Are churches misleading us about what tithing really means?
Almost every church claims the following about tithing: Everyone must tithe 10% of their gross income. They must give this money to their local church. This is God’s will to take care of his bride, the church, and will result in his blessing. Not tithing to the church will result in God’s curse.
Yet consider the following verses from Deuteronomy 14:22-28 (red and emphasis mine):
You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you.
At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.
According to these verses, people are supposed to bring their tithes into the church, true, but they do not actually give them to the church. Instead, they and their families consume their tithes in what almost amounts to a party before God.
Well, what about the verses that talk of giving tithes to the Levites? One might argue they are equivalent to the church, and Numbers 18:21 says,
To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting.
Hebrews 7:5 further says,
And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham.
But though the Bible talks generally (as above) about tithes being given to the Levites and the Levites taking them, the only time the Bible specifically gives a lay person instructions about how to present tithes is in Deuteronomy, which says to share them with the Levites every three years.
How can every three years be enough if the Levites had no portion among the tribes of Israel to sustain them? Well, there were twelve tribes of Israel. If each tribe shared their tithe with the community at large once every three years, then that would mean four tribes on average would be sharing their tithes each year. One year’s produce times ten percent meant that each tribe would be contributing a little over one month’s produce, so together, that would be four to five month’s produce each year shared with the Levites. Surely that would not be enough to sustain them? Except that the Levites weren’t restricted to tithes, they also ate of all the sin offerings and other offerings the people presented to the Lord. So they would have been well taken care of indeed.
Perhaps Malachi 3:6-10 should be looked at, which says
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
At first glance, this verse seems pretty straightforward—God wants us to bring our full tithe into his storehouse. Yet if we backtrack to Malachi 2, we see that God (through Malachi) was not talking to Israel/Judah at large, but rather to the priests. This is significant, because the only other time the Bible mentions storehouses in conjunction with tithes are as follows:
And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. And the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse. (Nehemiah 10:38)
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the Lord, a tithe of the tithe. And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress. So you shall also present a contribution to the Lord from all your tithes, which you receive from the people of Israel. And from it you shall give the Lord’s contribution to Aaron the priest. Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the Lord; from each its best part is to be dedicated.” (Numbers 18:25-31)
So Malachi was actually telling the priests that even this little bit—presenting a tithe of a tithe for God’s storehouses—was not being done. They needed to give the full tithe to God like they were supposed to.
Well, what about the time Jesus praised the widow when she gave two coppers in Mark 12:41-44? Clearly, He demonstrated that He wants us to give to the church. Yes, I agree, but that was an offering, stated as such in the Bible. An offering and a tithe are not the same thing.
So it seems that when it comes to telling lay people what to actually do with their tithes, Deuteronomy is the only guidance. Deuteronomy says to bring the tithes to God’s house but then to enjoy them yourself. If you can’t physically bring your firstfruits, you are to convert them to money, travel to the church, then buy whatever you want that will please you and consume it. It is a time of rejoicing before God—a true day of thanksgiving. This fits with Proverbs 3:9, which says,
Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce.
and Leviticus 27:30, which says,
Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.
Almost, it seems as though tithing is in fact God’s “Sabbath” for our things. Deuteronomy 8:17-18 warns,
Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Put together, the Bible says a tithe where we take a tenth of our produce and bring it before God. Instead of saving it up or spending it other places, we literally consume it before God, remembering that He is the one who gave it to us—only by His grace and power did we obtain such wealth, not by our own efforts or hand. It is a time of praise for God’s goodness and fear of His of awesome might. Yes, we are to share with the Levites (church) to help support them, but that is not the focus. The sharing happens every three years, and even then we are still to partake of the feast.
I can see why this conclusion might not be popular with churches, as many get a large portion of their income from tithes. Yet to completely disregard these verses in favor of the bottom line seems wrong.
What do you think?