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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]


It is admitted universally that the payment of tithes, or the tenths of possessions, for sacred purposes did not find a place within the Christian Church during the age covered by the apostles and their immediate successors. In the Hebrew religious community tithes possessed a two-fold character. They were either a charitable and regularly recurring contribution placed at the disposal of the humbler Levites and other poor or a yearly impost designed for the upkeep of the central house of worship and of the ministering priests (see W. Robertson Smith, OTJC [Note: TJC Old Testament in the Jewish Church (W. R. Smith).]2, London, 1892, pp. 383 n.[Note: . note.], 446 f.; see also RS [Note: S Religion of the Semites (W. Robertson Smith).]2, Edinburgh, 1894, pp. 246-253).

Those who maintain that tithes are due de jure divino to the Church give as the reason for their non-existence in the Apostolic Age that the conditions of the infant Church in the initial stages of its growth raised insuperable difficulties against the practice of such systematic payments during that period (see Bingham, Antiquities , V. v. 1 ff. [ Works , Oxford, 1855, vol. ii. p. 176 ff.]). As soon as the condition of the Church permitted, it is contended, the payment of tithes began as a duty obligatory on all individual Christians. Not only, however, is there no evidence of the truth of this contention, but such testimony as we possess from the pages of the NT goes to disprove it. Not that the duty of Christian giving was not recognized as binding, or that the discharge of that duty was considered outside of, or an unspiritual encroachment upon, the region of Christian ethics. On the contrary, as we shall see, it occupied an extremely important part in apostolic instruction and ideals. Its reason and purpose are raised to a loftier plane than they had ever occupied, and translated into language of the profoundest moral and spiritual content. ‘The perfect law, the law of liberty’ ( James 1:25), reigns here as it does elsewhere ( Galatians 5:1;  Galatians 5:13;  1 Peter 2:16,  John 8:32, etc.), and the Christian’s joyous liberality, like his other graces, may be characterized from the teaching of the NT as the expression of the individual’s consciousness of his love of, and moral obligation to, his brethren.

The social and economic conditions of the early Church in Jerusalem demanded extraordinary efforts on the part of its wealthier members. Whatever be the source of the narrative embodying the history of the attempt to establish the life of that body on a communistic basis, there can be no doubt that it is in harmony with what we understand from other sources (see articleCollection) to be the state of extreme poverty in which the humbler Christians of Jerusalem were sunk. The attempt to relieve this prevailing distress was essentially voluntary, as the questions said to have been addressed by St. Peter to Ananias testify: ‘Whiles it remained, did it not remain thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thy power?’ ( Acts 5:4). Nor is it otherwise with the Antiochian Church, which organized a relief fund for the Jewish Christians some years later; ‘every man according to his ability’ ( Acts 11:29) contributed, and we have no reason to believe that their giving was not free and spontaneous (ὥρισαν). In reminding the Ephesian elders, gathered at Miletus, of his own example, St. Paul emphasizes (note the words κοπιῶντας δεῖ) the duty of the follower of ‘the Lord Jesus’ by the quotation, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ ( Acts 20:35). His exhortation ‘to help the weak’ (cf.  1 Thessalonians 5:14) includes in its scope that charitable disposition of our wealth, whether it be ‘silver, or gold, or apparel’ ( Acts 20:33), which will meet the needs of poverty or misfortune. In formulating his scheme for the collection of funds for the poor ‘saints’ of Jerusalem, he laid down the rule for the guidance of the Corinthian Christians: ‘upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper’ ( 1 Corinthians 16:2); and his enthusiastic praise of the Macedonian Churches for their earnest and liberal response to his appeal he justifies by the circumstances in which their single-minded generosity (τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς ἁπλότητος αὐτῶν,  2 Corinthians 8:2) displayed itself. These attached supporters of the Apostle gave joyously (ἡ περισσεία τῆς χαρᾶς αὐτῶν) in a time of sore trial (ἐν πολλῇ δοκιμῇ θλίψεως; cf.  1 Thessalonians 1:6;  1 Thessalonians 2:14), and from their own deep poverty (ἡ κατὰ βάθους πτωχεία αὐτῶν). We are reminded of Jesus’ words in praise of the widow’s giving ‘all the living that she had’ (πάντα τὸν βίον,  Luke 21:4; cf. παρὰ δύναμιν,  2 Corinthians 8:3).

Not only did the Christians of Macedonia give of their own accord (αὐθαίρετοι), but they were even clamorous to be permitted to share in the work which lay so near to the Apostle’s heart. His profound joy is intensified by the fact that he is able to recognize in their generosity the outcome of their previous complete self-surrender to the cause and Person of the Lord (note the emphatic phrase, ἑαυτοὺς ἔδωκαν πρῶτον τῷ κυρίῳ of  2 Corinthians 8:5). Even in writing to the church in Rome, which he had not at the time visited, he is careful to remind his readers that the duty of giving to their poorer brethren is fundamental to the outward expression of a true Christian faith ( Romans 12:13;  Romans 15:27); and, if we accept the Epistle to the Ephesians as St. Paul’s, he makes this duty a grace to be anxiously sought and laboured for (note the ἵνα. in  Ephesians 4:28). This teaching was, indeed, not peculiar to the Apostle of the Gentiles. Liberality to the needy is the infallible test of the genuineness of Christian love ( 1 John 3:17) and of a living faith ( James 2:15f.). It is a sacrifice evoking a Divine response to him who offers it ( Hebrews 13:16) and constitutes the foundation stone upon which to build that perfect character which alone can appropriate for itself (ἐπιλάβωνται; cf. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews , London, 1889, p. 54 f.) ‘the life which is life indeed’ ( 1 Timothy 6:19).

In all the cases referred to, the essential freedom of Christian action is implied. There is no legal code formulated for the guidance of those whose love of the brethren is thus tested (οὐ κατʼ ἐπιταγὴν λέγω,  2 Corinthians 8:8). On the contrary, each one has the choice and determination as to his attitude (ἕκαστος καθὼς προῄρηται τῇ καρδίᾳ,  2 Corinthians 9:7). There is no external compulsion (ἐξ ἀνάγκης) to detract from the joy, or to set a mechanical boundary to the inclination, of the Christian’s giving to the poor. We thus recognize the truth of Irenaeus’ words: ‘Whilst they [the Jews] used to hold the tithes of their property as consecrated, they, on the other hand, who have grasped freedom, dedicate to the use of the Lord all things which they possess, giving joyfully and freely in greater abundance, because they have a greater hope’ ( Haer . iv. 34).

The other purpose for which tithes were paid was the maintenance of the Temple services and of the attendant priests and Levites. Now there can be no doubt that the apostles and those who spent themselves in the propagation of the gospel from the first considered it their due to be supported by the gifts and contributions of their followers and converts. The aphorisms, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire’ (cf.  Matthew 10:10), ‘Thou shalt not muzzle the or when he treadeth out the corn’ ( 1 Corinthians 9:9,  1 Timothy 5:18), are quoted as applicable to the Christian missionary and his work. The fact that St. Paul so emphatically refused to accept any monetary aid from the Corinthian church (see  Acts 18:3 [cf.  Acts 20:33],  2 Corinthians 11:7-10,  1 Corinthians 9:18) makes all the stronger the words in which he asserts and presses the just rights of all the Christian teachers ‘to live out of the gospel’ (ἐκ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ζῇν,  1 Corinthians 9:14). The Apostle is insistent that he is forgoing with purpose his most elementary right in maintaining his financial independence. The scathing irony of his question, ‘did I commit a sin in debasing myself [by working for his daily bread] in order you might be raised up?’ is followed by the startling emphasis of his expressions (note the collocation δωρεὰν τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγγέλιον, and his use of the military terms ἐσύλησα, ὀψώνιον,  2 Corinthians 11:7f.; cf.  1 Corinthians 9:7). He had accepted his ‘wages’ from others in order that they might have his labours free of charge (δωρεάν). The force of his claim as a teacher is strengthened by his determination to act as he thought best, and refuse what he had a perfectly well recognized right to and what his detractors were in the habit of receiving. If the Corinthians chose to make his refusal a handle to accuse him of conscious charlatanry, he vehemently avers that what he did he did out of pure love for them (see the questions διὰ τί; ὅτι οὐκ ἀγαπῶ ὑμᾶς; and the solemn assertion ὁ θεὸς οἶδεν,  2 Corinthians 11:11) and for their benefit (ἐν παντὶ ἀβαρῆ ἐμαυτὸν ὑμῖν ἐτήρησα,  2 Corinthians 11:9). Whatever may have been the original reason for this line of conduct on the part of the Apostle, we know that he solemnly reminded other churches of his own foundation that the recognition of this obligation to their spiritual teachers was an essential feature of true discipleship (μὴ πλανᾶσθε, θεὸς οὐ μυκτηρίζεται,  Galatians 6:7), and his touching gratitude to the Philippians for their loyal and repeated support when he was in want ( Philippians 4:14 ff.) is sufficient proof that he was willing to accept what was due to him (πλὴν καλῶς ἐποιήσατε) not only for his own sake but still more for theirs (ἐπιζητῶ τὸν καρπὸν τὸν πλεονάζοντα εἰς λόγον ὑμῶν,  Philippians 4:17). Not only is the general principle of maintaining the clergy a decided feature of the early Apostolic Church, but towards the close of the period we have evidence that there were gradations in the payment given, proportionate to the value of the work accomplished (οὶ καλῶς προεστῶτες πρεσβύτεροι διπλῆς τιμῆς ἀξιούσθωσαν,  1 Timothy 5:17)-a not unexpected development of the old law, ‘the labourer is worthy of his hire’ ( Luke 10:7).

In all this there is no evidence of a giving which is not free and spontaneous and which has not a moral and spiritual basis. No allusion is made to the necessity for the continuance of the Mosaic law of tithes. This is all the more remarkable as we have in St. Paul’s case a distinct reference to the parallel between the Levitical priesthood and the Christian ministry in this respect ( 1 Corinthians 9:13)-a parallel which is involved, consciously or otherwise, in the ordinance of Jesus (ὁ κύριος) that His missionaries were to be supported by the objects of their labours.

The relation between tithes and Christian giving may be apprehended as that between the law and the gospel as incentives and forces in life. It is the relation between a legal enactment which enforces by objective sanctions and a spiritual ideal which draws out all that is best and highest from those who recognize the significance of the blessedness of self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

Literature.-A. Plummer, International Critical Commentary , ‘2 Corinthians,’ Edinburgh, 1915; A. Robertson and A. Plummer, ib. , ‘1 Corinthians,’ do., 1911; Foulke Robartes, The Revenue of the Gospel is Tythes , Cambridge, 1613; G. Carleton, Tithes Examined and Proved to bee Due to the Clergie by a Divine Right 2, London, 1611: J. Selden, History of Tythes , do., 1618.

J. R. Willis.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [2]

(See Deuteronomy .) Tenths of produce, property, or spoils, dedicated to sacred use. So Abram (and Levi, as in Abram's loins) to Melchizedek the king priest who blessed him ( Genesis 14:20;  Hebrews 7:1-10). Jacob after his Bethel vision vowed a tenth of all that God gave him, should God be with and keep him, and give him bread and raiment, and bring him again to his father's house in peace ( Genesis 28:20-22). The usage of consecrated tithes existed among the Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, and Arabians. See  1 Maccabees 11:35; Herodotus i. 89; iv. 152; v. 77; vii. 132; 9:81; Diod. Sic. v. 42; xi. 33; 20:44; Cicero, Verr. ii. 3,6-7; Xenophon, Anabasis v. 3, section 9. The "tithe" ( Terumot ) of all produce as also of flocks and cattle belonged to Jehovah. and was paid in kind, or if redeemed one fifth of the value was added.  Leviticus 27:30-33, "whatsoever passed under the rod": the rabbis had the tradition that the animals to be tithed were enclosed in a pen, from whence they passed one by one under the counter's rod, and every tenth was touched with a rod dipped in vermilion ( Jeremiah 33:13;  Ezekiel 20:37).

The Levites received this Terumot ; they in turn paid a tenth of this to the high priest ( Numbers 18:21-28;  Numbers 18:31). In  Deuteronomy 10:9;  Deuteronomy 12:5-18;  Deuteronomy 14:22;  Deuteronomy 14:29;  Deuteronomy 18:1-2;  Deuteronomy 26:12-14, the general first tithe of all animal and vegetable increase for maintaining the priests and Levites is taken, for granted; what is added in this later time is the second additional tithe of the field produce alone, and for celebrating the sacred feasts each first and second year in the Shiloh or Jerusalem sanctuary, and every third year at home with a feast to the Levites, the stranger, fatherless, and widow. The six years thus marked were followed by the Jubilee year; on it the attendance was the larger because of the scant attendance on the sixth year when most stayed at home. In the Jubilee year there was no tithe, as the land enjoyed its sabbath. Tobit ( Tobit 1:7-8) says he gave a third tithe to the poor; Josephus (Ant. 4:8, 8, section 22) also mentions a third tithe; so Jerome too on Ezekiel 45.

Maimonides denies a third tithe (which would be an excessive burden) and represents the seceded tithe of the third and sixth years as shared between the poor and the Levites. (See Selden on Tithes, 2:13). Ewald suggests that for two years the tithe was virtually voluntary, on the third year compulsory. Thus there was a yearly tithe for the Levites, a second yearly tithe for two years for the festivals; but this second tithe on every third year was shared by the Levites with the poor. The kings, Samuel foresaw, would appropriate the three years' poor man's tithe ( 1 Samuel 8:15;  1 Samuel 8:17). Hezekiah rectified the abuse ( 2 Chronicles 31:5;  2 Chronicles 31:12;  2 Chronicles 31:19); also Nehemiah after the return from Babylon ( Nehemiah 10:38-39;  Nehemiah 13:5;  Nehemiah 13:12;  Nehemiah 12:44).

The Pharisees were punctilious in paying tithe for all even the smallest herbs ( Matthew 23:23;  Luke 18:12). Amos ( Amos 4:4) upbraids Israel with zeal for the letter of the tithe law while disregarding its spirit. Malachi ( Malachi 3:10) seconded Nehemiah's efforts. God promises to "open heaven's windows and pour out a blessing" so that there would be no "room to receive it," provided the people by bringing in all the tithes would put Him to the proof as to keeping His word. Christians, whose privileges are so much greater and to whom heaven is opened by Christ's death and ascension, should at least offer no less a proportion of all their income to the Lord's cause than did the Israelite: we should not lose but even in this world gain thereby ( Proverbs 3:9-10). Azariah the high priest told Hezekiah: "since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of the Lord we have bad enough to eat, and have left plenty, for the Lord hath blessed His people, and that which is left is this great store" ( 2 Chronicles 31:10).

The New Testament plan of giving is  1 Corinthians 16:2;  2 Corinthians 9:7-9. Moral obligation, not force, was what constrained the Israelite to give tithes. He solemnly professed he had done so every third and sixth year (of the septennial cycle), when instead of taking the second or vegetable tithe to the sanctuary he used it at home in charity and hospitality ( Deuteronomy 26:13-14;  Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Ananias' and Sapphira's declaration corresponds, but it was a lie against the Holy Spirit (Acts 5); Joseph's fifth of Egypt's increase to the sovereign who had saved the people's lives corresponds to, and was perhaps suggested by, the double tithe or fifth paid by Israel long before.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [3]

It seems to have been a custom from very early times for people to give a tithe (i.e. a tenth) of their goods to God as an act of worship and thanks. In this way they acknowledged God as the supreme controller of life’s events and the sole giver of life’s blessings. The custom existed as a voluntary act of devotion long before it became compulsory practice under the law of Moses.

The Bible records two pre-Mosaic examples of tithing. Abraham, on gaining a notable victory in the land God had promised him, offered to God a tithe of the goods he had seized in battle ( Genesis 14:17-24;  Hebrews 7:4-10). Jacob, on fleeing for safety to a distant land, promised to give God a tithe of his possessions if God brought him back safely ( Genesis 28:20-22). In both cases the offering of the tithe was an acknowledgment that God was the sovereign controller in human affairs and the giver of all gifts.

The law of Moses

Under the law of Moses, Israelites had to give to God one tenth of all crops, fruit, flocks and herds. The tenth that they offered had to be an honest sample of the whole, not an inferior portion that they had no use for themselves. When tithing animals, for example, the owner counted the animals as they passed through the gate, setting aside every tenth one for God, regardless of whether it was good or bad ( Leviticus 27:30;  Leviticus 27:32-33).

If people so desired, they could offer money instead of their produce or animals. The amount they paid was the value of the goods plus a fifth. This additional fifth was a sort of fine, since they were keeping for their own use something that rightly belonged to God ( Leviticus 27:31).

The tithes were paid to the Levites, and so became the chief source of the Levites’ income. Since the Levites spent their time in religious service for the people, they had no time to earn a normal living. This constant income from the tithes was payment for their work and compensation for their lack of a separate tribal area in Canaan ( Numbers 18:21-24).

Having received tithes, the Levites then had to pay tithes. Their income was the produce of other people’s farms, but when they offered a tenth of this produce to God, he accepted it as if it were their own. The Levites’ tithes became the income of the priests ( Numbers 18:25-32).

People presented their tithes by taking them to the central place of worship, where, with their households and the Levites, they joined in a joyous ceremonial meal ( Deuteronomy 12:5-7;  Deuteronomy 12:17-19). If the offerers lived so far from the tabernacle (or later the temple) that transporting their goods was a problem, they could sell their tithes locally and take the money instead ( Deuteronomy 14:22-27).

Every third year the offerers had to distribute this tithe (or perhaps an additional tithe) in their own locality, so that the local poor could benefit from it as well as the Levites. In this case the offerers, after distributing their tithes, had to go to the central place of worship and declare before God that they had done according to the divine command ( Deuteronomy 14:28-29;  Deuteronomy 26:12-15).

In addition to these compulsory tithes, there were sacrifices and offerings of various kinds. Some of these were required by law, but others were made voluntarily ( 2 Chronicles 31:5-6;  Nehemiah 10:37-38;  Nehemiah 12:44;  Malachi 3:8-10). (For details see Feasts; Firstborn; Firstfruits; Sacrifice; Vows )

New Testament times

In later years Jewish teachers of the law added their own laws to those given by Moses. The result was that by the time of Jesus, they had made the tithing system a heavy burden on the Jewish people. These teachers instructed Jews to keep the laws of tithing even to the smallest detail, assuring them that in doing so they would gain God’s favour. But they neither taught nor practised the more important matters of faith, love, mercy and justice ( Matthew 23:4;  Matthew 23:23;  Luke 11:42;  Luke 11:46;  Luke 18:12).

The New Testament does not teach tithing as a binding law for Christians. Nevertheless, it upholds the principle of proportionate giving, the amount people give depending on the amount they earn ( 1 Corinthians 16:2;  2 Corinthians 8:12-14). God wants people to make their offerings willingly and joyfully, not under compulsion or grudgingly ( 2 Corinthians 8:3;  2 Corinthians 9:7). But he adds the promise that they need not fear poverty if they give much, because God can increase his supply so that the generous giver still has more than he needs ( 2 Corinthians 9:8-10). (See also Giving .)

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [4]

We have nothing more ancient concerning tithes, than what we find in  Genesis 14:20 , that Abraham gave tithes to Melchisedec, king of Salem, at his return from his expedition against Chedorlaomer, and the four kings in confederacy with him. Abraham gave him tithe of all the booty he had taken from the enemy. Jacob imitated this piety of his grandfather, when he vowed to the Lord the tithe of all the substance he might acquire in Mesopotamia,  Genesis 28:22 . Under the law, Moses ordained, "All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's; it is holy unto the Lord. And if a man will at all redeem aught of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof. And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord,"  Leviticus 27:30-32 . The Pharisees, in the time of Jesus Christ, to distinguish themselves by a more scrupulous observance of the law, did not content themselves with paying the tithe of the grain and fruits growing in the fields; but they also paid tithe of the pulse and herbs growing in their gardens, which was more than the law required of them. The tithes were taken from what remained, after the offerings and first fruits were paid. They brought the tithes to the Levites in the city of Jerusalem, as appears from Josephus and Tob_1:6 . The Levites set apart the tenth part of their tithes for the priest; because the priest did not receive them immediately from the people, and the Levites were not to meddle with the tithes they had received, before they had given the priests such a part as the law assigned them. Of those nine parts that remained to the proprietors, after the tithe was paid to the Levites, they took still another tenth part, which was either sent to Jerusalem in kind, or, if it was too far, they sent the value in money; adding to it a fifth from the whole as the rabbins inform us. This tenth part was applied toward celebrating the festivals in the temple, which bore a near resemblance to the agapae, or love feasts of the first Christians. Thus are those words of Deuteronomy understood by the rabbins: "Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thy oil, and of the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks: that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always,"

 Deuteronomy 14:22-23 . Tob_1:6 , says, that every three years he punctually paid his tithe to strangers and proselytes. This was probably because there were neither priests nor Levites in the city where he dwelt. Moses speaks of this last kind of tithe: "At the end of three years thou shalt bring forth all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates. And the Levite, (because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee,) and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand which thou doest,"

 Deuteronomy 14:28;  Deuteronomy 26:12 . It is thought that this tithe was not different from the second kind before noticed, except that in the third year it was not brought to the temple, but was used upon the spot by every one in the city of his habitation. So, properly speaking, there were only two sorts of tithes, that which was given to the Levites and priests, and that which was applied to making feasts of charity, either in the temple of Jerusalem, or in other cities. Samuel tells the children of Israel, that the king they had a mind to have over them would "take the tenth of their seed, and of their vineyards, and give to his officers, and his servants. He will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be his servants,"  1 Samuel 8:15;  1 Samuel 8:17 . Yet it does not clearly appear from the history of the Jews, that they regularly paid any tithe to their princes. But the manner in which Samuel expresses himself, seems to insinuate that it was looked upon as a common right among the kings of the east. At this day, the Jews no longer pay any tithe; at least they do not think themselves obliged to do it, except it be those who are settled in the territory of Jerusalem, and the ancient Judea. For there are few Jews now that have any lands of their own, or any flocks. They only give something for the redemption of the first-born, to those who have any proofs of their being descended from the race of the priests or Levites. However, we are assured, that such among the Jews as would be thought to be very strict and religious give the tenth part of their whole income to the poor.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [5]

The giving of a tenth to God, or to His representatives, was practised long before the law enforced it. Abraham gave tithes of the spoils to Melchizedek, and Jacob vowed that he would give to God the tenth of all that God might give to him.  Genesis 14:20;  Genesis 28:22;  Hebrews 7:2-9 . There is evidence that heathen nations devoted tithes to sacred and fiscal uses, consecrating them to their gods or to victorious generals, or as a permanent source of income to their sovereign.

The tithes under the law were

1. Those given to the Levites: they embraced a tenth of all produce. Every tenth animal as it passed under the rod was to be given, whether it was good or bad: if changed, both had to be given: if either animal or vegetable produce were redeemed, a fifth had to be added thereto.   Leviticus 27:30-33;  Numbers 18:21-24;  Nehemiah 10:37,38 . Again a tenth of the tithe given to the Levites was a portion for the priests.  Numbers 18:26-28 .

2. On coming into the land a second tenth of all produce was to be taken to Jerusalem, or, if the distance was too great, it could be turned into money, and when the offerer arrived at Jerusalem he could purchase any thing that he desired, which was to be eaten there by himself, his children, his servants, and any Levites that might be there at the time.  Deuteronomy 12:6-12,17,18;  Deuteronomy 14:22-27 .

3. Every third year (called 'the year of tithing') a third tenth was given according to Josephus (Ant. iv. 8,22: cf.  Tobit 1:7,8 ), or, what is more probable, a variation was made in that year respecting the second tenth: it was not to be carried to Jerusalem, but to be laid up 'within the gates,' and there shared by "the Levites . . . . and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow."  Deuteronomy 14:28,29;  Amos 4:4 .

At the end of 'the year of tithing,' the offerer was to make a solemn declaration before the Lord that he had fully performed the commandment of the Lord, and had withheld for his own use nothing of the tithe. And on this ground he was to pray for the divine blessing on Israel. One of the charges brought against Israel at the end of the O.T. was that they had robbed God, because they had withholden the tithes and offerings; and therefore the whole nation was "cursed with a curse." But if they would bring the tithes into God's storehouse, and prove Him, there would be a blessing beyond their capacity to receive it.  Malachi 3:8-12 .

In New Testament times many were punctilious in paying tithes of small things, while they neglected the weightier matters of the law — judgement, mercy, and faith.  Matthew 23:23 . A definite tenth or fifth is not enforced in the N.T., but liberality is enjoined. "God loveth a cheerful giver:" he that soweth sparingly will reap sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully will reap bountifully: "he that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord." Paul told the saints to lay by for the special collection he was making for the poor 'as God had prospered' each. God required of them according to what they had, and not according to what they had not. The poor widow who cast in the two mites cast in more than the rich, for it was her whole living. At the commencement of the church many gave up their possessions and the saints had 'all things common;' but failure soon came in, and we may learn from the general tenour of the epistles that such a state of things would not continue, though the principle abides that we do not call any of the things we possess our own.

God has ordained that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel. He that is taught in the word is to communicate in all good things to him who teaches.  Galatians 6:6 .

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [6]

TITHES . According to both North Israelite (  Genesis 28:22 ) and Judæan (  Genesis 14:20 ) tradition, Israel’s patriarchs paid tithes; the custom, therefore, among the Israelites was evidently very ancient. But the institution of offering tithes of the fruits of the field and of the flocks is one which dates back to a period greatly anterior to Israelite history. A tenth of the flocks, fruits, and possessions of all kinds, as well as of the spoils of war, was given to their gods by many peoples, not only of Semitic, but also of Indo-Germanic race.

In the OT two ideas lie at the root of the custom; the more antique apart from its position in the Bible is that which regards the offering of a tenth to the Deity as His due, owing to His being the Supreme owner of the land and all that it brings forth, or that feeds upon it ( Leviticus 27:30-33 ); here the underlying thought is that of propitiation, if the Supreme owner does not receive His due, His blessing will be wanting another year. The other idea, which is obviously a later one, is that of thankfulness for the blessings received (  Genesis 28:20-22 ); the tithes were given in recognition of what the Giver of all things had accorded to His worshippers.

Among the Israelites this ancient custom was taken advantage of by the Levitical priesthood, who, as those employed in the sanctuary of Jahweh, claimed for themselves, on behalf of Him, a tithe of all. According to  Numbers 18:21-24 the Levites were to receive this in lieu of the inheritance of land which fell to all the other tribes; but they received the tithe on behalf of Jahweh; stress is laid on this point in   Numbers 18:24 : ‘For the tithe of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave-offering unto the Lord, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance’; the ‘heaving’ of an offering towards the altar was the substitute for the actual consuming of it upon the altar. Although tithes were, of course, intended to be offered once a year (  Deuteronomy 14:22 ), it would appear from   Amos 4:4 though the words are ironical that in their anxiety to more than fulfil the requirements of the Law, many worshippers brought them more frequently (the original Hebrew, however, is ambiguous). Though, generally speaking, tithes were offered only to God, yet it is clear that they were sometimes given also to the king (cf.   Genesis 14:20 ,   1 Samuel 8:17 ,   Hebrews 7:2;   Hebrews 7:4 )]

W. O. E. Oesterley.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [7]

Tithes, or Tenths . A form of tax known long before the time of Moses,  Genesis 14:20;  Genesis 28:22, and practised under the civil and religious government of heathen nations. It required a fixed proportion of the produce of the earth and of herds, for the service of God. One-tenth of this produce went to the use of the Levites, who had no part in the soil, and of course were dependent on their brethren for the means of subsistence. One-tenth of their tenth they paid in their turn to the priests.  Numbers 18:21-32. The nine parts were tithed again, and of this second tithe a feast was made in the court of the sanctuary, or in some apartment connected with it. If, however, the Jew could not with convenience carry his tithe thither, he was permitted to sell it and to take the money, adding one-fifth of the amount-that is, if he sold the tithe for a dollar, he should bring, in money, a dollar and twenty cents—and to purchase therewith what was required at the feast after he came to the sanctuary.  Leviticus 27:31;  Deuteronomy 12:17-18;  Deuteronomy 14:22-27. See for full account, Bissell's Biblical Antiquities.

Charles Spurgeon's Illustration Collection [8]

'Tis ridiculous to say the tithes are God's part, and therefore the clergy must have them; why, so they are if the layman has them. 'Tis as if one of my Lady Kent's maids should be sweeping this room, and another of them should come and take away the broom, and tell for a reason why she should part with it, 'tis my lady's broom; as if it were not my lady's broom which of them soever had it.: Table Talk of John Selden

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [9]


Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [10]

(Anglo-Saxon, teotha, a tenth) a tenth part of the produce of the land, which by ancient usage, and subsequently by law, is set aside for the support of the clergy and other religious uses. In the Christian dispensation the very circumstance of the existence of the clergy is supposed by many to imply a certain fixed provision for their maintenance. This obligation has been put forward in ecclesiastical legislation from the earliest period. The Apostolic Canons, the Apostolic Constitutions, St. Cyprian on the Unity of the Church, and the works of Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, and the other fathers of both divisions of the Church, abound with allusions to it. In the early Christian Church the custom of consecrating to religious purposes a tenth of the income was voluntary, and it was not made obligatory until the Council of Tours in 567. The second Council of Macon, in 585, enjoined the payment of tithes under pain of excommunication; and Charlemagne, by his capitularies, formally established the practice within those portions of the ancient Roman empire to which his legislation extended.

The introduction of tithes into England is ascribed to Offa, king of Mercia, at the close of the 8th century; and the usage passed into other divisions of Saxon England, and was finally made general by Ethelwolf. They were made obligatory in Scotland in the 9th century, and not long after in Ireland.. At first the choice of the Church to whom a person paid tithes was optional; but by a decretal of Innocent III, addressed to the archbishop of Canterbury in 1200, all were directed to pay to the clergy of their respective parishes. According to English law, tithes are of three kinds- predial, mixed, and personal. Predial tithes are those which arise immediately from the ground, as grain, fruit, herbs, etc. Mixed tithes are those proceeding from things nourished by the earth, as calves, lambs, pigs, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. Personal tithes are those arising from the profits of personal industry in the pursuit of a trade, profession, or occupation. The latter were generally paid in the form of a voluntary offering at Easter, or some other period of the year. The law exempted mines, quarries, wild animals, game, fish, and also tame animals kept for pleasure, and not for use or profit.

Another and a more arbitrary distinction is into great and small the first being tithes of grain, hay, wood, etc.; the second being the other kind of predial, as well as all personal and mixed tithes. The great tithes of a parish belonged to the rector, and the small tithes to the vicar. Tithes were originally paid in kind, as the tenth sheaf, the tenth lamb; but the inconvenience and trouble involved in this mode of payment led to the adoption of other methods. This was done either by the payment of a fixed amount each year, irrespective of actual produce, or by a money payment mutually agreed upon; by a partial substitution of payment or labor, as when a person contributed a smaller amount of produce, but free from the expense of harvesting, etc.; or by the payment of a bulk sum in redemption of the impost, either for a time or forever, as the case might be, so that the land became tithe-free. By 1 Elizabeth, c. 19, and 13 Elizabeth, c. 10, such alienations of tithe-payment were restricted to a term of twenty-one years; or three lives.

Originally convents occupying lands in England paid tithes to the parochial clergy; but by a decretal of Paschal II they were exempted from such payments in regard to lands held by themselves in their own occupation. This exemption was confined by subsequent legislation to the four orders, Templars, Hospitallers, Cistercians, and Premonstratensians, and after the fourth Council of Lateran, A.D. 1215, only in respect of lands held by them before that year. At the Reformation many of the forfeited Church lands when sold were held free of tithes.

These partial exemptions, and the fact that the tithes were a tax for the support of the clergy of the Established Church, made it very unpopular with those who were obliged to pay, and especially so to Dissenters. A measure of commutation became absolutely necessary, but, although recommended as far back as 1822, did not become law until 1838. Various statutes for England or Ireland have since been enacted regulating the payment of tithes (6 and 7 William IV, c. 71; 7 William IV and 1 Victoria, c. 69; 1 and 2 Victoria, c. 64; 2 and 3 Victoria, c. 32; and 5 and 6 Victoria, c. 54). Their object for England is to substitute a money rent-charge, varying on a scale regulated by the average price of grain for seven years for all the other forms of payment. In Ireland the settlement was effected by a commutation of tithe into a money rent-charge three fourths the former value. The Disestablishment Act of 1869 abolished tithes and created a common fund for the support of the Protestant Episcopal Church and clergy. In France tithes were abolished at the Revolution, and this example was followed by the other Continental countries. In the Canadian provinces of Quebec, tithes are still collected by virtue of the old French law, yet in force there. In the United States, tithes are exacted by the Mormon hierarchy. See Bingham, Christ. Antiq. bk. 5, ch. 5, § 1 sq.