A tithe (from Old English teogoþa, "tenth") is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a contribution to the Church as a part of Christian stewardship. Because it is voluntary and based on percentage of income, it is distinct from the concept of a due. Today, tithes (or tithing) are normally voluntary and paid in cash, checks, or electronic funds transfers, whereas historically tithes could be paid in kind, such as agricultural products. Several European countries operate a formal process linked to the tax system allowing some churches to assess tithes.
Tithing in the Bible
The tithe and tithing first appear in the Bible in the in the book of Genesis in connection with the prophet and patriarch Abraham. The origin of tithing is intimately linked with both Abraham's cultural background and the figure of the Canaanite king and priest Melchizedek.
Old Testament origins
In the time of Abraham
- Melchizedek king of Salem brought bread and wine; he was a priest of God Most High. He pronounced this blessing:
- Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.
- And blessed be God Most High for putting your enemies into your clutches.
- And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
- Genesis 14:18-20 (NJB)
When Melchizedek appeared and offered Abram bread and wine and blessed him in the name of God, tithes were exchanged. Some scholars note that this tithe was possibly rooted in a ten percent tax common in Babylonian culture at the time. In any case, the Biblical practice of tithing is rooted in this exchange between the prophet and patriarch Abraham and the priest-king Melchizidek, who is a type of Christ.
In the time of Moses
The tithe is specifically mentioned in Numbers and also in Deuteronomy in connection with the establishment of Jewish worship by Moses. Numbers 18:24-28 concerns the tribe of Levi, and especially the family of Aaron. Because members of the tribe of Levi were assistants to Aaron, his family, and the Israelite priests and did not own or inherit a territorial patrimony, goods donated from the other Israeli tribes were their source of sustenance. They received from "all Israel" a tithe of food or livestock for support, but would first set aside a portion of that tithe for the priests.
In the time of King Hezekiah
LMLK seals may represent the oldest archaeological evidence of tithing. About 10 percent of the storage jars manufactured during Hezekiah's reign (circa 700 BC) were stamped (Grena, 2004, pp. 376-8). See 2 Chronicles 29-31 for a record of this early worship reformation.
Tithing in the Books of the Prophets
Tobit 1:6-8 provides an example of all three classes of tithes practiced during the Babylonian exile:
- But I alone went often to Jerusalem at the feasts, as it was ordained unto all the people of Israel by an everlasting decree, having the firstfruits and tenths of increase, with that which was first shorn; and them gave I at the altar to the priests the children of Aaron. The first tenth part of all increase I gave to the sons of Aaron, who ministered at Jerusalem: another tenth part I sold away, and went, and spent it every year at Jerusalem: And the third I gave unto them to whom it was meet, as Debora my father's mother had commanded me...
The prophet Malachi discusses failure to pay the tithe or a "full tithe" as robbery of God, while payment of the tithe ensures God's blessing:
- Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me! But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In tithes and offerings.
- You are cursed with the curse; for you rob me, even this whole nation.
- Bring the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in my house, and test me now in this," says Yahweh of hosts, "if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough for.
- I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast its fruit before its time in the field," says Yahweh of Hosts.
- "All nations shall call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land," says Yahweh of Hosts.
(Malachi 3:8-12 NJB)
Tithing in the New Testament
According to Saint Paul the Apostle, it was common practice in the New Testament Church to provide for ministers of the Gospel (1Cor 9:9-14). Though he himself was demonstrating that he did not participate in this practice, for the sake of building up new communities, the clear implication is that the practice was commonplace.
In the beginning this was supplied by the spontaneous offerings of the faithful. In the course of time, however, as the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to write canons which would ensure the proper and permanent support of the clergy.
Christians support the Church and her pastors with monetary contributions of one sort or another. Sometimes these monetary contributions are called tithes whether or not they actually represent ten-percent of anything. However, as tithing was an ingrained Jewish custom by the time of Jesus, no specific command to tithe per se is found in the New Testament. References to tithing in the New Testament can be found in Matthew, Luke, and the catholic epistle to the Hebrews.
The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law, and early writers speak of it as a divine ordinance and an obligation of conscience, rather than any direct command by Jesus Christ.
Some Christians cite Matthew 23:23 as support for tithing.
- Away with you, you pettifogging Pharisee lawyers! You give to God a tenth of herbs, like mint, dill, and cumin, but the important duties of the Law—judgement, mercy, honesty—you have neglected. Yet these you ought to have performed, without neglecting the others.
- (Albright & Mann, Matthew, Anchor Bible, Vol. 26 (1971))
and its parallel Luke 11:42
- Woe to you, Pharisees! You tithe mint and rue and every edible herb but disregard justice and the love of God. These were rather the things one should practice, without neglecting the others.
- (Fitzmyer, Luke, Anchor Bible, Vol.l, 28A (1985))
Because of Jesus' specific mention of tithe in this passage, it is often felt that he thereby gave his endorsement to the practice of tithing in general. Some scholars disagree, however, pointing out that Jesus was simply obeying Mosaic law as an obedient Jew.
The only other occurrence of "tithe" in the New Testament is found in Hebrews, chapter 7. Hebrews is an attempt to convince Jewish Christians that the entire sanctuary system, especially its priesthood, had been replaced by the Melchizedek-type high priesthood of Jesus Christ and the individual priesthood of every believer. Chapter 7 uses the ineffectiveness of tithing to illustrate that the laws governing the priesthood (including tithing) were "changed" and "abolished" (7:5, 12, 18).
It is thought that tithes were not adopted by the Western church for over seven centuries. Although rejected, they were mentioned in councils at Tours in 567 and at Mâcon in 585. They were formally recognized under Pope Adrian I in 787. Tithing in non-Orthodox Christian groups today is frequently preached from the pulpit, but various denominations and sects view tithing differently.
In recent years, tithing has been revived in Orthodox Churches as a form of stewardship that God requires of Christians. The primary argument is that God has never formally abolished the tithe, and thus Christians should pay the tithe (usually calculated at 10 percent of all gross income from all sources), usually to the local congregation (though some teach that a part of the tithe can go to other Christian ministries, so long as total giving is at least 10 percent). Jurisdictions that have encouraged shifting from a system of dues to tithe-based stewardship include the Orthodox Church in America and the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America.
Tithes and taxes
Several European countries collect tithes on behalf of church organizations along with state taxes. For more information on this subject, see the Wikipedia article on tithes.
- Wikipedia entry on tithe. This article was edited from the Wikipedia entry for use on OrthodoxWiki.
- Albright, W. F. and Mann, C. S. Matthew, The Anchor Bible, Vol. 26. Garden City, New York, 1971.
- The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Vol. 4 "E." Chicago, 1958.
- Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Gospel According to Luke, X-XXIV, The Anchor Bible, Vol. 28A. New York, 1985.
- Grena, G.M. A Mystery Belonging to the King, Vol. 1 Redondo Beach, California, 2004. ISBN 097487860X
- Speiser, E. A. Genesis, The Anchor Bible, Vol.1. Garden City, New York, 1964.
- Kelly, Russell Earl, "Should the Church Teach Tithing? A Theologian's Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine," IUniverse, 2001.