Before a government was set up, Genesis gives us an early example of tithing to God:
Genesis 28:20-22 – Then Jacob made a vow, saying, If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all you give me I will give a full tenth to you. (ESV)
Note that this passage is the complete opposite of today’s Christian teaching. Jacob tells God that if God blesses him with his basic needs first, then Jacob will give back 10% to God. Not the other way around. What are the basic needs? Well you have to understand how economics works to answer this question.
As of 2008, the United States ranks 17th on the Human Poverty Index. This means that there are 16 countries where a typical citizen has a better quality of life then in the United States. This is based on the probability of a citizen living to 60 years old, being able to read, be employed, and having an income close to the median. The United States has one of the highest rich-poor gaps of any high-income nation. This means that there is a very large percentage difference in the income of the top 15% vs. the bottom 15% of citizens. Depending on where you live, many people may seem very “rich” or very “poor” because of this gap. It is very deceptive because of this wide range. Therefore when a local church tells its congregation to tithe, anywhere from 5-30% of its members would not be able to afford tithing. They struggle just to pay for rent, clothes, and food.
Now let’s get back to the passage. Jacob makes a deal with God that his basic needs must be provided FIRST. Therefore, if you are living in poverty, you do not need to tithe. Not according to Jacob anyway. Here’s another passage:
Leviticus 27:30-33 – And all tithe of the land, of the seed of the land, of the fruit of the tree, is Jehovah’s – holy to Jehovah. And if a man really redeem [any] of his tithe, its fifth he addeth to it. And all the tithe of the herd of the flock – all that passeth by under the rod – the tenth is holy to Jehovah; he enquireth not between good and bad, nor doth he change it; and if he really change it – then it hath been – it and its exchange is holy; it is not redeemed. (YLT)There are several important points we can take from Leviticus:
Numbers 18:24-28 – but the tithe of the sons of Israel which they lift up to Jehovah, a heave-offering, I have given to them Levites for inheritance; therefore I have said of them, In the midst of the sons of Israel they have no inheritance. […] so ye do lift up – ye also – the heave-offering of Jehovah from all your tithes which ye receive from the sons of Israel; and ye have given from it the heaven-offering of Jehovah to Aaron the priest; (YLT)
According to Numbers, you had to be a priest both from the tribe of Levi and a decedent of Aaron to receive a tithe. Today, it is impossible to prove your genealogy back to Aaron, and therefore no one has the authority to receive tithes. On top of that, Jesus was the final sacrifice or tithe, and the system of the church being funded by tithes is no longer applicable. Remember that Jesus’ death makes the New Covenant valid, in which anyone may obtain salvation. See my article on The Two Covenants for more on this.
Deuteronomy 26:12 – When thou dost complete to tithe all the tithe of thine increase in the third year, the year of the tithe, then thou hast given to the Levite, to the sojourner, to the fatherless, and to the widow, and they have eaten within thy gates, and been satisfied, (YLT)
This verse just confirms what I have already discussed. Israel is not tithing in poverty, but on their increase. Also, it is only paid to Levities. Here is another few examples:
2 Chronicles 31:5,6,12 – As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the firstfruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. And the people of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the tithe of the dedicated things that have been dedicated to the Lord their god, and laid them in heaps. […] As they faithfully brought in the contributions, the tithes and the dedicated things. The chief officer in charge of them was Conaniah the Levite, with Shimei his brother as second, (ESV)
Nehemiah 10:37 – and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priest, the the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor. (ESV)
In both examples note that tithing is only agricultural products and can only be collected by Levites. It is not money. Giving money to your local church should only be done if God calls you to do so and it brings you joy:
2 Corithians 9:7 – Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (ESV)
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