God’s New Covenant plan is much better than an obsolete, national, theocratic tax designed to support an obsolete, national, religious system.
As far as I can tell, the vast majority of Renewalists believe the tithe is commanded for them. But they are not being taught correctly; they are getting beat down and guilt-tripped with the law. No wonder few believers give regularly.
Most of this post will make church leaders upset, until the end, when they will be made very happy.
The more important question is this: do TV mega-church pastors and mega-ministry leaders want their budgets to be met? Then they must stop pounding and guilt-tripping the people of the New Covenant and of grace with a theocratic tax.
The NIV is used here. If you would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.
For clarity and conciseness, let me number my points.
1.. Ancient Israel was a theocracy living under the Sinai covenant and its laws.
The bigger context for why the tithe-tax came about is important.
God was king over ancient Israel (Ps. 5:2; 44:4; 84:3; Is. 43:15; 44:6), and he established religion his way, complete with priests and Levites to carry out religious duties (Exod. 19 and the rest of the Torah).
Priests and Levites were the caretakers of the temple rituals (Num. 1:50-53; 4:1-33), and they could not own land or work at secular jobs (Num. 3:11-13; Deut. 10:8), so they needed the tithe to support themselves.
In contrast, the kingdom of God, launched by Jesus, goes all over the world. We are all kings and priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Heb. 10:19, 22; 13:16; Rom. 12:1; Eph. 2:6) before Christ our High Priest (Heb. 8:1-6) and High King (Matt. 27:11; John 18:37).
The Church does not live under a governmental theocracy, run by an earthly king or a class of priests.
2.. Firstfruits in the Old Sinai and New Covenants
Tithe teachers make a big deal of firstfruits, so let’s start here.
The firstfruits are to go the Levites. Lev. 23:17 talks of two loaves, and Deut. 26:4 (not quoted here) says a basket of produce, none of which adds up to ten percent of the entire farm:
17 From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the Lord. (Lev. 23:17)
In all the passages in the Pentateuch where the word firstfruits is used, the offerings were physical (Exod. 23:16, 19; 34:22, 36; Lev. 2:12, 14; 23:9, 17, 20; Num 18:12-13; Deut. 18:2-4; 26:1, 10).
Now what about the New Covenant? Does it bring forward material firstfruits?
Rom. 8:23: The Spirit is our firstfruits of the life to come.
Rom. 11:16: If Israel, which rejected the Messiah, is grafted back in, then they are like firstfruits of the dough, which is holy.
1 Cor. 15:20-23: Christ’s resurrection is the firstfruits of our own resurrection.
2 Thess. 2:13: God chose the Thessalonians as the firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
James 1:8: God gave the early Church birth through the Word so that they and James would be a kind of firstfuits of all that God created.
Rev. 14:4: Those who followed the Lamb wherever he went were purchased from among humankind and were offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.
Sinai Covenant: Firstfruits were only material offerings
New Covenant: Firstfruits were never material offerings, but were reworked to become theological truths.
3.. The tithe was commanded in the Old Covenant theocracy on the entire nation of Israel.
Now let’s quote the main Scriptures about tithing. We have to quote them so people can see all of the context, without cherry picking a few highlights here and there.
The verses in Lev. 27:30-33 appear to be straightforward without further instructions, until we look at other sections of the Bible on tithes.
30 “‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.31 Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it. 32 Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord. 33 No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed.’” (Lev. 27:30-33)
In the above verses, the tithe is straightforward. No wonder the tithe teachers quote it. Further, presumably the farmer saw an animal he wanted to keep, so he substituted it for its monetary value, but was required to add 20% of its value to it, and not a defective substitute, either. If he did not redeem it, the priest could take it and sell it (v. 26). An animal passing under the rod suggests randomness, not selectivity.
Next, in the Book of Numbers the Levites are to present to the priests the Lord’s portion from the tithe. The next passage also spells out that the tithes are the Levites’ wages. Emphasis added:
21 “I [God] 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. … 25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering.27 Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. 28 In this way you also will present an offering to the Lord from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the Lord’s portion to Aaron the priest.29 You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’ 30 “Say to the Levites: ‘When you present the best part, it will be reckoned to you as the product of the threshing floor or the winepress.31 You and your households may eat the rest of it anywhere, for it is your wages for your work at the tent of meeting. 32 By presenting the best part of it you will not be guilty in this matter; then you will not defile the holy offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die.’” (Num. 18:21, 25-32)
In the next passage (Deut. 12:6-7), the tither and his family can eat some of his offerings at a designated local place. Emphasis added:
4 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. 5 But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go;6 there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. 7 There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deut. 12:6-7)
Of the five sacrifices, the people offering them could eat only a part of the fellowship offering (Lev. 3, 7:11-34). In the above highlighted verse, they could eat their tithes and other offerings. In today’s terms can a man spend his tithe money on a barbecue and feed his family at the church with it? Whatever the case, they get to share in their monetary or in-kind tithe.
Further, this next text (Deut. 14:22-27) clarifies what was eaten. Emphasis added:
22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.23 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. 24 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), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. 26 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. 27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.
To modernize the above passage, picture church goers hosting a tailgate party in the church parking lot (car park) and taking the tithe money and buying and eating items for the tailgate party! Pastors would definitely oppose such a thing!
Next, Deut. 14:28-29 also spells out a small welfare state or at least a safety net. Apparently the tither was not allowed to eat the tithe every third year.
28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deut. 14:28-29)
In the above passage, the highlighted terms are the quartet of the needy in the land.
Finally, these next verses imply that the tither, Levites, fatherless, widows, and foreigners can enjoy the good things that the Lord has given them. This implies eating some of the offering. Then v. 12 reinforces the law that commands the tither must set aside the whole tithe and offering for the vulnerable in society. It also states the third year is the year of the tithe. Emphasis added:
10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. 12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. (Deut. 26:10-12)
It is now easy to see why some commentators interpret these various passages in three ways:
A.. There were three tithes: one belonged to the Levites (Num. 18:25-32); one was consumed by the tithers at the sanctuary (Deut. 14:22-27); and one was given every third year to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless, and widow, without the tither consuming it (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12).
B.. Another interpretation of the tithe says there were two tithes: one to the Levites, who in turn tithed ten percent to the priests (Num. 18:25-32), and one every third year to the Levite and the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, without the tither consuming it (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12).
C.. Another interpretation says there was only one tithe, once every third year, and distributed locally to the Levites, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow (Deut. 26:12).
It is no wonder that the New Covenant authors never bothered with teaching the tithe at all! Too complicated and needless, when they had better ideas (see no. 20, below)!
(For the three interpretations of those complex passages, look for Zondervan’s Biblical Theology Bible at the link, below, under SOURCES.)
4.. Definition of the tithe
In light of the previous points, we can now define the tithe, as follows: It was a religious tax, usually ten percent, though the previous point says the collection and distribution are complicated. The tithe was legally imposed by theocratic law on the people of the Old Covenant, to maintain (now obsolete) temple rituals and a primitive welfare safety net.
Tithe = National Theocratic Tax
It was imposed on every household in theocratic Israel, Today the equivalent would roughly be a national tax on income. It was not just for “church goers” (so to speak). No wonder the authors of the New Covenant Scriptures never imposed it on the church. They had a better idea, a God idea (see no. 20, below).
Let’s expand on the notion of the primitive welfare safety net.
5.. The entire nation of Israel was required to set aside part of the tithe to be used for a primitive welfare safety net.
In the last point the tithe was imposed on every household in theocratic Israel, roughly approximating a national tax on income today.
The tithe-tax back then was partly used to support a primitive welfare safety net, for the quartet of the needy.
Recall that Deut. 14:28-29 and Deut. 26:12 teach that in the Old Covenant theocracy one-third of the tithe was budgeted for the Levites, more numerous than the priests, distribution to foreigners, the fatherless and widows who live in various towns and were in need (the quartet of the needy).
Yes, the church is commanded to care for these needy classes of people, but not everyone goes to church, so the need is greater than the church can afford.
How could all of the churches in Los Angeles, for example, pay for all the hospitals and maintain their own church budgets? Yes, there are religious hospitals, run by Presbyterians or Baptists, to name just those two, but the various levels of governments—federal, state, county, and municipal—have to step in and maintain a “safety net” for the larger population and subsidize convalescent homes (“old folks homes”), hospitals, and so on.
Even churches that are united in a region could not carry the entire fiscal burden, since only a smaller percentage of the population attends any church, relative to a bigger percentage that does not go to church. And part of our taxes goes to pay for “welfare” programs in various communities.
So to modernize the ancient tithe-tax, it is equivalent to a city or county or state or national tax to maintain a small welfare safety net. Therefore, to demand God’s people to pay ten percent off gross pay (“firstfruits”) misapplies Scripture in its historical context.
6.. But Abraham paid the tithe to Melchizedek (Gen. 14) before the law was given on Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19).
Those who impose the tithe on New Covenant believers use this chapter to prove the tithe predates and transcends the law of Moses and applies to us.
In Gen. 14, Abram had to rescue his nephew Lot in a battle. Abram won and got the spoils of war. The high priest Melchizedek came out after the battle and brought refreshments (bread and wine, an early symbol of communion). He blessed Abram. The patriarch gave him one-tenth of the spoils in a one-time act. He did not even keep the spoils of war, but returned them.
Abram / Abraham grew to be very wealthy, and there is no record that he regularly gave ten percent of his wealth to Melchizedek or anyone else.
Hence, there is no universal command for the New Covenant church to pay the tithe in Gen. 14.
7.. But Levi paid the tithe to Jesus in the form of Melchizedek.
Heb. 7:2, 4, 8-10 do not command the tithe, but simply describe or summarize what Abram did. Further, it was Levi, not yet born, but “alive” only in the “seed” of his great-grandfather Abram, who “paid” (only once) the tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek (Heb. 7:9-10). Recall from the last point that Abram / Abraham grew very wealthy, and there is no record that he regularly gave ten percent of his wealth to Melchizedek.
Rather, this line of reasoning in Heb. 7 is designed only to show that Melchizedek is superior to the Levitical system, and Jesus is of the order of Melchizedek. Therefore, he is superior to the Levitical system. Period.
To argue that this passage universally commands Christians to pay a tenth to the “Levitical system” is a stretch. Keep the plain things the main things in interpreting Scriptures, and this Scripture is not a teaching on tithing or giving, but on the superiority of Christ over the Levitical system.
There is no universal or permanent command to tithe in Heb. 7, because it was done only once with the plunder of war, even though it was done once before the Sinai covenant was imposed (Exod. 19).
The New Covenant authors have a better plan than that, God’s plan (see no. 20, below).
8.. But Jacob established the tithe before the law was given.
In Gen. 28:20-22 Jacob set up a pillar at Bethel because God visited him. He vowed that if God brought him back from his mother’s family far up north, then he would turn Bethel into an altar and give a tenth of his livestock to it. He built an altar there, upon his return (Gen. 35:1-7). (I heard a fiery Pentecostal preacher on TV say from this Scripture that God’s people must make a vow to tithe!)
In reply, one vow for a safe return does not establish a law that applies at all times and to all peoples. The promise to tithe was still to support an obsolete ritual system at Bethel, if the system persisted over time when Jacob lived.
Let’s drive home this point of interpreting the Old Testament correctly in its historical context by observing the Highest Sabbath Keeper in the universe, (seemingly) before the law was thundered from on high on Mt. Sinai.
9.. God himself was a Sabbath Keeper before the law was given on Mt. Sinai!
Genesis 1:1 to 2:3, which shows God at work in creating the universe, is rhythmical and poetic in its repetition and cadence.
- “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.” (verse 5)
- “And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.” (verse 8)
- “And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.” (verse 13)
- “And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.” (verse 18)
- “And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.” (verse 23)
- “And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” (verse 31)
Here is the culmination and purpose of the six-day creation structure:
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (Gen. 2:1-3)
The Sabbath lesson is reinforced in Ex. 20:8-11, in the middle of the mighty Ten Commandments. God kept the Sabbath after he created / worked six days when he made the universe. Verse 11 looks very similar to Gen. 2:1-3.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. … 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex. 20:8-11, NIV)
So in Gen. 1 and 2:1-3, God, leading by example, shows the ancient Hebrew reader that they must keep the Sabbath, and in Ex. 20:8-11, he tells them. In both, he is metaphorically depicted as a creator / worker. The Sabbath is so important that even God instituted and kept it! (No wonder Seventh Day Adventists use those verses to impose the Sabbath on New Covenant believers.)
See my post in a five-part series 2. Reading Genesis 1 as Originally Intended
The second listing of the Ten Commandments in Deut. 5:1-21 mentions no Sabbath keeping on God’s part. A wise omission.
In contrast to the passages in Genesis and Exodus, the Sabbath is not commanded in the New Covenant. More than that, New Covenant believers are freed from the Sabbath obligation, as these verses attest: Mark 2:23-28; Rom. 14:5-6; Col. 2:16-17.
The New Covenant brought forward most of the Ten Commandments because they were moral laws and therefore universal. The Sabbath, however, was a ritual or ceremony. (So the Seventh day Adventists are wrong.)
By a parallel argument we can draw this conclusion about the tithe: it was a tax, mainly to subsidize Old Covenant rituals in a theocracy, none of which applies to New Covenant believers. Just as the Sabbath does not apply to us believers in the New Covenant, even though God was the ultimate Sabbath Keeper, so the tithe no longer applies to New Covenant believers. Sabbath keeping and tithing were rituals, and the tithe has the added force of being a tax. And Old Covenant taxes don’t apply to us.
10.. But Old Testament themes and laws are carried forward into the New Testament.
I heard this from a mega-church pastor who is now promoting his book about living blessed, on global TV. He said (paraphrased), “Thou shalt not steal, commit adultery or covet are all valid in the New.” See? All kinds of laws are brought forward into the New.
Reply: The commands that are carried forward into the New are moral laws, not rituals or taxes. Notice how the pastor did not say, “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath” is required today, even though it was the fourth commandment in the Ten Commandments. (Now he is promoting his book about the Sabbath.) Why not? The New Testament abrogates it (see the previous point). Why? Because it is a ritual, much like the law of the tithe is a tax to pay for the rituals in the obsolete temple. And the details of rituals are not brought forward to the New. No wonder the post-Pentecost authors of the New Covenant Scriptures never bring the tithe forward into the church. Moral laws are brought forward, but not rituals and the taxes that paid for them.
11. But Malachi said that not paying the tithe is robbing God, and robbing violates a timeless, universal moral law.
Moral laws are timeless and universal. But what happens when robbing is based on a religious tax to support rituals in a Levitical system that is now obsolete, so the religious tax is no longer relevant?
The verses in Malachi are as follows:
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. (Mal. 3:8-10, emphasis added)
Robbing is a violation of moral law. True enough. But tithing is not a moral law, and robbing in those verses is premised on the law of tithing.
Think of it this way:
If God commands by his law a theocratic tax, and people don’t pay it, then they are indeed robbing God. And robbery breaks a universal moral law. But what happens if a new law comes in force that says the tithe is no longer valid because the system that the tithe paid for is no longer in use? Then the people are no longer violating the obsolete law.
Analogy: What if Congress were to pass a tax, and people refused to pay it? The Internal Revenue Service would tell the refusers that they are robbing the federal government. They are breaking civil law and moral law. Now what if Congress repealed the tax law? Would those people still be breaking the civil law that is now obsolete? Of course not.
The New Covenant repeals rituals and taxes that support a now-obsolete Levitical system.
12. New Covenant believers are never under any curse at all coming from the old Sinai covenant.
Recall from the previous point that the Mal. 3:9 (see one of the clauses in bold font) says the whole nation of Israel was under a curse for robbing God of the tithe. The Sinai covenant has curses built into it, and those curses cover every area of life, not just salvation for the soul (Deut. 28). The New Covenant has no curses built into it. In fact, the New purges out all the curses embedded in the Old.
This purging out of old Sinai curses is one of the main themes of Galatians. Paul’s issue in that epistle was circumcision, a ritual that physically showed that a man was part of the old Sinai covenant. In other words, the ritual was essential in belonging to God and his former covenant. Paul says no:
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Gal. 5:1-6)
Paul says here that if a believer after the cross and Pentecost and life in the Spirit insists on following circumcision, then he is obligated to follow the whole law in all that it commands. That’s a trap and dead end, Paul says. One man was stoned to death for breaking the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36) and for blaspheming (Lev. 24:10-23). Such is the old Sinai covenant, and Paul wants to set people free from it.
I believe this principle of living under old ritual and ceremonial commands—like tithes and offerings—can become a “new-old” law that we should be careful of, if we bring it forward to the church today.
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” (Gal. 3:10, emphasis added)
He quotes from Deut. 27:26, where the curses are spelled out. If you want to live under the law, then you will be subjected to the curses embedded in that law. That’s the problem with the Judaizers who wanted to impose circumcision on New Covenant believers. The Judaizers were also imposing the curses of the Old Covenant on them, and Paul says no. In fact he invoked the Sinai curse on the Judaizers (Gal. 1:8-9). If they still lived within that covenant, then they were still subjected to its punishments. Paul was being consistent.
Best of all, we are delivered from the old-law curses. By dying on the cross Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13)
Progress in revelation is a fact of the Bible. We don’t apply wholesale everything in the Old Testament—particularly not the curses—to the New Covenant believers after the cross and Pentecost.
One teacher says that the old curse in Gal. 3 and Gal. 5 is only about living outside of salvation. No, it is much broader than that. See the next point.
13. But a curse is just a consequence, and no one escapes consequences.
Every Sinai curse is a consequence, but not every consequence is a curse, whether outside or inside the old Sinai Covenant.
If a witch were to curse a New Covenant believer, then it would not matter because he is in Christ and such low-level curses can’t touch him (Prov. 26:2). But if God himself were to curse him, then that is a big deal!
A curse is much more than a consequence, for both Malachi and Paul. It is based on the Sinai covenant. Paul wrote, “The law brings wrath” (Rom. 4:15). If you disobey the old Law, you’re under a curse spelled out in Deuteronomy 11:26-28 and 28:15-68. As noted, those curses cover many areas of living, like financial prosperity and health and crops and healthy babies, not just salvation of the soul.
However, Christ has set us free from such curses. Let’s not jump to conclusions by applying Malachi’s guarantee of a curse on New Covenant believers today if they do not pay ten percent off gross pay (or net pay).
If you really believe that when you don’t give ten percent off gross (or net) pay you are committing a sin and triggering an old Sinai curse, then here is a verse to ponder that goes in the opposite direction of an old, obsolete curse:
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more (Rom. 5:20).
So when you commit the “sin” of not tithing off gross pay, be prepared for God to offer you a whole lot of grace, not condemnation or old-Law curses.
Instead of curses, God implements loving, Fatherly discipline for wayward New Covenant believers (Heb. 12:4-11). If a man does not give generously or regularly, then God works with him to give more.
Paul writes in 2 Cor. 1:20 that “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.” We are allowed to take the blessings and promises forward into the New, but not the curses.
Let’s boil things down to the bare minimum.
Blessings or Curses
Blessings or Loving, Fatherly Correction
But point no. 10 says that if a law has been repealed, then the punishment for violating it is also repealed. And the next points argue that the tithe-tax has been repealed or never imposed on the church after the cross, in the first place.
14.. But Jesus commanded the tithe.
Or so it seems.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former (Matthew 23:23, NIV, emphasis added; Luke 11:42 is the parallel passage and says the same thing).
Notice that the English “should have practiced” is in the past tense, which accurately reflects the Greek verb tenses. It could be the case that the past tense refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in the temple, which Jesus will prophesy in the next chapter and which was to happen before this generation passed away (Matt. 23:37-38; 24:2, 34). (This happened in the Roman conquest in A.D. 70). In other words, the temple rituals are soon to vanish and be irrelevant, so none of their required tithes from the past will continue, anyway, because of the destruction. So Jesus said in effect, “You should have practiced the tithe” (past tense), but it’s about to be too late anyway, because the temple will be destroyed, as I (Jesus) am about to predict. But let’s leave aside the verb tense, since reasonable people can disagree. My point here does not stand or fall on verb tenses.
The point is that Jesus said several things about the Law before he instituted the New Covenant at the Lord’s Supper and ratified the New by his blood sacrifice and resurrection. He was, after all, ministering to his fellow Jews.
For example, in the Parable of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee, Jesus described the self-righteous Pharisee as proclaiming that he pays the tithe (Luke 18:12). But this is not an extensive teaching on tithing for the church; rather, Jesus here is just mentioning a true-to-life element in his story. The Pharisee lived before the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.
In interpreting Scripture, keep the plain things the main things, and those above verses are not commands to the church to pay a tithe. They reflect his Jewish environment.
And so at first glance Matt. 23:23 and Luke 11:42 and 18:12 seem to say that Jesus endorsed the tithe, but we can further argue against this interpretation in the next three points.
15.. Jesus also commanded animal sacrifices after people were healed of skins diseases.
In Matthew 8:1-4, Jesus healed a man of leprosy. Then in v. 4 he ordered the healed man: … “[S]how yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
The offering Moses commanded for the healing of skin disease is found in Leviticus 14:1-7, which says the priest shall kill a live, clean bird.
So in v. 4 did Jesus believe that every time a New Covenant Christian living today (after Pentecost and the birth of the church) was healed of skin disease, the healed man should kill a live, clean bird before an Old Covenant priest (or rabbi today) or fly over to the temple in Jerusalem and sacrifice an animal?
Obviously not. Rather, he told the healed man to offer it as a testimony to the Jews of his day, not as a universal command for us today.
Likewise his passing reference about the tithe in Matt. 23:23 and Luke 11:42 and 18:12 is not a universal command, either. Those verses reflect his Jewish environment. Keep the plain things the main things.
16.. Jesus also commanded people to lay their gift at the Levitical, sacrificial altar.
In the famous Sermon the on the Mount, he said:
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Note how he says, “Come and lay your gift at the altar.” Those verb are in the imperative (command) form. So what altar would this be four decades before the destruction of the temple by the Romans? It can only be the altar built for the sacrificial system (cf. Exod. 27:1-2). It is impossible to believe that the Spirit would lead the church to keep up the old system, including sacrifices and the tithe. He was speaking to his own people before he ushered in the New Covenant at the Lord’s table (Matt. 26:28 // Luke 22:20).
17.. Jesus also paid the temple tax.
In Matt. 17:24-27, collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and asked whether his master paid it. If he said no, he could get in trouble. He told the collectors that Jesus did pay it. He approached Jesus. Jesus was reluctant, but did not want to cause offense needlessly. He paid it (miraculously) to be a good witness, not because the Lord of the temple, the Son of the Father who established the soon-to-be-destroyed temple in the first place, was under an old command.
We don’t need to pay a temple tax, because the church is not a theocracy, run by an earthly high priest or king overseeing a centralized temple. Therefore these obsolete rituals and the money supporting them are irrelevant to the worldwide church today because the contexts differ widely.
18.. Jesus issued the above commands about the Levitical system because he was an effective witness to his fellow Jews (but not their traditions).
We must understand pre-Pentecost and post-Pentecost Scriptures in the New Testament (or pre-cross and post-cross). This point does not come from a dispensational point of view, but from simple observations about covenants.
See my word study on covenants:
Jesus said he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 15:24). Paul wrote: … “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law ….” (Gal. 4:4, emphasis added). The temple sacrifices were still going on when Jesus lived (and Paul wrote those words). Jesus lived during a time when the Mosaic covenant was still in effect, but he was on a mission to establish the New Covenant, which he did, at the end of his ministry, during the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:28 // Luke 22:20).
We must use wisdom in interpreting the words of Jesus when he is speaking to his Jewish listeners before Pentecost (or the New Covenant).
Jesus had to be a good witness. Before his becoming a living-yet-dying atonement, Jesus kept the law, though not as the teachers of the law demanded (Matt. 12:1-14; Mark 3:1-6). For example, he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), but no doubt he did not stroll through Jerusalem and eat pork in front of his fellow Jews. He did not want to distract them from what really mattered or to throw his liberty in their faces (see Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8, for how this principle was worked out in the early church).
Apparently, he did not want to tell his contemporary Jews not to keep the tithe any longer, while the temple rituals were still active. But the NT is silent on the early church keeping it (see no. 20, below).
19.. What is the conclusion so far?
The New Covenant Scriptures bring forward the moral law from the Old Covenant. Rituals and ceremonies are left behind, and the tithe-tax was used to pay for the rituals in the tabernacle and for a primitive welfare safety net. Therefore, the tithe was never brought forward into the New Covenant, which nowhere promotes such an earthbound theocracy and accompanying religious rituals in an obsolete Levitical system.
20.. What the New Covenant Scriptures actually teach about giving.
And now for the good news for mega-church pastors and mega-ministry CEOs. All the next verses have one theme threaded through them: generosity. Tithe teachers in the church distort how God’s plan works today. They teach that tithing is for the immature, while generosity is for the mature elites. But this is not true. In the New Covenant, tithing is for no one; generosity is for everyone. Generosity is not just for the mature elite.
And one thing will be clear by the end of this twentieth point:
A required tax ≠ freewill generosity
We can’t cover all clear New Testament Scriptures on giving, but here are some key ones. I letter my points for clarity and conciseness.
A..Going all the way back to the initial building of the desert tabernacle, the people were willing and their hearts were moved (Exod. 35:4, 21-22). Yes, these resources were used to build the (now obsolete) tabernacle, but the offerings were voluntarily, and this outlook is what the New Covenant Scriptures adopts from the Old.
B.. Acts 4:32-37 says a small (but growing) community in Jerusalem, when the temple was still going strong, shared everything in common, but they did not demand the entire nation to pay a tax to them. They did not even bring up a tithe-tax to the growing Christian community. This giving was voluntary, the opposite of a tithe-tax. And no one was getting rich, either.
C.. Acts 6:1-7 says the Hellenistic widows in Jerusalem when the temple rituals were going strong were being neglected in the daily distribution of food, so seven deacons or servants were appointed to take care of the problem. The text never says the earliest Christians were to tithe.
D.. Gal. 6:6 says, “Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructors.” Those who are taught spiritual truths must share material things with their teachers. But the giving does not equal a tithe-tax or even a tithe. Paul missed his chance to impose the tithe on the Galatians. No amount was specified.
E.. In 1 Cor. 9:9 Paul quotes the Law of Moses for guidance: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain” [Deut. 25:4]. Those who plow and thresh the grain should share in the harvest (v. 10). He applies this verse to support those who minister the gospel. They should be able to reap material benefits for the spiritual truths they share. But Paul, once again, did not impose a tithe-tax, even though in one chapter later, in Deut. 26, Moses had imposed the tithe-tax.
But note that in Gal. 6:6 or 1 Cor. 9:9 Paul never uses the law of tithing to drive home his point about generosity and giving. Instead he used an ox and a farmer, not a Levite or priest! And the temple in Jerusalem was still under the Levitical system!
F.. In 1 Cor. 9:13-14 Paul mentions that those who work in the temple get paid by the food of the temple and by the offerings at the altar. The temple rituals were still going on when he wrote those words, but the only conclusion he draws is this: “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (v. 14). This was the perfect time to impose the tithe-tax, but he didn’t. Rather, the general principle is that people who minister the gospel should be able to receive support from those who receive their ministries. No word about ten percent off gross (or net) pay and a curse on those who refuse.
G.. In Mark 12:41-44, Jesus sat opposite to the offering receptacles for the temple treasury. Some people threw in huge amounts. But a widow put in two small copper coins. Jesus called out to his disciples: “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (vv. 43-44). The point was not a teaching on the tithe, but sacrificial generosity. The tithe teachers are right about one thing: God owns everything we have.
In 1 Tim. 6:18-19, Paul urged the rich in this world to be generous (emphasis added): “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” No word about tithing 10% off gross pay or else be subjected to a curse-consequence. Just be generous.
I.. Now let’s look at 2 Cor. 8-9, and a glimpse here and there elsewhere. which will take the most time.
God commands every believer to give generously and sacrificially out of their need (2 Cor. 8:15-5; 9:6).
They are to give out of the proportion of their income (1 Cor. 16:1-2). No doubt Paul has in mind the principle from the old law: “No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you” (Deut. 16:16-17). The New Covenant believer is allowed to give in proportion to his income and necessary living expenses. A fixed, iron law of ten percent tithe-tax on a man who makes $1000.00 a month can be oppressive, particularly when it is off gross pay, as some tithe teachers demand.
They are to share generously with those in need (2 Cor. 8-9; cf. Eph, 4:28; Jas. 1:27).
Paul calls generosity the “grace of giving” (literally “this grace”) (2 Cor. 8:7).
Giving comes from what a man has, not what he does not have (2 Cor. 8:12). See Deut. 16:16-17 quoted above.
Giving should not burden some people and be easy for others (2 Cor. 8:13). This goes in the opposite direction of a uniform tithe-tax. Paul missed his chance to impose the tithe-tax on the New Covenant people of God.
Equality is the result; that is, everyone should give out of what he has (2 Cor. 8:14).
If a believer sows sparingly, he shall reap sparingly. If he sows bountifully, he shall reap bountifully (2 Cor. 9:8). The context speaks of material things, not just spiritual blessings. People need to give generously out of their material resources.
A believer should make up his own mind to give what he can, not under compulsion or reluctantly, because God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7 and 9:9). Contrast tithing, which is a compulsory tax under the old law of the obsolete Sinai Covenant.
God provides you with abundance, so that you can be abundant for every good work (2 Cor. 9:8-9). “Every good work” speaks not only of spiritual abundance, but material abundance, also.
God will multiply your physical resources (2 Cor. 9:10). The Greek here for “resources” is sporos or seed, a material thing.
Generosity enriches the believer who is generous in every way, so the receiver will thank God (2 Cor. 9:11). In this verse, “Every way” means not only spiritual enrichment, but material enrichment too.
Material or monetary gifts supplies the wants of other believers who also overflow in many thanksgivings to God (2 Cor. 9:12). Gratitude is the result when one receives material things.
This speaks of not just spiritual enrichment, but also material enrichment, so the giver can keep on giving.
The believers who give generous gifts will glorify God in their obedience through the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of their monetary contributions (2 Cor. 9:13). All of this speaks of monetary contributions and people glorifying God for them.
So there is a middle ground between the law of tithing and the “inspiration and do-as-you-feel” kind of giving.
The middle ground is generosity. Preach that word during every offering. Leave tithing in the past, and grow people up past “inspiration and do-as-you-feel” in giving. Tell them the New Covenant and life in the kingdom of God requires generosity with God’s kingdom resources he has entrusted to kingdom citizens.
The mega-church pastors and mega-ministry CEOs are misguided, if they teach tithing. Once the tithe is imposed on the church, then God’s way of generosity gets deformed. The tithe teaching acts like a big wrench in God’s plan, even to the point that the tithe teachers claim that tithing is for the immature, while generosity is for the mature. No, in the New Covenant church, tithing is for no one, while generosity is for everyone.
Maybe the pastors and CEOs are anxious about budgets, and the only way to compel people to give is by preaching the Old Law of a theocratic tax. . “There! That’ll make them give!” However, they are teaching out of their old playbook, which has not worked for decades. And the church’s giving percentage is still paltry.
Tithe teachers seem to be blessed beyond their wildest dreams, especially mega-church pastors. No doubt they will tell us that they are blessed because they are tithers. (Let’s lay aside the fact that they have access to TV cameras and state-wide church evangelistic associations that Joe Factoryworker and Jane Shopkeeper do not have.) The stories they tell about their personal generosity are amazing, truly. However, if God has blessed them with finances, it is not because he demands ten percent, but he loves their generosity.
The New Covenant Scriptures nowhere endorse or command the tithe for the church. These worried leaders together must regularly, during offering time in the church service, teach grace and generosity and a moved and willing heart. Then watch how the budget needs will soon be met! God does not honor battering his Bride (the Church) with obsolete laws, but he does honor grace and generosity.
However—a bigger however is coming!—everyone needs to give something, say the New Covenant Scriptures. If you go regularly (or semi-regularly) to a local church, you need to give some money, even if it is not ten percent off gross pay. God may call you to give more than that amount! But you have to give something, even if it is sacrificial. You have to be generous. The paltry giving percentage of the church must rise, beyond just the few who give regularly.
How does this post about tithing and generosity help me grow in Christ?
Yes, if you have generosity of soul, which expresses itself in generosity with your money, you will reap an abundant harvest, both spiritual and monetary. “This is the prosperity gospel!” No, it is Scriptural, and it makes sense when one contemplates the character of God. He gave his very best—his Son—and now he is reaping a worldwide spiritual kingdom which uses and needs earthly money, if it is to go around the globe. Reaping and sowing is biblical, and often the reaping and sowing is monetary.
God prospers you for one main reason: to give to his kingdom. As the saying goes, “You get, in order to give” or more cleverly: “You get, to give!” Another wise saying: “If God can get it through you, he will get it to you” (“it” being money and other resources).
So this post at first may have upset the mega-leaders and pastors of smaller churches, but it ends with making them very happy, because they know that if everyone who went to church gave regularly, all the church budgets would be met with super-abundance.
Therefore, if TV pastors and mega-leaders would stop imposing the old and obsolete law of tithing on people, maybe God would stir up the people to give out of grace, and they would give more generously! Compulsory law stifles and suffocates grace. Grace flows better when it obeys its nature—freedom and generosity and cheerfulness.
Written by James Malcolm