Questions and Answers About Tithing

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Questions and Answers About Tithing

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Is tithing voluntary?

Yes, in the sense that everyone who honors God by obeying His instructions does so on a voluntary basis. God never forces anyone to act against his or her will. At the same time, however, He expects us to tithe and equates failure to tithe with robbing Him, explaining that not tithing will bring a curse (Malachi 3:8). So tithing is not voluntary in the sense of something that is optional. Nor does God allow us to arbitrarily decide the minimum amount we should give Him. Through His tithing system He reveals the minimum amount we should return to Him from all He gives us. Since God is our Creator and because everything belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1; Haggai 2:8), He has the right to establish this system of financial support for His spiritual purposes.

Was tithing practiced before God's national covenant with Israel?

Abraham and Jacob both understood and practiced tithing. Abraham gave a tithe of all the spoils of a rescue mission (Genesis 14:20); and Jacob, upon coming to a closer relationship with God, promised to give God a tithe (a 10th, 10 percent) of the blessings God would pour out on him (Genesis 28:22).

Did the priests and Levites tithe?

God gave a tithe to the Levites for their work in the tabernacle and as an inheritance (Numbers 18:21-24). From the tithes they received, they were also to pay tithes (Numbers 18:26). Among the Levites God selected Aaron and his family to serve as priests (Exodus 4:14; Numbers 3:10). Because Aaron and his family were also Levites, they, too, would have been expected to tithe.

Was tithing just for Israel?

God's intent was for Israel to be a model for other nations (Deuteronomy 28:1). In Romans 2:6-15 the apostle Paul explains that all nations will be judged by the same law of God. The Christianity of the Bible does not deny that law or its connection with Israel. Instead, those who became part of the New Testament Church were called "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).

Was tithing limited to agricultural products?

In Genesis 14 Abraham recovered people and goods (Genesis 14:16). Of these spoils Abraham gave a tithe "of all" (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:2). His tithing was not limited to agricultural products. In 2 Chronicles 31:5 we read that Israel "brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything."

Since the economy of ancient Israel was predominantly agricultural, this verse appropriately identifies such products. But we should also note that the phrase "the tithe of everything" allows for nonagricultural products. Similarly, Proverbs 3:9 tells us to "honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase." God wants us to honor Him with all our increase, not just agricultural increase. It is inconsistent to assume that God expected only farmers to tithe while excusing everyone else from this command.

How many tithes are discussed in the Bible?

The Bible explains that tithes (tenths, Leviticus 27:32) were used for three purposes: to support the Levitical ministry (Numbers 18:21), to provide for God's people to observe His commanded festivals (Deuteronomy 14:22-27) and to help the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Though some have assumed just one tithe was saved and then divided by the individual among these three categories as he saw fit, the Bible's instructions contradict this assumption.

Numbers 18:21 speaks of God giving the children of Levi all the tithes, or tenths, of the increase. If the Levites were only going to receive part of a tithe, God would not have promised them 10 percent. God, of course, does not lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2). Similarly, Deuteronomy 14:23 speaks of a person using a 10th, 10 percent, of his increase for festivals, and Deuteronomy 14:28-29 speaks of 10 percent, every third year, to be used to help those in need. Only three distinct tithes adequately accounts for the different instructions given in these passages.

Is there historical evidence outside the Bible for more than one tithe?

Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian who wrote extensively of Jewish history and customs, twice explains that there was more than one tithe. First, he writes: "Let there be taken out of your fruits a tenth, besides that which you have allotted to give to the priest and Levites. This you may indeed sell in the country, but it is to be used in those feasts and sacrifices that are to be celebrated in the holy city: for it is fit that you should enjoy those fruits of the earth which God gives you to possess, so as may be to the honour of the donor" (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 4, chapter 8, section 8).

He continues: "Besides those two tithes, which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year a third tithe to be distributed to those that want [i.e., lack]; to women also that are widows, and to children that are orphans" (Antiquities, Book4, chapter 8, section 22).

Other ancient historical sources, including the Septuagent (mid-second century B.C. Greek translation of the Old Testament) and the Book of Jubilees (a mid-second century B.C. pseudepigraphical work), describe multiple tithes. The later church writers Jerome (ca. 347-420, primary translator of the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible) and Chrysostom (347-407) also taught that the Israelites gave multiple tithes.

How important is tithing to God?

In Malachi 3:8 God says: "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings." God says those who refuse to give Him tithes and offerings are stealing—breaking one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19).

Do comments about tithing in the book of Malachi refer to only the priesthood or do they also refer to others?

Some of God's instruction in the book of Malachi was directed toward the priests (Malachi 1:8) because they had the responsibility of teaching the people God's law (Deuteronomy 33:8-10; Malachi 2:7). But God did not single out the priests as the only ones guilty of disobedience. In reference to not giving tithes and offerings, God said "this whole nation" was guilty of this sin (Malachi 3:9).

Although the first two chapters of Malachi address sins of Israel at that time, the last two chapters speak of Christ's second coming and the lake of fire. Interestingly, God's rebuke concerning tithing is found within this clearly prophetic section. Furthermore, the issues addressed in Malachi (respect for God's law, faithful teachers, avoiding divorce, paying one's tithes) were important issues for all Israelites at the time Malachi was written and continue to be important issues for God's people.

Has tithing been abolished under the New Covenant?

No, it has not. Though some assume that God's laws have been abolished by the New Covenant, Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Hebrews 8 and 10 all confirm that under the New Covenant God's laws would be written upon believers' hearts—not abrogated or done away.

Although the New Covenant included changes from a physical priesthood to the spiritual priesthood of Jesus Christ and the superseding of the sacrifices that pointed toward Him, these adjustments are all documented in the New Testament. Hebrews 7 discusses the change regarding the priesthood. Jesus Christ, a priest according to the order of Melchizedek (the preincarnate Jesus Christ as the priest who received tithes from Abraham), has replaced the family of Aaron. The obvious implication is that, as Jesus Christ has now superseded Aaron's family as High Priest, the ministry of Jesus Christ has similarly taken over the role of the Levites and so would receive tithes to do God's continuing work.

It is also important to note that, even though God temporarily gave the tithe to the Levites for their service, it remained holy and ultimately belonged to Him (Leviticus 27:30). When God gave it to the Levites and the people refused to pay it to them, God said the people were robbing Him—not robbing the Levites (Malachi 3:8). Christians, who are under the terms of the New Covenant, continue to honor God through their tithes and offerings.

What did Jesus say about tithing?

In Matthew 23:23 Jesus sternly criticized the religious authorities of His day for their distorted spiritual understanding. They were meticulous in tithing on tiny spices and herbs, Jesus said, but "neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith." They should have placed more emphasis on these more important spiritual principles, He said, "without leaving the others undone." Here Christ upheld tithing as a practice that should be followed.

Why doesn't Paul mention tithing in his letters?

Realizing that all Scripture was inspired by God and profitable for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and that the only Scripture available at the time were the books we know as the Old Testament, Paul did not consider it necessary to repeat all of God's laws in his letters. His letters contain answers to specific issues and were not written as a new set of laws to replace God's instruction found in the earlier books of the Bible.

Why didn't Paul take tithes from the Corinthians? Is this the New Testament model for ministers?

Some in Corinth were among the apostle Paul's most vicious detractors. In 1 Corinthians 9:1-23 he defended his ministerial role and argued that he and Barnabas had the right to receive financial support from the Corinthians for their service to the Church (verses 13-14). Even though they had this right, Paul explained they didn't exercise it because they were concerned that it might "hinder the gospel" (verse 12). He didn't want to be accused of greed or wanting to be supported by the members there. To avoid such accusations, he took no financial support from them.

To support himself financially, Paul worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:1-3). In 2 Corinthians 11:5-13 Paul reflects on his decision: "Was this my offense, that I made no charge for preaching the gospel of God, humbling myself in order to exalt you? I robbed other churches—by accepting support from them to serve you" (Revised English Bible). He then explains that brethren in Macedonia paid the expenses that he could not meet while in Corinth: "If I ran short while I was with you, I did not become a charge on anyone; my needs were fully met by friends from Macedonia; I made it a rule, as I always shall, never to be a burden to you" (verse 9, REB).

Paul's decision not to take financial support from the Corinthians was an unusual situation prompted by the accusatory attitudes of others.

How should I calculate and pay my tithes?

Tithes are calculated on one's "increase" (Deuteronomy 14:22-28; 2 Chronicles 31:5). To determine one's increase one must deduct the costs of doing business from gross income. For example, in the case of a farmer, the cost of seed, fertilizer, equipment and other farm-related expenses would be deducted from the profit of a crop to determine the increase.

After we determine our increase, we should give a 10th to God for the support of His work. If we receive regular paychecks, it is best to send our tithes and our offerings (contributions above 10 percent) when our paychecks arrive. Self-employed people who experience significant fluctuations in income and expense may not be able to accurately figure their increase until the end of a year.

In addition to giving God a 10th of our increase, God tells us to save another 10th for observing His festivals. We should likewise faithfully set these funds aside throughout the year so they will be readily available for our use when those times arrive.

Finally, if we are able, God expects us to help the poor through a third tithe saved on the third and sixth years of a seven-year cycle (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Deuteronomy 15:1). Today, almost all governments collect taxes in excess of this percentage to help the needy. Under these circumstances, most people are paying this third tithe in the form of taxes. While we still retain Christian obligations to help those in need, it is unnecessary to also contribute additional funding for the poor beyond our taxes if we are unable to do so.