Most believers assume that all the Israelites were required to tithe on their full income or increase. However, this is not true; there were only two types of income/increases that required a tithe under the Law of Moses. The first was required of farmers, it was a tithe of agricultural produce, or crops; the second was a tithe of ranchers, or herdsmen, it was a tithe of animals (Leviticus 27:30-33). Only the land owners of the produce and the owners of the animals were required to tithe and not the hired hands. Herdsmen were not required to tithe if they only had nine, but only the tenth. Notice, they were not required to tithe the first animal, but only the tenth animal, “the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD.” (Leviticus 27:32) Since the Law of Moses only required tithes on the increase of landowners and those who owned flocks or herd animals, tithes were not required from those who gained their increase from the air, sea or things made with their hands. Occupations such as fishermen, carpenters, priests, and merchandisers were not required to tithe. Jesus was a carpenter and a preacher; both occupations were not required to tithe according to the Law of Moses.
Many Christian are unaware that the Law of Moses required three tithes from the Israelites. The first tithe of 10% is called the Lord’s tithe and is also known as the Levites tithe (Leviticus 27:30-33; Numbers 18:21-24).The second tithe of 10% is called the festival tithe (Deuteronomy 12:6-7; 14:22-27; 16:3, 13, 16).The third tithe given at the end of every three years is to be stored up at home and shared with the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow that the Lord may bless the work of their hands (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12-13). Although some scholars have argued over the third tithe being a substitute for the second tithe the historian Josephus documents that in fact there was a third tithe saying, “”Beside those two tithes which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year a tithe to be distributed to those that want; to women also that are widows, and to children that are orphans,” (Josephus, Antiquities, bk. 4).
In order to fulfill the Law of Moses a believer would have to tithe 20% every year and another 10% every third year, totaling 30% for the third year, this is not including additional offerings to the Lord. This averages out to a tithe of 23.3% a year, again not including additional offerings unto the Lord, that the Israelites were required to pay according to the Law of Moses (Nehemiah 12:44; Mal. 3:8-12). Those who have attempted to keep the Law of Moses regarding tithing have failed to do so if they have not tithed 20% every year and tithed 30% every third year. However, Gentiles have never been subject to the Law of Moses and therefore, were never required to tithe. The apostles never taught Gentile believers to tithe, we have two New Testament examples of the Gentiles not being required to tithe in Acts 15:22-29 and in 21:15-30. For Example in Acts 15:28-29 it says, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
In Acts 21:15-30 Paul visits James and all the elders and they counsel him regarding the Jews in Acts 21:20-24 saying, “And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; “but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.”What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. “Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow.” Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.” But notice in Acts 21:25 what they had written specifically regarding Gentile believers, “But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Tithing was not mentioned.
Gradually, over time there was a departure from the apostles’ faith, teachings, and practices. The departure of the Catholic Church from the apostles teaching on giving to tithing is documented in their own history. The Catholic Church documents their own departure from the apostles’ doctrine in the Catholic Encyclopedia 1912 edition concerning tithing,
“In the beginning [provision] was supplied by the spontaneous support of the faithful. In the course of time, however, as the Church expanded and various institutions arose, it became necessary to make laws which would insure the proper and permanent support of the clergy. The payment of tithes was adopted from the Old Law, and early writers speak of it as a divine ordinance and an obligation of the conscience. The earliest positive legislation on the subject seems to be contained in the letter of the bishops assembled at Tours in 567 and the Canons of the Council of Macon in 585.” [For more conformation on the history of the tithe check out the Encyclopedia Americana, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia.]
In fact Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant Christian faith, rejected the idea of tithing and taught against tithing as it pertained to the Gentile believers. Martin Luther in his sermon on August 27, 1525 titled “How Christians Should Regard Moses” spoke of the Law of Moses as being only for the Jews and not for the Gentiles. Martin Luther states in his sermon, “The Law of Moses binds only the Jews and not the Gentiles. Here the Law of Moses has its place. It is no longer binding on us, because it was given only to the people of Israel. And Israel accepted this law for itself and its descendants, while the Gentiles were excluded.” “Moses has nothing to do with us. If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses.” “We will not regard him as our lawgiver – unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law.” “For not one little period in Moses pertains to us.” Martin Luther’s viewpoint in this sermon was due to the fact that the Jews were subject to the Law of Moses, and the Law of Moses included the tithe.
Unfortunately today, most Christian believers do not follow the same apostolic traditions handed down by the apostles. James Hudnut-Beumler, Dean of Vanderbilt University, in his book “In Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar”, states that tithing was not taught, practiced, or even suggested in the United States of America until 1873. He also goes on to reveal that tithing was first introduced to the Southern Baptist Convention on May 11, 1895, and was rejected by the believers at that time.
This is a call for us as Christian believers to be like the Berean believers who searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so, and then return to the apostles’ teachings (Acts 17:11).