Okay so I decided to pen my thoughts in the whole tithing debacle.
Firstly, it should be noted that this is not the first time a debate or questioning of this practice has occurred and I guess it won’t be the last. The debate started right from the very first humans in existence.
Secondly, money is very topical for humans (money makes the world go round); money perhaps is the most important or one of the essential things in life, a lot of events could not happen without it , money solves lots of (or all) problems. Irrespective of our career(s) or line of business, money is our primary means of exchange and anything that threatens our money, indeed threatens our existence as we know it.
Thirdly, I will stay clear of slandering or insulting any personalities on both sides of the argument as this just distracts from the intended message.
I believe this debate on whether to pay tithe or not is intended at highlighting and perhaps correcting the many socials ills found in Nigeria’s status quo both within and outside the church and not just a question of the tithe in itself.
I believe a healthy examination of this topic won’t just highlight the issue of money but that of governance in our society, corporate & personal social responsibility, the state of our hearts as a people, our values and ideals as individuals and collectively as a nation.
Based on my personal understanding, research and practice of tithing, here is my submission:
- Tithing was documented as law by Jewish patriarch, Moses. We see tithing introduced as law in Leviticus 27:30-34. Here we see Moses giving the tithe as a law. The first 10 percent is called “holy,” or set apart, as belonging to God. The Israelites were to return to God what was already his, and in doing so, recognise the Almighty’s provision.
- The concept of tithing predates the law. In Genesis 28:20-22, Jacob responds to a dream he has received from God by building an altar and vowing that, in exchange for God’s care and provision, he would give God a tenth of his belongings. Also, in Genesis 14:19-20, we see Jacob ‘s grandfather Abram, give tithe. Abram had just returned from defeating the armies of the four kings, rescuing his nephew Lot, and reclaiming his possessions, and he’s met by an enigmatic priest of God Most High named Melchizedek. The priest attributes Abram’s victory to God—possessor of heaven and earth—and he blesses Abram. In gratitude to God’s authority and blessing, Abram gives Melchizedek a tenth of his possessions. He doesn’t do it to invokeGod’s blessing; he does it in response to God’s blessing.
- Isn’t tithing an Old Testament practice? Tithing is neither an Old nor a New Testament ideology. Although many refer to Abram being the first human recorded to give his tithe, the fact is this principle existed thousands of years before Abram physically existed. You see God is a calculated God and plans everything, nothing catches God by surprise.
From the very foundations/ inception of the earth God put in systems and structures to show man God’s mind and intention. For example, how animals would procreate with their mate to continue the life cycle or how the vegetation was to replenish itself. Similarly, God laid down the rules for tithing. In Genesis 2:16-17, God introduces the first man to the garden and gives him the scope of his job description, his benefits as well as his limitations. This is where the principle of tithing is first introduced because God commands the man saying, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
Okay I don’t know how many trees were in the garden, maybe there were just 10 trees so a tithe would be 1 tree or 1000 trees, but the literally interpretation isn’t what matters here but the principle laid out by God.
- What did the bible state should be given as tithe? When Abraham gave his tithe as recorded in Genesis 14:19-20, he gave from the spoils of war (his increase), when Mose laid down the law on tithe he expressly stipulated the “tithe of the land, whetherof the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S: also, the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the LORD”.
It is important, however, when gleaning from the Bible that things are put in context, for example, the culture of the time, profession, language etc. The occupations and professions of ancient civilizations were, as in modern times, related to the natural resources, commerce, and institutions of the nations. Israel was no exception. Although readers of the Bible may be tempted to think of the Hebrews in general, and the Bible personalities in particular, as living lives totally absorbed by their religion, the ancients did have to make a living. In fact, few Hebrews followed a profession linked to the unique structure of their religion. In the course of time, occupations developed from the simple task to the more complex and from unskilled to skilled labor.
This evolution was spurred by Israel's shift from a nomadic existence to a settled life and from a clan-type government to that of the monarchy. The development of secular occupations paralleled the settlement of the people into towns and villages, and the evolution of their government from a loose-knit tribal group to a nation involved in international politics. In earliest biblical times, the Hebrews followed their herds from pasture land to pasture land and water hole to water hole, though at times they lived for long periods near major cities (Genesis 13:18; Genesis 20:1; Genesis 26:6; Genesis 33:19). Their occupations were centered in the family enterprise. When Israel entered into Canaan, the Hebrews moved toward a settled existence. As a settled people, agricultural pursuits became extremely important for survival. As the monarchy developed, many new occupations appear within the biblical text, mostly to maintain the royal house.
Finally, as villages grew larger, and commerce between cities and nations expanded, various trades and crafts expanded with them. A sampling of the most common occupations and professions of the Bible include, Baker Genesis 40:5, Butler/ cupbearer cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11; Genesis 40:21), Hunters Jeremiah 16:16, Genesis 10:9), shepherds Luke 2:8, Genesis 4:2, herdsmen Genesis 4:29, farmer Genesis 4:2, Psalm 129:3, Ruth 2:3, Isaiah 17:5, king 1 Samuel 8:5, governor Genesis 42:6, soldier 1 Chronicle 7:4. This is by no means an exhaustive list and on closer look we’ll discover that many of these traditional jobs are not typically the same in the 21st century. This is because culture, commerce and human needs/ experiences has evolved over time.
The point here is that the profession/cultural norms of the time dictated what was required as tithe.
- Does the principle of tithing go beyond plants/ seeds or perishable goods? The principle laid out in Genesis 2:16-17, was God‘s way of expressing His sovereignty on man. God was trying to say man you are entitled to everything but there is something you must leave for me and this cannot be touched under any circumstance. This way man always acknowledges God as superior.
We find this same principle in Exodus 20:8-11 where the Israelites are introduced to the Decalogue particularly that they were entitled to all days of the week except one and must keep it holy unto the Lord (the Sabbath). Please note, sabbath does not literally mean Saturday or indeed Sunday as many express their worship; the Hebrew word is derived from the verb sabat, meaning to stop, to cease, or to keep. Its theological meaning is rooted in God's rest following the six days of creation Genesis 2:2-3. The Greek noun sabbat [savbbaton] translates the Hebrew noun sabbat m; the noun form is used primarily to denote the seventh day of the week, though it may occasionally refer to the Sabbath week (Leviticus 23:15-16) at the end of every seven Sabbaths or fifty days, or the Sabbath year ( Leviticus 25:1-7) in which the land was to be at complete rest. Irrespective of the particular day chosen, the principle is clear; there must be a setting apart dedicated to God as a symbol and act of His sovereignty, just as in the case of the tithe.
- If the Bible stipulates plants/ seeds, land or perishable goods why does the church ask people to pay tithe in hard currency - money? Money was always intended in the bible, however, money as we know it today, has only been a part of human history in the last 3000 years; before physical money, there was a system of bartering. Bartering is a direct trade of goods and services - I'll give you a stone axe if you help me kill a mammoth - but such arrangements take time. You have to find someone who thinks an axe is a fair trade for having to face the 12-foot tusks on a beast that doesn't take kindly to being hunted. If that didn't work, you would have to alter the deal until someone agreed to the terms. One of the great achievements of money was increasing the speed at which business, whether mammoth slaying or monument building, could be done. Can you imagine a recording artist being paid in tubers of yam when people attend his/her concert? It’s not very practicable.
Money today is fiat money, a symbol of value created by the human imagination with no intrinsic value of its own. A coin or paper currency note has value because people accept it as a symbolic medium of exchange. The economic value of money as measured by its purchasing power is a subject of economic theory. In fact, in today’s world, you do not need to see or carry physical cash before you make use of it; now money is electronic- simply digits on a computer screen or sent through a mobile device at the press of a button.
So whether, a 10% of your seeds or your physical cash, the principle of tithing is that there is a part of what is valuable left to God as a symbol/act of His sovereignty over your life as was established in the garden of Eden.
- The tithe was established for Levites, are our pastors Levites?We see tithes established for Levites in Numbers 18:21. Here we see the Lord establishing that Israel’s tithe would operate as payment to the levitical priests for their services. The Levites a member of the Hebrew tribe of Levi, especially of that part of it which provided assistants to the priests (Kohen) in worship in the Jewish temple. At God’s command, the Levites didn’t share in the other tribes’ inheritance. The Lord was their portion and inheritance.
So are pastors Levites? It is safe to say that most Christians are not Israelites (Jews); in fact many Christians are Gentiles, distinct from the lineage of Abraham that started the Jewish race. Already we can see that this disqualifies any pastor being called a Levite unless the pastor is a direct descendant of the third son of Jacob and Leah (Levi). So why pastors? Rather than just look at the literal letter of the word, and disregarding it’s context, it is important that if we are to understand God, the Bible and translate into our 21st century experience, we need to look at God’s principle at the heart of the instruction. Since many Christians are not Jews or indeed Pastors Levites, we know if the letter of the word (Bible) was applied then pastors do not qualify to receive tithes.
However, what was God’s intention? God’s intention was to create a system whereby officers dedicated to serving God as a duty or vocation are in receipt of value for their dedication and services rendered unto God and the people. So, although pastors are not direct descendants of Levi (lineage of priest) the principle of their dedication and service being rewarded was always in the mind of God and as such follow in the line of Levites.
- Is the Levite’s tithe the only recorded kind of tithe?The tithe was not a volitional offering. The 10 percent off the top belonged to God and the Israelites simply repaid it. But this wasn’t the only obligatory tithe. They also tithed to support a special jubilee festival (Deuteronomy 12) and took a third tithe every three years to take care of orphans, widows, and the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). These mandatory offerings averaged out to about 23 percent a year. On top of these compulsory tithes, there were regular opportunities for freewill offerings. These were generous gifts that expressed the Israelites’ gratefulness through voluntary giving in response to their devotion. At a bare minimum, they gave 23 percent a year, but there was no ceiling on their generosity. They could—and frequently would—give exorbitantly out of their excess. In response to Moses’ call for contributions to the building of the Tabernacle, the Israelites literally gave so much that Moses had to command them to stop giving (Exodus 36:2-7).
- Aren’t we simply supposed to give a freewill offering and not a stipulated percentage of 10? Whilst we are encouraged to give freely, and as our hearts desire, nowhere in the Bible is tithing abolished or considered out of date. Remember giving should always be done out of freewill and not compulsion (Deuteronomy 15:10, Deuteronomy 16:17, 1 Chronicles 29:9, Proverbs 3:9-10, 2 Corinthians 9: 6-8). It is clear that the practice of giving freely has always been encouraged and is not a New Testament ideology.
- Should pastors or churches today only care about the receiving of tithes and offerings, shouldn’t they be concerned about the state of affairs, the less privileged and protection of her citizens?In Matthew 23:23 Jesus gives a stern and direct rebuke to Pharisee and scribes, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” The picture here of the religious person carefully measuring out their spices to ensure that their tithe is exact while ignoring justice and mercy is powerful. To show overt concern for tithing while ignoring the law’s weightier concerns is being short-sighted.
- Tithing was under the law (OldTestament), didn’t Jesus under the New Testament abolish the principle of tithing?In reference to Matthew 23:23, Jesus does not condemn tithing neither does he abolish it. In fact Jesus expressly gives backing to this principle of tithe and offerings. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
The operative words here lay in the last sentence “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Jesus is clearly saying you ought to do these (tithing)...but don’t forget the other issues of mercy, justice and faithfulness.
- It seems Pastors mainly reference Malachi 3 and their backing for collection of tithe why do they ignore the principles laid down in Malachi 1 on animal sacrifices & Malachi 2 on divorce? The book of Hebrews actually deals with this and shows that the Old Testament sacrificial system (the Old Covenant) was temporary until the coming of Christ who was the fulfilment of all that the sacrificial system anticipated. Paul teaches us the same thing in passages like Colossians 2:16 . It was Paul who specifically pointed to Christ as our Passover who was sacrificed for us (see 1 Corinthians 5:7). In keeping with the Lord’s Supper, instituted just before His death, Jesus also celebrated what was actually the last legitimate Passover by which He also pointed to Himself as the sacrifice for our sin.
With regards to Malachi 2 on the issue of divorce, Jesus gives a direct response to why some (many) Christians and I dare say pastors/clergy practice this. In Mark 10:2-12, some Pharisees came to test Jesus by asking if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife; they were asking this question because it was the practice of the day which negates the principle of God as seen in Malachi 2. Jesus said to them without mincing words that Moses laid down the laws of divorce because of the hardness of people’s hearts but that it was not so from the beginning because God intentionally created the institution of marriage whereby a man will leave his father and mother in order to be united (cleave) to his wife, so that they may become one flesh. Jesus goes on to expressly state that what God has joined together, let no man separate.
The truth is man (generically) is still hard at heart especially when something doesn’t favour him, he does as he pleases, (this is the beauty of freewill) to suit his own immediate needs or desires. This can also be said for tithing and giving.
- Aren’t we under grace and Jesus our role model isn’t interested in our tithe? It is interesting to note that Jesus never abolished or condemn the practice of tithing. Moses first tells us of this tithe in Genesis, and the author of Hebrews readdresses it as he compares Christ to the priest Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:1-2.According to the writer of Hebrews 7:13-17, Jesus is considered a priest in the order of Melchizedek because, we like Melchizedek, Jesus was not a descendant of Aaron, and thus would not qualify for the Jewish priesthood under the Law of Moses. Now, if Jesus is in the order of Melchizedek, that has no beginning or ending, then Jesus stands for all that Melchizedek stands for and the only time we heard of this Melchizedek was in the receipt of tithes and the blessing of Abraham.
- You look people sqaure in the eyes and tell them nobody has been forcing them to tithe - you are a liar! The principle of tithing has and always will be one of freewill. In the garden of Eden God said to the man have anything you want except this, God who is omnipotent could easily forcefully ensure that man stays away from the forbidden tree, however, he leaves it to man’s freewill. Many of God’s principles is based on reciprocity but not force. For example, Deuteronomy 28: 1-14lays down blessings for obedience and Deuteronomy 28:15-End gives consequences of non obedience or adherence to God’s principle. All these being said, man still reserves full right to make a choice for himself. In fact avid expressly states that the choice is man’s. In Deuteronomy 30:19 God encourages man to choose a better option of life - “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live”. Ultimately the choice is ours and no amount of words or encouragement can force man to give his tithe.
Compare this to the issue of tax evasion. Payment of tax is not a suggestion, neither is it an option. When man defrauds on his tax, it becomes a criminal offence, he is taken to court, the amount of tax becomes fully liable with interest/penalties and the evader can even be imprisoned. Now this doesn’t happen when tithes are not paid- no pastor issues a warrant for a tithe evader’s arrest or gets a judgment against him in court or certainly gets him imprisoned.
My conclusion of his whole tithe debacle highlights a few things not just for the clergy but people that profess to be Christians.
- Every Christian must understand or at least seek to understand what they believe in and why they believe in it. It’s a shame to see many people in support of the tithe are not able to give sound biblical references to support their belief system. Yes, I know Christians Are called sheep but that should not negate our understanding of the Bible and our beliefs. II Timothy 2:15advices Christians to study to show themselves approved a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. It seems one of the main arguments against tithing is that ‘Christians’ practice it out of fear of their pastor or it’s a cultural practice passed down over the years without any leg to stand on. Bringing up this issue on tithing only shows that many including pastors are not fully abreast of the Bible but rather religiously follow rituals that has now become pillar of the modern day church.
- The inception of this debate in my view seem not to simply address the legitimacy of tithing but the conduct of the ‘Levites’ or those in receipt of tithes. Yes, the tithe is to cater for the needs of the priest (pastors), however, this becomes questionable when many now see the office of clergy as a business venture only to finance their pockets. For example, many dabble into so many things just to keep the flow of money coming their way including herectic teachings and diabolical backing. It’s is also a bit of a shame to see that many pastors cannot defend (biblically) the practice of tithing- this only goes to question their credentials as ministers/officers of God.
- In a society where justice, faithfulness and equity are strong pillars, the issue of tithing need not be an issue. At the very least one could say every organisation has its rules and regulations of how it is governed and anyone that chooses to be part of that organisation accepts its rules and regulations to be binding on him/her. In recent times we’ve seen ‘Levites’, pastors or officers of God give an open show of affluence whilst it seems their immediate surroundings are poverty stricken, deceit and injustice is rife. This seems to be at odds with the teaching of Jesus that Christians profess to follow. Jesus appeared to always concern himself with the issues of the needy, poor and helpless of society. In fact on different occasions admonishes people to sell their food and give to the poor (Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22, Luke 12:33). This does not mean clergy is to be poor or not have anything to meet their needs but that for all Christians we are mindful of equity, justice and our social responsibility (Acts 4:32).
- Where the Government is protecting the rights of its citizens, providing adequate healthcare, good roads, justice, help for orphans etc. This question of tithe will not be so popular because, most people will say, ‘to each its own’. Where there are adequate and working regulatory bodies over indulgence of a few will not be so pronounced. The issue of social responsibility is not just for individuals to think about but corporations alike. For example, companies like Shell, Dangote, MTN that have benefited tremendously from the people, should look to give back something in a meaningful way to the people and less privileged of its society, just like is seen in parts of the world where the countries are developed.
- Without doubt we can see that nowhere does the Bible or Jesus abolish tithing. With this discussion on Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek, we’ve come full circle. It’s only appropriate that the last place the tithe is mentioned is being used to point to Christ’s pre-eminence.
Finally, I do not position myself as an authority or to be all knowledgeable about the issue of tithing. The issue of tithing is wide and I have tried to tackle it by addressing specific questions that may occur in people’s minds. Nevertheless, I do not presume that all questions have been answered or that new questions may not arise. For more insight or elaboration please feel free to contact me.
I’m confident this will only lead to a healthy examination of the practices we have come to accept, as well as give us a thirst for knowledge.