UNDERSTANDING BIBLICAL TITHING IN DETAIL. A MUST READ
I was about to start writing my thesis on the subject of Tithing when someone sent me a link to Leke Alder’s brilliant article on the same subject. Upon reading his thesis; I concluded that there is no point writing again as he brilliantly captured all the points I had in mind to make. So enjoy reading his deep and sound article on this subject as noted below, along with some comments from me.
First thing I will say is that Tithing is not compulsory for the New Testament believers. The Bible states that the bird in the sky do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your father in heaven SUSTAINS (or FEEDS) them. So if all you seek is sustenance; grace in Christ will provide that for you even if you do not Tithe. But to operate in high Kingdom Finance is a whole different matter and you cannot operate at that level without electing to Tithe and give offerings. This will become clear as you read Leke’s brilliant submission.
There are two regimes of tithe in the Bible. The first regime is the ABRAHAMIC REGIME. The second regime is the REGIME OF THE LAW. That’s short-code for the Law of Moses. It’s also known as regime of the Ten Commandments – the body of legislation enacted to regulate the nascent nation of Israel.
It wasn’t Moses who introduced tithe into human history. It was actually Abraham. Before Abraham, there was no mention of tithe in scriptures. (Tithe simply means a tenth). Here’s how we came across tithe in scriptures:
The story goes that Lot, Abraham’s nephew, became collateral damage in the power play between the king of Elam and king of Sodom. Sodom, a vassal of Elam had suddenly declared independence and so Elam went to war against Sodom. Lot was living in Sodom. With his allies, the king of Elam conquered Sodom and took prisoners of war. That was how Lot became a prisoner of war. Well, family is family. Abraham took his private army, along with his allies went after the king of Elam and his three allies, and defeated them. He rescued Lot and his family.
We’re told as he returned from the battle, he was met by a king named Melchizedek who also doubled as a priest of the Most High God. He brought communion. It was Melchizedek who gave us insight into how Abraham defeated the Gang of Four: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator and Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High who has given your enemies into your hand.” (Genesis 14:19-20) It was a not so subtle reminder God did the conquest for Abraham, not Abraham’s strength or brilliance. The conquest was a work of grace. Whereupon Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the treasure from that battle and that was the first tithe in the Bible.
Nobody compelled Abraham to tithe. It was voluntary. For this reason, we shall call Abrahamic tithing elective tithing. He made money and elected to give a tenth of it to a priest of God. The subtext from the invocation of Melchizedek is that Abraham tithed in acknowledgement of the fact that all that he had, all that he owned, all that he had ever accomplished came by the hand of the Possessor of the heaven and the earth. To that extent, Abram (as he was then known) tithed as an act of worship.
The second regime of tithe – tithing under the Law had a completely different hue. It was legislated by God as a political solution to the issue of state creation. You see, there were twelve tribes in Israel. When God was going to divide the Promised Land among the tribes, he excluded the Levites. Joseph’s second son, Ephraim took the lot of the Levites. Joseph had double portion. (Genesis 48:5) The Levites were consecrated as priests to God instead. God declared he was their inheritance. (Numbers 18:20) But then how would the Levites feed and take care of their family? How would they prosper? They could not undertake secular work. Their job was to serve in the temple. Well, God came up with a contributory scheme to take care of the Levites. Everyone would pay tithe to the Levites. (Numbers 18: 20-24) But the Levites too had to pay tithe, which in effect means the tithes were the income for the priests. (Nehemiah 10:38) It was theirs to do as they deemed fit.
But here’s what many don’t realise: there were three types of tithe under the Law of Moses. The first was sacred tithe, the second was vacation tithe and the third was social justice or social security tithe.
The sacred tithe as we discussed went to the Levites. It was their income.
The second tithe under the Law was the tithe of feasts or tithe of pilgrimage; it was some sort of vacation tithe. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27) The Israelites were supposed to make a pilgrimage to a designated place of worship every year. They were to set aside a tenth of their harvest and this was supposed to be eaten before God. Why? It was to inspire reverence for God. (Deuteronomy 14:22-23) If the place of worship was too far to transport the agricultural produce tithe, it was to be converted into money; which would then be spent on whatever their appetite craved, and that included alcohol. (Deuteronomy 14:26) So this was some sort of enjoyment or summer vacation tithe. God essentially mandated summer break. He cared for the welfare of the people. Because this tithe was convertible into money, it’s not exactly true to say all tithe in the Old Testament was agricultural produce.
The overall scheme of tithing under the Law can be called legislative tithing since it was mandated as law. It was a duty to the State – God. And as we can see, tithing under the Law is cumulatively higher than 10%. It was 30% on occasion. Many don’t realise.
Now comes the challenge. A Christian CANNOT pay tithe under the terms of the Law. That is inviting trouble. We’re not under the Law, we’re under grace. (Romans 6:14) The moment you elect to submit yourself to the dictates of the Law, you commit to obeying ALL 613 commandments. If you fail in one, you’re guilty of ALL. (James 2:10) And so not meeting the requirement of tithing under the Law also meant you were guilty of murder, blasphemy, etc. You’re guilty of ALL.
Paul tells us, “No one can be made right with God by trying to keep the Law.” (Galatians 3:11) In fact, Paul says trying to please God according to the terms of the Law is sheer madness. He told the Galatians who were strenuously trying to fulfil the Law, “Are you going to continue in this craziness?” (Galatians 3:2-4 MSG) All those scriptures we spout for paying tithe under the terms of the Law are therefore void and of no effect. The moment you seek to pay tithe according to Deuteronomy or Malachi, you have to obey ALL the Law of Moses. And no one can be righteous obeying those laws.
To seek to pay tithe according to the terms of the Law is also to attract a curse unto yourself. Galatians 3:10 says, “But those who depend on the Law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” So the idea of giving your tithe to the poor as dictated under the Law is not exactly wise. You’re setting up yourself for a curse.
We can, therefore, conclude that the idea of paying tithe according to the provisions of the Law is sheer madness, to use the expression of Paul. By that very token, that famous quotation about robbing God through non-payment of tithe cannot apply since it’s a reference to the Law. (Malachi 3:8-12) We’re not under the Law. But Malachi is still instructive since all scripture is profitable for training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) At least you have an idea of how serious God takes some things.
Now, we’ll be looking at a few frequently asked questions (FAQs) and suppositions about tithing. This approach will give us practical insight.
“IF I DON’T PAY MY TITHE WILL I GO TO HELL?” The answer is no. Tithe has nothing to do with salvation. You were saved by grace. It’s a gift from God, it’s not based on works. “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“IS IT COMPULSORY I PAY TITHE?” It’s really up to you. The only regime of tithe you can follow as a Christian is Abrahamic or elective tithing. There’s no compulsory giving in the New Testament. When Paul was writing the Corinthians about relief offering, he said, “I want each one of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm twisting. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.” (2 Corinthians 9:7 MSG) That’s the spirit of giving in the New Testament.
“WHY DO I NEED TO TITHE?” The study of Abraham’s and Jacob’s tithing is important in this regard. For Abraham tithing was an act of worship – an acknowledgement of the fact that his achievements were facilitated by God. (Genesis 14:19, 20) He wasn’t a self-made man, he was God-made. He also tithed to acknowledge God as Possessor and Creator of heaven and earth. (Genesis 14:19b) His tithing was private worship.
JACOB ON THE OTHER HAND, TITHED FOR PROTECTION AND PROSPERITY.
When he was fleeing from his brother Esau, he made a private covenant with God: “Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshipping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”” (Genesis 28:20-22) So Jacob committed to tithing on the basis of protection and prosperity; but he also incorporated Abraham’s rationale – recognising the fact his prosperity came from God and that God is the Possessor of the heavens and the earth – “I will present to God a tenth of everything HE GIVES ME,” he said. (Genesis 28:22) And so the four bases of Christian tithing are:
1). Acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and authority in worship (Gen.14:19-20)
2). Acknowledgement of grace (Gen. 14:19-20)
3). As covenant of protection (Gen. 28:20-22)
4). As covenant of prosperity (Gen. 28:20-22)
And to the extent that Jacob came up with his own rationale for tithing, it follows that one can initiate a private tithing covenant with God based on proprietary terms. Elective tithing is a private covenant with God.
“DIDN’T ABRAHAM TITHE JUST ONCE?” We can’t know. All we can conclude is that there’s one RECORDED instance of Abraham tithing. God incorporated that instance in the Bible to establish the wider implication enumerated in Hebrews 7 – the superiority of Order of Melchizedek to the Levitical Order, hence superiority of regime of grace to the regime of the Law. The whole essence of Genesis 14 is the pointer to Jesus as our high priest forever after the Order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 8:1). Jacob’s words on the other hand suggests continuous tithing: “I will present to God a tenth of EVERYTHING HE GIVES ME,” he said. (Genesis 28:22)
“BUT JESUS NEVER TAUGHT TITHING.” He did actually! See Matthew 23:23. The regime of the Law was still in operation when Jesus was on earth. The people were paying tithe. Jesus operated under the Law. It’s why his parents presented him in the temple (Luke 2:22-24); it’s why he ate the Passover. (Matthew 26:17-21) In Matthew 23:23, we find Jesus trying to correct the distortion of the relationship between tithing and critical basics of the Law by the Pharisees. (Cf. Luke 11:42) The regime of tithing under the Law was operational while Jesus was on earth. He himself came to fulfil the Law. (Matthew 5:17)
“BUT WHY DIDN’T THE APOSTLES TEACH ABOUT TITHING?” The writer of Hebrews (Paul) did. And he went very deep. Cf. Hebrews 7 & 8. Besides, the early church didn’t a have problem with giving. They saw beyond 10%. They gave their all in many instances. (Acts 4:34-37) They even gave their lives. Many were martyred. (Hebrews 11:36-37) These were not the type who quibbled over money. And those who got too smart for God got their comeuppance. Remember Ananias and Sapphira? (Acts 5:1-11)
“IF YOU SAY TITHING CAME BEFORE THE LAW AND SO WE SHOULD PAY TITHE, DIDN’T ANIMAL SACRIFICE ALSO COME BEFORE THE LAW; HOW COME WE DON’T DO ANIMAL SACRIFICE?” Jesus has been sacrificed once and for all. No more animal sacrifice. (Hebrews 10) Jesus is both our sacrificial lamb and sin offering. (Hebrews 10, 1 Peter 1:18,19) We access the sacrifice through communion.
“WHY CAN’T I GIVE MY TITHE TO ORPHANS AND WIDOWS AS DEUTERONOMY 14:28 SAYS?” That is a reference to the third tithe under the Law. There are three types of tithe under the Law – sacred tithe (Numbers 18:24), vacation tithe (Deuteronomy 14:22-27), social security tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28). You’re not under the Law. (Romans 6:14) You’ll heap a curse on yourself if you subject yourself to the system of tithing under the Law. (Galatians 3:10) In Abrahamic or elective tithing, there’s no provision for giving your tithe to orphans and widows. That is not saying however that orphans and widows should be neglected. That’s wrong. The Bible calls caring for orphans and widows pure religion. (James 1:27) Make extra budgetary provision for people in need.
“WHO DO I PAY MY TITHE TO?” Jesus is your High Priest. (Hebrews 4:14) He expresses himself through the institution of the church, his body. So pay your tithe to your local assembly or where you receive your spiritual nourishment. For instance, I met a disabled woman who was housebound and receives her spiritual nourishment from TV programmes as she cannot leave the house. So she pays her tithe to those ministries and rightly so. To use an Old Testament analogy, that’s God’s storehouse. (Malachi 3:10)
“DON’T I NEED TO MONITOR THE USE OF MY TITHE? What if it’s wrongly used?” As long as it remains yours you haven’t given it. If you give tithe, it’s no longer yours. Perhaps we can find wisdom in this statement by Jesus: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.” (John 12:24) Let your seed die so it can germinate with new life. If you’re not pleased with the corporate governance of your local assembly, go to another church rather than get into offences. You’re not a monitoring spirit.
“BUT PEOPLE PAID TITHE WITH AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT; WHY CAN’T I PAY WITH CHICKEN FOR INSTANCE?” Well, if you’re a farmer and your church has a poultry and don’t mind, perhaps you can. But you’re not under the Law, remember! Besides, the global economy is not denominated in produce, it’s denominated in money. You’re not paid in vegetables at the end of the month, are you? Even under certain circumstances in the Old Testament produce tithe was convertible to money. (Deuteronomy 14:26) Money answers all things. (Ecclesiastes 10:19) Denominate your tithe in money.
“DO I PAY OR GIVE TITHE?” Semantics. If you send it online or by wire is it pay, give, wire, transmit or transfer?
SO HERE’S A SUMMARY OF THE WHOLE THING:
(1) Abrahamic tithing is a private covenant between a believer and his God.
(2) Abrahamic tithing is elective, not compulsory. There’s no compulsory giving in the New Testament.
(3) As a general rule you should be rich towards God. (Luke 12:21)
(4) Tithe can be paid as an act of faith, an act of worship, as a basis of prosperity, for protection, as acknowledgement of grace, or acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God.
(5) You can come up with a personal rationale for tithing, like Jacob.
The greatest casualty of the debate over tithe is the very reason the narratives were included in the Bible in the first place. The essence of the narratives is the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 7 & 8). Those narratives on tithing point to him. Tithing has implications that go to the very root of Christianity. Those who focus on only the economics miss out on the purport.
Tithing began with Abraham. He tithed the spoils of war from the defeat of the Gang of Four – Amraphel, Arioch, Kedorlaomer and Tidal. These kings raided Sodom and carted off Abraham’s nephew, Lot as a prisoner of war. Abraham went after them, defeated them and rescued Lot. He recovered significant loot from the military expedition. Abraham then gave a tenth of that loot to a priest named Melchizedek. That was the first tithe in the Bible.
Tithe antagonists insist on four issues from this story:
¬ They insist Abraham tithed only once and therefore there is nothing like continuous tithing.
¬ They insist Abraham tithed from war and so we should only tithe our “conquests.”
¬ They insist Abraham did not tithe from personal assets but from the assets of the king of Sodom.
¬ They insist it wasn’t Abraham who tithed but Abram. This presumably means it wasn’t the covenanted entity that tithed.
There are also technical arguments over whether you pay tithe or give tithe. But all these nit-pickings miss the point. These arguments are of no theological or redemptive value. They’re easily dealt with from a cursory reading of Hebrews 7. For example, Hebrews 7 does not recognise dichotomy of Abraham/Abram in its analysis. See Hebrews 7:1-2. All God wanted to establish in Genesis 14 was the fact Abraham paid tithe to Melchizedek, period! That factuality of that tithe is the pointer to the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 7)
As enumerated earlier, there are two regimes of tithe in the Bible. The first regime is Abrahamic tithing. It is elective. Abraham paid tithe electively. No one compelled him to. The second regime of tithe is the regime of the Law (Ten Commandments). It’s a regime of mandated giving. God mandated the Israelites to tithe. Because this tithing was a law, we shall call this regime legislative tithing.
Now, ordinarily these two regimes of tithe have nothing in common. They have different hues and provenance. But the two regimes are linked in the New Testament. The New Testament teaches about tithe.
Abraham, as we noted, gave tithe to Melchizedek. Melchizedek the Bible says, wore a double cap. He was a priest-king, an hyphenated entity. We’re told he is a type of our Lord Jesus Christ – Hebrews 5:6. Melchizedek told Abraham that his military conquest and the loot recovered were facilitated by God. (Genesis 14:19-20) Which means Abraham tithed in acknowledgement of grace and in worship. He gave a tenth of spoils of war to Melchizedek.
Interestingly Melchizedek brought communion when he met Abraham. They broke bread. The breaking of bread (communion) by Melchizedek and Abraham was a pre-enactment of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is our sacrificial lamb and sin offering. (Hebrews 10, 1 Peter 1:18-19) We access his sacrifice through communion. As it were, Abraham had a foretaste of salvation through the communion with Melchizedek.
The regime of tithing under the Law however had a different rationale. Tithing under the law was inaugurated as a political solution to the issue of state creation. Israel had twelve tribes, the tribes were allocated land except the Levites. God declared he was their inheritance. (Numbers 18:20) In order to compensate the Levites, God legislated that all the tribes must pay tithe to the Levites. (Numbers 18:20-24)
But tithing under the Law of Moses was not just about political resolution. It was welfarist as well. It was a government program for the poor, and it also focused on the state of being, health and happiness of the tithe payer.
As we can see, the two regimes of tithing couldn’t be any more different. Yet the Bible says they’re linked. That link between the two is found in the Book of Hebrews. Hebrews 7 & 8 to be precise. Hebrews 7 gives a recount of the meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek and then proceeds to analyse the genetic implication of the tithe: “A person might even say that Levi (the father of the priestly tribe) himself, who received tithes, paid tithes through Abraham (the father of all Israel and all who believe), for Levi was still in the loins (unborn) of his forefather Abraham when Melchizedek met him.” (Hebrews 7:9-10 AMP) In essence the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the priesthood of Levi since Levi paid tithe to Melchizedek. “The person who has the power to give the blessing is greater than the one who is blessed.” (Hebrews 7:7) The argument therefore is that the Law of Moses which Levi represented is subordinate to grace which Melchizedek represented.
The writer of Hebrews (who many suspect is Paul) says Melchizedek was a perfect typology of our Lord Jesus Christ: “He is, first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, which means king of peace.” (Hebrews 7:2)
Concerning Jesus Prophet Isaiah had written: “He shoulders responsibility and is called Extraordinary Strategist, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 NET) “He will rule on David’s throne and over David’s kingdom, establishing it and strengthening it by promoting justice and fairness.” (Isaiah 9:7 NET) So Jesus like Melchizedek is the King of Righteousness and King of Peace. Melchizedek in essence stood in the place of Jesus when Abraham paid tithe to him.
The significance of the Melchizedek/Abraham encounter is that the priesthood has been changed. The priesthood changed from the Levitical order to the Melchizedek order. (Hebrews 7:11) This is crucial for Christianity. There’ll be no Christianity without the change. Jesus would not be a high priest. He’s from the tribe of Judah not Levi. For the priesthood to be changed however the law regulating it must necessarily be changed too. (Hebrews 7:12) Jesus did not become a priest based on old laws. He didn’t qualify genetically. Jesus became a priest by the “power of a life that cannot be destroyed.” (Hebrews 7:16) It’s why the Psalmist wrote, “You’re a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4) Jesus became a priest “by the sheer force of resurrection life.” (Hebrews 7:16 MSG) Hallelujah!
The Bible says “the former way of doing things, a system of commandments that never worked out the way it was supposed to, was set aside,” replaced by “another way – Jesus! – a way that does work, that brings us right into the presence of God.” (Hebrews 7:15-19 MSG) We have a better covenant with God and Jesus is the guarantee of that covenant. (Hebrews 7:22)
Whether Abraham paid tithe once or not, whether it was from spoils of war or not, or whether he was Abram and not Abraham… All these have no covenantal value whatsoever. The Book of Hebrews pays no theological heed to them. Rather it tells us all the documentations on tithing were all pointing to the eternal priesthood of Jesus. Because Jesus’ priesthood is eternal, the Bible says “he’s there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 MSG) The tithing of Abraham is thus juxtaposed with tithing under the Ten Commandments to point to salvation by grace. No one can be saved by obeying the Ten Commandments. “The law never made anything perfect.” (Hebrews 7:19 NLT)
And to buttress the fact that this whole tithing thing is really about Jesus, Hebrews 8 begins thus: “Here is the MAIN POINT: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honour beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven. There he ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle…” (Hebrews 8:1) It’s all about Jesus! It’s all about his love for us. He negotiated a new deal for us using his crucifixion as bargaining chip. He “mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6) It’s all about Jesus. Worship him!
Given the foregoing, it is incorrect to say tithe is not a New Testament doctrine. It is! The New Testament teaches about tithe. Only the teachings are elevated, they’re not pedantic. They’re deep. In Hebrews, we see the old and new converge to reveal our Saviour. Now, that’s what tithing is all about!
Finally, how did Abraham know to give TEN percent? Why not NINE or ELEVEN percent? This shows the divine origin of this principle and believers should allow the simplicity of the Gospel to fill their heart. The enemy is trying hard to sow a seed of confusion and many who had problem with Tithing or Pastors in the first place are latching on to the bait of the enemy to discredit a divine order. Let God be true…and every lying tongue is condemned. Praise God.
COPIED FROM Apostle Adetunji Adepoju WALL