You Negate The Word Of God For The Sake Of Your Tithing Tradition Part 1
In our last post, we examined how some of the most common teachings concerning tithing today cut away at the very foundation of the Christian faith. Yet some people will say “We teach tithing by grace. We teach only the blessing, but we don’t teach that you’re cursed if you don’t tithe.”
Today we’ll consider why, even in this case, tithing as the model for Christian giving remains a human tradition. In the next post, we’ll look at how the church breaks many of God’s commands for the sake of this tradition.
Matthew 7:5-13 (NIV) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Tithing Is A Human Religious Tradition
There is a huge weight of evidence against the tithe teaching from both church history and scripture. There are also many varied arguments for the tithing model, and all of them have many fallacies. I can only point out a few things very quickly in this, but I encourage you to do a detailed study and look up all the passages in scripture with the word “tithe.” Also, check out the detailed study that Russel Early Kelly did for his doctoral thesis on the matter. (Although I disagree with him on some other matters, I agree with his conclusions on this.)
There are many theological matters for which there are detailed arguments and counter-arguments or rebuttals on both sides. This is not one of them. Many objections to the mandatory tithing position are so strong that nobody even tries to respond to them. Proponents of mandatory tithes have nothing to say in response to these objections to their position, so there is nothing left but to ignore the facts.
Churches That Did Not/Do Not Use Tithes As The Model For Financial Support
Let’s start with a little history…
“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”
A large body of evidence, including historical and scriptural commentary, agrees with this. For example, 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. I’m not aware of a single scholarly article that even attempts to make the case that the early church practiced tithing. Yet many people believe it is a necessity today for supporting the church, and claim that scripture commands it.
Contrary to the supposition that those who disagree with the tithing model are lukewarm Christians, the list of believers throughout history who disagreed with tithing includes various Christian heroes, martyrs, early church fathers, reformers, revivalists, and theologians. Here’s a compilation of quotes from various commentaries and just a few of these famous Christians.
Add to this the consideration of some of the church movements today that are on the cutting edge of evangelization and believe that a tithe has no relevance for the church today. Brian Hogan is a YWAM church planting coach. He was part of a team that established a church multiplication movement in Mongolia when there were almost no Mongolian Christians. The movement soon was sending more missionaries per Christian than any other Christian movement in the world. Some of them went to places where they risked severe persecution for sharing the gospel. Brian told us that they refused to teach tithing, but rather taught the New Testament model of generous giving.
Many others who are on the front lines of the gospel oppose tithing and refuse to teach it. Dr. Victor Choudrie leads a church planting movement that has started tens of thousands of churches in 40 nations, with a million people baptized in a single year. Many of these Christians are poor and face severe persecution. Check out the fourth of his 21 steps on “How to go from a barren church to become a millionaire of souls”:
4. Replace Mosaic tithing with Christian sharing, thereby harnessing the enormous, financial resources, hospitality and goodwill available in Christian homes. Believe that God is going to work a work among the nations through you which will leave you utterly amazed, and also provide resources for it. Deut. 8:17-18; Acts 5:32-34; Hab. 1:5
Consider the irony of this fact: Many Christians believe that the church would fall apart without teaching tithing. Yet some of the most successful church planters in the world see the tithe tradition as one of the very factors which hinder the church from multiplying, since it supplants Holy-Spirit lead giving by bringing in control.
Check out this description of a church meeting from a missionary in Ecuador, who does not teach tithing. The whole offering totaled about $5 (I can see the looks of horror on pastor’s faces!), but few American churches equal the evangelistic zeal of the members. Check out his testimonies of God multiplying Holy-Spirit lead giving.
Of course, many such churches that are multiplying rapidly meet in homes and have low overhead. I know some people are totally against any church meeting in a big building. Honestly, scripture doesn’t say you need big facilities, and neither does it prohibit it. Many of the most effective Christian movements in the world have very low overhead. But many of us like the big meetings, conferences, and worship music.
I get that if we want those things, it makes sense to try to do our part to pitch in. However, wanting these things is not a valid reason for making up a teaching to support them. Are there also churches that have a big Sunday meeting in their own facility and pay for everything by only free-will giving? Yes! Check out Bertie Brits and Dynamic Love Ministries for example! Bertie has the best messages I have heard on money, and they get down to the heart of the matter.
The Vast Difference Between Modern Tithes And Biblical Tithes
Now let’s briefly respond to some of the deeply flawed theological arguments that are used to support the notion that all Christians are required by God to give a tenth of their income.
One of the major themes in the New Testament is that we are free from the law written on stone. Some of the strongest rebukes in the epistles are directed to those who would put the church in bondage to the Jewish law. This is the subject of the book of Galatians. The early church had a dispute over the matter of if they should require gentile Christians to observe Jewish laws, and it’s recorded in Acts 15. What was their conclusion?
Acts 15:10 (NIV) Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?
Matthew 4:7 (NIV) Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
However, let’s just imagine for a moment that the Jewish Law, or some parts of it, are applicable today. If the tithe is applicable for us as gentile Christians today, then we must consider how scripture tells us to tithe and use the tithe.
Again, I suggest you read the scriptures on this yourself, such as Deuteronomy 14. Different theologians, reading the different scriptures about tithes and trying to put them together, have come up with different interpretations. Some believe the scriptures point to a single tithe, others believe there were two tithes, and others believe there were three. The most common interpretation among scholars is that there were three tithes, but for example, here is an explanation of the view that all the tithe passages were talking about a single tithe.
No matter which view you hold to, none of them even closely resemble the modern tithe. If you hold to the most common view, that there were three tithes, you have to explain why you believe one is binding on Christians today and the other two are not. Here are just a few other points on which the tithe that God commanded Israel is vastly different than the tithe of today, regardless of which view you hold.
- The tithe was on agricultural produce and animals, which means it was not received from everyone. This means that in general, it applied to people who were better off. The poor didn’t own land. Tradesmen (like Jesus, a carpenter) didn’t owe tithes, and the poor hired worker who helped on the farm did not pay a tithe on his wages paid with money.
- The tithe was not money, although the Old Testament refers to money many times. In fact, if the tither exchanged his tithe of crops and animals for money so as to travel, the law required him to change it back to food when he arrived at his destination.
- The tithers ate a large portion of their tithe in celebration.
- The tithe was shared with the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner. This is different even in the most basic principle from the tithe taught today, as today those who are in financial straights are taught to tithe before anything else, and under the law, they would be receiving the tithe rather than giving it.
- None of the tithe ever funded temple building or maintenance, and using it for that would have been disobedience to God’s instructions for the tithe.
- We have often heard today that the pastor is equivalent to the priest of the Old Testament. Yet the priests only received a tithe of the tithe at the most. Depending on whether you interpret the scriptures as teaching three tithes or one, the priests received from 1/3 of a percent to one percent, never 10%. Nine-tenths of the tithe went to Levites, who served in roles such as worship leaders, gatekeepers, manul laborers, and political officers. The Levites comprised about 1/13th of the people. Add this to the poor who received from the tithe and it makes for a large percentage of the people who received from the tithe. Scripture records in Nehemiah an instance in which the priests stole the Levite’s portion of the tithe. Some scholars believe this was the context of Malachi’s comments about robbing God. If the tithe command of the Jewish law applies to Christians today, then worship leaders, ushers, and other helps ministers must receive 9/10ths of the tithe. If they do not, we are stealing their portion, as the priests of the Old Testament stole the Levites’ portion of the tithe.
- Just as it’s often taught that the pastor of today corresponds to the priest of old, it is often taught that the local church corresponds to the storehouse of old. Yet most of the Jewish tithe was commanded to be brought to the Levitical cities, and not to a storehouse.
- Those who received the tithe were forbidden from owning land or having an inheritance.
These are just a few of many points on which the tithe of today differs vastly from any tithe that God commanded in Israel. You can find many more with a little study. The modern tithe doesn’t even come close to finding its basis in the tithe God commanded in the Old Covenant. What is it’s basis? Mere human tradition.
“But Tithing is an eternal moral principle and Abraham tithed before the law.”
Let’s consider this often-repeated argument.
If Abraham tithing before the law makes tithing an eternal moral principle binding on Christians, than Abraham being circumcised and offering animal sacrifices before the law makes circumcision and animal sacrifices “eternal moral principles” binding on Christians. We can’t say this logic is valid when applied to tithing, but flawed when applied to circumcision, animal sacrifices, or many other things.
The book of Galatians has something to say about that. It still calls circumcision the law, which is not of faith. The reality is that the tithe is today’s circumcision issue. Everything Galatians says about the circumcision debate of that die applies precisely to the tithing debate in today’s church. The very heart of the matter is the same in the circumcision debate of old and the tithing debate of today. Circumcision or uncircumcision, tithing or not, mean nothing. The only thing that has any value is faith expressing itself through love.
But let’s just go along with that argument anyway and assume that we need to imitate whatever Abraham did before the law. Was Abraham a regular tither? Did he tithe on his own income? Read the text and see for yourself.
Part of the historical context that is often left out is the fact that Abraham was following the custom of all the Canaanite nations around him by giving a tenth of the spoils of war to a king. There was no command from God to do so. It was the law of the land at the time. Scripture uses this story as a figure of us acknowledging Jesus as our king. Yet Abraham’s observance of this custom was a one-time tithe on spoils of war. It was not a regular tithe, nor was it a tithe from his personal income! The other nine-tenths he gave back to the king of Sodom.
In fact, this tithe was vastly different from the later tithe commands under Jewish law. God spoke negatively of the king’s tithe later in scripture, warning the people that a king would oppress them with a tithe and they would cry out for relief. Yet the king’s tithe is the biblical tithe that has the most in common with the tithe of today! And it’s one of those tithing scriptures you may never hear preached!
1 Samuel 8:15-18 (NIV) He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Didn’t Jesus’ Teach Tithing?
Some argue that when Jesus said it had been right for the Pharisees to tithe, he was teaching tithing for gentile Christians.
There is absolutely no logic to this. Jesus was a Jew under the law. He was speaking to Pharisees under the law. Of course, it was right for the Pharisees to obey the Jewish law. And even of the law, Jesus said it was one of the lesser matters, not an “eternal moral principle.”
Jesus’ parents offered an animal sacrifice when he was born. Jesus commanded a man who was healed to show himself to the priests and offer an animal sacrifice, in accordance with the law. This does not mean Jesus was teaching that gentile Christians must offer animal sacrifices! Neither can Jesus’ comment to the Pharisees be interpreted as a command to future gentile Christians!
But let’s just say that Jesus was teaching gentile Christians to tithe and offer animal sacrifices. Can we then forget what the tithe was that the Pharisees gave? It was a tenth of their mint, dill, and herbs, and not money, in accordance with the Jewish tithing law! I’m not aware of any Christian who claims that Jesus’ comments to the Pharisees were a command for Christians, who then follows that command by tithing their garden herbs!
Other Fabrications About The Tithe
There are multiple points on which today’s tithe teachers have treated total fabrications as doctrines. For example, listening to Kenneth Copeland on YouTube, I heard the teaching that Cain killed Abel over the tithe and that Adam and Eve’s original sin in the garden was stealing the tithe.
What? There is no mention of tithing in either of these passages. Joseph Prince, a grace preacher, also has taught that the one tree Adam and Eve were not to touch in the garden was the tithe, and the original sin was eating God’s portion. Where is this in the text? Were there only 10 trees in the garden, and the 10th was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
Friends, these teachings are total fabrications with no basis in scripture. Do you see why this issue tears me up? If I even talk about these things people will say “Oh, you’re bashing Joseph Prince.” Well, I like a lot of his teaching on other subjects, I love the testimonies of healing and freedom, but may I never become a cult-follower of any human teacher and swallow all they say hook, line, and sinker. I’m not bashing anybody, I’m just testing what people are saying.
Another thing we hear all the time is equating firstfruits with the tithe. This also has no basis in scripture. Friends, I read the books of the law for the first time when I was seven years old, I read about the various sacrifices and rituals, and I’ve read them through many times since. Even as a kid, I knew that the tithe and the firstfruits offering were separate things. It’s easy to see this if you get out a concordance, or just read through the Torah. The firstfruits offering was a token offering, much smaller than the tithe. And along with other offerings, including animal sacrifices, it was a type and shadow of better things to come.
Many of us have tithed and taught tithing because it’s what was passed down to us, and we sincerely believed it was right. I did too. I only began to seriously examine what I was taught when the gospel issue and the injustice issues came to my attention.
I once heard the pastor say “We rob the church if we don’t teach about tithing.” I wanted to stand up and say “Then the Apostle Paul robbed all the churches!” The Apostle Paul said that he taught the whole counsel of God and didn’t withhold anything that would be helpful from the churches. Yet he never told them to tithe, but rather argued with those who wanted to impose Jewish law on the Gentile churches and taught that giving must not be of compulsion but as the individual decides in his heart.
I’ve made a clear case that the tithe as taught today is a human tradition which is based on many points that have been simply fabricated rather than taken from scripture. The tithe of today is vastly different from the Biblical tithes, and even contrasts in principle to the tithe God commanded Israel. It oppresses the poor rather than helping them. Many who teach tithing regularly avoid certain cross-references and historical context. For example, Deuteronomy 14 is one of the primary tithe passages in scripture and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pro-tithing preacher teach from it!
When we have a serious conversation with someone who believes tithing is God’s command for today’s Church, nobody is able to respond to all of these problems with the teaching. So the issue repeatedly comes down to them asking “OK, but if we don’t teach tithing, how will the church pay the bills?”
Finding a way to pay the bills is not a valid reason to teach a doctrine if scripture doesn’t teach it. In the last post we say how the modern tithe teaching has undermined and caused confusion concerning the gospel message. What good is it to have churches if we don’t have the gospel? Bertie Brits hits the nail on the head as he explains how our wisdom becomes corrupted. His message is a must-listen for any pastor or minister struggling with the issue of how to support the ministry, and he explains how he has navigated it.
In the next post, we’ll conclude by pointing to how many churches today have nullified several commands of God for the sake of the tithing tradition.