Here it is again. Another email claiming that we are under the “New Covenant” so we don’t have to tithe. The New Covenant is a subject unto itself, and you can read more about it in the articles “The Ten Commandments” and “God’s Plan 7: What Is the New Covenant?”.
I apologize for the length of this article, but to have any sort of meaningful discussion, we really need to nail down how many tithes there were and what was the purpose of each. To separate this particular topic out into shorter articles means something will get lost in the weeds. Without this basis, all other conversation about tithing will be just noise.
You may want to review “Tithing, Part 1: What Is Tithing and When Was It Instituted?” before proceeding. In it, I covered that, in spite of the fact that Jesus spoke more about money, sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally, than perhaps any other subject, He never once denounced tithing. In fact, He upheld it in His exchange with the Pharisees. A tithe is old English for a tenth, such as when Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils after rescuing Lot and the city of Sodom. In verb form, it means to give a tenth, such as when Jacob promised to tithe if he returned safely to Canaan. Both examples show that tithing was in place long before Mt Sinai. Both examples, but especially the example of Abraham, show that it is not restricted to agriculture. Jesus’ exchange with the Pharisees show that tithing has not been abolished for Christians today. 1Co 9:3-11 shows that it is the job of the Church to support the ministry, and Paul uses OT Scriptures to show that. Why? Well, because the Law has not been done away, contrary to what others teach!
So, if it is incumbent upon us today, it behooves us to learn as much about tithing as possible. Yet, if you read the Scriptures with certain assumptions, it seems very confusing. The purposes of tithing seem to be all over the place. That would lead one to believe that there is more than one tithe. If that is true, then what would be the purpose for them?
More Than One Tithe
Just as new Christians are surprised to learn that there is more than one “Sabbath”, they are often surprised to learn that there is more than one tithe. The Law is written in such a manner that this knowledge is assumed, actually. Without this information, the laws on tithing seem contradictory. In one place, you are commanded to eat the tithes, in another, you are commanded to bring them to the tabernacle, and in yet another, you are commanded to give them to the poor and the Levites. How can this be? Because there are 3 distinctive tithes.
But unto the place which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come:
And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks:
And there ye shall eat before the LORD your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the LORD thy God hath blessed thee.
…Then there shall be a place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the LORD:
And ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God, ye, and your sons, and your daughters, and your menservants, and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your gates; forasmuch as he hath no part nor inheritance with you.
~ Dt 12:5-7, 11-12
Notice “tithes” is plural! And, while this verse lumps in all sorts of offerings and sacrifices as well, the implication is that there are tithes that can be eaten as well as tithes that can be given away.
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 unto the LORD.
And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof.
And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD.
He shall not search whether it be good or bad, neither shall he change it: and if he change it at all, then both it and the change thereof shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.
~ Lev 27:30-32
This tithe is what people usually think of if they think of tithing at all. This particular tithe is “holy unto the LORD”. It had a specific purpose for doing the work of God!
And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.
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.
Neither must the children of Israel henceforth come nigh the tabernacle of the congregation, lest they bear sin, and die.
But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance.
But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.
~ Nu 18:20-24
The Levites, and in particular the sons of Aaron, were God’s representatives on earth. However, notice that even the Levites were required to tithe!
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the LORD, even a tenth part of the tithe.
And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshingfloor, and as the fulness of the winepress.
Thus ye also shall offer an heave offering unto the LORD of all your tithes, which ye receive of the children of Israel; and ye shall give thereof the LORD’S heave offering to Aaron the priest.
~ Nu 18:25-28
Everyone, then, was expected to pitch in for the work of God! The first tithe supported the work of the tabernacle and, later, the work of the temple. This tithe belonged to God.
However, there is another tithe that you are commanded to bring before God and consume. Obviously, this cannot be the first tithe, as you have already given that away. It must be a separate tithe.
Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thy oil, or the firstlings of thy herds or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy freewill offerings, or heave offering of thine hand:
But thou must eat them before the LORD thy God in the place which the LORD thy God shall choose, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates: and thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God in all that thou puttest thine hands unto.
~ Dt 12:17-18
Notice this tithe can be eaten! However, there is a stipulation on where it is to be eaten. When are people to gather together at the “place which the LORD thy God shall choose” and “rejoice”?
Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the LORD thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the LORD shall choose to place his name there.
Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life.
…Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee:
But at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt.
And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents.
…And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the LORD thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the LORD thy God, according as the LORD thy God hath blessed thee:
And thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the LORD thy God hath chosen to place his name there.
…Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine:
And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates.
Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the LORD thy God in the place which the LORD shall choose: because the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice.
Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty:
~ Dt 16:2-3, 5-7, 10-11, 13-16
Notice how all of these feast days involve appearing before God and rejoicing.
Notice I said earlier that you are to “consume” it before God. After all, how many of us are farmers these days? God has provisions for changing our work into money to use before Him as well.
Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year.
And thou shalt eat before the LORD 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 the LORD thy God always.
And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the LORD thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the LORD thy God hath blessed thee:
Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose:
And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,
And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.
~ Dt 14:22-27
This tithe is to be used to appear before God on His designated feast days. That is why the world generally doesn’t know about a second tithe. They do not keep His designated feasts!
It is important to note that we are to rejoice in God’s blessings. We are to be overjoyed at the reward for our work, and use this tithe for our pleasure during His Holy Days in order that we and our family can rejoice!
It is odd that human beings will go out of their way to justify throwing lavish parties for the most trivial of events, but when God calls them to have a party in His presence, they will resist!
There is yet another tithe, however. This one is quite different, as it is commanded to be given every 3 years. Some interpret this to mean the 3rd and 6th years of a 7 year cycle, and some interpret this to mean flatly every 3 years. There can be a case made for either interpretation.
At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates:
And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.
~ Dt 14:28-19
We can immediately see that this one is different because it is given “at the end of three years”. Another distinctive is that it is laid up “within thy gates” rather than being transported. Therefore, it cannot be the first tithe.
Notice it is given away. It is kept within your gates. It cannot be the second tithe.
Notice who it goes to. It goes to the Levite, for sure. However, it also goes to those who would tend to be neglected by society (unfortunately, that sometimes meant the Levite as well). It tended to be those who did not own land, so they had no means to support themselves.
Notice where they eat it. Notice what happens after it has been given.
When thou hast made an end of tithing all the tithes of thine increase the third year, which is the year of tithing, and hast given it unto the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat within thy gates [cannot be first tithe], and be filled;
Then thou shalt say before the LORD thy God, I have brought away the hallowed things out of mine house, and also have given them unto the Levite, and unto the stranger, to the fatherless, and to the widow, according to all thy commandments which thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them.
I have not eaten [cannot be second tithe] thereof in my mourning, neither have I taken away ought thereof for any unclean use, nor given ought thereof for the dead: but I have hearkened to the voice of the LORD my God, and have done according to all that thou hast commanded me.
~ Dt 26:12-14
Notice that it is given before an appearance before God. Therefore, it must mean before appearing before God for the Feast of Tabernacles, after the great fall harvest. Therefore, this tithe was not intended to be centrally collected. This is an important point I will address in more detail later. For now, though, it should be noted that this tithe goes to the support of the poor and needy.
So, Who Do These Tithes Go To?
I have heard it said that 30% of your income is supposed to go to the Church. However, it should be self-evident from the purposes stated above of the falsehood of that. Even if one gives a third tithe every three years, that still comes to 23.33%. Yet, in reality, most of that does not have to go to the Church!
Now that you understand the purpose of each tithe, it is important to understand exactly where your tithes should go. There is much confusion in the world about this, and there even is some confusion about it within the Church of God. Therefore, Parts 3, 4 and 5 will examine the specifics about each of the tithes.
Reply to Church of God Perspective on Tithing
Kelly: Can you picture a lawyer in the USA arguing a case using even the good points of English law? Why is that obviously wrong, yet it is OK to argue using Old Covenant law? Well, God does not and cannot bless a New Covenant Christian because of obedience to annulled Old Covenant commandments per Heb 7:5, 12, 18?
According to Galatians 4:4, 5 Jesus was born under the jurisdiction of the law to redeem those (Hebrews) who were under the law. Of course he never once denounced tithing. Such would have been a sin on that side of Calvary.
The first rule of understanding the Bible is the context of the text being quoted. Matthew 23:23 is a discussion of "matters of the law" and is addressed to the first century interpreters of the law who turned tithing into a burden by adding household garden herbs.
From Leviticus to Luke (16 texts) the true biblical tithe only meant food from inside Israel. God defined it that way!
Pagan tithing was in place in all Abraham's known world alongside idolatry, child sacrifices and temple prostitution. Being very old and very common does not make something an eternal moral principle.
Read Numbers 31 which is a discussion of the statute of the law concerning tithes from spoils of war. It is only one per cent. Abraham and Jacob's tithes from pagan Haran of Syria were not considered to be holy tithes in the law. Nothing Abraham did concerning tithes is followed by any church today.
Mt 23:23 shows that Jesus still agreed with tithing to support the Aaronic priesthood before Calvary as "matters of the law." His death at Calvary necessitated a "change of the law of tithing" per Heb 7: and that change of 7:5 was its "annulment" in Heb 7:18.
Kelly: 1 Cor 9:12-19 shows that Paul refused to exercise his right to be paid (even partially) and preferred to work for free.
Per: It behooves us to learn as much about tithing as possible.
Kelly: Yes, indeed. Study it very thoroughly. See http://www.tithing-russkelly.com
Per: Yet, if you read the Scriptures with certain assumptions, it seems very confusing.
Kelly: Most assume that everybody in the OT was required to begin his/her level of giving at ten per cent. That is a false assumption because only food producers who lived inside Israel qualified as tithe-payers. Jesus, Peter and Paul did not qualify.
Per: Dt 12:5-7, 11-12; Lev 27:30-32;
Nu 18:20-24; Nu 18:25-28. The first tithe supported the work of the tabernacle and, later, the work of the temple. This tithe belonged to God.
Kelly: None of the three tithes supported the work of the Temple. That was done by freewill offerings. The first tithe was only food.
Per: Dt 12:17-18; Dt 16:2-3, 5-7, 10-11, 13-16. You are to “consume” it before God. After all, how many of us are farmers these days? God has provisions for changing our work into money to use before Him as well.
Kelly: The second tithes was only food from inside Israel and must be eaten only in Jerusalem. Who does that today?
Per: Dt 14:22-27. It is important to note that we are to rejoice in God’s blessings.
Kelly: Yes, but "we" the church are under the New Covenant and never have been under the Old Covenant, therefore these texts are irrelevant. Rom 2:14-16.
Per: Dt 14:28-19; Dt 26:12-14
Kelly: The third tithe was also only food from inside Israel. It was to be kept in the homes and towns of Israel and nowhere else.
Please stop teaching Old Covenant tithing to New Covenant believers. That which God wanted His Church to obey he repeated and restated to it after Calvary in terms of grace and faith. And tithes were not repeated. Neither do we have Levites and superior priests who must forfeit inheritance rights.
Russell Earl Kelly, PHD