Monday, June 14, 2010

Tithing - Is it Biblical?

I have had some really wonderful conversations with a friend of mine about God and the one word that drives him a little bonkers is biblical. The reason is quickly obvious since just because something is stated in the Bible doesn’t mean we should follow it without using a wee bit of brain matter.

A simple example of this is when Judah hired his daughter-in-law Tamar as a prostitute. Of course, he didn’t know she was Tamar as she was in a very clever disguise. She got pregnant through this nefarious liaison and he wanted to have her killed for sullying the reputation of his dead sons, until of course he found out that he was the daddy. You can read about this quaint little biblical story about Judah’s family in Genesis 38. The remarkable thing about this biblical story is that their son, Perez became the great, great, great….grandfather of Jesus. “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron” Matthew 1:3.

So what’s the moral of this biblical story. Make your daughter-in-law become a prostitute, hire her services, get her pregnant and in a few generations the saviour of the world will be born. Ok, that’s crazy. There’s only one saviour of the world. Just settle for getting your daughter-in-law pregnant while she works at her trade of prostitution. After all, it’s biblical.

That’s basically how much thought has gone into the issue of the practice of tithing to a local church or in the case of some big name tele-evangelists, tithing directly to them because of the great spiritual food they’ve been serving up.

So let’s examine tithing for the next few minutes or so and see if it stands up to being something some Christians have been involved in for over 1,500 years.

First of all, before going into the teaching from the law, let’s ask the question to Abraham about tithing to Melchizedek, king of Salem. It was a one time event from the spoils of war. Nobody else in Abraham’s army tithed on their portion. Man, I actually taught my son to tithe from his paper route. Surely Abraham could have been a better teacher to his men and made them tithe as well. And oh, what did he do with the rest of the spoils. Oh yeah, he gave the other 90% to the king of Sodom. Abraham, “did you leave instructions about this practice of tithing on the spoils of war.” So then… what is the moral of that story and what should we do about that magic word tithing that is within it? I agree, NOTHING!

We are now getting to the law, which should teach us the principle of tithing. Note: there is a clear distinction between the term tithing and offering. Tithes are actually taxes and are not really free will giving. Biblically, there is clearly a distinction between tithes and offerings. “But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks.” Deuteronomy 12:5,6

So what is the biblical teaching on tithing in the Law? What is generally not taught or known is that there are actually 3 tithes, so without drawing this out any longer, let’s see what they are.

"I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting. Numbers 18:21

When God was carving up Israel amongst the 12 tribes, the Levites received no land. Apparently, they were to be somewhat scattered throughout all of the land acting as the civil authorities of the day. Some of them were priests who would eventually serve at the temple.

The tithe they received came only from crops and herds and was what we would consider today to be a 10% tax. But it wasn’t really a tax because it was really an inheritance. Also, take note it could only come from crops and herds which meant the poor who had neither would not have tithed, nor would someone who made their living (like my son’s paper route) in some other way, tithed. The law was very specific about where the tithe was to come from. And the law is the law. You don’t mess with that.

Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. Deuteronomy 14:23

This tithe was party time and could only be used for celebrating in Jerusalem. This is a rather interesting tax. It seems God must really like a good party.
Note once again, that the labourers who harvested the crops and were paid in money would not have tithed as the tithe was only on the crops and herds.

At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. Deuteronomy 14:28,29

This particular tithe was only required every third year (twice in 7). No tithing was done in the 7th Sabbath year. It wasn’t to be taken to Jerusalem but was actually to be put in “storehouses” throughout all of Israel. Requiring the poor to have to travel to get a meal would have been a little harsh. And requiring them to tithe on the grain that they would have received from the storehouse would have been a wee bit INSANE. Lucky them, they didn’t have to tithe. Why? Cuz they were POOR. How lucky can you get? Freedom from tithing.

So what does all this mean? Well, the inheritance tithe still kind of exists. Prove you’re a Levite and demand your rightful inheritance tithe, I think that’s how that works. Not sure if anyone from the other tribes will pay much attention to your “insane” demands.

The celebration tithe, well that was for Jews to celebrate in Jerusalem, so again if you’re a Jew and are planning on celebrating at the Temple (oops, no temple) you can be a faithful tither and have a fantastic party in Jerusalem. If you have to go a long way you can change your cows into money and then change the money back into cows when you get to Jerusalem. Probably a premium to be paid for cows in Jerusalem but hey, that’s just good business.

The social justice tithe is kind of cool. It’s the one that Malachi was talking about when the rich land owners were NOT coughing up their share every 3rd year to go into the storehouses for the poor. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” Malachi 3:10

It seems storehouse meant a place to store food, and food actually meant honest to goodness, FOOD. And remarkably, this food was for the POOR. It seems that God gets a little snitty and takes it personally when people don’t care for the poor. Malachi thought it was about the same as robbing God.

Just to back up a couple of sentences to emphasize what Malachi was all riled up about. He actually speaks for God on this (pretty serious stuff for a Jew to do) "So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty. Malachi 3:5

I know everyone knows that context is important when we’re trying to understand “biblical” stuff. But let me simply say this, CONTEXT IS IMPORTANT!!!

To invoke the idea of robbing God when it comes to tithing without understanding that NOT doing social justice was what God considered ROBBING Him is a stench that should leave us gasping for breath. It’s kind of crazy isn’t it, since there’s a few people that seem to have twisted the original meaning of good ole Malachi.

So there you have it. That’s tithing in the Old Testament. To be biblical, which tithe are you practicing?


Terry not God said...

I totally agree, NO TITHE. However how do you read the NT scriptures that talk about elders and money?

1 Timothy 5:17-19 (New International Version)

17The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages."

Do we an implication here that we are to support the elders who rule the church? This is not to say a tithe is right, we do not live under a tithe, but a man who runs the affairs of a church is worthy of some sort of wages, correct?

Can you shed some light here please?

David Grant said...

This verse has been used fairly extensively to build an entire monetary religious system that is completely dependent on others for its existence, including those who are struggling with their own finances. Paul told the Thessalonians to not become dependent on anyone. 1 Thess. 4:12

Let me be clear, people can do whatever they like with their money. So if their content paying clergy then that's fine.

However, I'm not even sure if Paul is referring to honor as a metaphor for money. In Romans 12:7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

But if elders are to be paid, which ones? It seems there were those who did more teaching but the verse you quoted seems to imply that more than teacher type elders were to receive double honor.

Since we're to honor everyone (I don't think that means pay them money, it seems appropriate to think we just give elders who are being faithful even more of our ear and honor them.

Acts 20 is a very interesting passage in this discussion. It's Paul speaking to the elders of Ephesus whom he had spent 3 full years with. He actually thinks these are the final words he will ever speak to them again.

He reminds them that wolves will come in looking for the gold. And then says what I consider to be one of the most ignored passages on elders getting paid in any of his writings. Acts 20:32-35. You can decide how you want to hear his voice hear. I'll just leave you to it.

I'll leave you with this.

Did Paul really go into new areas of the world, establish new churches and then appoint elders and tell new converts that they should now pay for their them?

What we do know for sure is that Paul spoke a lot about helping the weak and the saints who were going through tough times. 1 Corinthians 16:1,2 is often used by churches as justification for an offering for the local assembly. Again, it's ok to give wherever someone wants but those verses do not speak in any way about the local assembly.

In all of this keep in mind that local gatherings were small and in homes with a local elder or two or even three being there. I find it difficult to imagine paying someone to care for 15-20 people at most. It also gives a very strange impression that it is the weak who are to care for the strong with their finances.