The Spirit of the Tithe: It Was Never About Money

by Joshua Tilghman on March 9, 2012


For many religious institutions, tithing is a big issue today. I can understand why. Many of these religious institutions are quite wealthy, and to maintain that wealth, tithing is necessary. But what is the real spirit of the scripture when it comes to the issue of tithing? Does the scripture really teach that God demands a tenth of our income? The answer may surprise you.

Let’s begin with Abraham. Many are taught that Abraham tithed, but nowhere in the Bible does it give any indication of this. The idea is really quite silly. In a single recorded incident Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe on the spoils of war. For some reason, religious leaders often equate this with the modern idea of tithing on paychecks. In Abraham’s case, the spoils of war had nothing to do with Abraham’s income. This voluntary offer on the part of Abraham certainly didn’t set any tithing precedent, either; hundreds of years later, when Moses stated that the Israelites were to give Levites a small portion on the spoils of war, it wasn’t even close to ten percent. And how does an entire nation giving some of the spoils of war away equate to an individual tithing on their weekly or monthly income?

Here is something else to consider: What would Abraham’s regular tithes be used for? To go to the local ziggurat building fund? In Abraham’s day, a ziggurat was a common, rectangular, tiered temple built by the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, but I don’t think Abraham would have had much use for that! As we’ll discuss shortly, the purpose of tithing was providing food for all the Israelites, and in Abraham’s day, there were no Israelites.

I have heard some use Jacob’s vow to God as setting a precedent to tithing. But this doesn’t make sense either since Jacob’s vow was conditional. Besides, if you do decide to tithe based on the condition of getting bountifully blessed by God, you might be in for a shock. Jacob surely had no life of luxury after making his conditional promise to God. In fact, he had a hard life. He even tells the Pharaoh of Egypt near the end of his life that his years had been “…few and evil…” (Gen. 47:9). You can hardly blame him for such a statement. While God blessed him with a big family, that family often brought hardship and shame to his life. He also lost a son (even though he found him later), lived through some pretty harsh times (like extreme famine), and never lived in a permanent location.

Now let’s go to the Torah where the law of tithing originated. First off I want to say that money wasn’t the issue -crops and livestock were. More specifically, community survival was the issue. There are four types of tithes mentioned in the Torah. The first tithe dealt with those who owned land and raised crops. Ten percent of the raised crops were to go to the Levites. Be reminded that this tithe only dealt with those who raised crops. No money was involved. This tithe was also only required for six years out of a seven-year cycle, and those who did not own land, such as the poor, were not required to give this tithe.

The next tithe I want to speak about involved setting aside food for those in need. It was only required on the third and sixth year out of the seven-year cycle. Deuteronomy 14:28-29 states:

“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 had no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within they gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the LORD they God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest.”

I have included the above scripture because it reveals something that many religious leaders today never consider. Piggybacking on the first tithe that I mentioned, the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger probably didn’t have the means to produce crops. Therefore, they did not pay tithes. Besides, this second tithe that I mention was brought to the storehouse for them.

The third type of tithe I want to mention was set aside for annual festivals. Basically this was a party tithe. Everyone had to put away a tenth of their income (after the first tithe) for the purpose of a feast day. The Bible also clearly states that it was okay to drink “strong drink” (beer) during this feast day. Party indeed! How would your religious leader feel about a portion of your tithe being set aside so that you can drink a six-pack and grill a filet mignon once a year on church property?! Maybe this scripture is the reason why some Rabbi’s don’t consider it a sin to get drunk on this feast day?

The last tithe I mention involved only the Levites. They were required to give ten percent of their best to the priest.

So what was the real spirit of tithing? I can honestly say it is one of the most beautiful examples of community love I can think of. Rather than being a way to amass wealth for church programs, buildings, and high-dollar salaries, it was a practical way to take care of the community. The Levites, the priest, the widows, the orphans, the poor, and even the stranger would have all benefited from the Torah tithe. Many times today tithing is done out of an attitude of obligation, but this should never be the case. Tithing has always been about physical provision for the community as a whole. If a religious leader states that tithing on your yearly income is a requirement by God, they are certainly not getting this teaching from the Bible. Instead it’s a part of their man-made religious program. As the “About this Blog” section states on the homepage, religion can only direct us to connect with God on the outside. Religion teaches humanity that God is “out there” and we have to reach out to him. This is why some religious leaders teach that tithing will bless you (Malachi 3:10 anyone?). But they misunderstand the entire concept of Biblical tithing and God. The Bible teaches us to connect to God on the “inside,” for this is the only place God can be found. That’s why Jesus stated the Kingdom of Heaven was within us.

In conclusion I want to say that giving and tithing can be a wonderful thing. We should all be willing to give, especially out of our abundance. But we should never be coerced into tithing on our paychecks because we believe God requires it. When Jesus told the Pharisees to pay taxes and to tithe he was speaking to wealthy individuals. Not everyone understands how to create wealth, and to require someone to tithe when they can barely pay the bills goes against the spirit of the scripture.

It is also important to add that most religious leaders who teach tithing is a God-requirement for everyone are probably only teaching what they were taught. Education is the key. Feel free to use this article to help spread the word.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric April 13, 2012 at 7:30 pm

I don’t give these thieves anything! Jesus cast these money changers out of the temple! I REBUKE ALL OF THEM!!!!

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Joshua Tilghman April 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Good point. And he wasn’t bashful about it either.

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Lupulco October 6, 2012 at 8:44 am

Interesting take on titheing, for too long lots of religions tried to coerce their followers to tithe. This as brought them into the state they are now, “If you want to get rich, start a religious order or go into politics.”
I tend to use James to sum up people, religious and political organisations. “By your actions, you are known,”

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Joshua Tilghman October 6, 2012 at 11:05 am

Absolutely, Lupulco. I couldn’t agree more!

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Darius December 25, 2012 at 9:31 pm

I remember a moment in this life when I made a conscious choice to take ten percent of my earnings and set it aside. After I had accumulated enough money, I took it and went to the store and bought pampers, food, clothing, and what ever else I could think of, that one might need on a basic level. I then took all of that stuff to the local homeless shelter and gave it to them for the benefit of those who had not– i.e. those who could not afford these things.

The reason behind this action was simple. I had practised giving my tithe/offerings to the church, preacher, pastor, man in the pulpit, etc., and the emotional encouragement that they gave was not so much in tithing, but in the benefit of giving as stated in (Luke 6:38), which is used in the black church most often when collecting money above and beyond the basic tithe (especially during what they call a “Revival”).

I have personally gone through giving up my earnings to the church offering, even at the expense of getting behind in rent and other bills– believing what the preacher said, (i.e. Luke 6:38…). It’s not a good feeling, when you give your rent money to a church, in belief, of an expectation that you will be rewarded with so much more than what you have given. And then find that you and your family are in jeopardy of being put out on the street, while the preacher is riding around in the Benz, and living in the Big house, that your and others rent/bill money paid for…

I heard/read it somewhere, that the TRUTH hurts before it sets you free…

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Joshua Tilghman December 25, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Darius,

Thanks for sharing this personal story. I believe that most pastors who preach this sincerely believe that you will be blessed if you give no matter what your financial situation is. I have known two pastors who taught this and they were genuine. Some people do get an extra blessing if they have complete faith money will return to them. The law of attraction states this. But most people are not strong enough to have this sort of faith. Instead of getting blessed for giving, they lose out on their rent and become finacially burdened. In my opinion, a pastor should never require tithing from a congregation because it’s just not scriptural. Even fron an exoteric standpoint, it’s not scriptural. It’s all backwards and rewards an outward empire instead of the inward kingdom.

What you did for the homeless…this is the gospel, my friend. They needed it more than the pastor driving around in the Benz. My hat goes off to you. Your pastor could learn a lot and blessed through your act of love.

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anny April 23, 2013 at 8:46 am

I have been a christian for the larger part of my life but somehow I have always felt free to interpret what I was told for myself, even as a kid. When I felt something did not ring true I just decided that the church must be mistaken. I think I was not even aware of many things that scared other people to death. I did not even relate this tithing thing to the church. After all, there was not even a church to talk to when these commandments were given. I did agree to give 10% of my income at the times when that was financially possible but I gave only a small percentage to the church. It had to be able to function after all. But I decided for myself whom I wanted to give the rest and never let the church decide that for me. Mostly it went to children in need in third world countries or to people who lived in wartorn countries or were struck by some disaster. Never mind that most of them were not even christians. I must say however that our church never urged us to spend it all on them, so I was not even aware that I might have been supposed to do that. Not that it would have made any difference if they had.

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Joshua Tilghman April 25, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Anny,

I have always felt the same way, but there was a time in my life when I followed some very charismatic church leaders who convinced me to deny my own heart for a bit. All in all it was a good experience because a time came where I knew I had to find the truth so it caused me to begin digging. Everything I found led me back to what I had always known as a young man reading the Bible.

Tithing is one of the most abused acts in the church today. Many times it is used wisely, but oftentimes it’s just wasted.

Blessings.

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mose May 17, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Josh, thanks a lot for the great job you are doing of spiritually opening our inner selves to be able to understand what the bible has to say.
Would you kindly tell me if Satan can offer what God has failed to offer, if one worships Satan as we hear that there are those who worship him. I ask this because of my scanty knowledge on matters of spirituality and i am sure you will answer me .
Thanks and be blessed and continue doing the word work.

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Joshua Tilghman May 19, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Mose,

Satan is the ego of man. Most people automatically worship the ego simply because they are blinded by it. Our spiritual job is to overcome it, as Christ is depicted as doing.

Satan, or the ego, is also a necessary component in the grand cosmic evolutionary scheme. In this respect, the ego is not evil, but we must become aware of its influence.

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ohaeri chase chinelobi August 16, 2015 at 10:54 am

good information. is long time I know about church reaping off d poor . may God forgive them for saying tilting is for God while d men in d church eat d money. too bad

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lemo September 5, 2015 at 3:23 am

What about first fruits? On the same scripture in Duet 26 it speaks of it… I do want to honor God with my possessions and first fruits as well

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Joshua Tilghman February 21, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Lemo, the “first fruits” is the time you owe above all else to realize spiritual reality.

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