required to pay tithes! Jesus had been a carpenter and many of his disciples had been fishermen. If none of his twelve disciples were farmers or herdsmen, then none were required by the law to pay tithes — only freewill offerings. In addition, the above incident of the gleaning is noteworthy. First, since this was neither a sabbatical year nor a Jubilee year, this incident must have reference to the gleaning laws. Second, gleaning laws were specifically for the poor. Third, the Pharisees did not rebuke Jesus and his disciples for not being too poor to glean. Fourth, the Pharisees did not rebuke Jesus and his disciples for not paying tithe on their harvest! The only accusation is that they performed work on the Sabbath day.

In conclusion, since the poor were not in possession of land, and, since the poor actually received tithes, God did not request, or require, the poor in the Old Testament to tithe. They neither owned farmland nor (substantially) raised herds, and, since God is full of grace and mercy, it is not within the scope of his divine holy character to ask a poor person to tithe and deprive himself and his family of the basic necessities of life. There is not a single Old Covenant text which commands the poor to tithe. God was satisfied to accept their freewill offerings.

Those who tell the poor to give ten percent of their gross income to the church and thus cause those same poor to be deprived of basic necessities are simply not teaching either Old or New Covenant principles of grace and freewill giving.