How Many Tithes Were in the Bible?

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 After our business partners have withdrawn the first 10%, and have decided to then withdrawal another 10%; is the second 10% debited off the original value of their increase, or do they debit 10% off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

  1. Barley Harvested in 1st & 2nd Months
  2. Wheat harvested in 3rd & 4th months
  3. Grapes, figs, walnuts & olives were harvested  in the 5th month
  4. Vegetables, cotton, & pomegranate’s harvested in 6th month
  5. Rice harvest 8th month
  6. Winter figs & citrus harvested in 11th month
  7. 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.

  1. 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?
  2. There is no reference for Israel to save up 30% the third year
  3. Jewish Rabbis disagree on the number of tithes
  4. In Leviticus 27:32 God said count 1 out of every 10. I’m not sure how that comes out to 30%?
  5. 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.

Conclusion

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?

 

Jared Bartholomew is the author of www.tithing.com. There are over 300 articles written on research and reviews about tithing information.

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18 comments on “How Many Tithes Were in the Bible?
  1. Jared, you make a very good case for a single tithe.  You brought up a lot of points I hadn’t considered.  As you know, I’ve studied this in depth, too.  I guess I assumed three different tithes because they just seem like different tithes in the passages where they’re discussed.  But it makes sense that they could just be talking about three different times (harvests) where the tithe is used in various ways.
    I’m not a staunch defender of the 23 1/3% idea.  I generally say it “could have been” 3 different tithes.  As far as we Christians are concerned, it doesn’t really make a difference.  We’re not in a system where we’re to be caught up in keeping the letter of a Law whose Spirit we reject.
    Thanks for putting the work into this and laying out your ideas.  I’ll have to go back and rethink some of the stuff I’ve written.  Hope you have a great Christmas!

  2. Thanks for your input Paul,
    Thank goodness we’re not in a system where we have to figure all this stuff out. 
    - jared 

  3. Gary Arnold says:

    You have taken Leviticus 25:20-22 totally out of context.

    Leviticus 25:3 (KJV) Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;

    As you go on down through the verses, its gets to the 50th year, the year of jubilee. 7 times 7 = 49, so year 49 is a sabbath year, and year fifty is the year of jubilee. Thus, in both years 49 and 50 there is no harvest or sowing.  That is why Leviticus 25:20-22 says what it does. It is ONLY referring to the year of jubilee.

    • Overall, the passage speaks much about the jubilee, but v20-22 mention the 7th 8th, & 9th years. It does not mention the 49th, 50th & 51st. Let’s just say 49th 50th and 51st year was representative of the 7th, 8th and 9th; then why did God allow them to sow on the eighth if the eighth year was actually the jubilee?

      7th year (sabbatical) v20
      8th year (can sow) v22

      49th year(sabbatical) v4
      50th year (jubilee cannot sow) v11

      Leviticus 25:20-22 is not in reference to the jubilee.

      • Gary Arnold says:

        Obviously the earlier verses are referring to the 7-year cycle without a jubilee year.  Otherwise how would you explain verse 3?
        The 49th, 50th, and 51st are the 7th, 8th, and 9th year.
        It all must fit together.

  4. Paul says:

    I think its a lot of hairsplitting as we’re not under the law. This is a personal decision. But there are practical issues as well. Our church has a huge budget. If we all give on whim, how can they know how to budget. Therefore we, and many of the mature Christians we know, give 10% regularly as clockwork. That keeps the doors open and the lights on.
    That said, we try to live by the New Testament principle to give as we are able. I guess the Old Testament concept of 23% would be letting me off cheap. We have so much, and there are so many poor, both spiritually and financially.
    I remember J. Vernon McGee talking about this. Its never left me.

    • True says:

      I am the poor! I have given over the years enough money that me and my children shouldn’t be without a home right now. I don’t care anymore about a church building and its lights. I need help from the church and they send me in every direction along with their prayers. I’m disgusted with the church(building). What about the people? The tithe is dead. It puts God’s people in bondage. When the real church steps forward, there will be no lack. When I am back on my feet, I will give as IICor. 7:9 says to give.

  5. chris says:

    Hi Jared
    The main reason I do not believe that tithes were paid through the year is the following scripture:-
    Deut 26:12 “When you have finished laying aside all the tithe of your increase in the third year — the year of tithing — and have given it to the Levite,   NKJV
    This indicates to me that it was only given once…probably after the main harvest prior to the Feast of Ingathering. For the first two years it would also have been accumulated and then consumed over the following three feasts when they were required to appear before the Lord at Jerusalem. (no-one was to appear empty handed.
    The above scripture also confirms that there was only one tithe…..ie in the third year ‘ALL the tithe’ was given to the Levites (and shared with the widows, orphans, etc). If it was ‘ALL the tithe’ that was given then there clearly was no scope for a second or third tithe.

  6. So from what i understand, you are saying in the third year, the tithe was stored up throughout the year and then distributed all at once? But in the first and second years, it was distributed multiple times throughout the year during the feasts?

    The scripture does seem to indicate a single tithe during the third year, but (just my logic here) the feast of ingathering was in month 7. So, there was still crops to be harvested during the next 5 months. You still had rice, wheat, figs, citrus, and flax to be harvested before the end of the year. 

    Deut 26:12 “FINISHED laying aside ALL the tithe” – Since you adhere to the literal interpretation of this; then wouldn’t this mean they waited til the harvests were all FINISHED and then ALL the tithe could actually be given at the end of the year? It wouldn’t made sense to give ALL the tithe when it was only a portion of that year’s harvests.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but want to see if you have any clarification about these questions. If it is any consolation, i really don’t have a final answer in this whole mes either.

    - jared 

  7. chris says:

    Hi Jared

    The parallel verse in Deut 14:28 says ‘at the END of every three years, bring ALL the tithes of that year’ .. this confirms the intent of a single one off act for the ‘Third Year’ tithe. The amount made available would have been taken by the Levites when they needed it….and they also took a tenth of their share to the priests in Jerusalem.

    I am not sure when the ‘end of the year was’ ….but it seems that storing food for extended periods was a common practice for produce in that era.

    The tithe confession Deut 26:13-14 which they made after giving this third year tithe for the Levites (and the poor) categorically confirms that there was only one tithe in that year. ALL the tithe of that year was given …and what was given was ALL that God had commanded….and nothing was left undone
    … every command was obeyed!

    This confession makes it clear that NO further tithing obligation existed under the Law.

    Chris

  8. Jackp says:

    Prosperity gospel is very common nowadays in churches. Especially in churches where members are upper A to middle class. If you’re new to that church, you would see and feel that the members are “doing good” because they “give to the Lord”. Then you’ll be drawn to their belief thinking that you will get the same financial windfall if you give 10% of your gross income. 

    • True says:

      Right! I will never tithe again and put myself in that bondage. Christ took it to the cross. I will give as I am led to give. Tithing has become a status thing. Like when Jesus rebuked the Sadduces and Pharisees. They like to talk about the tithe and how they do so, but their brother and sister sitting right next to them doesn’t have lights and water or some without a home. Where is the LOVE? I’m disgusted with many of the churches today.

  9. SJ says:

    We can split hairs and percentages, but what is the real “spirit of the law” regarding tithing and NT giving? To me, a portion of the income 3.3% or 10% (or more) was intended for the OT poor (e.g., the orphans, widows, aliens, landless Levites) as well as the NT poor (II Cor. 8-9: for the poverty stricken Believers in Jeruslaem) and possibly poor, sent-out, homeless, sojourning apostle Gospel-carrying “missionaries” (Lk. 10, Matt. 10, I Cor. 9). It was NOT intended for stationary elders since in Acts 20 Paul admonished the Ephesian elders to follow his tentmaking example and Jesus’ words: “It is better to give than to receive”. With the exception of the festival (“party tithe”), tithing and giving have almost entirely been intended for the needy… This does NOT include church buildings (There were none for the first few centuries of the early church!) or stationary, teaching, home-owning elder/pastors. In short, giving was always intended to be directed DOWNward (to the needy) or OUTward (in spreading the Gospel), NEVER INward (for MY building, MY programs, MY “worship”). We (and I include MYself!) have somehow failed to make a very important distinction between true tithing/giving for the poor/needy and simple payment of “member’s dues” (e.g., “no goods or SERVICES were received as a result of this gift”… Really!?!?). 

  10. D Jeff says:

    Blessisngs ,

    Interesting topic and interesting insights too. I think it is easy to agree that God meant  one tithe though as mentioned, they could have been given at different times of the year (possibly).  I’m not an expert in this neither do I have  the final word, however, One must look at tithing (especially in the new testament church) as something designed for those who have personal expereince or revelation and or those who have tried it and know that it works; in which case it is not designed for all. God fails to hold us accountable with tightitng, and  if it is not a pre-requisit for a relationship with him what then is the fuss about ? In all, we know it is a biblical concept and it works for those who genuinely practise it – thats al that maters.    D Jeffreys

     
     

  11. Be Led By The Holy Spirit says:

    Try reading a book called ‘Beyond Tithes and Offerings’ by Mitchell T. and Michael L. Webb. Explains tithing very well.

    You can also read a review on this book via this link: http://www.tithing.com/blog/beyond-tithes-offerings/

  12. Timothy says:

    So, you think that all God wants from you is your tithe of 10%? You probably are not aware that tithing 10% is not biblical. More than likely, you derive this concept from Genesis 14:20c: “[Abraham] gave [Melchizedek] a tenth of all.”

    The nation of Israel was required to pay tithes in order to run the country. These were basically taxes. They were mandatory and commanded. There was the tithe for their festivals (of which there were 7), there was the tithe for the poor, and there was the Levitical tithe. These tithes equate to 30-33% (where this “23%” comes from I have no idea). On top of that 30-33% tithing, they also had sacrificial giving, as Exodus 25:1-2 states. This sacrificial giving is the same as that which 2 Corinthians 8-9 talks about. We are told to give what we want—what our heart desires—out of what God prospers us with, and to give it sincerely from the heart.

    A lot of ministries, especially prosperity ministries, will say that we have to give to God even if we have no money or we are steeply in debt. 2 Corinthians 8-9 informs us not to give what we do not have. If we are just scraping by or we are in debt where we cannot afford anything (this is not speaking of manageable debt wherein you are able to tithe), we cannot give to God because we do not have it.

    God will not bless our bad stewardship. If we keep giving 10% while our children are starving and our bills are in need if being paid, God is not going to reward us. God knows exactly what we are capable of giving and He examines the motives of our heart. If we are able to give more and we do not, we have sinned against Him grievously. We cannot fool God. God loves a cheerful giver. We are to give what we want from what we have, according to what God has prospered us with. If God has prospered us greatly, we can tithe more. If God has prospered us little, our tithe may well be less than 10%.

    Because we tend to be legalistic in our religion, 10% has become a good standard of measure. However, tithing is not merely about our money. Tithing also includes our time and our skill. How are these given to or used for God?

    Why Should We Give?

    To meet the needs of the saints: Acts 2:44-45; 1 John 3:17; Galatians 6:9-10; Matthew 25:31-40; 12:50; 1 Timothy 5:16
    To meet the needs of Christian workers: 1 Timothy 5:17-18; 1 Corinthians 9:6-14; Philippians 4:15-18
    To meet the needs of the poor: Luke 12:33-34; Ephesians 4:28; James 1:27; Matthew 6:1-4

    How Much Should We Give?

    Give proportionate to your prosperity: 1 Corinthians 16:1-2
    Give according to your ability: Acts 11:27-39
    Give what you have purposed in your heart: 2 Corinthians 9:7

    How Should We Give?

    We should give anonymously: Matthew 6:1-4
    We should give voluntarily: 2 Corinthians 8:3-4
    We should give expectantly: 2 Corinthians 9:6; Proverbs 19:17; 11:24-25; Matthew 6:19-21; 19:21; Luke 12:33; 1 Timothy 6:18-19
    We should give cheerfully: 2 Corinthians 9:7
    We should give sacrificially: 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; Mark 12:41-44

    What Is Our Motivation?

    The example of Christ: 2 Corinthians 8-9
    The command of Christ: John 15:12-13

    Many individuals think that our tithing must go directly toward the church, but this simply is not so. Many churches receive more than enough tithe and are guilty of being bad stewards with that tithe. If a church is not using that tithe the way they are biblically mandated to do so, an individual Christian has the responsibility to see that his/her tithe is used in accordance to the biblical mandates. In other words, the individual can use his/her tithe to support missions, to send Bibles around the world, or to any number of things that meet the “Why Should We Give?” criteria above. If the church we are attending is only going to use our tithe poorly and selfishly upon themselves, we have the responsibility to make sure it is used as God would have it used. Matthew 25:31-40 would be a good place for us to start.

    The Bible does not support a 10% tithe system. Understandably, it enables people to not have to think (which, unfortunately, our society these days already does enough of), but this is taught nowhere in Scripture. If a Christian wants to know how much they ought to tithe, then they need to study what the New Testament says about giving–not base tithing off a lone verse. To do so is poor exposition and exegesis. The “How Much Should We Give?” section above is where Christians should start when determining what to tithe. 10% is a comfortable standard for lazy individuals who don’t like to think. It makes it easy for them to know how much they will give every week, even though they are capable of giving more, even 50%–as the Lord has prospered them.

    I will not address the fact that most North Americans can afford to give well over 50% in order to help their brothers and sisters in other countries, yet because of their selfish greed spend it wastefully on themselves and material garbage they do not need. Rather than live a modest lifestyle, they attempt to live a lavish one by trying to keep up with the Joneses (who, by the way, are broke). I get the feeling many are going to hear the words of Jesus uttered in Matthew 25 in that what they did not do for others they did not do for Christ. Labeling one’s self a “Christian” does not make it so. Your actions help determine whether that claim is legitimate or not.

    SJ makes a really good point: In Acts 20, Paul admonished the Ephesian elders to follow his tent-making example and Jesus’ words “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. Tithing was always intended to be directed downward (to the needy) and outward (in spreading the gospel); never was it intended inward (for my building, my programs, my “worship”). If all our tithes are going directly into our buildings, then perhaps we need to re-think what it means to be a church and to get rid of the building so that our tithes might go where they are intended to go in the first place: missions and the poor (orphans, widows, homeless, etc., esp. poverty stricken believers).

  13. Whiteknight777 says:

    Figuring out how 23% is arrived at is fairly simple. It represents First tithe 10%, Second tithe 10% and one third tithe 3% paid over a three year period instead of paying an additional 10% in the third year.

    Personally I believe that there was only one tithe at 10% which had 3 different uses. Like all things that man puts his hand to, the tithing system became corrupted after the return from Babylon.

  14. Rod says:

    These were very good discussions. They answered my original question; Did Israel rotate their crops so that they always had food during a sabbath year. Now I understand, they stored up their crops. This makes perfect sense just as they kept twice as much manna on the six day so that they had food on the seventh day.
    I would point out that the tithe was from the increase. So you should never tithe on income you never received (ie Gross Income or income needed to make a living). If you don’t have an increase from your initial investment, you don’t have a tithe to give.

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