This post is a more in-depth biblical unpacking of the thoughts and concerns I introduced in Part 1. I hope you’ll consider reading it to get the whole story :)
Tithing is a terribly difficult topic to approach. In my own experience, any attempt to do so with anything but affirmation of the idea is immediately met with a great deal of hostility, especially if you’re talking to paid church leaders. This isn’t a surprise, of course. Upton Sinclair is quoted as saying “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Those that defend the practice of tithing will sometimes go to embarrassing lengths to reinforce it. This of course is because our present-day view of what a church looks like depends quite heavily on a sizable budget. If that income stream is perceived to be in danger, reactions run hot.
One thing that makes this topic so difficult to take an honest look at is a fear of the potential ramifications. What if it were found that tithing isn’t a biblical mandate? What would that mean for our churches? This can definitely be a fearful thing to consider, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to dig for the truth. It’s important to look honestly at what scripture has to say about tithing, and to do so without overcomplicating the issue with fear of a particular conclusion. One must first seek out the truth of the matter regardless of what any such truth may mean. We can deal with the consequences after coming to a conclusion, however difficult that may be. If it were shown that the popular view of tithing today were false, there are a couple ways one could choose to act upon that truth.
Why Does it Matter?
Sometimes it’s insinuated that I’m making too much of this issue and I’m questioned as to why it matters so much. Why not just let it go? Is it really worth arguing about? These questions are usually asked with a good deal of passion, which of course makes them self-defeating. If the issue weren’t important enough for me to bring up then it also wouldn’t be important enough for someone to defend so passionately.
But that’s not why it really matters. Consider the weight of the issue; people are attempting to use the Bible to claim they stand endowed with the authority of God himself to demand that others must support them and their vision. Such a claim is true if it can be supported scripturally, but otherwise it’s horribly blasphemous and damaging to the people of God. It’s anything but unimportant.
Verses About Tithing should Be About Tithing
When looking at something like this there is the issue of who has the “burden of proof”. In other words, if I walk up to you and claim that God commands you to give me 10% of your money, should I be expected to substantiate my own claim or should you be expected to prove me wrong? Obviously the burden of proof lies on the one making the claim. Our investigation into this issue, therefore, should not require that we to prove the church to be wrong. They are the ones making assertion that tithing as a biblical concept, therefor they must prove it.
So then what would would we expect such proof to look like? I’m going to recommend three simple requirements that should be met for any verse to logically support tithing.
The first requirement for a scriptural proof about tithing is that it should be comprised of scriptures about tithing. I know that sounds overly obvious, but it actually needs to be strongly emphasized. Many of the verses used to “prove” that tithing is required for New Covenant believers don’t actually refer to tithing AT ALL. For example:
In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. (1 Cor 9:14)
Some people try and use this verse to try and show the New Testament teaches tithing. If you view tithing as the practice of paying pastors to teach then this might slip by you, but that isn’t biblical tithing. You could attempt to make an argument that this verse mandates that we should pay pastors (something I’ll rebut later), but you definitely couldn’t say it mandates our present day understanding of tithing. It has no connection whatsoever to the practice of tithing as defined in the Old Testament. It’s also not saying how they should get their living or who should pay it, and certainly is not prescribing a percentage of anyone’s salary. It’s useless for this discussion.
And pretty much every verse you’ll ever come across to substantiate the contemporary form of New Testament tithing looks like this. If you learn to look for this pattern you should be able to dismiss ANY verse presented as a proof of modern day tithing. It’s invalid just pick any verse that relates to giving, generosity, or even (arguably) monetary wages and jump to the conclusion that it proves tithing. Tithing is something very specific and different. There is a TON of detail in the Old Testament that God gave us on exactly what tithes were.
- It’s always consumables, without exception. Some try and say this is just cultural as though they didn’t have things like furs, precious metals, or other valuables. You can actually see in Deuteronomy 14:22-26 that the Israelites were told to eat their own tithe! Money is tough to eat.
- Before God changed the rules in Deuteronomy, the only people that received tithes were of the tribe of Levi. (Numbers 18:19-28) Is your pastor a Levite? If not, it’s unbiblical for him to claim a tithe for himself.
- There were multiple tithes totaling to MORE than the classic 10%. Most biblical scholars agree on something more like 23%, though I’ve heard some say even higher. The exact percentage is unimportant for this discussion, but if we’re going to insist that tithing is still in effect, we should at the very least get into the Old Testament to figure out how to do it biblically.
- The tithe was brought to the temple of God, which no longer exists today. No, our church buildings are not temples. Scripture is clear that WE are the temple of God in the New Covenant. It’s blasphemous to take our buildings and equate them to the temple of God.
- Tithing was for Jews operating in a theocracy with God as their head. You’ll never find a reference to Gentiles tithing. The idea would have been repugnant to a Levite priest receiving such a thing, anyway. What you DO see in Acts 15 is a meeting of the Apostles to decide which of their 2,000 year old laws and traditions were applicable to Gentiles. It’s a short list that fits in verse 20. Tithing didn’t make the cut.
If you get nothing else from reading this then I hope you get what I’m trying to say here. Next time anyone tries showing you a New Testament passage about giving or generosity or anything else that isn’t specifically about tithing as a proof for tithing, I hope you’ll see the fallacy in that. It’s like talking about cheeseburgers as a proof for how wonderful carrots are.
You Can Easily Evaluate Tithing Passages for Yourself
You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to investigate this topic. I’ll take the time to break down a couple common pro-tithing verses in just a bit, but first I’m trying to equip you to look at these verses for yourself and see why they are invalid. People will bring all kinds of verses to you as supposed proofs, but if you can remember these simple ways of evaluating their legitimacy you’ll be pretty well armed against being mislead.
The first and most obvious is what was just discussed; You can’t use scriptures that aren’t talking about tithing as a proof for tithing. But what about other verses? There are two other simple things to consider when looking at any other passage that will quickly dismiss them as being supportive of contemporary tithing:
- They’d need to be New Testament verses. This should be a given, but it amazes me how many times people pull up Old Testament scriptures about actual tithing as proof that we should still tithe. This only proves that tithing WAS a practice in operation (something clearly not in debate), not that it still should be. It also fails to address why we would selectively pull out that single part of the Old Covenant to keep without adhering to the rest. That system was a package deal that can’t just be broken up and rearranged any way we like. Any verse about Old Testament tithing isn’t relevant to the topic and must be immediately dismissed.
- They’d have to relate to a system that in some way resembles our modern day churches, which live and die by salaries, buildings, programs, events, etc. No such institution is found in the pages of the Bible. Anywhere. This is really important: If one can’t show that an institution resembling our churches received tithes, then what would keep ANY benevolent institution from teaching that they require a tithe? Surely claiming a tithe isn’t something that just any institution can do. It must be able to show that it existed and received tithes in the Bible. I’m not saying you can’t or even shouldn’t give to a church if you want to, I’m simply pointing out the fallacy of a church telling you that God says you must.
So, three simple tests: 1) is a verse talking about tithing, 2) is it a New Testament passage, and 3) is it talking about what we refer to as church (or something like it)? If a church is claiming that God almighty is backing it up and furthermore commands his people to give their income to it, it should be able to find at least one verse (and realistically a good many more) passing these logical requirements. Sadly there are no such verses, but the lie lives on anyway. People use verses about Old Testament tithing, or pick any verse about any form of giving, generosity, or wages and try and say the verse proves New Covenant tithing. It’s night and day different!
Inadmissible Scriptural “Evidence”
Ok, so let’s breakdown a few of the more popular passages that are used to support tithing as a required New Covenant practice. Let me reiterate that every one of these should be recognized as immediately invalid anyway because they don’t meet the logical requirements discussed; they aren’t actually talking about tithing, nor are they referring to church as defined today. Nonetheless we’ll take a look at them for the sake of the argument. We’re only going to be looking at New Testament verses here, since spending our time looking at Old Covenant verses to prove the legitimacy of New Covenant tithing should seem an obvious waste of time. I do, however, want to give a quick mention to the ever-popular Malachi 3:8-10:
Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.
Of all the verses used to coerce God’s people into a pro-tithing view, this is arguably the most abhorrently twisted of all. First of all, if you look at the context you’ll see God is actually talking to the priests. They are the ones robbing God, which is quite different than how the verse is commonly spun today. Secondly, how does a verse about bringing food into a storehouse to be used for those in need have any possible application to a modern day church that looks absolutely nothing like a storehouse? A modern day church that spends virtually it’s entire budget on itself can hardly be called a storehouse. Even if the work of the church is benevolent and good, it’s not a storehouse. There is no parallel.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
- This verse could just as easily be interpreted that Jesus is simply pointing out that their priorities are in the wrong place as they practice false piety. Look at the context and you’ll see the predominant message of the entire chapter is the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. Tithing gets barely a mention here and certainly isn’t the primary subject being discussed.
- This verse IS New Testament, but is NOT New Covenant. Christ hasn’t died yet, therefore the New Covenant hasn’t yet been put in effect. To interpret this verse in support of tithing poses no issues anyway.
- Notice the tithe here is “mint and dill and cumin”. If we wish to take this verse to mean we must still tithe today, then let’s do an actual Old Covenant tithe… one consisting of consumables! Every time you see the Old Covenant tithe mentioned as instituted by God, it was always edible things that were tithed, not money.
…You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.
- Once again, this has nothing to do with tithing.
- Focusing on the part that says “the laborer deserves his food” completely ignores the clear command to “give without pay”
- The only “wages” to be received here is food, not money. Some translations mistakenly render the greek word trophe as “support” or “keep”, but the word is used 16 times in the New Testament, all of which the KJV renders as “meat” or “food”. We’re definitely not speaking of monetary wages here.
1 Corinthians 9:14
In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
First of all, aren’t we ALL to proclaim the gospel? But let’s look instead at a claim Paul is making for the first half of this chapter: that one who is devoting his life to preaching the gospel is within his rights to make a living by doing so. This is especially emphasized in verses 1-14. I find no scriptural evidence to say it’s wrong for a minister of the gospel to be paid for doing so, but such a person should not be paid as a “tithe” required by God. Paul here is simply saying it would be wrong to fault him for accepting support in his work. He’s not creating a mandate that ministers be paid, he’s taking a defensive position (as made clear in verse 3) against those that would attack the legitimacy of the idea.
Also, let’s look at the examples he gives in his defense: Do we not have the right to eat and drink? (v.4) Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? (v.6) You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain (v.8) The plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. (v.10) Do you notice a theme here? Food analogies! It’s more than coincidental that Paul is making so many references to food here and NOT monetary wages. I’m not claiming it’s wrong to receive monetary wages, but food speaks more of a need than a want being met. Many pastors today are having far more than just their needs being met and could quite easily supplement any aid taken from the church with a job of their own. The point is simply that a shepherd’s heart should be to take only what’s needed, and certainly not to demand it forcibly from the sheep. It should also be added here that Paul’s ministry involved constant beatings, imprisonments, starving, and other hardships so that the gospel might be preached. He was constantly on the move. I could get behind supporting that! His heart was such that he would never have accepted more than he needed.
1 Corinthians 16:2
On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.
This is not money that was being given to a pastor, building, or anything else resembling a modern day church. It was something that many believers, in this case the ones in Corinth, were saving up as a gift to be given to aid the church in Judea which was suffering the effects of a severe famine. In verse 3 he clearly states that he’ll be picking it up to take to Jerusalem, not to keep for himself nor to give to any other person or program. He’s prescribing a way that the Corinthians can systematically save for this cause.
1 Timothy 5:17-18
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
- The context of the passage is dealing primarily with rebuking, honoring, and disciplining. It’s a set of guidelines on how to treat people. Interpreting v. 17 to refer to wages makes no sense within the context.
- If we’re trying to use this to talk about wages, what in the world is “double honor”? Double what amount? What does this have to do with a tithe again?
- The greek word translated here as “honor” is timees. It has nothing to do with wages. It’s used 43 times in the New Testament and conveys the valuing of something or someone. We’re just saying someone serving as a leader should be treated with extra honor.
- Even if Paul were talking about wages here, let’s talk about how much those wages ought to be. I’m not prescribing a certain income range, but let’s consider the analogy of the ox treading the grain for a moment. If an ox ate a majority of the grain while he was treading, would you keep the ox? No doubt the ox would enjoy such an arrangement, but that’d be pretty inefficient if the goal was to produce grain. An ox gleans what little bit falls out of the grinder as he treads, but this is a tiny percentage of what’s being ground. Pastors ought to consider following Paul’s model by keeping the nobility of taking very little, if anything at all.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also
- Clearly this is not saying a single word with regards to the practice of tithing. The context of this passage, specifically v.19-20, is saying our treasure is heavenly. Most of the chapter is telling us NOT to worry about earthly treasure (the kind of treasure many churches claim God is demanding) at all.
- If this is meant to support the idea that we must give our money to a church, then the church is where our heart is. The church is not Christ himself. Is the idea that if I give my money to the poor instead of a church that my heart is in the wrong place, even though to do so would scripturally be synonymous with serving Jesus himself? (Matt 25:40)
What DOES the New Testament Teach, Then?
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9:7)
This should pretty well settle the matter all by itself. Amazingly, I’ve heard this verse taught side by side with Malachi 3:10 to tell people they’re robbing God if they don’t tithe. I can’t figure that one out. It should also be pointed out that this verse isn’t even talking about believers giving to the church they attend (which should be obvious since no such thing exists in scripture). They are actually taking up a collection to send along to believers in Judea suffering from the results of a famine.
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Tim 5:8)
It’s inexcusable to tell a single mom or a family that’s barely getting by that they are robbing God if they don’t give. Furthermore to say they should “sow in faith” into some ministry and just believe God will make all the finances work out is just thinly veiled prosperity gospel nonsense. Some people should be taking money from the collection plate as it goes by instead of being told they have to put something into it. The Bible is overflowing with compassion shown to the poor, something most of us should pay attention to. (Lev 14:21; 25:6, 25-28, 35, 36; 27:8; Deu 12:1-19; 14:23, 28, 29; 15:7, 8, 11; 24:12, 14, 15, 19, 20; 26:11-13; Mal 3:5; Matt 12:1, 2; Mark 2:23, 24; Luke 2:22-24; 6:1, 2; 2 Cor 8:12-14; 1 Tim 5:8; Jas. 1:27)
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common… There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold (Acts 4:32,34)
I see a lot of giving here, but nothing about tithing to leaders that were in charge of them. They were all expressing their status as equal brothers and sisters in the Lord, each sharing with everyone to the extent that “there was not a needy person among them.” They actually eliminated need among themselves by caring so liberally for on another! This is pretty different from making sure the church staff salaries are paid by the poorer families in the church.
Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. (Luke 6:30)
The Bible repetitively commands us to be givers, but this is too often spun as a command to give to your church and/or leaders. That’s a blatant twisting of what scripture calls us to.
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matt 25:37-40)
To teach that giving your money to a church is synonymous with giving your money to God is the exact opposite of what is taught very plainly here. Do you want to minister to Jesus? Feed his sheep. Help your Samaritan neighbor. Don’t abdicate God’s clear call for you to do so by giving to a Church to give on your behalf. It’s fine to allot some amount for that purpose if you feel lead, but make sure you aren’t left standing empty handed when your neighbor comes looking for help and you’ve given it all away to “God’s work”. You don’t want to be caught sending them away saying “God bless you” when God wanted to bless them through you! (James 2:15-16)
It’s Time For a Change
Tithing is one of those things that has a certain appearance of Godliness to it, but the way it’s taught is a lie that gives rise to some pretty terrible practices. It’s packaged as a commandment of God, but it gives rise to us unknowingly judging one another by how faithfully we give. Non-tithers get relegated to the position of second-class christians by the tithers… especially church leaders.
I’ve watched it play out in ugly ways, too. Tithe records get inspected to determine which church members are loyal to the house and which ones aren’t. People get passed over for being permitted to serve in certain ways because they don’t tithe. Even worse, people get asked to resign because they don’t tithe. Those that are big contributors get treated with extra favor. People get broken down by the average dollar amount represented by each member as a way of measuring out how many more members are needed to make budget.
Sadly I’ve done this myself before God showed me how wrong I was for doing so. In hindsight I was in terrible error. God, please forgive me.
Our modern twist on tithing is a lie, and most churches survive on it’s acceptance. Certainly there are ways the church could minister without basing itself on something so perverted! If we cannot, then we would be better off just closing our doors. We as followers of Jesus should seek a fuller understanding of the kind of love he modeled for us. His ministry and the ministry of his disciples after him was not based on salaries, buildings, or programs. He showed compassion and spoke the truth. He did it under a tree, from a boat, or on a hillside. He had no home while he did so. He gave freely, and he gave all… while taking nothing.
I certainly don’t model this perfectly in my own life. I’m not nearly enough like him. I’m doing my best to yield to him as he shapes my life. I want to fade away so that people can more clearly see him when they look at me. I’ve got a long way to go, but the Spirit that he’s filled me with recognizes some bad fruit growing from our current methods. We really need to rethink some things.
If you have always held to tithing as being a biblical practice, you may be feeling like I did once I stumbled across all this. I was terrified and become obsessed with seeking the matter out. I looked hard for months in search of biblical support to reaffirm my long-held beliefs, but ultimately came up empty handed. How could I have had it so wrong?
I want to encourage you to fervently seek it out for yourself. Look to God himself and study his Word, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you do. It is not our intellect that leads us into truth, so put your confidence in him to show you what you need to see! You’ll find that in the seeking you’ll also draw closer to him, which is the most beautiful thing of all!
To get you started, here is a list of virtually every passage about tithing that there is. I should point out that the first two (in Genesis) are included only because they involve giving a tenth, but don’t actually have anything to do with the Old Covenant Law as instituted by God. If you know of any other verses that refer to tithing, please let me know so I can add it to the list:
- Genesis 14:17-20
- Genesis 28:20-22
- Leviticus 27:30-34
- Numbers 18:19-28
- Deuteronomy 12:1-19
- Deuteronomy 14:22-29
- Deuteronomy 26:12-13
- 1 Samuel 8:14-17
- Amos 4:2-6
- 2 Chronicles 31:1-12
- Nehemiah 10:37-38; 12:44; 13:5, 12
- Malachi 3:7-12
- Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42
- Luke 18:9-14
- Hebrews 7:1-19
I also want to point you toward some online resources I found enlightening about the topic. These are of course commentaries and not scripture, and they are all decidedly not in favor of tithing. I’d encourage you to look up arguments in favor of tithing too! I haven’t kept track of pro-tithing articles that I’ve read like I have the articles presented here, but I’ve read a lot and you should too. There’s no shortage of pro-tithing articles out there and you’ll find them on the web without much effort.
These first few links are free books available as PDFs. I haven’t read them all in their entirety, but I benefited from what I did read.
And this is just a sampling of some of the pages I’ve read or scanned through. Again, these are all against modern tithing, but there’s seriously so much info out there, though. Just start hunting!