We now reach tithing as required in the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law (hereafter simply "Law"), you may recall, refers to the commandments given by God to his people in the Old Testament books: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It is only in the Law that we find a clear description of tithing as a command. As we shall see, tithing in the Law is a complicated issue with specific requirements.
Now, those who think that tithing is a requirement for Christians today believe that the commandments to tithe, found in the Law, carry over into the new covenant. Thus, it is important to understand what, exactly, is commanded in the Law concerning tithing.
The three important passages in the Law that discuss tithing are Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18:21, and Deuteronomy 14:22-29. They read as follows:
Based on these passages, scholars have identified three different tithes that were required by the Israelites, namely, the Levitical Tithe, the Festival Tithe, and the Poor Tithe.
The Levitical Tithe (Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21) was a yearly tithe given to the Levites and Levite priests as reward for their service (the Levite priests acted as the mediators between the people and God, offering daily sacrifices for sin). Specifically, the command is to tithe only on fruit, seed, and livestock from the holy land (or Israel). One was not commanded to tithe on other items, such as money, fish, treasure, etc., or on items produced outside the holy land. The purpose of this tithe was to sustain the Levites.
The Festival Tithe (Deuteronomy 12:17-19; 14:22-27; 26:10-16) was another required tithe. Importantly, the givers of this tithe were also the receivers of the tithe; the givers remained the owners of the tithe. God would choose the place where the Israelites would consume the tithe as part of a religious festival. They would either eat the tithe or "turn it into money" and spend the money on "whatever their appetite craved". The purpose of this tithe was to "learn to fear the Lord your God always."
The Poor Tithe (or Charity Tithe or Welfare Tithe) (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) was a tithe offered every third year. This tithe was given to the needy, specifically, to orphans, widows, foreigners, and the Levite. The purpose of this tithe was to support the needy.
Now, we should note several facts about tithing in the Law. First, the Law commands, not just one type of tithe, but multiple tithes. The Israelites could not choose only one tithe to perform, but they had to perform all three tithes. They could not, for example, ignore the Festival tithe and only offer the Levitical and Poor tithes.
Second, scholars agree that the total tithe the Israelites were required to give amounted to 20 percent or more of their produce. Unlike modern tithers, the Israelites did not merely give 10 percent, but they had to give around 20 percent.
Finally, several classes of people were not required to tithe. In his article, "The Role and the Place of Tithing in the Context of Christian Giving" (Evangelical Journal of Theology, vol. VIII (2014), No. 2, pp. 143-162), Ervin Budiselić writes,
We can see, then, that tithing in the Law is very different to modern tithing. "Modern tithing" is usually understood as follows:
Consequently, if you are a modern tither because you believe that the Mosaic Law of tithing applies to you, then you face the awkward reality that you have been tithing wrongly. Assuming that the Law of tithing applies today:
We can see, then, how unreasonable it is to try to apply tithing, as prescribed in the Law, to the church today. There are no longer Levites or Levite priests in today's church, since Christ fulfilled this priesthood. There are no longer temples required to be sustained, since the temple has been fulfilled by Christ and Christians. All the festivals (that the Festival tithe went to), such as passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, have been fulfilled.
Therefore, it is very difficult to see how tithing applies to us today, or how tithing in the Mosaic Law relates to modern tithing.