The Tithe in the Bible

Section 13

Apostle Paul's
Teaching on Tithing

From the foregoing instances of Paul's ministering to the needs of Christians, let us pass to his teaching on the subject of monetary obligations, given to the churches which he founded among the Gentiles.

In the churches of Corinth and of Galatia, when on a certain occasion money was needed for the saints' (that is, apparently, the poor of the church of Jerusalem), the apostle, with a founder's authority, directed or gave order:

"Upon the first day of the week let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper," 1Corinthians 16:2.

Here four things may be noticed about this method of raising a charitable fund:

  1. It seems to be assumed that every one would give.

  2. Givings were to be stored beforehand.

  3. Giving was to have reference to prosperity.

  4. Giving, or laying by, was to be exercised every Lord's day. And it should be observed that sometimes collections, enjoined by the apostle, were on behalf of Christians outside the churches in which the contributions were made.

Other instructions upon giving, taught by Paul to his Galatian converts, seem to occur in connection with their support of the ministry, for he says:

"Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," Galatians 6:6, 7.

In addressing the Christians at Corinth, Paul entered more fully into the right of Christian ministers to the support of the faithful, 1Corinthians 16:1, whilst to the Christians at Rome, his words on the subject of almsgiving may serve as a broad general principle for all churches.

"If the Gentiles have been made partakers of their [the Christian Jews'] spiritual things, they [the Gentiles] owe it to them [the Christian Jews] also to minister unto them in carnal things," Romans 15:27.

The Christians of Philippi, likewise, may be mentioned in this connection, their liberality being recognized by the apostle, who wrote that "in the beginning of the Gospel no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving, but ye only: for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need," Philippians 4:15-17.

There were other churches where, for good reasons, Paul chose to forego personal remuneration, 1Corinthians 9:12, but he did not thereby give up his right thereto; for, with the Corinthian Christians, he argues thus:

"Have we no right to eat and to drink? . . . What soldier ever serveth at his own charges? . . . If we sowed unto you spiritual things, is it a great matter if we shall reap your carnal things? . . . Know ye not that they which minister about sacred things eat of things of the temple, and they which wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar? Even so did the Lord ordain that they which proclaim the Gospel should live of the Gospel," 1Corinthians 9:4-14.

Here the apostle seems to have in mind two sources of maintenance for the Jewish priesthood. The one probably included tithes brought to the storehouse of the temple, Nehemiah 10:37-40, and the other consisted of those portions of the sacrifices which were brought to the altar and retained by the priest, Deuteronomy 18:3, as signified by the words: "They which wait upon the altar have their portion with the altar."

Some may contend, however, that the law was abrogated under the Gospel. If so, how much of the law, and in what sense? Is the law so abrogated as that we may now, at our pleasure, murder, lie, and steal? [The Rev. Watts Ditchfield, a vicar whom I know in Bethnal Green, was calling on a shoemaker, who declared he would not come to church to hear the Commandments read, for, said he, "The Ten Commandments were long ago abolished." To argue, the vicar judged to be just then undesirable; but, acting on a sudden thought, he said, "Oh! I am very glad the eighth commandment is abolished, for I am just now in want of a pair of boots, and I think these are my size." Whereupon he picked up a pair as he spoke, and hurried out of the shop with the boots under his arm. The shoemaker soon followed: and never afterwards raised objections to the reading of the Commandments. (From the Quarterly Letter of the Navy Mission Society, December 1902, p. 2.)

Would that all who for excuse argue that the law is abolished, and so try to evade their responsibility as to setting aside a proportion of their income for God, could be thus quickly convinced!]

Have we not already seen that Christ came to fulfill the law -- to confirm it to the least iota? Matthew 5:17-18, and fulfilling is the perfecting, not the destruction, of anything. Hence the payment of tithes and offerings applicable to the support of the ministry, and to other religious and charitable works, is clearly the duty of Christians, unless it can be shown that Christ repealed God's law previously promulgated. And this, as Leslie writes (Divine Right of Tithes, Toronto edition, p. 81):

"He never did, but rather confirmed it by approving the tithe payments of the Pharisees, and by ordaining that they who preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel. Some would have the Gospel merely eleemosynary -- nothing due, but all freewill offerings. But was this so in the Temple? I trow not: for though there were freewill offerings, there were also tithes and other offerings, the withholding of which was counted as robbery. Moreover, if the ministers of the Temple were sure of at least a tenth, whilst the ministers of the Gospel are not sure of a hundredth part of some men's incomes, where is the truth or appropriateness of the apostle's comparison?"

Besides, what was it that the Lord ordained? That every man should give just what he pleased? This men could do without any ordinance being issued to that end. That which leaves every man perfectly at his own liberty is no law at all; and if every an were left thus to act, Christ ordained what amounted to nothing. [The Rev. Richard Duke, of Stirling, Ontario, an earnest advocate of tithe-paying, in support of his conviction that the tithe law is binding upon Christians, argues thus:

  1. It is a principle in jurisprudence that when the reasons which originated a law continue to operate, and there is no explicit repeal of the law, the law remains in force. And this principle appears to have the lucidity and force of an axiom . . .

  2. That which passed away was the symbolical and figurative. Tithing was neither one nor the other, but a duty issuing from the moral law, which is of perpetual force.

  3. True, there is no formal re-enactment of the law of the tithe. But why should such a formal re-enactment be looked for? The law had not become obsolete; it was not indifferently observed. On the contrary it was conspicuously honored in the observance. Similarly there is no formal re-enactment of the Sabbath law; but Christians recognize the law respecting the seventh of time, and by a parity of reasoning should recognize the law respecting the tenth of substance. The Christian Guardian, Toronto, Jan. 13, 1904, p. 9.]

The great apostle of the Gentiles therefore seems to lay down two great principles: one, that tithes and offerings of the faithful are due for the furtherance of the Gospel; the other, that every one should lay up in store, on Sunday, in proportion to his income, so as to have a fund from which distribution may be made as needed: for concerning the support of ministers and the support of the poor, Mister Rigby justly says, "Both are duties, under the New Testament as under the Old, but each for a different design, and a different significance, and one should never be confounded with the other (Rigby, The Tithe Terumoth, p. 56).

In addition to the passages already considered, there are other points concerning Christian giving which occur here and there in the writings of the apostle Paul.

The Lord Jesus led His disciples to expect hospitality, even as Martha and Mary, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, ministered of their substance unto Himself, Luke 8:3. So, again, when the Lord sent out the seventy, He said: "Into whatsoever house ye shall enter . . . in that same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire," Luke 10:1-7.

Accordingly, the Apostle Paul frequently accepted hospitality from his converts. For instance, we read that Lydia, "when she was baptized and her household, she besought us, saying If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there; " which, evidently, Paul and Silas did, since, after their imprisonment (during which the Philippian jailor was converted, and set bread before them) the two evangelists went out of the prison and entered into the house of Lydia, Acts 16:15, 34, 40. So, again, at Puteoli, Paul and his companion found brethren, and were entreated to tarry with them seven days, Acts 28:14.

In keeping with these instances Paul urges Christians to the practice of hospitality and almsgiving; and, in the same breath with such lofty precepts as "continuing steadfastly in prayer," he adds, "communicating to the necessities of the saints, given to hospitality," Romans 12:12-13. In fact, so full is he of this subject that, when writing to the Corinthian Christians, he breaks off in the middle of a sentence to say, "Ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is first fruits of Achaia, and that they have set themselves to minister unto the saints," 1Corinthians 16:15.

Also to these same believers in Corinth he makes known the grace of God given in the churches of Macedonia:

"How that in much proof of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For according to their power I bear witness, yea, and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, beseeching us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints," after which the apostle adds, "See that ye abound in this grace also," 2Corinthians 8:1-4, 7.

To the Christians in Ephesus he gives the following highly practical exhortation:

"Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labor;" and to this Christian end, not merely that he may support himself, but "that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need," Ephesians 4:28.

Also to Timothy, Paul says:

"Charge them that are richapter . . [not to] have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches; but . . . that they do good, that they be rich in good works, that they be ready to distribute, and willing to communicate," 1Timothy 6:17-18.

If next we proceed to ask for the classes of persons on whose behalf Christian giving is thus called for, we find the apostle directing, concerning ministers: "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labor in the word and in teaching," 1Timothy 5:17. And again: "Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things," Galatians 6:6.

There are also the claims of the poor generally, amongst whom the Christian poor are to have the first place: "Do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith," Galatians 6:10.

Also widows are mentioned; and that, in connection with the first information we have concerning the distribution of church bounty; whilst, in general terms, the apostle more than once mentions, as a suitable object for alms, the supplying of the necessities of the saints, 2Corinthians 4:1, 2, 12-15; Romans 12:13.

To these may be added the call for hospitality to strangers; helping poor relations, Romans 12:13; 1Peter 2:9; 1Timothy 5:8-16, and assistance to foreign missionaries, "because for His name's sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles," I2John 7.

Just as we noticed, however, from the teaching of the Lord Jesus, that true Christian almsgiving was something more than mere giving of money, so we observe several like precepts on this subject form the apostle's pen; as for instance, when he tells the Corinthians, 1Corinthians 13:3, that though he bestowed all his goods to feed the poor, and had not love, it would profit him nothing. Also he enjoins upon the Romans: "He that giveth, let him do it with singleness [or liberality]," Romans 12:3, and Paul treats on the footing of an ordinance of God, the payment even of Imperial taxes, saying "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers ... Render to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honour to whom honour," Romans 13:1-7.

But it is in writing to the Christians of rich, mercantile Corinth, that the apostle enlarges most concerning this duty of ministering to the saints. He praises their readiness to give, telling them he gloried thereof to the Christians of Macedonia, and that their zeal had stirred up many. The Corinthians' subscriptions, however, though promised, do not appear to have been so promptly paid; and hence, some of the brethren were sent on in advance, to make up their afore-promised bounty, that the same might be ready, as a matter of bounty and not of compulsion, 2Corinthians 9:1-5.

After this their spiritual father continues: "He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he that soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver," 2Corinthians 9:6, 7. This he supports by a Scriptural quotation, and then proceeds to state how "the ministration of this service, not only filled up the measure of the wants of the saints, but abounded also through many thanksgivings unto God," 2Corinthians 9:12.

Such, then, were the general principles concerning monetary obligations as taught by the apostle Paul; but we may fail to appreciate them adequately unless we remember the force of his own example, for he did not preach what he did not practice, nor lay upon others a yoke which he himself would not carry.

He enjoined, indeed, that if any believing man or woman had widowed daughters, they should be relieved, rather than the Church be burdened, 1Timothy 5:16; but with what perfect propriety could Paul say this, seeing that when it helped to the furtherance of the gospel, he was willing to forego even his rights of maintenance.

Moreover, in trying to gauge the mind of the apostle and his ideas on the subject generally, it should not be forgotten that Paul was both a Pharisee, yea, and the son of a Pharisee. From his youth, therefore, he had doubtless been accustomed to dedicate a fourth or more of his income to God, and we refuse to suppose that he would look at his obligations from a less honest or self-denying point of view after he became a Christian.

With all delicacy he asked the Corinthians,

"Did I commit a sin in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I preached to you the gospel of God for nought? I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, that I might minister unto you: and when I was present with you, and was in want, I was not a burden on any man," 2Corinthians 11:7-9.

And the same true servant of God could say to the elders of Ephesus,

"I coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Ye yourselves know that these hands ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me," Acts 20:34.

Can we, then, imagine, for a moment, that Paul the apostle was, as a Christian man, less zealous in the observance of his obligations in money matters, than was Saul the Pharisee in obedience to the law? Tithe-paying, indeed, was a principal factor of his former righteousness, which was under the law. But what things, then, were gain to him, those he counted loss for Christ Jesus his Lord, for whom he was ready to suffer the loss of all things, Philippians 3:6-8, thereby reminding us of his Master's words: "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple," Luke 14:33.

Having now examined our subject in the light of the remaining books of the New Testament, this seems to be a suitable point from whence to pass under review the way by which we have traversed the entire field of revelation.

The first religious act recorded of the brothers Cain and Abel, was a recognition of their duty to offer to God a portion of their substance; and the fact that so many early nations are known to have set apart a tenth, or more, of their property whereby to honour their gods, indicates strongly, even if historical Scriptures had been silent, that this proportion must have been taught, as a primeval law, by God (Sacred Tenth, chapter 1-4) and the practice of some at least of the patriarchs is in harmony with this inference.

But however this may be, it is quite clear that one, or more, tenths of income, to be expended for religious and charitable purposes, were claimed by God of His chosen people Israel, amongst whom His laws concerning tithes would appear to have been put in operation from, at any rate, the settlement in Canaan to the time of Judah's deportation to Babylonia.

On the return of the Jews from exile, the code of the Pentateuch was still recognized as the proper standard of religious obligation; this code, in the centuries immediately succeeding, being greatly amplified in detail by the traditional interpretations of the rabbis; so that when Christianity appeared in Palestine, tithe-paying was mixed up continuously and inseparably with almost every important act in the life of a religious Jew.

Inasmuch, then, as Jesus Christ was born at such a time, and in such a country, and in a Jewish family where the law was strictly observed there can be no doubt that He grew up a tithe-payer; nor did His enemies attempt to charge Him with a breach of the law under this head, nor with neglect of the payment of religious or ecclesiastical dues.

In His teaching, moreover, Jesus Christ never professed to repeal, abridge, or contract the law, which He emphatically said He came not to destroy, but to fulfill. He not only expressed approval of a minute payment of tithes, which, in the whole, amounted probably to a fourth of a Pharisee's income, but told His own disciples that their righteousness ought to exceed that of the Pharisees; and, as if that were not enough, He claimed from His followers a devotion of heart, life, and property, such as should exceed the love of all that a man holds dearest on earth.

And the practice of the first Christians was in harmony with such teaching; for in some instances they gave up their possessions to a common fund; whilst in the case of the apostle Paul we see a true Christian servant content to forego, for his Master's sake, his rightful claims for remuneration, whilst exhorting those whom he addressed, that, having food and raiment, they ought to be therewith content.

It seems clear, then, in the light of revelation, and from the practice of, perhaps, all ancient nations, that the man who denies God's claim to a portion of the wealth that comes to his hands, is much akin to a spiritual anarchist; whilst he who so apportions less than a tenth of his income or increase is condemned by Scripture as a robber. Indeed, if in the days of Malachi not to pay tithe was counted robbery, can a Christian who withholds the tenth be -- now, any more than then -- counted honest towards God?

The Tithe in Scripture
by Henry Lansdell
Section 1
Cain and Abel
Section 4
Mosaic Offerings
Section 7
Tithing in
the Apocrypha
Section 10
Christ's Attitude
on Tithing
Section 2
Abraham and Jacob
Section 5
The tithe from
Joshua to Solomon
Section 8
Talmudic Teaching
on First and Second Tithe
Section 11
Christ's Teaching
on the Tithe
Section 3
The Three Tithes of Israel
Section 6
Tithing before
and after Captivity
Section 9
The Demai or
Doubtful Tithe
Section 12
Early Giving
by Christians
Section 13
Apostle Paul's Teaching

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