Sunday, 31 January 2016


[This is an expanded version of a post that appeared here in 2013.]

As we all know, good Christians tithe.

And really good Christians tithe on their gross.

Which is interesting, in that tithing was prescribed for an agrarian society where they primarily tithed on animals and crops.

Of course, you had to tithe to the Lord's accredited representatives, which meant the priesthood and the temple.

How all this translates across to cheques, automatic bank deductions, ATMs in church foyers and non-levitical preachers with their manicured hands stretched out to garner the Lord's increase is a bit of a mystery. I mean, where do they get the authority to do that?

And could somebody please explain to me why Jews today - in the absence of a central temple and priesthood - don't tithe?  Oh, hang on, no temple or priesthood... yeah, I get it.

Then, there's also the uncomfortable fact that, even when the Jerusalem temple was standing, Jews in the diaspora didn't tithe. There was no point. How were they supposed to get all that perishable produce back to Jerusalem? Instead there was a custom called the 'temple tax' (based on Exodus 30:13).

Monetary tithing 21st century style? Didn't happen.

Somehow this simple logic seems to have escaped the prosperity preachers who happily get prosperous by laying a non-biblical tithing burden on their credulous flocks. They, naturally, don't want ten percent of the potatoes in your back yard garden.  They want currency!

To be brutally frank, the tithing merchants target vulnerable, often poorly educated people, high on aspiration but low on worldly nous. That's not a put down; after all I once bought into that whole empretzeled proof text method too.

This reality was brought home to me just this Sunday morning as I drove past the local UCKG 'Help Centre' (an incongruous name if ever there was one) as worshipers were leaving. UCKG is a Brazilian-based tithing sect, and the good folk emerging from the building were clearly not at the top end of the socioeconomic demographic. On their website it states: "The tithe is ten percent (10%) of all income, and it belongs to God. This is a very ancient practice followed by God-fearing people everywhere."

Well, actually not.

I have the late Ernest L. Martin to thank for first exploding the tithing myth for me.  Martin was a professor of theology at Ambassador College, Pasadena. He walked from there in the 1970s, setting up his own ministry and publishing, among other things, an influential rebuttal of tithing as a Christian practice. A version of his booklet is still available online.

The problem was that Martin was still at heart an apologist with a pre-critical understanding of the Bible. That was no bad thing when communicating with like-minded folk, like myself, who shared that approach.  But the years have rolled by, and hopefully those of us who were alive and kicking back then have all grown and matured a bit. The old biblicist assumptions no longer hold sway over many of us now, so, what about the tithing question once we've stripped away the fundamentalist mind set?

All of which is a lead-in to a posting by Scott Bailey on his Scotteriology blog. It sets the scene in the province of Yehud in the days Malachi, and of Persian imperial policy.  There's a lengthy background (a bit tedious but necessary) in setting out the political realities of Malachi's time (and that oft quoted verse in Malachi 3:10). If you don't feel up to the detail we can skip all the way to the conclusion:
...these texts come from a certain socio-historical and cultural context. To try and take them and make them normative for today doesn’t just misunderstand the original context and intent of the text, it misuses it for alternative purposes.
Which just about says it all.


  1. Heck with it: There are 5 tithes.

    Of course, the ancient Israelites were reputed not to have the Holy Spirit so keeping all those laws of Moses could only get them physical prosperity, not eternal life.

    The best proof about tithing (besides the fruit trees) is the 6th year where you got double (or more) so you could coast through your 7th (and 8th and maybe 9th) year: It didn't work in the Worldwide Church of God: Ministers at the Feast of Tabernacles admitted that farmers in the church tried it, did not get extra in the 6th year and either went broke, lost the farm or had to borrow money just to live on. Apparently, the land Sabbath and the tithing associated with it only worked for the Israelites in the Land of Israel during Old Testament times. If then. Maybe it never worked.

    We'll never know, particularly since we know it certainly doesn't work today.

    So if you want spiritual life, you keep the spiritual laws, I guess and if you keep the physical laws and practices, you'll die... you might die rich, but you'll die. If you are an ancient Israelite. In the Land of Israel.

  2. Jews today don't tithe, but they are encouraged to GIVE 10% to causes to help "heal the world." HWA had no right to accept tithes, since he was not a Levite. So, WHO is the REAL thief mentioned in Mal 3?

  3. Financial obligations to the church do seem to be of a voluntary, free will nature in the New Testament. HWA had been very successful at motivating tithes and offerings in WCG by convincing us all that we were sitting on the major event horizon of all times, the end of the age, and the return of Jesus Christ. Normally, we would expect that if such a predicted event failed, reruns would lack credibility and therefore diminish in effectiveness. But, apparently not.

    Admittedly, I was only 8 years of age when my parents bought into the scam, but I had never heard of tithing prior to their involvement. Considering the example of the millions of dollars pouring into Pasadena, I wonder if it was not the influence of HWA that brought tithing to the attention of the mainstream. Wealthy evangelists were not a common thing during the 1950s and '60s. Many of them started moving out of the parsonages and affecting the lifestyles of rock stars during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    There does seem to be one side effect to tithing. Generally, where there is easy money to be had, accountability seems to be lacking. Money becomes a cheap blessing, and since it is not appreciated, it is abused.