One of the most often debated topics within the tithing discussions is how many tithes were in the bible. There are multiple viewpoints on 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 23-30%. I agree that there were multiple tithes given throughout the year, so I don’t disagree with a three tithe system. Although I do disagree that the Israelites gave over 10% of their increase. Here are the reasons why I believe Israel only gave 10%, not 23%.
A Tithe Means 10%
Right off the bat, 23% 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 of where anyone stands on this subject, most of us agree that the bible is vague about this complex matter in the first place. Now take into account the more complex matter of giving 23%, which involves questionable algorithms. 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?
Can you see some of the trouble we’ve 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 After our business partners have withdrawn the first 10%, and have decided to then withdraw another 10%; is the second 10% debited off the original value of their increase, or do they debit 10% off the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 they gave 23-30%, 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.
The best way to simplify giving 23-30% and dispersing one-third of it multiple times a year, is to order Israel to separate 30% out immediately when they are harvesting. The problem is that the bible doesn’t tell them to separate 30% of their harvest out. It says the tenth one is holy, and to take only the tenth one out and give it.
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 more than 10% 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 the 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 explanation 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 the 6th month
- Rice harvest 8th month
- Winter figs & citrus harvested in the 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.
The Feast of Tabernacles is when Israel brought their tithe to have a celebration in the seventh month, which was prior to the rice, figs, citrus, & flax harvest. These crops still had to be harvested and still had to be tithed upon. so it’s obvious there were multiple tithes in a year.
What is the Year of Tithing?
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”.
It’s a Forty-Nine Year Cycle, Not a Seven Year Cycle
I need to also address another aspect about the year of tithing, that hopefully can be explained clearly.
The conventional thinking is that the ‘year of the tithe’ was the third and sixth year within a seven-year period, and this cycle reset and recurred every seven years. The problem is that everyone assumes that the “year(s) of tithing” was reset after the sabbatical year. If we are to interpret the scripture saying that Israel was to tithe every three years, then all indications should point to the fact that they were to tithe every three years within the standard 49-year cycle. There is no scriptural indication that “every three years” is only within the confines of the seven-year cycle. The sabbatical year did not reset the clock for the “year of tithing”. If scripture wanted Israel to give every 3rd and 6th year, then it would not have implied in succession – without being reset.
It comes down to the interpretations of these translations. It’s the difference between saying, “Every three years” and saying, “On the third year”. The former indicates that the clock doesn’t reset and it is a recurring pattern. The latter indicates that it is a one-time event but still allows it to reset. The year of tithing cannot reset every seven years and also establish itself as a recurring, successive event. There is no scriptural precedence to indicate otherwise. The two train of thoughts here are:|
- It’s every third year in a seven-year period
- It’s every third year in succession.
The Sabbath comes every seven years in succession. So, if the year of tithing were to simply repeat every three years, it would recur just like the Sabbath – in succession. It wouldn’t only be the 3rd and 6th year. If it told you to give me a $1000 every seven years and then $300 every three years, in what world are you living in that you would assume that you should reset the clock when I want my $300? How do i know it was a 49-year cycle, not a cycle that reset every seven years? Because of Leviticus 25:22, “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.“
Here is a chart that shows how it would look if the “year of tithing” came in succession, regardless of how the sabbatical fell.
As I stated before, the year of tithing is just the third year after having no harvest for the prior two years. It is definitely different than the other tithes mentioned in the bible. The year of the tithe was laid within the city gates and was for the Levites, poor, and strangers. Normally, the tithe was stored within the Levitical cities and distributed from there. The year of the tithe may have been distributed uniquely because the infrastructure of the welfare system may have been over-flooded due to the desperation of being without a harvest for 2 years. That is just speculation since the scripture doesn’t give any reason why it’s unique.
I don’t want to throw in another wrench in the mix of things here, but it could be that the “year of tithing” passage is mistranslated in scripture. The passage could mean that it’s the “third tithe in the year”. Or it could mean “After the third tithe in the year”.
I know I went into the ‘year of tithing’ a little deeper, but it’s important to dig into the details sometimes. Ultimately, I’m not really dogmatic about my observations. It could have been the 3rd and also the 6th year. The only thing that makes sense about having it both the 3rd and 6th year is the opportunity to provide welfare for the poor for an extra year; but then again, it still doesn’t make up for the other two other years without the extra tithe.
Other Great Points
Here are just some roadblocks that come to mind when I try to defend the three tithes (20% or more) 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% in the third year
- Jewish Rabbis disagree on the number of tithes
- In Leviticus 27:32 God said to count 1 out of every 10. I’m not sure how that comes out to 30%.
- It is called the ‘year’ of the tithe, not ‘years’ (plural) of the tithe. If it were both the third and sixth year, then it would be called the “years of the tithe”. But if it only occurred once during a seven-year cycle, then it is appropriately called “The year of the tithe”. We also know that the 7th year was the year of release.
- 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.
- Why call it “the year of tithing” when Israel tithed all the other years?
- The Bible doesn’t say count every three years “within the 7-year period” that is all assumption.
When people ask how many tithes did Israel pay in the Bible, the answer is that there were multiple harvests Israel tithed on for different occasions, but it only equaled 10% of their total increase. We can make things pretty complicated. so that’s why I like to keep it simple and use the literal interpretation if there’s a perfectly good explanation.
Some people are adamant about tithing to equal 23% because of two ulterior motives. First, to encourage you to gladly give a 10% minimum because Israel had it worse – as if we’ve dodged a bullet. Second, to demonstrate that we’re not tithing correctly anyway, so it shouldn’t be required for the Church. These conclusions are quite possibly red herrings that established preconceived notions.
Trying to determine when the animal farmers gave and when the fruit farmers gave and when the grain farmers gave and how much they saved and did they give 10%, 23%, or 30% takes too much effort because we find ourselves digging for little secrets hidden in the bible that aren’t actually there.
Simple fact – Israel gave only 10% of their increase. TOTAL
Simple fact – They didn’t give their tithe the same way, nor did they give it at the same time or place each year.
The very first command on tithing explains the general concept. No matter how complex it gets later in scripture, the extra variations cannot deviate from the original landscape.
Lev. 27 And all the tithe of the land, Whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.
Since then, we’ve taken all the other complexities of Israel’s calendar, feasts, and infrastructure and kept adding stipulations, and variations convoluting the whole thing; which when first mentioned in scripture was very simple.
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 that 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 nonetheless, 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?