The Law of Tithing
by Curtis Clair Ewing
Out of the 68 books of the Bible, 34 deal in one way or another with the subject of giving and receiving. Out of 72 references to giving, 48 show open promise of God’s pledged blessing to the giver. “Give and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38) Can anyone give evidence that God does not keep that promise? We believe that He more thank keeps His Word. However, we also believe in proportionate giving, and that minimum standard of Christian giving is “one tenth” or “the tithe” to use the biblical expression. No one has really given to God until the tithe has first been paid. We are also convinced that many Christians suffer materially, physically and spiritually, because they have been misusing and appropriating that which belongs to God. We trust you are not one of them.
The tithe is simply 10% of one’s increase or income. In the Bible it is also called the “first fruits” if offered in the form of crops, and “firstlings” if offered in the form of cattle and sheep many, not recognizing the difference between the letter and spirit or principle of the law have thought we no longer should be obligated to tithe because the Bible speaks of tithing crops and herds and oil and wine. Such people miss the principle of the Law entirely. In olden times men used the barter system for commerce and that was all they had to give. But today we use a medium of exchange or money, which represents the same thing but it is convenient. So today we tithe our money.
The first mention of tithe is found in Genesis 4:3-4 where Cain and Abel brought their gifts to the Lord. If we are to rely on the teaching of the early church fathers concerning Cain and Abel, we must connect the sin of Cain with tithing. The fathers taught that Cain’s offering was rejected because he did not bring the whole tithe of his increase to Yahweh, basing their conclusions largely on the Septuagint version of the incident. The Sacred Tenth, by Henry Lansdell, Baker Book House of Grand Rapids, Michigan, furnishes the proof of this position. And P.W. Thompson, an able English writer, has this to say on the same subject:
“So strongly has this view impressed some of the Church that in this history of the two brothers they find the first reference to the tithe, and in the Council of Seville, held in 590 AD, a cannon was passed which reads, ‘If anyone does not lithe everything, let the curse which God inflicted upon Cain for not rightly tithing be heaped upon him’.”
The next mention of tithing in the Scripture is found in Genesis 14:17-20, where Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedec. This is a very important reference as we shall see later. Then, later on in Genesis 28:22 we have the account of Jacob making his vow to tithe. These references show that tithing was a law known to man from the very first and was practiced long before Israel was organized into a nation and given the Divine Constitution to administer, with tithing incorporated into the economic system. So we have there tithing as practiced in non-theocratic civilization; of great importance to modern Christians.
Under a theocracy, which is the perfect type of government, tithing was different and men had advantages which they do not have in man-made governments. In Leviticus 27:30-32, we are told very definitely that the tithe is Yahweh’s and if one is guilty of misappropriating the tithe he may redeem it by adding a fifth part of it (10% + 2% = 12%). Then we are told that the tithe was paid to the children of Levi, who were comparable to our civil servants today, and one-tenth of that tithe was to go to the Aaronic Priesthood (Numbers 18:21-28). It was used as a state tax.
First, there was the regular tithe (Deuteronomy 14:22), then every third year an extra tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28; Amos 4:4) was collected for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. Besides these two there was a soldier’s tax paid by all the male population to save them from doom in battle (Exodus 30:11-16). Authorities disagree as to how much this amounted to – somewhere between 15-18% of the income. Only a small percentage under a theocracy with the Law of God as the Law of the Land. But as a curse for us, we are not willing as yet, to live under a Divine constitution. But the tithe still belongs to God. What, then, are we to do about it?
If we are living in a theocracy, with the Divine constitution, the tithe would cover everything but at present we are living under man-made governments, and man-made governments collect their own taxes. But the tithe still belongs to God! The extra tax exacted by governments of our day is the penalty we pay for not accepting God’s rule over us nationally. Israel was told of this very thing when she demanded a king, to become like other nations, that he would misappropriate the tithe (I Samuel 8:11-18).
Now, let us turn to the New Testament references which we believe sill shed light on the most important subject. The first one is Hebrews 7:1-8 which we believe is unanswerable. In this passage the Apostle is making a comparison between Melchizsedec, to whom Abraham paid tithes, and Jesus Christ, and showing the superiority of Jesus Christ over Abraham. But the Apostle’s argument certainly falls flat and he breaks down in his efforts to show the superiority of Christ, if Christ is not to receive tithes, as did Melchizedec, who was a type of Christ, to whom should Christians, who are the children of Abraham, pay tithes?
The writer of Hebrews settles this matter with verse 8.
Here we have the plain statement that Christ “receiveth them (tithes) of whom it is witnessed that He liveth.” Who witness that Christ is alive? CHRISTIANS! As His witnesses, Christians tithe to Jesus. How could Paul make it plainer?
The other reference is found in I Cor. 9:12-14. Here the Apostle Paul is referring to Numbers 18:21-28 where the tithe was paid to the priest. And as God ordained in olden times, that they who ministered in sacred things should be supported by the tithes, just so now those who preach the Gospel should live of the same. This is God’s order for us today. And we are convinced that many sincere Christians, suffer so much needlessly, materially, physically, and spiritually, simply because they cannot or will not, from a loving heart, out of gratitude to God, tithe their income systematically. God’s pronouncements on this are the same in all ages – a curse on those who do not tithe and a blessing on those who do (Mal. 3.8-12; Proverbs 3:9-10; 11:24-25).
Now, besides these passages by the Apostles, we have the direct words by Jesus Christ to the men of His day who certainly were not living under a theocratic state:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithes of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law; judgement; mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done and not to leave the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23)
The interpretation which has been put on these texts is the same as was taught by the early church fathers. A Christian should think twice before he rejects a teaching on which the fathers were so unanimous and spoke as with one voice, as they did on tithing. Especially should we give heed to what was taught for the first three or four centuries when the church was closest to the Apostles and was the purest in its doctrine. Even eleven of the great church councils, up until the year 790 AD ordained all Christians to tithe and held that to do so was “divinely ordained.”
During the years 1913-14, the following question was published in a number of religious journals in the United States and Canada: “Have you ever known anyone who was less happy less generous, or less financially prosperous from being a tither?” A total of more than 10,000 “no” replies were received and not one “yes.”
Here is a testimony, like many which are on record, from a William Arthur, a Wesleyan Methodist minister of London, England, taken from his famous lecture on systematic and proportionate giving: “I know many men who, at the outset of life, gave a tenth. These have all been prosperous men. I do not know one of them but shows that the effect of his early adopting one-tenth has been to prepare him for higher proportion when years of plenty set in. the very night before I left London to give this lecture, I asked a friend of mine who had adopted the principle of giving a tenth early in life and whom the prospering hand of God had raised from humble beginnings to a position of great valuable influence, if he every knew a case in which a man set out on the principle of giving a tenth to God, and PERSEVERED IN IT, and failed in life? HE answered ‘Not one’.”
If you are not a their, my friend, do begin this practice immediately and you will find many surprises awaiting you. Here are a few of them: You will be surprised at the deepening of your spiritual life while paying the tithe; at the ease with which you meet your obligations with the remaining 9/10 of your money; at the amount of money you will have to give to the Lord’s work; at the ease in which you can go to larger giving, finding it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35); at the preparation which tithing gives to be a faithful and wise steward over large incomes; and at your own foolishness in not tithing sooner.
Who to give it to? The late Pastor Emry used to say “you should pay where you are fed!” If you are blessed and learn from a particular ministry – then put your money there! He also told of someone who was in the habit of giving a small offering. Gradually the man’s income went down to the point that his small offering was actually his tithe. When he started giving more, his pay increased.
Low income? No one could have less than the widow who cast two mites into the temple treasury. (Mark 12:41-44)
“But thou shalt remember Yahweh thy God; for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may established his covenant which he swore unto thy fathers, as it is this day” Deuteronomy 8:18
You can’t afford to tithe?
Can you afford NOT TO?