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
About the Author - Like his brother Douglas, Steve Jacoby seeks to understand the Bible within its historical and cultural context, setting aside purely popular beliefs while recognizing there are many things we simply can't know or can't know for sure (but we do our best). Steve and his wife Sandy have a heart for the poor; in 2012 they founded Sheep Not Goats, a 501(c) (3) charity working in Nicaragua. As part of that they trained a group of women in Central America's poorest country to knit baby blankets which they sell at sheepdreamzzz.org. These women receive all of the proceeds to feed their families.