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TITHING
Is it taught in the New Testament and does it really matter if it is or isn't?

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SUMMARY: 
Pragmatism triumphs over truth in most denominational circles.
So entrenched is this false idea that tithing is the divinely ordered method of fi nancing God’s Kingdom that entire denominations have made it a condition of membership to the point, at times, of deducting ten percent from employees’ wages at source.
In many cases the only area of discussion relates to the basis of calculation – ten percent gross i.e. pre-tax, or net i.e. the take home wage.
Seldom does anyone ask whether the idea is taught in the Bible or actually endorsed by God.


Philip Powell
H ERMENEUTICS *1 is fast becoming a lost art among preachers and so-called Bible teachers. Too much emphasis has been placed on subjective experience and far too little on objective truth and evidence.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Mathew 23:23).
But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone (Luke 11:42).
I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess (Luke 18:12).

Throughout my preaching life, which now stretches to over fi ve decades, I have always consciously or unconsciously applied three questions to a biblical topic or passage that has arrested my attention:
1) What does the context teach, imply and convey?
2) What do other passages of the Bible say on this matter?
3) What did our Lord Jesus have to say on the subject?

The rationale behind these questions is:
a) Every text is set in a context; to ignore the context is to create a pre-text;
b) The Bible is a full-orbed revelation of God and His ways; it is vital to consider the whole and not just isolated texts or passages;
c) Inspiration and revelation shines brightest and best through Christ.
In cutting to the chase we will apply the third question fi rst. Immediately some very interesting truths surface:
The above three occurrences incorporate every recorded comment by Christ about tithing and on each occasion He condemns those who practised it as being hypocrites. Why?
Because of what they omitted: in Matthew 23 “judgment, mercy, and faith”; in Luke 11 “judgment and the love of God”; and in Luke 18 humility and repentance.
The things that they failed to do were far more important than the things they did.
They were religious “playactors” — hypocrites.
Interestingly there is no biblical commandment to tithe herbs i.e. mint, anise, cumin (Matthew 23), and rue (Luke 11).*4
This was one of those man made “additions” to create a show. *5 The tone of both the Matthew and Luke contexts may imply that Christ was being ironic in what some have wrongly taught was a commendation of tithing. It stretches credulity to say that Christ commended the pharisees for what they did. He did no such thing.
Tithing was an Old Testament practice to support the theocratic governance of Israel. It is impossible to honestly duplicate it as a means of fi nancing the New Testament church or Kingdom of God. It is not taught in the New Testament and those who try to teach it today end up like the hypocritical pharisees.
They add to the Word of God and by so doing they omit many weightier matters regarding “judgment (justice), mercy, and faith … and the love of God”.
Before we expand on that idea and look at the only other New Testament passage that refers to tithing, let’s try to answer our second question viz “What do other passages of the Bible say about the subject?”
Deuteronomy chapter 14 verses 22 to 29 contains the basic instruction about tithing of personal and/or household increase as it applied to national Israel whose economy was rural so the law relates to fruit and vegetable harvests and to animal husbandry:
Verses 22 to 25:
You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the fi eld produces year by year.
And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the fi rstborn of your herds and your fl ocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses.
This tithe was something that was to be eaten “before the Lord … in the place where He chose” i.e. eventually the temple at Jerusalem so that “you may learn to fear the LORD your God always”.
In other words it was a token act to remind Israel that everything they did was before the Lord whom they should fear at all times.
It was to be a triennial event (v28). In his discharge of this duty the “tither” was to partake of his tithe, thus relieving him and his family of extra expense in the discharge of this religious duty.
Those who had to travel long distances could turn their “tithe” into money before they set out.
This money was to be used to purchase items for their offerings on arrival at their destination “for whatever your heart desires”, (food and drink) and presumably to help with their travel costs, if required, so that the entire event would be joyous and not onerous (v26).
Verses 26 to 29 (NKJV):
And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.
You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you. At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfi ed, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
The way the “tithing” principle has been transferred to and applied within the church is a monstrous indignity to God and a total injustice to the people.
So we see that this tithe provided for three groups of people and was part and parcel of the tax system of National Israel. The benefi ciaries were:
1) THE TITHERS in their required religious and governmental function;
2) THE LEVITES (priests) who had no other means of material support;
3) THE POOR AND DISENFRANCHISED i.e. Israel’s state welfare system.

The God of the Bible is a God of justice and equity.
The way the “tithing” principle has been transferred to and applied within the church is a monstrous indignity to God and a total injustice to the people for a number of reasons, which this short article clarifi es.
As editor of the official Assemblies of God monthly magazine The Evangel (1989-1991), I tried to create a platform to discuss this and other nonbiblical practices which had crept in. We published a letter to the editor, which was critical of the practice. *2
This evoked an incredulous response, which indicated that the “sacred cow” had been kicked.
One pastor told me that the practice was as vital as belief in the “trinity”.
The General Superintendent said that he taught it so as to support “the pastors” and practised it because he believed God blessed those who tithed and he wanted to be blessed.
Presumably he thought God would withhold blessing or “curse him” if he failed to tithe.
In more recent times during a discussion about our earlier fi nancial struggles as a pioneer fellowship a pastor suggested that CWM should teach “tithing”.
When I told him that I couldn’t in all honesty teach a practice, which was not taught or endorsed in the New Testament, he referred to his own pastoral experience of the fi nancial benefi ts that accrued to the church as a result of the practice. Pragmatism triumphs over truth in most denominational circles. So entrenched is this false idea that tithing is the divinely ordered method of fi nancing God’s Kingdom that entire denominations have made it a condition of membership to the point, at times, of deducting ten percent from employees’ wages at source. In many cases the only area of discussion relates to the basis of calculation – ten percent gross i.e. pre-tax, or net i.e. the take home wage. Seldom does anyone ask whether the idea is taught in the Bible or actually endorsed by God. In the Deuteronomy passage quoted above two different Hebrew words are translated “tithe”. The fi rst is in verse 22: Deuteronomy 14:22 — You shall truly [strong 06237 Ďasar]tithe < STRONG 06237 ‘asar> all the increase of your grain that the fi eld produces year by year. The double usage of the Hebrew “’asar” is a linguistic device that is frequently employed in Hebrew and Greek for emphasis. It might be rendered “tithing you shall tithe” much like James tells us that Elijah “prayed earnestly” (James 5:17) i.e. literally “prayed in his prayer”. This word “’asar” appears nine times in seven different verses in the Bible. The fi rst occasion involves the well-known vow of Jacob: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that you give me I will surely [strong 06237] Ďasar>give the tenth [strong 06237 Ďasar] unto you (Genesis 28:22). What is known as the hermeneutical law of the fi rst occurrence establishes a principle that develops into a pattern.
Jacob’s vow begs a question: “To whom did he or would he tithe?”
He belonged to no church.
The nation and government of Israel was not established at that time.
Would he “tithe” to his uncle Laban who was a trickster and a conman or perchance to his father Isaac?
Was there a representative of God during Jacob’s lifetime to whom he could or would “tithe”? The answers to these questions are obvious — “No” in every case!
The Holy Spirit is precise in His inspiration of scripture. The fi rst usage of this word ‘asar establishes the principle and motive: Jacob’s desire and attitude was to honour God and so in his heart he dedicated part of everything he possessed and would possess to God.
The practical and personal outworking is to be seen in his building altars and his offering animal sacrifi ces and really had nothing to do with percentages per se.
The English “tithe” (a tenth) is a convenience concept. Jacob’s vow “tithing I will tithe unto you” might be rendered: “God, I will always honour you by retaining in the background your portion, remembering that to you I owe life and limb and all that I possess.”
How signifi cant that both the fi rst and second occasions of “’asar” involve this double usage.
The law of “tithing” in Deuteronomy entrenches the principle that Jacob cites and provides the basis for its application.
Jacob became Israel the only theocratically governed nation on earth whose tax system was linked to the tithing principle. Jacob made the promise (vow), which found its outworking through the statutes given by Moses.
This was never and could never be transferred to the church — no way. Commenting on Christ’s statement about the innovative herb tithes, which had no biblical basis and which the pharisees made so much of, Albert Barnes in his Notes on the Bible points out: The law required the Jews to devote a tenth part of all their property to the support of the Levites, Numbers 18:20-24. Another tenth part they paid for the service of the sanctuary, commonly in cattle or grain, but where they lived far from the place of worship they changed it to money, Deut 14:22-24. Besides these, there was to be every third year a tenth part given to the poor, to be eaten at their own dwellings Deut 14:28-29; so that nearly one-third of the property of the Jews was devoted to religious services by law.3 A more precise calculation puts it at about 23 or 24 percent of family income. This more or less equals the average family’s tax burden in most western societies. Deuteronomy 14:23— And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe [ STRONG 04643 ma‘aser’ or ma‘asar’ and (in pl.) fem. ma‘asrah’ ] of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the fi rstborn of your herds and your fl ocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. The first usage of the other Hebrew word “ma‘aser’” is when Abraham paid “tithes” to Melchizedek following his recapture of his nephew Lot. Apart from the three passages where Christ makes mention of “tithes” (see above) the only other references in the New Testament are to this incident in Abraham’s life: Genesis 14:18-20 (NKJV) — Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.
And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
And he gave him a tithe [STRONG 04643 ma‘aser’ or ma‘asar’ and (in pl.) fem. ma‘asrah’] of all.

The promoters of “church” tithing make much of the fact that “tithing” predates the law of Moses and seeing it is alluded to in the New Testament they infer that it is something enjoined upon the New Testament church.
What they don’t tell you is that it was a “one off” act on the part of Abraham and was therefore obviously symbolic. Their argument has no force. Hebrews 7:2-9 —
To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; fi rst being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the offi ce of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receives tithes, paid tithes in Abraham.
It is neither logically nor theologically valid to appeal to Abraham tithing to Melchizedek as a basis for extending the practice to the church.
The book of Hebrews is a marvellous epistle that deals with the greatness, superiority and preference of Christ over all.

• He is greater than the prophets, the angels and all priests (Chapters 1 and 2);
• He is greater than Moses, Aaron and all High Priests (Chapters 3 to 6);
• His High Priestly offi ce is superior in Nature and Discharge (chapters 7 to 10):
• Symbolism (including tithing) is replaced with Spirituality (7 to 9);
— Sacrifi ces (animals etc) are replaced by the Saviour (10);
• He is greater than all men of faith and is to be followed (chapters 11 to 13):
— We are to look to and consider Him in contrast to all others (12);
— Sharing His reproach should be our continuous pursuit (13).
It is neither logically nor theologically valid to appeal to Abraham tithing to Melchizedek as a basis for extending the practice to the church.
In fact it turns the whole rationale of Hebrews chapter seven on its head. Melchizedek is at the very least a type of Christ.
Some think he was a christophony i.e. an appearance of Christ in His pre-existent form.
Whichever view one takes the point is that Abraham, like his grandson Jacob, recognised God’s right to his possessions and as a token gesture when Melchizedek appeared discharged his commitment.
It was a “one off” act that was not repeated and that the writer to Hebrews tells us was effectively fulfi lled in Christ.
Much more could and will be said in future writing to further clarify the matter.
For the present of the things that I have written and implied here is the summary:
• Tithing is an OT practice to support the costs of theocratically governed Israel;
• Tithing is not taught in the New Testament and is never applied to the church;
• Those who teach otherwise do so out of ignorance or for personal benefi t;
• These people become hypocrites by adding to the Bible and by omitting the weightier matters of “justice, mercy, and faith … and the love of God”.
So how is the Kingdom of God to be fi nanced, seeing we all need money and of that there is no doubt?
I suggest three things:

Firstly, and contrary to what some suggest and promote, we must recognise that within the kingdom money is NOT the bottom line.
Our Lord clearly taught that life does not consist in the abundance of things we possess (Luke 12:15). Christ, not money or music, is master in the kingdom (Matthew 6:24).
The widow’s mite reminds us that giving is to be measured not by the amount given but by what remains (Luke 21:3).
Secondly we must establish our doctrine from the NT otherwise we will get confused. Personal stewardship, not tithing, is what the NT teaches and Paul tells us that the one thing required in stewards is faithfulness.
You are responsible for the discharge of the money that God has given you.
It is not for the church — any church — to tell you what to do with it. God will hold you to account directly (Luke 16: 1-2; c/f 1 Corinthians 4:2).
Sowing and reaping are unchanging laws in all realms including the kingdom of God. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). It must be voluntary and without coercion or undue pressure.
Thirdly it is high time that Christians stopped giving their money to churches and fellowships that support false teachers and that promote unbiblical methods, including tithing, to raise money.
If it’s not biblical, the teaching and the teachers should be rejected.
This will destroy the power base of the many preachers of a false so-called Christian message and will release fi nance to help genuine churches, fellowships, and ministries.
God’s wonderful people should stop putting money into bags with holes.
You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not fi lled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes (Haggai 1:6).
Now concerning the collection for the saints, … On the fi rst day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).


Footnotes:
Bible quotes from the New King James Version throughout
1 The branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of Scripture – Concise Oxford Dict.
2 Australian Evangel Vol 47 – No 9 September 1990 – page 45 – Tithing not a legal requirement
3 From e-Sword – The Word of the Lord with an electronic edge
4 Mint: A garden herb, in the original so called from its agreeable fl avour. It was used to sprinkle the fl oors of their houses and synagogues to produce a pleasant fragrance. Anise: Known commonly among us as “dill.” It has a fi ne aromatic smell, and is used by confectioners and perfumers. Cummin: A plant of the same genus, like “fennel,” and used for similar purposes. These were all herbs of little value. Rue: This is a small garden plant, and is used as a medicine. It has a rosy fl ower, a bitter, penetrating taste, and a strong smell.
5 The law of Moses said that they should pay tithes of the “fruits of the earth,” Deut 14:22. It said nothing, however, about herbs. It was a question whether these should be tithed. The pharisees maintained, in their extraordinary strictness, that they ought. Our Saviour says that they were precise in doing small matters which the law had not expressly commanded, while they omitted the greater things which it had enjoined —Albert Barnes Notes on the Bible.

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Appeared in Issue CETF 12.3 #37 October 2006
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