Tithing: The Mosaic Law
Jacobus Erasmus, 09 October 2018

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:

Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's; it is holy to the Lord. If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman's staff, shall be holy to the Lord. One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed (Leviticus 27:30-33 ESV).

To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting (Numbers 18:21 ESV).

You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire - oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you. At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do (Deuteronomy 14:22-29 ESV).

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,

[T]he tithe was given out of the increase of the crops in the fields, which means that the artists, fishermen, and merchants were not obligated to give a tithe at the time. Furthermore, the priests, the poor people (who had neither land nor livestock), and even those who lived outside of Palestine were exempt from tithing (p. 150).

We can see, then, that tithing in the Law is very different to modern tithing. "Modern tithing" is usually understood as follows:

Modern tithing is the act in which a person gives a tithe or ten percent (10%) of their financial (usually gross) income to their local church institution in a recurring fashion, such as monthly or weekly.

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.

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