One of the most often debated topics within the tithing discussions is how many tithes were in the bible. There are multiple viewpoints to how many tithes there were, but i will contrast the two main ones. First, there is a tithing system that was an accumulative of 10% of the total increase, and second, there was a three tithes system, which included a second as well as a third tithe that was every three years totaling up to 23%. Now, let’s get into the main points of why i believe in the one tithe (10%) system.
A Tithe Means 10%
Right off the bat, the three tithes system has an uphill battle in its defense. Obviously, 23% is not a tithe. At the very core of the tithing definition, a tithe means 10%. If I gave God 23% of my increase, then i am not tithing, and we cannot call it a tithe. Let’s illustrate this. If you and i were in a business partnership and we had an agreement for each of us to take 10% of the profit, could either one of us take an additional 10% from our profits and still have a valid agreement? The answer is, no. Once we’ve both taken more than 10% of our increase for the year, then we no longer have a tithing agreement.
A Single Tithe is Complex Enough
Regardless if there was a single tithe system or not, we already agree that the bible is vague about this complex matter in the first place. Now take into account the more complex nature of a three tithes system, which involves an algorithm of various times, places, and recipients. With a three tithe (23%) system there would arise an exponential amount of ‘fill in the blanks’. For instance…
… How would one go about giving the second or third tithe of his harvest that he’s already stored, sold, or eaten?
… If some of it was stolen or lost in a fire, do you tithe on the original harvest, or on what’s left . . . if anything?
See the trouble you run into? We’ve just made a very ambiguous single tithing system ten times worse. Let’s go back to our business illustration. After our business partners have withdrawn the first 10%, and have decided to then withdrawal another 10%; is the second 10% debited off the original value of their increase, or do they debit 10% off the already decreased value (80%)? If we truly believe that there were three tithes, then this opens up Pandora’s box and a plethora of additional complexities arise, which are not even remotely addressed in the bible. Something just doesn’t fit when this multifarious task is extremely disproportionate to the minute amount of details given.
One Tithe was Sufficient Enough
I read a book titled, “Eating Sacred Cows” written by Graeme Carle. In this book the author explains through the census records in the bible that the Levites consisted 7% (some argue less than 4%) of the total population of Israel. How can 7%(-) of the population receive 23% of the food? Because of this numerical imbalance, the Levites would have had 3x-4x more food than they needed if there were multiple tithes. We can take the number of Levites and compare with the rest of Israelite population, and KNOW that one tithe alone should have been sufficient; this is without mentioning firstfruits, offerings, spoils of war, and also the increase in animals that were born under Levitical possession.
One Tithe was Spread Throughout the Year
A possible explaination of why there is so much confusion about multiple tithes is that some have not taken into account that there were multiple harvests throughout the year, resulting in multiple occasions of tithing. Because most of us are not farmers, we don’t know that figs, barley, wheat, olives, and various other agriculture were not harvested at the exact same time in the year. I found a Jewish calendar that has the times of year that different produce was harvested. here is a summary
- Barley Harvested in 1st & 2nd Months
- Wheat harvested in 3rd & 4th months
- Grapes, figs, walnuts & olives were harvested in the 5th month
- Vegetables, cotton, & pomegranate’s harvested in 6th month
- Rice harvest 8th month
- Winter figs & citrus harvested in 11th month
- Flax harvested in 12th month.
2 Chronicles 31:7 is an account of the Israelites harvesting for 4 months and storing the tithe which leaves room for three general harvest periods throughout the year. If multiple harvests throughout the year would result in multiple opportunities to tithe, maybe this would clear up confusion about the number of tithes there actually were. This would conclude that a tithe still is 10%, simplify the tithing system, and prevent too much waste.
It doesn’t make sense to reserve a tithe from each harvest period throughout the year to be given as a lump-sum at the end. So, i would disagree with those who say there was only one tithe, once a year.
What is the Year of Tithing / Third Year Tithe?
Deuteronomy 14:28 - At the end of [every] third year you shall bring out the tithe of your produce of that year and store [it] up within your gates.
Most people explain that the third year tithe is an additional 10% added onto the 20% of tithes that are given every year, and is repeated the third and sixth years in-between sabbaticals. There are a few things to be aware of. One, many translations of the bible interpret the phrase “[every] three years” while inserting the word “every” for clarification. The problem is that the word “every” is not in the original Hebrew. In the other 300 instances in the bible, the same Hebrew is not translated “every three years”.
There is one instance in the bible that has the phrase every three years. in 2 Chr. 9:21, “For the king’s ships went to Tarshish with the servants of Huram: every three years once came the ships of Tarshish ...” The Hebrew word (echad) is in 2 Chr. 9:21 and by definition it means ‘each, every’. So the translation in 2 Chr. is correct in implying a three year recurring event.
The second point here is significant in understanding the “Year of Tithing”. Let’s read Leviticus 25:20-22 “And if you say, “What shall we eat in the seventh year, since we shall not sow nor gather in our produce?” ‘Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years. And you shall sow in the eighth year, and eat old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall eat [of] the old [harvest].
Every Seventh year, Israel had a sabbatical where they did not tithe, grow crops, nor tend the field. So, in Leviticus 25, God states he would bless them so much in the sixth year that their increase would last the next three years. Three years is a lot of food and a long time, but if you read closely in Leviticus 25 there was a reason for it. Israel did not eat from their crops again until the ninth year. This means there were two consecutive years (7th and 8th) where they did not tithe because there was nothing to harvest yet. BUT, the third year, which is the year they began tithing again is when God said their produce would come in . This is why it is called the year of tithing.
Most people assume that there was only one year without the agricultural tithe, but there were two years without tithing, which was followed by the third year when they commenced tithing again. Hence the “Year of Tithing”.
I know i went into the year of tithing a little deeply, but it’s important to grasp the understanding of the “year of tithing” so you don’t get caught up in the thought process that this was some special year, where additional 10% was given.
Other Great Points
Here are just some roadblocks that come to mind when i try to defend the three tithes position.
- How would a farmer survive for the sabbatical if he were to tithe 30% on the sixth year; as well as give 10% to the king, pay government taxes, give sacrificial offerings, and actually leave parts of their land ungleaned?
- There is no reference for Israel to save up 30% the third year
- Jewish Rabbis disagree on the number of tithes
- In Leviticus 27:32 God said count 1 out of every 10. I’m not sure how that comes out to 30%?
- In order to maintain giving away 20-30% of their increase in flocks, the birth rate of their animals would need to be higher in order to have growth of their animal population.
So, what i believe is that Israel divided 10% of their increase into multiple payments throughout the year. I’m not saying that i have given the final answer to the single tithing system, but in my view, the three tithes theory sprouts even more conflicts and questions than it even begins to solve. So, for now i stick with it. Figuring out the amount and types of tithes is not one of those issues where people get into heated arguments about. Truthfully, aside from misinterpreting scripture, it doesn’t really matter to me if I’m wrong about this issue. But nontheless, i have devoted a lot of time studying the intricacies of the tithing system and i feel it helps me understand God’s word just a tad more.
What do you have to say about this issue? Do you feel i am wrong, or is there anything you have learned?