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Should believers tithe? Does the Old Covenant with its tithing rules apply to us? What does the Bible, especially the New Testament, say about this?
There are many different claims in regard to that matter. Likewise, there are numerous interpretations of various relevant or seemingly relevant scriptures in the Old and New Testaments. But, what is the truth about tithing, the concept of giving “tithes” to a church or a preacher? Putting that in other words: In connection with the New Covenant, is tithing biblical or unbiblical, right or wrong? And also, in regard to old-covenantal matters: Who were to tithe, and what things were tithable?
This article takes a closer look at what we can learn in the Scriptures, concerning the “tithe question”.
In the days of Joshua, when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, that land was divided between the tribes of Israel. The tribe of Levi was not given as much agricultural land as the other tribes. The Levites received only smaller parcels around towns. To compensate for this, they were given a right to a part of the other tribes’ agricultural produce. This had a connection with the tithe system.
It was farmers who tithed, not consumers. Each farmer set apart a tenth part of his harvest, for special use. – Here is the first passage where the 1769 edition of king James’ bible contains the word “tithe” in the singular form:
Leviticus 27:30 And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord. (KJV1769)
As you can see, it was called “the tithe of the land”. This refers to a tenth part of the agricultural produce of the land which the Lord had promised to give to the patriarch Jacob and his descendants. Especially mentioned are “the seed of the land” (grain from the fields) and “the fruit of the tree”. The tithe was only on what was grown in the fields and on what fruit trees gave, and in a special way also on cattle. Craftsmen and wage-workers did not tithe. More: There is no indication that such things as fish were tithed. Everyone could fish, even the Levites who did not have as much land as the other Israelites. Nor is there any indication that there would have been a tithe on such things as stone, gravel, mining products and wood.
The concept of exacting a tithe on wages is not biblical. It was introduced by the Catholic Church, in the Middle Ages. (Today, the Catholics no longer have that practice, but some other churches do.)
Again, the tithe in ancient Israel was only on the Promised Land’s agricultural produce. During the 40 desert years in the days of Moses, the Israelites were not yet in that land, and consequently, they did not cultivate its fields.
(That forty-year desert sojourn took place in Arabia, outside the Promised Land.)
Deuteronomy 12 shows when it was that the Israelites began to tithe, and in what connection. That passage records how the Lord through Moses gave them instructions, in regard to what they were to do after they had entered the Promised Land, in contrast to what they had done before that.
Deuteronomy 12:8 “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes—9 “for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you. 10 “But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety, 11 “then there will be the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the Lord. (NKJV)
Verse 9, “for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you”. Because of this, certain things were not applicable yet. (The words “rest” and “inheritance” in that verse refer to the Promised Land.)
Verse 10: “But when you cross over the Jordan and dwell in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to inherit” – at that time, things changed.
In short: It was when the Israelites entered the Promised Land and began using its agricultural produce, that tithing began.
A note: It is not clear what applied to those Israelites who had settled east of the river Jordan, outside the actual Promised Land.
Some preachers, “clergymen”, have in one way or another claimed or insinuated that God has chosen them as “a new priesthood” and made them successors of the tribe of Levi, and that they through that have “inherited a right to tithes and offerings”. That is sometimes called “the clergy claim”.
There are two parts to that claim. One part has to do with the tithe. The other part has to do with offerings, the sacrifices in the Old Covenant’s sanctuary. (The Levites had a right to eat certain parts of the sacrificial things.)
The word “clergy” comes via the Old English clerc, cleric, from the old Greek adjective klêrikos, “related to inheritances”. This has to do with the Greek Septuagint version (LXX) which has in Deuteronomy 18:2 the word klêros, “inheritance”. That passage is about the Levites. Here is an English translation of it:
Deuteronomy 18:1 “The priests, the Levites—all the tribe of Levi—shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and His portion. 2 “Therefore they shall have no inheritance among their brethren; the Lord is their inheritance, as He said to them. (NKJV)
This passage can make that matter easier to understand:
Joshua 13:14 Only to the tribe of Levi he had given no inheritance; the sacrifices of the Lord God of Israel made by fire are their inheritance, as He said to them. (NKJV)
In short: The meaning of the words “the Lord is their inheritance” in Deuteronomy 18:2 is that the Levites who served at the sanctuary, had a right to eat certain parts of the things that were sacrificed (offered) there.
Again, some have claimed or let it be understood that they belong to a “new priesthood”, and that God has given them a right to the Levites’ lot or inheritance, in Septuagint Greek klêros whence the word “clergy”. But, that claim is taken out of the thin air. Without going into a discussion regarding who might in our day eventually represent God here on Earth, let us note the fact that when the New Covenant was launched, the Old Covenant came to its end. [a] When that happened, the Old Covenant’s priesthood was not “transferred” to some new mortal priesthood. The Levite system, including the Aaronite priesthood, was simply discontinued.
The New Covenant does not have any mortal priesthood. Many churches have priests, but that has nothing to do with what the saints practised. [b] They had only one priest – the resurrected Jesus. The saints had elders in their fellowships, but those elders were not priests, and they were not paid. – Read on, for more on these things.
a In connection with the “tithe question”, it is important to understand the matter of the two covenants, old and new. The articles nca090.htm, nca080.htm and nca110.htm provide some food for thought, in that regard. The first of them shows that the New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “renewal” or “modification” of the Old Covenant.
b In this article, the word “saints” refers to those who received the Holy Sprit in the first century.
Preachers who ask for money, sometimes quote Haggai 2:8 which talks about silver and gold.
Haggai 2:8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says Lord of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says Lord of hosts, and in this place I will give peace, says Lord of hosts. (ACV)
As was noted earlier, the tithe was only on the agricultural produce of the Promised Land. So, what does the mention of silver and gold in verse 8 refer to?
That passage does not refer to money, or even to silver and gold in general. It refers to certain temple-items of silver and gold. Nebuchadnezzar’s army had taken those items to Babylon, see 2 Kings 24:11–13, but after Babylon’s fall they were given back to the Jews, see Ezra 1:1–11, so that they could take them to the new temple which they were to build in Jerusalem. That temple project is what the book of Haggai is all about.
In short: Haggai 2:8–9 has nothing to do with tithing.
Sometimes when preachers ask for money, they quote this passage:
Malachi 3:9 With a curse ye are cursed! And Me ye are deceiving—this nation—all of it. 10 Bring in all the tithe unto the treasure-house, And there is food in My house; When ye have tried Me, now, with this, Said Jehovah of Hosts, Do not I open to you the windows of heaven? Yea, I have emptied on you a blessing till there is no space. (YLT)
Many preachers have used those verses for making people believe that if they do not give money to the preacher, they will be “cursed”, and that if they do give money to him, they will be “blessed”.
But, those who make a closer analysis of that matter, will notice that those preachers have failed to mention certain things, such as these:
Even though the book of Malachi contains certain prophecies regarding future times and events, the facts remain that the message which is recorded in Malachi 3:9–10 was written to and regarding the ancient Israelites, in the days of the Old Covenant, and that the whole matter was connected to the Promised Land’s agricultural produce.
In short: Malachi 3:9–10 has nothing to do with things or people of our day.
Indeed, did Paul teach tithing? And, was he paid for his proclaiming? How was it with that matter?
Let us consider the occasion when he was on his way to Jerusalem and made a stop in Miletus and called to himself the elders from Ephesus.
Acts 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the assembly. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, You are familiar with, from the day when I arrived in Asia, after what manner I lived among you all the time […] 28 So, take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians over, to tend the assembly of God which he purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know that after my departure, burdensome wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. [c] 30 Even from among your own selves shall arise men who speak perverted things, [c] in order to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore keep watch, remembering that for three years, I did not cease to warn everyone, with tears, night and day. 32 And now I commit you, brothers, to God, and the word of his grace, who is able to edify you and to give you an inheritance [d] among all who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold [e] or clothes – 34 rather, as you yourselves know, these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me. [f] 35 I have shown you in everything, that by working hard like this, [g] we must support the infirm and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. [g] (BPT)
As you can see, Paul was addressing elders. He reminded them that they knew that he had always supported himself through manual work. At the same time, he warned about persons of a different kind, “burdensome wolves”, who would act in a different way and live at the cost of others.
The words about giving, verse 35, are connected to the fact that Paul was on the giving side. He told those elders to copy his example in that regard.
c Verse 29, “not sparing the flock” and verse 30, “who speak perverted things” – Paul warned about deceivers (“burdensome wolves”, verse 29), obviously referring to men who taught falsehood in order to live at the cost of Jesus’ flock.
d Verse 32, “inheritance” – this refers to the saints’ heavenly inheritance, and has nothing to do with the inheritance which the tribe of Levi had.
e Verse 33 – in this case, the words silver and gold do refer to money. Paul reminded the elders whom he was talking to, that they knew that he had not been after anyone’s money, or clothing.
f Verse 34, “as you yourselves know, these hands have provided for my needs and for those who were with me” – Paul reminded those elders that they knew that he had always supported himself through manual work, and that he had even provided support for others. (He was a skilled worker, a tentmaker; see Acts 18:1–3.)
g Verse 35, “working hard like this” and “more blessed to give” – Paul reminded the elders whom he was addressing, that Jesus had said that it is “more blessed to give than to receive”. Paul told those elders to be on the giving side, just as he himself had been. And again, at the same time he warned about “burdensome wolves” (verse 29), men who would not act the way he had acted.
The article nma020.htm has more on Acts 20:17–35. It considers even 2 Corinthians 9:7 and notes that the words “God loves a cheerful giver” in that verse refer to a collection of relief aid to poor saints in Jerusalem.
The article nma030.htm has more on the example which the apostle Paul and his companions set, in regard to working and supporting oneself.
Some have claimed that Paul said that he would have had a “right to live on tithes”. In that connection, they have in a vague manner quoted 1 Corinthians 9:14 and perhaps even some other passages. But, that verse does not refer to tithing, and, Paul never claimed that he would have had a “right to tithes”. The article nma050.htm contains a study on 1 Corinthians 9:14–18, and considers what it really was that the Lord had “ordained”.
Genesis 14 refers to an event which took place a long time before the Old Covenant with its tithing rules came on the scene. That chapter records that Abram (Abraham) gave a “tithe” to a person who was called Melchizedek. It is not specifically stated what it consisted of, but the context indicates that it was a tenth part of the goods which certain warlords had robbed from the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham had helped those people, by recovering their property which had been taken by those robbers. The story:
Some warlords had forcibly taken people and things from those towns. Abraham decided to help, and together with some allies he chased the robbers and defeated them. Then he returned the kidnapped people to their home area and the stolen property to its rightful owners. He earned nothing in that. He took nothing for himself. – It appears that the last part of Genesis 14:20 means that it was out of those things (the recovered belongings of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah) that Abraham gave a tenth part to Melchizedek (whoever he may have been). We read:
Genesis 14:1 And it came about in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of Goiim, 2 that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, and with Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, and Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). […] 11 Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food supply, and departed. 12 And they also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom. […] 14 And when Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. […] 16 And he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people. 17 Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tenth of all. 21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” 22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 “I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.” (NASB77)
Again: It appears that the words “and he gave him a tenth of all” in the above-quoted verse 20 refer to a tenth part of the recovered belongings of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.
It is not clear who Melchizedek was, and it is not clear why Abraham gave him a tenth part. What is clear, is that that had nothing to do with the Old Covenant or the Levitical system which both came on the scene around 400 years later.
A note: The nation Israel was formed a long time after Abraham’s death.
Some writers have built dogmas around the word “spoils” which many translators have for some reason put into Hebrews 7:4. The relevant word in the Greek text of that verse is akrothinion which meant “top of the heap”, possibly referring to the “best part” of something. – Please note that on the occasion which Hebrews 7:4 and the above-quoted Genesis 14 refer to, Abraham did not plunder or take spoils. He merely recovered the people and goods which robbers had taken from Sodom and Gomorrah, and returned them to their homes respectively owners.
The context in Hebrews 7 records how the apostle Paul discussed the matter of priesthood. In that chapter, 15 passages contain the word “priest” or “priesthood”.
As so often, Paul used complicated wordings and analogies and symbolic quotes of the Old Testament, but he was simply discussing the fact that the Old Covenant with its mortal priests had come to an end, and that Jesus is the New Covenant’s only priest. He does not need any tithes or offerings (sacrifices) for his sustenance or support. – Many churches have priests, but that practice is of Catholic origin and has nothing to do with what the saints practiced. Again, the saints had only one priest: The resurrected Jesus.
(Later in this article, there is a bit more on the change or transfer of priesthood which Hebrews 7 mentions, and also some notes on Hebrews 13.)
Here, one must also keep in mind that the New Testament does not contain any mention that the apostles or elders in the saints’ fellowships would have received tithes. (Some translations may contain wordings that could cause casual bible-readers to think that some of them lived on tithes, but those who have carefully studied all of the New Testament, know that it was not so.) (And again, in regard to the tithe system in ancient Israel: Only farmers tithed. The tithe was only on the Promised Land’s agricultural produce.) As for how it was with these things in the saints’ fellowships, see the other parts of this article, and look under the heading “Money” on the page key42.htm.
Those who are interested in what was said and done a long time after Abraham’s day, among the ancient Israelites, in regard to actual spoils of war, can read Numbers 31:25–31. That passage mentions an occasion when the Israelites had in war captured a huge quantity of goods. At that time, special arrangements were made, in order to ensure that all got a share of the spoils, and not only the men of war. Verse 27 shows that the men of war got half of the spoils. Verses 28–29: The Aaronite priests were granted a five-hundredth part or 0.2 percent of that half. The rest of the nation divided the other half. Verse 30: The non-priestly Levites were given a fiftieth part or 2 percent out of that half.
Putting that in other words: The men of war and the main part of the nation got 98.9 percent of the spoils. The priests got 0.1 percent of the total, and the other Levites 1 percent of the total. (Again, see Numbers 31:25–31.)
The Scriptures mention an event when Jacob promised to give the Lord a tenth – provided that the Lord would first do certain things for him. But, there is no mention of Jacob actually giving a tithe. (To whom would he have given tithes? The Old Covenant with its priests came on the scene a long time after his death.)
Let us consider what the biblical record says in regard to what is was the Lord had promised to give to Jacob and his descendants, and whether Jacob ever (personally) received the promised things, and what it was that Jacob promised to give in return.
This has to do with Genesis 28:20–22. That passage records an event when the Lord had in a dream told Jacob that he would give the land of Canaan to him and his descendants. In the morning when Jacob awoke, he made a vow that if the Lord did certain things for him, then he would give the Lord a tithe.
Genesis 28:20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 “And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house; and of all that Thou dost give me I will surely give a tenth to Thee.” (NASB77, highlighting added)
Note the words “if”, “and” and “then”.
Let us consider the meaning of the last part of verse 22, the words “of all that you give to me, I will surely give a tenth to you”. What did Jacob refer to?
First, regarding what the Lord had promised to give to Jacob:
Genesis 28:12 And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. (NASB77, highlighting added)
So, it was a land the Lord promised to give to Jacob. There is no payment or rent mentioned, but it appears that Jacob saw the Promised Land as a lease, with a rent to be paid. Clarification:
In those days, land could be rented in the manner that the lease fee consisted of a certain part of the land’s agricultural produce. For an example of this, see Genesis 47:20–24 which records how Egyptian farmers who had sold their lands to the Pharaoh, were allowed to keep using the land, if they (each year) paid a lease fee which consisted of a fifth part of the land’s produce. It could be that Jacob thought about that concept, when he said that he would give the Lord a tenth. (Obviously, a tenth part of the produce of the land which the Lord had promised to give to him.)
Then, it is an open question how Jacob thought that he would or could give that tenth to the Lord, on the practical level.
A side-note: Genesis 28:15 contains the words “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you”, NASB77. Obviously, this must be understood, on the earthly, human level, as referring to Jacob the nation [h] and not to Jacob the man. For a time, Jacob lived in the Promised Land, like a stranger among its original inhabitants, but he never got that land into his own possession and control. And then, he moved to Egypt and died there. – A long time later, his descendants entered the Promised Land and took it into their control. When that happened, tithing began. It was the agricultural produce of that land, that was tithed.
h “Jacob” is synonymous with “Israel”. How the patriarch Jacob came to be called Israel, is recorded in Genesis 32:27 and 28 and their context.
Some writers have claimed that tithing was a part of some undefined “everlasting tithing law” which “predated Sinai”, and that it supposedly was because of such a thought-of “law” that Abraham gave a tenth part of certain things to Melchizedek. But, that claim is taken out of the thin air. The Bible does not mention anything of that kind.
In the initial agreement which the Israelites gave their consent to by Mount Sinai, the tribe of Levi had no special role. Instead, that agreement stipulated that the Israelites (all tribes) were to give their firstborn sons to the Lord’s service. Also, they were to give the firstlings of their cattle and the first-fruit of their harvest (obviously, for the support of their first-born sons in the Lord’s service). See Exodus 22:29 and 23:19, et cetera.
However, after the golden calf offence there was a change, so that the Israelites’ first-born sons were replaced by the tribe of Levi. Likewise, the firstlings of the Israelites’ cattle were replaced with the Levites’ cattle. See Numbers 3:12 and 40–45 and 8:16–18, and so on. Here are two verses which clarify the core of that change:
Numbers 3:12 And I, behold, I have taken the Levites from the midst of the sons of Israel in the place of every first-born opening a womb among the sons of Israel; and the Levites have become Mine. (LIT, highlighting added)
Numbers 3:45 Take the Levites instead of all the first-born among the sons of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. And the Levites shall be Mine; I am Jehovah. (LIT, highlighting added)
And also: Later, when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the tribe of Levi was not given as much agricultural land as the other tribes, and so, the Levites were compensated for this and were given a right to a part of the other tribes’ agricultural produce.
This was connected to the Old Covenant, and again, the tithe was only on the agricultural produce of the Promised Land, the land of Canaan.
The Old Covenant had a mortal priesthood which consisted of Aaron and his descendants. (Aaron was of the tribe of Levi.) Those priests had a right to “eat from the altar” – certain parts of the sacrificial animals and similar things were for their private consumption.
In contrast to that, the New Covenant does not have any mortal priests or “Levites”. Once again: The saints had only one priest: The resurrected Jesus.
Many translations have in Hebrews 7:12 wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that there took place a “modification” of an existing law regarding priesthood. But no, it was not a matter of making changes to the Old Covenant or its rules.
The Old Covenant was only a type and shadow of what was to come. It was “added because of transgressions”, Galatians 3:19, and it was to last “until the Offspring should come to whom the promise had been made”. That is, until Jesus came. When Jesus came and then made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, the New Covenant could be launched. When that happened, the Old Covenant had served its purpose and was set aside.
Hebrews 7:12 For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well. […] 18 So the previous commandment is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable (HCSB, highlighting added)
(The Old Covenant with its mortal priests came to an end. The New Covenant has only one priest, Jesus, and he does not need support through tithes or offerings.)
When the New Covenant had come, many things had changed for those disciples who were of Jewish descent. The apostle Paul commented on this, in his letter to some Jewish saints. Among other things, he wrote this:
Hebrews 13:10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. (RSV, highlighting added)
The meaning of that verse is explained in more detail below, but in short: The apostle was simply making the note that the New Covenant does not have priests with a right to “eat from the altar”, the way it had been with the Old Covenant. Clarification:
In the above-quoted Hebrews 13:10, the phrase “the tent” is a symbolic name that was used of the sanctuary which the Old Covenant had. The reason for this was that originally, all the way to the days of king Solomon, the sanctuary was a portable construction, like a large tent. In reminiscence of this, even the temple was sometimes called “the Tent”.
But here, Hebrews 13:10, the phrase “the Tent” is a symbolic reference to God’s New Covenant dwelling – that is: The saints, in whom God dwelled through his Holy Spirit. They were – formed – God’s new-covenantal “dwelling” or “tent”, here on Earth.
So, regarding Hebrews 13:10 – as usual, Paul used complicated language with symbols and analogies, but he was simply making the note that while the Old Covenant had a mortal priesthood which had a right to “eat from the altar”, the New Covenant does not have that.
Again, the “change of priesthood” which the earlier quoted Hebrews 7:12 mentions, was not a change from one mortal priesthood to another. It was a change to a new and different covenant which has Jesus as the “priest”. He does not need any tithes or offerings for his support. (Offerings is the same as sacrifices.)
The elders in the saints’ fellowships were not priests. Also: Being an elder was not an employment. Elders had their own employments through which they supported themselves and their families (unless they were past working age). It was the same with for instance Paul. He repeatedly noted that he had always supported himself through manual work. (Sometimes, when he was sick or imprisoned so that he could not support himself, he received some help from certain people, but that is a different matter.)
Again, the New Covenant does not have any mortal priesthood. But, the apostle noted that there remained “sacrificing”: That is, thanking and praising God, Hebrews 13:15. And, there was even giving – the saints were to do good works, helping the poor and needy. We read:
Hebrews 13:16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God. (NLT04)
A note: Many bible-translators have put into a number of places in the Epistles wordings which could cause casual bible-readers to think that Paul lived at the cost of others. But, a closer study of the book of Acts and the Epistles, including the Greek text, shows that as long as Paul was a free man and able to work, he supported himself through manual work. The articles nma020.htm and nma030.htm have some notes on this.
Some preachers and writers have said that Jesus commended the scribes and Pharisees for their meticulous manner of exacting a tithe on certain things. Is that true – did he really commend them? No. Instead, he said to them, “woe to you”.
Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, actors! For, you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and leave aside the weightier things of the law: Justice, mercy and faithfulness. It is those things you should have done, instead of leaving them aside. [i] (BPT)
Here, one must keep in mind that the tithe was only on the Promised Land’s agricultural produce, and that it was the farmer who set aside the tithe and not the consumer. It is not likely that those scribes and Pharisees would have been farmers, and so, the probable meaning of Matthew 23:3 is that they meticulously “tithed” the produce of their kitchen gardens (“mint and dill and cummin”).
i The Greek wording is kakeina mê apheinai, “and not leave them aside”. The Pharisees tithed herbs, while they left aside justice, mercy and faithfulness.
In short: Matthew 23 and the Pharisees’ manner of tithing herbs, are totally irrelevant in regard to the “tithe question” that we are talking about here.
Some might say, “But what about Luke 18:12? Jesus mentioned tithing, didn’t he?”
Luke 18:9–14 records a parable which Jesus spoke, regarding a humble tax-gatherer and a bragging Pharisee, who both went to the temple to pray. The tax-gatherer of that parable humbly acknowledged that he was a sinner, and asked for mercy. In contrast to that, the Pharisee was proud, and (indirectly) bragged before God about his “righteousness”, including his fasting and tithing.
Luke 18:9 And he spake also this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get. 13 But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (EngRV)
Now, as anyone can see, Jesus did not speak that parable for the purpose of teaching about tithing. But still, what does the last part of verse 12 mean and refer to?
For the first, one must keep in mind that there was no tithe on possessions or on wages or money. The tithe was only on the Promised Land’s agricultural produce. And again, only farmers tithed, consumers did not. So, what did Jesus mean, by having the Pharisee of that parable brag about tithing? In real life, most Pharisees were not likely to be farmers, but again, some of them may have had a kitchen garden. Perhaps they tithed its produce, and were then proud and felt “righteous” because of that.
(A note regarding verse 12: Some bible-versions have in that verse such wordings as “I give a tithe of all that I possess”, but that is not correct. There was no tithe on possessions. In the last part of that verse, the Greek text has panta hosa ktaomai which in this kind of context translates as “all that I get”, just as the above-quoted EngRV has it. Those who cultivated the ground, were to set aside a tithe, of the harvests they got.)
Just as it is with Matthew 23:23, even Luke 18:12 is totally irrelevant in regard to the “tithe question” that we are talking about here.
First, a note: Again, wage-workers and craftsmen did not tithe; only farmers did. The tithe was only on the Promised Land’s agricultural produce. This means that the question regarding how many tithes there were, is irrelevant for us. And so, there is no need to go into the linguistics and technicalities regarding that matter. But, here are some shorter notes on that subject.
Some talk about “first tithe”, “second tithe” and “third tithe”. But really how is it – were there three tithes as some say, or only one?
To begin with, let us note that for instance the 1769 edition of king James’ bible does not contain such phrases as “first tithe”, “second tithe” or “third tithe”. Also: There are many different views in regard to the interpretation of the Old Testament passages which are related to this matter.
Some Pharisee writers, such as Josephus, said that there were three tithes. That concept has then been read into the Scriptures, and to a degree even echoed in bible-translations. But, a closer study of the matter, going beyond what bible-translators have made it seem, indicates that in all likelihood, there was only one tithe, which then was shared between the people going to Jerusalem for the Old Covenant’s high days, and widows and the fatherless and the poor, and strangers (who did not own land) – and even the Levites who did not have as much land as the other tribes of Israel. Read on:
It is only if one is an Israelite who is a farmer in the Promised Land, and thinks that the Old Covenant is still in force, that one would have a reason to study the question regarding how many tithes there were.
Some preachers have wanted people to believe that it is an “act of worship” to give money to the preacher or his church, “tithes” and “offerings”. They have claimed or insinuated that the Old Covenant’s burnt offerings (sacrifices) were not discontinued but are now to be performed in a “spiritual form” – which then appears to be the same as giving money to the preacher.
One Californian TV-preacher went as far as to claiming that the word “worship” means “shipping worth”, that is, sending money to the preacher. – That “word interpretation” is total nonsense, but what about the claim that giving money to some church or preacher is an “act of worship”? Is that true? No, of course not. There is no mention in the Bible, or even the slightest indication, that giving money to a church or a preacher would somehow be an “act of worship”.
The article naa040.htm contains a study on the word and concept “worship”.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
The New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “renewal” or “modification” of the Old Covenant. → nca090.htm
On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → nca080.htm
Many talk about “the spirit of the law” versus “the letter of the law”, but those expressions are not found in the Bible. On the meaning of the phrases “the Spirit” and “the letter” in 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 and Romans 7:6. → nca110.htm
Acts 20:35 – what the apostle Paul meant when he reminded the elders from Ephesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive. → nma020.htm
On the example the apostle Paul set, for others to imitate. → nma030.htm
Some notes on 1 Corinthians 9:14–18. → nma050.htm
Worshipping God. What does the Bible say about worship, in connection with the New Covenant? → naa040.htm
On 2 Corinthians 11:8, the translation “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them”. Was the apostle Paul paid for his proclaiming work? → nma090.htm
On Philippians 4:14–16. → nma100.htm
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