Tithing, or setting aside for God a 10th of your income, is becoming a more common fixture in Christian denominations and congregations, with the common application of the commandment being the giving of tithe to a church. However, it is largely misunderstood because a major purpose for the “Old Testament” commandment about tithe is ignored as an obsolete Old Testament teaching.
This study will tackle the following common questions about tithe by exploring what the Bible actually says about it:
- What is tithe, and what isn’t it?
- What was it used for in biblical times?
- What is it used for in modern times?
- Is it only valid for an agricultural society?
- Is tithe applicable only to people who own a farm or a business?
- Do I pay tithe to my church, because the priests of ancient Israel are now the pastors of modern Christianity? Isn’t that what Mal. 3:10 says?
- Do I tithe on my gross or net income (i.e., before taxes or after taxes, before expenses or after expenses)?
- Are we supposed to double or triple our tithe (i.e. 20 percent or 30 percent of income) every third year?
The word tithe in Hebrew means “10th” and can mean one-10th or every 10th something. The teaching that God’s believers should pay their denomination or congregation a 10th of their income is usually based on Abraham’s and Jacob’s paying of a 10th of their war bounty and blessings (Gen. 14:20 and Gen. 28:22) and on passages in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, such as Lev. 27:30–33; Num. 18:19–32; Deut. 12:17; Deut. 14:22–28; Deut. 26:12; and Mal. 3:10.
The tithe (מַעֲשֵׂר maʿaser, Strong’s lexicon No. H4643), as explained in the Torah, is based on an agrarian economy. However, most of us do not live in such a society. Those of us who live in the industrialized “first” world live in an information-based economy. You can’t tithe information or knowledge, because which is the 10th part of an idea. It’s not something we can give away. We have to apply an agrarian economy to our monetary economy.
The tithe is not just “10 percent.” It also mean “the 10th.” Regarding fruits and vegetables, you can easily divide 10 percent of the whole. With animals, you can’t give one-10th of an animal. In a particular time, if a shepherd only gains nine new sheep, he does not pay a tithe. He can tithe wool, other crops, but not the sheep.
The tithe itself was used for many purposes, including the high priests (Aaron and his descendants), the Levites, temple services, upkeep of the furnishings of the temple, to assist the stranger, poor, fatherless and widows, and to help people celebrate the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesakh (Passover), Shavu’ot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Tabernacles or Booths).
The priests and Levites were allowed to have a portion of the tithes, because Levites weren’t given an inheritance of the land of Israel. The people gave the Levites their tithe, then the Levites gave a tithe of the tithe to the high priest. The Levites were required to give the best — not just any 10th — of the fruit, vegetables, animals, etc.
The Bible also mentions three different tithe periods that coincide with the three pilgrimage feasts. The tithe is not designed to create poverty but to allow people to give a portion of the blessings God gave them back to Him and to worship Him. Part of the tithe was to be used to travel to the feasts in Jerusalem, to have an animal sacrificed there and to share the meat of that sacrifice with your family, the Levites “within your gates” and the community. However, if the festival was “too far” of a trek, one could eat the tithed animal at your home and share it with the Levites and others in your community.
The Bible also provided an option of converting the tithe fruit, vegetables and animals into currency then use that money to keep the commandment of tithe. This is what we do in our modern society. Once the man — only men were required to travel to Jerusalem to keep the pilgrimage feasts — arrives at the feast site, he can use that tithe money to buy food, drink and whatever he need to properly keep the feast. He is called upon to share this bounty with the Levites, fatherless, widow, and stranger so they can enjoy the feast with him.
Who receives tithes today?
Many Christians who give a tithe of their income to the church think the Levites received all the tithe, hence they just give all the tithe to the church. But that is not the Torah model.
The Levites received a portion of the tithes but kept a portion of it aside so the feast-keeper could travel to the feast and keep the feast properly. Since most Christians don’t keep the feasts, they don’t know of any other use for the tithe except for the maintenance of the pastoral staff of the church and — maybe — for taking care of the poor, widowed and orphaned within the church community.
Every three years according to the Torah, the man of the house did not keep the feast in Jerusalem but his own community. The tithe that year was to be used to help those in your community who could not travel to keep the festivals in Jerusalem to keep the feast, rather than going all the way to Jerusalem to keep the feast.
Christians who claim to believe in the tithe use Mal. 3:10 as proof that all the tithe goes to the Levites, but that is not what the verse says. What God, through Malachi, was railing against was that the people were not tithing their best. They were tithing the worthless stuff no one else wanted. They were not sharing the tithe with the poor, strangers, the widow and orphans or using the tithe to keep the feasts. When God calls for all the tithes, believers are to use the tithe in the manner God instructed.
What do modern believers do then? We are required to show ourselves to God three times a year, bringing our tithes with us at those times. The first tithe season is the season from Sukkot the prior year to the Passover. The second tithing season is from Passover to Shavuot. The third tithing season is from Shavuot to Sukkot. You do not show up empty-handed at these feasts. We spend it not only to keep the feasts but also so those who are less fortunate financially can keep the feast with us too.
Do we tithe on net or gross income?
What does God say? The Torah says we tithe on our “increase.” For example, if a contractor builds a house for $200,000 and sells it for $300,000, he has a net increase of $100,000. The contractor would tithe on that increase, which would be $100,000. The tithe of that increase would be $10,000.
Tithing is based on your increase, not someone else’s increase. What about the salaryman or hourly employee? How does he tithe? Let’s say one earns $1,000 per week. Does he pay a tithe based on the full $1,000 salary? Is that $1,000 really his? No, because part of that salary belongs to the government by law. Yeshua said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matt. 22:15–22; Mark 12:13–17; Luke 20:19–26). Would you pay a tithe on the government’s money? You can’t tithe something that is not yours. God wants you to give Him a tithe of your increase, not someone else’s. Just because you are holding a portion of the government’s money until such time as you are required by law to turn it over doesn’t mean it’s yours.
If there is no increase, there is no tithe.
Modern Jewish synagogues do not collect tithes. Christians who believe in replacement theology — Yeshua replaced Israel with “the church” — presume that their pastors and missionaries somehow replaced either the Levitical or the Melchizedek priesthood, but there’s no scriptural evidence to support this.
The teachers and elders of Hallel Fellowship have their own jobs and obtain an income from those jobs. We use our tithes to keep the feasts, such as renting halls, etc. We also use our tithes to help those who otherwise could not keep the feast to do so.
Speaker: Daniel Agee.
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