Tithes Replaced Land Inheritance

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 6 –  Tithes Replaced Land Inheritance

Num. 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.

Num. 18:21 And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.


Num 35:1 And the LORD spoke unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,

Num. 35:2 Command the children of Israel, that they give unto the Levites of the inheritance of their possession cities to dwell in; and you shall give also unto the Levites suburbs for the cities round about them.

Nun. 35:3 And the cities shall they have to dwell in; and the suburbs of them shall be for their cattle, and for their goods, and for all their beasts.


Joshua 21:2 And they [Eleazar and Joshua] spoke unto them [the tribes of Israel] at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, saying, The LORD commanded by the hand of Moses to give us cities to dwell in, with the suburbs thereof for our cattle.

Joshua 21:3 And the children of Israel gave unto the Levites out of their inheritance, at the commandment of the LORD, these cities and their suburbs.

The tithe was given to the Levites, and the tenth of the tithe to the priests, as their inheritance in place of land inheritance because they served God! Period! God’s plan was that they would own no land, because He would be their inheritance (their land) through the possession of the tithe. This has certainly changed in our modern society where gospel workers usually own and inherit property, often have great wealth gained from the churches they serve, and still demand the whole tithe for themselves.

Because of its many repetitions in Scripture, we must assume that God knew that some would eventually forget this fact about Old Covenant tithing. It is equally important to repeat this fact in the context of this book for the same reason. While those who support tithing often quote Genesis 14:18-20, Leviticus 27:30-34 and Malachi 3:8-10, others who reject New Covenant tithing quote Numbers 18:20-26, Deuteronomy 12:11-12; 14:27-29, Ephesians 2:13-17, Colossians 2:14 and Hebrews 7:5, 12, 18; 8:6. And the key texts of the “chair” document are Numbers 18:20-26.

“Inheritance” and “land” are two of the most important concepts of the Old Covenant. While western religious thought speaks of salvation in terms of grace and faith, the Hebrew mind-set is more likely to speak of salvation in terms of inheritance and land. These are also key ideas in the doctrine of tithing because God described Israel, its land and its people, as his unique inheritance. “For you separated them from among all the people of the earth, to be your inheritance” (1 Kings 8:53).

In exchange for his service to God, the Levite and priest were denied land inheritance in Israel. This truth was repeated six times in seven verses in Numbers 18:20-26! The “no inheritance” rule for those who received tithes is also repeated in Deuteronomy 12:12; 14:27, 29; 18:1-2; Joshua 13:14, 33; 14:3; 18:7; and Ezekiel 44:28.

Take a moment now and read all of the above verses! Evidently, God wanted it abundantly clear why Levites and priests received tithes from Israel. Whenever the reason for them receiving the tithe was mentioned, God also mentioned that they were not allowed any inheritance or land ownership. The Levite and the Aaronic priest were always to be counted among, and included among, the poor of the land. They were not to become wealthy, but were to live day-by-day in the expectation that Israel would bring in the tithe to sustain them and for them to re-distribute to the other poor of the land.

When Paul said in First Corinthians 9:14, “they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel,” he clearly meant gospel principles of grace and faith. Unlike many wealthy religious leaders today — for almost 300 years, until the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, the vast majority of church bishops, presbyters, and deacons lived ascetic lives of self-denial and poverty in order to better serve the poor of the church. They fully understood what Paul meant.

Deut. 14:29 And the Levite, (because he has no part nor inheritance with you), and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within your gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

On the other hand, God would say to the Levitical priest, “they which preach the law should live of the law.” This means that they would live as the poor of the land who daily depended upon God. This means that they would reject wealth as long as there were poor whom they could help [by redistributing the tithes and offerings they received?].

Several Protestant denominations follow the lead of Roman Catholics and provide free parsonages and retirement homes for their pastors. This might be a partial effort to apply this principle; however, it is not clear whether or not property ownership and wealth are also forbidden by those denominations.

A hypocritical problem arises, especially among churches which strongly advocate tithing, but choose not to preach the facts from these “no inheritance” texts. Very often the same pastors who insist on preaching exact tithing personally have great wealth, own property and inherit land. They use part of the Mosaic ordinance selfishly to teach tithing, but then ignore the majority of that same ordinance. Even while preaching law, they violate it by being partial (Mal. 2:9).

Concerning the Levitical and Priestly Cities (Numbers 35; Joshua 21):

Although this land was occupied by priests and Levites (they had to live somewhere), it still belonged to the tribe in which it existed. Therefore, the land could not be permanently owned or inherited. Of note, however, is the fact that this land was specifically to be for their “cattle” and “beasts” which were received from tithing. While not serving at the temple (24 courses took turns a week at a time), many were evidently in their pasture lands herding their animals. See also Second Chronicles 31:15-19 and Nehemiah 10:37-38; 13:10.