What Are Tithes In the Bible?

Tithing in the Bible is the practice of regularly and systematically giving God ten percent of one’s income. The first time we see this occur is when Abraham gave a voluntary tithe to King Melchizedek of all that he won in a battle with four kings. He gave this tithe in thanksgiving to God, and as a way of honoring the Lord for giving him victory in battle.

Tithes Became Mandatory Under Moses

Mandatory tithes and offerings, and some prescribed voluntary offerings, became the law of the land for Israel under the leadership of Moses over four hundred years later in approximately 1400 B.C. This lasted until the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple in A.D. 70.

The temple had been the God-ordained place and foundation of national worship in Israel. When it was destroyed, there was no longer a divinely sanctioned place to offer sacrifices. No more sacrifices meant there was no longer a need for the Levitical priesthood to offer sacrifices.

The whole system went kaput.

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Early Church Did Not Pay Tithes

Jewish followers of Christ, however, had long ago stopped following the tithes and offerings law of the old covenant. As far as they were concerned, the old covenant with its tithes and offerings and priesthood had been replaced with the superior new covenant of Christ.

Christ was both the final Sacrifice and the final Offering. He had also displaced the Levitical priesthood and had become the eternal High Priest of the new covenant. There simply was no room in the new covenant for the old priesthood and their repetitive tithes and offerings and the new Priest and His final Sacrifice.

To revert to the old law was seen as abandoning one’s faith and falling from grace.

Modern Tithes Were Created By Fundraisers

Surprisingly, there is no similarity in our system of financial tithes and offerings and that of ancient Israel’s. In fact, our version of financial tithes is totally man-made and has no authority over you, except the authority you give it. 

God gave Israel clear definitions and rules for tithes and offerings. New Testament Christians, however, are given ever-changing definitions and rules. This depends on who does the teaching, and what the preacher’s financial need is at the time. 

One thing they are all in agreement about is that they believe the modern tithe is money.

One Rascal Wanted Christians To Pay 30%

Early in my Christian walk I suffered through a two-hour sermon about why Christians supposedly really owe God about 30% of their income. Fortunately, it is rare to run across one of these 30% rascals. 

The demand is normally only ten percent of our gross income, plus extremely frequent offerings. But where do preachers get their authority to demand any percentage of our income for their projects? And when did the tithe become money?

Let’s explore the Bible and see how God defines the tithe.

The Definition of Tithes According to the Law

The law of Moses is in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books provide the rules about tithing in the law period (c. 1400 B.C. – c. 33 A.D.) How does the law define the tithe? 

Earlier I stated that the simple, but not technically accurate, definition is to give God a tenth. This is because the word tithe literally means tenth. However, the technically accurate definition is to give God a tenth of what He demands

This is no small contention. 

To Tithe Correctly, You Must Give God 10% Of What He Demands

Jews could not satisfy God’s requirement to tithe by submitting ten percent of whatever they desired any more than we can satisfy the IRS by giving whatever we desire. The law explicitly demanded Jews to give ten percent of particular items.

These items are listed in the Scriptures below:

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s.  It is holy to the Lord” (Lev.27:30).      Seed and fruit.
“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” (Lev. 27:32).      Herd and flock.
“You may not eat within your gates the tithe of your grain or your new wine or your oil…” (Deut. 12:17).    Grain, new wine, and oil.
“…The tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil…” (Deut. 14:23).  Grain, new wine, and oil.

These Scriptures do more than validate my contention that tithing under the law was an exact requirement that could not be changed by anyone. They also introduce a very embarrassing point for those who use the law to justify mandatory tithing for Christians. 

This point is that tithes were eaten!  

What does this do to the tithe preacher whose lifestyle and ministry depend on the continuation of the cash flow that is provided by mandatory tithes? It scares the holy oil out of him.  

He is forced to deny the Scriptures outright, or to find a creative way to explain this dilemma. Nearly all preachers choose the latter path. So let’s explore this slippery road to Error Valley.

Tithe Preachers Tell Us Israel Was Not A Money Society

Preachers who acknowledge that law-era tithes were food items explain this by stating dogmatically that ancient Israel was an agricultural society that was based on bartering, not money. 

The obvious conclusion is that Jews did not pay tithes in money because money was either minimally used or nonexistent. But since we are a money society, they reason, we should pay tithes in money.

However, this explanation is totally wrong for three reasons:

  1. Money was widely used in the Old Testament world, as well as in Israel.
  2. Only shepherds, farmers, and Levites were required to tithe.
  3. Tithes were given as food because the eating of tithes represented spiritual truths.

The Existence and Use of Money in the Old Testament

As far back as Genesis 13:2, we are told that Abram, or Abraham, was “very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.”  Obviously, he could use the livestock to trade in a barter economy. But what good would silver and gold do in a moneyless economy? 

Matter of fact, we see two places where Abraham either received or spent money. 

In Genesis 20:16, King Abimelech gave him 1,000 pieces of silver. And in Genesis 23:12-18, we break into the middle of a monetary price negotiation for land that Abraham wanted to purchase:

Then Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land; and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “If you will give it, please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I will bury my dead there.” 

And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, “My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver.  What is that between you and me? So bury your dead.”  And Abraham listened to Ephron; and Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants.

Notice a few things in this story. 

First, Abraham offered money for the field (vs. 13). Second, the field’s owner gave it a monetary value (vs. 15). Third, silver was the currency, or money, of the merchants (vs. 16).

Michael L. Webb and Mitchell T. Webb, in their excellent book, Beyond Tithes & Offerings, list many examples of the use of money in the Old Testament (pp. 33-57). 

Other Examples of Money in the Old Testament

Here are just a few examples of money in the Old Testament:

  • Jacob purchased land for 100 pieces of silver (Genesis 33:19).
  • Joseph was sold into slavery for 20 shekels of silver (Genesis 37:28).
  • Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt to buy food with silver (Genesis 42).
  • King David purchased property with 50 shekels of silver (2 Samuel 24:24).
  • Jeremiah purchased property for 17 shekels of silver (Jeremiah 32:9).

There are many other Old Testament Scriptures that emphatically prove that Israel had a well-developed monetary system that was used by the general populace.[1] 

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Almost All of the Gospels Are Actually Old Testament

The Gospels, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are placed in the New Testament. Yet almost all of the events recorded in these four narratives happened prior to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

For this reason, the pre-resurrection events of the Gospels are actually Old Testament events. Therefore, I am using some examples from one Gospel to further prove that Old Testament Israel had a fully developed money economy.

Look at the following Scriptures:

Matthew 5:26. Jesus refers to the payment of money for a civil judgment.

Matthew 10:9. Jesus refers to gold, silver, and copper being kept in the disciples’ “money belts.”

Matthew 10:29. Jesus refers to the selling price of two sparrows being “a copper coin.”

Matthew 17:27. Jesus refers to the use of money to pay the temple tax.

Matthew 18:24, 28. Jesus refers to “talents” and “denarii,” measures of money, to pay debts.

Matthew 20:2. Jesus refers to the payment of a “denarius” a day as payment for a temporary employee.

Matthew 21:12. Jesus kicks out of the temple “all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and seats of those who sold doves.”

Matthew 22:19. Jesus refers to money being used as the Jews’ means of paying Roman taxes.

Matthew 25:27. Jesus refers to the practice of money being placed in banks to accrue interest.

Matthew 26:15. Judas conspires to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Why Tithe Preachers Say Israel Did Not Use Money

The use of only one of the four Gospels proves overwhelmingly that Israel had a fully developed money economy. We could have added more examples with the other three Gospels, but that is unnecessary. 

It is abundantly clear that anyone who says Israel didn’t tithe with money because they were an agricultural society is either not informed or dishonest. 

The truth, again, is that Jews tithed only with items that could be eaten, and were forbidden to pay their tithes in money. Our preachers have arbitrarily changed the original food tithe into a money tithe for obvious reasons.

They don’t want carrots; they want cash.

[1] The shekel was a measure of money. Look up the word “shekel” and “shekels” in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and you will see over 100 references to the uses of money in every manner of Jewish life from Genesis to Amos.

Here’s are similar articles:

  1. Who Created The Financial Tithe?
  2. Did Jesus Teach Tithing?
  3. Should I Tithe Or Pay My Bills?
  4. Did People Tithe Before The Law?
  5. Does The New Testament Teach Tithing?

Eric M Hill

Eric M Hill is an author, blogger, YouTuber, and Bible teacher. He has written sixteen books. He is a member of the Authors Guild and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

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