How Do We Give to the Eternal?

Part II — Why Are Some People Blessed For Tithing?

This part is intended to help people who have paid one, two or three tithes in the past and still have questions about it. We hope to cover some of the personal questions, and some of the technical arguments used by those advocating three tithes.

The authors of this paper have paid multiple tithes for many years and know scores of others who have done the same. Most people we know did it in faith, believing that it was a requirement of Scripture. Most are convinced that they were blessed because of their tithing. But we know of others who spent their lives in substandard housing and clothing, went bankrupt, lost their families, and suffered other financial disasters in an effort to pay three tithes plus offerings. Some of these individuals appeared to have faith—only the Eternal can ultimately judge them. There will also be a judging of the "ministers" who ordered such poor people to continue to pay tithes or be put out of "the Church."

There have been individuals throughout the years who have spoken out against tithing and the way it was practiced in the Worldwide Church of God. Most members, it appears, were completely unaware of the fact that ministers did not pay third tithe and had their second tithe provided by headquarters. Nor were they aware that a major portion of third tithe was not used for the poor and that excess second tithe was often not used for the Feasts. Unfortunately, it seems that very few of the brethren have ever taken the time to really investigate tithing in the Bible and to learn how it is practiced.

Nevertheless, the saying "you can't out-give God" does seem to accurately reflect the experience of many. They tithed and were blessed. But this saying is true whether you are giving because you believe the Eternal requires tithes or because you simply believe He wants you to give. Our Savior pronounces a blessing on all people who give in a variety of manners:

Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first (Mark 10:29-31).

You may want to continue giving the same amount that you have given in the past—you may find reason to make that amount more, or less. The important thing to realize is that you are doing it because your entire life is dedicated to the Eternal, not just because He commands us to tithe. With this approach, we always have a reason to increase our giving as it is possible, whereas the person who believes in tithing often concludes he is paying enough.

Does Worldwide Church of God History “Prove” that Tithing Works?

Some "church leaders" have told us there is no need to prove the "doctrine of tithing" from Scripture. They will state that the Worldwide Church of God did the most powerful work of preaching the Gospel since the original apostles and that the money provided by tithing made that "great work" possible. They will also claim that the WCG is the "Philadelphia Era" of the church of God—but to that church our Savior says: "...I know that you have but little power..." (Rev 3:8). How can the most powerful church be described as having "but little power"? Does the Eternal measure the power of His people in dollars, or by the amount of His spirit?

In the 1930's, Herbert Armstrong taught that hierarchical governments were patterned after the great false church and should not be used among the Eternal's people. (A copy of his article is available from Servants' News.) Later, he taught that that hierarchy was the Eternal's method of making sure truth was taught to His people. Joseph Tkach later proved that hierarchical government was an effective way to teach error to the Eternal's people. We believe some of his changes were good and some (probably the majority) were bad. No matter which doctrines you consider to be right, you will have to agree some error was taught somewhere—many of Tkach's teachings were nearly the opposite of Armstrong's teachings. Yet both sets of doctrines were taught with "top down" authority, and those who openly challenged them were asked to leave the organization. (As a prime example, before 1990, the Worldwide Church of God disfellowshipped many people for not tithing.)

Many ministers saw the changes in doctrine, but had great difficulty standing up for what they believed. Why? The tithing doctrine was largely at fault. First of all, deceitful teachers usually try to gain control of a wealthy church that already has millions of dollars in assets built up over the years. It is much easier to use someone else's money and credibility than it is to just start teaching. If the WCG had no great wealth, this would have been less of a problem. Secondly, ministers believed it was the duty of the members to tithe to a single headquarters (by analogy, the temple), and that the ministers must be paid from there. If the brethren had the understanding to give directly to those who were doing the Eternal's work, the false teachers would have found a lack of funds to continue their work, and those teaching righteousness would have been supported to continue. But ministers and members alike believed they must continue to tithe to and take orders from a central corporation. What the Bible said was secondary.

We estimate that the WCG has taken in 2 to 3 billion dollars over the years. (Remember, there was a period when the WCG was taking in over $200,000,000 a year.) The average contribution per member was incredulous, especially when compared to the average of other denominations. What was accomplished with all that money? We mean besides the millionaires' mansions, the expensive auditorium, the fine works of art, the gold, the silver service, the jewelry, the corporate jet, the Rolls Royce, the expensive gifts, the leaders' lavish lifestyle, the many projects that began but were somehow never finished. Less than 200,000 people were baptized by the WCG. That comes out to an average cost of over $10,000 per member. We dare say that the early apostles brought as many into the truth, and they did not spend a fraction of what WCG did! Huge sums of money do not guarantee any more converts than do smaller sums. TV and radio are not necessary to preach the Gospel. New Testament teachers had the equivalent available—they could have used money to gain audiences by hiring chariots, horsemen and footmen like Absalom and Adonijah did (2Sam 15;1; 1Kngs 1:5). The New Testament teachers could have followed these parades with preaching the Gospel. Instead, they used the power of the Eternal's miracles and message to gain attention.

Was all the tithe money given to the Worldwide Church of God wasted? No! Some of it was wasted—only the Eternal knows exactly how much. Was Herbert Armstrong a great man because of all the truth he taught to so many people? Or was he evil because of his sins, exaggerated claims about himself, failed prophecies, extravagant life style, and doctrinal errors in the area of government and tithing?

We believe the answer to this is that Herbert Armstrong was like nearly all servants of the Eternal—he did some good and some bad. If we would learn the lessons from the scriptures (Rom 15:4), we would understand this. Even great leaders such as Moses and David had sins that were recorded. The Kings of Israel, the Eternal's chosen nation, were mostly bad! We believe Herbert Armstrong was much like Solomon: he did much good, but departed from the Eternal to some degree in his later years. We cannot judge the ultimate fate of either man. We must realize that there is a big difference between being used of the Eternal and being righteous. Jehu was one king of Israel who was used and rewarded by the Eternal for accomplishing a task, but he was not a righteous man:

And the LORD said to Jehu, "Because you have done well in doing what is right in My sight, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart [Jehu killed all of them], your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation." But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin (2Kngs 10:30-31).

We believe that Jehu could have destroyed the house of Ahab without his other sins. Solomon could have produced the temple, his songs and proverbs without the heavy tax burdens, hundreds of wives, and other sins. We believe that Armstrong could have done his work without enforced tithing, extravagance, and other sins. Nevertheless, we can only speculate about what could have been. The reality is that the Eternal used Solomon to write some of the Bible and help build His physical temple, and he used Armstrong to write many booklets and help build part of His Spiritual temple in our day. People tithed and some money was wasted. But the message went out and many people learned.

We can love and respect Solomon and Armstrong for what they did without imitating their mistakes. We must realize that we are not going to be judged by their understanding of the Bible. We will be judged by what the holy spirit has revealed to us in our study of the scriptures. We cannot continue to teach a system that is unbiblical just because the Eternal powerfully used someone else who did teach it.

We are personally convinced that one of the reasons the Eternal is allowing the WCG to collapse is to show that He prefers to work without hierarchical governments and the three-tithe system. In a little over ten years, most of that organization is gone—its doctrines, its colleges, its publications and the majority of its members! The remaining assets are now in the hands of individuals who believe doctrines very different from those of the people who "built the work." Was the WCG's financial decline caused by their change in the doctrine of tithing? Partly so, and that is how it should be! The members are no longer required to give 10%, so they give according to their perception of the value of the WCG's message—not nearly as much. We hope the WCG will learn from this. The solution is not to re-implement tithing, but to teach a message that stirs up the Holy Spirit in people so that they will want to give.

For many years, ministers told members that if they tithed, they would be financially blessed for obeying, and they would actually have more after paying tithes than they did before they began tithing. And many people acted in faith, and were so blessed. Today, ministers need to listen to their own advice and have faith that their work will be blessed by using the Eternal's prescribed method of offerings rather than by requiring tithes. Any organization which has the courage to remove the unbiblical three-tithe system will certainly be blessed for it. Yes, part of the blessing may be receiving less money—and realizing that money is being spent for things that the Eternal does not want to be done. Some difficult administrative changes may be necessary, but do they want money or the Eternal's will? In the long run the gospel will still be preached and the brethren will be set free from heavy burdens!

Have you noticed that no matter how much money comes in, it is never enough? How often are co-worker or member letters devoted to the subject of money, support or "getting behind the work"? It is our opinion that the main reason for the lack of cooperation and love, the sad backbiting and competition, among the different church of God groups, is due to the desire of these corporations to receive tithes! They really do not care if "their members" visit other similar congregations—but they want them to feel a God-given responsibility to consistently send big donations to their own headquarters!

The challenge we have as Christians is to really study the Bible for ourselves. We must be willing to do the work involved to come to a Biblical perspective on any doctrine, and then we must have the courage to act on what we understand. Tithing is one area where vested interest has blinded the objectivity of the corporate churches. As with any Biblical doctrine, there are many individuals who are more than willing to quote only part of a verse, give you a meaning for a particular verse that is not in the Scripture, intimidate you, or guide you through only the verses and history which agree with their point of view (it's called proof-texting). The Eternal does not need deceptive teachers to "help Him" with His truth; He is not afraid that His work will not be done if people find the truth of what He said about tithing.

The Eternal's people have always responded generously when called upon! They can support the Gospel, attend the Festivals, and help the poor, without the three-tithe system. Many people who understand that tithing is not for today still use 10% as a voluntary guideline for giving—divided among preaching the gospel and helping the poor. If you believe that the Eternal has led you to give the amount that you give, there is nothing wrong with continuing it. Some have become involved in ministries where they are giving much more time and money than they ever had in the past.

Unity comes from the Holy Spirit, which teaches each believer truth as they are ready. We are not all ready for the same thing at the same time. If no one studies or talks about a doctrine until it has the "official" seal of approval by a corporate headquarters, growth will take place only as fast as the headquarters can move—which is usually very slowly. If a doctrine has a solid Biblical basis, the children of the Eternal will be led by the Holy Spirit to see that. Unity created by the threat of being disfellowshipped, intimidation, or the members' doctrinal ignorance is artificial and will not endure. A corporation has the legal right to set whatever standards they want for membership, but the requirements of a corporation have nothing to do with a person's standing in the spiritual body of our Savior, the true Church. When studying any Biblical topic, we should put aside our preconceived ideas and "search the Scriptures daily to see if these things be so." The Bible, not the opinions of men, is our final authority.

Errors of Three-Tithe Arguments

In the course of our research, we have read many booklets and articles on tithing, including:

Ending your FINANCIAL WORRIES, ©1959 by Herbert Armstrong

Managing Your PERSONAL FINANCES, © 1965, 1975 and 1982 by the Worldwide Church of God

Tithing and the Give Way, © 1993

The Blessing of Tithing ( Good News , June-July 1986, p.28)

Does God Really Command Three Tithes? ( Global Church News, Nov-Dec 1994)

The Tithe in Scripture by Henry Lansdell

When it comes to the Sabbath, the Holy Days, unclean meats, "Church of God" groups have always been very careful to observe their understanding of the specific instructions of the Law, unless there was clear instruction to the contrary in the New Testament. But when it comes to tithing, they pick, choose and interpret as they like. There are so many differences between the way tithing was taught in the Law, and the way it is practiced in church organizations today. Yet, there is no instruction at all in the New Testament detailing the differences.

When the Law talks about the percentage, that is to be taken absolutely literally! How can one part of a text be literal and a few words later be a spiritual analogy? Who decides which is which?

We must remember that when churches talk about " the law of tithing", what they really mean is "the law of the percentage," since most of what the Law says about tithing is ignored by them. They keep the percentage, and re-specify all the other requirements. Giving as you are sincerely able is not enough! The needs of the corporate church come first! The needs of the individual family are a distant second. Even though the economic safeguards instituted by the Eternal for Israel are not available to us today, the churches still insist people pay a minimum percentage. If 90% of the Eternal's economic system is no longer here, why should churches insist on following the 10% to the letter? Here we summarize the differences in tithing systems:

Law of Moses
3-Tithe Church Teaching
Tithing on produce and livestock
Tithing on everything you earned
Tithes were given to the Levites
Tithes were given to the church
Tithes were not paid in the seventh year
Tithes were paid every year
One tithe used 3 ways
3 tithes, various uses
Festival tithe used for food as individual saw fit
2nd tithe used for all Feast expenses, "tithe of tithe" + excess sent to church H.Q.
Poor tithe was kept at home and shared
Third tithe was sent to church headquarters
Offerings 3 times a year
Offerings 7 times a year
Tithe could be exchanged for money
Tithe was money
Tithing part of economic system with land given
Tithing put on a high -tax system with nothing given

Another area the churches ignore is the historical and economic context in which tithing was instituted in Israel. When the Eternal instituted the one tithe, He gave each family a free inheritance of land. The Levites were also given land and cities. There were no taxes, every seventh year all debts were to be released and no tithes paid, and for those people who had to sell their land, every fifty years the land reverted back to its original owner, thereby ensuring that no family lost their inheritance. If the reason for giving tithes to the Levite was because they did not have an inheritance with the rest of the nation of Israel, then may we ask: "who in this present age has any inheritance at all?!"

Some will say that tithing must be different now because today's society is totally different—to which the authors agree completely! So how can anyone take only part of an economic system, based on almost ideal conditions, and impose it on today's society? Why add to this the additional two tithes which the Bible and history show were added by men? Is it any wonder why so many people struggle? The fact that many have been blessed only illustrates The Eternal's tender mercy; the correctness of any doctrine must be measured by the Bible. The Eternal often blesses us in our sincerity, even though our understanding may be incorrect.

It is common knowledge that church organizations have made many "administrative concessions" regarding tithing. For example, some groups exempted certain categories of individuals and even whole countries from third tithe. Some "churches of God" allow third tithe to be annualized or even exempt their employees from third tithe. The issue of "gross" or "net" for paying tithes has gone back and forth. There are major differences on what one church allows festival tithe to be used for, as compared to another. All of these administrative concessions are necessary because these groups are simply operating far away from what the Law says.

When we couple all this with Paul's statements on the very issue of supporting the preaching of the Gospel, in which he does not even mention tithing, it his hard to imagine how we ever started down that road! There is not one example of Paul paying, or teaching others to pay, tithes. Paul did appeal to the Law, and to the commands of our Savior, but in neither circumstance is there a reference to tithing. We will now cover some of the common tithing literature and show how three-tithe teachers "started down that road!"

Let us quote a section from Ending your FINANCIAL WORRIES, page 10, which illustrates a common tithe-teaching approach:

When we sit down and really think, we shall see that God supplies about nine parts of everything man makes or produces, and man's thinking, planning, and working supplies only about one part. But God does not take nine tenths of the proceeds, or the income. He doesn't take even eight tenths, or seven, or even three or two tenths. God is generous. God has reserved for His use only one little tiny tenth of what is produced out of His earth through His forces and energies! God takes only one tenth. And after you have been honest in paying God's tenth to God's chosen representative, then—and not until then—God has decreed that the other nine tenths become legally yours!"

This is a nice sounding statement with great respect to our Creator. It may seem irreligious to some to disagree with it. But it is not from the Bible. And there is another big problem with it. The "other nine tenths" have never been ours to keep! With all the additional demands on our money placed upon us by the church and the government, our share was often more like four tenths. Next, we will quote one of the most concise articles on the 3-tithe system:

The vast majority of "Christians" don't really believe in obeying God's law, including His law of tithing! They refuse to believe God's Word which reveals that we actually "rob" our Creator if we don't tithe (Mal. 3:8-12)! Most professing Christians say they just believe in "giving freely" to God and His Church. This belief, they think, frees their conscience so that they don't feel guilty if they don't tithe. Their ministers have led them to believe, erroneously, that they are not sinning if they don't tithe ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News p.12).

Unfortunately the use of guilt and intimidation have been a large part of the approach most corporations take toward tithing. The logic here indicates that the Eternal is not interested in us if we give to the best of our ability, but that He is more concerned about the percentage! Give 5% to support His work and you are a sinner; give 10% and you are righteous. Personally, we do not know of anyone who read the Bible for themselves and began to feel guilty that they were not tithing—it seems that everyone who feels guilty for not tithing feels that way because they have read a booklet or had the subject preached to them.

First tithe, it is claimed, is to be used for "the Work". Second tithe is to keep the Festivals, and third tithe is for the poor. Indeed, we should support those who preach the Gospel full time, we should save to keep the Eternal's Feasts, and we should certainly help the poor. The question is, does the Eternal require nearly 30% to do this? Often, big organizations use their own massive expenses as proof that a massive tithing system is necessary.

Here are the economic facts about the average three-tithe paying member: 20% of income every year, 30% in the third and sixth year, regular offerings, 7% holyday offerings, various special funds, and of course, "emergency offerings". Then add the 30% to 40% tax burden that many carry and you get the true picture of the demands on a member's money: 50% to 70%. Most American families with children now have more than one "earner." If a man wants to let his wife stay home with the children and support his family himself with the above burden, he must be a much better than average worker or his family is going to live on very, very little.

Some churches allow third tithe to be annualized, but that does not really ease the burden, especially when you consider that in America, for example, there is a huge tax-supported welfare system already in place. Some organizations call second tithe a "Vacation Fund", but how many restrictions were placed on how and where members could spend second tithe? Is this how you would treat a personal vacation fund? Where did the ideas of "tithe of the tithe" and "excess second tithe" come from?

The proponents of three tithes try to convince you from historical records, Biblical dictionaries, commentaries and the Bible that three tithes were indeed what the Eternal had in mind. We are going to examine some of these records and commentaries to see what they say.

There is no clear consensus among scholars, either Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish, as to the exact tithing system established through Moses. This is how The New International Dictionary of the Bible puts it:

Was there only one tithe each year or was the third-year tithe an extra one? Confusion exists about this even among Hebrew scholars themselves (Tithe, p.1021).

Let's look at some of the "historical proof" commonly used for three tithes. The works of Josephus and the book of Tobit are often cited as proof. There is no doubt that certain individuals and teachers imposed on themselves, and tried to impose on others, two and sometimes three tithes. Citing Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews the Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News says:

How did the Jews understand God's law regarding tithes? Did they believe God commanded only one, two, or three tithes? Let the brilliant Jewish historian, Josephus (writing c. 90 A.D.), answer that question ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, p.14, ¶9).

The article then proceeds to quote Josephus, and he does talk about three tithes. After expounding about the first two tithes, Josephus says:

Besides those two tithes, which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year a third tithe to be distributed to those that want ( Antiquities, book IV, 22).

Notice Josephus was saying what he felt the Jewish people should be doing. We recommend reading this part of Josephus' Antiquities for yourself.

What we need to ask ourselves is, was Josephus speaking for all Jewish people and giving an accurate historical perspective, or was he expressing his own interpretation of the law of Moses? In a footnote to Antiquities, book IV, page 98 this is what the editors have written,

Josephus's plain and express interpretation of this law of Moses, that the Jews were bound every third year to pay three tithes.... is fully confirmed by the practice of good old Tobit, against the opinions of the rabbins.

As we shall see Josephus' idea of three tithes was not generally accepted by the rabbis. Is Josephus the final authority on Biblical interpretation?

The Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News then refers to Tobit as further historical proof,

We also have the important testimony from the Deuterocanonical book Tobit.... Tobit preserves, like Josephus, the understanding that God's people were to pay three tithes-each one for a different purpose ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, p.15, ¶4).

A little further in paragraph 8, after quoting the verses in The Book of Tobit which does say that the main character Tobit paid three tithes, this same article states,

Clearly, both Tobit and Josephus realized that three tithes were to be kept...."

Since the book of Tobit is not part of the accepted canon of the Bible, many of us are unfamiliar with it. Tobit is in the Catholic versions of the Bible and other versions that contain "the Apocrypha". It is a short little book, and extremely interesting! Anyone who bases their belief in three tithes partly on this book should read it, especially the part where Tobit, acting on the advice of the Angel Raphael, burns the heart and liver of a fish in some incense to drive away a demon from his bridal chamber (Tob 6:8-9). What do historians say about it?

One of the most widely read books of pious fiction among ancient Jews is the colorful tale of Tobit. Composed by a devout Jew about 190-170 B.C... ( An Introduction To The Apocrypha, chapter III).

Tobit is a short but well-known folk-tale.... Historically, we should be wrong to take it as a record of actual events,... ( Cambridge Bible Commentary, The Shorter Books Of The Apocrypha, p.I).

Tobit, Book of: a fictional narrative about the sufferings of two Israelite families in Assyria... ( Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period, p.636).

Some of the apocryphal sources (Jub. 32:11 Tob. 1:7; etc.) explain the verses of the Bible as if the second tithe was set aside every year (as does the Targ. Jon.), and that three tithes were set aside in the third and sixth years, it seems however, that this was written according to their understanding of the verses, without subsequent exegesis, and should not be regarded as reflecting actual conditions, ( Encyclopedia Judaica, volume 15, p.1026, emphasis ours).

It is plain to us, that while Josephus and Tobit both express a certain point of view, they should not be used as historical proof that the Eternal commanded Israel to pay three tithes. Other historical sources contradict the testimony of both Josephus and Tobit. When you add the clear revelation of the Bible to the formula you will realize that Josephus and Tobit were expressing a personal interpretation, not historical fact. Their opinions are certainly not proof that a three-tithe systems is what the Eternal intended, or intends, for His people.

Trying to trace the development of the tithe in Jewish history is tricky, but some sources are helpful. We include several conflicting opinions to show that the three-tithe view is indeed a minority view:

Though the purpose of the tithe and its method of organization in the discussed period seem quite clear, serious problems from the religious-halakhic standpoint complicated the issue. From Ezra's time the whole pentateuchal literature was considered a total unity (the Law of Moses) and the people had to comply with the Torah as a whole. The various attitudes toward the tithe as reflected in the different sources and especially in the Priestly code, on the one hand, and the Deuteronomic code on the other, had to be combined and the contradictions to be harmonized. Thus for instance the two types of tithes prevalent at this period: "the first tithe" (ma'aser ri'shon) and "the second tithe" (ma'aser sheni) are the outcome of the contradiction between Numbers 18:21ff. and Deuteronomy 14:22ff. According to the priestly ordination, the tithe is to be given to the Levite, whereas according to the Deuteronomic code, it is to be consumed by the owner at the central sanctuary. The rabbis, taking it for granted that both laws are of Mosaic origin and therefore equally binding, interpreted them as two different tributes: one given to the Levite, "the first tithe"; and the other to be brought to Jerusalem and consumed there, "the second tithe". Theoretically this was an excellent solution. However, from the practical point of view the implementation of these laws was almost impossible. The excise of 20% of the yield was too high.... " ( Encyclopedia Judaica, section -Tithe at the Period of the Second Temple, volume 15, p.1162).

According to Deut. 14:22ff., tithing was an annual process, and its portions were to be consumed at the sanctuary, but, if the distance from one's home was too great, the produce could be converted into money, and with the proceeds the food for the feast could be purchased at the locale of the sanctuary. Every third year, however, the tithe was kept in the home community and distributed to the Levites and the poor, who depended on such contributions. This procedure differs significantly from that set forth in Num. 18:21. There, tithes are to be given to the Levites who in turn will tithe to the priests. The Rabbis harmonized the difference by stipulating three tithes: the first tithe was to go to the Levite; a second (ma-aser sheni) was to be eaten at the sanctuary by the owner of the land; and a third (ma-sar ani, "tithe of the poor") was raised every third and sixth year, in which case it took the place of the ma-aser sheni." ( The Torah, a Modern Commentary, W. Gunther Plaut, p.1443)

Basically, the rabbis declared two annual tithes, with the third replacing the second every third and sixth year—though other sources treat the sixth year just like other years—the Bible makes no direct mention of the "sixth year." These two-tithe systems began during the period of the Second Temple, when the rabbis perceived a contradiction between Numbers and Deuteronomy. But some went even further:

By the second century B.C.E., the regulations of Deuteronomy and Numbers had been blended, resulting in three separate tithes (the earliest reference to this blending is Tobit 1:5-6). The tenth of harvested goods would be given to the Levites, who would send a tenth of that to Jerusalem (Num 18). A second tenth of crops and animals would be sent directly to Jerusalem for the priests (Deut 14:22). The third tithe (Deut 14:28) was to be used for the relief of the poor. These regulations indicate the growing power of the priest-hood in the Second Temple period. They also help to explain the social unrest of that period—yielding thirty percent of one's income to religion, plus paying taxes to the government, was impossible or intolerable for many ( Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, p.921).

If anything can be shown historically, it is that the demands of men are what created the situation where people paid up to 30% of their resources as "tithes".

Some have seen what they perceive as a contradiction in the way the tithe is prescribed in Numbers and the way the tithe is prescribed in Deuteronomy, which they say can only be resolved by concluding that there were two, or even three tithes. The Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News states,

Some carelessly assume that because the Levite is included in the list of those who could receive the Festival tithe, therefore, this tithe (v. 18) is not a second tithe , but is merely the first tithe. But, emphatically, this is not the case! ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, p.13, ¶2.)

Words like "carelessly" and "emphatically" seem to make a point stronger, but the Biblical proof of multiple tithes just never materializes. Here is a different view of Deuteronomy 14:22:

An annual tithe of the produce of the land was to be offered to the Lord in recognition of the fact that the land was his and that he was the bestower of life and fertility. Because of variants between the Deuteronomic and the earlier tithe stipulations (Lev 27:30-33; Num 18:21-32), the erroneous view was developed by the Jews (and has been accepted by many Christian exegetes) that Deuteronomy prescribes a second tithe and, some would say, even a third tithe (cf. Deut 14:28ff.; 26:12-15). Deuteronomy 14 does not, however, necessarily involve any drastic modification of the earlier tithe law ( Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p.174).

The following opintion seems to be the closest to our understanding of the Bible:

Tithe (Hebrew "masser"). Tenth part of one's produce, set aside as a religious offering. According to Jewish law, there are various types. The "first tithe" (Num 18.24) was given to the Levites after the heave offering "terumah" for the priests had been separated from it. During the second Temple period the first tithe was given as a whole to the priests. This subject is dealt with in the tractate Maaserot in the Mishnah. The "second tithe" (Lev 27.30-31; Deut 14.22-6) was a tenth part of the first tithe, and was consumed by the owner himself in Jerusalem; it applied in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th years in the Sabbatical cycle, and is dealt with in the tractate Maaser Sheni in the Mishnah. The "poor tithe" (Deut 14.28-9; 26.12) was calculated in the same way as the second tithe and was paid in the 3rd and 6th years of the Sabbatical cycle; it was given to the poor." ( Blackwell Dictionary of Judaica, p.543).

As you can see from the works we have quoted, there is not agreement on the exact tithing system used in the Old Testament. We can read dictionaries and commentaries without end and not resolve anything. But to claim that a three-tithe system has been universally taught by those following the Old Testament is simply a lie. When "three tithe" proponents use commentaries, they must use only a select few that claim the Law demanded three tithes. In the final analysis, what matters most is what the Eternal says in the Bible and that each one of us does what we understand it to say.

With or without a solid basis for three tithes in the Old Testament, New Testament tithe advocates must use Hebrews 7 to say that tithing has been transferred to the church and ministry:

Since tithing is God's permanent, continuous financing system, it had to continue through the Mosaic dispensation. During that period when the Levites were the ministers, their work and labors had to be financed. But when the priesthood was changed, God did not change His financing system. The Levites "had a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the Law." And notice, the very subject of this seventh chapter of Hebrews is the TITHING LAW! Now continuing the seventh of Hebrews: the teaching concerns which of the two priesthoods—Melchisedec, or Levitical—is superior, to determine which priesthood should receive tithes, NOW!.... The Melchisedec Priesthood is greater—superior! It has precedence! And it is again in force as God's Priesthood, under Christ! It, too, needs to be financed! Now notice the conclusion: "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also in the LAW" (verse 12). It does not say the law was abolished. The change in priesthoods make necessary a change in the law. What law was thus changed? The very law this chapter is instructing New Testament Christians about—the TITHING LAW! "The sons of Levi have a commandment to take TITHES...according to the law" (verse 5). So tithing, far from being abolished, is NEW TESTAMENT LAW! But, the priesthood being changed to that of Jesus Christ—the Melchisedec Priesthood restored—that tithing law is also changed of necessity, so as to become God's system for financing the ministry of Jesus Christ!" ( Ending your FINANCIAL WORRIES, pages 21,22.)

The Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News adds,

The seventh chapter of Hebrews reveals that there was a "change of the law" regarding tithing (Heb. 7:12). But the Apostle Paul did not say that the law regarding tithing was abolished. It was merely "changed," so that the restored High Priesthood of Melchizedec, and His NT ministers could now lawfully receive the tithes of God's people for the support of Christ's NT ministry (Heb. 7).", ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, p.16box, ¶8).

An excellent point is brought out here: if there is not a change in the law allowing a non-Levite to receive the tithes here, or anywhere else in the New Testament, then receiving the tithe by non-Levites is not legal! Are ministers the "priests" of the New Testament? Are they authorized to take tithes? No! If necessary, please reread the section , beginning on page , to see that there is no transferring of the tithing law in Hebrews 7.

How do tithing advocates of today deal with Paul's dissertation on giving in 1 Corinthians 9? Quite simply: quote a piece of it and then declare that it supports tithing! Again, from the Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News:

Paul also revealed, "The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:14). Clearly, the NT ministers were entitled to receive their livelihood from the tithes and offerings of God's people—just as did God's OT ministers, the Levites and priests ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, p.16box, ¶9).

If you have any doubt as to the meaning of 1Cor 9, please check page again for an explanation of these verses.

Moving on to another subject, let us read from The Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News regarding the typical three-tithe view of "second tithe":

Since God had given the regular tithe (the first tithe) to the Levites, it is not logical to assume that He would later tell the Israelites they could use that same tithe—if they only included the Levites. Had the Israelites spent all that first tithe on food and drink for their own families, the Levites would have gone begging. Remember the Levites had no other significant source of income except the tithes (the first tithe) from God's people ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, p.13, ¶7).

Two assumptions are made here: First, that the Israelites would have spent all the tithe at the feasts, and second, that the Levites were completely dependent on "first" tithe for a living.

We covered the multiple sources of Levite income beginning on page . Let us now look at the issue of spending an entire tithe at the Feasts. Should the keeping of the Eternal's festivals be so expensive that they require 10% of our yearly intake? The "average American middle class income" of a family of four is about $45,000 a year; second tithe on that would be $4,500. Here is a generous sample budget for the Feast for such a family:

Feast of Tabernacles Meals $800

Holy Day Meals $400

Feast Hotel $600

Feast Gasoline $80

Feast Entertainment $300

Total Expenses $2,180

Excess second tithe $2,320

Obviously, by staying in expensive resorts, renting expensive cars, going on shopping sprees, flying to far off sites—in other words, by turning the Feast into a time of great spending, you could consume the other $2,320 or more. These things of themselves are not wrong. But are they necessary to have a spiritually edifying Feast—especially if someone is neglecting other important family needs in an effort to save 10% for the Feast? If we properly understand the Bible instruction that Israel was only to use part of a tithe for the Feast (see sub-heading on page ), then we should find a way to plan less costly Feasts.

With a few administrative changes the cost of a Feast could be reduced even further. Our poorer brethren could attend the Feast without having to stretch their budgets to the limit or receive assistance. Wealthier brethren can always find ways to spend money at the Feast if they wish to—that is rarely a problem. The Scripture does not tell us to "live a millennial life-style during the Feast." The tents that Israel dwelt in during the Feast of Tabernacles were not at all like the fancy motels many brethren have come to expect. If feast planners focused on family togetherness and practicality, rather than opulence, costs would drop.

The Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News article continued with the sub-heading "The Third Tithe—God's Social Security System" ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, p.14, ¶1). It went on to quote from Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and explain how third tithe should be used to help the poor, widow, fatherless and Levites in the 3rd and 6th year of a 7-year cycle. What would happen if today's social security system paid benefits only in the 3rd and 6th years of a 7-year cycle? Many people would get very hungry waiting two years for the next cycle to begin! Giving a "windfall" in the third year helps the poor to pay off debts or to buy necessary items to make their businesses more profitable. The article goes on to admit:

Therefore, since both the second and third tithes were under the control of, and were spent by the Israelites themselves, those two tithes were never wholly and exclusively turned over to the Levites!... but it was they (the ones saving the tithes) who actually controlled the spending of those tithes ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, p.14, ¶8).

The above point is largely correct—the people were given control over the tithe they used for the festival and poor. Interestingly, that is not what the GCG and WCG have traditionally done. They usually ask their members to send their third tithe, "tithe of tithe" and "excess second tithe" to headquarters. Many of these organizations use about half of their third tithe for ministerial home remodeling, ministerial salaries, health insurance, etc. The Biblical justification is that it is "for the Levite," but very few people expect it to go to well-off Levites.

If You Do Not Tithe, Are You “Against the Work” or "Against Law"?

Some church leaders may not want to discuss the scriptures about tithing, but simply take the approach that "if you do not tithe, you are against the Work" or "you are not doing your share." They may ask, "Is it fair that some members tithe and some do not?" These questions are designed to produce guilt feelings, not to arrive at truth. In the past, some people have given 20% or more—is it fair that they gave so much while others gave only 10%? Is it fair that some able-bodied people in a congregation rarely have a job, rarely tithe, but live off the work of others? We should not give just because others are giving. We should give because our Savior wants us to, and because we want to give.

The leaders of some organizations may say, "If people stop tithing, we will have to greatly reduce our preaching of the gospel." That is an interesting revelation of where their priorities are. It would be different if they said "we will have to cut back executive salaries," "we will have to lease smaller cars," "we will have to cut travel expenses," or "we will have to drop our health insurance and trust the Eternal."

Is it the duty of the brethren to support and fully fund every idea that comes out of "headquarters," no matter how ill conceived, or unworkable that idea may be? In a letter of September 18, 1995, the Global Church of God asked its members for financial help with an "emergency situation": they just discovered their TV airing contract required payment for programs 30 days in advance, but their business manager had "no way of knowing" about it. Did anyone read the contract before they signed it? Is it the obligation of the brethren to bail out an organization when it suffers the consequences of its lack of planning? Is stepping out in faith defined as making financial commitments without the necessary resources, and then sending out a letter telling the brethren that if they do not send in a "generous emergency offering" they might be "closing doors Christ is opening" (as if such a thing were possible)? Is the leadership only accountable to the Eternal? Are not the brethren also accountable to the Eternal for where they decided to give money, and where they attend? Too often the concept of accountability directly to the Eternal has meant: "brethren must tithe to headquarters, but leadership can spend money any way they choose—and blame the members if there is not enough."

Let us quote an unfortunate series of comments from the Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News:

Sadly, some members in God's Church have, in recent years, been lax in saving a full first tithe. Still fewer have faithfully saved their second tithe. And even fewer have been faithful in saving a third tithe to assist the "poor and needy." Is this one reason why God is beginning to withdraw His blessings from the peoples who comprise some of the Churches of God? ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, p.17, ¶1.)

This is true. Many brethren are beginning to realize, independently of each other, the truth about tithing. But far from the Eternal withdrawing His blessings from His children because of money, He is opening the minds of His children to many wonderful truths! He is preparing them to work through the power of his spirit, not the power of the purse!

Let us now continue with the Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News:

"What are the consequences of neglecting to save the tithes which God commanded? If we don't faithfully save the first tithe, and consequently don't give it to God's Work, then the very Work of Almighty God suffers because of our neglect (Hab. 1:2-15).... If we, the people of God, do not diligently save our second tithes, then we will not be able to keeps God's Festivals with His people.... Finally, if we don't save a third tithe during each third and sixth years of our tithing cycle, then we will neglect assisting the poor and needy!" ( Does God Really Command Three Tithes?, p.17, ¶2,3,6.)

The attitude displayed here shows an incredible lack of faith towards the brethren! It makes the brethren seem like a bunch of money-hungry individuals, looking for any way to use every penny they can for their own selfish purposes. Are we to believe that the Eternal's children support the work, keep the Festivals, and help the poor only because they are compelled to by the three-tithe system? Would they be sinning if they gave less than 10% for each of these purposes? No!

The Ten Commandments do not say anything about tithing. To draw the conclusion that "not tithing is stealing" from Malachi is not supported by the text or New Testament evidence (see page ). Certainly, to be greedy and selfish with your money or time, is the spirit of stealing (read Matthew 25:31-46, not a word about tithing in these verses). To turn our backs on helping someone when we are able, is sin (1Jn 3:17). To refuse to support those who preach the Gospel is sin. But as we have shown, the New Testament teaches "giving as we are able", not "tithing".

Because of the embarrassing lack of commands for Christians to tithe in the New Testament, some advocates of three tithes use a form of the "argument from silence". This argument says, "Since there are no direct commands in the New Testament to keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath is abolished." Some tithing advocates will say that tithing and the Sabbath go together—since there are no "direct" commands in the New Testament to keep either one, if we do not tithe, we also need not keep the Sabbath.

A little Biblical research will prove this comparison of tithing to the Sabbath false.

The Sabbath was sanctified at the creation of man (Gen 2:3). The Eternal made the Sabbath a special sign between Him and His people (Ex 31:13-17). He made the Sabbath a part of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:8—note the word "Remember"). Our Savior said the Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27). Paul taught that there remains a Sabbath rest for the Eternal's people (Heb 4:9). James wrote to brethren "scattered abroad" that were meeting in synagogues (Jms 1:1; Jms 2:2—your Bible says "assembly", but the Greek is sunagoge which is translated "synagogue" everywhere else). There are numerous examples of our Savior keeping the Sabbath. There are numerous examples of the disciples keeping the Sabbath, teaching on the Sabbath, and directing Gentiles to the Sabbath, well after our Savior's death. None of these things apply to tithing. Comparing tithing to the Sabbath is not justified. Add this to the instances where Paul is directly addressing the subject of financial support with no mention of tithing, and the evidence is overwhelming: tithing to the church was never commanded.

A Brief Look at Lansdell’s Book

Many will claim that The Tithe in Scripture by Henry Lansdell is the definitive three-tithe book. Mr. Lansdell taught that Israel did have three tithes, but he appeals to some of the same sources that others do: Josephus and Tobit. It is not our intention to completely analyze of Mr. Lansdell's book, but we will address some of his major points here directly and refer to other Scriptures. Let us notice some of Mr. Lansdell claims: Cain's sacrifice was not accepted by the Eternal because he did not give a full 10%, Abraham gave 10% because it was a universal practice that originated with the Eternal, other extra Biblical sources teach multiple tithes, Christ and Paul both paid and taught multiple tithes, the early church practiced multiple tithes. Here is an interesting quote:

Having now collected various pieces of information concerning Mosaic tithes and offering, we do well to notice the nature of the evidence thus brought together. Professor Driver, in his commentary on Deuteronomy, would have us to believe that "the data at our disposal do not enable us to write a history of the Hebrew tithe." But this is no sufficient reason why we should not make the most of the information we have, remembering, however, that the evidence is not primary, direct, and complete, so much as subsidiary, indirect, and fragmentary. We have not, for instance, throughout the Pentateuch so much as a single chapter, or even a long paragraph, dealing with tithe as a whole. We have had to collect our information mainly from three short passages in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, these passages being there introduced not so much for their own sakes as for their bearing upon other things ( The Tithe in Scripture, p.47).

All of Mr. Lansdell's Biblical conclusions are based on what he admits is subsidiary, indirect, and fragmentary evidence. But if you take the Bible at face value, you will come to a different conclusion than Mr. Lansdell.

We have already shown that Abel's offering was not a tithe according to the Law of Moses, and that there is no evidence that the problem with Cain's offering was in the quantity (see page ). We have also shown that Abraham's "tithe of the spoil" was a giving of thanks for his victory, not a regular practice of "tithing on increase" (page ). It is true that there are historical and Biblical examples of people paying a 10%, 20% or other amounts to their false gods or human leaders (Gen 47:26), but we find no Biblical evidence that the Eternal commanded these practices or that we are to follow them today. That brings us to the big question: "Did Jesus tithe?" Here is part of what Lansdell says:

All must allow that tithe-paying was enjoined upon the Jews, by God, in the law; and we all contend that Jesus Christ, as a Jew, kept the law to the letter; therefore the inference seems inevitable (and we find not a tittle of evidence to the contrary) that the Lord Jesus Himself paid tithes*. ( The Tithe in Scripture, p.125).

Of course there is not a "tittle of evidence" showing that "Jesus did tithe." Since He did follow the law to the letter, He would have tithed according to the letter. He was a carpenter before his ministry (Mark 6:3). Unless he also had a garden or food-producing animals, He did not tithe. Even Mr. Lansdell allows for that in a footnote referring to the above quote:

*Here of course, we cannot dogmatize, for we do not know what means of livelihood our Lord had at His disposal ( The Tithe in Scripture, p.125).

Mr. Lansdell's book is a rather long book; you have to wade through much superfluous material and, in our opinion, publications like the Nov-Dec 1994 Global Church News do a better job of explaining the traditional three-tithe doctrines. However, it is worth reading, if for no other reason than it is the basis for many articles and sermons promoting tithing systems. Many people have been "convinced they must pay three tithes" from reading the book—but that is because it repeats the same suppositions over and over. When you look for solid evidence, it is not convincing at all.

To summarize it all: the Eternal's people in the land of Israel saved one tithe to be used for three different purposes and gave other sacrifices and offerings; the Eternal's people today are to "present your bodies a living sacrifice" (Rom 12:1), which includes generous offerings from a Spirit-led heart, to preach the gospel, keep the Feasts, and help those in need.


Go back to Part I — A Biblical Study of Giving
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