This is the 4th post in our series on biblical giving. So far we have looked at the concept of tithing, and that is where our focus will be for the next two posts. Before we begin let us recap what we have learned from God’s Word thus far. Here are the first three posts – please be sure to read them before moving on with this article:
In looking at the Old Testament regarding tithing, this is what we found:
So, what we see in the Old Testament is that the tithe was the national income tax of Israel. Keep in mind that these were not voluntary gifts to God, but requirements to fund the government of Israel. It has been estimated that the [the average tithe each person paid was] over 25% per year! – Far more than the 10% that we are used to hearing about. This percentage is pretty close to what many around the globe pay in taxes to support their governments. Those taxes supported the government, national festivals and the needy. As we will see in another article, the people gave voluntary, sacrificial, heartfelt gifts on top of the tithes and offerings listed above (cf Exodus 36:3-7).
Then we took a look into the New Testament and found that:
…The tithe was still in effect and was still a tax to support the nation of Israel. There are no commands in the NT with regard to paying tithes. We also discovered that Christians are never once commanded to pay tithes specifically; but we are commanded, however, to pay taxes to the ruling government.
Since we found that both in the Old Testament and New Testament the Jews were required to pay tithes (or taxes) in order to fund the government, we decided to see if the bible provides instruction to Christians regarding paying taxes.
What we found is that:
God’s word is clear regarding government and the citizens’ obligation to financially support it. As we have seen, in the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to pay taxes (called tithes) to support their government. In the New Testament, God commands His people to pay taxes to all ruling authorities regardless of the government’s devotion to God. In both cases, God still desired voluntary, cheerful, sacrificial giving from His people on top of their obligation to pay taxes.
From examining all of the scriptures in the three preceding articles, it is clear that the tithes of Israel functioned to support the nation and government, and DID NOT represent voluntary, sacrificial giving to God.
Since the law commanded the Israelites to pay taxes in “pockets” of ten percent (“tithe” simply means “a tenth”), the next question would be, “What about tithing before the law?”. In fact, we do find in the book of Genesis two instances of someone either paying a tenth, or making a vow to do so.
So, do these two mentions of paying a tenth set an example for the church today? Let’s take a look at the first one.
In Genesis 14:17-20 we find this account:
Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all.
Here is a little background on this passage. There were two groups of kings that went into battle against each other: Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam, and his three allies against Bera, the king of Sodom, and his four allies. Abram’s nephew, named Lot was living in Sodom at the time and when Bera and his allies were defeated in battle, Lot was taken prisoner. Once Abram heard about this, he took his men and defeated Chedorlaomer along with his allies and retrieved Lot. Genesis 14:16 tells us that; “He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people.”
And now that brings us to the point of our discussion for today. After returning from his victory, Abram was met in the Valley by Melchizedek, who was “a priest of God Most High”. Melchizedek proceeds to bless Abram and attributes his victory to God (“Who has delivered your enemies into your hand”). The bible records that, in response to this truth (God giving him victory), Abram “gave him a tenth of all”.
There are a few things that we must realize about Abram’s gift:
- Abram only gave a tenth of what he won in battle, not his income.
- We have no record of God commanding him to give a tenth.
- We never read about Abram (or Abraham) giving a tenth outside of this account.
- Abram’s gift is never used as an example for other believers on giving.
Let’s look at each point in detail:
1) Abram did not give a tenth of all of his income or prior possessions:
Abram went to war, gained a victory and brought the spoils of war back with him. He then met Melchizedek in the Valley of Shaveh and gave him a tenth of all. It should be clear from this account that Abram only gave a tenth of what he won in war.
In speaking about the priesthood of Melchizedek, the book of Hebrews confirms this for us:
Hebrews 7:4 reads “Now observe how great this man was to whom Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils.”
2) We have no record of God commanding Abraham to give a tenth or “tithe”:
We observe many instances in scripture where God spoke to Abraham. Many times he received commands, promises and assurance from God. However, we never find God commanding Abraham to give a tenth. It would seem as though this gift from Abraham was voluntary and NOT mandatory.
3) This is the only time in all of scripture that we read about Abraham giving a tenth:
We read about Abraham building altars and making offerings to God. We even read about his willingness to sacrifice his own son to God. What we never read about, however, is Abraham giving a tenth of his income or possessions outside of this account.
4) Abraham’s gift of “a tenth of the choicest spoils” is never used as an example for other believers to follow in regards to giving:
We are never urged to look at this event as an example for our giving. However, there are aspects of this account that we should mimic such as; it was voluntary giving, it was his automatic response after a blessing, he attributed all of his success to God, and he never gave the possessions a place of importance in his life (as can be seen by his response to the king of Sodom in Genesis 14:21-24).
In summary, I think it is clear from an examination of this account and all relevant scripture that Abram’s gift of a tenth of the spoils of war does not “prove” that God demands 10% of every Christian’s gross income. Abraham’s gift was voluntary, occurred once, was only based on the spoils of war (in which he defended SODOM!), and never given to us as an example of giving.
The primary reason why many teach that giving 10% of your gross income is God’s command comes from a basic misunderstanding of what tithing really was. As we examined in our previous articles on this subject, the various “tithes” commanded in the Law of Moses served as taxes to support various functions of the nation – supporting the government officials (Levites), funding the national religious ceremonies and festivals, and providing for the needy (widows, orphans and immigrants).
***The tithes were nothing more than mandatory taxes levied on the citizens of Israel to fund their government.***
However, the bible shows that the Israelites gave voluntary, sacrificial, heartfelt offerings to God above their required taxes (the various tithes). I will devote a later article to the subject of voluntary giving in the Old Testament, but you can look at Exodus 25:2 and Exodus 36:3-7 for now.
Do you have any questions on tithing, taxes or giving that you would like to be addressed in this series? Do you have any questions on anything in this article? Feel free to leave a comment below.