To listen to Steven Jacoby's Tithes & Offerings, Pt. 1 (25 minutes), click on the play button:
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Hebrew word ma'aser means a tenth. (Spanish: diezmo)
Part of the Mosaic law
- Vital part of the economic system of the Jewish temple-state
Questions to be considered
- So what exactly was the purpose of tithing within that system?
- Who did it, and who received the tithes?
- Was it really 10% and, if so, of what?
- Did Jesus tithe? Do modern Jews tithe? What about other groups?
- Should we tithe today?
- Is it possible to tithe today?
- Does Old Testament tithing suggest a 10% starting point for our giving?
Must be open to re-evaluating beliefs in this area and making adjustments
- Maybe changing what we believe and do
- Maybe recognizing there's more to the story; less dogmatism appropriate
- "What gets the job done" not so relevant when interpreting the Bible
- Risk of growing our own base of traditions - Jesus warned about "rules made by men"
There ARE Fuzzy Areas
- Don't pretend that all answers are easy
- Or that it's OK to bend scripture in areas that serve our purposes
- Those who teach will be judged more severely (James 3:1)
Economy of Ancient Israel
- Most wealth derived from the fruits of the land
- Not a nation of conquest exacting tribute/taxes from the conquered
- Agriculture was key; growing populace needs to eat
Division of land among Jacob's offspring, the so-called 12 tribes
- Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manasseh each received a share
- So 13 tribes or 11 plus 2 half-tribes in play here
- Tribe of only Levi received 48 cities with a little land around them
- Dedication to God's service in the tabernacle and temple was their inheritance (Num. 18:21-24)
Priests and Levites
- Refer to previous podcast on this subject
- Only a certain subset of Levites, those descended from Aaron, could be priests
- All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests
- Land of Levites insufficient to produce enough food for them
- Source of support for the Levites was the other tribes
- Levites were to get ALL of the tithes of Israel
- Non-priest Levites would tithe from that to support the priests ("tithe of the tithe")
- Priests could also eat some of the sacrifices
What Were the Tithes?
- Produce from the fields, fruit, olive oil, and new wine, as well as every tenth animal
- Lev. 27:30-31, Deut. 14:22-23, Deut. 14:28, 2 Chron. 31:5-6, Neh. 13:12, Mal. 3:8-10
Money Not Involved in Tithing
- BIBLICAL tithing was never about cash money
- Provided food for the Levites
- So-called tithing today changes from farm products to money and treats church operations as equivalient to support of Levites
- Jewish people today don't tithe - scholars say it's not possible (no Levites, no temple)
- Are THEY less willing to "evolve" biblical terms and concepts than we are?
More on Who Tithed
- Matthew 23:23 - Pharisees tithed spices
- Jesus: "You should have practiced the latter (justice, mercy and faithfulness)..
- ...without neglecting the former (tithing those things, which was simply their duty)
- Jesus reinforced the tithing of agricultural products here
- Who tithed? Anyone who produced crops, fruit, oil, or animals
- Typically landowners, but there's no reason one couldn't do this on rented land
- NOT hired workers of the farm owner
- NOT artisans baking bread or making oxcarts
- NOT priests
- NOT Joseph the carpenter (Matthew 13:55)
- NOT Jesus
- Not about what seems fair to us today. Like a special tax on farmers. If the USDA today decided to tax 1 cent for each ear of corn produced, we might feel bad for the corn farmer but wouldn't argue that non-farmers should pay it. "I'm not a corn farmer!"
A First Pass at Some Math
- Levites were one of 13 tribes that were part of this economic equation
- IF each of the 12 produced the same amount of plant produce and animals...
- ...Levites would have 120% of what each of the other 12 started out with before tithing
- The 12 would have 90% of what they began with
- Horribly rough, but hopefully we see that the Levites would be well-supported
- No economic argument for pulling non-farmers into support of the Levites
What People Were Called to Do with Their Tithes
- Deut 12:10-19: bring burnt offerings, sacrifices, tithes & special gifts to the place God chooses
- There rejoice before the the Lord your God w/ sons, daughters, servants, and Levites from your towns
- Deut 14:22-29: Eat the tithe of your grain... at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name
- ..And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns
- Every 3 years, store tithes in town for the Levites, foreigners, fatherless, and widows
- i.e. One out of 3 years the tither didn't get the grand celebratory meal
- Deut 26 repeats this and calls it "the year of the tithe"
Another Math Attempt
- 10% of crops, wine, animals etc. carried elsewhere for celebration 2 out of 3 years
- Say the tither's family consumes half of it - "sacrifice" for others is then 5%
- That's in years 1 and 2, but in year 3 ALL of the tithe goes for the Levites and needy
- Averaging 5% and 5% and 10% we get an average outlay of 6-2/3% per year
- Remember that many people were not required to tithe at all
- Sabbatical year: every 7th year, Jews were not to harvest anything
- No tithing during Sabbatical year, but God promised 2x harvest in 6th year so it's covered
- BUT year 6 is a "year of the tithe" so all year 6 & 7 tithes go into the storehouses
- Adjustment: 5% for years 1, 2, 4, 5 + 10% for year 3, 20% in year 6, and 0% for year 7 -> 7.14% avg "sacrifice"
What to Make of This
- NOT that anyone should give 7.14%
- Just that the so-called tithing standard is not what most have been led to believe
- Including that many people were did not and could not tithe
- Let's be Bereans in this area, esp if we claim to tithe or suggest that others should
Do Modern Jews Tithe?
- We would think them motivated to cling to Mosaic practices if at all possible
- "Wrong and a sin" - can't pay to Levites, Levites not dedicated to God's service, and no temple
- Not possible to tithe today
- Synagogue operations normally funded via annual membership fee or payment for a certain seat
- Some take a monthly contribution for charity
- Orthodox Jews commonly donate 10% to 20% to charity, which can include family care & education
- Many who hope for re-establishment of Jerusalem temple and sacrifices would restart tithing then
END OF PART 1, BEGIN PART 2 (all notes will be repeated at the webpage for Part 2).
Mishnah Suggests 3 Tithes to Interpret Numbers and Deuteronomy w/o any Conflict
- Numbers simply states that all tithes go to the Levites
- Deuteronomy has people throwing large parties with their tithes in 4 out of 6 years
- Deuteronomy has total tithing for Levites and poor in years 3 and 6
- First tithe is given totally to the Levites, every year except the 7th year when there is no tithing
- Second tithe taken to the place of the Lord's choosing in years 1, 2, 4, 5
- Third tithe for local poor every third year, or in years 3 and 6 (but Deut lists Levites as among recipients...)
Another Option - God Changes his Mind
- Passage in Numbers 18 directed to Aaron by name
- Aaron's death recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 10
- Safe to conclude Deuteronomy 14 and 26 tithing directives occurred after Aaron's passing
- Not unheard of for God to change his mind
- Numbers 3:12-13 - Originally all 1st-born children to be dedicated to God. God changed this to Levites.
Didn't Jews Give More to God Than Tithes?
- It's been said that with various taxes and sacrifices, Jews gave far more than 10%
- Always ignores the fact that many people did not tithe
- Israel was a "temple state" run by religious authorities
- Secular rulers like the Herods saw to less religious aspects of society
- Most "government" affecting daily life was religious in nature, and rife with abuse
- If your church took over government, would you factor gov't taxes into your giving?
- We all pay a lot in gov't taxes, on food, clothing, fuel, income, etc.
Remember the Widows, Orphans, Aliens, Poor
- Levites were helpless without support from other tribes through tithing
- OT scriptures amazingly consistent about remembering orphans, widows, and foreigners/aliens in the land
- Compare to James 1:27
- God always puts a high priority on his people setting aside for those who can't make it (ref. Acts 6)
- Early church had extreme focus on caring for those who would be destitute w/o help
- Church "budget" primarily for this - other expenditures would hinder this ministry
- Are we like this, or does helping the poor get secondary status in collections and budgets?
Is Today's Church Staff Like the Levites and Priests?
- No real evidence that the early Christian church supported dedicated workers
- Paul himself felt compelled to provide for himself
- Early writings mention supporting a local prophet, *if* there is one
- If dedicated worker would fail w/o support, there is some parallel with tithing system
- Today many church workers are among the most comfortable/wealthy in the church
- Church leaders are typically well above average in compensation among members
- Would a standard of living closer at or below average in a congregation be more appropriate?
- If a dedicated church worker would struggle significantly w/o support, there is a parallel with the "heart" of tithing
- Today average annual salary for a "pastor" in the United States is over $86,000
- Paying church leaders comfortable salaries is a local decision, just be careful linking tithing passages to this
- Early church would be hesitant to divert money from the poor
- The early church writing referenced above ends: "if you have no prophet, give it to the poor."
- Reread the passage in Malachi 3 - "you are robbing Me... in tithes and offerings..."
- "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house..."
- About ongoing feeding of the Levites and to help orphans, widows, and other destitute people
- Is it proper to promote the concept wrt buying land or buildings, increasing salaries, or even evangelism
- Especially if needs of the poor are not being met?
- Paul considered poor in OTHER congregations. How much do you know about the needs in Africa, Indonesia, etc?
- Neglecting the destitute is much closer to the context of Malachi 3 and also of Matthew 25 (sheep and goats)
- Jesus equates witholding from those in extreme need with denying those things to him - or God
- Have you EVER heard Malachi 3 use to promote helping the poor?
Is Tithing Relevant Today?
- GIVING & sacrifice Yes, when applied to sacrifice so that people can work full-time to advance the kingdom of God
- Could be church employees, missionaries in other countries, or any disciple without an income source
- Relevance is in the *concept* not the details, and not the 10% "standard"
- Don't allow people to suffer
- The term "tithing" is not relevant today and carries baggage
- Telling people that God expects 10% or more based upon tithing in the Bible is false teaching
- Remember, many people, including Jesus and Paul, did not tithe
- No one is to give under compulsion
- Share with people about the sacrifice that was made for them, then encourage them to give from their hearts
- Let the Holy Spirit lead
Modern Jews are Correct
- It's impossible to implement biblical tithing
- Even farmers can't give to Levites or go to the place of God's choosing
- Temple no longer exists, and is God's "presence" there anyway?
- If you give 10%, best not to call it tithing
Tithing Just a Word
- Words and expressions evolve over time
- Are we OK with evolution of clear-cut terms, concepts, and commands from the Bible?
- ...or using scriptures that don't apply to a situation in order to achieve goals faster?
- Might as well accept the popular view of baptism as inclusive of sprinkling
Should We Continue to Collect a Weekly Contribution?
- Why not? This is fine, as is collecting it at any other frequency
- Since there's no frequency defined in scripture, we can go with what gets the job done
How Much Should We Give?
- No expectation based on tithing - remember many people did not tithe!
- Jesus applauded sacrificial giving (widow's mite; so 100% is AOK!)
- 2 Cor 9:9 - "..give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."
- If God specifically wants 10%, would this not be indicated even one place in the New Testament?
- Let's not allow ourselves to be subjected to giving guidelines, or comparisons
Is it Best to Give 10% Before or After Taxes? [IF one wants to do something LIKE tithing but with cash]
- Old Testament called for a tenth of crops and from the herd
- Imposition of governmental tax would not have changed that
- So if one wanted to get as close as possible to tithing, it would be before taxes
What about Tithing Before the Law of Moses?
- Abraham gave a tenth of what he captured in war to Melchizedek, king of Salem
_ Evidence that tithing spans all ages and convenants? Some claim this.
- In Genesis 28 Jacob pledged to give a tenth to God - also before the time of Moses
- Decide for yourself. Recurrence of this 1/10 share may indicate something. Coincidence?
- But if it pre-existed, why never mentioned in the Mosaic law? Seems more like a clean slate.
- Observing the Sabbath and animal sacrifice also predated Moses!
- Col 2:16-17 - "...these are a shadow of the things that were to come.."
What Churches Teach that Tithing is Necessary?
- Podcast contains quotes from church websites/materials. Summary below:
- Mormons: 100% committed to tithing which was restored through "modern prophets"
- Assemblies of God USA - "tithing is still God’s design for supporting the ministry and reaching the world.."
- Seventh-Day Adventists - "biblical plan for the support of the work of God is by the tithes and offerings..
- United Methodist Church - "teach and model generous Christian giving with a focus on tithing as God’s standard..."
- Church of God - "BE IT RESOLVED that the church urge its membership to continued faithfulness and diligence in tithing.."
- Jehovah's Witnesses - No collections at meetings, members not required to tithe, no paid clergy, modest places of worship" (WOW)
Mentions of Tithing in the New Testament
- Matthew/Luke: Jesus admonishes Pharisees to do more than just tithe mint, dill, and cummin
- Luke 18: Self-righteous Pharisee prayed "I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get."
- Hebrews 7: refers to Abraham and Melchizedek
- NOTHING in NT mentions tithes as expected or happening under the new covenant
- Paul wrote much about collections but never mentioned it, even in passing
- "in addition to your tithe, set aside money for God's people..." did not issue forth from his pen
Call to Strive to Understand the Scriptures
- Let's be honest on this subject and a lot of others and admit that there are fuzzy areas
- Biblical discernment an important part of our restoration movement
- "Bible terms for Bible things" and "where the Bible speaks, we speak - where it is silent, we are silent"
- Is the church more or less committed to "getting back to the Bible" and understanding early Christianity than 30 years ago?
- Used to say: "We just try to follow the Bible." Is this really a hallmark of our church today?
- Biblical tithing did not involve money, only agricultural output
- For that reason, not everyone tithed
- Jesus did not tithe. Even if he gave 10% of his woodworking money, it would not have been biblical tithing.
- Tithing was primarily to support the Levites, but also the poor, orphans, widows, and aliens
- The early church was highly concerned for those who were in dire straits and took care of the poor
- No evidence that world evangelism was treated with greater importance
- The "Robbing God" passage in Malachi 3 should be used a lot more thoughtfully than it has been used in the past
- Failing to help the poor is failing to help God (Mt 25, sheep & goats) - much closer to principle of Mal. 3