3 - Tithing - Legalism - New Testament Giving

Is the failure to TITHE robbing God by robbing the priests? No. Malachi said: And now, O PRIESTS, this commandment is for YOU. Malachi 2:1

Whatever our religion, most of us have a deep itch to know what the Bible teaches and are deeply troubled when it is used to whack people over the head. These notes are from our web page and are prompted by one of the most popular questions on the Internet:

"Do Christians have to tithe?"

The Bible clearly says, "No." Everyone is free to give everything but no one is free to demand anything but love. Romans 13:8.

You ask: If I am free from the legal tithe, do I have any responsibility to others? The answer is, yes.

The fact that Christians do not tithe does not minimize freewill offerings for mutually-arrived at purposes. Therefore, our goal is to show that there is no "law of giving" because we live under the "law of liberty" and not under Israel's like the nations king.

This is important for both scriptural and practical reasons. For instance, when the Jews tithed by law, the poor usually went hungry. However, when the Tabernacle was built with freewill offerings, people gave so much that Moses had to "pass a law" to stop it:

And they spake unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the Lord commanded to make. Exodus 36:5

And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing. Exodus 36:6

To make giving a legal act of worship causes people to look for legal ways to get around the "law." On the other hand, Christianity is a religion of the mind, heart, and spirit, and should not be smothered by efforts to produce spirituality through external means.

Jesus and Tithing

Only as an added SHOW of righteousness, the Jewish leaders tithed even their spices. Jesus said: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ye ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Matt 23:23. Jesus wanted personal right living and social justice.

Because they "took away the key to knowledge," Jesus said:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites for ye devour widows houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Mt.23:14

Ye blind guides! which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Matt 23:24

Throughout His ministry, Jesus showed that they viewed the law of Moses as a means of salvation, when in fact the Old Testament pointed forward to the Messiah. He would pay all of the debts and put an end to all of the legal, religious festivals by fulfilling them.

The End of Professional Prophesiers

"Prophets were often organized into guilds in which they received their training. The guilds were led by a prophet master, and their members could be distinguished from other members of their society by their garb (such as a special mantle) or by physical marks or grooming (such as baldness, a mark on the forehead, or scars of self-laceration).

The nature of prophecy is twofold: either inspired (by visions or revelatory auditions),
acquired (by learning certain techniques). In many cases both aspects are present.

The goal of learning certain prophetic techniques is to reach an ecstatic state in which revelations can be received. That state might be reached through the use of music, dancing, drums, violent bodily movement, and self-laceration.

The ecstatic prophet is regarded as being filled with the divine spirit, and in this state the deity speaks through him.

Ecstatic oracles, therefore, are generally delivered by the prophet in the first-person singular pronoun and are spoken in a short, rhythmic style. Britannica Members

In the church, there are two functions:

If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God;
if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth:

that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 1Pe.4:11

To prophesy in the NT sense one read the Scriptures and validated his prophesying by stating: "Thus saith the Lord." If the Lord has not said it then there is no role for "preachifying or versifying" the Word.

However, in ministry, one can serve and use their human talent. One who knows finances obviously serves better than a dead beat or freeloader.

Jesus warned the professionals:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Mt.23:23

Doesn't that approve tithings? No. They used Professional Praying and other for-hire rituals to steal the houses (church houses) of widows. Then, they just bought a bit of mint to prove that they were REALLY "reapers of the white harvest."

They were not prophets who taught the Word as it had been written but just made up their sermons to deliberately silence a Holy God. Rather, they were "prophesiers" in the charismatic meaning of the word because YOU DON'T GET PAID FOR TEACHING THE FREE WORD OF GOD (Isaiah 55).

"In the Western world, Israelite prophecy is regarded as unique, for not only did it oppose institutionalized religion but it is understood as having propagated an ethical religion emphasizing individual freedom,

a religion not dependent on mechanical ritual and legalism. Britannica Members

What is the background?

Again, does that mean that we should still tithe? No. It proves that the professionals KNEW that they were supposed to hold an honest job. But since they had no little spices to tithe they bought them and pretended that they were still farmers. Haven't we heard about preachers "pledging" their wages for the new building program to aggrandize their own position when they had no right to the wage in the first place?

Zechariah speaks of this in warning that God would put an end to the false prophets who preached for a fee but they were often "wounded" by the charismatic effort to call up the gods and "make this sermon regenerate your soul."

And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land. Zech 13:2

And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth. Zech 13:3

These professional prophets sang, danced, played instruments and got violent enough to wound themselves trying to get a message from God who did not speak to them. You have to do a pretty hysterical act to sell the FREE Word Christ died to give. The false prophet lied (about tithing farm products) and said, "Oh, nol I am not a clergy type: I am a cattle keeper" or "located evangelist" or, HEAVEN HELP US, "Resident Missionary!!!" Get that man on welfare or as the Didache and Hermas would say "get him on his way."

The Temple Tax has been Paid by Grace

When Jesus and His disciples came to Capernaum, the tax collector was right there and asked, "Doth not your master pay tribute." This annual half-shekel tax by males over the age of twenty years (Ex. 30:11-16) was to "make atonement for yourselves." It was for the service of the Tabernacle and was added for the like the nations kingdom. Jesus referred to this by asking:

What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Matt. 17:25

Peter observed correctly that it was from strangers, and then Jesus said:

Then are the children free. Matt. 17:26

To contrast the old law with the coming good news, Jesus provided the tax from the mouth of a fish. He came to give rather than to take from his children. A child of God is free and ransomed, and will never be sent a bill for a "child of God" tax or for an Atonement purchased through Christ's final Jubilee.

So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir. Gal. 4:7

In Paul's mind, the elder should help support the younger: the parent the children. The slave or minister does not DEMAND that the paymaster give more.

The Lutheran scholar, Lenski, notes that:

"To be sure, earthly kings do not make their own sons, the princes of the royal house, pay taxes for the entire royal family is supported in regal estate by taxing the people.

Kings collect taxes only 'from outsiders,' ...other than their own immediate families" (Lenski, on Matthew, p. 674).

"Thus, like the sons of earthly kings, these spiritual sons of the 'great King' are, therefore, 'free,' and no one can with divine right levy any Temple tax upon them." (Ibid. p. 675).

A temple tax imposed on an "outsider" would be to lie and tell the good widows that they need to invest their income producing capital in a "NEW HOUSE FOR GOD."

The Widows Mite

The story of the Widow's Mite shows that the condition of the heart is more important than the condition of the bank account. However, this does not prove that the doomed temple had the right to even allow the widow to cast in her mite:

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. Mark 12:41

And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. Mark 12:42

The mite was a bronze or copper coin so thin that it was called a "scale," like the scales of leprosy. It would take about four to make a penny. You heard it clank because she cast it into a thing called a "trumpet" which rang to show who and how much was being given.

The message of Jesus is that God is not in need of money but of a humble, sacrificial spirit.

Ananias and Sapphira

In some "ministries," when you inherit Aunt Sally's sofa or sell a cow you might be told that "your revealer of tithes" gets 10% to 30% -- up front!

BUT a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, Acts 5:1
And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles feet. Acts 5:2

But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Acts 5:3

Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. Acts 5:4

Peter said that the property belonged to Ananias; even after it was sold he had no legal duty to give any of it to the poor. This is the heart and soul of "the law of liberty." Vocal force is unseemly.

Background to Giving in Corinth

The Bible is often used as a "source book" or "grab bag" out of which we are all tempted to pick isolated verses out of context to make a new set of Ten Commandments. We know that the Corinthians volunteered to help relieve a famine in Judea. Therefore, we know that Paul was just telling them how to set things in order so that there would be no collections taken while he was there. This would eleminate feelings of extortion.

Without knowing "the rest of the story," we could see 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 as a law for a weekly "temple tax." However, rather than being a command or law, much of Paul's letter to Corinth answered specific questions. He listened to them and wrote back:

NOW concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. 1 Cor 16:1

While Titus was involved, it is thought that a circular letter informed all of the churches of the suffering in Judea but no command to give had ever been sent as a Christian law:

"Since the Corinthians know about this collection and ask for further instructions from Paul, the question arises as to when and how they had been told" (Lenski, Commenting on 1 Cor. 16:1, p. 756)

Corinth's voluntary offer to help was used by Paul to motivate other churches. Now, he was worried that they had not saved from their small first-day income and everyone might be embarrassed when the delegation arrived to collect their savings.

But, what about Paul giving orders? The Hebrew word for "order" in 1 Cor. 16:1 is diatasso; it means to arrange thoroughly. For instance, Luke "set forth in order" the things accepted among the believers (Luke 1:1). Rather than a legal command, Luke's letter was an orderly account.

Furthermore, Paul wrote the second letter because his first letter had little effect. Indeed, they might have misunderstood his motives. By keeping the money "by themselves" and by electing someone to help take the total church contribution to Judea, they would be more confident. Therefore, he wrote:

I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. 2 Corinthians 8:8

Now, Jesus said: "If you love me you will keep My commandments." He did not say, "If you keep my commandments you will love me." Giving is a legal demand whether we love people or not, or it is an indication of the sincerity of those Corinthians who, up to a year ago, had promised that they were going to give to the poor." In either case, Paul settled the issue once for all times: "I speak not by commandment." This reaches back to 1 Corinthians 16:2 where Paul instructed the people how to save up little by little so that the excuse that "I don't have anything to give" would not be valid.

The Greek for commandment is:

Epitage (g2003) ep-ee-tag-ay'; an injunction or decree; by implication: authority, commandment.

After showing that he was not commanding them to give anything, but was ordering an honest system to do it, Paul continued to say:

Upon the (1) first day of the week let every one of you (2) lay by him in (3) store, as God hath (4) prospered him, that there be no (5) gatherings when I come. 1 Cor. 16:2

Now, surely this verse is not the basis for writing a new creed with a new "act of worship." Well, we should move carefully through Paul's letters because Peter warned that they could be dangerous stuff if we don't really study out of a love for the truth. (2 Peter 3:16).

Because the Greeks did not observe a seven-day week with one day for "rest" and one for "church," we need to understand the meaning of "first day of the week."

1 - On the First Day

Most people worked twelve hours and were paid each day (Matt 20:1-10). On the way home they might buy the day's food, take a bath and buy just the necessities of life. If they were fortunate or "prosperous" they would "lay by in store" a small surplus in the "cookie jar" on the first day of the week.

To the Jews, Sunday began at sunset (not 6:00) at the end of the "seventh of the Sabbath" or our Saturday night. Paul wrote within a Jewish context to churches who might meet on what we call Saturday night. However, night meetings were dangerous and were later outlawed but they could meet the next morning which would still be the First Day of the week or the Lord's Day. Later,

"Pliny the Younger, governor of Bythynia ordered that no group, including the Christians, could meet at night. Pliny then described an early service of the Christians. Forbidden to meet at night, they met for the observance of the Supper at the only other hour available to them on the first day of the week: early in the morning before they went to work." (Holman Bible Dictionary, Lord's Day.)

The word "day" is not in the Greek text. The phrase "first day of the week" is literally "one of the Sabbath." His use of "mia" and "sabbatoån" shows that Paul followed the Jewish practice--our Saturday at sunset until our Sunday at sunset.

Jewish members would keep the "seventh of the Sabbath" rest and would have no income for that day. Acts 20:6-7 shows that Troas met at night, with Paul ready to depart the next day. He could not travel on the Sabbath.

The first day was their first day of work; to meet on Sunday night after sunset would be the second day of the week. The later shift to Sunday morning would still work for both Jew and Gentile.

The first day would also be their first pay for the week. As first priority, Paul asked them to remember the poor Judeans.

Upon that day they were to "lay by him" something in the "cookie jar" earmarked or "heart purposed" for the poor people in Judea.

Paul called this the koinonia which was fellowship or giving by those with a little surplus to those who were starving. (Ro 15:26)

2 - Lay by Him

Lenski notes that in state religions such as that of Egypt, "the taxes were paid from month to month while the Christians were to retain their gifts at home until such a time as they should be called for." Of "laying by him in store," the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia notes that:

"Worship is here not explicitly mentioned. The Greek of 'by him' is the usual phrase for 'at home'."

Paul did not make a law but defined a method or order for all participating churches to get ready:

"Sunday by Sunday let each of you lay by by treasuring up... Each member is to keep the growing amount 'by him,' in his own home, and is not to deposit it with the church at once." (Lenski, p. 1 Cor 16:2)

"Lay" is from the Greek Tithemi and means "put, arrange, commit or purpose in the heart."

In Acts 4:35 they "Laid money at the apostles feet." In 1 Cor 16:2 they "laid money by him." Therefore, they laid it by themselves:

"Every one was to lay by in store, have a treasury, or fund, WITH HIMSELF, for this purpose. The meaning is that he should lay by as he could spare from time to time, and by this means make up a sum for this charitable purpose. The Greek fathers rightly observe that this advice was given for the sake of the poorer among them. They were to lay by from week to week, and NOT bring into the COMMON TREASURY, that by this means their contributions might be easy for themselves, and yet grow into a fund for the relief of their brethren." (Theological Dict. of the N.T., p. 599).

The early churches knew that the church was a school and not a social action group: one had the rest of the week to raise money or do anything lawful but Sunday was school day for an hour or so. Therefore,

Give to every one that asketh of thee, and ask not again;

for the Father wishes that from his own gifts there should be given to all.
Blessed is he who giveth according to the commandment, for he is free from guilt;

but woe unto him that receiveth.

For if a man receive being in need, he shall be free from guilt;

but he who receiveth when not in need, shall pay a penalty as to why he received and for what purpose; and when he is in tribulation he shall be examined concerning the things that he has done, and shall not depart thence until he has paid the last farthing. Didache 1:5

For of a truth it has been said on these matters,

let thy almsgiving abide in thy hands until thou knowest to whom thou hast given. Didache 1:6

This is what Jesus said. Therefore, the preacher's claim that "you must give but you have then lost control of YOUR money" is the mind of a thief.

3 - In Store

"The expression 'in store' is sometimes used to support the 'storehouse' found in Malachi. The phrase 'in store' actually means to save up in a kind of 'piggy bank.' The Greek words par heauto mean 'by oneself' or 'at home.' The idea behind Paul's remark is that they should accumulate their gifts (which could include money and other goods, like raisins),

so that when his company arrived Paul would not have to make any special effort to consummate the collection. (Searching Together Magazine, Winter, 1987)

In fact, Paul made it clear that "I might be with you all winter" and also "I do not want any collections taken while I am there" because "this might seem like extortion."

"In store" at home is different from the final "collection." Store in Greek is:

Thesaurizo (g2343) thay-sow-rid'-zo; to amass or reserve, lay up treasure, keep in store, (heap)

The church had no supernatural gift of "the treasurer" and banking was problematical so each person "bound their wealth" on their arm or women wore it as jewelry.

4 - As You Have Prospered

"As you have prospered" does not mean everyone gave a certain percentage of their income. A widow who now makes 400 dollars a month cannot give much and indeed ought to be supported. One making $100,000.00 can give 25% or more. The literal word "prospered" means, "help on the road, succeed in reaching the journey." Luther translated it, "as he may be fortunate or prosperous." It literally teaches, as Paul will show later, "out of what you have" collected already. About 150 A.D., Justin Martyr agreed:

"Those who are prosperous and willing, give each one what he thinks fit and what is collected is deposited with the president, who relieves orphans and widows and whoever through sickness or any other cause is in want, and prisoners and strangers sojourning among us. In short, he takes care of all who are in need." (Justin: First Apology, I.67.6)

These writers made it absolute that those passing through were men who called themselves prophets or apostles: Tell us what you know for two or three weeks and then we will help you find a job or help you out of town!

Tertullian says, "Everyone makes a small contribution on a certain day or when he chooses; provided only he is willing and able, for no one is compelled, all is voluntary." He further says that this general fund is used to feed the poor.

5 - That There be no Collections

Paul might spend the winter in Corinth but the "collection" of the "accumulations made by the individuals" was not to continue after he arrived. His presence might make it seem like extortion. Barclay notes that:

"Here he calls it a 'logia'; the word means an extra collection. A logia was something which was the opposite of a tax which a man had to pay; it was an extra piece of giving.

A man never satisfies his Christian duty by discharging the obligations which he can legally be compelled to fulfill. The question of Jesus was, 'What more are you doing than others?' (Matt. 5:47)" (William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, p. 163)

Those most loudly crying "tithe or die" are the same ones crying out against legalism. It figures!

Because of the false teachers, the Corinthians were caused to doubt Paul's motives even though he never demanded pay. Therefore, to make sure that he could not be blamed, he told them:

Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren, that they would go before unto you, and make up beforehand your bounty, whereof ye had notice before, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty (speaking well of), and not as of covetousness (extortion). 2 Cor 9:5

The individuals had saved up their small surplus from week to week and especially on the first day which was the first work day of the week. Paul's ministers would collect the sums into one "collection plate" and secure it to be delivered only to the poor of Judea.

Whatever the members decided to do for their local work, it was not a commandment or a law of giving.

Like the Greek ekklesia the members would continue to look out for those in need: food, clothing, shelter or travellers. They would determine the need, ask those who had prospered for the week (meaning a surplus) to help these people. What was left over, would be in the hands of the "president" in later churches but it didn't pay the president, his friends (ministry team) and went only for the poor or he was a thief.

The Motive

The danger of making a "law of giving" is that Jesus will always give us one more jot (or smallest part) or tittle (tiny, horn-like tip over a letter) to obey. Legalism never works because you will always go home asking, "I wonder if Jesus loves me for giving 10% when I could have given 11%?"

Jesus provided an example. When the rich young ruler claimed to have kept certain laws perfectly,

Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. Luke 18:22

By making "giving" into a law or act of worship, we may fall under Christ's demand to "sell everything we own and give it to the poor." However, when the motives are pure, there is never a shortage of money, because:

"Self-denial and liberality were among the distinguishing virtues of the early Christians; and to be a Christian then implied that a man would freely impart of his property to aid the poor and the needy... Let him do it not under the influence of pathetic appeals, or for the sake of display when he is with others; but let him do it as a matter of principle, and when he is BY HIMSELF" (Albert Barnes, commenting on 1 Cor., p. 327)

If giving to the poor is not a law then what is our motive? Paul said, among other things,

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

Paul did not send Corinth a "tax bill" but if they were going to "lay" the money where they had laid by with their mouth or purpose, he "motivated" them by saying of the Macedonians:

How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. 2 Cor 8:2

For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 2 Cor 8:3

Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 2 Cor 8:4

The somewhat better-off Corinthians had not performed or collected for the entire year. However, Paul wants them to give what little they had "laid by." That would be good enough because the famine was less severe but their show of love to Judea would be important:

And herein I give my advice (opinion, consent): for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. 2 Corinthians 8:10

Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. 2 Corinthians 8:11

For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. 2 Corinthians 8:12

This would make it thievery to ask for a pledge or "mortgage on futur wages" or selling one's shelter to support the preacher.


Everyone approved by God always walked by faith, before, during and following the Law of Moses. The rituals of the Law were for the external body and had no effect upon the spirit or mind. (Heb 9:9). This is still true!

Remember that the tithe was imposed to support the ceremonialism performed by the Levites for those not permitted to "come boldly before God's throne." Therefore, the tithe is no longer a law because there is no place in Christianity for any one to "perform" the worship in order to "bring the worshipers into the presence of God."

By adopting the ceremonial legalism of performing loud rituals for the worshiper, we silence and defeat the purposes of Christ as Wonderful-Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace or quietness. (Isa 9:6).

Therefore, in other notes we will look at the external worship under the Law of Moses in contrast to the quiet, internal, in-mind or in-spirit worship as a first principle of the gospel.


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Kenneth Sublett

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