I found your Precepts website when Google searching for the beginning of the dispensation of grace. I liked your thorough examination and explanation of when it began. This sparked me to contact you regarding a somewhat contentious subject among members of my denomination. The question of whether tithing is required by Christians within this dispensation of grace. Many ministers would assert that Christians are required to tithe as did Abraham and use the passage of scripture where Jesus basically says to someone that they should not have left the practice of doing several deeds of which tithing was one. I apologize for not having the exact verse quoted as I don’t have it committed to memory nor do I have access to get it at this time. My belief is that under grace, when it comes to giving money to the kingdom of God, that Christians are to give out of the abundance of their hearts, not by compulsion or commandment. I see it easily as a contradiction if both positions were to be acceptable in this dispensation. Could you provide your opinion about tithing/giving of financial gifts?
Thank you for the great question. Glad you found my website, and were helped in understanding the beginning of the dispensation of grace.
Regarding tithing, we have to go back to what the Bible says about tithing. First of all, the word simply means “a tenth.” The first time we see anyone tithing is Abraham in Genesis 14:20, when he met Melchizedek king of Salem after his defeat of four kings to rescue Lot and the people of Sodom, with whom Lot was living. Melchizedek is described as “the priest of God Most High,” and Abraham “gave him a tithe of all.” The things he gave him a tithe of were the spoils of war he had just won by defeating the four kings. This would have mostly included goods carried with the defeated armies as supplies, as well as goods they had looted from former, successful campaigns.
The next time we read of tithes is in Leviticus 27:30-33.
30. And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’s. It is holy to the LORD. 31. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. 32. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. 33. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.’”
Here, it is clear again that the tithe is a tenth of certain things that are holy to the LORD. The things listed are crops of the field (the seed of the land), the produce of the orchard (the fruit of the tree), and animals (the herd or the flock). Of the wheat and other farm crops, nothing from the tenth was to be redeemed, or if it was, a fifth part was to be added to it. Of the animals, it was to be a straight tenth. They were not to take only good animals or only bad, but just a random tenth.
Next we read of the tithe in Numbers 18.
21. “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting. 22. Hereafter the children of Israel shall not come near the tabernacle of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. 23. But the Levites shall perform the work of the tabernacle of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a statute forever, throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance. 24. For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.’”
Here we see what was to be done with the tithe. The Levites had no inheritance of land and fields to work with from the LORD, but instead they were to be given the tithes of the rest of the sons of Israel as their inheritance. With twelve tribes presenting them with a tenth of what they produced any year, if we assume the tribes are equal sized (of course, they were not really, but just as an assumption,) each individual Levite would actually end up with 120% of the produce of the average Israelite. God was making sure His ministers were well cared for. But Numbers 18 goes on to speak of the Levites’ tithe.
25. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 26. “Speak thus to the Levites, and say to them: ‘When you take from the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them as your inheritance, then you shall offer up a heave offering of it to the LORD, a tenth of the tithe. 27. And your heave offering shall be reckoned to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor and as the fullness of the winepress. 28. Thus you shall also offer a heave offering to the LORD from all your tithes which you receive from the children of Israel, and you shall give the LORD’s heave offering from it to Aaron the priest. 29. Of all your gifts you shall offer up every heave offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the consecrated part of them.’ 30. Therefore you shall say to them: ‘When you have lifted up the best of it, then the rest shall be accounted to the Levites as the produce of the threshing floor and as the produce of the winepress. 31. You may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward for your work in the tabernacle of meeting. 32. And you shall bear no sin because of it, when you have lifted up the best of it. But you shall not profane the holy gifts of the children of Israel, lest you die.’”
So the Levites too were to offer a tithe, and their tithe was to go to the priests of the family of Aaron. The rest of the tithe was theirs as the equivalent of what they would have gotten from the threshingfloor or the winepress, had the LORD given them lands, as He did to the rest of the Israelites. Thus the Levites were taken care of physically, so that they could concentrate on learning of the LORD and His ways to teach these things to the rest of the Israelites.
The Israelites also had a very specific place to which they were to take their tithes, as we learn from Deuteronomy 12.
5. “But you shall seek the place where the LORD your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. 6. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks.
This is reiterated in Deuteronomy 12:11.
11. then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide. There you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, and all your choice offerings which you vow to the LORD.
The tithe is even stated to be something you can “eat,” since it consisted of animals clean for eating and grain. We see this in Deuteronomy 12:17.
17. You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or your new wine or your oil, of the firstborn of your herd or your flock, of any of your offerings which you vow, of your freewill offerings, or of the heave offering of your hand. 18. But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God chooses, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, and the Levite who is within your gates; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God in all to which you put your hands. 19. Take heed to yourself that you do not forsake the Levite as long as you live in your land.
In the practical working out of this tithe in Israel, this is exactly what we see they did…bring in tithes of their food. We see them doing this very thing in II Chronicles 31.
5. As soon as the commandment was circulated, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. 6. And the children of Israel and Judah, who dwelt in the cities of Judah, brought the tithe of oxen and sheep; also the tithe of holy things which were consecrated to the LORD their God they laid in heaps.
12. Then they faithfully brought in the offerings, the tithes, and the dedicated things; Cononiah the Levite had charge of them, and Shimei his brother was the next.
We see the same thing in the days of Nehemiah, that the tithe was produce, as we read in Nehemiah 10.
37. to bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities. 38. And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse.
Here, we even see the tithe of the tithe mentioned that the Levites were to bring for the priests. Again, it is all about “tithes of our land,” meaning the produce of the land in animals and crops.
Malachi 3 gives us the last really significant passage regarding the tithe in the Old Testament.
8. “Will a man rob God?
Yet you have robbed Me!
But you say,
‘In what way have we robbed You?’
In tithes and offerings.
9. You are cursed with a curse,
For you have robbed Me,
Even this whole nation.
10. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
Those who teach tithing today love to quote this passage, urging people to “bring all the tithes into the storehouse.” By this they mean to put a tenth of your salary into the offering plate at church. Yet they ignore the next phrase, “That there may be food in my house.” This makes perfect sense, since we realize from a study of the Old Testament that the tithe WAS food. It has nothing to do with what we call “money.” I doubt anyone in church would be very happy if you put a tenth of your food in the offering plate.
The New Testament says little to change this view of the tithe. The Lord mentions the tithe in Matthew 23:23.
23. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
This is the verse you referred to earlier. Here, we see that the tithe spoken of is a tithe being paid by the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees. They are tithing so carefully that they even tithe mint and anise and cummin, these spices that they would have just a few sprigs of in a spice garden. Again notice that the tithes are food! This has nothing to do with tithing money. Luke 11:42 is a parallel passage with this.
In Luke 18:12, the boastful Pharisee prays at the temple and boasts of his faithfulness in tithing.
12. “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.”
Finally, in Hebrews 7:4-10, the law of the tithe is explained by the author of Hebrews. This is a complicated argument relating to the man Melchizedek.
4. Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5. And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6. but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7. Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8. Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9. Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10. for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
Here, we see several important facts about the tithe reiterated for us by the author of Hebrews. First of all, a “tithe” is a tenth, and in this case it is a tenth of the spoils. Secondly, it is the sons of Levi, priests, who had the commandment to receive tithes, and that only from their brothers who came from the loins of Abraham. Melchizedek was better than Levi, our Author argues, because Abraham paid tithes to him while Levi was yet in his loins, his son Isaac not yet having been born. So it is a principle that the lesser pays tithes to the greater.
This brings us to the end of the occurrences of the “tithe” in Scripture. From what we have seen, we can make the following conclusions:
1. The “tithe” was a tenth, but not a tenth of money. It was generally a tenth of goods, either of animals or of crops.
2. The tithes were generally given to the Levites, and were their means of physical support, since they had no crops or lands of their own. The Levites, on their part, were to give their own tithe to the sons of Aaron. Thus, a tithe was something along the lines of a tax in Israel, though it was a tax of crops and animals, not of money.
As for giving today, I agree that we should give from the heart, and abundantly, as God has blessed us. Ephesians 4:28 urges us, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” II Corinthians 9:7 urges, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” Clearly, God wants us to be giving people. Yet I do not believe that anything like the tithe has been enjoined upon us today. That was something God gave to Israel, and has to do with food, with taxes, and with supporting the priesthood. It had nothing to do with supporting churches, which did not exist at the time.
Thank you for the great question. I pray that you continue to grow in your knowledge of God’s current work, and of how He would have us live today.
Keep studying the Word!