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Tithing in the Bible

Tithe means tenth

The word “tithe” means “tenth” or sometimes “give/take a tenth”. Because it's an old phrase not used commonly outside of religion, it can be confused with a form of religious tax owed to men today. But the Hebrew just means it's giving a percentage of something, a tenth. The word “tithing” is used in only one verse in the major translations in Deut. 12:13, “...year of tithing”.

The word tenth will be used instead of tithe from here on.

God owns the tenth and it is holy

'Thus all the tenth [tithe] of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S; it is holy to the LORD. … These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai. - Lev 27:30, 34

The tenth belongs to God, not to any man. This is a commandment directly from God.

The tenth is from inherited land

When the nation of Israel entered the promise land they were given land as an inheritance.

Command the sons of Israel and say to them, 'When you enter the land of Canaan, this is the land that shall fall to you as an inheritance, even the land of Canaan according to its borders. - Num 34:2
Among these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names. - Num 26:53
Now the LORD was angry with me on your account, and swore that I would not cross the Jordan, and that I would not enter the good land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. - Deu 4:21
...driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today. - Deu 4:38

The only source of the tenth commanded by God is from the inheritance God gave to Israel. God did not give land as an inheritance to the tribe of Levi, so they were given a tenth of all the land of Israel.

Then the LORD said to Aaron, "You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel. - Num 18:20
Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. - Num 18:23
To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tenth [tithe] in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. ... For the tenth [tithe] of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, 'They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.' ... Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, 'When you take from the sons of Israel the tenth [tithe] which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the LORD,' - Num 18:21, 24, 26

The tenth was food from the land

You shall surely tenth [tithe] all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tenth [tithe] of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. - Deut 14:22-23

The only thing God commanded to be part of the tenth was food. One verse makes it appear like the tenth can be money, but if you read it carefully, God commanded the Israelites to only convert the tenth into money and then later convert the money back into food.

"If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring [the tenth [tithe],] since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange [it] for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. - Deut. 14:24-26

This verse does not say that the Israelites that are too far from Jerusalem (“...the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name...”) did not have to bring the tenth of the land. But that it was not to be a burden to bring the tenth a long distance. But it was still required that the tenth be food.

Only the tribe of Levi was commanded to receive the tenth

God said all the tenth of the land is his, and he gave it to only one group of people, the tribe of Levi.

"To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tenth [tithe] in Israel for an inheritance,” - Num 18:21
"For the tenth [tithe] of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, 'They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.'" - Num 18:24
"Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, 'When you take from the sons of Israel the tenth [tithe] which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the LORD, a tenth [tithe] of the tenth [tithe]. - Num 18:26

God gave the tenth to the Levites. No where else in the bible is anyone else allowed to have the tenth from the land of Israel.

The tenth is to be brought to Jerusalem or to the local Levites

Only two places does God command the tenth of the land to be taken, Jerusalem and the local area where the Israelites lived.

"But you shall seek the LORD at the place which the LORD your God will choose from all your tribes, to establish His name there for His dwelling, and there you shall come. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tenth [tithe], - Deu 12:5-6
...then it shall come about that the place in which the LORD your God will choose for His name to dwell, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tenth [tithes] ... - Deu 12:11

God commanded the tenth to be brought where he “chose his name to dwell”. God chose Jerusalem for his name to dwell, and that is where God commanded the tenth to be brought.

... "In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever. - 2Ki 21:7
These verses also state that God placed his name in the temple in Jerusalem, 1Ki 11:36, 1Ki 14:21, 2Ki 21:4, 2 Chron 6:6, 2 Chron 12:13, 2 Chron 33:4, 7, Ezr 6:12, Jer 3:17.

God's exceptions to the “give a tenth” commandments

There's a belief that there is more than one tenth commanded by God. Up to three different tenths depending on who you ask. But only one tenth is ever mentioned in the bible. But there are a couple exceptions to the command on who is to receive the tenth and where it is to be brought. But the source of the tenth has no exceptions.
Every three years the tenth was to be kept in the local area, and given to the Levites (that lived there), the poor, the foreigners and widows. But the command for why is the same, it was because they had no inheritance of land.
"Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you. At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tenth [tithe] of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. - Deut 14:27-29
Notice also who doesn't have any land, or possibly can not work their land anymore if they still have it, foreigners, orphans and widows, the dispossessed.
Another exception to who is to receive the tenth of the land, the sons of Israel are commanded to eat from their own tenth at the feast.
"You shall surely tenth [tithe] all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tenth [tithe] of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. - Deut 14:22-23

The tenth was commanded for all of Levi, not just the priests

Not only was the tenth commanded to be given to non-Israelites, but it was given to the entire tribe of Levi, not just the priests. The inheritance was for everyone, not just the men working in the temple, but also their families.

'You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation [from the tenth] in return for your service in the tent of meeting. - Num 18:31

The commandments on the tenth [tithe] were not changed

No where in the bible does God alter the location where to bring the tenth, change who is receive the tenth or change the source of the tenth.

"Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it. - Deut 12:32

God did not command a tenth to be given to Melchizedek

The tenth is mentioned in only a few places outside of the commandments to Israel. There is the warning to Israel for breaking the “give a tenth” command (Mal 3:8-10), Hezekiah restoring the temple services ( 2Chron 31:5 ), Nehemiah restoring the temple (Neh 10:37,38, 12:44, 13:5, 13:12), God chastised Israel's bad intent with their tenth (Amos 4:4) and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Mat 23:23, Luke 11:42, Luke 18:12).

There's a misconception that Abraham was fulfilling the “giving a tenth” commandment when he gave a tenth to Melchizedek. But if you read the account carefully you will see that Abraham was not commanded to give anything and that what he gave did not fulfill the commandments of God and therefore could not be an act of obedience to the “giving a tenth” commands.

Abraham's interaction with Melchizedek is in Genesis 14:18-20. And these verses are often combined with Hebrews 7:8-9 to demonstrate that Abraham paid a tenth to Melchizedek, therefore men doing God's work today (in some self described manner) can collect a tenth from people's income.

But Abraham was never commanded by God to collect and give a tenth to Melchizedek. Read the entire chapter Genesis 14 carefully. There was a battle and Lot was taken captive. Abraham rescued Lot and his people and whoever else that had been captured and then Abraham captured spoils of war.

Abraham did not seek out Melchizedek to give a tenth to him

Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. - Gen 14:17-18

This verse looks like it says Mechizedek came to Abraham. The wording is a little vague in English, but it doesn't say Abraham went looking for him.

Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of spoils of war

He blessed him and said, "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." He gave him a tenth of all. - Gen 14:19-20

Melchizedek blesses Abraham and then Abraham give him a tenth of spoils of war. The tenth was not even from his own possessions. God's commanded tenth is food from the land Israel gave as an inheritance.

Abraham did not have land yet and therefore this giving of a tenth could not have fulfilled the commandments of God on giving a tenth in any way other than the percentage was the same. And also the commandment did not allow for someone take from someone else to pay the tenth.

Abraham did not keep any of the spoils of war

Abraham didn't even keep any of the spoils. So while he gave a tenth of what he had taken, he didn't keep the rest. In fact he let the others in his party take whatever their shares were.

The king of Sodom said to Abram, "Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself." Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, 'I have made Abram rich.' "I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share." - Gen 14:21-24

None of the behavior of Abraham or the tenth he gave to Melchizedek fits with any of the commandments of God regarding giving a the tenth to the Levites. The tenth Abraham gave looks like a simple gift.

Does Hebrews 7 change the commandments on giving a tenth?

So far the bible has been clear that the Levites that were living in Israel were the only ones allowed to collect a tenth from anyone. Hebrews 7 is often quoted as a modern example to prove men today can demand a tenth of people's income, even if they are not Levites, and claim it is commanded by God.

The logic usually is that the modern priests (or servants of God) are priests of Melchizedek. And since Melchizedek received a tenth from Abraham, then modern priests should also be able to collect a tenth from everyone else.

For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. - Heb 7:12

What exactly is the “change of law” mentioned in Hebrews 7:12?

Read Hebrews chapters 6, 7 and 8 carefully.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a [hope] both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. - Heb 6:19-20

Jesus is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. His preisthood is forever, and is the only one who could fulfill this role.

For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all [the spoils,] was first of all, by the translation [of his name,] king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually. Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. - Heb 7:1-4

These verses tell what happened with Abraham meeting Melchizedek, but also repeat that Jesus will be a priest forever. And it clarifies that Abraham gave a “tenth of spoils”, not a “tenth of the land”. Abraham was giving a very large gift to a great man, not fulfilling a commandment or a requirement.

And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises. - Heb 7:5-6

There is a very clear separation between what God commanded regarding the Levites and what Melchizedek collected, before Levi was even born or the commandments even given.

But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater. In this case mortal men receive tenth [tithes], but in that case one [receives them,] of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tenth [tithes], paid tenth [tithes], for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. - Heb 7:7-10

Again, it is repeated that Levi didn't even exist until long after Melchizedek met Abraham. But so far we haven't seen what was changed in the law.

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need [was there] for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests. And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become [such] not on the basis of a law of physical requirement, but according to the power of an indestructible life. For it is attested [of Him,] "YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK." For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. - Heb 7:11-19

What was the change in the law? Where the high priest came from. Originally the high priest was to be a son of Aaron, who is a Levite. But Jesus was descended from Judah. That is the change in the law. Also, he became high priest because he had an “indestructible life”.

Have there been any other priests according to the order of Melchizedek? No, because one of the requirements is eternal life. The “setting aside of a former commandment” was who the high priest could be and how they became high priest.

The change of the law was not who could collect a tenth from the people.

And inasmuch as [it was] not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, "THE LORD HAS SWORN AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND, 'YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER'"); so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. - Heb 7:20-22

Jesus was sworn into become a high priest, this is another change to the law. Where the Levites were simply born into it.

The [former] priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the [sins] of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, [appoints] a Son, made perfect forever. - Heb 7:23-28

Another change to the law is that Jesus does not need to make daily sacrifices, which was required by law for the Levites. The oath of God, not the law, made Jesus a high priest.

It is a grave error to claim any of these verses say men who are neither Levites or a high priest have the authority of God to collect a tenth from anyone.

Servants of Christ deserve to be paid for their labors

In old testament Israel everyone worked, even the priests worked in the temple. And some of the tenth from the other tribes paid for this service. But there is no nation of Israel or a temple or Levites, or the other eleven tribes that have inherited land to collect from.

But what about today? If someone is doing God's work and are taking care of your spiritual life, how do they get paid?

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? ... Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher [to thresh] in hope of sharing [the crops.] If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. - 1Cor 9:1, 6-12
The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches [him.] - Gal 6:6

Paul very clearly states that he is doing a work with people and points out that it is reasonable to expect to make a living doing just that. Paul says the same thing to Timothy.

For the Scripture says, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages." - 1Tim 5:18

Paul also quoted Jesus from Luke 10.

"Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. - Luke 10:7

God's servants are to labor to earn. Jesus said this and Paul repeated it. Paul also points out that he didn't get wages from every church he served.

I robbed other churches by taking wages [from them] to serve you; - 2Co 11:8
Are they servants of Christ?--I speak as if insane--I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. - 2Co 11:23

While making a poignant argument Paul points out that as a servant of Christ, he labored “far more” than others. The implication being that there are lazy servants of Christ as much as there are hard workers. Who deserves a higher wage? A lazy servant or a hardworking one?

If we go back to the assumption that all servants of Christ deserve an equal share of a tenth of everyone's income (regardless of how hard they work) then none of Jesus' or Paul's statements make any sense.

Collecting a tenth is not payment for labor, it's a burden

Paul wanted to make sure he was not a burden on anyone, he stated it plainly.

and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so. - 2Co 11:9
...nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we [kept] working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; - 2Th 3:8

Consider how hard many people have to work to pay their monthly bills. Just to survive day to day often takes every penny people have. To demand they give away a tenth to someone, that may not be doing much or any work at all, is a tremendous burden.

A servant of Christ should not be a burden on anyone. Paul's example was to do extra work outside of his service to Christ to support himself.

...and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. - Act 18:3

Paul made very specific point about servants of Christ to follow regarding work.

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we [kept] working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right [to this,] but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. - 2Th 3:7-10

The very idea that servant of Christ should get a sum of money from anyone, regardless of how much they work, is directly against Paul's example and his commandment to labor. Which he states clearly from the authority Jesus Christ.

Servants that do not labor should not eat. This goes directly against the notion that anyone should receive a tenth today.

Paul says he has a right to be paid for his labors.

...not because we do not have the right [to this,] but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. - 2Th 3:9

But no where does he say he has a right to a tenth of anyone's income.

Notice how Paul compares the Levites work in the temple to his own labor.

Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the [food] of the temple, [and] those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. - 1Co 9:13-14

Even Paul's description of the Levites work is that they labored, and the food from the alter was from the tenth of the inheritance in the land. But Paul wasn't a Levite, so he could not have collected the commanded tenth at the temple. And no where does Paul state a specific amount, not a tenth, anywhere in his writings. In fact he repeatedly stated how he didn't want to be a burden.

Consider the poor

How does it make any sense to tell poor people to pay something they can't afford (a tenth of their income) and then to fulfill God's commands to take care of them with the money they just gave?

"For the poor will never cease [to be] in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.' - Deut 15:11

Some people are homeless, some are behind on their mortgages, some are working multiple jobs and barely covering their living expenses. It should be considered carefully before telling these people how to spend their meager income, or we may find our selves against God.

He who mocks the poor taunts his Maker; He who rejoices at calamity will not go unpunished. - Pro 17:5
One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed. - Pro 19:17
He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor. ... He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself Or who gives to the rich, [will] only [come to] poverty. - Pro 22:9, 16
He who gives to the poor will never want, But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses. - Pro 28:27
The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor, The wicked does not understand [such] concern. - Pro 29:7