Questions &Responses on "Tithing"

What does the Bible say about tithing? Where have modern tithing practices come from? Our research began with this letter from Dale Stogner in September of 1995. It covers a number of basic questions that many people ask. For an in-depth study, write for our free article, How Do We Give to the Eternal?

Request for Research: There is a need for someone to do honest research into the subject of tithing and how the Church of God should be financed. Do you know of someone who has done non-agenda driven research into this subject? Here are some questions that I believe need to be answered:

Response: I have a number of articles on the subject and I am beginning to study it. Most articles seem to be biased--either for or against. Most articles in favor of tithing seem to be written from the point of view of "God's work will collapse if this eternal law is not obeyed." Most of the ones written against it seem to take the approach that everyone who tithes is foolishly wasting their money.

I'll answer as many of your questions as I can—and hopefully produce a written work on the subject in a few months.

Question 1: Since tithes were originally to be paid to Levites (Numbers 18), and there are no Levites today, how is tithing justified? I realize that the WCG, and many others, have taught that Hebrews shows that the Levitical system was transferred to the ministry, but that is not what the Bible actually says. It says it was transferred to Christ.

Response: When we realize that the greek diakonos, translated "minister" means "servant," and that there is no scripture that says all "ministers" are a special "ordained" class of people, then it becomes very difficult to define exactly to whom tithes could have been transferred. Some commentators conclude the word translated "honor" in 1 Timothy 5:17 means compensation, but the verse states that the compensation was only for those that do a good job. Where would tithes go if a local elder was doing a bad job? The real difficulty we find with studying tithing in the New Testament is this: there are multiple verses about giving money to people who preach the Gospel and to the poor, but there are no verses at all about any congregational leader collecting or using tithes.

Hebrews 7 shows that Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek. But it is hard to call this "increase" since Abraham gave all of the rest of the spoil back to the king of Sodom (Gen 14:22-23). Abraham gave this amount as a thanks to the Eternal for delivering the enemies into his hand (Gen 14:20). We can also be sure that spoil of war was not normally tithed as only 1/50th was given to the Eternal in another war (Num 31:30-47). The reason the writer of Hebrews uses this example of showing Levi (son of Abraham) was subservient to Melchizedek is because this is the only story in the Old Testament that we have about Abraham and Melchizedek. There is only one other reference to Melchizedek is in Psalms 110.

Some will say that the "change of the law" spoken of in Hebrews 7:12 is a change in the law of tithing. However the context of either side of this verse is sacrifices and a change in the priestly duties. This would be an unusual context to mention tithing since tithes were given to the Levites who gave to the priests. Priests did not receive tithes directly (Num 18:26-28).

Question 2: Some Jewish scholars hold that there was only one tithe. What we have come to know as second tithe was simply a portion of the first tithe used by the Israelites celebrated the Feasts. Also, a portion of it was shared with the poor and Levites in the third and sixth years. Others say that there were two tithes. One we would think of as first tithe. The second we would think of as second tithe in years 1, 2, 4, and 5 and third tithe in years 3 and 6. I don't know of anyone but WCG and splits who held to three tithes. We should at least look at this.

Response: There is a reference in the apocryphal book of Tobit to paying three tithes and some other references in the Talmud. These sources were used to justify the third tithe in the article Does God Really Command Three Tithes? by Raymond McNair (Global Church News, Nov-Dec 1994, p 12). As far as I know, the WCG, GCG and other major off-shoots, always presented this minority Jewish view to their congregations as if it were the only Jewish view. My limited research indicates that most religious Jews believed in two tithes, but some actually believe in one.

Question 3: Some scholars say that all that was tithable was farming and ranching, not wages, and not even fishing or mining, even though they depend on natural resources. Others say wages are tithable.

Response: All biblical commands for tithing are associated with produce from the land. I think most Jewish sources recognize that if a man lost his land and was working for a wage, he did not pay tithes on his wage. All tithes were given in produce. Only tithe for the festival is mentioned as being possible to convert into money (Deut 14:23-26). Some have quoted Exodus 22:29 (KJV) as proof that people should give tithes on manufactured products: "Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors." Most other translations do not say "liquor" but "juices." This does not appear to be some lengthy manufacturing process, but another way of harvesting produce. When some fruits are very ripe and soft, it is easier to juice them for short-term preservation than keep the fruit whole. Secondly, this verse is about first-fruits, not tithes.

I think it is important to look at the context for all the commands to tithe. Almost every one is in the sections of scripture dealing with land distribution and the fact that the Levites do not have an inheritance. We find nothing about tithing in the major chapters on law such as Ex 20-24, Lev 18-20, Num 6-8, Deut 21-25. Tithing always appears to be mentioned in the context of the land of Israel.

Question 4: Some say that only Israelites living in certain geographic areas are bound to tithe.

Response: I think tithing would apply as long as there is a civil government with Levites and priests to tithe to. It is also important to realize that the Eternal gave them land free and clear—today almost no church members own land that produces wealth. Most of us pay taxes, we pay rent or a mortgage just to live somewhere, we pay for transportation to get to our job, and numerous other payments that could hardly be counted as part of our "increase." Tithing on net or even gross income in our society extracts a much larger part of one's disposable income than it did in ancient Israel.

Question 5: Why are there tithes paid in the seventh year? Even if there is biblical justification for tithing in years 1-6, why tithe in the seventh year?

Response: This question shows how far away we are from the complete system the Eternal gave Israel. Leviticus 25:21 promises a blessing in the sixth year that would be enough for three years. I worked for tithe-collecting church organizations for nearly all of my adult life and they never increased my salary three-fold in the sixth year—nor did I receive other blessings to make a three-fold increase in the sixth year. Can we keep the seventh year and the 7-year cycle without the sixth year blessing?

Deuteronomy 12 mentions tithing "in the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you to possess"—right after it mentions destroying all the places where the nations served other gods. Today, churches are not in charge of civil governments and do not destroy false worship services. Should they collect tithes? It is important to note when Israel gathered manna before they went into the land, it says each man gathered according to his eating (Ex 16:18). If tithing were an eternal law, why did not the Eternal have the other tribes tithe their manna to the Levites?

Question 6: Some say that Christ and the apostles did not receive tithes, but instead told the disciples to be happy with what people give you.

Response: There are about a dozen references to funds and money in the New Testament. None of them indicates that the congregation leaders received tithes. Most indicate the opposite. When explaining the need for supporting congregational leaders, Paul twice quotes (1Cor 9:9, 1Tim 5:18) from Deut 25:4, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Paul definitely knew the tithing scriptures. If tithing is the key to personal financial prosperity, I am uncertain why he did not teach it to them. Also, if tithing were a regular practice, we would expect to see questions or discussions on how the money was spent. Nearly every group that tithed in our day has had such questions. However, every time there is a financial need in the New Testament, we do not find decisions on how to spend money, but ways to collect or earn money: (1Cor 4:12, 1Cor 16:1-4, 2Cor 8, 1Thes 2:9, 2Thes 3:8). If most of the New Testament congregation was tithing to "the church" it is hard to know why Paul was still working for a living. Where was all of the tithe money going?

Question 7: The Bible clearly states that the tenth animal is the tithe to be paid, yet the WCG has used the firstfruits scriptures mentioned in the Bible to say that God has first claim on increase. Can someone clearly explain how firstfruits applies, if at all?

Response: Firstfruits were a separate offering of unspecified amount. The Pentecost wavesheaf and other offerings were firstfruits. 2Chr 31:5, Neh 10:37, Neh 12:44 and other scriptures show that tithing and firstfruits were separate. Yes, the tenth animal was the one tithed. If you were poor and had only nine animals, there was not one to tithe. If some animals died during the year or if the king took some away as taxes, it seems one would tithe on the increase that was left. These scriptures would seem to be relevant if one was trying to decide whether they should tithe on gross or net income.

Question 8: The WCG, and others, use that fact that Abraham was the Father of the Faithful and he gave ten percent to Melchizedek. Yet the Bible says he gave, not that he paid. Also, the example of Jacob is used, but Jacob says if you do this and that I will pay ten percent.

Response: We have already discussed the fact that it was not even an increase from which Abraham was paying ten percent. Jacob asked for a deal with the Eternal in Genesis 28:19-22: he asked to be taken care of and to return to his father's house in peace—in exchange for 1) making the Eternal his God, making the stone God's house, and tithing on what the Eternal gave to him. Jacob served Laban six years for his cattle and his wages were changed 10 times (Gen 31:41). There was no record that he tithed on any of this—how does one tithe on wives or on cattle when your wages are changed 10 times in six years? Also, these things were not given to him, he worked. As the promise to make that stone "God's house" was not fulfilled until much later when Israel left Egypt to become a nation, there is no Bible evidence that tithing began until Israel entered the promised land. There, the Eternal gave Jacob's descendants land, and they fulfilled Jacob's promise and gave Him 10 percent.

Question 9: Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians says he has robbed other churches instead of receiving what he was due from the Corinthians. But, from this arises two questions. First, how can Paul legally and morally justify permitting the Corinthians to not pay the tithe? He could not legally or morally justify letting them break the Sabbath or become thieves. Second, if Paul can claim the authority to receive a tithe from other churches, why does he use the word robbed? It can only be robbery if the funds belonged to another person. If they belong to another person, how does this wash with the heavily quoted Mal. 3 regarding a man robbing God?

Response: If tithing was an age-old law like the 10 commandments—essential to physical prosperity, then it is hard to understand why Paul did not command it. But he did not. You have made a point about robbing other churches, the Greek word appears to mean that. If tithing were sent to a central office, it certainly would have been Paul's decision on how to spend it. Malachi made his prophecy while there were hundreds of years of the Levitical system left. These verses are very national in promise: "For you have robbed Me, even this whole nation." (Mal 3:9). "'And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,' Says the Lord of hosts; 'And all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land,' says the Lord of hosts." (Mal 3:11-12). This must be about the nation of Israel. Did any other church or nation call the WCG "blessed" because they have a lot of money?

Question 10: When I studied the old WCG tithing booklet, I noticed two things. First, the booklet starts with what amounts to fear tactics. Second, the booklet continues on with the needs of the Church to preach the gospel. The scriptural references are not exhaustive, which they could be on so limited a topic. The above questions were not addressed. The booklet basically assumes a position and uses fear and the needs of the church to impose tithing. Is it possible that this booklet, which has so greatly affected many people's financial planning is in error?

Response: We would like to do some more research, but it seems that you are right. I would like to point out that giving is listed as a spiritual gift in Romans 12:8. I think many people have been blessed for their cheerful giving (2Cor 9:7) and great works have been done because of it. However, this above verse indicates that people should not give grudgingly or out of necessity (which is the way many people tithe). There are many other spiritual gifts, but we have not been encouraged to cultivate them.

I have seen people study the scriptures on tithing, conclude it was not applicable for today, and then cease to support or do any kind of work. I think a person is better off giving 10 percent to support an organization that wastes half of it and preaches the gospel with the other half, than they are to produce no fruit on their own. Each person will be judged by their work (1 Cor 3:11-15). If "giving" is the only gift we possess, we should do it "with liberality". Nevertheless, there is no commandment anywhere in the Bible for a priest, congregation leader or anyone to check on people to see if they are "giving according to the law." They stand or fall before the supreme Judge in this matter.

For years, organizations with tithing doctrines have told their members that if they trusted the Eternal, they would have more available money if they tithed and trusted the Eternal to make up the difference. People sent in their tithes in faith and some received miracles that kept their budgets balanced. A question we might ask today is: do the church organizations have faith that the Eternal will provide for them if they honestly tell their congregations what the scriptures say about tithing?

Question 11: Can you help me out with some published Church of God research on the above questions? Or, can you give me answers to the above questions from the Bible and logic. It is an important topic that needs to be addressed. I personally will continue to follow the example of my Father Abraham and give at least ten percent of my increase to the Church of God. If tithing is biblically mandated, then I will be happy to continue tithing, as I have all my Christian life.

Response: I tithed on my gross income for many years and it never bothered me. I was happy to be a part of the good work that was done through the WCG. People like myself and others learned so much about the Bible because someone else paid for an expensive radio broadcast and a magazine. I am not saying it always has to be done that way, but that is the way that the Eternal reached me. I was largely unaware of the error and evil that went on in the WCG until my last few years there. If I had a similar job and family size today, I would probably contribute about the same amount (somewhere else) to preach the gospel as Idid back then. However, since I am now involved in a full-time service to the brethren, and since we are not receiving enough now to feed our family, it does not make sense for me to borrow money or deplete savings so I can contribute somewhere else. [This article was written in September 1995, in 1996 we received enough support to pay our living expenses—NSE.]

Question 12: Have you achieved tax exempt status yet? Many more people would contribute more money once you have done so.

Response: When this was written in 1995, I was still attempting to receive tax exempt status. Later, I came to realize how IRS tax exempt status essentially puts an organization under the control of any and all IRS regulations, both present and future. (See the March-April 1996 Servants' News for more information.) When an organization teaches its members to pay three tithes on their gross income, tax exemption is a near necessity for the survival of the members. When preaching of the Gospel is done from a low-budget, high-faith approach (Luke 10:4,17; Acts 3:6), tax exemption is not so important. People can give less but the a work done mostly by the spirit can still flourish.

For more information write for our free article, How Do We Give to the Eternal?

—Norman S. Edwards

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