True Law of Tithing
Why Discuss It?
A tithe in Hebrew means a tenth. Tithing in the Hebrew Scriptures was actually quite a light burden. (Deut. 14:23-29.). Its main beneficiary aside from yourself was widows and orphans. You enjoyed eating the tithe in years 1 and 2 at Jerusalem in a festival hosted by the Levite priests. In year 3, it was collected in your home town by Levite priests, and distributed to the poor, widows, orphans, sojourners (Gentiles living in Israel) and the Levite priests.
However, tradition added to it, making it unduly burdensome. Some interpretations within Judaism beginning in 1200 A.D. twisted Scripture to make it 20%. It was no longer only ten percent belonged to poor widows and orphans and Levite priests every third year, and otherwise the tither delivered to the Levites to have them provide a festival to tithers. Rather, in the 1200s another ten percent tithe now belonged to the rabbis. The clear meaning of a tenth was lost. It was made over-bearing by the traditions of men.
Christian tradition by that point had gone even farther. Unlike the Jews as of the 1200s, the Christians since Charlemagne in the 8th Century had subtracted to whom God said the tithe was directed other than the tither's festival at Jerusalem (i.e., widows and orphans). Christian tradition became so modified by the 1200s that that God's main social purpose behind the tithe was eliminated altogether. Widows and orphans have 0% right to a tithe in the Christian version. Even the Jewish tradition of the tithe from 1200 AD forward strongly protected the right of widows and orphans to the tithe. The Christian practice clearly contradicts Scripture. (Deut. 14:23-29.)
The True Tithe
Jew v Gentile Distinction
Acts 15:13-29 says Gentiles Christians are not bound to the Law of Circumcision. However Acts 21:21-26 says the apostles taught Jewish Christians are still bound to obey the Law and its traditions, including circumcision. If you treat this as a principle, Jewish Christians certainly must pay the tithe. It is a different question regarding non-Jewish Christians. Elsewhere we establish that Gentiles are likely not at all subject to the tithe because they were one of the main beneficial recipients of the tithe in year 3. See this link. If there is an exception, it would be a Gentile who owned land and had crops and animals. Id.
Regardless, a Gentile with land and animals can agree to abide by the tithe if he or she believes the command applies to himself / herself. But a Gentile who is paying a tenth of income from wages to ministers / clergy is doing so where the Law given Moses never commands any such action upon him.
So what is a tithe according to the Bible?
Tithe Solely Upon Farm Food Production, Not Wages or Other Foods
The true tithe of Scripture is easy: you bring 10% of your food production (crop-produce and animals that exceed 9 animals) in a three year cycle. (Leviticus 27:30 "tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the trees"; Leviticus 27:32 , "tithe of the heard and the flocks [is] every tenth animal that passes under the rod," which meant an owner of 9 or less animals had no animal-tithe.) There was no tithe on wages, loan-interest income, monetary gains, fish caught in the sea, or sale of minerals such as copper, silver, gold, etc.
However, with no basis at all, modern standard evangelical doctrine is that the tithe in the Law is on all sources of income, even wages.
How do they defend this given what the true tithe said?
The standard evangelical sermon implies the only reason that wages are not mentioned in the Bible as subject to a tithe is because Israel was an "agricultural society." You are supposed to then infer there were no wage earners and no money lender profits going on, etc. Hence, these sermons want you to assume that is why there is no mention of a tithe on wages or loan profits, etc. For example, see this video at this link 8:46 mark of video from President of Grace School of the Bible.
As a result, the evangelical church teaches that the tithe had a broader implied principle than the Law actually supports -- supposedly a tithe on sources of income. However, as we saw above, the Law imposed a tithe only possibly on crops and animals. Thus, these sermons want us to believe wages came about at a later era, and that a tithe on crops and animals simply naturally extends do all sources of income, including on wages.
But the implied premise of such sermons is utterly false. For the Law given Moses mentions there were people making wages under the Law and catching fish to eat and digging up minerals out of the ground who obviously used it as gain, etc. None of these sources of income were subject to a tithe. This is no oversight or error in the Law. Moses is aware of people earning wages and catching fish and digging up copper and gold, etc.
For example, the same Mosaic Law setting up the tithe on only food talks of making sure you pay your workers their wage the same day they did the labor. (Deut. 24:14-15.) In fact, there are 67 Bible verses dealing with wages in the Bible. See link. At that link, you will find that in the Abrahamic age before the Law, there were wages, as Laban asked Jacob what would be his "wages." (Gen. 29:15.) Laban later insists to Jacob (later known as Israel) "name me your wages." (Gen. 30:28.) The Mosaic Law also had God prohibit you to use "wages" earned renting out your dog or earned by a prostitute to be given as a votive (voluntary) offering at the Temple. (Deut. 23:18.) Clearly, the tithe deliberately did not apply to wages which were a well-known fact of economic life. The tithe solely applied to sources of food from land -- crops and animals. It did not even encompass fish that were caught which the law allowed one to eat in Leviticus 11:9-12.
The AskELM website puts it well in its article The Mosaic Law of Tithing (2014):
Who was not required to tithe? It is often surprising to people to find that a large segment of people in Israel did not tithe!
The owner of a farm had to tithe, but his hired hands were exempt. Was a hired hand required to tithe on his salary? Not at all! There was no law that required a tenth of one’s salary to be tithed (which was earned for services rendered). Only the crops and animals of those who owned them were subject to the tithe. After all, the crops and the animals did not belong to the hired hand and only the increase from one’s land or animals was subject to the tithe. And note this. Fishermen did not tithe, though this industry is mentioned in the law (Leviticus 11:9–12). Likewise, the mining industry is referred to (Deuteronomy 8:9), but the tithe of minerals extracted from the earth was never called for. The lumber business is mentioned (1 Kings 5:7–12) and construction work on buildings (1 Kings 5:13–18) but tithes were not extracted from people who worked in those trades. The same held true for those earning an income from weaving, handicrafts, or from any form of manufacturing or merchandising. They all were immune from tithing including all those in the military and government workers. And though the Levites were commanded to pay a tenth of the tithe they received from the farmers and ranchers to the Priests, those Priests themselves were totally exempt from paying any tithe.
To make it plain and simple, only the owners of farms and flocks were required to tithe. Indeed, the Israelite who had fewer than ten cattle did not have to tithe on nine of them because the requirement stated that only the tenth animal that passed under the rod was to be tithed (Leviticus 27:32). Looking at this matter of the tenth animal being tithed from our present monetary point of view, a rancher could have many thousands of dollars invested in nine cattle, but unless he had a tenth he was not required to tithe a penny of his assets.
The Three Year Cycle Net Cost Is Low.
The first two years, the farmer owners brought their tithe to the Levites at the Temple of Jerusalem. This was only once per year. The Levites then fed you in a festival from your own tithe. You have a big potluck party, celebrating God's generosity with you. You and your family are to eat the dishes you brought to the party. You are to be joyful and have fun at the Lord's generosity with you. (Deut. 14:23-26.)
This is no more surprising than to find the Law obliged you to bring the first-born farm animals to the Lord. You likewise must "eat it in the presence of the Lord." (Deut. 15:20.) God loves you to give to Him so He can give it right back to you.
Then in year three, the tithe is brought to the Levites in the city where you live. It is directed 100% to widows, orphans, the poor, sojourners (Gentiles) and the Levites among us. (Deut. 14:26-29.) No one else can touch it.
How would this apply today?
There are no more Levites and thus that aspect of the provision is now defunct. They were treated as the poor as they were deprived by Law from owning any land. Only the other eleven tribes could own land. God specifically explains the Levites share in the tithe only because they otherwise are deprived of owning land. This again underscores that the tithe is only applicable to landowner-farmers, not fishermen, workers, etc.
How should the third year tithe be divided? The Bible gives us no guide. To do justice, the division should be no less than pro rata so that widows, orphans, poor, and sojourners (Gentiles) receive a proportionate share. This way they are not "robbed" by any one group asking more than their fair share. How do we know this principle should apply? Because the Levites of old were excoriated in Malachi 3 for robbing God's tithe by taking more then their fair share from widows, orphans and the poor workers. We will discuss that later below.
The Ghost of Abraham
Sometimes, to avoid the charge of inconsistency over when the Law applies, Paulinist Christians claim Abraham tithed. Based upon Paul's teaching in Galatians 4, they say we are part of that Abrahamic covenant - supposedly a gospel of grace without works. (This is a false claim about that covenant. Paul relied on a Septuagint mistranslation of Gen. 15:6 from 247 BC. See Abrahamic Covenant.) Thus, by endorsing tithing, they would say they are not insisting upon a return to the Law of Moses.
However, Abraham's tithe is not a legitimate example of the tithe they are advocating. His tithe was not on income or crops, and only one time.
Abraham merely once gave 10% of his booty in war to the priest Melchisedek. (Gen. 14:20-23. See also, Heb. 7:4 Abraham paid "a tenth of the spoils.")
So rarely do the tithe-advocates end there. Abraham's tithe is an insufficient example.
Randy Alcorn is typical of how he resolves the tension that Abraham's tenth has nothing to do with our modern tithe. Alcorn does cite Abraham's example, but then he firmly bases his tithing instructions on the Law of Moses. (Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions & Eternity (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale, 2003) at 174-75, 181.)
Tithing in the New Testament?
There is no mention of tithing in the New Testament that is endorsed by Paul.
But Jesus does mention it twice. In Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42-44, Jesus scolds the Pharisees for tithing on spices and garden vegetables, but disregarding "justice and the love of God" from the Law. Jesus says "they should have done [the tithing] without neglecting the other..." commandments from the Law.
Sometimes Paulinists cite this and say Jesus "directly affirmed" tithing in this passage from Luke. (Alcorn, supra, at 181.)
However, whenever anyone says this passage is another example of Jesus endorsing obedience to the Law, we hear objections from the same Paulinist Christians.
They claim Jesus in Luke 11:42-44 was talking ‘to a different dispensation.' The Pharisees were under the ‘old covenant,' and thus they had to upkeep the priesthood through tithing. Reformed thinkers will tell you that the law of tithing was therefore never truly repeated in the "New Testament." You supposedly can safely ignore this passage where Jesus clearly endorses tithing. Why?
It cannot be based upon Jesus' words. For Jesus identified as a heretic anyone who teaches you to relax any of the commands in the Law given Moses; Jesus said such a person "shall be called least (by those) in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:19.) Scholars concur Jesus means such an anti-Law teacher is condemned to deepest damnation in Matthew 5:20.
Paul did not teach the tithe. However, Paul did cite the Law on feeding your ox while it treads out the grain (Deut 25:4) as why you must support ministers who preach and teach the flock. 1 Cor. 9:9. For discussion, see link.
Hence, Paul taught the abrogation of all the Law except the principle of the right of your ministers to money based upon the analogy to the ox-treading-the-grain rule from the Mosaic law.
In doing so, Paul's approach is very similar to other Pharisees who Jesus criticized for putting emphasis on the Mosaic Law's commands that provided financial payments that could be exploited by the Pharisees for personal gain, while otherwise the Pharisees "neglected" the rest of the Mosaic Law. (Matt 23:23; Luke 11:42-44.)
Paul's Unwitting Correctors.
An online pastor Robert Breaker who is unaware of how Paul invoked Deut. 25:4 assumes Paul would not believe the Mosaic law requires support for ministers today. Based upon that, he answers why tithing does not apply today. This pastor is Robert Breaker in the video at this link at about the 25 minute mark. Relying upon Paul, Mr. Breaker teaches the Law is a curse, and done away with so we don't have to worry about the tithe, whether we are a Jewish or Gentile Christian.
Pastor Breaker overlooked that Paul believed the Law -- that supposedly cursed Law, with all its faded-away principles -- did survive in one particular way -- its provisions that Paul inferred mandates us to pay pastors for preaching and teaching. So Paul quoted in 1 Corinthians 9:9 directly from Deuteronomy 25:4 about the feeding of your ox as it worked. Paul said this analogously implied one must feed pastors with financial support as they preached and taught.
Hence Breaker becomes a de facto corrector of Paul -- readjusting Paul so impliedly even Deuteronomy 25:4 does not apply any longer to mandate paying ministers. For it too is a part of the Law which Paul said was a curse, against us and has been taken away.
Jesus' Words Only Filter.
Instead, the truth is that Jesus is being perfectly consistent in Luke 11:42-44 with His other statements. Jesus said not one jot or tittle of the Law will ever pass away until heaven and earth pass away. He did not come to abrogate the Law but fufill it. Jesus extols those who teach obedience to the Law, and promises shame on those who teach against the need to obey the Law. (Matt. 5:18-19.) Jesus is instructing in Luke 11 and Matthew 23:23 that the Pharisees were correct to obey the Law's command on the tithe. Yet Jesus also reminds the Pharisees not to neglect the weightier matters of the Law such as justice and the love of God.
Herein lies the inconsistency of Christians like Alcorn: they will insist that tithing is still a New Testament principle, but if someone cites this Synoptic passage to prove Jesus endorses the broader principle of obeying the Law, they run from it. They then resort to the Pauline view that the Law of Moses does not apply to any Christian.
So now let's explore the actual law of tithing. It may surprise you.
The Real & Only Tithe
In Deuteronomy 14:22-29, Moses says God commanded a tithe to follow a three year cycle. The first two years, the tithe was collected at Jerusalem for the tithe-giver to consume in an assembly festivity. It was a big party. (The Levites apparently would host the event.) In the third year, the tithe for the year was stored up and then distributed to the poor (specifically "orphans, widows and the Levites").
To whom did you bring the tithe for distribution? The Levites to whom all the tithes belonged (as custodians and partial participants). (Numbers 18:21.)
Finding A Tithe That Isn't There
However, the Levites' successors (i.e., the Rabbis) of several milennia later saw an ambiguity in Numbers 18:21 ("I have given the children of Levi all the tithes of Israel....") While this merely was a direction to whom to deposit the tithe in trust and for their partial consumption, the self-interest and bias of the Levites' purported successors eventually emerged.
Consider how enormous is the financial incentive to misapply Numbers 18:21. If the 8,580 Levites of Moses' day could convince the 603,550 male adults of the other tribes to hand over 10% of their farm produce and animal produce in a primarily agricultural society, and each of the 603,550 were making $10,000 in selling such produce, then each Levite would end up with the equivalent of $70,000 per year.
In turn, Aaron would have an enormous incentive to encourage this result. Numbers 18 reminds the Levites to pay 10% of whatever they get to the three Aaronic priests. Each of them would end up with the equivalent of $20 million in farm produce a year if you use the modest assumptions above.
These figures demonstrate how ludicrous would be a distinct Numbers 18:21 tithe in Moses' day. For why in any imaginable just way could God put the Levites as part of the "poor" tithe in Deuteronomy 14? Why would God have made Levites share with widows and orphans a poor tithe? Yet, we are supposed to believe God supposedly made each of the 8,580 Levites like rich kings in Numbers 18 at the very same time. (Numbers and Deuteronomy were written almost at the same time.)
Moses is the author of both Deuteronomy and Numbers. I am sure he would have paused and asked God how can you regard Levites as worthy of a poor tithe when you are making each of them phenomally wealthy. It just does not make any sense.
Moreover, when you read the five books of Moses, do you come away with the impression that God wanted the Levites to be the super-rich among the Israelites? Do you ever get the sense that Aaron is a multi-millionaire when you read the Hebrew Scriptures? Nobody else has obseved that either.
Nevertheless, Christian authors who realize this disproportionate outcome shamelessly defend it. They claim this extreme wealth of ministers is something God intended by giving the Levites the possession of tithes in Numbers 18:21. They say God intended extreme wealth for the minister class disproportionate to all the other people. After running the figures I just cited above, Avram Yehoshua says:
As much as the money is, and it is an incredible sum, the issue isn't money, or cattle or grain, etc.The tithe reflected the honor that Yahveh had given to the Levite and the sons of Aaron who gave up their life, and their interest in this world, to serve Yahveh full time. (See link.)
This makes no sense. The Levite had been given no land by God. To make up for that, God gave them a share of the tithe in the third year (and a lot of other fringe benefits that we will discuss in a moment). If the tithe is to be compensation for not having land yourself, then the tithe should bear some reasonable relationship to what you have lost. If God instead had a purpose to make each of them super-rich above all his neighbors, we would expect to see some mention of that. Instead, God had the Levites lumped in with widows and orphans in a poor tithe in Deuteronomy 14:26-29.
If God's stated purpose is merely to make up for Levites having no land, then God's providing a level of contribution in Numbers 18 as a supposedly distinct tithe in addition to the Deuteronomy 14:26-29 tithe makes no sense. This alleged priestly tithe would give each priest seven times the effective income that any one else is deriving from the land. It is as if the Levites are given seven times as much land than any other tribe.
Such a disproportionate result clearly violates the intent God expresses in Numbers 18 that the tithe made up for the fact the Levites had no land. The alleged Numbers 18 tithe would have turned the Levites into barons far wealthier than anyone else. This actually appears to be the contrary of the purpose of the tithe, as God explains in Numbers 18.
Furthermore, if the tithe (tenth) really had been 20% (i.e., both the Deuteronomy 14 and alleged Numbers 18:21 tithe), then why did God call it a tithe (a tenth)? Why not call it a fifth (20%) and then specify how it is distributed in years 1, 2 and 3 by various divisions similar to what is laid out in Deuteronomy 14? Since God specified how Levites share in the tithe in Deuteronomy 14, He could equally have said how they shared in a two-tenths payment too.
In other words, it is called a tithe both in Deuteronomy 14 and Numbers 18 for a good reason: it is one single tenth or tithe. What is overlooked is that God already specified a partial division to Levites in Deuteronomy 14. It was an unreasonable reading of Numbers 18 to assume God intended a new and exclusive right to a second tenth just for Levites.
Moreover, in God's economy, why was it necessary yearly to give the Levites your tithe when the Levites were entitled to eat all the daily, weekly and annual meat sacrificed in the Temple from all eleven tribes--an enormous disproportionate benefit which the poor did not enjoy? (Lev. 7:1-7.) Some experts claim the value of meat brought to the annual sacrifices at Jerusalem was equivalent to bringing a new car from each family.
The truth is there is but one tithe: the Deuteronomy 14 tithe, which includes the third-year tithe. This third-year tithe is repeated in Deuteronomy 26:12. This eliminates any possible misunderstanding on how the tithe was to be used and distributed. It belonged to the Levites as God's priests (holding it in trust and for their own good too) in each of the three years. Yet, its distribution was supposed to follow Deuteronomy 14 and 26 -- festivals at Jerusalem for tithers in years 1 and 2, but in year 3 it would be distributed in each town to the poor, widows, Levites, etc.
How People Got Duped
The main way of convincing people -- in particular the Jewish people -- that there is such a thing as a distinct extra Levitical tithe is to quote the Numbers 18:21 passage first. If the listener does not have the context of the earlier mention of the tithe in Deuteronomy 14, they can be duped. The listener is unaware God already defined the tenth to include the Levites in year three. There was no intent in Numbers 18:21 to define a second tenth. It was merely referring back to the tenth defined in Deuteronomy 14. It was necessary because Deuteronomy 14 did not say to whom the tenth was delivered. Numbers 18:21 merely cleared that up: the tenth (previously defined) belongs to the Levites.
In year 3, the Levites were allowed to keep a share of the tithe for themselves, but each year of the 3 year cycle the Levites took ownership over all tithes. God's purpose is expressed clearly in Numbers 18: this will make up for the Levites not being given any tribal land themselves. It was not intended to make them super-rich which would be the result if you imagined the 603,000 male adults of working age of all other tribes started tithing to the 8,300 Levites. The Levites would be rich Lords, having seven times the effective income of any individual Israelite, as explained earlier.
Without knowing that context, you might wrongly assume Numbers 18 is speaking of a tithe only for Levites. By this tactic of quoting out-of-context, you end up with Alcorn's conclusion that "the first and most basic tithe was for religious purposes, specifically to support spiritual leaders...." (Alcorn, supra, at 175.) Absolutely not! The first and only tithe is the Deuteronomy 14 tithe.
Later Jewish Practices & Tradition.
The history of tithing in Judaism proves the practice of a second tithe for only the "priest" came late. It did not arise under Moses.
How do we know that? First, from the math. If Moses and Aaron were taking down $20 million a year, we surely could anticipate grumbling from the same people who grumbled over manna from Heaven. We find no complaints in Scripture.
Second, by the time Scripture closes with Malachi in the 600 B.C. period, there is not one mention anywhere in Scripture of the so-called Levitical tithe as Numbers 18 is now viewed to represent.
Instead, there is only mention of the poor tithe in Malachi 3. Someone was oppressing widows and orphans (Mal. 3:5). In the same context, God said someone was robbing tithes owed. (Mal. 3:8.) We will see below that it was the Levites who were taking too much of their poor tithe. (If the Numbers tithe was distinct and made the Levites super-wealthy, one has to wonder why God says they are plundering the poor's tithe in Malachi 3:8.)
After the close of Hebrew Scriptures (Malachi), the history reflecting a Levitical tithe is surprisingly scanty. The Levitical tithe is not clearly mentioned by any religious authority as a requirement until 1200 A.D. The Levitical tithe is non-existent in the Talmud (100-400 A.D.)
Let's look first at the pre-1200 A.D. evidence. First is Tobit of the Apocrypha. This book was written in 200 B.C. In Tobit 1:7-8, Tobit mentions he brought the Deuteronomy 14 tithe of years one and two. Tobit calls it the tithe for the festivals. It was deposited with the "priests...at the altar." Then Tobit mentions "of all my produce I would give a tenth to the sons of Levi who ministered at Jerusalem." There is no mention, however, that Tobit did this because of any legal duty pursuant to Numbers 18. It is doubtful because in the very next verse, Tobit says he took another "tenth" and brought it to Jerusalem to spend. There is obviously no compulsion in that action, yet Tobit calls it another "tithe."
Then Tobit says he had a "third tenth" that he brought for those "to whom it is my duty...for I was left an orphan of my father." Apparently, Tobit meant the third year cycle tithe for widows and orphans.
If you do the math, Tobit gave what he called "tithes" of 40%: 10% for the annual festivals, 10% every year for widows and orphans, 10% for the Levites and 10% for spending in Jerusalem. In light of the Talmud to follow, it is unlikely that this reflects any compulsory practice at that time. Tobit was very wealthy. He reflects perhaps what a rich Jewish person might do in that era.
Moving to the next possible source of Judaic practice, we turn to the Talmud (100-400 A.D.). Henry Lansdell did a meticulous review and summary of any mention of tithing in the Talmud in chapter eight of his book The Sacred Tenth. However, he nowhere mentions the supposed extra Levitical tithe. He refers to the Deuteronomy 14 tithe for festivals as a "second tithe" (years 1 and 2) brought to the Levites. One should contrast it with the first tithe for widows and orphans. However, Landsdell nowhere explains there was any concept of a distinct extra 10% each year for Levites and/or
ministers that did not represent the Deuteronomy 14 tithe and instead a Numbers 18:21-alleged tithe just for the priests.
If we do our own investigation of the Talmud, we find the same. Nedarim 84b of the Babylonian Talmud is informative. It speaks of the "poor tithe" of year 3. In that context it merely says, "konam [shall] be the benefit priests and Levites have from me." This passage is referring to the sacrificial meat (konam) which the Levites could eat. (Leviticus 7:1-7.) By juxtaposing this with the poor tithe, it appears to be suggesting the Levites elected not to take their share of the poor tithe in year three. They relied upon the konam, or sacrifice for all the food they needed.
Nevertheless, there is arguably a good reason why the Levitical tithe, if it truly existed, is not being mentioned in the Talmud. The Temple had been destroyed in 70 A.D. There was thus nothing for the Levites to do any more. The purpose of the Levitical tithe arguably had ceased.
Yet, this is false reasoning. The tithe would have been much more important for the Levites after the Temple was destroyed. The people no longer brought the sacrifices to the Temple. The priests were allowed to eat all this meat once it was sacrificed. Now that this practice ceased, they would be dependent on a tithe if one extra one existed solely for their benefit. If it were more than just the normal tithe of Deuteronomy 14, such as a 10% tithe just for Levites, surely some mention would appear in the Talmud between 100-400 A.D. Instead, there is no spefic mention of it.
On the other hand, some claim Josephus (37-101 A.D.) mentions a Levitical tithe in Antiquities of the Jews, ch. 4, sec.3. If you read the quote carefully, this is talking of a specific event. It also is not speaking at odds with Deuteronomy 14 because there is a Levitical component to the third year tithe. The more significant evidence must be regarded as the Talmud, because it is an exhaustive recapitulation of all laws and traditions of the Jews as of 100-400 A.D.
Further corroboration there was no Levitical-extra tithe is early Christian practice. There was no early history of any Christian tithing to their own ministers. In the Didache, an early Christian document perhaps dating to 100 A.D., there is mention of giving "first fruits" to prophets among Christians. However, a prophet is not the same as a minister or teacher. The Didache said what to do if there was no prophet: "if you do not have a prophet, give it to the poor." Thus, Christian practice was to follow the poor tithe, and include prophets within a first-fruits offering, just as the poor tithe included Levites.
The Catholic Encyclopedia on "Tithes" records the first reference by any Christian body to the tithe was in 567 A.D. "The earliest positive [church] legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the cannons of the Council of Macon in 585."
Then this was made Roman law in 785 AD. The Catholic Encyclopedia on "Tithes" says "the earliest instance of the enforcement of the payment of ecclesiastical tithes by civil law is to be found in the capitularies of Charlemagne, at the end of the eighth century." This was in the year 785 AD. Charlemagne required every citizen to be baptized and all citizens to pay a tithe to the Roman Catholic Church. Until that time, there is no record of a Christian tithe for the ministers/priests.
Please allow a small digression. This tithe to the Roman Catholic Church is how it became so dominant throughout the world. Instead of this church using it exclusively for the poor, the fantastic wealth it created was used in large part to finance church expansion and building projects at the expense of the poor to whom the tithe was directed by God Almighty. St. Peter's basilica is a living testament to man's foul use of the tithe. Constantine began its construction in 324 A.D. on the site of the Circus of Nero. The modern basilica was begun in 1506 and completed in 1615. The excessive expense on this building, while glorious to behold, is surely a stench in the nostrils of the Lord. The tithe for the poor was misused for the aggrandizement of the religious establishment who "devour widows houses" to make a show to the world.
Proper repentance would melt the gold down, give it to the poor, and then rebuild a humble church on its foundation made of granite. This is the kind of church our humble Master would visit, not an ostentatious building made from tithes that belonged to the poor. In fact, the construction of this monstrosity of injustice is what compelled the Catholic Church to invent the notion of indulgences. These were sold worldwide to finance the basilica at Rome. The Church made a high pressure promise that underwriting the basilica by an indulgence would speedily free relatives from an alleged purgatory nowhere mentioned in inspired scripture.
Jewish Later Practices
For Jews, the first mention of any Levitical extra tithe was by Maimonides, a Jewish compiler of the Law and tradition around 1200 A.D. Perhaps inspired by Charlemagne's imposition of a priestly tithe to the Catholic Church, Jews found such reasoning useful among themselves. Thus, in Maimonides, we find the first clear directive within Judaism to pay a Levitical tithe based on Numbers 18: a 10% tithe citing Numbers 18:24 (which I contend is an erroneous interpretation) besides the tithe in Deuteronomy 14 (the true and only tithe).
These were self-serving interpretations of the Law. It added burdens of a 20% annual "tithe" that was not in the Law and could not possibly have been the original intent of Numbers 18. Christians should have followed Jesus' example and tried to recognize burdensome traditions that were not part of God's plan.
Regardless of what happened among the Jews, some Protestant evangelicals today defend a second priest-only tithe so as tell Christians that such payment rightly belongs to Christian clergy alone today, and not the poor or tithers themselves in the original three year cycle.
Traditional Christian View Eliminates Tithe to Poor
However, modern Christians have engaged in even worse self-serving interpretations than Maimonides. At least Maimonides preserved the widows and orphans tithe. However, the Christian reformulation disregards this aspect of the Deuteronomy 14:22-29 tithe. This passage in Deuteronomy clearly specifies a widows-orphans-priest tithe every third year. There is no net tithe in years 1 and 2 (just a potluck in Jerusalem.) Rather than follow Jesus, who faught false additions to the Law, the predominant Christian view is annual tithing to ministers applies.
The predominant Christian view is we are bound to a 10% tithe just to support the Levites. This is then updated to apply to our new priestly (or ministerial) class. If we don't, they cite Malachi 3 to say "we" are robbing God of His tithes.
Who got forgotten in the Christian re-application? The poor tithe for widows and orphans disappears entirely. We have robbed God of the one tithe that actually was intended to reach someone other than the giver!!! We have robbed God's purposes so we can give exclusively year after year to the one class (priests/ministers) who God intended to share only every third year with orphans and widows!
The Christian prevailing view is that we, the people, rob God's tithes by not paying the priests, i.e., our ministers/church. (See Alcorn, supra, at 174.) This is a very odd interpretation of Malachi 3:3-11.
Of course, these teachers never quote or cite verse 3 of that passage. This passage, in its full context, tells you the Levites are the ones robbing the tithe that belongs to the widow and orphans. They are taking more than their pro rata share. It is not the people who are failing to pay their tithes who are the troublemakers who rob God, as our ministers like to present this passage to us. Let's take a closer look.
Who is the "you" in this passage who is robbing tithes "from the whole nation" (v. 8) and "oppressing widows and orphans"? (v. 5.)
Malachi 3:3-11 says the "sons of Levi" had to be purified. (Mal. 3:3). From the first to third chapter of Malachi, the you spoken of was almost exclusively the Priests/Levites. See Mal. 1:6-8, ("priests show contempt for my name"), 2:1 ("O Priests! ...You have not set your heart to honor me"), 2:7-8 ("the lips of the priest ought to preserve knowledge...but you have turned from the way"), 2:17, 3:1-2.
So when we get to the famous passage on robbing tithes, which is so often used to instill guilt in us (i.e., the people), the true intended jab is at priests. By the modern analogy, God is skewering our ministers if they are not protecting the tithe going also to widows and orphans by right.
In Malachi, it was clearly the priests who are the "you" who were "robbing" God of His tithe. In the same breath, God says these robbers are "oppressing...orphans and widows." If you means instead that the people were not paying tithes, as the predominant pulpit preachers teach today, then why doesn't it say the Levites are being oppressed just as much as widows and orphans? Each were entitled to the tithe every third year in Deuteronomy 14:23-29. The only explanation that makes sense is the priests were taking shares of the tithe to which they were not entitled. (See Mal. 2:17, priests flounting God.) This is why the robbers caused oppression to the "widows and orphans," rather than the oppression being on all three: widows, orphans and Levites.
Moreover, if the Levites too were being robbed and hence victims of the robbers, then why does the preceding verse talk of "purifying" the Levites? God is condemning them in the preceding verse as well as the first two chapters of Malachi. If God intended us to feel sorry for them over a non-payment of the tithe, this was an odd way to do so. One might even suppose reading Malachi that God wanted the tithe to stop going to such evil priests.
Again it is plain: in Malachi 3, the Levites are the transgressors of the tithe, not the public at large. They were the ones robbing God. They were thereby oppressing the widow and the orphan. They forgot the tithe that belonged also to the fatherless and the lonely widow. The spiritual leaders were devouring widows houses by these practices.
Landsdell Says Ministers / Church Do Not Have A Rightful Claim to All the Tithe By Analogizing to the Mosaic Law.
The clergy of today are often reliant upon Landsdell's book The Sacred Tenth (1906) to point to an encouragement to revive tithing. They try to point to his support for revival of tithing, and claim themselves the obvious exclusive beneficiaries of such a tithe. However, Landsdell is not supportive of that outcome.
Landsdell said he could support a revival in principle. However, Landsdell meant he could support the only true tithe -- the Deuteronomy 14 tithe in a three year cycle -- if the church or clergy provided the same comprehensive function as the Levites did in Israel with such a tithe.
Landsdell says the modern clergy and church are not the justified full recipients at this time as neither serve the comprehensive social function which the Levites served under the Law:
"I am one of those who hold ... that the practice of tithe-paying might and ought to be generally resumed and practiced." (Page 482.) ...To whom is the tithe to be paid? ... [A]lthough the relation of Israelites to the tribe of Levi in some respects resembled the relation of the professing Christian to his clergyman ... yet there are other respects in which the resemblance does not hold good. For instance the return yielded by the Levites to the people of Israel was much wider, and met more of their daily wants than do the offices rendered to the people by the modern parochial clergymen." (Pages 483-484.)
What did Landsdell mean? Landsdell lists the Levites' social function was to administer nationally: (1) the entire legal system, making all legal decisions (citing Deut 21:5 and Deut 17:8-9); (2) "the provision for the poor;" (3) "the system of national education"; and (4) the custody and transmission of the Holy Scriptures. Id., at 484.
These Levite-services were in addition to what the modern clergy primarily provides today: administering worship services and songs.
Nothing as comprehensive as the Levites' role operates among modern Protestant denominations. Even if education is sometimes provided by a Protestant church, it is always at a cost to the members. It is not free as it would be under Israel's Levites. Hence, to give the modern clergy or church a tithe besides reimbursements for education costs is strongly out of balance with what the Levites provided socially in return for the tithe as set up by God in the Bible: judicial courts, free education; social support for the poor (widows, orphans, Gentiles, poor in general); and publication and distribution of the Holy Scripture.
So Landsdell repeats that it is obvious the Levites "had duties and responsibililities far wider than the modern ministers of religion." (The Sacred Tenth (1906) at page 485.) Landsdell says such an adaptation of the Mosaic Law to a revival of the tithe would only be correctly analogous "if there were paid from Christian tithes the expenses also of our judges and local courts, our universities, training colleges and schools, our poor-law expenses, as well as the support of God's worship throughout the land...." Id. Thus, he concludes the modern clergy "cannot claim, even if they wished to do so, the whole of the tithe of national income." Id.
Later, Landsdell has a bit of a quandry on how a Christian would respond to a tithe request. So he punts somewhat. He says that any Christian who wants to give a tithe should do so to the "`officers of the church" as "the appropriate distributors" of it. However, please notice that he does not say they are the full beneficiaries of it either. Id., at page 489.
Thus, in essence, Landsdell tells Christians who decide to give "tithes" to entrust what they give as "tithes" to the clergy, but the clergy do not have a right to claim all of it for their own use. Landsdell appears to think the giver should exercise no responsibility to determine whether the giver should directly use his tithe to fund the poor or education within his own family, and cut down on the tithe to the ministers to that extent. Landsdell appears to hope the clergy would read his limitation on the clergy's claim, and they would exercise self-restraint. Thus he does not suggest the giver adjust the amounts to ensure compliance with the Biblical divisions. Rather, Landsdell appears to hope the modern clergy would ask for tithes, letting the congregants know that church will give away free education and monies to the poor rather than solely use the tithe to pay their salaries and to underwrite the costs of worship and teaching on Sunday.
The Evangelical Church's Hypocrisy Over the Law
So how do Paulinist Christians defend insisting Chistians pay the tithe (as they read the Law in Numbers 18), but simultaneously say the Law does not apply to Christians?
Randy Alcorn in Money, Possessions and Eternity (2003) provides a mainstream Christian defense of the teaching of tithing. Afte citing Malachi, and talking in absolute terms about how the tithe belongs to God, Pastor Alcorn gets down to the law-grace issue.
Randy claims he "detests legalism." He means teaching that the Mosaic Law applies to a Christian. (Id., at 181.) He then acknowledges the strongest argument against tithing is the ‘law versus grace' argument. Yet, he says just because we are under grace does not mean we "should stop doing all that was done under the [Mosaic] law." (Id.)
Now the inconsistency about this should be embarassing. If anyone used such reasoning about continuing the command to rest on the true Sabbath (Saturday) or keeping the festival of Passover (which is a type of Messianic prophecy), such a teacher would be branded an heretical legalist. Yet, because Randy is talking of tithing, we move aside. The Church needs the cash. It has to make an exception.
So Randy Alcorn then says "I believe there's ongoing value to certain aspects of the old covenant." (Id., 181.) I concur. But why? What is the criteria? Is it because Randy's church needs money? Or is it because God' word is still applicable today?
Randy then says clearly, "we were never told that tithing has been superseded and ... Jesus directly affirmed it (Matthew 23:23)...." (Id., at 181.) Randy Alcorn closes his argument stating that "it seems to me the burden of proof falls on those who say that tithing is no longer a minimum standard for God's people." (Id., at 181.) Therefore, it remains God's word.
Precisely. And Jesus affirmed that all the Law continues in Matthew 5:17-20 until heaven and earth pass away.
So why is any of the Law disregarded today? Why is Sabbath disregarded? Why did Luther teach in 1521 that the Ten Commandments are no longer binding on a Christian? Why does almost all Protestant Christianity today say that anyone who says the Ten Commandments are binding are guilty of heretical legalism? But why then does the tithe continue from the Mosaic law but nothing else from the Law?
The answer is precisely in how we proved above that the tithe is distorted and misrepresented. As taught in church today, the tithe is surely an unjustified pressure to abide by a false depiction of the Mosaic law duty to tithe. This inconsistency is a knowing one born of the spirit of Phariseeism as Jesus depicted it.
Jesus did not criticize "legalism" -- supposedly pro-Law positions -- among Pharisees, but the opposite. Jesus condemend the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23 for teaching the lesser command of "tithing," but neglecting to teach the greater commands of the Law about "justice, mercy, and faithfulness." Our modern evangelical church clearly have the identical spirit of the Pharisees which Jesus condemned -- they are equally anti-Law teachers except on the issue of tithing.
To deflect their guilt, the modern Protestant clergy misrepresent the Pharisees as legalists whom Jesus supposedly attacked for being too strict about the Law applying. However, Jesus' attack on them in Matthew 23:23 was for the opposite reason -- for a teaching identical to modern Protestant doctrine on the Law that tithing continues, but the rest is neglected, including the Law's principles of "justice" (right and wrong); its principle of "mercy" (which in the Ten Commandments says God's "mercy" is conditioned on (a) love of God and (b) obeying God's commandments -- Exodus 20:6), and its principles of "faithfulness" (obedience).
Christians Have Gone One Better
Finally consider the modern tragedy about tithing. The Christian concept of tithing has made a tradition out of a terrible version of the tithe. God condemned in Malachi as a sign of apostasy that priests (ministers) were robbing the poor widows and orphans of their share of the tithe. Yet, that is precisely what our modern ministers do. They claim they are entitled to all of it, and every year. Among Christian churches, the poor widows and orphans have no specific tithe dedicated to them, as God's word on tithing actually required.
Randy Alcorn in Money, Possessions and Eternity (2003) gives us a glimpse on how doctrine ends up forgetting the true intended beneficiaries of the true tithe. Randy simply mentions and then promptly ignores the widows-orphan-Levite tithe. Mr. Alcorn mentions that the foremost tithe is for "spiritual leaders." He means the supposed tithe under Numbers 18. Then in passing he mentions the tithe in favor of "the poor" in the third year of a three year cycle. (Id., at 175.)
However, Alcorn never mentions the widow-orphan right to the tithe ever again in his book. Instead, Randy focuses exclusively on the tithe for spiritual leaders. True, Mr. Alcorn does mention later that we should "give" to the poor. Yet, this exhortation does not emanate any longer from an obligation to pay a tithe. Rather, in regard to the poor, Randy encourages you to "meet God" in prayer and ask what He would have you do for the poor. (Id., at 215-217.)
For the Pauline Christian, this is the same as saying do what feels right in your own conscience, rather than any "bondage" to the Law of tithing to the poor widow and orphan.
No wonder widows and orphans specifically fit into almost no ministry of any Christian church. We may give to the poor as a diffuse group. Yet, how often do we focus on widows and orphans? God showed us that among the poor, these two groups have a far greater legitimacy to an absolute commitment of ten percent each three years from God's people. But we don't do that.
What is the key verse in Malichi we should heed about tithing? "[Y]ou are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them." (Mal. 3:7.)
And from our Lord:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, even while for a pretence ye make long prayers: therefore ye shall receive greater condemnation. (Matt. 23:14, ASV).