The Spirit of the Tithe: It Was Never About Money

For many religious institutions, tithing is a big issue today. I can understand why. Many of these religious institutions are quite wealthy, and to maintain that wealth, tithing is necessary. But what is the real spirit of the scripture when it comes to the issue of tithing? Does the scripture really teach that God demands a tenth of our income? The answer may surprise you.

Let’s begin with Abraham. Many are taught that Abraham tithed, but nowhere in the Bible does it give any indication of this. The idea is really quite silly. In a single recorded incident Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe on the spoils of war. For some reason, religious leaders often equate this with the modern idea of tithing on paychecks. In Abraham’s case, the spoils of war had nothing to do with Abraham’s income. This voluntary offer on the part of Abraham certainly didn’t set any tithing precedent, either; hundreds of years later, when Moses stated that the Israelites were to give Levites a small portion on the spoils of war, it wasn’t even close to ten percent. And how does an entire nation giving some of the spoils of war away equate to an individual tithing on their weekly or monthly income?

Here is something else to consider: What would Abraham’s regular tithes be used for? To go to the local ziggurat building fund? In Abraham’s day, a ziggurat was a rectangular, tiered temple built by the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians, but I don’t think Abraham would have had much use for that! As we’ll discuss shortly, the purpose of tithing was providing food for all the Israelites. But in Abraham’s day there were no Israelites.  

I have heard some use Jacob’s vow to God as setting a precedent to tithing. But this doesn’t make sense either since Jacob’s vow was conditional. Besides, if you do decide to tithe based on the condition of getting bountifully blessed by God, you might be in for a shock. Jacob surely had no life of luxury after making his conditional promise to God. In fact, he had a hard life. He even tells the Pharaoh of Egypt near the end of his life that his years had been “…few and evil…” (Gen. 47:9). You can hardly blame him for such a statement. While God blessed him with a big family, that family often brought hardship and shame to his life. He also lost a son (even though he found him later), lived through some pretty harsh times (like extreme famine), and never lived in a permanent location.

Now let’s go to the Torah where the law of tithing originated. First off I want to say that money wasn’t the issue-crops and livestock were. More specifically, community survival was the issue. There are four types of tithes mentioned in the Torah. The first tithe dealt with those who owned land and raised crops. Ten percent of the raised crops were to go to the Levites. Be reminded that this tithe only dealt with those who raised crops. No money was involved. This tithe was also only required for six years out of a seven-year cycle, and those who did not own…

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