The Tithe in Old Testament Law

Many years after creation and the fall, and even hundreds of years after the time of Abraham, God gave His law to the nation of Israel through Moses. Since a majority of what was written in the Bible regarding the tithe comes from the time of the Law in the Old Testament, there is much we can learn in a brief study of the then mandated tithe. As with many other decrees of the Law, the tithe had very detailed specifics regarding its administration...

The Law of Moses

This first passage provides the foundation for understanding all subsequent passages in the Law regarding the administration of the tithe. Take time to study it carefully.

Deuteronomy 14:22-29 "You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. 23 And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. 24 But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. 26 And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. 27 You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you. 28 "At the end of every third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store it up within your gates. 29 And the Levite, because he has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. (NKJV)

The "who", "what", and "where" are spelled out very well in this passage. The conclusions which follow enable us to compare this original tithe of the Law to the demands of today's tithing practices.


  • The tithe was commanded of the nation of Israel. It was never imposed on the nations surrounding Israel, even those who would come to worship God from these foreign lands (2 Chronicles 6:32-33).

  • The tithe was of yearly increase, not of everything one owned or grew. Specifically it was only of things grown; both in the ground and of livestock. Nowhere in the Law is any person commanded to give a tithe (in any form) of lands, clothing, and other merchandise, except for these grown or cultivated items.


Before continuing our list of conclusions, derived from this passage in Deuteronomy, it is necessary to take a moment to consider the firstfruits offering. Modern proponents of the tithe often mingle concepts from the firstfruits with the tithe, claiming that "the tithe should be of your firstfruits."

The tithe is still a helpful divine guideline insofar as it reminds us to give our firstfruits (i.e., the first and best of our income) to the Lord. (Questions about tithing,

Biblically the firstfruits was a mandated offering, separate from the tithe, which pertained only to the first of all things grown (i.e. cereals, tree fruits, grapes), or prepared from that which was grown (oil, flour, dough).

Exodus 23:19 "Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God. (See also Numbers 15:17-21 and Deuteronomy 26:2-11 on how it was presented).

Numbers 18:12-13 "I give you [the priests] all the finest olive oil and all the finest new wine and grain they give the LORD as the firstfruits of their harvest. 13 All the land's firstfruits that they bring to the LORD will be yours. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.

The firstfruits offering was mandated by God to provide food for the priests and their families. While the firstfruits of grains would be offered every year, the same was not so for fruit trees.

Leviticus 19:23-25 "'When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. 24 In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD. 25 But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the LORD your God.

The Talmud records how the Jews put this passage in Leviticus into actual practice. The firstfruits of fruit trees was not something that recurred year after year for the same trees, rather it was a one year event for any given tree; the first year of useable fruit.

According to the Talmud (Mish. Terumoth iv.3) a sixtieth part of the first fruits in a prepared form was the minimum that could be offered; the more generous brought a fortieth part, and even a thirtieth. The fruits of newly planted trees were not to be gathered during the first three years; the fruits of the fourth year were consecrated to Yahweh and from the fifth year the fruits belonged to the owner of the trees. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition, Copyright © 1979 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)

Showing how different the tithe was from the firstfruits and for those who confuse passages on the firstfruits offering with tithing; Scriptures specifically say that the tithe of livestock was by random (which could make the animal good or bad, young or old), and no substitution was allowed!

Leviticus 27:30-33 "'A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD. 31 If a man redeems any of his tithe, he must add a fifth of the value to it. 32 The entire tithe of the herd and flock - every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd's rod - will be holy to the LORD. 33 He must not pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If he does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed.'"

This doesn't stop one modern tithe proponent from claiming that a person should tithe the best, using a distorted view of the admonition to not substitute found in Leviticus.

Are you attempting to return as little as possible? That's a similar spirit of those in the early days who attempted to send the sickly lamb under the rod of the tithe to the Lord. (The Final Frontier, Dr. Neal Bower, Simple Living Publishing, 2005)

It wasn't a matter of trying to return as little as possible; the tithing Israelite had no choice over what animal was chosen, it had to be the tenth of what came into the fold or pen, regardless of whether it was healthiest or sickliest in the flock or herd. God was more concerned about obedience than the quality of the animal. More conclusions from Deuteronomy 14...


  • A tithe of everything grown belonged to God. If God, as the owner, instructed the people to do something with His possession, including eat it, He as the owner had the right to do so.

  • The tithe of the Law was an annual (once a year) ordinance. Again it was specifically only of the increase over the previous year's yield, not of everything grown or harvested.

  • The tithe guaranteed a vacation for the people, a time of rest from working. While it was to attend a religious festival, only a brief amount of time was actually spent at the temple. The majority of the time was to be spent with your household. If churches required this of today's new monetary tithe, think about the vacation fund that every family would have!


Some have questioned that the tithe of the Law was a once yearly practice, based on the fact that crops matured at different times of the year. While it's quite clear in the Bible that the separating of a tenth of the flock must be done annually, little is told us on when the setting aside of the tithe of the increase in grains would have taken place. People were certainly capable of storing their harvest, as seen from archaeological evidence, so it is quite probable that it was still a once a year event, with a goal of taking it to the temple during one of the mandated feasts. A person's entire household didn't necessarily go to every feast, as it was only mandatory for the men, so the emphasis would be on a feast having the whole household in attendance. Regardless, at most a person may have divided it (the tenth) into thirds to take a portion for each of the three required festivals at the temple. For a majority of Israel, those living away from Jerusalem, the only times of the year they would go to the temple would be at these special gatherings. Since the majority of the tithe was to be eaten by the giver, dividing it up could provide provisions for each of the festivals. It must be emphasized that this division would not have increased the tithe, it would have merely determined when it was to be used, since it was still of the annual increase and not of everything a person had at the time of usage.

Exodus 23:14-17 "Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me [spring, summer, fall - arranged so as to not disturb planting and harvests, or require travel during the winter]. 15 "Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover]; for seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in that month you came out of Egypt. "No one is to appear before me empty-handed. 16 "Celebrate the Feast of Harvest [also called "the Feast of Weeks" or Pentecost] with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. "Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering [Feast of Tabernacles] at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. 17 "Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD. [Our additions for explanation]

Rabbinical writers especially point out that the last mentioned festival, the Feast of Ingathering, which took place following the completion of the ingathering of all produce of the ground, was the big "feast" in terms of what was consumed. As such, this could be best equated to our modern celebration of Thanksgiving. Perhaps this meant that more of the tithe was taken to the temple at this time to be consumed before the Lord.

Another conclusion from Deuteronomy 14...


  • The giver administered the tithe! The one tithing was responsible for using it or distributing it, to family, the poor, or to those in fulltime ministry (the Levites) as they saw fit. While the tithe was ceremonially offered to God at the temple via the Levitical priesthood, this did not transfer the right (or privilege) of administration to the priest or the temple. God, as the owner of the tithe, had every right to assign this administration to whomever He willed. He chose the people.


More detail is available from Scriptures providing specifics of how the tithe was to be used. This builds on the primary function, according to the law, that the tithe was to be consumed by the giver in fellowship (especially with his family and extended household) and only at the place God designated (see Deuteronomy 12:4-7, 17-19). While the giver was free to administer the tithe, there were clear guidelines as to what should be included...

  1. The tithe was also to be shared with strangers (aliens), showing that God's people were to be hospitable. No set amount was decreed for this purpose enabling the giver to have freedom to determine if there was a need.

  2. The tithe was to be shared with those who were needy. God's people were called to care for the fatherless and the widow. Again, no set amount was decreed for this purpose, it only implicitly required the giver to look around for where there was a need.

  3. The tithe was to be shared with those in full time ministry (Levites). The Levites were a special circumstance, people who by designation had no inheritance because they were devoted to service of the Lord. Giving to the Levites was mandatory only every third year.

    Deuteronomy 26:12-13 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 Then say to the LORD your God: "I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them.

    Levites derived all their support directly or indirectly from the temple, yet this did not mean that everything taken to the temple was theirs. It was not only the tithe that was eaten by the giver. Even with most of the sacrifices, the giver and family normally ate them, with only a portion of the whole being given to help the priests who were also Levites (see 1 Samuel 1:4, 2:13-14). In regards to the gift of the tithe given to the Levites, the priests in turn ate it with their family or household, except for ten percent of it, which was given to the high priest. Though not explicitly told so, it would follow that the high priest and his household (servants, etc.) would consume this final percentage.

    Numbers 18:21, 24-32 "I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting. ... 24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD. That is why I said concerning them: 'They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.'"

    25 The LORD said to Moses, 26 "Speak to the Levites and say to them: 'When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the LORD's offering. 27 Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. 28 In this way you also will present an offering to the LORD from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the LORD's portion to Aaron the priest. 29 You must present as the LORD's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.'

    30 "Say to the Levites: 'When you present the best part, it will be reckoned to you as the product of the threshing floor or the winepress. 31 You and your households may eat the rest of it anywhere, for it is your wages for your work at the Tent of Meeting. 32 By presenting the best part of it you will not be guilty in this matter; then you will not defile the holy offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die.'"

    While some scholars hold that this passage in Numbers contradicts, or shows an alternate practice to the passage in Deuteronomy, this is not so. Using standard principles of biblical interpretation, it requires us to look for the higher unity while using Scriptures to interpret Scripture. Obviously the passage in Deuteronomy prevents the "all the tithes" in Numbers from referencing anything but Levitical portion, especially as given every three years.

    The difference between instructions in Deuteronomy and Numbers led some rabbis to believe that there were two tithes each year, one for the Levite and one to be eaten before the Lord. Yet it is unlikely that the text would institute a second tithe the way it does, without introduction or clarification. Some also believed that the triennial tithe was additional, making a total of three tithes. But it is unlikely that the offerer would have to affirm that such tithe was given properly while saying nothing of the first, or primary tithe. (Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Copyright 1996 by Baker Books)

It is extremely important to understand that the whole tithe was not a gift to the temple or priests. Earlier in the book of Numbers, after mandating that restitution for wrongs must be paid to the person wronged, or their family, it then stated that this restitution was to be given to the priest if no close relative could be found. In making clear that it was an outright gift to the priest, this subsequent statement is made:

Numbers 5:9-10 All the sacred contributions the Israelites bring to a priest will belong to him. 10 Each man's sacred gifts are his own, but what he gives to the priest will belong to the priest.'"

Notice that only that which was given to the priest now belonged to the priest. The sacred gifts, which included the tithe that was to be consecrated by the priests, remained the property of the giver! The only exception for the tithe would be a portion given to the Levites - this now belonged to the Levites.

One final conclusion should be considered from the original passage we began with in Deuteronomy 14.


  • Israel was promised a blessing for following the commanded practice of the tithe. Blessing came with obedience to the Law; punishment came with disobedience - which was the same for every aspect of the Law. Every command of God comes with this same pro and con. All sin or rebellion against God has consequences.

    The entire matter and practice of the tithe was not intended to be a burden to the people; rather it was to be a personal show of obedience. The giver was responsible to God for what they had done (as administrator of the tithe), and they were commanded to speak to God and tell Him that they had been obedient in keeping the command (see Deuteronomy 26:13 again). Even the priests, in doing the same with their portion of the tithe, had identical responsibility. The result would be that all the people would "learn to revere the LORD your God always. (Deuteronomy 14:23)"


Consider for a moment the consequence of this example: An Old Testament tither arbitrarily decided they no longer wanted to administer the tithe and just turned it all over to the temple because they felt it would be easier. While having the appearance of good; this action would, in fact, be breaking the Law. In so doing they would not have been eating it with their household before the Lord, nor would they have been fulfilling their personal obligation to be looking out for the poor. The Law had to be fulfilled in all its detail. "It would be easier" remains a poor defense that doesn't make the actions right.



At this time in Israel's history, temple worship was being restarted after a period of rebellion.

2 Chronicles 29:3, 31:4-12 In the first month of the first year of his reign, he [Hezekiah] opened the doors of the temple of the LORD and repaired them. ...

4 He ordered the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion due the priests and Levites so they could devote themselves to the Law of the LORD. 5 As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, new wine, oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything. 6 The men of Israel and Judah who lived in the towns of Judah also brought a tithe of their herds and flocks and a tithe of the holy things dedicated to the LORD their God, and they piled them in heaps. 7 They began doing this in the third month and finished in the seventh month.

8 When Hezekiah and his officials came and saw the heaps, they praised the LORD and blessed his people Israel. 9 Hezekiah asked the priests and Levites about the heaps; 10 and Azariah the chief priest, from the family of Zadok, answered, "Since the people began to bring their contributions to the temple of the LORD, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare, because the LORD has blessed his people, and this great amount is left over." 11 Hezekiah gave orders to prepare storerooms in the temple of the LORD, and this was done. 12 Then they faithfully brought in the contributions, tithes and dedicated gifts.

This passage must be evaluated in light of the earlier Law on which it was based. With this in mind, some conclusions from this passage...


  • Three separate things are in view throughout this account: freewill offerings, tithes, and mandated offerings including the firstfruits (note especially 2 Chronicles 31:5, 12).

  • When Hezekiah ordered the people to give what was due to the priests (see 2 Chronicles 31:4), it included all three types of giving. The tithe that was due was the long forgotten third year tithe that was designed to help the Levites. It's not surprising that it would be mentioned during this start up of the temple. Getting provisions into storage to provide for the Levites, who were again doing their temple service, was important. Only ten percent of the tithe given by the people would have actually gone into the storeroom as the portion that would sustain the priests performing their service at the temple (see again Numbers 18:26-28). We will consider more regarding this in the next section on Nehemiah.

  • Notice that when the people did what they were supposed to be doing, there was more than enough food for the Levites (see again 2 Chronicles 31:10). We shouldn't be surprised that God's system worked back then, even as any method He has for us today will work.

  • Excluding freewill gifts, both the mandated firstfruits offering (greater) and the tithe portion (lesser) were all about food. They were to make it possible for the Levites to eat, not provide them, or the temple, with a bank account. In fact it appears that consecrated items could not be sold to those who were not Levites -- they belonged only to those for whom they were designated.




Following another period of rebellion and subsequent exile as punishment, the Law again was being re-instituted after the temple was rebuilt.

Nehemiah 10:35-39 "We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the LORD each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree. 36 "As it is also written in the Law, we will bring the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, of our herds and of our flocks to the house of our God, to the priests ministering there. 37 "Moreover, we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God, to the priests, the first of our ground meal, of our [grain] offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and oil. And we will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all the towns where we work. 38 A priest descended from Aaron is to accompany the Levites when they receive the tithes, and the Levites are to bring a tenth of the tithes up to the house of our God, to the storerooms of the treasury. 39 The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and oil to the storerooms where the articles for the sanctuary are kept and where the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the singers stay. "We will not neglect the house of our God."

Similar to the section on Hezekiah, this passage also must be evaluated in light of the earlier Law on which it was based...


  • This passage changed nothing from the Law as it was merely restating it. The mandated firstfruits offering and giving of firstborn, etc., had nothing to do with the tithe and were completely separate ordinances. To apply the standard of the firstfruits to the tithe (as some churches now do) in saying that the tithe has to be first and the best is not shown by this Old Testament passage. It is not proper Biblical interpretation to arbitrarily combine separate ordinances of the law, or aspects of any such practices (much less carry them into the church).

  • It was necessary that the proper implementation of the Law would be set forth again, because common practice during the divided kingdom period allowed many corrupt practices to become commonplace. It appears that during this time Israel (the northern kingdom), with its' false places of worship, stopped going anywhere to eat the tithe and only went to one of the two new spots to bring the Levitical tithe every third year. Regardless of how often they attended to this duty, they were taking it to the wrong place and were having it consecrated by the wrong people, as their priests were no longer Levites (1 Kings 13:33).

    Amos 4:4-5 "Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. 5 Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings - boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do," declares the Sovereign LORD. [There is no question that Amos is using irony here, as he encourages the Israelites to show their zeal for their false practices. The Hebrew text could also be translated "your tithes every three days" which, if literal, would only increase their transgressions.]

    With these changes, the customs of the people were almost entirely in opposition to God's commanded practice. It's no wonder that God condemns them repeatedly for turning away from Him! Likewise, if the tithe is still for the church, it then becomes very important that we know (and can prove from Scriptures) where, or to whom, the tithe is now supposed to go.

  • While every third year the tithe was shared with the Levites (see Deuteronomy 14:28-29), the Levites were only required to take 10 percent of that amount to the temple storehouse (see again Nehemiah 10:38), where it was distributed to the priests for their usage (consumption). This small percentage (10% of loosely 1/3 of the people's original 10% ... less than ½ of 1 percent!) was all that was going to the temple storehouse from the tithe. All the additional goods that went to the temple storehouse, from the people as a whole (verse 39 above), were the mandated offerings of the firstfruits, etc. The following passage from Nehemiah shows how the firstfruits and tithes are clearly spoken of as being separate and that only the portion for the priests and Levites (all of the firstfruits and their once every three year portion of the tithe) went into the storeroom...

    Nehemiah 12:44 At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites.

  • The book of Nehemiah also confirms that the tithe was still only in regards to things grown and cultivated; livestock, grain, wine and oil (see Nehemiah 13:12).




The entirety of the concept surrounding the eaten tithe and the once every three-year special tithe must be understood as pertaining to what God is saying in this next passage. Malachi, as the last book of the Old Testament, is built on the Law of Moses and the actions of the Israelites throughout their preceding history.

Malachi 3:6-12 "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty. "But you ask, 'How are we to return?' 8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse-the whole nation of you-because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. 12 "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.

It is extremely important to analyze carefully all that is in view in this passage. Malachi is perhaps the most used (misused?) passage in support of the tithe in the church today.


  • This is God's indictment on Israel for not obeying His Law. In this passage God restates the obligation the priests and people had under the law. Two separate transgressions are in view in this passage - tithes and offerings. The tithe is the same one we've been looking at as established by the Law, while the offerings that are spoken of here are the mandated offerings of the Law which included the firstfruits.

  • Verse 10 is a specific rebuke of the priests who alone were to bring a share of the tithe into the storeroom. (See the earlier section on Nehemiah again. Way back to the time of Hezekiah we are told what the purpose of the temple storerooms was. While it included space for the Levitical share of the tithe, it also included storage for other dedicated gifts and offerings, both mandated and freewill. See 2 Chronicles 31:4, 11-12.)

    Read all of Malachi. This book is mostly a message for the priests and religious leaders (Malachi 2:1). The priests had stopped following the Law and the people may have been following their bad example. In verse nine, God may be including the people as being guilty on the grounds that they were withholding the mandated offerings. It's far more likely that the expression "the whole nation of you" was being applied specifically, as in "the whole nation of you priests." This makes sense in regards to the context of the verses before and after. If verse 9 was in regards to all the people, check out the many passages throughout the Old Testament (try Isaiah) where God holds the nation at fault for the corruption of the priesthood and the leadership. Many of the people were likely not giving their every third year portion of the tithe any longer either.

    Earlier, shortly after Nehemiah re-instituted temple worship, the people of his day had forgotten about the Levites. This prompted the Levites to forsake what they were supposed to be doing and lookout only for themselves (see Nehemiah 13:10-13). The downward spiral alluded to in Malachi would likely have fed on itself. With the priests not bringing what they were obligated to bring into the storehouse, which was for all the Levites, and with perhaps less being given by the people (especially in mandated offerings), the shortages probably prompted the Levites to look out for themselves again, forsaking God's work. Alternatively, there is also the very real possibility that the priests were receiving what they were due from the people but then withholding it from the other Levites.

  • This passage also restates the blessing God promised Israel for following the law (obedience). Again, this message was first and foremost to the priests in an effort to have them see what harm they were causing the nation through their disobedience. The priests, with their position of authority, were to be more accountable as they were to be examples and teachers of the people.

  • As noted already, this passage in Malachi is one of the most preached on in our modern churches in regards to tithing. It is used in spite of the fact that it is clearly a passage for those under the legal obligation of the Law and (as with the whole book of Malachi) is primarily an indictment on the leadership of Israel (especially the priests, who where the only ones who took tithes into the storehouse). The blessings offered for their obedience are merely a restating of the extraordinary blessing God promised them (as a nation) if they would obey all of His Law (Deuteronomy 7:12-15; 11:13-15, Exodus 23:24-26).

    "Christians are often urged to tithe based upon a mistaken appeal to this Old Testament text, which is wrested out of its rightful context, when applied to such a purpose. ... The storehouse is clearly the temple, not the church. ... Taken in context this passage lends no support to the mistaken doctrine of "storehouse tithing," whereby Christians have been directed to restrict all their financial giving to their own denomination or local church, or as a variation, church members have been directed to pay the tithe to the local church, and restrict giving to outside organizations to amounts over and above the church tithe." (The New Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, Jerome Smith)


Dr. Neal Bower, pastor and author of the book, The Final Frontier: Returning the Lord's tithe: it's not mine to spend, save, or give, carries the tithe forward as if it was on par with the Ten Commandments due to what he professes to be an association with Malachi.

You are saying, "Wait just a tenth of a second! This law passed away with the age of grace!"

OK, OK, but who of us would deny that each of The Ten Commandments should not continue to be observed as God intended them to be? Are they not relevant anymore? Of course they are. And He said, "Thou shalt not steal."

Malachi was kind enough to remind us that we don't only steal from each other. Sometimes we steal from God. When we neglect to return what we know is His property, the tithe of our income, we are stealing from God. (Bower, Simple Living Publishing, 2005)

Perhaps Bower has missed that the Ten Commandments are all restated in the New Testament; they clearly have a reason to be applied to Christians. How failure to perform the new tithe that Bower advocates, which is completely different in substance and administration from the Law, can be held as stealing from God is a leap unsupported by the text or the Ten Commandments. We do not dispute that the command to not steal is still valid today, yet for Brower's premise to be true, it is still necessary that he show that there is a command or requirement for Christian believers to tithe.

Please understand how wrong it is that Malachi is being used to "encourage" tithing today.

"What if I do not give? You rob God, and you will suffer (... Mal 3:8-12 ...)" (From Should Christians Give?,, emphasis as in original, proof verse as in original)

Other documents are a bit more subtle on their threatened sufferings for not tithing. This is done through the anecdotal story form.

When she failed to tithe mishaps occurred - the car broke down, her children got sick or the family ran short on food. Finally, Graves said, "Okay, God, I'll give you your money." (It's about love and obedience, not prosperity, tithers say, Ken Walker, Baptist Press, July 2003)

Of course the article goes on to tell of all the wonderful financial benefits, one to the tune of $5000, that she attributed to now tithing.

Using the Malachi passage for this purpose is a misuse of Scriptures. It is completely wrong to guilt people into giving by claiming they are robbing God and having them live in fear of consequences. Another example: an on-line document by Rev. Rick L. Patterson, Th.D., president of Miami Christian University, says...

"God is specifically telling us that if we do not tithe our 10% unto Him, then as far as he is concerned we are robbers or thieves." (

As we've already said, to make the accusation that someone is today robbing God, it becomes necessary to prove from the Bible that there's still a set obligation, and amount, as Israel had under the Law. If no amount is set, as with freewill offerings under the Old Testament Law (see Leviticus 7:16), not giving ten percent cannot be construed as robbing God. Unless the gift was vowed (or promised) by the choice of the giver, only then would it become a sin as a broken promise (see especially the example of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11).


  • If the Old Testament tithe is still the example; why shouldn't the giver administer it themselves, eat most of it in fellowship and give to the poor and those in fulltime Christian ministry as they see fit? And if they do so, on what grounds can anyone say they are robbing God? But, back to the heart of the matter, before any of these passages could be used for the church, it still must be shown that they apply beyond the physical nation of Israel who was specifically under all Mosaic Law.

  • If this passage somehow teaches a blessing to the church for tithing, which we have yet to see evidence of, why shouldn't the church claim all the other temporal (material) blessings promised Israel for their obedience?

    "... Tithing is Good Business. When you tithe for the right reasons, you have gone into business with God. When you invest one-tenth of your income with God, He promises "to open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it (Mal. 3:10)." (from a sermon by Jerry Falwell,


One final thought on the much mentioned and often threatened curses of Malachi. A major element of the Law of Moses was blessings and curses. These were clearly set before the Israelites as being conditional on their obedience to all of the Law.

Deuteronomy 30:19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses .

Joshua 8:34-35 Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law - the blessings and the curses - just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them.

The nation in Malachi's day was under the curses of the Law because they, and especially their leadership, had failed to uphold the Law. Obedience brought blessing, disobedience brought curses. Included within both the blessings and curses, were physical and spiritual elements. This cycle continued throughout all the days of Israel.

Deuteronomy 27:26 'Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' (NASU)

One of the amazing changes in the New Covenant is the unconditional nature of the blessings God now gives His people. The apostle Paul makes it clear that all believers are recipients of the spiritual blessings once only available to the Jews (Romans 15:27). As for curses, the only people now found to be under a spiritual curse are unbelievers (1 Corinthians 16:22). Notice the unconditional nature of the blessing God has given us in Christ...

Ephesians 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

God has unconditionally told believers that there is nothing that can any longer condemn them, once they have been set free from the deeds and curses of the Law.

Romans 8:1-4 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Christ fulfilled perfectly and permanently all the righteous requirements of the Law on our behalf. Any who would place the burden of the curses of Law back on the church, teaches the church that they are still under the Law. Christ became that curse for us (Galatians 3:13), forever setting us free to do good. Our motivation is no longer of fear and compulsion but solely out of love and gratitude. This alone is why we are a truly generous and giving people!

How sad that Christian leaders would teach, contrary to Scriptures (Romans 8:1), that there is condemnation for believers -- all because of their new tithe law.

Ten Reasons Why I Tithe. ... [Point 5] To Escape Condemnation. ... The tithe is the Lord's and He expects us to pay it to Him; at the same time, He does not receive it until we give it to Him. He does not give us the authority to use His tithes for other purposes, but we have the power to spend it as long as it is in our hands. Nevertheless, a person is condemned if he spends God's money. (Emphasis ours. Ten Reasons Why I Tithe, Tract found on


The Tax Hypothesis

Before leaving the Old Testament for the New Testament, we need to consider another idea that has been put forth concerning the purpose of tithing in Old Testament times. This view is taught by Dr. John MacArthur, Jr., a writer and theologian who has written many very helpful things. We were not made aware of his materials on the subject of tithing until after a limited release of the first version of this document. What we found was that his conclusions are similar to our own in regards to whether or not the tithe applies to the church, only that we differ in the "why?" His why is rooted in his interpretation of Old Testament tithe law.

MacArthur teaches that there were really three different tithes, one of which was every third year. He is not the first to espouse this viewpoint, with some citing extra-biblical sources that referred to two tithes or three tithes (and perhaps a seven year cycle of tithing). One reference work cites the problem in this manner...

There is thus an obvious apparent discrepancy between the legislation in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It is harmonized in Jewish tradition, not only theoretically but in practice, by considering the tithes as three different tithes, which are named the First Tithe, the Second Tithe, and the Poor Tithe, which is called also the Third Tithe (Pe'ah, Ma`aseroth, Ma`ser Sheni, Dema'i, Ro'sh ha-shanah; compare Tob 1:7,8; Ant, IV, iv, 3; viii, 8; viii, 22). According to this explanation, after the tithe (the First Tithe) was given to the Levites (of which they had to give the tithe to the priests), a Second Tithe of the remaining nine-tenths had to be set apart and consumed in Jerusalem. Those who lived far from Jerusalem could change this Second Tithe into money with the addition of a 5th part of its value. Only food, drink or ointment could be bought for the money (Ma`aser Sheni 2:1; compare Deut 14:26). The tithe of cattle belonged to the Second Tithe, and was to be used for the feast in Jerusalem (Zebhachim 5:8). In the 3rd year the Second Tithe was to be given entirely to the Levites and the poor. But according to Josephus (Ant, IV, viii, 22) the "Poor Tithe" was actually a third one. The priests and the Levites, if landowners, were also obliged to give the Poor Tithe (Pe'ah 1:6). (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database © 1996 by Biblesoft)

As we have already shown, using Scriptures alone, there is a higher unity that removes any apparent discrepancies. The "Jewish tradition" referenced in support of the double tithe is primarily from works written (or compiled) centuries after the destruction of the temple. Maimonides (died 1204 A.D.), a highly respected and cited Jewish writer, was one that wrote in support of a two tithe per year system.

The text mentioned in the quotation above (Pe'ah 1:6) which claims priests and Levites, if landowners, were obliged to give to the poor, perhaps best shows that these writings reflect later corrupted practices. The Bible makes it very clear that Levites were to never own land. God actually made it one of the conditions for a Levite to receive any of the tithes, that they not be a landowner.

Numbers 18:23 It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting and bear the responsibility for offenses against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. 24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD. That is why I said concerning them: 'They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.'"

Deuteronomy 10:9 That is why the Levites have no share or inheritance among their brothers; the LORD is their inheritance, as the LORD your God told them.

There appears to be little direct, earlier, evidence to support the two tithe idea, other than Josephus, and he contradicts most two-tithe traditions by having a third tithe. To be fair to Josephus, it is possible that by late Old Testament times, or even still more likely in the final years of the temple, an expanded multiple tithe system may have been enforced. The Pharisees had a way of legalizing things that were never intended by Scriptures. If there were multiple tithes at the time of Jesus we would have expected the self-righteous New Testament Pharisee in Luke 18 to have pointed out his diligence to "tithes (plural)." See Appendix C for more details about whether or not there may have been two or three tithes. Beyond the biblical certainties, these various ideas supporting multiple tithes allow for much speculation as to what they may have been used for and how they may have been administrated.

In MacArthur's articles he holds to all of the tithes being used to support the government of Israel. In his view, with Israel being a theocracy, the Levites were the administrators of the governmental system. Making it multiple tithes, instead of one tithe with multiple purposes (as we have so far seen), enables the percentage to grow as well. (This sounds like the thinking of many modern governments, but we digress again.)

Because Israel was a theocracy, the Levitical priests acted as the civil government. So the Levite's tithe (Leviticus 27:30-33) was a precursor to today's income tax, as was a second annual tithe required by God to fund a national festival (Deuteronomy 14:22-29). Smaller taxes were also imposed on the people by the law (Leviticus 19:9-10; Exodus 23:10-11). So the total giving required of the Israelites was not 10 percent, but well over 20 percent. All that money was used to operate the nation. (MacArthur, Giving and the Tithe, 2001)

Problems are immediately evident with this quotation, when viewed in light of all the Old Testament passages we have already examined. For example, we have already established...

  • The tither ate his tithe with his family, etc. This cannot be construed as funding a national festival much less the government itself. If this was a tax it doesn't sound like any governmental tax anywhere else in history. How many governments would allow you to share your tax with the poor (on your honor), or consume most of it with your family and friends?!

  • The tithe had nothing to do with money. It was crops and livestock. The Old Testament tithe was not imposed on acquired belongings, lands, or monetary gain, only on natural increase which included crops, livestock and fruit of the vine. Consider that there would be nothing to tithe regarding crops every seventh year, the Sabbath year during which no crops were to be grown.

    Leviticus 25:4-6 But in the seventh year the land is to have a sabbath of rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you - for yourself, your manservant and maidservant, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you.

    If the government was dependant on this tithe it would certainly make for automatic cutbacks every few years!

"All that money," as MacArthur calls it, could hardly be used to operate a nation, when there was no money involved. Any argument (made by others) that this was in place of money, because money wasn't commonly used back then, fails as well. Currency, including silver and gold, were used in the region and nation for centuries before. The use of such currency was even designated for other aspects of temple responsibility (see Leviticus 27:1-8 for example).


The "smaller taxes" MacArthur references are equally dubious. Consider the first passage he references in support of this idea.

Leviticus 19:9-10 "'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

How this becomes a tax is beyond our imagination. In this passage God was instructing His people to be merciful and allow there to be food for the poor and alien to glean from the fields. Oh that our taxes of today would show such compassion!

Exodus 23:10-11 "For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, 11 but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

Once again, the second "smaller tax" passage is shown to have nothing to do with money and, like the first, nowhere is it paid to any government whether Levites or monarchy. When God established his seventh year rest for the land, it was to provide rest to the people and to show compassion on the poor (and perhaps even the animals).

MacArthur's statements imply that the tithe was the largest means of income for the Levites. Rather, as we've already seen, it's the other mandated offerings that provided the bulk of support for the Levites. If you multiply the number of tithes to get twenty percent or more (as MacArthur states), there is still the issue of proving that the Levites were the government. We consider this premise highly unlikely on numerous grounds of Scripture.

It's true that the tithe was instituted when Israel was a true Theocracy (ruled by God alone), long before Israel asked for and got a king. If the Levites were supposed to be receiving at least 10% already (or 20%, or 23.3% as MacArthur attests), why would God have had Samuel warn them that the new government (monarchy) they were demanding would impose an additional 10% (secular "tithe") share of everything to support this new order? Also, if the Levites were agents of the government, why would Solomon have separate store cities and administrators, who were not Levites, collecting all his provisions?

1 Samuel 8:10-11a, 14-18 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do...

He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day."

This "secular tithe" was imposed after the monarchy was set up, but it was not generally referred to as the "tithe" (wording that almost always was used in reference to the religious 10%). The monarchy imposed 10% was simply a tax and unlike God's tithe, it was on everything and not only the increase. These taxes were collected and administered by government officials, completely separate from the priesthood. For example, from the time of Solomon...

1 Kings 4:7-8a Solomon also had twelve district governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and the royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year. 8 These are their names...

A person could perhaps try and justify belief that the Levites were the government before the monarchy, though it's even unlikely during the time of the judges and, for that matter, during the time of Moses as he established tribal leaders for governing (see Exodus 18:13-26). During the greater portion of Israel's history the idea becomes completely unprovable, including during the unified monarchy and divided kingdom that followed. Through these periods the secular ruling authority was so strengthened that it is shown as being continually in control of all aspects of governing. Even during the Roman period (late Old Testament and early New Testament) all taxation authority was with the Roman government (as with the earlier Persian government at the time of Nehemiah. See Nehemiah 5:4).

Before leaving MacArthur's teaching on this subject, we need to consider one last statement...

All giving apart from that required to run the government was purely voluntary (cf. Exodus 25:2; 1 Chronicles 29:9). Each person gave whatever was in his heart to give; no percentage or amount was specified. (MacArthur, Giving and the Tithe, 2001)

Check the verses he used for his examples; they pertain to constructing and furnishing the tabernacle or temple - something that was always freewill, as we have already examined. If the Levites were the government, would not maintaining or constructing the building where their service was centered be part of running the government? How can other mandated offerings, such as the firstfruits, be considered voluntary, or are they to be considered taxes too? The bottom line is that it is stretching credulity to try and claim a Levitical government and call some or all of the offerings and tithes, "taxes."

As a final thought on the topic of taxes, it should be noted that there was a defined temple tax (one of the few things regarding the temple that pertained to money)...

Matthew 17:24-27 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" 25 "Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes-from their own sons or from others?" 26 "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. 27 "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

This temple tax was first imposed by Moses (2 Chronicles 46:6, Exodus 30:11-16) as part of the law. It was a defined amount of money (that had not changed for hundreds of years) payable by all the male citizens of Israel 20 years and older. Collected once a year in the month of Adar (our March) this tax was specifically for the maintenance and care of the temple (and tabernacle to begin with). It was from this tax that the money changers had figured out a way to gouge the temple tax-payers -- profiting off of something that was supposed to provide for God's house. This tax alone was the prescribed form of financial (monetary) income for the temple.

Based on the historic number of people living in Israel, the temple tax most certainly would have raised substantial amounts of money. When it was first imposed by Moses it was also called "atonement money" representative of the need to redeem their lives. With the fulfillment of our atonement by Jesus Christ, and the destruction of the temple form of worship, this requirement was done away with. If the church could be shown to have taken over where the temple left off, then it would be more logical to carry a head-tax into the church rather than some form of the tithe. At least it was dealing with money. For the record, some churches throughout history have even imposed a form of "pew taxes" or a "church rate" to provide funding for their building. (I wonder if they all exempted women and children?) When churches and teachers feel no limitation on pulling random things from the Old Covenant into the New, such as the tithe, this shouldn't surprise us. Pointing towards the day when the temple of God would be in men rather than in an edifice - truly when all would be known as sons of God - Jesus' words that "the sons are exempt, (Matthew 17:26)" showed that a new and better way was coming. God's church is now tax-free! As for the world, where we reside as aliens and foreigners, that's where we're destined to pay taxes until eternity (Mark 12:14-17).

While this discussion on taxes has little bearing on concepts of the tithe that have been popularly carried into most churches, we believe it's important to always seek a solidly defendable position based on all available Scripture passages. Perhaps the greatest similarity of taxes to tithing is the modern tithe proponent's penchant for demanding 10% of all, which was a trait of kings and never of God's tithe. Though it would be convenient to be able to contrast the Old Testament tithe to modern governmental taxes, it actually detracts from showing how far removed the Old Testament tithe is from God's plan for giving in the New Testament era (but this is getting ahead of our progressive study).