I – Introduction
One of the teachings currently being spread by certain forms of Christianity, even by some of the more reputedly conservative groups, is the idea that the New Covenant established by the Messiah has done away with the system of tithing. As with many questionable doctrines, much of the foundation for this argument comes from a lack of evidence, rather than a misapplication of the evidence at hand. Some will say, “The paying of a tithe is never commanded in the New Testament.” This runs directly parallel with the statement, “The keeping of the Sabbath is never commanded in the New Testament,” and there is a deeply-rooted spiritual reason for this. The two concepts, tithing and Sabbathkeeping, are related, as will be discussed during the course of this article. In terms of the arguments made against them, they have the same assumptions behind them and the same conclusions. The truth is, both these ideas are clearly set forth in the pages of the New Testament. The Sabbath issue within the latter 27 Books of the Bible is discussed in other essays, so now we examine the matter of Tithes and Offerings.
This article is divided into the sections following this introduction as indicated below:
II) The purpose of tithes and offerings in the Old Testament – the system’s origins and function.
III) The changes made to the Church as it drew away from the system of earthly Israel, outlined in the Gospels and Acts.
IV) The writings of the apostle Paul, looking at what his teachings were on the subject.
V) A Conclusion, including a summary of the purpose and continuing function of the tithing system, and how this applies to the days just before the return of Christ.
II – The Origin and Function of the Tithing System
We can start by knocking away one of the arguments against tithing right as we begin. The instant one objects to the institution of tithes and offerings on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant being “nailed to the Cross,” he/she is fighting a losing battle. We read in the Book of Genesis, “And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, ‘Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.’ And he gave him tithes of all.” (Gen 14:18-20)
This is the first mention of the practice, long before Moses; and the second instance, Genesis 28:22, is similarly an event taking place before that prophet. Jacob’s tithe, like Abram’s, consisted of giving a tenth “of all.” That is an important idea that will come into play shortly. What should be obvious immediately is that even if all the ordinances originating in Moses’ writings were made completely inapplicable by the Cross, this would not affect the system of tithes and offerings.
Similar to the covenant of Circumcision, tithing is an aspect of the worship of Yahweh that Moses received from those who came before him, (John 7:22) and he set it down as a codified statute during his administration over the Israelites. The question that immediately arises is: “Isn’t tithing therefore to be discontinued just as circumcision was?” This will be looked at in the sections dealing with the New Testament, but for now it is enough to establish the principle that Moses took an existing aspect of worship and adjusted it (according to the instruction of the Most High) to serve the purpose of the Temple and its attendants.
Now there is something significant to note here: although the system of worship changed with Moses – from patriarchal to ceremonial – the institution set in place to support that system did not. In other words Melchizedek, as a priest, was the recipient of tithes, and when the Levites took over the priestly office under the ceremonial system, they were recipients of that same pre-established resource. The means that Yahweh had instituted for the continuance of His ministry on earth was not affected by the changes made to the nature of that ministry. We will note this principle again in the New Testament section of the article.
In terms of function, the tithing system had two main benefits: the first and most obvious was for the Levites whom the resource supported; the second benefit was for those who took part in the ordinance by giving.
When Moses wrote of the tithe he declared, “But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto Yahweh, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.” (Num 18:24) In another place: “Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.” (Deu 14:22) According to the history of Israel as outlined in Scripture, the Levites were to dedicate themselves totally to the ministry of Yah, and as a result had no crops or “increase” of their own. This is a concept we will find echoed (again) in the pages of the New Testament concerning the apostles and the Church. Due to their dedication to the temple, and subsequent lack of an established inheritance, it was Yahweh’s will that – according to the precedent set forth under Melchizedek – the Levites also would be supported by receiving a tenth part of the gross income of Israel for the year.
The second reason was closely connected to this. Following on the heels of that last Scripture we find this statement: “And thou shalt eat before Yahweh thy God, in the place which He shall choose to place His name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear Yahweh thy Elohim always.” (Deu 14:23) The benefit of Tithing was also for the people who gave of their increase. While this was a passage about a particular type of tithe (for the feast in Jerusalem), the principle of the giver receiving a great blessing is applied more broadly in places such as Malachi 3. This passage declares that those who do not tithe are not blessed, but rather cursed, while those who are obedient have blessings poured out on them. (Mal 3:9,10) By having an active part to play regarding the Temple, each citizen of Israel was a functional member of the religious services. By giving of themselves and their resources, they learned to trust their worldly goods to the One who had provided them in the first place.
Giving the tenth and offerings as a sign of respect was one of the major benefits, and taught the people their very real responsibility as bearers of the true religion to a fallen world. There was a deeper spiritual significance also: “And I, behold, I have taken your brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel: to you they are given as a gift for Yahweh, to do the service of the Tabernacle of the congregation. [To the Levites:] Every thing devoted in Israel shall be thine. All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto Yahweh, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by a statute forever: it is a Covenant of Salt forever before Yahweh unto thee and to thy seed with thee. And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.” (Numbers 18:6,14,19,21)
There is a reason the term “Covenant of Salt” is associated with the tithing system. Just like the Sabbath, it was established as a way of blessing and preserving the people. Christ much later would teach also, “Ye are the salt of the earth,” (Mat 5:13) for as long as Christians are giving their message of love and mercy, the world is preserved from its due recompense under sin. When the people ignored the preservative of the Sabbath, they fell into confusion, and finally captivity: “I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my Sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers’ idols.” (Ezek 20:23,24)
In a similar vein, Malachi writes that as long as the preservative of the tithe is neglected, prosperity would be kept from Yah’s people. (Mal 3:9) Nevertheless he gives the promise from Heaven, “‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine House, and prove me now herewith,’ saith Yahweh of hosts, ‘if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field,’ saith Yahweh of hosts.” (Mal 3:10,11) The peoples’ lack of investment in the Temple service, not only in tithes and offerings, but also in more active forms of support, was the reason for their spiritual wavering, and finally for their collapse in every aspect. “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith Yahweh of hosts, ‘Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the House; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified,’ saith Yahweh.” (Haggai 1:6-8)
One of the most direct warnings about slighting these responsibilities is given early on in the Old Testament, and mentioned in the New. We read of Lot’s wife, who, looking back to her worldly possessions, and putting her fear of losing those things to which she had been accustomed before her duty to the Almighty and her husband, “became a pillar of salt.” (Gen 19:26) Yah is just, and He is also a respecter of our freedom. If we do not wish to become good stewards of the blessings He has given us (for the purpose of blessing others), but instead keep them to ourselves, we will eventually reap the consequences of those actions. “Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:32,33) Salt is good, if it is scattered to preserve, but kept in one place and concentrated there, it eventually snuffs out life. Think of the Dead Sea: it is too salty to sustain any living things. It is written, “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Gal 6:8)
This, then, was the purpose for the system of tithing. Established well before the days of Moses, it was adapted by the lawgiver to continue the support of the Gospel, for it was the Gospel even in those days revealed symbolically. (Gal 3:8) Under the new system it continued to function as the means of preserving not only the Levites, but also, like the Sabbath, all those who would enter into that “Covenant of Salt.”
One of the more unusual objections I have heard to the preservation of this institution is that the Israelites appear to have given tithes of their crops and livestock, but not of their money. The question that may not have occurred to those who point this out is, “What was the money of the ancient Israelites?” We notice that Abram, when the tithing system began, gave “tithes of all.” Similarly, Jacob promised, “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” (Gen 28:22) Jacob and Abram, not being permanently established within an agricultural society, paid their tithe – on an “international” market – with precious stones, silver and gold. (Gen 13:2)
But what of the days when Israel was established as a nation? We read that the tithe was to be given of the peoples’ “increase.” Israel, established on a crop-and-cattle based economy, had exactly those two things as “increase.” This is not to say gold and silver were unknown to them. From the days they spent in Egypt, gold was often used as jewelry (Exo 11:2; 32:24, 35:5); it was used as ornaments for buildings and construction material (Num 22:18); it was traded on (again) an international scale by kings (1Kings 9:11), and so on. We even read that Solomon raised a levy (tax) to pay for the gold he was getting from the king of Tyre. (1Kings 5:11-13) Obviously, Israel’s part was not given in gold, the thing being purchased, but in the coin of the land those days – foodstuffs (oil and wheat) and manual labor from king and countryman respectively. Now, precious stones and metals were given as offerings, that is true. These were not, however, obtained by wages or increase. Often during wartime, Israel would overcome a nation and take its treasures. From these gains – which were not increase – offerings were made. (Num 31:53,54) Passages such as Deuteronomy 8:11-14 suggest that even if these offerings were withheld, the peoples’ pride and feelings of independence from Yahweh’s provisions would take them into error. As with everything else about Heaven’s provisions, obedience led to blessings, and disobedience naturally led to a curse.
We find therefore that an objection to paying a monetary tithe because the Old Testament Scriptures record payment only in crops and livestock is not a valid position to take. The system describes that tithes should be paid of “increase,” (Deu 14:22) regardless of what form that increase may take. We find that Israel’s increase was indeed in those areas from which they drew their tenth part, and history records that as they shifted away from an agricultural society their tithes did in fact begin to be paid in the coin of new economic environment. Finally, we find that Abram and Jacob, at the establishment of the institution, paid tithes of all, and that “all” did include gold and silver, along with livestock.
As we conclude this first section, we find that the ordinance in question was established before the time of Moses, and continued into his day for a two-fold purpose: 1) to support the continuity and growth of the religion of Yahweh in the world; and 2) to preserve the prosperity of all the members of that covenant, be they the givers or recipients of the tithes and offerings. The fact that Yahweh “could have” provided all the means for the upkeep of His Temple Himself has nothing to do with the means by which He chose to do so, and it was a great privilege and everlasting blessing (both spiritually and temporally) to the Israelites that they had an active part to play in that system of His choosing.
III – The Tithe in The Gospels and Acts
While addressing the legalism of the Pharisees, Christ said unto them, “For Moses said, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother;’ and, ‘Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death:’ But ye say, ‘If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.’ And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” (Mark 7:10-13)
In this passage, the Messiah was not saying that funding shouldn’t be put into Corban – only that it should not be done in order to avoid the duties of family and honor. This, however, introduces a new concept into the mode of Temple worship. As I referred to previously, when Israel became more involved in trade as a nation, their “increase” began to consist of coins and other forms of payment. It should not be surprising, then, that most of the “increase” dedicated to the Temple in the time of Christ consisted of money as we understand the term today.
The word “Corban” is translated from the Greek term which means, “the sacred treasury.” The word for treasury in the New Testament is also translated from gazophulakion and is used in passages such as this one: “And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.” (Mar 12:41,42) Here we find that the treasury, which corresponds exactly to the “storehouse” of Malachi 3 into which tithes (and offerings) were brought, is now used as a recipient of money. As the verses point out, that money is in terms of coins and, just as in the days of Moses, consisted of whatever comprised an individual’s “increase.”
We consider also the Pharisee to whom Christ was referring – as recorded by Luke. He said, “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” (Luke 18:12) This particular legalist was self-righteous, because he believed that the actions a person does justifies him/her; however again, just as in the Old Testament, we see a parallel to the Sabbath. The Pharisees did keep the Sabbaths, but they believed that it was the keeping of the day itself that was pleasing to the Most High. Similarly, they paid their tithes in order to increase their righteousness with Yahweh. Christ’s rebuke of their legalism had nothing to do with the actual actions they were performing, but with their motives for doing so. They were not wrong to keep the Sabbath any more than they were wrong to pay their tithes, but they were doing it “to be seen of men,” (Mat 23:5) and this is the reason He taught His followers, “All therefore whatsoever [the Pharisees] bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.” (Mat 23:3)
But what of the tithe specifically? It is often said that Christ never commanded the tithe to be paid. This statement is based on a misunderstanding of a particular teaching of the Messiah. Here is the passage that comes under some controversy: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Mat 23:23) Luke parallels that passage: “But woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Luke 11:42)
Some look at these verses and believe that Christ is teaching that judgment, mercy, and love replace the system of tithing. This is clearly not the case. James would later point out an important principle. He wrote, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled;’ notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:15-17) James is not specifically discussing the tithe in this passage, but the idea should be plain enough: the fact that the Pharisees were not giving precedence to the spiritual matters of the law did not make their providing for the physical needs of the Temple and people invalid. One concept does not replace the other, but if we have the spiritual truths of Heaven’s kingdom, the temporal matters will come along with it naturally.
The controversy of these verses can be cleared up even more simply than this. In both Matthew and Luke, the word “ought” is translated from the Greek word “dei.” This word does not have as it’s primary definition “ought,” or “should.” It is in fact the word for “a needful thing.” It is usually translated “must” (58 times in the NT), which would render the passage above: “these tithes you needed to have given, and not left the other matters unattended to.” These verses have Christ saying in fact that the tithe “must” be paid, and the fact that the Pharisees tithed even the least measures of increase (down to their herbs) shows how much they were willing to be “exact” in their reckoning, at the expense of the spiritual elements of the commandments. Nowhere in those verses does it imply that “only” the herbs of the field were subject to the tithe, and the way the words “corban” and “treasury” are many times used in the New Testament is evidence that the Israelites understood the term “increase” exactly as it was intended: relating to any profit – be it monetary or agricultural – from which “tithes of all” must be paid, even as the Messiah declared. Tithing of one’s increase is in fact taught and commanded in the New Testament by Christ Himself.
But what of the New Covenant? What about after the Messiah’s death? We have already seen that the ordinance of tithing does not change, even if the specifics of the system it supports does. Some will point to the fact that tithing is not specifically mentioned in the book of Acts, which gives the history of the early Church. This is true, however this is hardly a difficulty; the Book itself explains why this was never an issue to be addressed for early believers.
Acts records, “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (Acts 2:44,45) Of course, no such actions as these are “demanded” anywhere in Scripture. The early converts were so inspired to get this message of Salvation to the world that they “went forth conquering, and to conquer,” (Rev 6:2) so that self, possessions and fear for the future were all left far behind. Indeed, have it not been these very temptations that have prevented the saints of these last days from giving their all to the all-important message? With this attitude of selfless charity prevalent among the Christians of the first century, it is easy to see why the commandment for a mere “tenth” of their increase is never directly mentioned!
It is important to remember that Acts and Paul’s Epistles were never meant to be a comprehensive “manual” for how a Church should be run. Rather, it is a history and a collection of letters which were often written to address specific problems. The Scriptures were never meant to give a step-by-step “solution” to every conceivable situation. The principles it lays down, however, and the leadings of the Holy Ghost, equip the Church of every generation to stand before the assaults of man and demon.
To state that tithes are no longer applicable simply because they were not mentioned by name in Acts not only ignores the statements of Christ Himself in the Gospels, but is also an argument from silence, and under circumstances where a demand for 10% of one’s income would be exceedingly unlikely to appear. Paul writes that the Law of itself is for those who are unrighteous, to teach them the way in which they should walk. (1Tim 1:9) Who would demand obedience from the already obedient? Who would demand one dollar from a friend who is giving you five?
When we examine the specifics of the history in Acts, we do find evidence that the system was not in fact changed. We need only read the episode with Ananais and Sapphira to realize that the concept of a “covenant,” as it relates even to offerings, is still binding on those who enter a relationship with the Most High. This support was not something that was “demanded” of the couple by the Church, for Peter himself said to them, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?” (Acts 5:3,4a) Yet they had made a commitment to the Church, and had not followed through with it – a direct parallel to Lot’s wife, and the very subject dealt with in Haggai and Malachi – for the people were robbing Yahweh of both tithes and offerings. (Mal 3:8) The penalty for laying up treasures to self, sowing to the flesh and not investing in souls, has never changed. (Acts 5:5,10) We ultimately stifle ourselves on our own resources, which should have gone to the salvation of men. “But God said unto him, ‘Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?’ So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. And Jesus said unto him, ‘No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 12:20,21; 9:62)
Leaving the Gospels and Acts, we have the opportunity to examine two other objections. As we move on to Paul’s teachings on the issue, we find him in the later chapters of Acts working for his living by making tents. Similarly, in his farewell speech to the elders of Ephesus, Paul says that his own hands have ministered to his needs while he was among them. Some will say therefore that tithes are unnecessary for supporting the Gospel, as pastors should follow Paul’s example and be employed elsewhere. This ignores a large number of significant factors, several of which show the deep flaws in that supposition.
First of all, was working for his living Paul’s first choice? Not at all. When Paul was living with Priscilla and Aquilla, (Acts 18:1-3) we can only guess that this was a significant source of his income. Even if we allow this assumption to be a factor, for which there is no definite proof, all the Bible has to say about this incident was that he wrought (worked) with them because they were all trained in the same skill. For a brief time during one of his missionary journeys, the apostle helped the people with whom he was staying to make tents. On the basis of this exceedingly sketchy evidence, some find an objection to the system of tithing established thousands of years beforehand upon a well-documented Biblical principle! There is no evidence at all that Paul worked at any other point in his ministry, and plenty of evidence that he was supported by the individuals and Churches he raised up, such as his statements to the Corinthians and Timothy which we will examine in the next section. There is no statement by the apostle that his actions were to be taken as a principle governing the way the messengers of Yahweh were to be treated by the Body until Christ’s return. As we read Paul’s letter to Timothy, for example, we find that the apostle to the Gentiles had quite a willing source of income while he labored among the Ephesians.
What we do find from the book of Acts was that the apostles not only did NOT work for their living, but did not even want to deal with the financial matters within the Church. Here is the record of the election of Deacons: “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the Twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them and said, ‘It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch.” (Acts 6:1-5)
On the basis of this passage alone, all objections that pastors and teachers should “leave the word of God, and serve tables,” (i.e. dealing with jobs or finances) should be shown in light of the worldly motives by which they were inspired. Those who are committed to getting the message of salvation to thirsty souls will make no such arguments, for the Scriptures clearly describe the apostles’ feelings toward such an idea: “It is not reason,” meaning not sensible, or agreeable. Certainly each person is in charge of his/her own income and resources, as even Acts 5 points out. Certainly all should be inspired to help the poor from their own pockets, however we find from Acts 6 that the ministration toward the poor, hungry, and naked also had a place within the organization of the Church itself. It is the Bride, as a whole, who is ultimately the “welfare system” of Heaven, and those who would rob the Corban to fill their own treasury (even for the intention of helping others independently) are to a degree establishing their own ministries. They are leaving the Temple bare while dwelling in their own cieled houses. (Hag 1:4) Each must have his own ministry, this is a true saying; but it must not be separate from – or at the expense of – that which is ordained for the Bride by the Throne.
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (Acts 4:32, 1Cor 1:10) The concept of a Church that works together on monetary as well as spiritual matters, and the evidence that the apostles and elders obtained their living by being supported by the Churches over which they were appointed, is already overwhelming. Aside from this, it is only strengthened as we turn from Acts to the writings of Paul.
IV – The Tithe in The Epistles
Although we have already covered the apostles’ opinion on the matter of the Church supporting its ministers, and shown the faulty reasoning that goes into using Paul’s unique experience with tent making as an argument against tithing, we still have the epistles to deal with. We remember that Paul also taught, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.” (1Cor 7:19) Does this therefore mean that tithing, which was also established before Moses, is made of none effect by the Cross?
To answer that question, we have to look at the purpose for both these institutions. We have already seen from Scripture that tithing’s purpose consisted of two parts: firstly, it was to sustain the ministers of Yahweh in whatever system (patriarchal, ceremonial, apostolic, etc.) was currently being used. Secondly, it was to bless the givers by encouraging a respect for Yahweh, and a reminder that their possessions were not truly their own. By keeping this in their minds, they were doubly blessed; not only did He provide for them directly, but their spiritual treasury was always being filled with trust and humility. (Mal 3:10)
What about Circumcision? Abraham was told, “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.” (Gen 17:10,13) We notice at least two major themes here. First, this sign was to be a covenant between Yahweh and those of Abraham’s “seed.” Second, the covenant would be “in your flesh,” if you were of that line. Israel as a nation was based upon the physical bloodline of the man Abraham, and this covenant was designed as a perpetual reminder of that.
When this covenant was broken, due to Israel’s continuance in unfaithfulness, we read, “Then said I, ‘I will not feed you: that that dieth, let it die; and that that is to be cut off, let it be cut off; and let the rest eat every one the flesh of another.’ And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people.” (Zech 11:9,10) Yahweh is not one to break covenants, however the people broke this agreement, and it was therefore just as broken. When the Almighty gave them up to the consequence of their choice (in a sense “breaking” an already broken agreement) it was only a turning-away, delivering them up to the principle of cause and effect that they may reap the sure consequences of their own rebellion. This is never an easy thing for our loving Father. “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together.” (Hos 11:8)
By the time of Christ, we find the forerunner John rebuking the Hebrew leaders for trusting in a flesh-covenant already fallen apart on the inside: “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham to our father:’ for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Luke 3:8) Yahshua Himself said of the national keepers of the Gospel, “But those [former] husbandmen said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.’ And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. What shall therefore the Lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.” (Mark 12:7-9)
We find therefore that tithing was an ordinance designed to support that vineyard regardless of who was tending it, yet circumcision was a sign “in your flesh” to those of that particular system. In other words, one (circumcision) was based in the system itself, while the other (tithing) was the underlying principle that supported that system for a time, but also supported the ones before it and after it. Once again we find that tithing is much more related to eternal institutions such as the Sabbath (as seen also in the salt/preservative concept) than to those outward signs of the covenant with Abraham’s physical bloodline and the foreigners who joined themselves to these. Even for those who are Jews by birth, Paul says of circumcision, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” (Gal 6:15)
We find Paul supporting the idea of the tithe as a structure under-girding every manifestation of the Gospel’s message to the world. In Hebrews we read of him referring to the system as introduced in Genesis. When discussing Christ as our High Priest in a way greater than the Levites, he compares Him to Melchizedek, saying that the latter was, “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God, [he] abideth a priest continually.” (Heb 7:3) He then speaks of the system being changed, due to the ministry of the Messiah beginning in the Heavenly tabernacle: “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.” (Heb 7:12) However, has the tithing system which was instituted before Levi, (Heb 7:9) and therefore independent of the law of that priesthood, changed at all? Emphatically no!
Paul writes of the new system, with Christ as the High Priest, saying, “And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth.” (Heb 7:8) In other words, on earth men receive tithes – being mortal like Levi – but in Heaven, Christ is also receiving them, for He is the true Priest of the new system; He is the one represented by Melchizedek in that first exchange. (Heb 7:3) The King James wording of verse 8 is a little complicated, but the NRSV simplifies it a little. “In the one case, tithes are received by those who are mortal; in the other, by one of whom it is testified that he lives.” (Heb 7:8 NRSV) Whether that verse is referring specifically to Melchizedek or Christ, it is clear that the mortal ones who receive (present tense) the tithe are receiving it on behalf of the High Priest, who in the case of Christians is now the Messiah Himself. Again, whatever way that verse is read, Paul refers to the tithe as a current system by which the High Priest receives the obedience of the people. In his writings, it is not an insignificant or antiquated idea by any means.
More clearly than even this, we need only to remember that the tithe was the institution by which the Levites, the ministers of the Gospel, were supported. We find several passages where Paul is clearly in full agreement with the Apostles’ statements in Acts that a minister is to be devoted to preaching the Word, and not to earthly labor. One such place is in his first letter to the Corinthians.
He writes, “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? Or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.’ Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith He it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the Temple? And they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.” (1Cor 9:7-14)
Some things should become clear at once. Paul specifically says that those who go to warfare do NOT do it at their “own charges.” This should forever silence the voice of those who say that pastors should work secular jobs. Paul then specifically says that it is no great thing that ministers of the Gospel should expect to reap support in physical things from those whom they have raised up. This should forever silence those who would say that the Church should be run on “freewill offerings;” the apostle here is saying clearly that they have the “power” or authority over the part of their goods established for them in the “law of Moses.” (verse 9) In fact, Paul actually uses the Levitical system as an example of how things were to be done at that time. (verse 13) Just as in Hebrews and every example we have seen before, Paul points out that the system of financial support is an eternal principle that is not dependent on the way that system is currently set up. Tithes were as much a part of that equation in his day (and today) as they were when those who ministered in the Temple lived “of the things of the Temple.” (verse 13) “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.” (1Cor 9:14) This could not have been expressed in a more clear way.
Paul goes on to explain that while he could have demanded support (carnal things) from the Church under the Law, he chose not to do so. He found help from those willing to help, for it is written, “God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2Cor 9:7) Some will say that 2Corinthians, where Paul says people should give, “every man according as he purposeth in his heart” sets aside the tithe. First of all, this is not possible based on what he explicitly teaches in 1Corinthians, and secondly, a reading of that chapter will point out clearly that the matter being addressed was offerings (verse 5) and not the tithe. But why did Paul not demand financial support, which he says he could rightfully have done?
Paul says he would rather rob other Churches who are willing to support him than to take goods from those who are withholding help. The quote is, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.” (2Cor 11:8) His wording there is significant! He said he took “wages” of the Church in Macedonia to help the Corinthians. That word in Greek is opsonion, which has a special meaning – a soldier’s pay. This connects directly to his question to Corinth in his first letter, “Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?” (1Cor 9:7) The issue at hand is his “soldier’s pay,” for spiritual warfare. It was not an optional matter, yet Paul chose to make it optional for them, so that “when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the Gospel.” (1Cor 9:18) He would rather go without than have anyone accuse him of abusing his apostolic authority (the same word for power – exousia) by demanding anything of the unwilling. On the other hand, his decision to do so in no wise justified those who were failing in their responsibilities to Christ and His messenger.
Those who were unwilling had a far worse thing to contend with than Paul’s anger. They had hearts to change before they were asked on that Great and Terrible Day (Joel 2:31) why, by their lack of charity – nay, by their lack of duty – they had decided to hinder the chosen vessel of the Gospel, and thus oppose the Gospel Itself.
As is mentioned in the section on Acts, some reference Paul’s statements to the Ephesian elders: “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:33-35) On the basis of this, they will conclude that since the Ephesian church did not support the apostle during his time with them, this is the way it should be done in all times and places (ignoring the Apostles’ decision earlier in Acts and Paul’s own teachings to the Christians in Corinth).
Paul’s statements that his hands have ministered to his own needs, and those with him, make it obvious that he was not supported by the Ephesus Church. This is not a problem, for we know several things about Paul’s visits to that city. First of all, he never did spend a great deal of time there. He passed through it very briefly once or twice (Acts 18:19-21), and the longest he ever stayed there was for a space of about three months. (Acts 19:1-8) The reason why this section was left to be covered by the Epistles (although it is found in Acts) is because Paul’s source of income during this time in his ministry is revealed in his letters. When we read what Paul means when he applies the word “labor” to himself (in the section just following this one), his assertion about his hands ministering to his own needs will become very clear. For now, we can find out exactly where his sustenance came from.
Paul writes to Timothy, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.” (2Tim 1:16-18) This man Onesiphorus, who is mentioned right alongside Paul’s fellow-laborers Priscilla and Aquilla, (2Tim 4:19) was so eager to support the work that Paul was doing that he would seek him out to provide for him. Particularly during the time he spent in Ephesus, the author states, he was ministered unto by this cheerful giver, and therefore had no need of gold, silver or apparel from the ones with whom he was laboring in the Gospel. Once again we find that Paul is by no means contradicting his teachings in other places of the Bible, but merely content with the “soldier’s pay” from a source his own hands had indeed raised up.
One last objection to be dealt with is based upon 1Thessalonians 3:7-9. A final defense is raised among those who will not trust in Yahweh by pointing to this statement to the Thessalonians: “For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2Th 3:7-10)
Here, it appears as if Paul is saying that while he and the other missionaries were among them, they worked for their own sustenance, to set an example that “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” This is quite true, and they did. They did work for their sustenance; however, the issue is whether or not this was a secular job. Did Paul go back to making tents in order to earn money and food? Not at all. The first letter to this very set of people describes in detail the “labor and travail” they underwent while living in Thessalonica: “For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” (1Th 2:9) The apostle knew the Thessalonians had done well in supporting them, and so he points out that they were even, they were not “chargeable” to the Church because they preached unto them the gospel of Yahweh. It is notable how the apostle draws their minds to the occasion by using the exact same words, “labor and travail,” “night and day,” and so on to connect the two passages when he refers to this incident again in his second letter.
The labor and travail done by the evangelists among the Thessalonians was a careful and involved work of preaching the message of salvation. No secular work distracted the missionaries from their purpose in the world, and they were paid a “soldier’s pay” of these Churches for their effort. In all of these Epistles, and not contradicted or lessened in any of the others, Paul’s full agreement with the Apostolic method of supporting the Gospel workers shines through. They in Jerusalem said, “But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:4) Paul, among the Gentiles, writes, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.” (1Cor 9:14) He then goes on in Hebrews to declare that the means by which this is to be done has not changed since the days of Melchizedek – the tithe. (Heb 7:8)
Both letters to the Corinthians, both letters to the Thessalonians, and the detailed theology found in the epistle to the Hebrews support this conclusion, and this conclusion only: The method of ministry has changed several times in the history of mankind. The method of tithing by which this ministry is to be supported has not; it is eternal, it is current, and it constitutes the “wages” of a Gospel worker. It is, and always has been, a tenth of one’s increase plus any offerings as the people are able – and more importantly willing – to invest in the Gospel of Christ. (Heb 7:2,4; 2Cor 9:7)
V – Conclusion
It might be useful, when discussing theology in some detail, to occasionally step back and look at the bigger picture. The reason why tithes were considered soldiers’ pay to Gospel workers is a simple one: we are truly at war. Paul writes, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” (2Cor 10:4) In diverse places he uses military metaphors, such as the “armor of God” in Ephesians (6:11-17) to explain the seriousness of the situation of which we human beings are a part.
Some will say of the tithe, “If we are subject to a ten percent tax, we are in bondage and not free indeed.” In doing this, they only declare that they have never yet known the joy of freedom. A human being that is truly free will have “joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance.” (Gal 5:22,23) A person that has been redeemed, possessing a new heart, will have as his/her ultimate goal the support and multiplication of the Gospel that released them, that others may also be free. To refer to the tithe as a “tax” dishonors Christ Himself, who is the true recipient of these wages for, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Mat 25:40) As can be easily shown from the Scriptures, the early Christians made no distinction between following Christ and being a member of His united Body on earth. (Rom 12:5)
A Jewish rabbi was asked about tithing and he stated, “We have no temple and we have no Levites. All given is purely voluntary.” A Christian will make no such claims. We have a Temple. Aside from the Tabernacle in Heaven, (Rev 15:5) Peter tells us that “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual House, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (1Pet 2:5) And again, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1Cor 3:16) These are commonly misapplied Scriptures, but they may be clearly understood. Each member is a “stone” of that Temple, not a Temple unto him/herself. One may easily notice that the expression was translated from the Greek, in which this matter is plain, into early English with the singulars and plurals intact. Ye (plural) are the Temple (singular) of Yahweh. The other verses that deal with this concept of believers as the Temple all contain this plural form of “you.” (1Cor 3:17, 6:19, 9:13; 2Cor 6:16)
Individual members are not Temples unto themselves; we – united as a Body – are the singular Agency ordained by Heaven itself to bless the people on earth. “‘Ye are my witnesses (plural),’ saith Yahweh, ‘and my servant (singular) whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am He: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.’” (Isa 43:10) “In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy Temple in the Lord: In whom ye (plural) also are builded together for an Habitation (singular) of God through the Spirit.” (Eph 2:21,22) As it was in the days of Israel, where one kingdom was to teach the way of Yahweh to the planet, so it is now with one united People – a Church. Those who take it upon themselves to distribute their own increase are not following the way outlined in the Bible, where it is written, “‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine House, and prove me now herewith,’ saith Yahweh of hosts, ‘if I will not open you the windows of Heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.’” (Mal 3:10)
The Almighty is the One who pours out the blessings, He alone has the right to determine how this is done, and our role is to ensure that His people have the resources to do this. While Yahweh could indeed provide all the resources Himself, He chooses to incorporate human efforts into His works on the earth; He does only what man, in his humanity, has not the power to do: “Jesus said, ‘Take ye away the stone.’” (John 11:39a) When we do our part, He will raise the dead. The tithe, like the Sabbath, is a preservative for us as well as for the world in general.
The reason Paul did not press the issue with the Corinthians was because he knew this: ultimately, it isn’t about the letter of the Law. We never achieve an obedience that springs forth from love and true faith if people are supporting the ministry of Christ because they are legally obligated to do so. Paul said he would rather go without his due than have the Gospel spoken ill of: “If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.” (1Cor 9:12) The Apostles showed us by their words and example that the teachers of the Gospel should be dedicated to this great commission as much as they possibly can, leaving secular matters to those selected for that purpose. Paul plainly says more than once that a Gospel laborer is worth his hire, and that those who work with the Gospel should earn their living based upon this. The apostle to the gentiles states that this is not a matter of opinion, but the method Yah Himself has set in place, speaking of it directly in 1Corinthians and paralleling it to the Levitical system in Hebrews.
Finally, the one teaching of the Messiah concerning tithes was that they must (dei) be paid, even as we live out the weightier matters of the Law: love, judgment, mercy and faith. (Mat 23:23, Luke 11:42) The Law, ultimately, is a law of liberty and a law of love. We will be judged based upon how we, in faith, reflect the Messiah who gave all that He had to redeem a people who despised Him. It is not how well we perform the actions, or go through the rituals, (Isa 1:11,12) but it is whether or not we have a love in our hearts for others, and are willing to do what is best for them, and for their everlasting salvation. The Messiah says to those who would take His Gospel to the battlefield that is our world, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mat 6:19-21)
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