Must You Tithe?
TITHING, which means giving a tenth of one’s income for the purpose of promoting religious worship, was a fact of life as far as the ancient Israelites were concerned. Whether the pagan nations copied and adopted the Hebrew custom of paying tithes is not known. They did have a system that provided for the upkeep of their priests and gods. Whether their system was anything like the one the Jews maintained has not been established. It is highly improbable that it was.
Appreciable light on the subject is cast by Egyptologists Sayce and Petrie. Professor Sayce writes: “Though gifts were made to the Egyptian temples on a large scale, there does not seem to have been any tithe.” Professor Flinders Petrie says: “I do not remember any tithing allusions. . . . The Egyptian system of priestly revenues was by estates, and not by taxes or tithes.” Professors Mahaffy and Grenfell were both of the opinion that in Egypt “one sixth” was the portion set aside for the temples and the gods.
Even though Dr. Theophilus G. Pinches, formerly of the Assyrian Department of the British Museum, states “there is almost certain information that tithes were paid in Babylonia to temples of the gods more than 2,000 B.C.,” still Dr. Wallis Budge of the British Museum, from his studies of original cuneiform writings, was of the opinion that such tithing was more in the nature of “a free-will offering than a literal tenth part the payment of which was obligatory.”
There were other classes of people in the Euphrates valley and elsewhere who annually offered gifts to their gods. The ancient Greeks paid tithes of the spoils of war to Apollo and the Romans to Hercules. This was done partly as a matter of obligation and partly voluntarily. “Properly speaking,” says H. W. Clarke, in his book A History of Tithes, these tithes “were not the sort of tithes mentioned in the Mosaic law. They were only arbitrary vows and offerings; but no conclusion can be drawn that they were tithes because tenths were given. Sometimes the heathen offered more and sometimes less than one-tenth.”
The Bible contains the most ancient and most reliable history of the manners and customs of the human race. There we find the first mention of tithes at Genesis 14:20, where it says that Abraham gave a tithe or a tenth of the spoil to Melchizedek. There is no record, however, that he ever offered tithes again or that he commanded his descendants to pay tithes. At Genesis 28:20-22 we read of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, vowing to Jehovah that if God would prosper him and grant him a safe journey, he would “without fail give the tenth” of his substance to God. The statement shows that his vow was a voluntary offering and not obligatory according to a previously stated tithing commandment.
The children of Israel were the first commanded by the law of God to pay tithes. Since Jehovah’s worship was to have primary place in the lives of the Israelites, it was necessary that some arrangement be made to finance that worship. This was done through the law of tithe. The tribe of Levi, which received no inheritance, was maintained by the tithe. Another tithe was set aside for use in connection with Jehovah’s festivals, and this was replaced by a tithe for the poor on the third and sixth years of every seven-year period. We never read of the tithe being an undue burden. In fact, when the people kept God’s law closely they became more prosperous. The arrangement worked to the good of all.—Num. 18:21-27; Deut. 14:22-24, 28, 29.
There is no question that tithing was for the Israelites, but is it for Christians? The fact that the Israelites paid tithes does not mean that the Christians are obligated to do so. Alexander Cruden in his concordance states: “Neither our Saviour, nor his apostles have commanded any thing in the affair of tithes.” Clarke says: “For centuries after the Christian Era, the Christians paid no tithes.” There is not one word in the Christian Greek Scriptures that says Christians must pay tithes, or that they collected tithes. In fact, Lord Selborne, in his book Ancient Facts and Fictions Concerning Churches and Tithes, says: “There is no mention of tithes in any part of the ancient canon law of the Roman Church, collected toward the end of the fifth century by Dionysius,” a Scythian monk who collected 401 Oriental and African canons.
There was a growing habit in the sixth century of looking upon the clergy as the successors and representatives of the Levites under the old Mosaic law. This gave rise to the idea that they were entitled to the payment of tithes by the laity. The development was gradual in nature. It was not until the Council of Tours in A.D. 567 that tithing was first made obligatory. In the ninth century Charlemagne passed the first tithing law in his dominion. The people, however, stubbornly refused to pay it. The Encyclopedia Americana states: “Tithes proved a source of great trouble in every country in which they were collected . . . They have, therefore, been abandoned in nearly all countries.”
In apostolic times Christian ministers were maintained on purely a voluntary principle and people offered their contributions voluntarily. Those who proclaimed the good news were to live by means of the good news. Today, however, many religious organizations of Christendom have ignored this Christian principle and the one that says: “You received free, give free,” and have required their members to tithe. “Emphasis on Christian tithing is rapidly developing as a main theme in the churches,” said a spokesman for the National Council of the Churches of Christ. There were occasions in the past when men were imprisoned, their goods seized and some were even shot dead, because they refused to pay tithes. Today some religions expect each convert to contribute one tenth of his property at conversion and to give one tenth of his income thereafter. Those who make such demands do so without Scriptural authority. God put an end to the Mosaic law when he nailed it to the tree. That means he put an end to the tithing law too. Paul said: Christians “are not under law but under undeserved kindness.”—Matt. 10:8; Rom. 6:14; 1 Cor. 9:14; Col. 2:14; Heb. 7:12.
When Christians became anointed with God’s spirit at Pentecost A.D. 33, their tithing to Herod’s temple ended then and there. God had rejected that material temple and later permitted the Romans to destroy it. How, then, could they support what God himself rejected? Tithing was to those Jewish Christians “a shadow of the good things to come,” a new system of things put into effect by Jesus Christ. It foreshadowed the spiritual tithe, our money and other contributions, be they small or great, which are given to the support of God’s service and all of which together are a token or a symbol of the fact that we have dedicated our all to Jehovah our God; it is a memorial of our dedication.—Heb. 10:1.
Therefore, must you tithe? The answer is No. Paul said: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” So give cheerfully, give freely, give liberally, but any law that says you “must” is in excess of the Scriptures.—2 Cor. 9:7; 1 Cor. 4:6.