A common claim of full time ministers is that they are entitled to tithes because they are serving God as the Levites of the Old Testament did. Is their interpretation right? Here is my analysis of what the Bible says about it.
What is the tithe?
According to Deut. 14, the tithe is a tenth of all the produce of the land.
How was the tithe used?
The people of Israel were commanded to bring it to Jerusalem once per year where they would eat it. Every three years, they were commanded to share it with the Levites, strangers, fatherless and widows within their locality instead of consuming it in Jerusalem.
What was the model of giving money for the New Testament Church?
In the New Testament, all the Christians shared everything equally. They did this by giving it all to the apostles, who then distributed it back to them (Acts 4:34-35). The apostles’ right consisted of food and lodging for themselves and a believing wife when traveling (1 Cor. 9:4-5), but they were not allowed to own anything (Luke 10:4).
How can these Biblical concepts be applied to the church today?
As I have shown, the old testament scriptures pertaining to the tithe cannot be applied to financially supporting full time ministers and church buildings. There are many reasons for this, but I will give a few major ones:
- The tithe is consumed by the tithers, as welfare and by Levites.
- If the tithe scriptures could rightly be applied to financially supporting full time ministers, there would be such cases in the New Testament scriptures. Note that the closest it gets to this is 1 Corinthians 9:14, but the context makes it clear that this is food and lodging only. This view is further supported in view of Luke 9 and 10, where the specifics of the “apostles’ right” are given. (This is the first place where the apostles are referred to by the Greek word “apostollos”.)
- Apostles are the only ones ever mentioned being entitled to anything. Other giftings, such as pastors, are not connected to any entitlements. This is because apostle simply means sent one, so an apostle is traveling and not able to put down roots somewhere and make a conventional living.
- If you believe the old Testament is still valid, then the tithe would partially go to Levites, not pastors. If you do not believe the old Testament is still valid, then you cannot apply the tithing commandment.
- The only use of money in the Church of the New Testament as described by the Bible is as welfare for congregants, and that money came from offerings, not tithing.
It is apparent that the current religious system of the main stream church is the result of many events and processes besides scripture. Scripture only specifies one religious system, and that is the Temple system. In contrast to scripture, the popular understanding of the tithe and its use are a necessity of the current church system.
Since there is no Temple system at present, if you want to apply the tithing scriptures, first you should use your tithe to pay for you to celebrate the Biblical holidays such as Passover and Succot. Second, you should use your tithe to provide for the fatherless and widows “within your gates” such as a poor aunt or single mom in your extended family who need it, etc. Lastly, if you are really motivated, you could seek out a genetic Levite to give it to.
I will save my analysis of the “offering” for another post.