by Shawn Brasseaux
Preachers urge us to tithe regularly in order to gain God’s blessings and favor. Some will even go so far as to say that if we do not tithe, then we are “cursed.” Are we obligated to tithe today as members of the Church the Body of Christ? We need to search the Scriptures, and be Bereans, not naïve sheep that believe preachers and church tradition (Acts 17:10,11)!
In order to answer this question about tithing, we need to look at God’s Word rightly divided. According to the Apostle Paul, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). This is the way God has designed His Word to be studied—“rightly divided.” What does that mean exactly?
According to God, He has “divided” His Word into two programs: one of these programs is focused on the heaven, and the other program is focused on the earth (Genesis 1:1; Ephesians 1:9,10; Colossians 1:16-20). God’s program focused on the earth is known as the “prophetic program,” or that “which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21). The “mystery program,” that “which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest” (Romans 16:25,26a), is God’s program for the heaven.
These two programs have their unique assembly of believers: the prophetic program belongs to the nation Israel, and the mystery program belongs to the Church the Body of Christ. God’s Word gives doctrine for Israel (Law), and gives another set of doctrine for the Body of Christ (Grace). We must never confuse the nation Israel with the Church the Body of Christ. Never should we combine instructions that God gave to Israel with instructions God gives us as members of the Body of Christ. When studying the Bible, it is extremely important to keep these distinctions and differences in mind. With that said, we can now address tithing.
When you ask the average church member about tithing, he or she will explain tithing as his or her denomination/church defines it, but most church members do not have a clear understanding of how God defines tithing. For instance, when I asked a pastor to explain the tithe to me, he described tithing as his denomination defines it—the poor brother could not tell me what the tithe is in the Bible. How sad, and this was supposed to be a church leader who guides Christians!!! How can he guide them into God’s truth when he did not even know what God’s truth was?!?
The first time “tithe” appears in the Bible is in Genesis 14:20, where Abraham gives one-tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek the king of Salem. For the next 500 years or so, the Bible does not mention tithing. Finally, in Leviticus 27:30, with the establishment of the Mosaic Law (God’s set of rules and regulations for Israel’s religious, social, and moral life), the LORD instructs Israel to tithe.
GIVING UNDER THE LAW OF MOSES (TITHE)
- THE TITHE WAS A MANDATED OBLIGATION. Because the tithe was part of the Mosaic Law, it was a mandated tithe, and the Jews were forced to give (notice the JEWS were instructed to give the tithe; Amos 4:4,5).
- THE TITHE GIVEN TO SUPPORT PRIESTHOOD/GOVERNMENT, NOT LOCAL CHURCH. The tithe was to be given to the Levites, Israel’s priesthood. Aaron’s sons had no inheritance or land because they served as Israel’s government and served in the temple (see Numbers 18:21-32, Nehemiah 10:37,38, Nehemiah 12:44, Nehemiah 13:5, and Hebrews 7:4-9 to find out about Israel’s theocracy). Essentially, the tithe was a tax paid to Israeli government.
- THE TITHE DID NOT ALWAYS INVOLVE MONEY. Leviticus 27:30-34 mentions tithing, but says nothing about money. So, what were they tithing? The Jews gave ten percent of seed (grain), fruit of the tree, tithe of the herd, the flock, and so on. If a Jew had ten sheep, he had to give one-tenth of that—one sheep. Or, if he had forty goats, he gave four goats. If he wanted to convert that animal and sell it for money and then bring the money to the temple, he would have to add 20% to the price and give the entire amount to the priest.
- THE TITHE WAS BROUGHT TO TABERNACLE/TEMPLE. Malachi 3:8-11 commanded Israel to bring their tithes into the “storehouse,” the warehouse of the Temple. This is where the priests stored the tithed grain and other crops. Israel’s priests would then live off of that storage. The command to bring the tithes to the Tabernacle/Temple can be found in other places such as Deuteronomy 12:6, 11; Deuteronomy 26:12; and 2 Chronicles 31:11,12.
- ADDITIONAL TITHES. The “ten percent” was just one type of tithing in Old Testament Israel. Jewish males were required to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem three times a year, for three feasts (or holydays) of Judaism: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Exodus 23:14-19; Deuteronomy 16:16). In order to fund their trip and pay for their accommodations in Jerusalem, God instructed them to set aside an additional ten percent of their net income (after they paid the first tithe; see Deuteronomy 14:22-26): this second tithe was optional. There was a third type of tithe that supported the welfare system in Israel (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Deuteronomy 26:12); it was also voluntary, but was given every three years. So, had a Jew been giving all three tithes annually, it was not just ten percent, but an additional ten percent plus three and two-thirds percent (or an additional 13.33% to the 10%)! It was a total of 23.33% to 25% tithe every year!
That is a simple overview of the Old Testament tithe. Surely, you see that the tithe was a burden for Israel. In this the Dispensation of Grace, we as members of the Church the Body of Christ are separate from God’s covenant people the nation Israel. What God told Israel to do then does not necessarily apply to us today. So, why is tithing unnecessary today? Compare each of the numbers below with the numbered points above.
GIVING IN THE DISPENSATION OF GRACE (NO TITHE)
- MOSAIC LAW INAPPLICABLE TO BODY OF CHRIST. We are not under the legalistic economy of Israel in the Old Testament—we are “not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:1,2,14,15). Paul also emphasized that throughout the book of Galatians. The tithe was part of the Mosaic Law, and the Mosaic Law was put to death with Christ (Colossians 2:14)! The system of tithing is Law, legalism, performing to get God’s blessings. However, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit will not lead us Christians to go back under that performance-based acceptance system. Read what the Holy Spirit through Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” And Galatians 5:18: “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” Again, the Spirit of God will not place us under law, we are under grace (Romans 6:14). We are not forced to give money today because this would be in complete opposition to the Apostle Paul’s instructions for the Body of Christ: “do not give grudgingly or of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). “Cheerfully” means “giving whole-heartedly.” God wants believers to give willingly, giving excitedly and eagerly. I give money to my local church, not as a mandated tithe, but as a free will offering to further the Church the Body of Christ and the Gospel of the Grace of God! Interestingly, Paul never once uses the word “tithe!” He only uses the term “collection” (1 Corinthians 16:1-3). Also, I give what I want; no specific amount. In fact, the Bible says we should have nothing to do with Christians who are extortioners, and denominational preachers who force people to tithe are in fact extorting money from them! Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:11: “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.”
- THERE IS NO PRIESTHOOD IN ISRAEL TODAY! In His Word, God told Israel to give a tithe to their priests; God does not instruct us to give a tithe to our pastor or to our church. When the Temple was destroyed under the Roman invasion of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), the Israeli priesthood disappeared. Technically, in order to give a tithe today, you would have to find a Levite, and give him your tithe—and you would have to give him crops and livestock, not money. Unfortunately, some Jews do not even know to which tribe they belong anyway, so even finding a Levite is unlikely!
- MOST CHRISTIANS DO NOT HAVE LIVESTOCK AND GRAIN TO OFFER. Today’s Christians have money, but how many of us have goats, sheep, and other types of livestock that we can give to our local church? We do not all have access to wheat, corn, and other grains like Israel did under her agrarian economy. The only thing we have to give to our local church is money, and this is not Biblical tithing! Thus, giving money to a local church has no relation to Israel’s tithe.
- ISRAEL’S TEMPLE HAS BEEN DESTROYED FOR 2,000 YEARS. There is no functioning Temple in Jerusalem today, for it was destroyed in A.D. 70! Where would I bring a tithe? Again, God never tells us to bring a tithe to our local church.
Oftentimes, pastors force their members to give tithes by quoting from Malachi 3:8-11. Actually, that is extortion! “This whole nation” in Malachi 3:9 is NOT America. “This whole nation” is a reference to Israel; Malachi is writing to Israel under the Mosaic Law, not the Body of Christ in grace (Malachi 1:1). Malachi chapter 3 has absolutely nothing to do with you today! Pastors are scared if they tell their members there is no such thing as a mandated tithe today, people will no longer support the local church financially. However, they need to leave that in God’s hands: He is the best fundraiser and His grace motivates us to give “cheerfully!” People need to be set free from the legalistic burdensome tithe today!
Strangely, those who uphold the tithe today refuse to adhere to stoning people because when they break the Sabbath: why? According to the Old Testament, a Jew was put to death if he or she worked on the Sabbath—it was Saturday, not Sunday, by the way! The Mosaic Law commanded Sabbath day observance (the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:8-11). The penalty for gathering a few sticks for firewood on the Sabbath was DEATH BY STONING—and God commanded Israel to stone one particular Jew who infringed the Sabbath Day law (Numbers 15:32-36)! Why do people hang on to the tithe of the Old Testament, but avoid upholding capital punishment as a penalty for the breaking the Sabbath? Why do some uphold the Sabbath Day, but refuse to do Temple worship, or adhere to kosher food laws but deny the physical circumcision. Beats me… I will never know…. Religion never makes sense anyway.
No, tithing is not for us. Paul addressed giving in our dispensation in 2 Corinthians chapters 8, 9, and 10. Thus, God’s grace is not against giving; it is against tithing.