The Politics of the Tithe

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I think it was Luther who said that a man required two conversions, the first of his heart and the second of his wallet. Have you ever noticed how some people are preeminently quotable, such that all sorts of pithy sayings get attributed to them whether or not they said it? So Luther, or maybe Chesterton, or Churchill, or maybe Oscar Wilde. It fits best with Luther though, so let’s run with that.

I want to begin by summarizing in a paragraph what I understand our obligations with regard to tithing to be, and then to briefly expand on each one of those points.

The tithe is a continuing moral obligation for the people of God (1 Cor. 9:13-14). The lawful recipients of the tithe are those who labor in the ministry (1 Cor. 9:14), the poor (Dt. 14:29), and the merchants who supply the goods for your thanksgiving feasts (Dt. 14:23-29). The tithe is owed on the increase of wealth (Dt. 14:22), not on the wealth itself. The tithe is to be paid on the increase that is brought into your barns, and not on the part of the crop that the locusts ate, which has ramifications for the old net/gross question. And last, the church is to teach authoritatively on the obligation to tithe, but is not to do so in any way that could reasonably be interpreted as a self-serving merchandizing of the gospel (Phil. 4:17).

So let’s work through these. First, there is no dispute that the Levites of the Old Testament were supported by the tithe. They had no inheritance like the other tribes; the Lord was their inheritance. This meant that their needs were supplied by the tithe that the other tribes paid on their increase. Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:14 that ministers of the gospel in the new covenant were to be supported in exactly the same way (even so, just the same way, kai houtos). The tithe predated Moses (Heb. 7:2), and the tithe has survived him.

The tithe is not limited to what goes into the offering at church. A portion of it should go there (Gal. 6:6), of course, but it may also go to your cousin with Wycliffe, the homeless guy at the bus station, Add it all up, and it should come to at least ten percent of your increase.

So what should we interpret as the increase? If you were an apple farmer, the increase would be ten percent of the apples you brought in every year. If there was a blight, and you had no apples, you would not be required to cut down ten percent of your trees to make up for it. On top of that, if the Midianite IRS came in and took a bunch of your apples,  and ran off cackling, you would not have to tithe on the net value of their plunder. What you brought back to  your place in baskets, tithe on that.

But fortunately, there is such a thing as free will offering. If you tithe on gross, that is not a problem at all. “The liberal soul shall be made fat: And he that watereth shall be watered also himself.” (Proverbs 11:25). The Scriptures teach that money is seed, and those who tithe on gross are not heretical, but merely generous. As John Bunyan put it somewhere (or maybe it was Oscar Wilde) . . .

There was a man, some thought him mad,
The more he gave, the more he had.

Nancy and I solve the net/gross problem simply, and that is by doing both. With those checks we receive that have withholding withheld, we tithe the face value of the check. But we also get payments that the locusts have not gotten to (royalty payments, etc.) We always want to structure our affairs so that we are consistently on the north slope of ten percent.

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Darren
Darren
6 years ago

That’s very helpful. But in OT, the tithe was just one of a number of gifts. Blomberg comes up with the 33% (before “free-will” offerings). The NT never states 10%. It does state the continuity between the altar/gospel & that it is proportional. So, really we need to stress the heart and the joy of giving. But maybe 10% is a good figure to get things moving.

DrewJ
6 years ago

Darren,
The idea that the “tithe” was a third of a person’s income is heresy invented by the authoritarians. The Bible does not teach such.

Craig C. Capen
Craig C. Capen
6 years ago

I have heard it suggested that there were 3 tithes in the OT, so that the 3 categories you listed (Levites/temple support, the poor & the feasts) got 10% each. With this understanding our government is trying to cover the poor, so this tithe would be paid through taxes [not going there.] Could you comment on the 3 tithes idea? I haven’t spotted firm Scripture to say one way or the other. I will say, although I try to celebrate with my family, and although I splurge on us greatly, do I really party as to The Lord? Like, 10%… Read more »

katecho
katecho
6 years ago

Doug Wilson wrote: “The tithe is not limited to what goes into the offering at church. A portion of it should go there (Gal. 6:6), of course, but it may also go to your cousin with Wycliffe, the homeless guy at the bus station, Add it all up, and it should come to at least ten percent of your increase.” I agree that it is generally true that God is not requiring more than a tithe from what He has given to us, but I think we should be careful about seeing ourselves, individually, as the primary administrators of God’s… Read more »

Valerie (Kyriosity)
6 years ago

Katecho, I tend to agree with that reasoning. The cousin in Wycliffe shouldn’t be an excuse not to give to your local congregation, especially if you’ve vowed “to support the Church in its worship and work to the best of your ability.” I also tend to think we should go by the gross rather than the net, since I tend to think of government theft as happening after the money’s been earned, plus it would make accounting too blasted difficult. But I think there’s wisdom in Doug’s approach of drawing the boundaries as loosely as logically and scripturally possible.

Ken Miller
Ken Miller
6 years ago

People who claim that the three tithes added up to 30% are misreading their Bibles. The first two tithes, for the government and for the Levites were annual. The third tithe was for the poor and it was only taken every three years. That means the Ancient Israelis had the equivalent of a 13% tax for the government and for social welfare programs, and a 10% tithe for the Levites. I would love a 13% flat tax with no gas tax, sales tax, property tax, inheritance tax, etc., etc., etc. tax

Ken Miller
Ken Miller
6 years ago

Here’s a question for you, Doug. How did the OT deal with those who were poor and recipients of national welfare? If they were collecting taxes for the poor, they were obviously using that money to help the poor. Did the poor also have to pay taxes and tithe? Additionally, I’m a husband and the father of two sons, I live in California, and I only make $43,000/year. My wife does not work, and although I used to work two jobs, I have decided to pursue additional education instead and am going to school at night. When we were first… Read more »

Seth B.
Seth B.
6 years ago

Drew: You don’t think calling it a heresy is too much? Something can absolutely incorrect theologically and not be heretical.

Jim
Jim
6 years ago

The Tithe was for the Levites who’s population was 1/12 of the tribes of Israel wasn’t it? I go to a small church of about 150. There are two pastors on staff which would make them about 1/75th. If we are comparing apples to apples is that to be taken into consideration? If not, why not? I think the general teaching to adhere to is summed up with the parable of the woman and her two coins giving more than the rich pharisees.

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
6 years ago

Is it up to me to decide if a minister’s ministrations deserves a tithe?

Most revs I know really dig that we pay them to study half of each week for a half hour Sunday lecture. Visit the flock? — sorry, no time for that. Besides, not really a people person.

Should we tithe to operations that don’t actually minister?

Matt
Matt
6 years ago

@Jim Crapuchettes: The population of the tribes wasn’t evenly distributed, so the Levites weren’t necessarily 1/12 (~8%) of the total population. Using the figures from Numbers 1-3, looks like at that time Levi made up about 3% of the total population. I’m not sure I’d read anything into that anyway. Those were the figures at one point in time, there’s no reason that the population expansion for each tribe would have been linear throughout the history of Israel. The Levites made up ~3% of the total men at one point in time (Numbers 1-3), but who knows what it was… Read more »

Dan Glover
6 years ago

I think it was Spurgeon who said that he knew God had a hold of a man’s heart when He had a hold of his wallet.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
6 years ago

I have been reading about the English system of tithes and rates that came into effect in Tudor times after the dissolution of the monasteries. Until well into the nineteenth century, everyone who owned agricultural land in the parish had to give one-tenth of its annual yield for the maintenance of the parish church and its clergy. This was required even of non-Anglican Protestants. As well, from Tudor times onward, everyone at the parish level who had any money had to pay rates to support the dispensing of Poor Relief. Again, this applied to everyone who lived in a particular… Read more »

bethyada
6 years ago

The tithe is to be paid on the increase that is brought into your barns, and not on the part of the crop that the locusts ate (apologies for the fawning) Worth adding to my growing collection of Wilson quotes. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the 10% tithe is a kingdom policy. It is not really mentioned in the NT, it sounds like the law (I know it antedates Moses), and Paul did not appeal to it for support of the church/ famine relief. I think we should give generously and if that is not much, work on… Read more »

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
6 years ago

Hi Ken, Reading your post brought back lots of memories of when three of us were living on one not very large paycheck, and health insurance premiums were eating up half of it. My husband was excellent with money, but a broken appliance was still a full scale disaster. One of the things that made me feel bad was that I had no money to give to my church when everyone else seemed to be making large donations. If I took it off my birthday and Christmas money, there was nothing left for clothes and school supplies. What I did… Read more »

Robert
Robert
6 years ago

There is one issue of the tithe you didn’t address. That is the part about helping your parents with the tithe. Jesus seemed to think that was appropriate.

Darren
Darren
6 years ago

DrewJ… a heresy… really? It makes them heritical like Trinity deniers? Error… maybe.

30%, may or may not be right, but there was the tithe, then various other sacrifices/offerings. Interestingly, the NT makes a BIG deal (obviously) that Jesus has performed the perfect sacrifice for us, BUT, when it comes to giving Paul refers to it as a sacrifice, offering, aroma. He doesn’t explicitly mention use the word “tithe.” I wonder: very poor people need to be wise. If you are on $100M per year, then I’m guessing you could scrape through on $10M & give the rest away.

Ken Miller
Ken Miller
6 years ago

Thank you for the encouragement and practical exhortation, Jill.

JaredMithrandir
6 years ago

Titheing is part o the Old Testament Law Christian aren’t held to. one of the most obviously signs of a Preacher who’s a Scam to me if when their constantly ingraining in their flock the vital importance of Titheing.

A Christian should give as the Spirit leads him. We are not bound be any Law.

Scott Cottrill
Scott Cottrill
6 years ago

Ken, I also can relate to the dilemma of not having enough money, but have you thought of alternative ways of earning extra income? Your wife and you could make and sell crafts, food at the local farmer’s market, online sales, etc. and these resources would not only increase your net spendable income but also afford you more to give.

RFB
RFB
6 years ago

Jared,

“A Christian should give as the Spirit leads him.”

Since the principle source of inspired (Spirit) leading is the Word of God, then doesn’t it follow that the Word of God is therefore controlling regarding any discussion of “leading”?

Tim Nichols
Tim Nichols
6 years ago

I see several folks opining that the European custom of the king enforcing a tithe to be given to the church is a terrible idea, and churches ought not to want to receive such money.

What, dear people, do you think the Levites were receiving? What about the poor, repressed Israelites who had conscientious objections to a church that would allow the sons of Eli to run free?

bethyada
6 years ago

Yes Tim, I think it a terrible idea. I pay my government tax enforced by the “king” even though it is excessive. I see no warrant for the church to be part of this system. The church was funded from freewill offerings and God saw fit to strike down men who gave with wrong motivation.

Further, many churches from whom God removed his lampstand long ago continue to function on government collected “tithes”. So not only are they not furthering the kingdom, such forced collection can create animosity which is detrimental to the kingdom.

Gordan
Gordan
6 years ago

Several comments above have suggested that NT believers owe no allegiance to OT laws re: tithing. This boils down to an argument from silence, as does the whole insistence that the NT must repeat a moral obligation in order for it to be binding on us today. Jesus seems to have taught just the opposite, that we should assume continuity with the Old law (Matthew 5:17-19) unless the lawgiver Himself makes it plain that He’s instituting specific changes. The burden of proof in this instance would be on non-tithers to find a place where the NT makes it clear that… Read more »