The Practice of Tithing is Unbiblical
TITHES AND TITHING: CAN WE HONESTLY FACE UP TO
Is It Christian To Impose Tithing on a Congregation?
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"...But whoever says in the Spirit, Give me money, or something else, you shall not listen to him. But if he tells you to give for others' sake who are in need, let no one judge him."
(Chapter 11. Concerning Teachers, Apostles, and Prophets; 'The
Didache.' This short book is placed by scholars around the middle to the end of the first century AD and is considered a genuine document of the early church. Just as tithing was unmentioned by Paul, it is also unmentioned here).
(BE ASSURED: IF YOU ARE A FAITHFUL TITHER, THIS ARTICLE WILL IN
NO WAY ATTACK YOU BUT WILL BRING A FEW FACTS TO YOUR
I will start this article/essay by making five opening statements:
1. The Apostle Paul NEVER ONCE appealed to tithing even though he
obviously often suffered financial difficulties. However, he
wrote rather a lot about FREELY giving financial support where
one is able.
2. The early Church - prior to Constantine - DID NOT uphold
3. Tithing was a widespread practise in the ancient world - not
something peculiar to Israel.
4. In our day, strongly tithing congregations often become very wealthy
congregations with much to spend on various projects and with the
minister enjoying an affluent lifestyle, even while many within
that congregation might live in a financially very precarious
world. Is this not at odds with the examples within the Book of
Acts which show Christians within a congregation SHARING their
substance so that none should suffer lack? Why do we ignore this
clear NEW TESTAMENT example, while being quick to seize an Old
Testament example which finds no real New Testament support?
5. 2 Corinthians 9:7 effectively bars tithing for the New
Testament Church of God since it plainly states that Christians
should not give (and the whole context is of financial giving)
INTRODUCTION; A FEW
I once sat down to view a video recording which
featured a sermon given by a noted American minister who has both
a Television and a Radio ministry. It opened with some lovely
singing from an elegantly attired choir. When the sermon
commenced, however, I was in for a shock; I had expected a sermon
on 'Giving,' but what soon followed genuinely astonished me. The
pastor started loudly berating a section of his congregation for
not paying their tithes regularly! I continued to sit and listen
with some measure of incredulity. For a while, I thought that the
preacher may have been purposely playing the role of some bad
kind of example of what ministers/pastors really should not do! I wanted to
believe the best about this preacher. I do know that this man is
capable of good biblical preaching, he does not, for example,
uphold the 'prosperity gospel.' But I eventually realised that no more
excuses could be made for this man. There he was, striding the
stage in an obviously highly expensive silk suit, as he loudly berated a few who did not pay
their tithes regularly. Soon, he would tell this section of his
congregation that they needed to "Repent!" Apparently, this
gentleman lives in some opulence and prosperity and the whole
'set' which was apparently within the congregational meeting
place (I try to avoid the word 'church' where it will be wrongly
applied), betrayed a very prosperous and large
Now I don't know who might need to repent within his congregation
but - to be perfectly frank - THAT MINISTER MIGHT NEED TO!! I
won't say why right now but will continue with one or two more
I once encountered a young minister - straight out of Bible
college - who somewhat rashly, and without receiving much wise
counsel, decided that he was going to impose tithing upon his new
congregation. I had a private meeting with this young man and
advised caution, but he was not prepared to listen. Then I wrote
out quite a long essay explaining why tithing should NOT be
considered a REQUIREMENT for Christians today. This essay proved
to be more a less an initial 'blueprint' for the article which you are now
reading. I asked him to get back to me to show me where I was
wrong, if he still thought so. Well, you have probably guessed
it, 5 years later I am still waiting! But unfortunately, just 8
months later the young man was fired from the pastorate
(absolutely nothing to do with me).
I also presented the same arguments to a much older - and wiser -
minister to test his reaction. Again, I said, if I am wrong
please get back to me and show me where since I value your
judgement. Again, I heard nothing!
The final minister to whom I presented my case was an elderly,
retired minister. His former congregation had indeed tithed, he
told me. But upon hearing my argument, he stated,
"By jove! You are right. Why did I never see this point
THE MAIN POINTS OF
A. Why JUST Lift Tithing Out Of The
Tithing is something which we certainly find in the Old Testament
since the Israelites were plainly required to tithe. In fact,
they were required to pay not one but three tithes! The tithing
texts in the Old Testament are not always exactly clear but it
appears that the first tithe was used to support the Levites
since they received no inheritance as the priestly tribe. The
second tithe was apparently set aside in order to pay for that
family's attendance at the various feastdays (especially the
Feast of Tabernacles). And the third tithe was used to help
support the poor among the Israelites; this third tithe was
payable every third and sixth year out of a cycle of seven years.
This might seem to present an enormous burden during that
particular year, but once we start to unravel the complexities of
these tithes with the help of Josephus and other early Jewish
writers, it starts to become clear that the first tithe (to the
Levites) was dropped in the third tithe year.
We should notice something straightaway here:
These tithes were inextricably bound up with meeting the needs
of the poor, by either:
a. Supporting the Levites (the Lord's chosen priestly tribe), who would have had no other income.
b. Supporting the other poor who wished to rejoice in the Levitical feast days.
Any concept that the tithe could be employed as a tax to make
the wealthy even more wealthy would be total anathema to the true intention of the
Levitical system! What too often happens today is that the 'tithe' is employed in societies in which the needs of the poor are already fully met and it is used entirely incorrectly.The expressed intention is usually "to support the spreading of the gospel" and it cannot be denied that it is partly used for evangelism, but too often the tithe is also used to make local churches wealthy and to ensure that a ministry team live in some luxury!
The original Levitical system was terribly legalistic of course, but a
legalistic system is precisely what we are discussing
here! If one starts to consider the complexities of the various
kinds of animal sacrifices which were required under this
system, one wonders how the whole Levitical system did not
entirely break down under a sea of confusion! But the point is
Tithing was just ONE PART of an entire system. Therefore the
question must be asked;
Why ONLY pick out the principle of tithing? (I say 'principle'
because, as we have already seen, the complete tithing system was
quite complicated and the 'first tenth' was only part of it). As
has been pointed out many times, the Old Covenant system really
was ONE SYSTEM. Attempts to talk about the 'ceremonial law,' or
the 'sacrificial law' and the 'civil law' must always recognise
that these definitions are imposed upon the Old Testament;
these definitions are not biblical. Rather, the Old Covenant
presents one complete legal system and - within that - we notice
these different aspects, including ceremonial, financial, civil
and so on.
It also seems inescapable that much within this law was intended
for a particular people at a particular time. The laws
presume an agrarian and land-based society. The laws also presume
a society which necessarily had to set its own laws:
Capital punishment, for instance, formed part of this system;
obviously we know that we can't just lift this out of the Old
Covenant and claim that the Church should be practising it!! In
like manner, tithing presumed a people essentially poor except for
flocks, herds and crops.
So, again I ask, why just lift tithing out of this system, a system which
Hebrews 8: 13 plainly tells is now obsolete??!!
Now a few will raise an objection to this. They will point out
that we see tithing practised pre-Old Covenant in two Scriptures,
one involving Abraham, the other involving Jacob. People who put
this argument, often go on to say that this "proves" that God's
system of law predates Mount Sinai and that He made all His laws known
to the patriarchs and all Mount Sinai represents is the
formal giving of the law to a people who had largely
forgotten it. Such people might even go as far as to claim that
tithing has always been God's way of financing His work upon
earth. But by this time, they are, indeed, miles out on a limb
with no scriptural support whatever!
This is not the place to debunk the concept that Old Covenant law
was in existence prior to Mount Sinai. Of course, certain
principles of law were certainly in existence and God made some
of these known to Abraham, but even the very wording of
the Mount Sinai package showed that this was a new thing in the
If we consider Abraham's tithe to the mysterious Melchisedec
related in Genesis 14:17-20, this was not strictly speaking a
tithe at all since it does not appear to refer to normal earned
Then in looking at Jacob's promise to tithe in Genesis 28:18-22,
we may note further problems since we really do not know if Jacob
actually fulfilled his promise. But - in both of these cases - these were not 'tithes' in the way that word is now used, they were freewill offerings which were of a tenth.
But these texts in no way 'prove' that the Lord had revealed His
tithing laws to the patriarchs. Why do I say this?
Because we now know that the principle of the tithe was
already around in the ancient world. What the Lord did in Leviticus
and Numbers was to point at a principle which was sometimes
practised in the ancient world, and show how this could be used
to assist the Levites and all the poor!
It is not difficult to substantiate the great antiquity of tithing:
According to Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible:
'The institution of offering tithes of the fruits of the field and of the flocks is one which dates back to a period greatly anterior to Israelite history. A tenth of the flocks, fruits, and possessions of all kinds, as well as of the spoils of war, was given to their gods [referring to pagan tithing] by many peoples.' (James Hastings, ed., Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, New York: Hendrickson, 1994, s.v. "Tithe," by W. O. E. Oesterley, 940).
'The widespread practice in the ancient world of tithing by giving a portion of one's profit or spoils of war extended from Greece to China. Donation of a tenth portion was common apparently because most people "counted in tens, based on ten fingers."' (Walter A. Elwell, ed., Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996, s.v. "Tithe, Tithing," by Brian K. Morley).
'The custom is very ancient and widely practiced,...being known in Athens, Arabia, Rome, Carthage, Egypt, Syria, Babylon and China.' (Tithes, Tithing by R.E.O. White, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol. 4, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997, page 2072).
So tithing was ancient, not necessarily ever part of "God's own financial laws" at all (as some claim), but the Lord clearly pointed the Israelites to it as a helpful measure for their own time and place so, in this way, it did become part of His ordained Levitical system (but never part of the Ten Commandments, for instance).
B. A Brief Historical Overview
There is no doubt that it fell largely to the Apostle Paul to be
the main theologian of the New Testament. He is the man who tells
us that we are now all one in Christ, no matter what nationality.
He is the one who carefully outlines the glorious doctrine of
Justification By Faith. But Paul outlined much else too, even
down to such matters as the pattern of a church service and
whether women should speak in church. Paul later also passes on
much information to Timothy when he realises that his own time is
short, but nowhere does Paul ever mention tithing! This is
especially important to notice in view of the fact that Paul does
occasionally talk rather a lot about financial giving. In 2
Corinthians chapters eight and nine, Paul is continually writing
on the subject of giving; mainly, its true, on the subject of the
collection for the struggling congregation at Jerusalem. He
finally expounds the principle of the 'cheerful giver' in 2
Corinthians 9:6-7. These are two whole chapters on the subject of
financial giving by members of the body of Christ. Tithing is not
once mentioned. Elsewhere Paul occasionally mentions his
determination not to expect funds to come his way, but to work
whenever the opportunity was there. Of course, he also mentions
that ministers of Jesus Christ should expect to be financially
supported. It is vital to consider 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 here,
because now Paul is talking about the right of ministers to
receive financial support while preaching the gospel, although it
seems clear from his comments that he tried hard not to take up
this right wherever possible, in his own case. But here are a
large slab of eighteen verses where Paul could have appealed to
tithing but plainly refuses to do so! This must surely be
significant, for Paul is exactly addressing the right of
ministers to be supported by the brethren. But Paul's silence on
tithing here must be significant!
It must be fair to say that the overwhelming majority of Bible
scholars have concluded that Paul could only have made
the comments which he did in a situation in which church
members were not tithing. Moreover, Paul's own silence in
these sections of Scripture must lead one to the inescapable
conclusion that Paul did not wish to teach first century
Christians to tithe! Surely it is simply impossible to come
to any other conclusion!
When Jesus sent out the very first preachers of the Gospel, He
appears to outline a financial approach based entirely on faith.
Notice Luke 9:3, Luke 10:4-7 and especially Matthew 10:7-10. The
Gospel was to go out entirely without charge. Jesus appears to be
saying, 'What has been given to you freely, must never be charged
for. Have faith in the Lord to supply the need.' This helps us to
see why Paul refuses to go beyond that in laying down any
particular financial approach for the people of God to adopt! (By
the way, in the interests of space, I am not writing down the
Scriptures which I quote for the most part, but I STRONGLY URGE
THE READER TO LOOK THESE SCRIPTURES UP).
We can be quite sure that what Jesus and Paul refuse to do, i.e.,
set up a particular programme of financial regulation for the Church, the early
'Church Fathers' did not wish to do either. This is especially
clear from the writings of such people as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus
and Tertullian. In these writings we do indeed see 'tithes and
offerings' occasionally mentioned but only as a type of the fact
that the ministry is to be supported - certainly not as a
system which was in operation in their own time. In
Didascalia Apostolorum 2.35 we read,
"No more be bound with sin offerings, holocausts,etc., nor yet
with tithes and firstfruits, and part-offerings, and gifts and
oblations. For it was laid upon them to give all these things as
of necessity, but you are not bound by these things...thus shall
your righteousness abound more than their tithes and firstfruits
and part-offerings, when you shall do it as it is written: 'Sell
all thou hast, and give it to the poor'"
This is the approach which we now find. These early writers
appeared to have had no doubts that a legalistic system of
financial giving was now outmoded, replaced by something far
better! Some of these writers do occasionally mention church
finances but never appeal to tithing.
This approach continues for the first few centuries. It should
not be entirely surprising that we discover that it is none other
than Cyprian who first starts to wonder whether tithing might be
employed by the church, although it does not happen during his lifetime.
Cyprian wanted to re-introduce elements of the Levitical system
into the Church. He was concerned that the ministry were not
always getting the respect which he felt that they deserved. He
wanted to lift the ministry above the level of the
congregation. He was concerned about schism and heretics and felt
the answer must be to place the ministry on a pedestal. Regarding tithing, Cyprian will, of course, have been very aware that tithing was widely practiced in the world of his day. Many of
the ritualistic things which we now see in the Orthodox and
Catholic churches can be traced to the influence of Cyprian,
which influence others were to build upon.
But it is only with the arrival of Constantine the first
'Christian emperor' (many historians have suspected that he was
never really converted), that we see much serious thought given
to church finance. Soon people would want magnificent buildings
to be constructed in honour of Christ. How was all this to be
financed? Now Christianity was becoming respectable, Christians
were no longer persecuted and, in fact, it started to be in a
person's interest to claim to be a Christian in order to
'get ahead' in society. After all, was not the very emperor now a
Christian? Over the next few centuries we witness thousands
pouring into the visible, institutional church many of whom - without
question - were not converted. It is only now that the
principle of tithes and offerings starts to be strongly pushed in
order to help finance an ecclesiastical system which - to be frank - was largely
unknown to the New Testament.
Of course, within this system in which 'Christianity' became a
domain (hence the name 'Christendom') true Christians were still
to be found, indeed, without doubt, they remained the majority.
Yet we now frequently find the leadership of the organised
church falling into the hands of "bishops" who were really
politicians much more than they were men of God! So this was a
start of a system which led to the much despised imposed
tithe. So tithing had not been practiced in the early
Christian church but gradually became common by the sixth
century. The Council of Tours in 567 advocated tithing. Tithes
were made obligatory by civil law in the Carolingian empire in
765 and in England in the tenth century. Much has been written
about the dissent, anger and hatred which this was to cause in
places like England and Germany. Sometimes plainly corrupt
"bishops" (who were really what we would now call politicians) were to be found living in
luxury amidst the starving. The established church amassed great
lands, properties and untold wealth by means of this system. Yet,
perhaps nothing has made the established church so hated as this
abused and misappropriated tax.
Evangelicals who - in our day - have so enthusiastically embraced
the tithing principle seem genuinely unaware of the often hideous
record of this system, as well as the fact that this tax was not
finally abandoned in England and Wales until the Tithe Act of
C. New Testament "Proof Texts"
Modern restored tithing, as we have seen, bears little semblance
to the biblical model which was part of the legal code of ancient
Israel. That law - within a simple and agrarian society - was
concerned with the needs of the poor. Modern tithing, however, is
mainly concerned with funding local church congregations in a
society - or societies - which usually bear little or no
resemblance to the Israel of Leviticus. Therefore those who
strongly promote tithing realise that there is little point in
quoting Old Testament Scriptures.
So attempts are sometimes made to appeal to the very few New
Testament Scriptures in which tithing gets a mention.
Unfortunately these people are in serious trouble before they
even start. Why? Because they know that New Testament premier
writer and theologian, the Apostle Paul, is completely silent on
the subject, whereas these people would dearly love to have a
Scripture in which he enthusiastically backs it!
In all honesty, I have to say that NOT A SINGLE NEW TESTAMENT
SCRIPTURE SUPPORTS TITHING AS SOMETHING WHICH CHRISTIANS SHOULD
BE PRACTISING IN OUR DAY! We might as well say that straight
Nevertheless, since some writers have indeed claimed that
there is New Testament support for tithing as a thing which
Christians should practise, let us look at the so-called 'Proof
Texts.' PLEASE CHECK THESE REFERENCES IN YOUR OWN BIBLE.
Here Jesus complains to the Pharisees that they have tithed
'mint, dill and cumin' (herbs) when they have neglected weightier
spiritual matters such as mercy and faithfulness. He told them
that those matters are more important and should have been
practised 'without neglecting the former' (tithing). It is a
little hard to believe that this has been used as a text showing
that Christians should now tithe, but it has been! One important
Christian writer, British-based but of American origin, even said,
"His approval and exhortation to tithe ought to be sufficient
motivation for any Christian."
But of course, Jesus is talking to Pharisees who operated under
the Old Covenant, and tithing was part of their system. Today
Christians stand under the New Covenant which renders the Old
Covenant obsolete. Both the writer of the Book of Hebrews
(original manuscripts bear no author's name) and the apostle Paul
(especially in the Books of Galatians and Romans) make this very plain.
Luke's parallel account to the Scripture which we have already
This is the Scripture in which a Pharisee boasts that he fasts
'twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' Of course, there
was a problem with his attitude since he sought to justify
himself and Jesus said that it was the tax collector who simply
asked God to be merciful to him who went away most justified.
Again, we would expect a Pharisee to tithe - it was part of their
legal system. Yet is it not interesting that tithes are only
mentioned in these Scriptures in association with
This refers back to the story of Abraham and Melchisedec. Of
course, the central message of the Book of Hebrews is how the New
Covenant is immeasurably greater than the Old Covenant. A few
will say that since Abraham was the 'father of the faithful,'
then Christians of today should therefore "follow his example"
and tithe as he did. But this Scripture is not even saying
that Abraham normally tithed; it refers to a specific occasion
which - as we have already noted - was not even a tithe in the
sense the word is usually used today (referring to normal earned
income). If - on the basis of this - it is proposed that
Christians should tithe, I could propose that on the basis of
Abraham's life we should also be circumcised, or go out into the
desert and wait for God's instructions as to where He will have
In order to get the full sense of this Scripture it is vital to
continue to the end of the chapter. Obviously, the chapter is not
about tithing at all but about the greatness of the New Covenant
compared to the Old. Just reading as far as the tithing verses
4-9, as many tithing enthusiasts like to do, will not give a full
sense of the Chapter's meaning. This Scripture is saying that
Abraham recognised Melchisedec as a great man so gave him a
'tenth,' symbolic of recognising a greater authority than
oneself, and of giving offering/tribute to him.
Melchisedec was very mysterious, many believe that he must have
been the Angel of the Lord, still others feel that Jesus revealed
Himself directly to Abraham through this person who was our
Saviour Himself! (This seems a little harder to accept). But if
this Melchisedec was just a pagan High Priest (as some like to
say) it is hard to see why Abraham should have been in such awe
of him! Here is a much closer consideration of Melchisedec for any who are interested.
But nothing here is saying that Christians today should give a
tenth as a legal (or even an optional) practice, and one can only
arrive at such a conclusion by suspending all logical reasoning.
Despite this, on about three occasions in my life I have either
read or actually heard Christian ministers (who really should
know their Bibles better!), claim that Abraham's example means
that modern Christians should tithe.
Neither - of course - would we expect to see such an instruction
here since - elsewhere in the New Testament - both Jesus and Paul
show this would simply be inappropriate. The New Covenant offers
a freedom which was just not available to those who lived
under the Old Covenant. Only we are to use this freedom to serve
God and our neighbour - not to sin.
There are no further New Testament references to tithing. Against
this, however, we have 2 Corinthians 9:7 in which the context is
clearly one of financial giving within the Church and which
appears to be a plain enough instruction:
'Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give,
not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a
Imposed tithing means that one is giving "under
compulsion." The reader may find further consideration of Paul's use of the Greek word, 'anangke' in this verse here.
D. The Effect Of Tithing Upon Congregational Life
An Indian missionary visited several congregations in the
affluent Western world, and came away in some state of shock.
Why? He was just simply astonished at what Western Christians
waste! The wealth of some of these congregations staggered him.
In one such congregation, he was given what he considered to be a
sizeable donation for his mission, but he was later invited to a
meal in which far, far more money was spent!
I fear that most Christians in the West don't really grasp how much some have to struggle even to survive in many impoverished parts of the world. I am reminded of the words of Dr Paul Brand, a missionary surgeon:
"...From the perspective of a missionary who spent eighteen years in one of the poorest countries on earth, the contrasts in resources are astonishingly large. At Vellore we treated leprosy patients on three dollars per patient per year; yet we turned many away for lack of funds. Then we came to America where some churches were heatedly discussing their million-dollar gymnasiums...and sponsoring seminars on tax shelters for members to conserve their accumulated wealth." (p60, 'Fearfully and Wonderfully Made,' 1980 paperback, Philip Yancey and Dr Paul Brand. Zondervan, Grand Rapids).
The Indian missionary who was astonished at the wealth of US congregations, began to realise that some wealthy North American
congregations could - just on their own - support huge numbers of
indigenous missionaries! Modern Tithing (which, again, I wish to
separate from Levitical Tithing, since it has almost nothing in
common), can make a large congregation very wealthy, where the
tithing is strictly and legalistically imposed. But what message
does this give to the church member? It tends to teach them a
message of Justification by Works. But the New Testament
upholds Justification By Faith Alone clearly and unequivocally!
Tithing is especially popular among the cults and sects and among
the newer - and often more extreme - charismatic groups. It is
also considered a particularly vital teaching in the prosperity
gospel churches. Let us honestly admit that some of these groups
only have the most superficial understanding of Christian
theology. But many have noted that a strict tithing regime also
tends to undermine the correct understanding of Justification
among more mainstream Christian groups which strongly push
tithing! Many tithers tend to boast about what God does for the
tither, a few even feel that non-tithers will only get into
heaven by the skin of their collective teeth!! But this is
plainly displaying a works-based approach toward salvation. But
we can NEVER EVEN IN A MILLION YEARS EARN SALVATION! It is
all a matter of God's bountiful grace!
A very keen observer of the Christian world, made this comment to
me in an e-mail;
"I have come to the conclusion that some very strongly tithing
churches are too inward-looking. They are no longer looking
outwards at how they can help others, especially missionaries,
but they become - in some cases - almost obsessed with their
local scene. Some of these congregations become quite wealthy but
although they will often give asistance to foreign missionaries,
it tends to be a 'drop in the ocean' in comparison with their
resources. I have also noticed that the underlying legalism
involved in a 'You Must Tithe' approach spreads to other areas of
church life. If a member encounters financial difficulties, it is
too quickly thought by some that he or she could not have been
tithing, or had been witholding part of the tithe. Apart from
being a theologically perilous position to adopt in its own
right, this appears to be the eager judgmentalism of the
spiritually naive. I just wonder how many in those churches made
prosperous through tithing realise the original purpose of
tithing, that is, to assist the needy. I have also wondered
whether a few folks who attend such churches are in private
This man - once a fervent advocate of tithing - tells me that he
now supports voluntary tithing only. I take this man's
comments seriously; although he wishes me not to mention his
name, he is a seasoned observer of Christian life, an experienced
preacher and a Bible-believing conservative. But he is 'nobody's
fool' (as we Brits say!).
Another - and very serious - problem can be noted in some
The congregation becomes divided into two groups, the tithers and
the non-tithers, but only the tithers can ever become "members"
of that congregation. I am frankly astonished that more have not
spoken out about this practise!
ALL WHO HAVE REPENTED AND ACCEPTED CHRIST'S SACRIFICE IN THEIR
OWN LIVES, BECOME MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH OF GOD IN ITS TRUE AND
Pastors need to ensure that this is carefully pointed out to all
their congregation! The very concept that only those who tithe
can be considered 'members' of any local congregation is so very
seriously flawed that I find it astonishing that the practise
continues unchecked in some places!
E. A Better Way: Koinonia!
Encyclopedia Brittanica says about Tithing.
Tithing: (from Old English teogothian, 'tenth'), a custom dating
back to Old Testament times and adopted by the Christian church
whereby lay people contributed a 10th of their income for
religious purposes, often under ecclesiastical or legal
obligation. The money (or its equivalent in crops, farm stock,
etc.) was used to support the clergy, maintain churches, and
assist the poor. Tithing was also a prime source of subsidy for
the construction of many magnificent cathedrals in Europe.
Despite serious resistance, tithing became obligatory as
Christianity spread across Europe. It was enjoined by
ecclesiastical law from the 6th century and enforced in Europe by
secular law from the 8th century. In England in the 10th century,
payment was made obligatory under ecclesiastical penalties by
Edmund I and under temporal penalties by Edgar. In the 14th
century Pope Gregory VII, in an effort to control abuses,
outlawed lay ownership of tithes.
During the 16th-century Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther
approved in general of paying tithes to the temporal sovereign,
and the imposition of tithes continued for the benefit of
Protestant as well as Roman Catholic churches. Gradually,
however, opposition grew. Tithes were repealed in France during
the Revolution (1789), without compensation to tithe holders.
Other countries abolished certain kinds of tithes and indemnified
the holders. By 1887 the tithe had been brought to an end in
Italy. It was abolished in Ireland at the disestablishment of the
Anglican church in 1871, and it gradually died out in the Church
of Scotland. In England in 1836, the tithe was commuted for a
rent charge depending on the price of grain, and in 1936 the
tithe rent charges were abolished. New methods of taxation were
developed in those countries that provided financial support of
the church out of government funds. Remnants of the tithing
system do exist, however, in certain Protestant European
countries. In Germany, for example, citizens must pay a church
tax unless they formally renounce membership in a church.
Tithe was never a legal requirement in the United States.
Members of certain churches, however, including the Latter-day
Saints and Seventh-day Adventists, are required to tithe, and
some Christians in other churches do so voluntarily. The Eastern
Orthodox churches never accepted the idea of tithes, and Orthodox
church members have never paid them.
("tithe." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopedia Britannica
Premium Service. 4 June 2006.
It sometimes happens that ministers withdraw from
teaching a tithing approach (unfortunately, all too rarely), but what too often happens is that
within months the congregation faces a financial crisis and,
perhaps under pressure from the treasurer, the church returns to
a tithing position. This is very, very sad but turning from a
tithing system to a faith position does not mean that God will
automatically bless where churches have not put their financial
house in order!
In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul describes the incomparable greatness of
the New Covenant compared to the Old. He shows that while that
which was passing away was glorious, what remains is "much more
glorious." He writes of the veil which remains over the face of
those who read the Old Testament without spiritual understanding,
then he says,
"Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken
away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the
Lord is, there is liberty"
(2 Corinthians 3:16-17)
Sometimes we forget how much liberty is involved in serving
Christ. In that same chapter (verse 7), Paul refers to the Old
Covenant with its legalistic package as, 'the ministry of death,
written and engraved on stones.'
The Christian stands in real liberty under the grace of God, the
penalty of the law no longer stands over such a person since they
are now forgiven and covered by God's grace. This is the great
time which Isaiah wrote about;
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has
appointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me
to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound."
I leave the quote there but would advise the reader to read the
whole of this glorious chapter, which looked forwards to the
preaching of the Gospel, and to the Church. Later in the chapter
there are fairly clear allusions to the Jubilee Year in which the
Israelites were cleared of debt and all land reverted to its
original owners. The Gospel is always associated with freedom and
Rather than "tithing," the New Testament emphasises the 'Koinonia' which
was to occur among believers. This Greek word means 'sharing' and
involves the principles of fellowship and community. This word
implies a real commitment to serving and sharing and it was part
and parcel of the early Church. We see this glorious principle in
action in Acts 2:
"Now all who believed were together, and had all things in
common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them
among all, as anyone had need."
This principle is seen again in Acts 4:
"Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and
one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he
possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And
with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of
the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there
anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of
lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things
that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they
distributed to each as anyone had need."
We should note that this principle of Koinonia goes way beyond
the principle of tithing! But it is vital to note that this
principle ensures that congregation members are well provided
for. This obviously goes way above and beyond any situation
where tithes are demanded to support the "ministry" (sometimes
including a pastoral team living in some luxury!), no matter what
the financial status of the individual member!! I have been told
of many places where this happens - can we honestly call this
I know of a minister who went to see a student who was struggling
to get through his degree with a wife and a few children. During
this period, life was one long financial struggle for this
family. The first thing the minister asked was, "Do you own
your own home?" (He was assessing the family's financial
situation). The answer was No. Yet very soon the student was
asked when he would start tithing! I have the full facts of this
particular case in front of me. Of course, if Koinonia was being
practised, that student should have been offered generous
financial help from his minister, especially in view of the fact
that the degree which he was seeking to attain was a theology
degree!! This sort of thing is unbelievably insensitive.
I would like to see the principle of VOLUNTARY GIVING taught in
every congregation in the land. People could be reminded of their
responsibilities to help keep their congregation afloat. What
tends to happen now is that if the congregation is a strict
tithing group, members are rarely taught about voluntary
giving. The finances are coming in due to the tithes so why
worry? But this is not good; Christians need to learn about
Koinonia in action!
About the Writer
Robin A. Brace was born in 1944 in Cardiff, south Wales, UK and
started developing a passion for Bible study at the age of 16.
Robin took a B.D. theology degree from 1995 at the University
of Wales, Cardiff, graduating with honours in 1998. In 2001
he decided to devote his energies and biblical knowledge (which
only comes by the grace of God) to developing a presence on the
internet as an internet evangelist. In 2006 his websites were
receiving 100,000 annual 'hits,' but by mid-2008 this had grown to
100,000 plus per month and Robin is kept busy answering
Bible questions which come in from all over the world. Married to
Tina since 1977, the couple have four children and also spent
twelve years as foster carers.
I would like to see EVERY SINGLE MINISTER FACE UP
TO THE TRUTH ABOUT TITHING! That it actually masks the glorious
truth of Koinonia. Yes, such voluntary giving and sharing
requires active, living faith! But what a joy and a thrill when
we see the fruits of such faith!
But nobody should expect this approach to equal what tithing can
achieve finance-wise. Don't forget: God promises to supply what
is really required, not luxury! If a congregation has enjoyed a
very substantial income because it has very strongly taught
tithing, there is going to be a drop if tithing is abandoned,
that is just simple arithmetic. But all good evangelistic
activities within that congregation's locality will still be able
to go ahead if they are approached in faith, and if they receive
the Lord's blessing. Yes, more earnest prayer-time is probably
going to be required! Can that ever be a bad thing? But there
will be a need, perhaps, of a tightened up financial approach.
The minister might also have to be paid less, in order that there
is a good strong 'help fund' for those in the congregation who
are experiencing financial difficulties! Yes, I can see that this
approach might be very, very unpopular with some! But this is New
Testament Koinonia in action!
Let me respectfully suggest to you ministers reading this that
you remind your congregation that - under the New Covenant -
tithing can only ever be a voluntary action, NEVER a mandatory
Also let me urge you to remind your people that tithing was
concerned with assisting the poor. Please be bold enough to tell
your people that, yes, there is a responsibility to support one's
own fellowship, but if 10% has been a struggle, why not 5% or 3%
because if one's heart is right before God the amount does not
matter (remember the widow's mite?). If a few members insist on
continuing with their tithe, that is absolutely fine since they
will hopefully now understand that it is not a matter of command.
But you may need to mention the subject to these people again in
case their understanding is legalistic. Legalism undermines the
correct comprehension of Justification By Faith.
DO NOT CAUSE
Let us imagine that one is coming to this
understanding afresh and with great joy. What should the reader
do? Please let me make a plea here:
DO NOT CAUSE DIVISION IN YOUR CONGREGATION!
Do not spread this topic right through your congregation but take
it to your minister for his reaction! You are free to print this
article out for this purpose if your minister is not able to
connect to the internet. Please be patient with your minister, he
may well be under terrible pressure to continue a tithing
approach whether or not he understands the approach which I have
outlined here! You may feel that you would like to discuss this
with your minister several times. Don't expect him to jump in
response to this article. It may well be that you will not be
able to make any difference and your fellowship will continue to
be one which encourages tithing. Should you leave? While this
will be a personal decision, I don't necessarily feel that the
reader should leave their congregation over this matter. Have you
been contented paying tithes? Are you assured that the tithes are
administered wisely with surpluses regularly going to the poor?
Or has tithing caused your congregation to build a 'big barn' of
unused money even while many within your community are in
serious need? These would be some of the pertinent questions to
ask. But PLEASE DO NOT be afraid to discuss this with your
minister! If you have been faithfully tithing within your own
congregation perhaps over many years, you have every right to
query your minister over your fellowship's tithing policy.
But also please don't make this the conversational 'topic of the
month' among the brethren. None of us should wish to cause
division within any fellowship!
An E Mail Question On This Article
And My Response To It!
(Please consider this question, it might be your
"You seem to be saying that God does not bless
the tither but I have always been taught that God greatly blesses
the tither! What about the 'Windows of heaven'
The answer to your question is that God greatly blesses the
GIVER. I once heard a lady from a Seventh Day Adventist
background saying, "Isn't it wonderful how God blesses
tithers?". But I also heard an old lady who had never tithed
in her life say, "Isn't it wonderful the way God blesses
Christians? I live on very little money on paper, but God always
showers me with blessings!" This old lady was a real Giver.
God blesses those who give willingly with a cheerful heart.
Frequently (though not entirely always) the blessings of a
cheerful giver start to come to them even in this life. Lets look
at the Scripture:
"Give, and it shall be given to you: good measure, pressed
down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your
bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be
measured back to you."
Please notice that the context in this verse is the cheerful
giving which Paul also talks about. Tithing is nowhere mentioned
here. But does God bless the tither? Absolutely!! But not only
the tither, but all who are cheerful and generous givers. But
Luke 6:38 is no reason to pay a 'mandatory tithe' especially
since this Scripture does not even mention tithing! Of course, I
could say that God blessed me when I was single, but is that a
reason not to seek a wife? I could say that God often greatly
blesses those who are 'babes in Christ' but is that a reason for
them to try to remain 'babes in Christ' and not move on in
knowledge and understanding?
Malachi 3 is an interesting chapter. It starts off with a
prophecy of John the Baptist, but from verse 7 it reverts back
"...the days of your fathers..."
Then of course, Israel is really slammed for witholding their
"tithes and offerings" (verse 8). The "whole nation" (verse 9)
are accused of robbing God in this way. Of course this is
referring to Old Testament Israel and Malachi was a Prophet who
stood within the Old Covenant. In verse 10 (the one which
pro-tithers love to quote), Israel are given the famous challenge
"Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be
food in My house, and prove Me now in this, says the Lord of
hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour
out such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive
Halley said of this,"By the Mosaic constituition, the tithe was
But the point here is that Israel were disobedient in this very
serious matter. Under the various kings of Israel the land became
prosperous, but they were rarely interested in paying their
tithes except spasmodically. But it is very problematic to refer
this to the New Covenant Church when nowhere in the New Testament
do we find even a gentle reminder to tithe! Moreover, as already
pointed out, it is quite obvious that the early Church was not
tithing when Paul wrote his epistles and certainly obvious that
the apostle never appeals to tithing.
Again, let us remind ourselves that Christians enjoy a liberty in
such matters which was not enjoyed under the Old Covenant; we
should not be surprised therefore, that Jesus does not refer to
tithing when speaking about the financial approach of the New
Testament Church (Matthew 10:9), neither does Paul (though he
even finds time to discuss the length of men and women's hair),
it should not be surprising, either that Luke 6:38, perhaps the
premier 'giving' Scripture in the New Testament, does not mention
it. While it is indeed true that Israel were a clear type of the
Church to come, the specifc 'tithes and offerings' of Malachi 3
can hardly be applied to the Church in that form; but the
principle of Christians being ever ready to give financial
support to the Church of God certainly does apply.
To conclude my answer to this question, it is surely worth
pointing out that, perhaps, the great majority of Bible scholars
down through the ages have felt that Malachi 3:10 cannot
be applied to the Church.
We have seen that tithing formed an important
part of the Old Covenant which was ratified at Mount Sinai. This
Mosaic code came to a conclusion when the veil of the temple was
torn when our Saviour expired upon the cross. Christians now live
under the New Covenant. Both the apostle Paul and the writer of
the anonymous Book of Hebrews plainly show that we are no longer
subject to the legalistic Levitical system.
It is true that tithes are also mentioned prior to Sinai in
connection with both Abraham and Jacob, but, as we have seen, we
can deduce little from those examples for two reasons:
1. Tithing was not confined to Israel, the concept appears to
have existed elsewhere in the ancient world.
2. Strictly speaking, those examples were not even a 'tithe' in the
way in which that word is now often used, they were freewill offerings of a tenth.
We have also noted that neither the apostle Paul nor the early
Church appeared to hold any concept of paying tithes, with the
concept only emerging post-Constantine when a means was sought to
finance huge 'church' and cathedral buildings.
With hopefully a little sadness, we noted that increasingly the
visible, organised church was now all too often led by "bishops"
who were really more politicians than spiritual leaders. Of
course, there were some exceptions to this but Christian history
- all too often - paints quite a depressing picture. Hopefully we
have also seen that the imposed tithe became associated
with terrible abuses of power at times by the established church,
leading to terrible periods of unrest in England and Germany,
including the Peasant's Revolt (this is not to say, of course, that tithing - all on its own -
caused the Peasant's Revolt, but that it was one of the things which appeared as gross injustices to the poor, such injustices finally leading to that revolt).
We have seen that the 'modern tithe' (which appears to have
emerged in the late 19th century United States), bears little
resemblance to the Levitical tithe. That tithe was concerned with
meeting the needs of the poor of the land, whether the Levites
who received no land inheritance, or others who wished to travel
to the Levitical Feast days, or the poor in general. It was not
the sort of tax which, as Samuel warned, kings would impose,
thereby making themselves richer and financing their various
Finally, I pointed out that the New Testament points out a
financial approach which is best summed up by the word
'Koinonia' (sharing). We see this approach employed in the Book of
Acts; it was a complete committment by all Christians to each
other, so that none should suffer lack or privation, and out of
this, the preaching and advance of the Gospel was also funded. If
this were practised today, it is fair to say that congregations
would no longer have poorer members, though pastors might have to
accept lower pay for their labours in some cases, especially in
more affluent areas. It is also true to say that if this kind of
total Christian sharing were practised today, third world
missions would surely receive much greater financial support than
is often the case at present.
Once again I make a plea that all reading this and accepting
these conclusions, be committed to not causing division within
congregations. If any are feeling angry about any of my comments,
please first ask yourselves WHY you are feeling angry before
sending off an irate e-mail to me! If what I say is unbiblical,
then show me where I am being unbiblical. May I just say, God
bless all of you and if any feel that big and uncomfortable
decisions are now called for, please petition the Lord to give
you the strength and courage which you will undoubtedly
Robin A. Brace
A FURTHER FOLLOW-UP
"Your views on tithing are close to mine, but
here is a question for you:
I heard a minister on an audio tape sermon say this about
'Koinonia was tried by the early Christians but it did not work
and the Church was almost bankrupted because of it. This was
partly because some 'spongers' took advantage of it and refused
to work, so the Church abandoned it.'
How about this?"
My! The man who made this comment seems to have
put a lot of things in the New Testament together and come up
with a conclusion which most theologians would shy away from! In
other words, he appears to be adding 4+4 and making it 20!
He is obviously thinking of those Scriptures in Acts which we
have considered in this study which show that the early
Christians really did practise this all-out sharing.
Secondly, he appears to be considering the fact that the
congregation at Jerusalem got into some financial
Thirdly, he is apparently considering those one or two texts
where the apostle Paul complains about a few who were not too
keen on working, and he says, 'If any don't work, neither should
(By the way, we should not misunderstand this comment by Paul, he
was speaking in a day where work was always available. Modern
western unemployment in which some older men find it almost
impossible to get full-time work once they are made redundant is,
indeed, a modern phenomenon. Nobody who is in that position
should reproach themselves).
But Paul does not say that a few did not want to work because
'koinonia' meant that they did not have to work! There have
always been a few such people within society. Do we seriously
think that a system of koinonia could not impose a few guidelines
to ensure that it was not abused?
But with all due respect to the minister who made those comments
on an audio sermon tape, I don't know what he is referring to.
Perhaps he is suggesting that tithing came along 'just in the
nick of time' to save the early church. If he is suggesting that
(and I don't know if he is), that is absolute nonsense; it was
many centuries before tithing came into the church. It only
really caught on when Christianity became a domain and people
were assumed to be Christians - even from birth (as long
as they were baptised) - and when a means was sought to finance
cathedrals and a whole system of clergy (which, in any case, was
hardly a biblically prescribed system).
So, if I knew who that minister was (which I do not), I would say
that the onus was on him to quote chapter and verse to back up
his points! Certainly, we know that Jerusalem was affected by a
famine and the apostle Paul was keen to summon help from the
other churches to provide assistance. A famine is a famine, if
the inspired text tells us that a famine was the cause of the
financial problem, why do we start to 'second guess' that?
I'm afraid that this minister's comments cannot be sustantiated
from the New Testament.
© This article is Copyright Robin A.
Brace 2002. If you want it on your own website please do so but please also do the
honourable thing and correctly quote the writer and state where the article comes from. You are also free to use 3 or 4 quotes from this article, but again, the writer's name should be quoted and you should provide a link to this website on the same page as the article.
(For any wanting to go even deeper into this subject, there is
now a book available on this very topic which covers far more
ground than I could have done in this article. The book is
Beyond Tithing and is written by Stuart Murray. It is
available on Paternoster Publishing, Copyright 2000,
Paul's Use of ''Anangke'' Rules Out Financial Regulation for the New Covenant People of God!
"Bear One Another's
Burdens, And So Fulfill The Law Of Christ"
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