The Mighty Tithe
As someone who has been a Christian for many years, I have been taught and have practised Tithing. That is, the giving of a portion of my income, usually ten percent as the name would seem to imply; sometimes more when I have been able with joy and sometimes less, which was always accompanied with guilt and a fearful expectation that the little foxes would destroy my metaphorical harvest.
In recent years I have begun to question this teaching, at first it was so that I would have a deeper understanding of the religion I practised.
But more lately as a means of finding clarity and freedom from the dogma of religion.
Or to put it another way, “A seeking after a truer walk with Jesus”.
For those who are impatient and want to cut to the chase as to what I believe. The conclusion I have come to is that as a member of The Bride of Christ The Church, we do NOT need to tithe.
What follows is my examination of what is written in the scriptures and my understanding of the text. The arguments that are used by leaders to urge their followers to tithe. And finally, alternate ways to think and possible methods to practice our faith in the future with regards to our money.
So let’s begin with a few questions.
What is the Tithe?
When was the Tithe taken?
How was the Tithe calculated?
Who benefited from the Tithe?
How did the Tithe become 10% of your income, (and does this question even matter)?
1a. But first before examining what exactly is the Tithe? It is important to make clear what the tithe wasn’t.
The Tithe was never money.
This is important to note, because when the law was being written by Moses money was available, goods could be exchanged for silver shekels, gold or barley, as seen in Genesis 20:16, Leviticus 27:16. And it’s easy to conflate the practices of today with the original practices as they were being written.
The Tithe was the first Tenth of the produce from the land.
Throughout scripture the tithe is always either crops or animals.
In Leviticus 27:30-32 we read, the tithe is the Lords.
“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord. And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passes under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord.”
To be clear the tithe was the tenth part of all the produce of the land.
If a farmer lived too far away from the Tabernacle or Temple they could sell their produce for money, then having reached the place of worship, they would purchase new animals or crops to present to the priests of God.
The tithe could be any animal from ones herds and flock, crops of all grains, fruit, wine and oil, Deuteronomy 14:22-23
2a.The tithe was collected from the people once every year, except for the seventh year. As each crop became available for harvest and the animals were weaned and strong enough to travel, so they would be taken to the tabernacle or temple.
From the first, fourth through to the sixth years the tithe was given entirely to the Levites, Numbers 18.
The second year a portion of the tithe was eaten as part of the religious festivals, Deuteronomy 12:14.
The third year the tithe was given to the poor including the Levites and the foreigner, Deuteronomy 14:26.
The seventh year the land was allowed to rest; nothing was grown and a tithe was not taken, Leviticus 25.
3a. The Tithe was calculated as a tenth of the crops and every tenth animal that passed under the rod. If a farmer had nine oxen, he would not tithe as there isn’t a tenth ox to pass under the rod. Like wise if the following year his herd grew to nineteen animals, he would only tithe on the tenth animal that passed under the rod; and not tithe ten percent on his herd. This is an important point, because if he tithed ten percent as opposed to the tenth, he would have to butcher one of his animals to give the additional ninth part.
Furthermore. Imagine for a moment there is an Israelite, a carpenter; who for some reason did not own land on which he could graze animals or grow food. Such a man would have nothing to tithe despite making an income from his craftsmanship.
This is why in Malachi 3:6-10 God declares that the people are robbing him because there is no food in his house. This is not a metaphorical exchange for which we need to find some kind of deeper esoteric meaning, God is not talking about money, He means what He says there is literally no food in His house because the people of Israel were not tithing the produce of the land.
A question that quickly follows is, ”If tithing is about food, does God need our food to be fed?”
God’s reply to this question is found in Psalm 50:7-13 God says, “If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and everything that is in it.”
If you read the full passage it’s very clear that God has no need of our sacrifices, “So who is the food for?”
4a. The beneficiaries of the tithe were primarily the priests and Levites.
This was their compensation as the only tribe not allotted a physical inheritance of land. Rather they were not only a representation of all of the first born sons, but were also to serve God in his tabernacle as priests and all the maintenance work involved in that service.
God says to Moses in Numbers 18:21-26 “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting.”
Deuteronomy 18:1 “The Levitical priests—indeed, the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance.”
In Numbers 3:11-13 “Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine.”
Now, with a little bit of historical research. You will discover that in 70 AD Jerusalem was laid siege to by the Roman Empire concluding a four year campaign, during this time Rome destroyed the temple built by Herod. Along with this destruction, all of the genealogical records for the Levite priesthood were lost during the sacking of Jerusalem. As a result not only did the Israelite nation no longer have a physical temple but they also no longer had a priesthood who required tithes.
Devout Jews today do not tithe their produce.
After-all to whom would they give tithes and offerings, there is no longer a Levitical priesthood?
5a. So why ten percent?
The Tenth became Ten Percent because Christian church leaders needed a way to fund their churches, missions and ministers; and as people moved away from an agrarian culture towards an industrial society. There simply weren’t enough sheep to pay for their church growth projects.
But there was money; and on this money a ten percent tax could be levied on all the church members.
The reason why this question matters is because, as demonstrated earlier a tenth is a smaller portion than ten percent. It would seem that God is more generous in protecting the interests of the poor and the people doing the giving, than current church leaders, who require ten percent of not only a members net income but (as some have preached) all that they have, based on the passage that the tithe belongs to the Lord, Leviticus 27:30-32.
This then begs the question, as church leaders aren’t Levites, are we really obligated to pay 10% of our income to them?
To be continued...