Finally, lets forever make it clear and undeniable: Tithing is not a New Covenant obligation!
Tithing was historically understood as the practice of giving a tenth part or 10% of the harvest, and every tenth animal of the herd and flock. Bare in mind that this is an oversimplified statement about what the tithe was under the Law of Moses. In modern Christian churches/congregations the emphasis moved to the tithe of people’s financial income which should then go to the local Church. Is it Biblical for Churches and preachers to impose the obligation to tithe upon their people? Christ’s fulfillment of the Sinaitic and Abrahamic Covenants should make it clear that tithing is not a New Covenant law or commandmend.
The confusion among Christians about this topic is directly related to their understanding or lack of knowledge of the different covenants.
According to sources from Barna Group and the Ellison Research (Phoenix, Arizona, USA), nearly 60% of US Protestant Christians believe tithing is a Biblical requirement, but only 6% practice tithing. Many would say that 94% of those who do not tithe are not obeying Scripture. Some would even insist that, according to verses from the book of Malachi, they are under a curse for robbing God. But only a few passages are chosen to provide evidence for the dogma of tithing. These same verses are commonly not understood within their proper context either.
A bit of history and background
I could go back much further in history, but I will only cover the last six decades or so of the various Christian movements among organized Evangelical Churches around the world. These movements have been identified as: the healing revival (or movement) of the 50’s and 60’s with American preachers such as AA Allen, William Branham, Katherine Khulman, Oral Roberts, Jack Coe, Morris Cerullo, TL Osborne and many more. Many of these ministers used the large mobile tents in which they held their meetings, where thousands gathered and witnessed healing miracles and hear the evangelistic messages. This revival also had a strong Pentecostal Christian background.
Most people will have heard of Billy Graham, who also rose to prominence in those years. He was a Southern Baptist minister who did not emphasize healing but rather getting people to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
These two streams of Christianity, i.e. Pentecostalism and the Southern Baptist Church, held to a traditional outline of the doctrine on “tithes and offerings”. Out of the healing movement came the Charismatic Movement, which put more emphasis on the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. People like John Wimber and C. Peter Wagner were some who led this movement. They encouraged the importance of experiencing the presence and manifestation of the Holy Spirit in their meetings. Criticism of these movements usually came from those Christians who did not generally experience anything in their congregations. I could spend some time belaboring why some people are more auditory and others more kinesthetically oriented, but that’s another topic.
The Charismatic movement did not question the traditional teachings on “tithes and offerings”, and so the tradition remained unchallenged. Then there was the teaching movement from the 70’s into the 90’s. This has been commonly identified as the “word of the faith” movement. Much of the teaching material of E.W. Kenyon (1867–1948) influenced people like Kenneth Hagin Sr., Kenneth Copeland, Frederick Price, Jerry Savelle, Charles Capps, and Creflo Dollar, who are among the many who left their mark on the history of the Word of the Faith Movement.
In response to the kinesthetically (bodily feelings focused) – motivated Charismatic Movement, the Word of Faith placed a greater emphasis on teaching the Word of God. I then experienced a development that progressed from the “word of faith” to what is now almost standardized as the “grace movement”. Because of the diligent mindset of studying scripture that had developed among Word of Faith people, some had rediscovered the importance of grace in the Bible. Coupled with E.W. Kenyon’s teachings on righteousness (standing righteously and accepted before God) as a gift and a new understanding of the importance of grace, particularly in the New Covenant, the grace movement began to take root. I was one of those people who started teaching this message in 1995, which quickly caused some serious waves, surprisingly even among the word of faith camp.
The message was been criticized by many pastors and preachers, derided as the “hyper grace” message. You would think that the very knowledgeable Word of Faith people could only welcome the truth that the grace movement teaches. Those I knew who also taught the “Gospel of grace” understood the Word of Faith teaching extremely well, but they had undergone a paradigm shift into a different perspective of the Gospel. They had seriously expanded their view of where to place the need for “faith” and when and how to exercise “faith”, along with their insight into grace as a sure foundation. These people, better than any of their predecessors, understood the distinction between the Old and the New covenant.
They had a better understanding of the purpose of the law of Moses and how it was fulfilled in Christ. Sadly though, now even many of the teachers in the grace movement themselves have allowed their message to harden like concrete around their feet. Unlike when they emerged from their former Christian camps and joined the grace movement, they are now harshly critical of the message of “The Redemption of all through the faith of one man” (Jesus). I suspect that the mind ceases to be receptive to further truth, once assumed that we have come to the “full truth”. Ironically, they are now doing what others did to them when they were criticized and branded as heretics.
We have studied, learned, and experienced Bible truths in our lives for decades. We have moved from one paradigm to the next. We have learned amazingly rich Biblical truths. The reason I am addressing all of this is this. Tithing was strictly taught by Evangelicals and Pentecostals under the healing movement. The teaching on tithing continued into the Word of Faith movement, who used their teaching skills and Biblical knowledge to strengthen and solidify a teaching on tithing. But the teachers and preachers of the grace movement, many of whom I know personally, know better. Yet many hold fast to the Word of Faith’s teaching on tithing. Never mind that it is diametrically opposed to everything else they teach about grace and the love of God. I personally find it pathetic, but I understand why. How else are they supposed to secure their income?
I make no apologies for being honest about this. I do not blame those who have not yet discovered the truth. I am speaking of experienced teachers and ministers who, if they are honest and really study this truth about tithing, should be teaching the truth. If they did, they would stop pressuring people to tithe, claiming that Abraham did this before the Law of Moses was instituted. (This is a very common argument in the tithing debate) (Excuse a little sarcasm here) Abraham also practiced circumcision before the Law of Moses was instituted. Should we still be doing this to then?
Gospel Conference Collection
Back when we were serving as missionaries in Austria, we organized two conferences each year. We called it “Gospel Conference.” It was typically three days of classes on grace, righteousness (right standing before God as a gift), and the love of God (not your love for God, but His love for you). They were truly powerful and life changing for many. I have always made it an absolute priority to dedicate one hour during each conference to teaching the truth about tithing and giving. This hour was an hour of liberation. People would simply be relieved of their sense of obligation to give their money either as a tithe or as an offering. They learned what the really beautiful motivation to give meant. At that time I had many grace preachers as guest speakers, who did a great job. While I’m not sure, I got the distinct impression that even they didn’t appreciate my message on tithing. You know why? To this day these grace preachers teach their congregations that tithing is still an obligation to be kept.
I will not attempt to be politically correct on this subject. It’s too important of a topic. The financially abusive message of the last few decades has kept millions of people from coming to Church and hearing the true Gospel. It doesn’t matter who it is. The bottom line is; Those who teach the message of grace, and also teach tithing as a New Covenant commandment that must be kept, either do not truly understand the message of grace or are not honest. They try to secure their income out of fear and an inability to trust that God’s way is much, much better.
I am extremely grateful for all the good things I learned from other ministers and teachers, including some of those I quoted and referred to, even though they may not share my views. Theirs’ and my teachings and views are still subject to the light of Scripture.
Let’s establish a few presuppositions for this study:
1) Giving out of love and faith, and possibly out of responsibility, is an eternal principle.
2) The bringing in of tithes and offerings in the storehouse (often claimed to be the local church/congregation) under the threat of a curse is absolutely not a New Covenant commandment.
3) Christ is the fulfillment of the tithes of the Old Testament.
The tithe in Hebrews 7
1 For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; 2 To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; 3 Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. 4 Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. 5 And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: 6 But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. 7 And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. 8 And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. 9 And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. 10 For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him. 11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.
First, the word “tithe” is Greek δεκατη (“dekate”), Hebrew מעשר (“ma’asar”), meaning “tenth” is an arithmetic, a number: 1/10, as in 10%.
Under the Old Sinaitic Covenant there were specific conditions which required that the tithe would be paid. This is irrelevant to the New Covenant and is not even mentioned within the context of the New Covenant.
Hebrews 7: 9-10 shows that the “tithe” was given by Abraham, the man of faith, well before the law of Moses was enacted 430 years later. Levi, still in the loins of Abraham, in a way gave his tithes to Melchizedek when Abraham gave his tithes.
The main point of this passage is that Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham, was greater than Levi (7:7). Melchizedek’s priesthood, of whom we know few details, who was a type of Christ, is superior to that of the Levitical Priesthood. (7:8-11)
Some say that Christian ministers and teachers are eligible to receive tithes that formerly belonged to the Levites. According to this thesis, both the Levitical Priesthood and the tithing laws were changed. In other words, today’s Christian ministers have replaced the Levites and are to receive monetary tithing. However, if we look at verse 12, the law that needed changing pertains not just to tithing, but to the entire law of Moses received under the Levitical Priesthood (7:11). The law had to be replaced (not updated) just as the priesthood had to be replaced (7:12). Verses 19 and 28 make it even clearer that the law of Moses is being discussed. This is not a “substitute theory” but “fulfilment truth”.
Hebrews 7: 19
For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.
Hebrews 7: 28
For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.
The priesthood was such a large part of the overall Mosaic-Sinaitic covenant that this prophesied priesthood change meant a change (replacement) of the entire covenant. These verses are clear statements in the New Testament that indicate that God ended the Sinaitic Covenant with its Mosaic Law.
For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.
Verse 18 indicates that “the commandment going before” was voided because it was feeble and unprofitable, and it made no one perfect. The priests also had weaknesses because they were limited by death (7:23) and had to make daily sacrifices (7:28). No wonder they used to be called “men that die” (7:8). They were succeeded by the Great High Priest Jesus (7:26).
Christ now mediates a better covenant with better promises (8:6). The first covenant was not faultless (8:7), because God found fault with the people (8:8). He promised a New Covenant in which He would write His laws on the hearts and minds of His people (8:8-12). The writer of Hebrews concluded that the old covenant was decaying, and waxing old, and ready to vanish away. (8:13).
The law of Moses was going to be “discontinued” and when the author wrote the book of Hebrews, the law of Moses had also became “old”. It literally disappeared in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed the temple and ended the priestly rituals.
Tithing is part of the comparison and argument, for the tribe of Levi was symbolically in the loins of their great-grandfather Abraham when he met Melchizedek and gave him tithes. Therefore, it can be said that Levi paid Melchizedek tithes and received a blessing from him. Paying tithes to Melchizedek and receiving the blessing from him is taken by the author of the Book of Hebrews as evidence that Melchizedek was greater than Levi and all the Old Covenant priests descended from the tribe of Levi (Heb. 7:1– 17) ).
The discussion of tithing in Hebrews 7 was included only to prove that the Melchizedek priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood. In proving this point, the writer would also prove that Jesus is superior to the priests of the Old Covenant, because Psalms 110:4 had prophesied that He would be a priest forever, “after the order of Melchizedek.” That was the ultimate purpose of the argument, to prove that Jesus was greater than the priests of the old covenant.
4 The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
Giving back to God?
Abraham’s tithe is the only valid example of “giving back to God” in the Bible, for the only way to give material things to God would be through an eternal person representing God, in this case Melchizedek. Hebrews, verse 3 says Melchizedek…is “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually”. Therefore, Melchizedek is represented as a type of Christ, and Christ is the anti-type.
How can we tithe when we are in Christ when tithing is giving back to God and Christ is God? If we are “in Christ,” does Christ in us owe a tithe? If we assume that our identity is now “in Christ,” does Christ tithe to Christ?
Some claim that the Old Covenant Levites who ministered in the Temple are a shadow of our New Covenant pastors, priests and preachers or even the musicians in the church. If Christ is in us, does Christ tithe to Levi now? Is Levi greater than Christ? Or how is it that a church organization or professional minister is representative of Levi when we are all “in Christ” who is greater than Levi? In this sense, “tithing” becomes a silly and nonsensical matter.
The repeated “tithing” of the Old Covenant was but a sign pointing to the reality that is in Christ.
The book of Hebrews speaks thus of many things of the Old Covenant. There is a constant comparison of the Old Covenant with the New Covenant, which in every case is a much better Covenant. For example, the weekly Sabbath was a type of the reality that is in Christ. Since the Sabbath gave them no lasting, let alone everlasting, rest. They had to return to work the very next day after the weekly Sabbath rest. However, Christ has become our Sabbath rest. Likewise, the repeated animal sacrifices, the endless procession of priests, etc., would not be enough, but only pointed to an eternal reality that is in Christ.
Tithes before the law of Moses: Abram’s tithes
Although Abram’s tithing is the first mentioned in Scripture, some teach that he paid tithing because he was following an “eternal principle.” Some claimed that the offerings of Cain and Abel were a form of tithing, and Cain was punished for what he did not give. They conclude that from the beginning God had instituted a law requiring either tithes or first fruits, but Cain withheld what he owed God. His sin was that his supply was lacking in quantity. The implication is that those who do not tithe are like Cain.
Others go back even earlier and say, “The principle of tithing can be traced throughout the Bible. In fact, it was involved in the Garden of Eden when mankind took something (the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) that belonged to God or was only meant for God to have.”
Before the law was given through Moses, there were two accounts of voluntary tithing. The first accoiunt was that of Abram’s tithing to Melchizedek, and the second account was of his grandson Jacob.
8 And there went out the king of Sodom, and the king of Gomorrah, and the king of Admah, and the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (the same is Zoar;) and they joined battle with them in the vale of Siddim; 9 With Chedorlaomer the king of Elam, and with Tidal king of nations, and Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar; four kings with five. 10 And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain. 11 And they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their victuals, and went their way. 12 And they took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son, who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed. 13 And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram. 14 And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan. 15 And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. 16 And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. 17 And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale. 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. 19 And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: 20 And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all. 21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram, Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself. 22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, 23 That I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich: 24 Save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their portion.
Abram and his men not only saved Lot, but also brought back all the goods and people that had been taken from Sodom and Gomorrah. Melchizedek king of Salem blessed Abram, and Abram gave him a tenth of all the spoils of war. The king of Sodom told Abram to keep the rest of the spoils but to give him the people. However, Abram gave him everything except what his men had eaten and a small portion for three of his men. Abram tithes from the spoils of war, not his income. The idea that Abram practiced tithing regularly is pure conjecture, for it is not in the text. Nor does the text say that he was commanded to tithe. Abram gave almost all of the remaining 90% of the spoils to the king of Sodom, whose territory would soon be destroyed by fire and brimstone.
Abram’s tithes were taken from the spoils of war. He could not have followed any “eternal principle”. God gave Israel very different instructions in Numbers 31 regarding the spoils of their war with the Midianites. There was no tithing. If Abram had followed an eternal principle, God would have required the same of his people in Numbers 31. Abram did not even tithe his own wealth. He was tithing something he had promised to give away, so it didn’t really cost him anything.
20 And Jacob vowed 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 raiment to put on, 21 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: 22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
Jacob made a conditional vow implying that he would not even make the Lord his God unless he returned home safely and received protection, company, food, and clothing from the Lord. There is no record of Jacob actually fulfilling his vow by returning a tithe to the Lord, although we cannot assume that he did not either. As in Abram’s case, we do not see that he was commanded by the Lord to tithe. If we go back a few verses earlier (Genesis 28:13-15) we see that God had already promised Jacob that he would be with him, never leave him, protect him and bring him back to his land! God had also identified Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac, repeating the promise He had made to both his grandfather and father.
Consider a few points about God’s promise and Jacob’s vows:
1. It was God’s promise to him, and it was not subject to any conditional requirements such as tithes, offerings, or sacrifices. All God wanted from Jacob was that he would trust God. God wanted to keep the promise to Jacob just as he did to Abraham, who became the father of faith. Jacob did not respond to God’s promise in the same way his father and grandfather did.
2. Faith takes God at his word; Jacob didn’t. Jacob responded to God’s promise with a vow that showed his unbelief. He basically said, “If you do all these things, then you will be my God, and I will give you a tenth of anything you give me.” God had just promised to bless, to protect him and to fulfill according to the original promise he made to Abraham. He didn’t ask for a tithe or anything else. Jacob would not even commit himself to having the Lord as his God. God did not ask for a tithe. Neither did God suggest that Jacob promise him a tithe according to his vow.
23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
And Luke 11:42 were statements made by Jesus whilst under the Old Sinaitic Covenant since Jesus had not yet gone to the cross and that Covenant was fully abolished by 70 A.D. when Jesus fulfilled the old Sinaitic and Abrahamic covenants in every way. Here’s a thought. If we were truly acting on our new life in Christ now, we would accept that 100% (not just 10%) of our work and wealth belongs to God.
We can financially support a preacher or Ministry or Christian local church, but let’s get the motivation right. We are not obligated to give tithes and offerings.