THE BIBLICAL TITHE
Back in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, a well known minister had a “personal revelation” that the blessing poured out in Malachi 3 in connection to tithing is ideas, concepts, and insights. Yet, this revelation is foreign to the context and foreign to the entirety of the scriptures regarding the tithe.
The blessing that is referred to in Malachi 3 was God’s promise to bless the crops from which the tithe (food provision) was taken. The open windows of Heaven refer to such blessings as the rain that waters the land, causing an abundant harvest and the timely ripening of the crops. The devourer that is to be rebuked isn’t Satan, but things like pests (bugs, worms, etc.) that would come and devour the crops.
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be FOOD in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. ~ Malachi 3:10-12
Addressing the subject of tithing is important and needful, but it is also risky because this subject touches a nerve with a lot of people on both sides of the issue.
The disagreement between the two sides generally revolves around this question, “Is tithing a New Testament doctrine?” Though this is a valid question, it isn’t the best place to begin a discussion on tithing.
Well then, where should we begin?
We ought to begin with a working definition, a Biblical definition, of what the tithe is. Most tithing teachers claim that the word “tithe” means “the tenth,” and applies to monetary income, but is this the Biblical definition of the tithe?
Was the tithe ever a tenth of money anywhere is scripture?
If you have ever heard anyone preach or teach on tithing, you have probably heard Malachi 3 referenced. Most tithe teachers use this as their “go-to” text, and since many sincere believers have never been taught what the biblical tithe really is, the use of Malachi 3 can be very convincing for the tithe teacher.
The truth is, many who teach that the tithe is 10% of monetary income, do so out of honest and sincere conviction. However, sincerity can be misleading if a person hasn’t taken the time to find out what the Biblical tithe actually is.
When ministers who don’t know what the Biblical tithe is, use verses such as Malachi 3 to preach a required monetary 10%, this can put people under much condemnation. Having once been a Pastor of a local church, I am not proud of the fact that I once taught tithing incorrectly. Teaching God’s people that they are robbing God if they do not give a tenth of their monetary income can, and does, put people under unnecessary and unjustified guilt. No minister should use such tactics to gain financial support.
The Book of Malachi belongs to the Old Covenant, and Malachi’s tithing statements ought to be understood in view of the definition of the tithe given in the Law of Moses.
According to the Law of Moses, the tithe was never money. According to Leviticus 27:30, 32, and 16 other scriptural texts, the tithe was always food provision from the produce inside the land of Israel, and food provision from the herds inside the land of Israel. The tithe was never a tenth of the monetary income of those who had occupations such as fishermen, tent makers, makers of linen, blacksmiths, etc.
Under the Law of Moses, there were four categories of tithes:
(1) THE LEVITICAL TITHE ~ Numbers 18:21-24; Nehemiah 10:37
The Levites were given the tithe (food provision) because they were given no land inheritance among the tribes of Israel (Deuteronomy 10:9; 12:12; 18:20-24) . It was food provision for their service in the ministry. The Levites, who received the tithe, were to give one tenth of the tithe they received to the priests, whom they served in the ministry (Num 18:25-28; Neh 10:38). The priests (who were the descendants of Aaron) were also of the tribe of Levi, and were given a tithe from the tithe, because they also were given no land inheritance like their fellow Levites who served them in the ministry.
(2) THE FESTIVAL TITHE ~ Deuteronomy 12 and 14
This tithe was to be consumed by the individual worshiper during the three yearly festivals in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 12:1-19; 14:22-26). The following words refer to the festival tithe and shows that the tithe was not money but consumables, i.e. food.
“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.” ~ Deuteronomy 14:22-29
Have you ever heard anyone who teaches monetary tithing tell the people to take their tithes and go spend it on themselves and rejoice in the presence of the Lord?
Notice in the reference above, if the tithe was too much to carry (this is a reference to food from the harvest), the tithe could be exchanged for silver (money) and then the money could be used to buy food at the feast of the Lord. This clearly shows that the tithe was not money, but food.
(3). THE TITHE FOR THE POOR
This tithe was given to the widows, orphans, and strangers living in the land of Israel. ~ Deuteronomy 14:28, 29; 26:12, 13).
(4). THE TITHE-TAX
This tithe was tax imposed on the people when the Kings began to rule over the people of Israel. ~ 1 Samuel 8:14-17
There is absolutely no scriptural basis to say that people struggling to make ends meet are required by God to give a tenth of their income or else they’re robbing God and under a cursed.
In the book of Malachi, the prophet Malachi rebukes the backslidden priests for their many sins and among their sins was their stealing from the tithes (the food provision for the Levites). Actually, the book of Nehemiah gives the contextual background for Malachi’s tithing statements.
Now it came to pass, when they had HEARD THE LAW that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude. And before this, ELIASHIB THE PRIEST, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was ALLIED UNTO TOBIAH: 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. But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that ELIASHIB (the Priest) did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. AND IT GRIEVED ME SORE: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff to Tobiah out of the chamber. 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. And I perceived that THE PORTIONS OF THE LEVITES HAD NOT BEEN GIVE TO THEM: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled everyone to his field. Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. Then brought all Judah THE TITHE OF THE CORN AND NEW WINE AND THE OIL unto the treasuries. And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren. ~ Nehemiah 13:3-13
In Malachi, God is addressing the sins of the priests who were causing the people to be cursed because they were robbing from the food provision which belonged to their servants: the Levites. It is not a statement to New Testament believers regarding their income.
Paul told the Corinthians to do the following with their money:
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:7-9
Giving freely from the heart is New Testament doctrine. You may give a tenth or more if you wish. You can give as much as you desire, for you are free to give as you purpose in your heart.
You are not required by God to give 10% of your income. The Old Testament tithe was never 10% of monetary income. It was food from the crops and herds inside the holy land of Israel.
Russell Earl Kelly, a theologian on the subject of tithing, points out the following:
The argument made concerning the non-food tithing is that money was not universally available and barter from food was used for most transactions. This argument is neither biblical nor historical. Genesis alone contains money in 32 texts and the word occurs 44 times before the holy tithe is described in Leviticus 27. Gold is in Genesis 2:12. The words jewelry, gold, silver and shekel also appear often from Genesis to Deuteronomy.
Abram was very rich in silver and gold (Gen 13:2); money in the form of silver shekels paid for slaves (Gen 17:12+); Abimelech gave Abraham 1000 pieces of silver (Gen 20:16); Abraham paid 400 pieces of silver for land (Gen 23:9-16); Joseph was sold for silver pieces (Gen 37:28); slaves bought freedom (Lev 25:47-53). Court fines (Ex 21 all; 22 all), sanctuary dues (Ex 30:12+), vows (Lev 27:3-7), poll taxes (Num 3:47+), alcoholic drinks (Deu 14:26) and marriage dowries (Deu 22:29) included money.
Joseph gave Benjamin 300 pieces of silver (Gen 45:22). According to Genesis 47:15-17 food was used for barter only after money had been spent. Banking and usury laws exist in Leviticus even before tithing. Therefore the argument is false. Yet the holy contents from Leviticus to Luke never include money from non-food products and trades. (Russell Earl Kelly PHD).
Besides the use of Malachi, Abraham’s tithe to Melchisdek is one of the most often used texts to support tithing. Often, Abraham’s tithe is used to advocate the the idea that tithing is an eternal principle because Abraham tithed before the law.
Actually, Abraham’s tithe was an ancient Arab custom. Paying a tenth from the spoil of war (to the reigning or ruling King) was a customary practice in Abraham’s day. Abraham’s tithe was a special onetime tithe-tax from the spoils of war.
Russell Earl Kelly points out that under the Arab custom, the spoil-tithe tax was ten percent of the spoil. However under the Mosaic Law, the spoil-tithe tax which came from the spoils of war was only one percent and was given to the Levites and (one tenth) of that (one percent) was given to the priests.
The required tithe tax from the spoil of war under the Law of Moses, was actually less that what Abraham gave to Melchizedek.
Abraham did not give Melchisedek a tenth of his own personal wealth. In fact there is no record that Abraham gave Melchisedek anything from his personal possessions. At other times when God appeared to Abraham, Abraham offered sacrifice to God from his personal substance (Genesis 12:7-8; 13:14-18) but he did not give from his personal substance to Melchisedek. Abraham gave only that which was from the spoils of war to Melchisedek.
For more study regarding Melchisedek, I have provided a link at the end of this teaching.
Finally, we sometimes give just because we want to out of a generous heart, and other times we are prompted to by the Lord. He will bless those who give when we do it in faith and with a generous heart. I believe if Pastors would teach their congregations the biblical tithe and set the people free to just simply give from the heart, all the needs would be met. I mean, there probably would be times we’d see such a move of God everyone’s needs may get met. This happen in the early part of Acts, there was such grace in giving that everyone’s needs were met and the apostles distributed what was given as everyone had need.
PAUL’S DOCTRINE FOR CHRISTIAN GIVING
But this I say, he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work… (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
In 2 Corinthians (chapters 8 and 9) Paul was collecting donations for Christians who were in need. Paul was not raising personal financial support for his own ministry. Paul was very careful to use the utmost integrity when receiving any donations. In fact Paul was being extremely careful in how this donation was being handled so that no accusation could be levied (see 2 Corinthians 8:16-21).
Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians regarding this gift had to do with their unfulfilled enthusiasm. Now a year later, the Corinthians had not yet fulfilled what they were so eager to support a year earlier.
To motivate the Corinthians to stop dragging their feet, Paul tells them how the Christians in Macedonia, who themselves were having difficultly, stepped up and gave generously anyway. The Corinthians were more prosperous and in better position to help than were the Macedonians, yet the Macedonians were the ones who came through and did what the Corinthians had committed to do, but failed to finish.
Paul exhorts the Corinthians to follow the Macedonians example of generosity by actually doing what they were previously eager to do, which was to help their brethren in need. Paul does not tell the Corinthians to give what they do not have, but only from what they do have. Notice Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 8:10 -15.
Here is my advice: It would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. As the Scriptures say, “Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough.” (TNLT)
It is to be regretted that giving has been so abused within modern Western Christianity, where God’s people are sometimes taught to give until it hurts by giving what they can’t afford to give. Yet Paul says, “give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.”
Giving until it hurts, is often taught under the guise sowing seed, or seed faith giving,which is a man made ideology and not a Biblical doctrine.
This ideology teaches people that they can activate spiritual laws of prosperity to obtain material blessings if they will sow and keep on sowing, or to put it another way – “keep giving your money (your financial seed) to the minister (sowing into the good ground) and God will prosper you.”
Paul never taught such a concept.
When Paul says what he says in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 (mentioned at the beginning of this teaching) it is within the context of giving out of Christian love to help others.
Paul did not teach giving as a way to activate a spiritual law of prosperity. Instead, Paul tells the Corinthians that God will provide for them like he provides seed for the farmer so that their generosity would bring forth a harvest of thanksgivings to God from the hearts of those who benefited from their generosity.
Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God. As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you. Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words! (2 Corinthians 9: 8-15)
The context of Paul’s word in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 have nothing to do with activating spiritual laws for personal wealth and prosperity. It has everything to do with Christian love expressed through generosity which in turn brings glory to God.
WAS PAUL A RICH PREACHER?
The apostle Paul never used manipulative tactics to raise support for his ministry. Paul chose to labor with his hands and pay his own way so that the truth of the gospel would not be hindered.
It’s remarkable that so many Christians don’t know that Paul worked to provide for himself and others in the ministry. Paul says the following in the book of Acts:
I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that THESE HANDS have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that SO LABORING ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:33-35).
Paul believed in working and paying your own way if possible.
For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an example unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).
You may find it interesting to know what I learned from a friend who is skilled in the Greek language. The handkerchiefs taken from Paul, which were used to heal the sick and drive out demons (Acts 19:12), were most likely those used for wiping the sweat during his making of tents.
Paul had the right to ask for support but chose not to do so, so that the gospel would not be hindered (see 1 Corinthians 9).
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul addresses the gullibleness of the Corinthians who had allowed other “so-called apostles” to take advantage of them, and in contrast, how he had ministered to them without charge.
In 2 Corinthians 12:14 Paul says to the Corinthians, “Now I am coming to you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you. I don’t want what you have — I want you. After all, children don’t provide for their parents. Rather, parents provide for their children.”
Paul also appealed to the Corinthians to raise support for the poor saints in Jerusalem who were in need of help. He did not teach those poor saints who were in need to sow a seed to his ministry. On the contrary, he encouraged their brethren in Christ, who had the means to help, to give generously. He taught those who could help to do so within their means and as a result God would bless them, and their giving, and it would bring forth the fruit unto the praise and glory of God (2 Corinthians chapters 8 & 9).
Paul was also cautious about how this gift was to be handled.
We are also sending another brother with Titus. All the churches praise him as a preacher of the Good News. He was appointed by the churches to accompany us as we take the offering to Jerusalem —a service that glorifies the Lord and shows our eagerness to help. We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable (2 Corinthians 8:18-21).
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul thanks them for their generous gift of support for his ministry by saying the following:
How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. As you know, you Philippians were THE ONLY ONES who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. NO OTHER CHURCH DID THIS. Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness. At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:10-19).
As can be seen from the text above, though he was sometimes supported by the gifts of some (namely the Philippians), Paul wasn’t one who went around teaching people to “sow seed” into his ministry and promising them that God would cancel their debts or make them rich.
Paul was a true minister of the gospel.
WHY DID PAUL PAY HIS OWN WAY?
1 Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord? ~ 1 Corinthians 9:1-19
Paul is talking to those of whom he had a right to receive support for his ministry. He says,“are not ye my work in the Lord?”
2 If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
3 Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
4 Have we not power to eat and to drink?
5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?
6 Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? ~ 1 Corinthians 9:2-6
Notice that Paul says, “have not we power to forbear working?” In other words, Paul says, don’t we (he and Barnabas) have the right to be supported and not have to work to support themselves – don’t miss this point.
7 Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
8 Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
10 Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
11 If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. ~ 1 Corinthians 9:7-12
The power Paul is referring to in the verse above is the power to receive support for his ministry. Paul and Barnabas had the power or right to be supported by the Corinthian church. However, Paul and Barnabas elected not to do so.
Now think about that. The apostle Paul and Barnabas, who was also an apostle, chose not to solicit support from the Corinthians but to work instead. Paul says, “we have not used this power.” This is a reference to the power to garner support.
Why didn’t Paul and Barnabas use this power? Paul tells us exactly the reason why they didn’t: “Lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.”
Those who receive support for their ministry must be very careful that they do not hinder the gospel of Christ. Many minsters have compromised the truth of the gospel because their pay check was at stake.
When ministers are beholden to people for support, there can be a real temptation to compromise and not minister the Word of God with the utmost integrity.
13 Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
14 Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void. ~ 1 Corinthians 9:13-15
Though support for those who minister is an ordination of God, Paul chose not to use this privileged.
Notice verse 15 carefully. Paul chose not to employ his right of support and he tells the Corinthians he has not written to them to get their support. Paul then says something very astounding that I don’t think many people even know is in the Bible: Paul says, “it would be better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.“
What does this mean? Paul would rather die than to not be able to glory in the fact that he had given the gospel FREELY!
Let that sink in.
Paul chose not to use his right to gain financial support from the Corinthians because he gloried in ministering the gospel for free, and that is why he elected to work and pay his own way. Now notice the following:
16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. ~ 1 Corinthians 9:16-17
When Paul says, “I have nothing to glory of” in verse 16, he is referring to financial or material support. He then says, “for necessity is laid upon me.” In other words, I have to take care of my own needs. Then he says, “yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”
At the beginning of verse 17 Paul says, “For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward…”
Paul carefully guarded against wrong motives, and was driven with a passion to minister the gospel freely and without burdening God’s people. This is why Paul so often payed his own way.
How many times have you heard television preachers use so much of their air time asking for money, or using gimmicks to get money? Many times they will even quote Paul. Yet Paul’s way of thinking was the polar opposite of theirs.
So I ask every minister who reads this, if you were no longer paid, or supported for your service, would you continue to do it? Would you find ways to do what God has called you to do?
If not, why are you even doing it? You only have a reward if you do it willingly!
Now notice what Paul says next:
18 What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. ~ 1 Corinthians 9: 18-19
Paul chose to pay his own way so that he would not abuse his power and he was careful to always minister the gospel freely and willingly. This was something close to Paul’s heart. This is something he would not allow anyone to rob him of glorying in.
Paul wanted to stand before God and be able to say, “I obeyed you willingly, and I freely gave them the truth. I did not do it for personal gain.”