The History Of Tithing

Where Do Tithe Proponents Stand In History?


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The History of Tithing

A large volume could easily be written on this topic alone. I’ve read much on the subject, and you can easily find more information with a little research. If you’d like to learn more, a good place is Dr. Russel Kelly’s book “Should the Church Teach Tithing? or his website tithing-russkelly.com. Dr. Kelly did his doctoral thesis on tithing. Dr. David Croteau also has a really great chapter on the history of tithing in his thesis “You Mean I Don’t Have to Tithe?”[1] Both have great compilations of quotes from famous Christian figures, from early church history all the way up to modern theologians, regarding the tithe.

For now, I’d like to briefly point out how strong the historical case is against teaching tithing as a component of original apostolic Christianity. We will also consider churches today which do not teach tithing.

 

Did Jesus, Paul, or the Early Apostles Receive a Tithe?

Not only does scripture never talk about Jesus receiving a tithe, but it is nearly unimaginable that he would have when we consider the context in which he lived! Scripture does tell us clearly how Jesus and the twelve received their support:

 

Luke 8:1-3  “After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

 

Jesus talked about money a lot, but for all his teaching about money, scripture doesn’t record one sermon he gave to try to raise money for his own ministry. He talked about giving in the context of helping the poor. Yet he received financial support for himself and for his disciples in the form of free-will gifts.

Scripture never records Jesus or the apostles ever taking up an offering for their own ministries! Each offering that scripture records them taking up was for the poor. Now I’m not saying this to imply from silence that scripture prohibits passing the basket or taking up an offering for the preacher. However, I’m pointing out the primary emphasis not on giving to the poor, which church historians also highlight.

Jesus’s own instructions when he sent the apostles out made no mention of a tithe, but only of enjoying hospitality from the people who received them. Two of his commands seem contradictory, on a surface level.

 

Matthew 10:7-10  “’As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Freely you have received; freely give. Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.’”

 

Jesus told them to give freely, yet he also said the worker is worth his keep. They were never to put a price on the gospel, yet it was proper for them to receive hospitality and support as they went. One seminary textbook gives a little background on the world at the time of Christ:

 

“Among the Jews professional life was limited. The one widely extensive profession was that of rabbi, if profession it might be called, for most rabbis followed some trade or secular pursuit for a livelihood, while devoting all the time possible to the study and teaching of the law. . .  Every Jewish boy was expected to learn some trade. Rabbinic tradition declared that “whoever does not teach his son a trade is as if he brought him up to be a robber'”[2]

 

“The prevalent use of tents [by travelers] made the tent-making trade a lucrative occupation. One belonging to the same trade-guild, religious cult, or having any other personal relationship to any resident of the locality could nearly always find welcome more or less genuine in a private home. . . .This was the prevailing manner in which the first Christian missionaries were provided for, though likely the entertainment was tendered them without cost (cf. 2 John 10-11; 3 John 5-8)” [3]

 

The primary form of giving to ministers in the early church was free hospitality, and this was the manner by which Jesus taught his disciples to receive support on a missionary journey. That’s a far cry from receiving 10% of the income of the people you minister too. Remember, even the priests in the Old Covenant only received 1/6th of a percent to 1% of livestock and agricultural products when the tithe was collected! (1/6th of a percent if you hold the position that there was only one tithe and the year of tithing came once every seven years, and 1% for those who believe scripture indicates more than one tithe.)

There is no mention or indication of Jesus or his disciples receiving a tithe. The only support Scriptures tells us they received was hospitality along with free-will gifts. They gave freely, never charging a price for ministry, but receiving hospitality and the generosity of benefactors.

Those who imagine that Jesus could have received a tithe should note that he was born under the law, kept the law, and had no right under the law to receive a tithe. He was not a Levite. He was a rabbi, and rabbis did not receive tithes. Do you remember how hard the Jewish leaders looked to find an occasion to accuse him, and how they accused him of breaking the Sabbath? Can you imagine the dispute that would break out if they learned that Jesus and his disciples, being non-Levites, were receiving tithes?

It’s most likely that Jesus’s disciples continued receiving support in the same way they did before Jesus’s death—by freewill offerings. The early church in Jerusalem continued to follow Hebrew law, so the leaders could not have possibly received tithes. Not being priests or Levites, it was unlawful to do so.

Furthermore, Jesus and the disciples would not have paid tithes on the incomes from their professions under Jewish law. When I point out that the Mosaic tithe was only on agricultural produce and livestock, thus tradespeople, hired laborers, and fisherman did not tithe, it seems that some people imagine I’m making something up, in spite of the scriptural references. Yet these are well-established historical facts which are easy to verify, with rabbinical tradition and experts on Judaism agreeing.

Paul was very clear about the fact that he never demanded money, much less a tithe, from those he preached the gospel to. He received hospitality and free-will offerings.

 

Philippians 4:15  “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.”

 

2 Corinthians 12:13-15  How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong! Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.

 

Acts 20:17+18, 20, 27, 33-35  “From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived he said to them… You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house… For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God… I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

 

I remember hearing our pastor say “We rob the churches if we don’t teach them about tithing.” Consider the absurdity of such a statement in the light of Paul’s words to the Ephesians in Acts 20. The church in Ephesus was composed of primarily gentile Christians. If tithing was of any importance whatsoever, Paul would have had to teach it to them. He didn’t hesitate to proclaim the whole will of God or anything that would have been helpful to them, and there is no mention or even allusion to a tithe. He clearly did not teach them to give him tithes, even outside of what we have written in the Epistle to the Ephesians, because he says he himself supplied his own needs and the needs of his companions. If tithing to him was of any spiritual benefit to the Ephesians, Paul would have taught them to give him tithes.

Paul’s sermon in Acts 20 was specifically to elders, or local church leaders. Instead of instructing these church leaders to receive tithes from the congregations, he did the very opposite! He encouraged them to follow his example by working hard to supply not only their own needs but also the needs of others.

 

The First Generations of the Church Clearly Did Not Practice Tithing

Did the early church practice tithing or require a tithe? As we’ve already pointed out, to do so they would have had to add an additional tithe to the one (or ones) they already paid under Mosaic law, since the Jewish Christians continued to observe Mosaic law until the temple was destroyed and non-Levite church leaders did not qualify to receive the Mosaic tithe.

Some have argued that the silence of the New Testament epistles on tithing was due to the fact that it was universally accepted and nobody needed to say anything about it. This is an absurd argument. The silence of the epistles on the issue is a much stronger argument against tithing. If it was such a foundational issue as many churches today treat it to be, Paul would have certainly had to teach it to all the gentile believers and it surely would have needed to be mentioned in Acts 15 as one of the essentials that gentile Christians needed to observe!

Consider the matters for which Paul rebuked and exhorted the churches. The Corinthian church had carnal infighting and sexual immorality to the point that a man slept with his stepmother. Can you honestly imagine that Paul wrote nothing to them about tithing because he had taught it to them in person and had no need to mention it again in his epistles, because they were completely faithful with tithes in spite of their unfaithfulness in so many matters of much greater importance? The idea is preposterous! If tithing were required, failure to tithe would be one of the first signs of unfaithfulness.

Furthermore, the Jewish believers would have needed significant instruction in order to justify giving the tithe to non-Levite church leaders rather than to the Levites and Priests whom the law gave it to, or to establish an additional tithe on top of the ones the law already exacted. Dr. Kelly states what is also evident in Acts 15 and 21: The early Jewish believers continued following Jewish law and tithing to the priests and Levites, not to the church.

 

“Almost every denomination’s historians of early church history agree that, until A.D. 70 the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem faithfully attended the temple in obedience to Jewish law and, as faithful Jews, supported the Jewish temple with tithes and offerings in addition to their church support.”[4]

 

The tithe which the church later practiced soon became modeled after the Babylonian tithe rather than the Mosaic tithe. Tithing was introduced to the Christian church partly through the influence of Roman and Greek culture rather than as a “moral principle” carried on directly from Judaism. In fact, the Encyclopedia Britannica points out that the Eastern Orthodox churches never accepted the idea of tithes, and Orthodox church members have never paid them.[5]

 

“There is no biblical or historical evidence that the early church used tithing to pay its bills until it was legalized in the late 8th century. This can be documented by almost every notable church historian from any major denomination. Cyprian’s attempt in the middle of the third century was not adopted by the Church. Neither was Chrysostom’s nor Augustine’s attempts in the 5th century. Two local church attempts in the 6th century also failed. Study “tithe” in any major reference work for validation of this history.”[6]-Dr. Russel Earl Kelly

 

Hasting’s Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, “tithe; tithing”

“It is admitted universally that the payment of tithes or the tenths of possessions, for sacred purposes did not find a place within the Christian Church during the age covered by the apostles and their immediate successors.”[7]

 

A large body of evidence, including historical and scriptural commentary, agrees with this. Major Encyclopedias agree that tithing came into practice only after hundreds of years into church history. Justin Martyr’s description of worship and giving in the early church, from around 150 AD, makes it clear that they did not follow a tithe model of giving:

 

“And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.”[8]

 

Where is tithing in this description? People gave what they thought fit? Rather than everybody being obligated to bring tithes, those who were “well to do” and “willing” gave? Justin Martyr’s description of early church giving could not possibly describe the giving of any church today that teaches tithing. But if Justin Martyr’s description of early church giving isn’t clear enough for you, Tertullian’s is even more so:

 

“The tried men of our elders preside over us, obtaining that honour not by purchase, but by established character. There is no buying and selling of any sort in the things of God. Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price.

On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund. For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession….”[9]

 

Tertullian despised the idea that Christianity would have a monetary price, or that there could be any buying or selling in the things of God. What is purchase money? It is an obligatory sum that you pay to receive something. The tithe as taught today is purchase money.

Where tithing is taught, the Christianity of today has become a “religion that has its price.” Even if the church will accept non-tithers into fellowship, it will usually not accept them as full-fledged members of the body of Christ, allowed to minister as Christ enables them.

Tertullian was crystal clear about the fact that there was no compulsion. His description of early church giving sharply contrasts with what many of us are accustomed to. Each person put in a small donation only if he was able and only if he wanted to!

 

Contrasting the Christian Love Feasts to the Pagan Feasts and the Tithe of Hercules

A little while later in the same chapter of his apology, Tertullian contrasted the Christian feasts that supplied the needs of the poor with the self-indulgent pagan feasts:

 

“What wonder if that great love of Christians towards one another is desecrated by you! For you abuse also our humble feasts, on the ground that they are extravagant as well as infamously wicked. To us, it seems, applies the saying of Diogenes: “The people of Megara feast as though they were going to die on the morrow; they build as though they were never to die!” But one sees more readily the mote in another’s eye than the beam in his own. Why, the very air is soured with the eructations of so many tribes, and curioe, and decurioe. The Salii cannot have their feast without going into debt; you must get the accountants to tell you what the tenths of Hercules and the sacrificial banquets cost; the choicest cook is appointed for the Apaturia, the Dionysia, the Attic mysteries; the smoke from the banquet of Serapis will call out the firemen. Yet about the modest supper-room of the Christians alone a great ado is made. Our feast explains itself by its name The Greeks call it agape, i.e., affection. Whatever it costs, our outlay in the name of piety is gain, since with the good things of the feast we benefit the needy; not as it is with you…”[10]

 

Tertullian mentioned the accountants keeping track of the tithe of Hercules. It reminds me of many churches today that keep tithe records! This stood in sharp contrast to the practice of the Christians. As we have already noted, tithes were a part and parcel of pagan worship and law in many cultures. Many Romans practiced giving a tithe of the spoils of war to Hercules,[11] similar to Abraham’s spoils-of-war tithe given to Melchizedek. Pagan tithes stood in contrast to Mosaic tithes, which supplied for the needs of the poor.

Although Tertullian is clear that all contributions were strictly voluntary, his description of early Christian feasts that were shared with the poor reminds me of the Mosaic tithe feast of Deuteronomy 14, which was eaten by the tither and shared with the poor. God’s heart of care for the poor stood in contrast to the spirit of the pagan tithes and feasts.

In the Old Testament, it seems God had taken many common practices of Ancient Near East cultures and modified them so that they would reflect his heart. That just shows us that God was willing to meet people where they were at, in their culture, and reveal himself. The law of Moses and the code of Hammurabi have a lot in common, but the Mosaic law contains compassion and justice on many points that is not found in the code of Hammurabi.

 

What Did the Church Fathers Say about Tithes?

We can find quotes from the church leaders both in favour of and against teaching tithing, but it is clear that it was not the early church’s practice for several hundred years. The earliest church fathers were generally silent or ambiguous about it. Early church leaders emphasized giving all of their possessions to the poor, not tithing. Irenaeus said:

 

“And for this reason did the Lord, instead of that [commandment], “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” forbid even concupiscence; and instead of that which runs thus, “Thou shalt not kill,” He prohibited anger; and instead of the law enjoining the giving of tithes, [He told us] to share all our possessions with the poor…[12]

 

Another early Christian writing, the Didascalia Apostolorum, clearly stated that tithes are not binding on Christians. It put the tithe in the same category as burnt offerings and other rituals:

 

“The Lord, by the gift of His grace, has set you loose and given you rest…that you should no more be bound with sacrifices and oblations, and with sin offerings, and purifications, and vows, and gifts, and holocausts, and burnt offerings, and [Sabbath] idlings, and shewbread, and the observing of purifications; nor yet with tithes and firstfruits, and part-offerings, and gifts and oblations – for it was laid upon them [Jews] to give all these things as of necessity, but you are not bound by these things…”[13]

 

Some people have falsely claimed that certain church fathers such as Tertullian taught tithing, when we really have nothing on record showing they did. This is often done by taking a statement out of context and “interpreting” it to say “He was talking about tithing,” even if it didn’t mention tithes. It makes me wonder why they are looking to create something in support of their position by finding a comment they can interpret a certain way, rather than receiving such a comment at face value and nothing more. Tertullian’s description of early church giving certainly contrasts with a tithe paradigm.

Even statements from those who wanted to implement a tithe showed that it was not the practice of the churches at the time. If you’ve heard that Clement of Alexandria thought Christians should tithe, keep that in the context of the fact that Clement also wanted to require Christians to keep Sabbatical years and the year of Jubilee!

Also consider the context: the earliest tithe proponents were ascetics who advocated denying themselves and giving as much as possible of the tithe to the poor. Whenever you hear that a certain historical Christian taught or didn’t teach tithing, it’s a good idea to consider the commentary on both sides. Some very clearly did teach for or against tithing, but many were ambiguous or seemed to contradict themselves.

Whenever we look at what the church fathers taught on a matter, we must consider it in the context of remembering that they were prone to error. Studying their teachings may give us some context for how they interpreted the scriptures, but they are not the definite word on a subject and mean little if they contradict scripture. Several church fathers promoted antisemitism and other ideas that most of us would not agree with or consider harmful. Jerome said “Woman is the root of all evil,”[14] and some other church fathers also held an extremely negative view of women. Clearly, even the apostles who had walked with Christ personally missed it sometimes, as did Peter on the circumcision issue.

However, Tertullian and Justin Martyr were describing the churches’ practice concerning giving, and not just opinions on the matter. As the years passed, some tried unsuccessfully to implement tithing, such as Cyprian in 250 AD and the Council of Macon in France, in 585 AD. Charlemagne legally allowed the church to collect tithes in 777 AD.[15] The fact that they tried unsuccessfully to collect tithes and even proponents of tithing complained that it was not the practice of the churches shows us how (un)popular it was.

Lest anybody accuse these non-tithing early Christians of lacking commitment, remember how many of them faced severe persecution and were martyred for their faith.

 

What Else Accompanied the Increased Emphasis on Tithing?

We find increasing emphasis on tithing after Constantine united the church and state in 325 AD. Dr. Croteau comments that it becomes increasingly difficult to know if many of these quotes were referring to a religious duty or a government tax.[16]

Tithing became a church law with the joining of church and state, and it became state law as Europe entered the dark ages, in 779.[17] However, influential Christians remained throughout these times who disagreed that the New Covenant required tithing, including Epiphanius, the Waldenses, Thomas Aquinas,[18] John Wycliff, and John Huss. Quoting Dr. David Croteau:

 

“Therefore, the church has not had a unanimous opinion on tithing throughout its history. Instead, the doctrine of the tithe has developed throughout church history from being nearly nonexistent in early church history, to an exhortation to voluntarily tithe, to tithing becoming part of the ecclesiastical law, and finally to it being made state law…Opposition to tithing grew in the fourteenth and fifteen centuries. However, this opposition was not as widespread as it would be in the following centuries.”[19]

 

“For the most part (with few exceptions), those who held to the ‘two swords’ view of Christianity also believed that tithes were binding on Christians; those who denied this view of the church and state appear to have abrogated the tithe laws. Their view on ‘Christian sacralism’ seems to have driven their view on tithing.”[20]

 

The Protestant Reformation and Opposition to Tithes

Martin Luther said of the tithe:

 

“But the other commandments of Moses, which are not by nature, the Gentiles do not hold. Nor do these pertain to the Gentiles, such as the tithe and others equally fine which I wish we had too.”[21]

 

Luther liked the idea of a tithe as a civil tax, since it would be a much lighter burden than the taxes of his day. However, he said that the tithe did not pertain to the Gentiles and was not a part of natural law. Zwingli entered the Reformation over the issue of tithing, but later seemed to backpedal a bit.[22] The Anabaptists reacted radically against tithing and called for its abolition.[23],[24] Calvin’s position was unclear and confusing.[25] John Smyth, often credited as being the first Baptist, said that Christ abolished tithes.[26] John Robinson, the pastor of the “Pilgrim Fathers” [27] before they left on the Mayflower, wrote that tithing was abolished[28] and ministers should be maintained with voluntary contributions.[29]

The English Baptists and Quakers also opposed tithing, with particularly fierce resistance coming from the Quakers. Quakers said they were not bound to obey the civil authorities when they gave commands in contradiction to scripture.[30] Quakers were imprisoned, beaten, heavily fined, and had their goods seized for refusing to tithe.[31],[32] Any Quaker who did tithe was threatened with expulsion from the group.[33]

Many English Baptist groups continued paying the tithe as obedience to a civil law, but not because they believed scripture mandated it. One said that tithing “over throws the priesthood of Christ.” They concluded that a minister who accepted tithes should be dealt with according to Matthew 18:15-17, be put on church discipline, and excommunicated if they didn’t repent.[34]

John Bunyan was the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, known as the best-selling Christian book in history next to the Bible. He was imprisoned for his faith. He said that the tithe was ceremonial, passing away with the ending of the Levitical priesthood.[35]

Again, quoting Dr. David Croteau:

 

“Contrary to the conclusions of most, the Reformation period closed with no (major) reformer explicitly advocating tithing. Their hesitancy to support tithing was based largely on scriptural arguments, not as a reaction to Catholic abuses of the tithe system.[36]

 

Up to the Present Time

I’ve already left out quite a lot of names and quotes from historical Christian figures who did not believe in tithing. As we continue in history, the number of famous Christians and Bible commentators who taught that tithing ended with the old covenant becomes overwhelming. I recommend reading the works of Dr. David Croteau and Dr. Russ Kelly if you’d like to go into more detail.

Charles Noble wrote an open letter to C.H. Spurgeon’s church in July, 1918. He complained about certain changes in the church since the death of Spurgeon:

 

“Many other offensive changes were allowed—amongst them Tithes. Tithes were demanded and money grabbed in every way.”… “Then later Tithes were introduced, and the Law was hooked on to the Gospel. ‘But we are not under the law, but under grace,’ which you so soon forgot. It was Paul speaking by the Holy Ghost, who said that ‘Christ had abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments’; and James, speaking to the Church at Jerusalem, of the Gentiles, said, ‘we will lay on them no other burden than that they abstain from fornication and from things offered to idols and from blood.’ Tithes were not named, nor called for in the early Church for hundreds of years. Only when she became corrupt were they called for, and then by a greedy, extravagant, pocket-picking priesthood. Tithes caused trouble enough in this country, and yet you allowed Dr. Dixon to preach sermon after sermon on our duty to pay tithes.”[37]

 

  1. Campbell Morgan, a famous preacher and pastor of Westminster Chapel, said the following in a sermon called “The Grace of Giving.”:

 

“I hear a great deal about the tithing of incomes. I have no sympathy with the movement at all. A tenth in the case of one man is meanness, and in the case of another man is dishonesty. I know men today who are Christian men in city churches and village chapels, who have no business to give a tenth of their income to the work of God. They cannot afford it. I know other men who are giving one-tenth, and the nine-tenths they keep is doing harm to their souls.”[38]

 

Tithing was not the norm among churches for several hundred years in the United States, where many persecuted groups such as the Quakers fled. Various other methods of support were practiced, including voluntary contributions, renting or selling pews, and at times taxes. The Baptists continued to oppose tithing for hundreds of years. Then major change seems to have begun in 1876. Quoting Dr. Russ Kelly and then Dr. David Croteau:

 

“Except for state-run churches such as the Anglican Church of England, the Lutheran Church of Germany and the Catholic Church of Spain and Germany, tithing did not appear in other churches in the U. S. A. until the late 1890s. It was not even introduced until the 1870s.[39]-Dr. Russel Earl Kelly

 

The fact that a tithing advocate (i.e. Salstrand) mentions a ‘rediscovery’ of tithing indicates that tithing must not have been very widespread or popular in America in the nineteenth century. Regardless, Kane wrote a pamphlet in 1876 and sent it out to 75 percent of the evangelical pastors in the United States free of charge. For years he distributed his pamphlets free of charge.”[40]-Dr. David Croteau

 

Even Kane’s own writing shows how the tithe was largely lacking in the first few hundred years of American church history:

 

“The twin laws that the seventh of our time and the tenth of our income shall be devoted in a special sense to God’s service have never been repealed or abrogated, although until recent years the law of the tithe was almost universally disobeyed; indeed, comparatively few had any distinct knowledge of its existence.”[41] 

 

What Does the History of Tithing Tell Us?

I have only given a very brief history on tithing. Of course, history doesn’t establish doctrine. However, history shows us that the debate about tithing isn’t new. The lack of tithing in the first generations of the church is also cause for serious question. In general, the tithe became established along with other changes that most evangelicals don’t view positively. Dr. Russ Kelly’s observation hits the nail on the head:

 

“The introduction of tithing emerged in direct proportion to the disintegration of the doctrine of the priesthood of believers and the emergence of the power of the bishop-priests.[42]

 

In fact, Chapter 17 of an early document advocating tithing, The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, uses the following points as its argument that a bishop should receive tithes and other old-testament offerings that went to the priests and Levites:

 

“The bishop, he is the minister of the word, the keeper of knowledge, the mediator between God and you in the several parts of your divine worship. He is the teacher of piety; and, next after God, he is your father, who has begotten you again to the adoption of sons by water and the Spirit. He is your ruler and governor; he is your king and potentate; he is, next after God, your earthly God, who has a right to be honored by you.[43]

 

Most evangelical Christians consider such doctrine to be extremely dangerous and even blasphemous, yet it’s the ecclesiology that went hand-in-hand with the rise of tithing in church history. With the Protestant reformation came increased emphasis on the authority of scripture and the priesthood of all believers. People began to read the scriptures for themselves. Along with these changes came a flood of resistance towards the tithe. Here is Dr. Stuart Murray’s conclusion:

 

“Those who advocated reform of the tithing system or who resisted the tithe itself and proposed alternatives often did so on the basis that tithing—at least as it was currently practiced—was contrary to the gospel or not supported by scripture.[44]

 

“Rather than tithing being viewed as a marker of spiritual renewal, the groups that resisted tithing were groups who advocated spiritual renewal and radical discipleship.”[45]

 

My personal observation has been that the more regularly Christians begin living out the priesthood of all believers, the more they become open to reconsidering tithing. In the last decade, the street-healing movement has paved the way for many people to reconsider what they’d been taught about tithes.

A look at tithing in history should provide some serious food for thought to anybody who assumes that opposition to tithing is rooted in stinginess, half-hearted faith, or lack of Christian commitment; even more so to anybody who accepts teachings saying that non-tithers will go to hell. Many who did not practice or even opposed tithing gave their lives for their faith or were imprisoned, even imprisoned specifically for resisting tithing as a matter of conscience.

The Quakers excommunicating anyone who tithed, and the English Baptists subjecting pastors to church discipline if they received tithes, shows that they considered the doctrine a serious affront to the gospel. They lost far more for refusing to tithe than it would have cost them to tithe, because they took the matter as seriously as the circumcision issue which Paul addressed in Galatians.

A great number of others who disagreed with Christian mandatory tithing were famous preachers and theologians, of whom I’ve named only a very few. It is very difficult to accuse such preachers, like G. Campbell Morgan, of having any motive to disagree with the tithe other than love for the truth.

The United States was a refuge for those seeking religious freedom, including the Quakers and Anabaptists who radically opposed tithing, and other groups which did not practice it. Therefore, there is little history of tithing in the United States until the late 1800s, and Mormonism has a much stronger history of tithing than American Evangelicalism does.

Even today, many major Bible reference works, large seminaries (such as Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary), and influential teachers and theologians, conclude that the tithe ceased with the Old Covenant. Both Dr. Russ Kelley and Dr. David Croteau have compiled lists with some of these. It seems absurd to me that tithing would so often be treated as if it were a fundamental of the Christian faith.


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[1] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Dont Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010.

[2] Dana, H. E. The New Testament World 3rd. ed., Nashville: Broadman, 1937. Pg. 149

[3] Dana, H. E. The New Testament World 3rd. ed., Nashville: Broadman, 1937. Pg. 217, 221

[4] Kelly, Russell Earl. Should the Church Teach Tithing?: a Theologians Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine. New York: Writers Club Press, 2007. Pg. 249

[5] Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1974. Tithe. Online: https://www.britannica.com/topic/tithe Accessed December 3rd, 2019

[6] Kelly, Russel Earl If We Don’t Preach Tithing, How Do We Pay The Church Bills? Online: http://www.tithing-russkelly.com/id158.html Accessed January 1st, 2020

[7] Hastings, James. Dictionary of the Apostolic Church. Edinburgh: Clark, 1915.Tithes Online: https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/tithes.html Accessed November 29th, 2019

[8] Chapter LXVII of Justin Martyr’s Second Apology, Weekly Worship of the Christians. Online: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.lxvii.html Accessed November 29th, 2019

[9] Excerpt from chapter 39 of Tertullian’s Apology. Online: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian01.html?fbclid=IwAR1a11CWFurum2Chlt6d9xlnEbIyekeNZOSEbrNuSb32RWZECJXYps_8-Kg Accessed November 29th, 2019

[10] Excerpt from chapter 39 of Tertullian’s Apology. Online: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian01.html?fbclid=IwAR1a11CWFurum2Chlt6d9xlnEbIyekeNZOSEbrNuSb32RWZECJXYps_8-Kg Accessed November 29th, 2019

[11] I. B. Antela-Bernardez & T. Naco del Hoyo (eds.), Transforming Historical Landscapes in the Ancient Empires. (BAR Int. Series 1986). Oxford 2009, 83-97 ‘Hercules and the triumphal feast for the Roman people’ Online:

https://www.academia.edu/241113/Hercules_and_the_triumphal_feast_for_the_Roman_people_in_I.B._Antela-Bernardez_and_T._Naco_del_Hoyo_eds._Transforming_Historical_Landscapes_in_the_Ancient_Empires._BAR_Int._Series_1986._Oxford_2009_83-97?fbclid=IwAR0FHAxNzRn2EVWwG9H6ZQ3vtGgGZbtSG-uyZaH01f1CpK7oy_sRNKdiP08 Accessed November 29th, 2019

[12] Against Heresies, Book IV, Chap XIII, Para 3. Online: www.ccel.org/ccel/ schaff/anf01.ix.vi.xiv.html, Accessed November 17th, 2019

[13] Didascalia Apostolorum, IX, ii. 35, translated by R. Hugh Connolly, Oxford; Clarendon Press, 1929. Online: www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didascalia.html Accessed November 17th, 2019

[14] Phelips, Vivian. The Churches and Modern Thought: an Inquiry into the Grounds of Unbelief and an Appeal for Candour. London: Watts, 1934. p284

[15] Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1974. Tithe

[16] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Dont Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Position 506

[17] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Dont Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Position 563-564

[18] For the sake of accuracy I should note that although Thomas Aquinas did not believe the New Covenant mandated tithes, he believed that Christians should follow one of the three Jewish tithes because of his view of ecclesiology and the authority of the Roman Catholic church.

[19] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Dont Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Position 641-648

[20] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Dont Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Position 648

[21] Luther, Martin. How Christians Should Regard Moses. Pg. 168

[22] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Dont Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Position 695

[23] Bax, Ernest Belfort. Rise and Fall of the Anabaptists. London: s.n., 1903. Pg. 12, 37

[24] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Dont Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Position 719

[25] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Dont Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Position 734-774

[26] Smyth, John. Parallels, Censures, Observations. Pg. 120-121

[27] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Dont Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Position 788.

[28] Robinson, John. Works. Volume 2, Pg. 467

[29] Robinson, John. Works. Volume 2, Pg. 466-467

[30] Gough, John. Tracts on Tithes. I. Brief and Serious Reasons Why the People Called Quakers Do Not Pay Tithes. … II. Plain Reasons Why the People Called Quakers May in Conscience, and Ought in Duty, to Pay Tithes. … Said to Be Written by a Prelate of This Kingdom. III. A Vindication of the Brief and Serious Reasons, in Reply to the Last. By. J.G. One of the Said People. Dublin: Printed by Robert Jackson, 1786. Pg. 26, 48, 51, 60, 70, 73

[31] Besse, Joseph. A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, for the Testimony of a Good Conscience: from the Time of Their Being First Distinguished by That Name in the Year 1650, to the Time of the Act, Commonly Called the Act of Toleration, Granted to Protestant Dissenters in the First Year of the Reign of King William the Third and Queen Mary, in the Year 1689. London: Printed and sold by Luke Hinde …, 1753. Pg. 85 and 85

[32] Online: http://www.midessexquakers.org.uk/history-persecution.php Also Online: http://banburyeveshamquakers.org.uk/ettington/6-history Accessed December 17th, 2019.

[33] Murray, Stuart. Beyond Tithing. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012. Pg. 170

[34] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Don’t Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Dr. Croteau discusses the English Baptists from position 878-897. Although he cites original sources for these statements about the English Baptists, I was unable to find them.

[35] Bunyan, John. Bunyans Searching Works. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1851. Pg. 24

[36] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Don’t Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Position 807

[37] Murray, Iain H. The Forgotten Spurgeon. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009. Pg. 242, 243-234

[38] Morgan, George Campbell. The Westminster Pulpit: the Preaching of G. Campbell Morgan. V. 4.  Marshall Morgan And Scott, 1970. Pg. 40

[39] Kelly, Russell Earl. If We Don’t Preach Tithing, How Do We Pay The Church Bills? Online: http://www.tithing-russkelly.com/id158.html Accessed January 1st, 2020

[40] Croteau, David A. You Mean I Don’t Have to Tithe?: a Deconstruction of Tithing and a Reconstruction of Post-Tithe Giving. Eugene, Or.: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Position 1115

[41] Brown, George W. Gems of Thought on Tithing. Nabu Press, 2010. Pg. 18-19

[42] Kelly, Russell Earl. Should the Church Teach Tithing?: a Theologians Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine. New York: Writers Club Press, 2007. Pg. 247

[43] Roberts, Alexander, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Ante-Nicene Fathers the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Volume 7, Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teachings and Constitutions, 2 Clement, Early Liturgies. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995. Pg. 410

[44] Murray, Stuart. Beyond Tithing. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012. Pg. 159

[45] Murray, Stuart. Beyond Tithing. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012. Pg. 173