A New Look at Tithing
c. Graham Carle and John Stringer, 1994
Emmaus Road Publishing, 1994

    "… and you shall eat in the presence of the Lord your God the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil and the first born of your herd and your flock in order that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always" (Deut 14:23)


    This study began as a much shorter discussion paper written in about 1981 to he considered amongst the leaders of the church to which I was committed for the eight years I lived in Christchurch. The church held tithing as a tenet of faith and we were asked to examine in turn all our church beliefs, so this was written to be discussed among friends and fellow workers. Since that time, the issue has come up many times in many places and the original study has been responded to, revised several times and circulated by photocopies, but I would like to improve the argument put forward - hence this publication.

    I realise that in challenging the present general understanding of tithing that I am not just dealing with a doctrine but calling into question a major source of funding for church ministries and projects. This of course will cause some, especially those who are relying on consistent tithing, to want to avoid the discussion, fearing that people will stop giving if given half an excuse. If, however, what I'm saying is true and therefore the revealed will of God then we don't have to be anxious about provision because our heavenly Father knows our needs. What we should be concerned with then is surely not money but the will of God, knowing that if we get that right everything else, which includes how people give, will work out. This assurance of provision, as contained within Jesus's command to seek first His kingdom and His way of doing things, is just as surely for the leaders of churches and projects as for the people of those churches.

    I sincerely make this case not to cause contention but because I believe truth will always be more liberating and fruitful than tradition and I would urge the reader to emulate the Berean Jews of whom it is testified:

    "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11)

    If you find that I am wrong, in whole or in part, I want to assure you that I actively welcome further discussion and correction, and I would like to thank and acknowledge those who have already offered corrections and advice, especially David Lee for his constant encouragement and construc-tive criticism and the late Tom Marshall for his comments on my maths. Graeme Carlé, Wellington, New Zealand

The Purpose of This Study

    It is my intention to show that there has been much misunderstanding of tithing, not only of what God requires of us today but even of what He used to require of Israel under the law of Moses. Although some Christians do not tithe at all, most of the evangelical and Pentecostal denominations teach that we should all set aside 10% of all income we receive and give it to the Lord's work. Some in the older, more traditional denominations give this to their church; others there give to "storehouses", defined as the more "alive" churches or ministries from which they receive most of their spiritual food. Some tithe on gross income (i.e. before tax or any other deductions) so that they are giving the Lord the first slice of the pie, while others tithe on their net income (i.e. after tax and/or other deductions) as they consider that is the amount they actually receive.

    Which is the will of God? Is it perhaps an individual conscience issue with no single answer, so that we should take the Romans 14 approach of letting "each be fully convinced in his own mind"? No, because I believe there is a single answer. I also want to counter what I believe is undue coercion and legalism in the church of God and I'm sure there will be some surprise at the extent of it. For example, here in New Zealand I have come across the teaching of 30% "tithing", the setting aside of three distinct tithes - one for the church or minister, the second to pay for conferences, and the third given away to the needy.

    Even among respected Christian leaders there is confusion over tithing. I was personally stirred to study it because I heard a very well known Bible teacher, and one I greatly respect, Dr Derek Prince, state that he was afraid not to tithe because he believed he would receive a curse if he didn't. He based this on Malachi 3:8-9. I have since heard he may have modified his stance although I have not been able to confirm this. Knowing therefore that there are strong allies to whom we can look to confirm almost any view, we need to tread carefully, but I also know the issue can be decided quite firmly if only we bother to dig a bit deeper.

    Most importantly, we have to counter any misunderstanding because there was to he a revelation of the character of God in the Mosaic practice of tithing; any misunderstanding of that practice therefore means we miss out on the revelation.

Extra Biblical Sources

    How do the Jews view tithing? Some claim that since Josephus the Jewish historian wrote about 30% tithing he validates that view. However modern Jewish scholarship, besides regarding Josephus as unreliable, doesn't hear this out. For example, the authoritative Encyclopaedia Judaica mentions two uses of the one tithe: the first tithe (ma'aser ri'shan) was to be given to the Levites and the second tithe (ma'aser shani) was to be consumed in Jerusalem, carefully noting these were not simultaneous.

    In trying to discover present-day Jewish practice by discussion with our local rabbi, I found that as many as there are different degrees of belief within Judaism there are different practices of tithing. Some hold that since tithing was primarily an offering of the fruits of the land of promise, it can only he practiced by those resident in Israel. Some friends of the rabbi, I think in New York, considered that feeding bread to the ducks at the park fulfills this part of the Law since it is the giving away of grain!

    Dealing with Christian tithing, the Encyclopaedia Americana states:

    "It was not practised in the early Christian church but gradually became common (in the Roman Catholic church in western Europe) by the 6th Century. The Council of Tours in 567 and the 2nd Council of Macon in 585 advocated tithing. Made obligatory by civil law in the Carolingian empire in 765 and in England in the 10th Century...

    The Reformation did not abolish tithing and the practice was continued in the Roman Catholic church and in Protestant countries…(until it was) gradually replaced by other forms of taxation. The Roman Catholic church still prescribes tithes in countries where they are sanctioned by law, and some Protestant bodies consider tithes obligatory."

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or Mormons as they are usually known, which claims to be the restored early church and was formed in the latter part of last century, also considers the tithe obligatory.

    The Encyclopaedia Britannica points out however, "The eastern Orthodox churches never accepted the idea of tithes and Orthodox church members have never paid them."

    To summarise then, modern-day Jewish scholarship says the Law of Moses teaches tithing for two purposes at different times but the outworking is apparently left very much to individual conscience. The Roman Catholic church advocated it as least as long ago as the sixth century while the eastern Orthodox churches, with similar antiquity, never accepted the idea. The Reformation maintained the Catholic practice unchanged and Protestant churches today have differing views, some believing that all must tithe and some that it is up to each individual to decide.

    Since therefore there is no resolution of the issue outside the Scriptures, we must look carefully into all of the Scriptures, if we are to resolve it to our personal satisfaction.

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