Tithing: Malachi 3:8-12
Jacobus Erasmus, 10 October 2018

After the Mosaic Law, tithing is cited in several other Old Testament passages: 2 Chronicles 31:5-6, 12; Nehemiah 10:38-39; 12:44-47; 13:5, 12; Amos 4:4; and Malachi 3:8 (Proverbs has numerous verses on giving, but none specifically on tithing). These passages do not contribute much to the discussion, since they were written to those who were under the Mosaic Law. Nevertheless, perhaps no other passage has been abused by tithing advocates as much as Malachi 3. Thus, it will be useful to say something about this passage.

Malachi 3:8-12 reads:

Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, "How have we robbed you?" In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 3:8-12 ESV).

Tithing advocates try to generalise this passage to apply it to the church today. The "storehouse", they say, represents the local church institution, the "curse" represents your financial problems, and the "devourer" represents the devil or bad situations that rob you of your financial blessing. Some even go so far as to say that, if you do not tithe, you are robbing God!

However, to generalise the passage in such a way is to grossly misunderstand the passage; it is to push the meaning of the passage far beyond what is justified. There are several reasons for this. First, the passage was written to address a specific disobedience in the Jewish nation, most plausibly that some Jews were withholding some of their tithes. There is no evidence that the passage is directed at all of God's people for all time.

Second, the "storehouse" does not represent the local church institution. The storehouse that Malachi refers to was not the temple. Given the background of 2 Chronicles 31:10-12, the storehouse was plausibly a physical building used by the Levites to store what they received, such as grain and cattle. Indeed, even if "storehouse" represents the temple (which is highly unlikely), the temple has been fulfilled; Christians are God's temple in the new covenant (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19). Therefore, neither the storehouse nor the temple can be associated with the local church institution.

Third, the promised reward for tithing is (1) rain, (2) the prevention of locusts from destroying the corps, and (3) successful crops. There is no other promise. The passage simply does not promise financial reward. Since the promise was directed to Israel only (an agricultural society), it does not apply to us today.

Finally, the context makes it plain that the offer to "test" God is not a universal offer but a one-time offer for the Jewish nation. As Andreas J. Kostenberger and David A. Croteau highlight,

Malachi does not state this testing in universal terms but limits it to the current situation by the phrase "test me now in this" in the middle of Mal 3:10. The expression "in this" most likely refers to the current situation ("Will a man rob God?", Faculty Publications and Presentations, paper 80, 2006, p. 69).

For these reasons, one cannot read the principle of modern tithing into Malachi 3:8-12. The passage does not support the notion of modern tithing, and we are not at liberty to read such a notion into the text.

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