Tithing in the New Testament

It is quite a strange place we find ourselves in 21st century Christianity. The entire globe is populated with one of two types of Christianity, apostolic or Protestant, and while both systems almost completely reject the laws of Yahweh in the Torah, they both retain one specific Old Testament law: Tithing.

There is no requirement to tithe in the New Testament congregation because there is no  manly priesthood in the New Testament congregation. We are under a new High Priest who owns everything we possess and lacks nothing. The book of Hebrews references being under a High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Perhaps this could be used to justify tithing, so let’s take a look at the scriptures about Melchizedek.

Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a  priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all. Gen 14:17-20 (NASB)

What happened here is a free-will offering, not a tithe. We only have record of Abraham giving this priest a tenth one time and this priest was actually a king, which is a bit different from the priesthood we will examine below.

“To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting. The sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, or they will bear sin and die. Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them,’ They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.'” Num 18:21-24 (NASB)

The tithe was a specific payment for a specific tribe that had a specific job (or jobs if you prefer). You’ll note that the word tithe does not appear in the interaction between Abraham and Melchizedek. The tithe in the Torah was to provide for the tribe that was tasked with service to Yahweh. Levites were not permitted to own land or have an inheritance. Their entire subsistence was dependent upon the faithfulness of the other tribes bringing in a tenth of their increase.

This is not the situation with the New Testament congregation at all. We have no tribes and our clergy can surely own property. In some astonishing cases, pastors in the USA have enriched themselves to a decadent level while preaching that the flock must “tithe”. The Catholic church does keep their priests poor, but that church has amassed more riches than they could ever need – and the collection plates still get passed. Some Protestant churches have to send all of the money they collect in “tithes” to conferences, with only what the congregation needs (as deemed by said distant conference that the congregation cannot control) being sent back to the congregation. Money management in modern Christianity is not scriptural at all.

Managing the finances in the NT congregations from a scriptural point of view is a difficult thing to discern. In the beginning, the congregation was to sell EVERYTHING they had and give it to the Apostles. That’s not a tenth, that’s all of it. But they appear to have only done that once. Paul writes that it is OK to charge for the gospel and that it is OK to preach for free. Typical Paul, take both sides and leave us confused. But he plainly said everyone has to work if they want to eat.

Paul did take up collections from areas that had plenty to help out areas that didn’t. This is an area that can be used to show weekly “tithing” in the NT churches, but it is misinterpreted.

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem; (1 Cor 16:1-3).

Wow, this sure looks like a collection plate was passed around at church to collect tithes on Sundays in the first century church, huh? Not quite. It says that they were to save something at their homes on the first day of the week. They weren’t at church. And this money was to be taken to Jerusalem as a gift, not a tithe. I wonder who in Jerusalem was to get this money? My NASB cross references Acts 24:17 here. Let’s take a look.

“Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings; in which they found me occupied in the temple, having been purified, without any crowd or uproar. (Acts 24:17-18).

So, what was Paul collecting? Alms – which is a free-will offering, not a tithe. And to whom did he give the collection to? The Levites. Paul brought free-will offerings from the converted regions of the known world to the temple of God and paid tribute to the Priests. That deserves quite a bit of meditation. It is quite odd for Paul to be bringing money from Gentile converts to give to the Levites, isn’t it? This is pretty strange behavior for someone who was supposed to have taught the Law was nailed to the cross.

So, how do we fund the Church of God under the New Testament? I am quite confident that Pastors using “tithing” as a means to bring in more than a local congregation needs is not good nor scriptural. But the Church of God does need money to exist. Our congregation has relatively minuscule financial needs since we are volunteers. What you contribute to your congregation or charity is entirely between you and God. I like to trust the Spirit rather than men. If you can help to fund your congregation, then do it! If you can’t but you can volunteer for stuff (anything from opening the hall to passing the mic to bringing snacks), then get in the game! If you can do it all, then praise be to Yahweh! If your congregation wants to have a professional minister and a building, then you should probably contribute financially as often as you can. But I just don’t see the need nor the scriptures to justify blindly contributing 10% of your increase to non-Levitical priests.

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