Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Tithing - You're Doing It Wrong

I was recently minding my own business, flipping channels on the telly one rainy Sunday morning, when I came across a church program from a local Protestant group in my area. This group is not affiliated with Armstrongism at all. They are one of those "intro to Christianity" seeker-sensitive churches, with the stage and the band and the light, airy messages peppered with buzz-phrases like "lean in". Don't get me wrong, it's a decent place. They have plenty of community outreach programs and genuinely try to plant the seeds of the gospel in people's hearts. It is difficult finding a balance between evangelizing and making disciples. It almost requires two different churches in one. Their messages may be light and airy, but they do not compromise on solid principles even while they are very patient with people who aren't there yet. That's why I figured I would linger a while and hear what the young gentleman on my screen had to say.

His message was about ... you know, it's odd, but I don't really remember what his message was about. It was something I thought was pretty good. Unfortunately for me, the message was lost when he mentioned one of my personal pet peeves - tithing.

I thought it quite unusual to hear a Protestant mentioning tithing. Especially one from a seeker-sensitive group.

I understand the economics of running a church. They cost a lot of money! You can imagine in our current economic climate, things only get more and more expensive. Tithing is a tempting option. Compelling people to hand over 10% of their income is a more reliable system than depending on freewill gifts.

But there is a serious flaw in this entire plan. For some reason, people seem to think tithing was a system of 10%. What if I told you that is incorrect.

Tithing was not 10%. It was one-in-ten.


What is the difference, you ask? Let me explain.

Originally, ancient Israel was an agrarian society. All that means is most of the nation's wealth was generated in a field somewhere. That is why you will only see tithes of the farm, field, orchard, or flock. That is why you hear of the Pharisees tithing of mint, anise, and cumin (DEU. 14: 22). Note: the church leaders tithed. You will not find a verse where tithes came from money. Or fish, for that matter. You can turn a tithe into money in order to make it easier to transport, but it was not money originally. (Does your Minister accept tomatoes?)

Some did have "income" as we understand it, because there were tradesmen and specialists in that agrarian society. Somebody had to cut stone and build houses and smith bronze and craft the clay and fletch arrows, and etc. That tent aint gonna weave itself! Yet, you never see a verse commanding them to tithe on their pay. It is implied that money income was donated, but it is never directly commanded that money income was tithed. Some forms of income simply were not tithed upon.

So, we are back to tithing on farm, field, orchard, or flock. Here, the one-in-ten system becomes necessary. To explain how the one-in-ten tithing system worked, let us imagine some shepherds.

Once a year, the shepherds would all gather in their area to have their flocks counted. We were reminded by Miller Jones in the comments on this post that it wasn't the whole flock that was counted, but the increase of the flock. An important point to mention! (No one tithes on everything they currently own, but the new income. Or else tithing would guarantee poverty.) For the count, the new sheep were caused to pass under a rod. Every tenth sheep was given.

(LEV. 27: 32) And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.

Let's say for example there is a poor shepherd who has three new sheep.
Under a one-in-ten system: This poor shepherd brings his three sheep to be counted. There is no tenth sheep to give, so he ends up giving nothing at all.
Under a system of 10%: He would have to cut three-tenths of one sheep and hand it over. That leaves him with two and seven-tenths sheep.

Let's say for example there is a more successful shepherd with twenty-nine new sheep.
Under a one-in-ten system: This shepherd brings his twenty-nine sheep to be counted. As the tenth passes under the rod, he hands it over. As the twentieth passes under the rod, he surrenders it over as well. Since there is no thirtieth sheep, nothing further is taken from him.
Under a system of 10%: He would have to surrender two whole sheep, then cut nine-tenths of a third sheep and hand it over. That leaves him with twenty six and one-tenth sheep.

Do you see the difference?

Let's do what is un-biblical and turn this tithe example into one of money. I only do this because so many people think of tithing in terms of money income, although that "biblical" idea is not in the Bible anywhere.

Ten percent of $19.98 is $1.99. One-in-ten of $19.98 is $1.00.
Ten percent of $983.75 is $98.37. One-in-ten of $983.75 is $98.00.
Same starting amounts, different tithe. The two systems are similar but not the same.

There is a tangible difference between 10% and one-in-ten. What is that poor shepherd supposed to do with that seven-tenths of a sheep, exactly? Plus, with one-in-ten you never have to round up.

If you understand how tithing really worked, it makes the ridiculousness of the Pharisees even greater. They didn't just weigh their herbs and spices then hand over 10%. No. If they were doing it as expected, then they had to count it all out and give one out of every ten. Talk about strain at a gnat and swallow a camel! Doing all of that fastidious counting, but missing the law of love almost completely.


Which system is the more merciful? Which system wastes no resources? Which system only takes from those who can afford it? Which system gives the poor a fighting chance to increase? 
It's not the system of 10%.

If someone tells you tithing is a system of giving 10%, you tell them to get behind you. The Bible never advocates a system of tithing ten percent (let alone thirty percent). The biblical tithe was one-in-ten. There's a difference!

This is a moot point anyway. The tithing system, whether it was ten percent or one-in-ten, is gone. Gone with the Old Covenant and the Levitical priesthood. Replaced in the New Covenant by a system of freewill giving. If you want more about this, we have several articles on our Categories page.

So, for all of the people who talk about tithing and how it should be about money and how a tithe is ten percent, you might want to search the scriptures as the noble Bereans did and reconsider what your Minister told you. Apparently, this goes even for the mainstream Protestants. Because, chances are you're doing it wrong.


It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )

Acts 17:11



Miller Jones/Lonnie C Hendrix said...

Amen! Great explanation of the tenth. I would add that tithing was also done on that year's increase or yield - what was produced in that year. Also, the tithe wasn't just given to the Temple to spoil or be consumed by fire. It was used to support the Levites, the celebration of the festivals, and the poor (every three years). In other words, there were NOT three separate tithes as the Armstrongites preached! The Temple was periodically maintained with freewill offerings from the children of Israel.

xHWA said...

Fantastic additional! Thank you for the great comment.

Anonymous said...

All valid points you make and thanks for setting them out.

Another way of showing what you have pointed out is by way of a small table illustrating the variable effect of the tithe in the case of herds and flocks:

"All the tithe of the herd or flock, whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord" (verse 32)

- on 21 cattle the tithe is 2
- 29 cattle the tithe is still 2
- if the next year is a bad one and the number of cattle falls to 9 - no tithe at all of the herd would be payable
- If it fell to 11 the tithe would be 1 - half of the previous year ( but bigger proportionately than scenario 29 where the tithe is actually 6.9%). For 19 the tithe is but 5.2%

The “tithe” is seen to vary from 0% to 10%. If the owner of herds grew crops then a combination effect applied.

9 0 0%
11 1 9.1%
19 1 5.2%
20 2 10%
21 2 9.5%
29 2 6.9%
30 3 10%
31 3 9.7%
39 3 7.7%
40 4 10%
49 4 8.2%
50 5 10%

Interesting to note how the tithe as it operated did not translate to being a constant 10%. In fact a 10% outcome occurs only when the number of the herd is 10, or 20, or 30, etc.

Bear in mind also the important fact that the tithing system had no application whatsoever to those members of society who were not engaged in production on the land of crops/fruits/herds.
This important feature is simply swept under the carpet by demanders today as they have a huge self-interest to have it so.

That is to say all non-agricultural workers - carpenters, metal workers, artisans, shoe makers, cloth and garments and dyes thereof, service providers; merchandise trade, camel drivers, fishermen, potters, healers, cooks; food preparation - including grain grinding, wine making and olive oil production, and baking of breads; leather workers - and all other trades and occupations that existed in those times not directly linked to agricultural produce - were not required to tithe.

All these people would have earned a money income or in some cases barter arrangements entered into - no tithe was required from any such activities.(This would presumably include servants/ employees of the agricultural producers as they had no ownership rights of the produce of the land ).

Produce grown by gentiles in the land of Israel were exempt.

Anonymous said...

Useful also to note the Jewish Encyclopaedia:
''According to the Rabbis, the Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy are complementary to each other consequently there can be no contradiction between them.

Thus, there were three kinds of tithes: (1) that given to the Levites as stated in Num. xviii. 21 et seq and termed "the first tithe" ("ma'aser rishon"); (2) the tithe which was to be taken to Jerusalem and there consumed by the landowner and his a, and which was termed "the second tithe" ("ma'aser sheni"), it being taken from what remained after the first tithe had been appropriated; and (3) that given to the poor ("ma'aser 'ani"). Therefore two tithes were to be taken every year except in the seventh year: Nos. 1 and 2 in the first, second, fourth, and fifth years; Nos. 1 and 3 in the third and sixth years.’’

The scriptures are in Leviticus 27: 31-33, Numbers 18:21-32 and Deuteronomy 14:22–27 and 26:12,''

These of course applied in Israel and the temple system. There never was an ambit to extend to New Covenant times.

xHWA said...

All excellent points, Anon. Thank you for sharing.

Two things particularly stuck out to me.

"Produce grown by gentiles in the land of Israel were exempt." I had not noticed that, but it is a very important point.

Also, what you said about the three types of tithes ties in with the three types of law discussed in my article Is Ceremonial Law Removed?". Tithing seems to have been both ceremonial (first tithe and second), as well as national (third). All of which would be removed. Nothing about tithing is moral law. You could find morality in taking care of the poor and the widow, but not in tithing, specifically, because it was a national thing.

At any rate, excellent additions, Anon. I appreciate it. God bless!

Anonymous said...

I read with interest your commentary of ceremonial law as shown in the link provided. Appreciate the effort that went into that. Thank you also for kind words you had to say.

I agree Armstrong invented a divide between moral/ceremonial simply because it suited his purposes.

Armstrong said the laws of Moses concerned ceremonial matters only. He used the term “meats and drinks and diverse washings’. By this means he excluded the Ten Commandments as if they are an altogether different category.

The teaching by Jesus in Matthew chapter 5 concerns the law and when we read it we see how Jesus taught a completely contrary view.

17 ''Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

18 For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

And further verses I won't quote here.

We learn therein in this most important discourse about the standing of the law to the New covenant.

- this chapter in Matthew 5 shows Jesus did not make the Ten Commandments a separate category. Jesus placed the ten commandments together with other laws/ principles from the mosaic covenant - and they were all described as “the law”.

- Also, in Luke 24:44: “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.

Verse 44 mentions the usual distinction among the Jews of the books of the Old Testament : the Law, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa; among which last stands the book of Psalms - as such it represents the remainder

The Worldwide teaching about the law of Moses and ceremonial law /ten commandments is made irrelevant and incorrect by Jesus's words.

Division of the Old covenant law into categories such as civil or legal or moral which goes back many centuries is a convention devised to aid understanding. It is not in the Bible.

(Perhaps Armstrong really did see it as good theology, borrowed from earlier allegedly law keeping churches. My own view however is that intertwined with this - and an equally important element not a minority one - was to achieve his own purpose - to have people subject to a sabbath ''keeping''/ten commandment ''keeping'' for salvation demand, and associated with that other laws, primarily tithing, as emphasis on such was the means to a big income stream which was his desire).