There are many people that ask about the definition of the tithe. Scholars and theologians debate the meaning because there are many ramifications and mixed applications. There is much debate because tithing was detailed in the Old Testament under the nation of Israel, yet this prescription was not outlined for the Church in the New Testament. There seem to be many opportunities for personal interpretation of how we should prescribe the tithe into the New Testament Church. Merriam Webster describes tithing as a tax for the “support of a religious organization.” Even though that’s the dictionary definition, we will look at it more from a biblical perspective and what it means for Christians.
What is the definition of the tithe in the Bible?
In the broadest sense, the definition of a tithe means a tenth (10%). In biblical context the definition of tithing was a 10% offering that Israel gave from the increase of their crops or animals (Deuteronomy 14:22). This biblical definition is the broadest definition of the tithe accepted by a majority of the Christian population. Although, there are many more branches of the definition that explain the tithe even further. For instance, some would say that a true tithe is given to the local church. Others debate on whether it is off your gross increase or your net increase. These branches, along with many more of the tithing definition exist due to how one interprets specific scenarios in the bible. For example, in Malachi 3:10, the tithe was delivered to the local storehouse, and in Proverbs 3:9 we are to honor the Lord with the first fruits of our increase.
The definition of the tithe was clearly laid out for Israel. They were to gather their harvest and count the tithe out from what they’ve gathered as noted in Leviticus 27. For instance, if you had 100 apples, you must count them out from one to ten, and the tenth one you set aside for the Lord – Leviticus 27:32. As is stated in the previous verse, it did not matter if that tenth one was bruised or under-sized, you still set it aside. It’s important to remember that they set aside the tenth apple, not the first one.
How many tithes were in the Bible?
There were other rules under the tithe definition. First, the tithe generally went to the Levites, and in turn, the Levites gave a tenth of their tenth to the priestly line for the work of the temple. Next, there were generally three different “types” of the tithe. First, was the poor tithe – Deuteronomy 26:12. Second, was the feast tithe – Deuteronomy 14:22-23. Third, was the Levitical tithe – Numbers 18:24. Practically, the tithe included the poor and the Levites all the time, but those are generally how the tithe is categorized. The feast tithe was the most unique and was consumed by the whole nation of Israel as a feast celebration.
How much did Israel tithe?
Most people argue that the total amount of tithes given by Israel equaled over 23%. I don’t follow that logic, just for the simple fact that when the bible says 10% of all your increase, generally it means just 10%. Maybe that’s too simple-minded, but it makes the most sense.
How should the church tithe?
Now that we have an abridged version of the tithe definition for Israel, what about the definition for the Church? The definition of the tithe for the church is somewhat complicated. As I said above, the definition of tithing for the New Testament Church has many opportunities for personal interpretation. I’m of the persuasion that we should be led by the Holy Spirit to give in the same way the Holy Spirit leads us to serve. Many ask, how can the Church operate without the tithe? We know how to operate without Levites, so we are capable to survive without their salary requirements. Besides, many organizations thrive without collecting the tithe.
The Church operates under the capacity of the Holy Spirit in tune with the principles of God’s word. I realize that we need to understand the definition of a principle but we’ll make that for another post. In the end, we should all give willingly, cheerfully, and liberally.
I know this was a quick synopsis of the definition of tithing, but without writing a few chapters and without a few hours, this should help lay the groundwork. If anyone has any thoughts or ideas that I missed that describe the tithe definition, we need to hear them. Please share them below.