Tithe and Tithing
- History of Tithing
- In the time of Abraham
- In the time of Moses and under Mosaic Law
- In the time of the Israelite Kings
- Books of the (Minor) Prophets
- Additional principles of obligatory Tithing
- Passages on the biblical basis of tithing
- Biblical passages concerning charity in relation with tithing
The custom of giving tithes reaches back into unknown antiquity. It is mentioned in Genesis 14, without anything to indicate that it was something newly instituted. Just as Abraham is there represented as offering tithes of the spoils of the enemy to the royal priest, Melchisedech, so in Genesis 28, Jacob is recorded as giving a tithe of all his possessions to the Lord. Under the Mosaic Law the payment of tithes was made obligatory. The Hebrews are commanded to offer to God the tenth part of the produce of the fields, of the fruits of the trees, and the firstborn of oxen and of sheep (Leviticus 27:30; Deuteronomy 14:22). In Deuteronomy there is a mention not only of an annual tithe, but also of a full tithe to be paid once every three years. While it was to God Himself that the tithes had to be paid, yet we read (Numbers 18:21) that He transfers them to His sacred ministers: "I have given to the sons of Levi all the tithes of Israel for a possession, for the ministry wherewith they serve me in the tabernacle of the covenant." In paying the tithe, the Hebrews divided the annual harvest into ten parts, one of which was given to the Levites after the first-fruits had been subtracted. This was partitioned by them among the priests. The remainder of the harvest was then divided into ten new parts, and a second tithe was carried by the head of the household to the sanctuary to serve as a sacred feast for his family and the Levites.
If the journey to the temple was unusually long, money could be substituted for the offering in kind. At the triennial tithe, a third decimation was made and a tenth part was consumed at home by the householder with his family, the Levites, strangers, and the poor. This triennial year was called the year of tithes (Deuteronomy 26:12). As the tithes were the main support of the priests, it was later ordained that the offerings should be stored in the temple (2 Chronicles 31:11).
In the Christian Church, as those who serve the altar should live by the altar (1 Corinthians 9:13), provision of some kind had necessarily to be made for the sacred ministers. In the beginning this was supplied by the spontaneous offerings of the faithful. In the course of time, however, as the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law, and early writers speak of it as a divine ordinance and an obligation of conscience. The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the canons of the Council of Maçon in 585. In course of time, we find the payment of tithes made obligatory by ecclesiastical enactments in all the countries of christendom. The Church looked on this payment as "of divine law, since tithes were instituted not by man but by the Lord Himself" (C. 14, X de decim. III, 30).
As regards the civil power, the Christian Roman emperors granted the right to churches of retaining a portion of the produce of certain lands, but the earliest instance of the enforcement of the payment of ecclesiastical tithes by civil law is to be found in the capitularies of Charlemagne, at the end of the eighth century. English law very early recognized the tithe, as in the reigns of Athelstan, Edgar, and Canute before the Norman Conquest. In English statute law proper, however, the first mention of tithes is to be found in the Statute of Westminister of 1285. Tithes are of three kinds: predial, or that derived from the annual crops; mixed, or what arises from things nourished by the land, as cattle, milk, cheese, wool; and personal or the result of industry or occupation. Predial tithes were generally called great tithes, and mixed and personal tithes, small tithes. Natural substances having no annual increase are not tithable, nor are wild animals. When property is inherited or donated, it is not subject to the law of tithes, but its natural increase is. There are many exempted from the paying of tithes: spiritual corporations, the owners of uncultivated lands, those who have acquired lawful prescription, or have obtained a legal renunciation, or received a privilege from the pope.
At first, the tithe was payable to the bishop, but later the right passed by common law to parish priests. Abuses soon crept in. The right to receive tithes was granted to princes and nobles, even hereditarily, by ecclesiastics in return for protection or eminent services, and this species of impropriation became so intolerable that the Third Council of Lateran (1179) decreed that no alienation of tithes to laymen was permissible without the consent of the pope. In the time of Gregory VIII, a so-called Saladin tithe was instituted, which was payable by all who did not take part personally in the crusade to recover the Holy Land. At the present time, in most countries where some species of tithes still exist, as in England (for the Established Church), in Austria, and Germany, the payment has been changed into a rent-charge. In English-speaking countries generally, as far as Catholics are concerned, the clergy receive no tithes. As a consequence, other means have had to be adopted to support the clergy and maintain the ecclesiastical institutions, and to substitute other equivalent payments in lieu of tithes. Soglia (Institut, Canon, II, 12) says "The law of tithes can never be abrogated by prescription or custom, if the ministers of the Church have no suitable and sufficient provision from other sources; because then the natural and divine law, which can neither be abrogated not antiquate, commands that the tithe be paid." In some parts of Canada, the tithe is still recognized by civil law, and the Fourth Council of Quebec (1868) declared that its payment is binding in conscience of the faithful.
According to the Genesis account, Abram, returning from a battle by the Dead Sea, was hailed by Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem) who was also the priest of El Elyon ("the Most High God") (Genesis 14:18).
But Melchisedech the king of Salem, bringing forth bread and wine, for he was the priest of the most high God, Blessed him, and said: Blessed be Abram by the most high God, who created heaven and earth. And blessed be the most high God, by whose protection the enemies are in thy hands. And he gave him the tithes of all. (Genesis 14:18-20, Douay-Rheims Holy Bible)
When Melchizedek appeared and offered Abram bread and wine and blessed him in the name of God, tithes were exchanged. Hebrews 7:4 indicates that Abram gave a tenth of the spoils and not necessarily all of his personal wealth. Also, this was the only reference of Abram tithing. Later, in (Genesis 28:22), Abraham's grandson Jacob also made a commitment to give God back tithes.
According to Christians, tithes are received by priests and high priests according to Hebrews 7:5. This may reflect the practice in the Second Temple period following Ezra's decree penalizing the Leviim for their failure to return to Israel en masse. The Hebrew Scriptures state that there is a distinct difference between priests (kohanim), the sons of Aaron, and the Leviim, the rest of the sons of Levi. The sons of Aaron were appointed to be priests and the tribe of Levi were appointed to minister to the priests and help in sacred matters (Numbers 18:1-7). The Children of Israel were commanded by God to give Bikkurim (first-fruits of fields and flocks) Numbers 18:11-24 and Terumah (gift offerings) Exodus 25:1-27 to the kohanim (priests) and tithes to the sons of Levi (Levites - Leviim). As to the tithe offerings, the Leviim were commanded by God to give a tithe (a tenth) of the tithes they received to a priest. (Numbers 18:26.)
The tithe is specifically mentioned in the book of Leviticus, the book of Numbers and also in the book of Deuteronomy. The tithing system was organized in a 7 year cycle, corresponding to the Shemittah cycle. Every year, Bikkurim, Terumah, Ma'aser Rishon and Terumat Ma'aser were separated from the grain, wine and oil. Unlike other offerings which were restricted to consumption within the tabernacle, the yearly tithe to the Levites could be consumed anywhere (Numbers 18:13-14). On years one, two, four and five of the Shemittah cycle, God commanded the children of Israel to take a second tithe that was to be brought to the city of Jerusalem. The owner of the produce was to separate and bring 1/10 of his finished produce to Jerusalem after separating Terumah and the first tithe, but if the family lived too far from Jerusalem, the tithe could be redeemed upon coins. Then, the Bible required the owner of the redeemed coins to spend the tithe "… whatsoever pleaseth thee, either of the herds or of sheep, wine also..." (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). Implicit in the commandment was an obligation to spend the coins on items meant for human consumption. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, the second tithe could be brought to Jerusalem any time of the year and there was no specific obligation to bring the second tithe to Jerusalem for the Festival of Sukkot. The only time restriction was a commandment to remove all the tithes from one's house in the end of the third year (Deuteronomy 14:28).
The third year was called "the year of tithing" (Deuteronomy 26:12-14) in which the Israelites set aside 10% of the increase of the land, they were to give this tithe to the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows. These tithes were in reality more like taxes for the people of Israel and were mandatory, not optional giving. This tithe was distributed locally "within thy gates" (Deuteronomy 14:28) to support the Levites and assist the poor.
The Levites, also known as the tribe of Levi, were descendants of Levi. They were assistants to the Israelite priests (who were the children of Aaron and, therefore, a subset of the Tribe of Levi) and did not own or inherit a territorial patrimony (Numbers 18:21-28). Their function in society was that of temple functionaries, teachers and trusted civil servants who supervised the weights and scales and witnessed agreements. The goods donated from the other Israeli tribes were their source of sustenance. They received from "all the tithes of Israel" of food or livestock for support, and in turn would set aside a tenth portion of that tithe for the Aaronic priests in Jerusalem.
LMLK seals may represent the oldest archaeological evidence of tithing. About 10 percent of the storage jars manufactured during Hezekiah's reign (circa 700 BC) were stamped (Grena, 2004, pp. 376–8). See 2 Chronicles 29–31 for a record of this early reformation.
The book of Nehemiah also talks about the collection of tithes to Leviim and distribution of Terumah to the priests (Nehemiah 13:5). People were actually appointed to collect mandatory tithes and place them in specially designated chambers which eventually came to be known as storehouses (Nehemiah 12:44).
The book of Malachi has some of the most quoted Biblical verses on tithing, Malachi 3:8-12. Those who tithes, understand that no man may outdo God in the act of charity. These verses talk about the supposed cause and effect of tithing. If one gives to God, they are to be blessed, where if one refuses to give they will be cursed. They also refer back to the storehouses mentioned in Malachi 3:8-12:
Shall a man afflict God? for you afflict me. And you have said: Wherein do we afflict thee? in tithes and in firstfruits. And you are cursed with want, and you afflict me, even the whole nation of you. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, and try me in this, saith the Lord: if I open not unto you the flood-gates of heaven, and pour you out a blessing even to abundance. And I will rebuke for your sakes the devourer, and he shall not spoil the fruit of your land: neither shall the vine in the field be barren, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for you shall be a delightful land, saith the Lord of hosts.
The word "tithe" orignally meant ten percent (10%). The "tithe," however, is only a barometer or guideline to help determine one's sacrificial giving. Some can and should offer more than a 10% tithe; others may have circumstances that warrant them paying less than a 10% tithe.
If a tithe (10%) is legitimately too much for one's current budget, a member may begin with a lower percentage that will be both sacrificial and yet possible. Then the member may gradually raise the level of giving until the full tithe is reached. In this way brothers and sisters and families are making a decision for the Lord first and only afterward considering their own needs and wants.
Families should involve their children in tithing by teaching them through word and by example the priority of returning to God a portion of the blessing He has given us. Children may do this, for example through tithing of the income from their part-time jobs, etc.
Some faithful Christians who tithe (give sacrificially) report how remarkably their material needs have been met. Moreover, they will cite these blessings as even greater, spiritual rewards:
a sense of serenity and satisfaction that comes from generosity;
- an awareness that God comes first, even in decisions about money;
- an ability to distinguish between wants and needs;
- a deeper consciousness of society's materialism and consumerism;
- a keener appreciation of the world's poor and how we should and can alleviate their pain and poverty;
- a quiet confidence in the Lord's protective care.
And I have given to the sons of Levi all the tithes of Israel for a possession for the ministry wherewith they serve me in the tabernacle of the covenant: That the children of Israel may not approach any more to the tabernacle, nor commit deadly sin, But only the sons of Levi may serve me in the tabernacle, and bear the sins of the people. It shall be an everlasting ordinance in your generations. They shall not possess any other thing, But be content with the oblation or tithes, which I have separated for their uses and necessities. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Command the Levites, and declare unto them: When you shall receive of the children of Israel the tithes, which I have given you, offer the firstfruits of them to the Lord, that is to say, the tenth part of the tenth: That it may be reckoned to you as an oblation of firstfruits, as well of the barnfloors as of the winepresses: And of all the things of which you receive tithes, offer the firstfruits to the Lord, and give them to Aaron the priest. All the things that you shall offer of the tithes, and shall separate for the gifts of the Lord, shall be the best and choicest things. And thou shalt say to them: If you offer all the goodly and the better things of the tithes, it shall be reckoned to you as if you had given the firstfruits of the barnfloor and the winepress: And you shall eat them in all your places, both you and your families: because it is your reward for the ministry, wherewith you serve in the tabernacle of the testimony. And you shall not sin in this point, by reserving the choicest and fat things to yourselves, lest you profane the oblations of the children of Israel, and die. (18:21-32)
Thou mayst not eat in thy towns the tithes of thy corn, and thy wine, and thy oil, the firstborn of thy herds and thy cattle, nor any thing that thou vowest, and that thou wilt offer voluntarily, and the firstfruits of thy hands: But thou shalt eat them before the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, thou and thy son and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and maidservant, and the Levite that dwelleth in thy cities: and thou shalt rejoice and be refreshed before the Lord thy God in all things, whereunto thou shalt put thy hand. (12:17-18)
Every year thou shalt set aside the tithes of all thy fruits that the earth bringeth forth, And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose, that his name may be called upon therein, the tithe of thy corn, and thy wine, and thy oil, and the firstborn of thy herds and thy sheep: that thou mayst learn to fear the Lord thy God at all times. But when the way and the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, are far off, and he hath blessed thee, and thou canst not carry all these things thither, Thou shalt sell them all, and turn them into money, and shalt carry it in thy hand, and shalt go to the place which the Lord shall choose: And thou shalt buy with the same money whatsoever pleaseth thee, either of the herds or of sheep, wine also and strong drink, and all that thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, and shalt feast, thou and thy house: And the Levite that is within thy gates, beware thou forsake him not, because he hath no other part in thy possession. The third year thou shalt separate another tithe of all things that grow to thee at that time, and shalt lay it up within thy gates. And the Levite that hath no other part nor possession with thee, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, that are within thy gates, shall come and shall eat and be filled: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the works of thy hands that thou shalt do. (14:22-29)
If one of thy brethren that dwelleth within the gates of thy city in the land which the Lord thy God will give thee, come to poverty: thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor close thy hand, But shalt open it to the poor man, thou shalt lend him, that which thou perceivest he hath need of. Beware lest perhaps a wicked thought steal in upon thee, and thou say in thy heart: The seventh year of remission draweth nigh; and thou turn away thy eyes from thy poor brother, denying to lend him that which he asketh: lest he cry against thee to the Lord, and it become a sin unto thee. But thou shalt give to him: neither shalt thou do any thing craftily in relieving his necessities: that the Lord thy God may bless thee at all times, and in all things to which thou shalt put thy hand. There will not be wanting poor in the land of thy habitation: therefore I command thee to open thy hand to thy needy and poor brother, that liveth in the land. (15:7-11)
And when thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God will give thee to possess, and hast conquered it, and dwellest in it: Thou shalt take the first of all thy fruits, and put them in a basket, and shalt go to the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, that his name may be invocated there: And thou shalt go to the priest that shall be in those days, and say to him: I profess this day before the Lord thy God, that I am come into the land, for which he swore to our fathers, that he would give it us. And the priest taking the basket at thy hand, shall set it before the altar of the Lord thy God: And thou shalt speak thus in the sight of the Lord thy God: The Syrian pursued my father, who went down into Egypt, and sojourned there in a very small number, and grew into a nation great and strong and of an infinite multitude. And the Egyptians afflicted us, and persecuted us, laying on us most grievous burdens: And we cried to the Lord God of our fathers: who heard us, and looked down upon our affliction, and labour, and distress: And brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand, and a stretched out arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders: And brought us into this place, and gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. And therefore now I offer the firstfruits of the land which the Lord hath given me. And thou shalt leave them in the sight of the Lord thy God, adoring the Lord thy God. And thou shalt feast in all the good things which the Lord thy God hath given thee, and thy house, thou and the Levite, and the stranger that is with thee. When thou hast made an end of tithing all thy fruits, in the third year of tithes thou shalt give it to the Levite, and to the stranger, and to the fatherless, and to the widow, that they may eat within thy gates, and be filled: And thou shalt speak thus in the sight of the Lord thy God: I have taken that which was sanctified out of my house, and I have given it to the Levite, and to the stranger, and to the fatherless, and to the widow, as thou hast commanded me: I have not transgressed thy commandments nor forgotten thy precepts. I have not eaten of them is my mourning, nor separated them for any uncleanness, nor spent any thing of them in funerals. I have obeyed the voice of the Lord my God, and have done all things as thou hast commanded me. Look from thy sanctuary, and thy high habitation of heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou didst swear to our fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey. (26:1-15)
And the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our oxen, and of our sheep, to be offered in the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God. And that we would bring the firstfruits of our meats, and of our libations, and the fruit of every tree, of the vintage also and of oil to the priests, to the storehouse of our God, and the tithes of our ground to the Levites. The Levites also shall receive the tithes of our works out of all the cities. And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites in the tithes of the Levites, and the Levites shall offer the tithe of their tithes in the house of our God, to the storeroom into the treasure house. For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall carry to the treasury the firstfruits of corn, of wine, and of oil: and the sanctified vessels shall be there, and the priests, and the singing men, and the porters, and ministers, and we will not forsake the house of our God. (10:36-39)
And over this thing was Eliasib the priest, who was set over the treasury of the house of our God, and was near akin to Tobias. And he made him a great storeroom, where before him they laid up gifts, and frankincense, and vessels, and the tithes of the corn, of the wine, and of the oil, the portions of the Levites, and of the singing men, and of the porters, and the firstfruits of the priests. (13:4-5)
He that keepeth the law, multiplieth offerings. It is a wholesome sacrifice to take heed to the commandments, and to depart from all iniquity. And to depart from injustice, is to offer a propitiatory sacrifice for injustices, and a begging of pardon for sins. He shall return thanks, that offereth fine flour: and he that doth mercy, offereth sacrifice. To depart from iniquity is that which pleaseth the Lord, and to depart from injustice, is an entreaty for sins. Thou shalt not appear empty in the sight of the Lord. For all these things are to be done because of the commandment of God. The oblation of the just maketh the altar fat, and is an odour of sweetness in the sight of the most High. The sacrifice of the just is acceptable, and the Lord will not forget the memorial thereof. Give glory to God with a good heart: and diminish not the firstfruits of thy hands. (35:1-10)
Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me. And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting. (25:44-46)
But woe to you that are rich: for you have your consolation. Woe to you that are filled: for you shall hunger. Woe to you that now laugh: for you shall mourn and weep. (6:24-25)
For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, and cast away himself? (9:25)
No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (16:13)
There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen; and feasted sumptuously every day. And there was a certain beggar, named Lazarus, who lay at his gate, full of sores, Desiring to be filled with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table, and no one did give him; moreover the dogs came, and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in hell. And lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom: And he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame. And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazareth evil things, but now he is comforted; and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither. And he said: Then, father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house, for I have five brethren, That he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments. And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance. And he said to him: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead. (16:19-31)
For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (18:25)
And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: many wonders also and signs were done by the apostles in Jerusalem, and there was great fear in all. And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need. (2:42-45)
And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul: neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed, was his own; but all things were common unto them. And with great power did the apostles give testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord; and great grace was in them all. For neither was there any one needy among them. For as many as were owners of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the price of the things they sold, And laid it down before the feet of the apostles. And distribution was made to every one, according as he had need. (4:32-35)
That in much experience of tribulation, they have had abundance of joy; and their very deep poverty hath abounded unto the riches of their simplicity. (8:2)
Every one as he hath determined in his heart, not with sadness, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. (9:7)
And if a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food: And one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; yet give them not those things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit? So faith also, if it have not works, is dead in itself. (2:15-17)