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Tithing, Tithes and The Tithe Debate

What Do You Mean Tithes & Tithing?

By tithes and tithing we mean the doctrine held by a number of church organisations which says that members must give ten percent of their income to the church.

The Purpose of The Tithe Debate

It's widely accepted that tithing is mandatory within a Levitical (temple) system, but there is noticeable lack of agreement about whether tithing is commanded by God outside the Levitical (temple) context today. Jews and many christian churches say: "No tithing is not required outside of the temple system". However, other christian churches (some would say fundamentalist christian churches) argue to the contrary. Many people on both sides of the tithe debate are deeply sincere in what they believe, preach and publish about tithing - but they can't all be right.

As far as reasonably possible, The Tithe Debate is intended to be a single point of reference for people who are considering the subject of whether tithing is appropriate or not today - that is, without the temple & levitical systems. It offers information which reflects the views of those who have strong views for tithes and tithing and those who have equally strong views against tithes and tithing.

When evaluating these essays, we suggest that readers try to keep an open mind. Don't simply rely on developing an understanding of only one side of the tithe debate, because the arguments are often emotive and highly polarised. We suggest that reading articles both for tithes & tithing and against tithes & tithing is the wisest way to reach a balanced understanding of the key issues. Ask whether each article fairly acknowledges arguments offered by those who hold the opposing point of view. Then determine whether they address those arguments successfully (or otherwise) using scripture based counter-arguments. (Acts 17:11)

By understanding both sides of the tithe debate, we hope you will be informed enough to

" out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

Some of the Key Arguments For & Against Tithes & Tithing

Tithing Isn't Just on Agricultural Increase: If tithing is only on agricultural produce, then God appears to be a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) if tent-makers, carpenters, metalworkers etc. are not required to tithe.

Tithing is Just on Agricultural Increase: It is God's prerogative to be selective if He wishes. See Romans 9:15.

When tithing is commanded, scripture shows that it is only agricultural increase that should be tithed upon: Leviticus 27:30,32, Deuteronomy 12:17, Deuteronomy 14:23,28, 2 Chronicles 35:1-6, Nehemiah 10:37, Nehemiah 12:44, Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42.

To suggest that tithes were paid on non-agricultural "increase" is to read into scripture. Whilst tithes to levites on agricultural based products were mandatory, offerings were nevertheless also commanded from all (Deuteronomy 16:16).

If tithing was on all forms of income for city dwellers too, why did David have to make this proclamation?

2 Chronicles 31:3-4 "Moreover he commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to contribute support for the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the Law of the LORD".

Why doesn't scripture record David using words like "tithe", "tithes" or "tithing" here? It would have been a strong argument for tithing on more than agricultural increase.

Furthermore, the Mishnah, written between the second and third centuries to preserve earlier oral rabbinic traditions; is entirely consistent with this position. The Mishnah only refers to tithing on agricultural produce.

Jacob Tithed

Arguments For Jacob Tithing: Jacob promised to tithe in Genesis 28:20-22 and this pre-dates the Old Covenant, so tithing cannot be "done away" with by the New Covenant and is therefore valid today.

Arguments Against Jacob Tithing: Jacob's promise to "tithe" was conditional. He would "tithe" only if God blessed him. This example canít be used to demonstrate that tithing was an obligatory commandment prior to the tithing commandments in Leviticus.

Gen 28:20-29:1 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You." NKJV

On the contrary, since Jacob made his vow to tithe conditional, it would appear to indicate that tithing was not normally required unconditionally.

Abraham Tithed

Arguments For Abraham Tithing: Genesis 14:14-24 and Hebrews 7:1-10 show that Abraham tithed on the spoils of war to Melchizedek before the Levitical priesthood was established at Sinai. Tithing pre-dates the Old Covenant, so it cannot be "done away" with by the New Covenant and is therefore valid for today.

Arguments Against Abraham "Tithing": Although there are many opportunities where scripture could have recorded beyond doubt that tithing was unconditionally mandated on all forms of income before the Old Covenant, in fact proponents of the mandatory tithe argument offer only two: Jacob's ladder (see above) and this one. Of the two this is the better argument.

Nevertheless, the question isn't: did Abraham give 10% of the spoils of war in this case. He clearly did and Hebrews 7: shows that this wasn't the only occasion. However the question remains, did Abraham ALWAYS tithe on all forms of his income? Clearly scripture doesn't say.

However, if tithing was commanded even before the Exodus, why was this (so called) universal principle not universal; since Numbers 31:25-30 shows that God did clearly not require a tithe of the "spoils of war" to be taken from the Midianites and given to the Levites?

Num 31:25-31 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 26 "Count up the plunder that was taken--of man and beast--you and Eleazar the priest and the chief fathers of the congregation; 27 and divide the plunder into two parts, between those who took part in the war, who went out to battle, and all the congregation. 28 And levy a tribute for the LORD on the men of war who went out to battle: one of every five hundred of the persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep; 29 take it from their half, and give it to Eleazar the priest as a heave offering to the LORD. 30 And from the children of Israel's half you shall take one of every fifty, drawn from the persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep, from all the livestock, and give them to the Levites who keep charge of the tabernacle of the LORD." 31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses.

Interesting too, isn't it, that Abraham kept nothing of the spoils of war on which he is supposed to have "tithed"?

Gen 14:21-23 Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself." 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Abram rich' NKJV

Arguably then, Abraham actually made a voluntary offering of 10% of the spoils on this occasion, rather than an obligatory tithe on all forms of his income. Scholars argue that this was not an uncommon custom at the time - see Should the Church Teach Tithing? by Dr. Russell Kelly. So arguments supporting mandatory tithing (on all forms of income) prior to the commandment to tithe to the Levites are surprisingly few and unsatisfactory to say the least.

Ancient Historic Literature Actually Records Three Tithes

Arguments For Tithing: Josephus and the Book of Tobit record three tithes.

Arguments Against Tithing: Neither of these books is in the biblical Cannon and whether or not there are two or three tithes is immaterial today. On the whole, most Jews do not tithe today, since to do so on other than agricultural produce to non Levites, without a temple system is not supportable even from "Old Testament" scripture.

Christ Confirmed That the Pharisee Should Tithe

Arguments For Tithing: In Matthew 23:23 Christ confirmed to the Pharisee, who tithed on mint, annise and cummin, that he should tithe.

Arguments Against Tithing: That's absolutely right. Until the Levitical system was suspended, which came some time later (after the temple was sacked by Roman legions in AD 70) tithing on agricultural produce to the Levitical priesthood remained obligatory. More on this below. Notice in this case though, that Christ didn't say "you tithe on every denarius (small silver coin) you earn". He only referred to tithes on herbs (agricultural increase). This is entirely consistent with the view of tithes and tithing recorded in the Mishnah.

The Pharisee Tithed On "All He Possessed"

Arguments For Tithing: Luke 18:12 shows that the Pharisee tithed on "all he possessed" not just agricultural increase.

Arguments Against Tithing: This does not prove that all Jews tithed on non-agricultural produce. On the contrary, many of the traditions of the Pharisees were written down between the second and third centuries within the Mishnah and the Mishnah refers to tithing on agricultural produce only. Arguably then, the Pharisee's prayer was emphasising what he did above and beyond what law and tradition required him to do. Arguably, if all the Jews at the time of Christ tithed on "all they possessed"; there wouldn't have been so much for the Pharisee to be self righteous about.

Tithing to "New Covenant Priesthoods"

Arguments For Tithing: Under the New Covenant, Christ is our High Priest forever "after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 7) and the Church is the spiritual temple.

2 Cor 6:16 ... For you are the temple of the living God. NKJV

...and (at least some) will have priestly roles following Christ's return.

Rev 5:10 And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth." NKJV

As such, tithes should be paid to the "New Covenant Priesthood" today.

Against Tithing: Christ is indeed our High Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. But did Christ say that any other minister, apostle, (first century or otherwise) would be before His return?

Furthermore does scripture record any first century minister claiming to be a "priest after the order of Melchizedek" and requiring tithes?

On the contrary, scripture shows that Christ's High Priesthood is a heavenly one, and that surprisingly the levitical priesthood's role continued on earth (Hebrews 8:1 and 4) at least until the temple was sacked - a period of about forty years after Christ's death.

Heb 8:1 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest (Christ), who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,

Heb 8:4 For if He (Christ) were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law  (NKJV)

...or if you prefer...

Heb 8:4 If he had been on earth he would not have been a priest at all, because there are other priests who make the offerings ordered by the law; - The Bible in Basic English

Furthermore, despite what many people argue to the contrary, the New Testament no-where countermands the commandment to tithe to Levites (when a temple system exists). Actually, there is no record that Jesus Christ or any first century minister required tithing to them at all, although they accepted voluntary offerings, despite accounts of pressing financial need in the first century church.

In fact Mark 6:7-9 etc. shows Christ teaching the apostles to survive on next to nothing. What was the point in doing this if they were going to be assured of a tithe-based income?

Remember, Christ who was not a Levite but a Jew, paid his taxes with money from a fish provided miraculously by God, not tithes.

Malachi 3:8-10 - Not Tithing is Stealing From God

Arguments For Tithing: Malachi shows that not tithing is stealing from God.

Arguments Against Tithing: Not tithing on agricultural produce to a Levitical priesthood (when it exists) is indeed stealing from God. Despite Paul attesting to pressing financial needs in the church, he never once mentions tithing to fund his personal ministry. Understandably some argue: "So what; just because Paul doesn't mention tithing, doesn't mean to say it wasn't the common practise?"

Fair point.

However, was the great apostle Paul ministering to so few people (say less than ten tithe paying wage earners) that he needed to work as a tentmaker whilst preaching the gospel?

Acts 18:1-4 After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. 3 So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.

Those who are for tithing argue: "Paul could have commanded tithing, but didn't want to burden the new churches". If so, would Paul really allow his churches to "steal from God" (see above) and not correct them? He pulled no punches in correcting immorality in the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 5) and even criticized the apostle Peter before the entire Antioch congregation when this was necessary.

Tithing is A Principle of Giving

Arguments For Tithing: Tithing is a biblical principle of giving, which honours God and brings promises of blessings to the giver, irrespective of whether tithes technically should only be on agricultural increase and received by a Levitical priesthood or not.

Arguments Against Tithing: God loves a cheerful giver. So christian giving or voluntary offerings (of even 10% or more) of any form of income to New Covenant ministries are fine, but so called "tithes" to non-Levitical "priesthoods" should not be mandated without defendable scriptural support.

© Dec 2005.

One small and predictable change to an "Old Testament" law about circumcising gentile proselytes in Acts, caused massive turmoil in the predominantly Jewish first century church. So if most of the other Old Testament laws were "done away" - why then isn't any comparable disturbance recorded in the New Testament? Many christian theologians also believe Paul kept Nazirite vows & offered sacrifices at the temple, even after the crucifixion. So can the written Torah law (law of Moses) really be "done away" in Galatians?


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