Abraham inaugurated what are known as tithes by paying ten percent of his booty to a mysterious priest.
The Old Testament of the Holy Scripture is replete with precepts on and allusions to its great exigency.
But what really are tithes? How has its phenomenon transpired over time? And why is the New Testament ominously silent on such a great tool for church financing.
This pamphlet is offered now because of how exigent it has become to educate tithe payers in all the churches of the world about the elusive scriptural truths with regard to tithing, especially from a source that has no particularly vested interest.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Tithing in the Old Testament……………………………
Tithing in the New Testament………………………….
To Patrick Nwannaegbule Nnaji (1909 – 1961)
...the rich, handsome, and famous grandfather whom I know only in pictures.
The issue of tithes has, in recent times, generated no little controversy amongst even the most learned circles in Christendom.
Some see tithing as a principle or ordinance which has fallen into desuetude for good with the rest of the Old Testament’s numerous dos and don’ts. Others view it with utmost sanctity, believing that it complements the sacred rule by which alone one may receive from God. Some others believe that it is unreasonable and completely ridiculous that one should willingly submit oneself to be defrauded of ten per cent of one’s hard-earned resources continuously for life. And there are yet some who may be convinced that tithing is indeed a fraudulent theory by which they (themselves) loot the ‘gullible’, ‘contemptible’ congregation of their hard-earned valuables. These sorts often raise a tendentious philippic meant to harangue and hoodwink the unsuspecting laity into parting with huge chunks of their wealth.
The question therefore is: tithing, is it fact or fallacy? In answering this vital question, we may have to adopt a method, which permits us a chronological tracking of the theory from the Old to the New Testaments.
Meanwhile, let us tentatively define a tithe as a tax paid by individuals for the support of all full-time workers in the vineyard of God. In the course of this discourse, we shall, through the scriptures, come up with a more appropriate definition of a tithe. Now, let us begin from the very origin of the doctrine of tithing.
TITHING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Abram (whom God latter gave the name Abraham) was a friend of God. He was a man who began to hear and be led by the instructions of God at a time when wickedness was the normal language of the day. Abram continued to co-habit with his little nephew, Lot, until that arrangement become inconvenient due to the great abundance of their collective wealth and the concomitant frictions it instigated between the herdsmen of Abram and those of Lot. The two had to part amicably, Lot going towards Sodom and Abram going to live in Canaan
At that time, there erupted a war between an ally of four kings (including the king of Elam) and their different armies, and another ally of five kings (including the king of Sodom and Gomorrah) and their own armies. The former devastated the latter and seized all the goods and food of Sodom and Gomorrah, including Lot – Abram’s nephew who lived in Sodom – and all his possessions.
When Abram heard what had happened, he called out the 318 trained men in his household and, together with Mamre, Aner and Eschol – his allies –, went in pursuit of the league of four kings and their armies. He routed, rescued, and recovered everything from them, including Lot and his possessions.
After Abram returned from his exploit, the king of Sodom came out to meet him. Someone else did:
‘Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then, Abram gave him a tenth of everything.’
– Genesis 14:18-20 (NIV).
And that gift came to be known as a tithe. A few important points are to be noted from this passage:-
1. At the time Abram paid the first tithe to the priest, Melchizedek, the Mosaic Law had not been issued. The Mosaic Law came 430 years after Abram received the Promise from God that: ‘to your offspring I will give this land.’ Abraham lived only 175 years altogether (Galatians 3:16-17; Genesis 25:7). So, the institution of tithing precedes the Mosaic Law.
2. Although the Law was not yet available as at when Abram paid the first tithe, he had, however, acted in accordance with the will of God. Abram was a righteous man, made righteous through his unflinching faith in God. He was one who always loved to act in line with God’s instructions. So, there is hardly any doubt that it was God who worked in him to will and to act according to his good purpose at that instant:
‘for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’.
– Philippians 2:13 (NIV).
So, tithing, even without the Law, is still in accordance with the will of God.
3. Abraham gave freely without command or compulsion. It was more like a willfully rendered service to the ministry of the priest and the work of God.
4. When the Bible says that Abraham gave a tenth of everything, it must be realized that ‘everything’ was with regard to the goods that were brought back. Or what we may consider the profit of the venture. Yes, because if Abraham and his men had gone to recover those goods for their own selfish reasons, no-one would have had the temerity to question them about the items. The goods would have been considered the mere plunders of war: the profit of the warriors’ adventure.
So, the tenth was drawn only from the profit of the venture. If it were not so, we might have to accept that a tenth of all the horses, camels, and other articles of warfare by which Abram and his men gained the conquest, including those belonging to his three allies, were also given. We might even have to believe that a tenth of all the wives that were brought back were also amongst what was paid.
5. Abraham gave the tenth ever before Aner, Eschol and Mamre had their shares of the profit. He gave it even before distributing the goods to whomever they belonged to:
‘But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me – to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”
– Genesis 14:22 – 24 (NIV)
In other words, Abraham paid the tithe or tenth on the gross of the profit and not the net of it, for the tithe to the priest had been paid before this discussion with the king of Sodom.
After Abraham, only little was heard of tithing again until the Law came through Moses, and the Levitical Priesthood was established. At this point, it may be expedient for us to restate the exact passage where the Law of Tithes was most elaborately …
TITHING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The first and final incident in the New Testament where tithe is mentioned in an extant sense is on the occasion when Jesus admonished the multitude and his disciples on account of the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees. This is found in both Luke’s (Luke 11:42) and Mathew’s gospels. According to Mathew we read:
‘ “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices- mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.”
- Mathew 23 :23 (NIV).
At this point, may I express how glad I am that we are at last, privileged to hear from the master and owner of the law, himself. Recall that Moses, through whom the law was issued, also made a shattering testimony towards the end of his ministry. He testified as follows:
‘ The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him…
The Lord said to me: “what they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I commanded him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.’
- Deuteronomy 18:15, 17-19(NIV).
This means that, even while delivering the law to Moses, God promised to send another oracle to his people in the future. An oracle who would proclaim anew his will to his people. Moses also recognized that what this future oracle would proclaim might be different, or at least, build upon what he (Moses) taught and therefore fore-warned the people to listen to whatever the new oracle proclaimed. By this, he implied that the message of that future oracle should supersede his own message.
The oracle did come. And Jesus relegated tithing to the less important matters of the Law as opposed to matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). He, however, pointed out that tithing should be practiced without neglecting those ‘important matters of the Law’.
But incidentally, the issue of tithing suddenly disappeared from the Bible after the last mentioned incident. It is never mentioned again except, perhaps, in Luke chapter 18, verse 12, where Jesus alluded to it in a parable; and in Hebrews (Hebrews 7:1-10), where Paul used a past account of it to illustrate a point. This is not surprising. Tithing, as observed under the Law, has expired. Together with all other Laws, it was finally fulfilled and nailed to the cross at the death of Jesus Christ; our new oracle.
And our new oracle mentions at the inception of his ministry: ‘do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them’ (Matthew 5:17).
So, before that Law was fulfilled, it was wrong for anyone to thwart it. The Law was very much in force and extant during the ministry of Jesus Christ. The earthly ministry of Jesus marked a transitional period. Jesus therefore meant every bit of His statement when he admonished the Pharisees to continue to observe the Law of tithes without forgetting the more important aspects of the Law. Indeed, the observance of the Law continued until that material moment when, on the cross, Jesus had cried out: ‘it is finished’, and ‘at that moment, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom’ (John 19:30; Matthew 27:51).
He cried, ‘it is finished’, because the Law, which held us prisoners to sin, had been fulfilled and abolished at last.
And the curtain of the Temple, which was the sign of the sacredness and efficacy of the Levitical Order and its Laws as embodied in the Testimony and the Ark of the covenant (Exodus 40:20-21), was torn into two to show that the Law and the Levitical order had lost its sacredness and efficacy having finally been fulfilled.
The following passages put it most …
It has never been in dispute that finance is one of the cardinal props upon which institutions – be they spiritual or temporal – are established. In the Old Covenant, the institutions of our LORD used the instrumentality of the Law of tithes as a major source of finance. Believers were made to surrender 10 percent of their profit from time to time, as a matter of compulsion.
In the New Covenant of our LORD, Jesus Christ, on the other hand, we see nothing of the compulsory and strictly-ten-percent Old Testament type of collection from God’s people. Despite the fact that the need for funds in the house of God continued to soar, as evidenced in Mathew 17:24-27, Mark 6:34-42, Mark 8:1-4, Acts 4:34-35, 1 Timothy 5:16-18, 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, etc., yet the early Apostles did not deem it fit to use the instrumentality of strict, compulsory tithes to offset their financial needs, which alternative definitely would have been a lot easier. They had clearly imbibed our LORD’s insistence that whomever HE set free was free indeed. They were also very much aware of HIS instruction that we, the sons of the Most High God, are free.
‘And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him saying, what thinkest thou, Simon? Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? Of their own children, or of strangers? .
Peter saith unto him, of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.’
- Mathew 17:24-27 (KJV).
‘So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.’
- Galatians 4:7 (NIV).
It is therefore scarcely surprising that we should observe through their conduct and teachings, a reaffirmation of these ideals of our LORD, Jesus Christ.
‘You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.’
- Galatians 5:13 (NIV).
‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’
- 2 Corinthians 3:17(NIV).
Sometimes, it does appear that a major snag discernible in the church in this end time is the disturbing reality that we would rather tinker with the truth to suit ourselves than tinker with ourselves to suit the truth. A better option, however, should have been for us all to let the truth be just the way it is: pure, remote, searching and extremely censorious. If any can, let him or her attain it. But if not, let them just point at it and scream: ‘Yeah, that’s the truth there, even though I’ve not been able to attain it!’
We may then conclude this study by restating that strict, compulsory tithing ended with the death of Christ on the cross. But be that as it may, the New Testament encourages church finance via the willing support of the congregation of God’s people. In this willing support, we tend to discover what appears to be a different kind of ‘tithing’, which in no way reeks of any of the strict compulsion which we perceive in the Levitical Order, but rather the glorious freedom of the Promise in which we now are.
Let us therefore, at this juncture, reaffirm some of the important attributes and benefits of tithing as obtainable under the …
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Dear Izu, I wonder why nobody has commented on this article since you published it. Above all things I admire your boldness. You may not have all the facts but I think you are right in so many ways. Just like you, I may have to write a book to expose the truth about tithes. Now, you did give a temporary definition of tithe in your argument as a tax paid to men who are in full service in God's vineyard; and I know that you still have a better definition from the flow of your thoughts. I place this addendum for the purpose of clarity, that tithes are meant to be paid not just to any man but a priest. If my definition is right and if all christians at the point the veil in the temple was rent in two from top to bottom became priests to God, a royal priesthood at that, I really wonder which priest pays tithe to which. The pastor, apostle, teacher, evangelist and prophet are all priests of God. And I also add that God expects every man of God to work very hard to meet his family needs be he full-time, half-time or whatever. Yet by these statements we do not mean that the financial needs in the church should be neglected. We should make offerings, contribute liberally just like Barnabbas did. I leave a question: how did Barnabbas a Levite have lands and property to sell? You may get a clue from the book of Malachi. Thank you very much Izu and stand firm in the liberty by which Christ has set you free.