Is Tithing (giving 10% of your increase) binding on new covenant Christians?
- I believe the Bible teaches that the old covenant required simple percentages. Everyone knew how much was required. The new covenant has no set percentages.
- Instead, it requires more soul-searching, more training for the conscience, more selfless love for others, more faith, more voluntary sacrifice and less compulsion. It tests our values, what we treasure most, and where our hearts are.
- This study will reference Seventh-day Adventist belief on tithing. This is still useful for Christians who believe in tithing.
- First, we will look at what the old covenant says about tithing. Then, we will look at the principles of giving in the new covenant which are far superior to the old covenant.
Tithing in the Old Covenant
In the Old Testament, God only required tithe (10%) be paid on the increase of the two occupations for which there was direct dependence upon God’s blessing in order to reap a harvest:
“One-tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord and must be set apart to him as holy. 32 Count off every tenth animal from your herds and flocks and set them apart for the Lord as holy” (Lev. 27:30,32).
Must Pay Tithe:
- Farmers, Shepherds.
These did not pay tithe:
- Artists, Bakers, Blacksmiths, Boat builders, Carpenters, Chefs, Child care workers, Clothing makers, Construction workers, Doctors, Doorkeepers, Field Laborers, Fishermen, Foremen, Fowlers, Government leaders and administrative staff, Hair cutters, Horse drivers, Horsesmiths, Inn Keepers, Jewelers, Judges, Loggers, Maids, Masonites, Merchants, Miners, Musicians, Nurses, Perfume Makers, Philosophers, Potters, Priests, Prophets, Rug makers, Scribes, Seamstresses and Weavers, Ship crews, Shoe makers, Soldiers, Storehouse administrators and staff, Tanners, Tax Collectors, Teachers, Tent Makers, Wagon makers, Well diggers, Wild game hunters, All other non-farmer non-herder occupations.
- All the other Israelites never had to pay a single cent in tithe. Therefore, even if tithing was enforced upon Christians, there is absolutely no reason to believe it is imposed upon all occupations.
- The poor were not required to tithe at all! Neither did the tithe come from the results of man’s crafts, hands and skills. Only farmers and herdsmen gathered what God produced as tithe increase.
There are four types of tithes in the Bible
1) Levitical tithe
- This was a religious tithe given to the Levites only. Levites are the descendants of the Tribe of Levi, one of the twelve tribes. They were separated from Israel to serve at the Tabernacle and later Temples.
- This Levitical tithe had two parts.
- First part: The whole tithe was given to the Levites who were only servants to the priests. “I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD” (Num. 18:21-24; see also Neh 10:37b).
- Second part. The Levites, in turn, gave one tenth of the whole tithe to the priests: “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the LORD’S offering” (Num 18:25-28; Neh 10:38).
2) Feast tithe
- This was the second religious tithe, called the feast tithe. It was to be eaten by worshipers in the streets of Jerusalem during the three yearly festivals.
- “You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. ..This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds…If so, you may sell the tithe portion of your crops and herds, ..use the money to buy any kind of food you want—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other drink. Then feast there in the presence of the Lord” (Deut 14:22-26; 12:1-19).
3) Poor tithe
- This was the third tithe, called the poor tithe. It was kept in the towns every third year to feed the poor
“Every third year you must offer a special tithe of your crops. In this year of the special tithe you must give your tithes to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows..” (Deu 14:28, 29; 26:12, 13).
4) Political tithe
- According to First Samuel 8:14-17, the ruler collected the first and best ten per cent for political use.
- “He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants” (1 Samuel 8:14-17).
- During Jesus’ time Rome collected the first ten per cent (10%) of most food and twenty per cent (20%) of fruit crops as its spoils of war.
SDA teaching on tithe is inconsistent
- It is dishonest to single out the one religious tithe and ignore the other two important religious tithes.
- Truth is tithing was a command just for Israel (Numbers 18:25) and not for New Testament Christians. Yes Christians are expected to give to the Lord, but the principles of giving in the new covenant which Christians come under are far superior to the old covenant.
- If old covenant tithing is applicable, then we must apply all its principles. No cherry picking.
- Has your church ever allowed you to use your tithe to be eaten and used by you as per the Bible? If they are consistent following the Bible, they should apply this tithing principle as well.
- Ellen White said, “The tithe is set apart for a special use. It is not to be regarded as a poor fund” Counsels on Stewardship, P.103 R & H Supplement, Dec. 1, 1896. She apparently didn’t understand that there was a tithing law that did use it for helping the poor. Your church leaders will not even feed the fatherless and widows from your tithe, yet they claim to follow the Bible!
- ‘That first covenant between God and Israel had regulations for worship’ (Hebrews 9:1-4) which included tithes. After Jesus’ death, God made a new covenant with His people making the covenant with Israel obsolete. “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:6-13).
- We cannot assume that any part of the old contract that include tithing is valid when the entire contract has been declared obsolete. We must look for the principles of giving, laws and teachings restated in the new covenant to define giving, sin and Christian practice.
Adventists teach that the tithe is one-tenth of our possessions: “all material things we acquire” (Source: SDA believe, Chapter 20).
- However, the Bible teaches that tithe is 10% of our increase, “bring out the tithe of your produce of that year” (Deut. 14:28), and the Levitical law only required the paying of tithe on increases in the harvest of the land and animals (Lev. 27:30-31).
- Adventists argue that since there is no specific verse in the New Testament canceling the practice of tithing, it must still be in effect. However, Adventists teach that the Ten Commandments are eternal, while the rest of the ceremonial and Levitical laws are no longer binding because of Christ’s death. It seems inconsistent for Adventists to teach that Ceremonial Law has been abolished and yet continue to insist that certain requirements in that law are still in effect.
- If every law in the Torah is still in effect unless it has been specifically mentioned in the New Testament as being cancelled, then why do Adventists not keep the rest of the laws of the Torah? Why do not the Adventists follow the teachings regarding cleansings found in Leviticus 12-14? Where have these laws been repealed in the New Testament? What about the Sabbatical year of Deuteronomy 15? Where was this repealed in the New Testament? Other examples could be given. Let it suffice to say that just because a law has not been specifically repealed in the New Testament does not mean it is still in effect for Christians. God says, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete” (Hebrews 8:6-13).
Didn’t Abraham pay a tithe?
“Then Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods he had recovered” (Genesis 14:20).
- The reason Abraham gave a tenth was because of God’s deliverance from his enemies. Abraham did not give tithe to Melchizedek from his personal possessions but from the spoils of war after rescuing Lot. We would call this tenth, “a thank offering”.
- And besides, the Levitical tithe law (Levites came long after Abraham) did not include “spoils of war.” And tithing was not part of Abraham’s covenant.
- Before the King of Salem incident and after, there is no record of Abraham, a very wealthy man ever paying tithe of his own personal possessions to God.
But doesn’t the Author of Hebrews justify tithing in the New Testament?
“Consider then how great this Melchizedek was (who was like Jesus). Even Abraham, the great patriarch of Israel, recognized this by giving him a tenth of what he had taken in battle. 5 Now the law of Moses required that the priests, who are descendants of Levi, must collect a tithe from the rest of the people of Israel, who are also descendants of Abraham. 6 But Melchizedek, who was not a descendant of Levi, collected a tenth from Abraham” (Hebrews 7:2-6).
- Hebrews is showing how Christ is superior to the Old Testament Levitical system and is not a Levite Priest, hence would not demand Levitical tithe. Melchizedek did not command or demand tithe anywhere in the Bible.
- The tithe law was given only to Israel. The Abrahamic covenant had no tithe law. Abraham simply gave a thank offering.
No record of Jacob paying a tithe!
“Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey… I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me” (Genesis 28:20-22)
- Jacob made a vow to God a tenth on the conditions “if” God would give him food, clothes and protect him on his journey and return him safely to his father’s house. Jacob was not obeying any God ordained tithe law by making his own arbitrary conditions with God. The Levitical tithe law is to be paid with no conditions. There is no record that Jacob ever paid his tenth to God.
Who is Robbing whom? Malachi was addressed to the Levites of Israel, not the Christian Church
“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse–the whole nation of you–because you are robbing me” (Mal 3:8, 9).
- This text is God’s rebuke against the Levites that were to give one tenth of all the tithe that came in to them and they in turn were to give one tenth of that to the ministering priests.
- The Levites were the ones that were robbing God and not obeying the Covenant God made with Israel. It was not all the Israelites that were robbing God. Chapters 2 and 3 make it clear that this was directed against the Levites which caused the whole nation to come under God’s curse.
- When the offending Levites would start paying tithe to the ministering priests, then God would open the storehouse for them to receive blessings. It is impossible for Christians to rob God in tithe as God has not transferred or given a tithe law to Christians.
Jesus did not tithe nor command tithing for Christians
- Jesus did not tithe. He was first a carpenter then after age 30 he was preacher and teacher. Both professions were excluded from paying tithe. SDA’s are quick to say we must follow Jesus on Sabbath as He is our example, but why not on tithing, which he didn’t practice? But didn’t Jesus say?
- “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Mat 23:23)
- Jesus was not advocating Christians to tithe any more than teaching Christians should give herbs and spices as a tithe.
- Jesus was reprimanding the Pharisees for not having justice and mercy, while being exact in their tithing. The Pharisees were obeying the Levitical Law of tithing and disobeying the most important part of the Law, justice, mercy and faithfulness.
- Jesus was here speaking to the Pharisees under the Old Covenant and not to the Christian Church. If Christians insist on following the Levitical Law they would have to find Levite Priests that serve in the Temple Sanctuary to give their tithes of animals, fruit and grain (mint, dill, and cummin), and eat the annual tithe and use the third year tithing for the poor.
- Besides, churches do not collect tithes from garden herbs as Jesus commanded.
Ellen G. White admits that there is no tithe or Sabbath law in the new testament
‘The New Testament does not re-enact the law of the tithe, as it does not that of the Sabbath; for the validity of both is assumed’. The Faith I Live By, page 244
- Ellen White admits that there is no tithe or Sabbath law in the NT. In order to validate these laws you have to assume they exist for Christians. Do we also assume we should keep feast days because it was not “re-enacted” in the NT? For a law to be valid for Christians, we should have a thus saith the Lord. This is what the Lord says about giving under the new covenant.
Principles of giving in the New Covenant
Give to support the ministry of your local church you attend. Pastors and ministers who work hard, who are gifted, and who carefully interpret God’s word, and preach the gospel should be paid well.
“Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Tim. 5:17, 18).
Paul could have quoted from the OT (Old Testament) law on tithing. He did not. Rather he chose to use an OT law regarding oxen and threshing. He took the principle behind the OT law and applied that principle to the elder (think pastor) of Christian churches. He showed there are qualifications for the well-paid pastor. He is to “work well” and “work hard at preaching and teaching”.
Give to support gospel causes separate from one’s local church. Paul commended the church at Philippi for supporting his ministry in other cities.
“Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness. At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:16–18).
For the gospel to spread to new areas the gospel messenger must often preach the gospel to an audience that does not give financial support. This was the case in Thessalonica, noted above, and also in Corinth. Even though Paul was entitled to take money from the Corinthian Church, He did not take wages from it but was supported by “tent making” and gifts from other Christians.
Give to help other Christians in need.
“Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do” (Gal. 2:10).
Money should be put aside for God and handled with circumspect integrity, though a percentage is not specified.
“On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once. When I come, I will write letters of recommendation for the messengers you choose to deliver your gift to Jerusalem.” (1 Cor. 16:1–4).
The NT supports the principle of blessing proportional to our giving.
“Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” (2 Cor. 9:6–9).
One must be very careful applying this principle. This principle is true and many have personally seen God fulfill this promise to them a number of times. However some TV evangelists, as well as some pastors, have abused this principle in fund raising techniques and used it as an enticing and legalistic lever to put emotional pressure on others to give toward their cause. This principle should not be used in this way. We must remember that blessings do not always come in like kind. If a person is persuaded by someone to give money for the express purpose of getting more money back, that person may well be disappointed if he is looking only for the monetary blessing. The blessing from giving may come in many different forms according to God’s mercy, grace and will.
The NT supports the principle of proportional giving.
“Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. 12 Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. 13 Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. 14 Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.” (2 Cor. 8:11–15).
Jesus taught the same thing.
“While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has” (Lk. 21:1–4).
The NT supports the principles of voluntary giving.
‘You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully” (2 Cor. 9:7).
We should observe that the context of this statement is not giving for the support of the local church but rather giving for the poor in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, even though Christians have an obligation to give, it should not be forced, rather it should be voluntary and done cheerfully from the heart. Some see in the quotation above, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart”, evidence that there my have been pledges made earlier and Paul is asking that they now be paid.
The NT supports the principle of secret giving.
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Mt. 6:1-4).
Some church fund-raising techniques violate this principle. People’s names are associated with their gifts. Usually this is done to either get others to give to keep up with big donors or to stroke the ego of the large givers. We should give thanks to those who support the ministry of the gospel but not do it in such a way as to manipulate others.
The NT teaches that givers should first give themselves to the Lord
“For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do” (2 Cor. 8:1–5).
Just as new covenant Christians are to dedicate every day to God’s service, not just the seventh. So new covenant Christians are to consider everything they have belongs to the Lord, not just a tenth. They are to be stewards of Christ in all they do.
The NT teaches that we cannot purchase God’s blessings with money
“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. 19 “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!” 20 But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! 21 You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God” (Acts 8:18–23).
Simon was a new believer. Even though he had just been baptized (Acts 8:13) it does not appear he was really born again. It is important to note that Peter read his heart and did not accept his money. Today, there are many evangelists and/or pastors who would take the offered money and promise a spiritual blessing, especially if the promised gift was large. Church leaders must be careful in accepting gifts that are given from the wrong motive. Too often in the history of the church large gifts have been accepted in exchange for position and power which often result in undermining the witness of the church and the furtherance of the gospel.
The NT teaches that we should not support those who are able to work but are lazy and refuse to work.
“Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living.” (2 Thess. 3:10–12).
The NT teaches that giving without love profits us nothing.
“If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3).
The false teaching is that tithing is a divine mandatory expectation which always must precede free-will giving.
This is not biblical as tithing is not commanded for Christians. If we following Levitical tithing, we better follow all three tithes.
The following New Covenant free-will principles are found in Second Corinthians 8 and 9: (1) Giving is a “grace.” (2) Give yourself to God first (8:5). (3) Give yourself to knowing God’s will (8:5). (4) Give in response to Christ’s gift (8:9; 9:15). (5) Give out of a sincere desire (8:8, 10, 12; 9:7). (6) Do not give because of any commandment (8:8, 10; 9:7). (7) Give beyond your ability (8:3, 11-12). (8) Give to produce equality. This means that those who have more should give more in order to make up for the inability of those who cannot afford to give as much (8:12-14). (9) Give joyfully (8:2). (10) Give because you are growing spiritually (8:3-4, 7). (11) Give because you want to continue growing spiritually (9:8, 10-11). (12) Give because you are hearing the gospel preached (9:13).
- The old covenant required 10 percent. The new covenant does not specify a percentage, nor should a Christian church. However, the new covenant admonishes people to give what they can, and tithing still provides an instructive point of comparison.
- For some people, 10 percent may be too much. But some will be able to give more, and some are doing so. Christians should examine their own circumstances and the better blessings they have been given in the new covenant through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us and the gift of the Holy Spirit to us.
- Contributions should be given to the church for its collective work of preaching the gospel and the expenses involved in the local ministry and congregational needs.
- Many Christians follow the Old Testament practice of tithing and have been blessed by doing so. One can support this principle in that Abraham— long before the law was given— gave one tenth of the spoils from the war with the local kings to Melchizedek king of Salem (Gen. 14:20.) However, the context of Hebrews is not specifically enforcing the principle of tithing; rather he is showing the superiority of Christ’s high priestly ministry over the Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7:1-10)
- Abraham and Jacob did not tithe nor did they pay money, silver or gold for their offering.
- There is no Bible record of the Levitical tithe law being part of the New Covenant.
- God forbids money to be used to pay mandatory tithe by anyone under the old covenant! It is animals, fruit, grain, etc.
- There is no Bible record of any new testament Apostolic Church members paying tithes to Gospel Ministers and Church leaders.
- Adventists do not follow the Tithe Law given by God as they do not follow the annual tithes and the third year tithe, and helping the poor from it. Thus they break the tithe law. They pick and choose laws they want to keep.
- The poor were not required to tithe at all! Neither did the tithe come from the results of man’s crafts, hands and skills. Only farmers and herdsmen gathered what God produced as tithe increase.
- Christians that do not tithe are not robbing God. There is no command by God for Christians to tithe. Where there is no law, there is no sin.
- There is no truth that Christians that do not tithe are doomed for Hell. Christians are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and not by silver and gold. 1 Pet. 1:18.
- Christians are to support the Church Pastor by free will offerings. They are to give generously according to their ability and not reluctantly or under compulsion. God loves a cheerful giver. Giving mandatory tithe by law is compulsion.
- There is no Bible support that God will bless a Christian that pays tithe over those that do not.
- Ellen White admits that there is no tithe or Sabbath law in the NT. We can’t assume the old covenant Tithe law is valid, because the covenant is declared obsolete. We must look for the principles of giving in the new covenant.
- Those who do not understand the new covenant, the Holy Spirit writing the law on people’s hearts will never trust the Holy Spirit to do His job, that is, guide people to follow the principles of new covenant giving without specified percentages.
Referenced notes from Dale Ratzalff, and Russel Kelly.
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