As anyone who’s ever been to church knows, we are told that paying our tithes to the church is a requirement of our faith.
But is this biblical? Let’s see what the Torah says…
The Torah actually includes 3 separate tithes that were to be paid by the people:
- 1st Tithe (Tithe to the Levites)
- 2nd Tithe (Festival Tithes)
- 3rd Tithe (Tithe to the Poor)
The 1st tithe was given each year of a 7-year sabbatical cycle except the 7th year. It was given to the Levites as compensation for the services that they performed in the temple.
The 2nd tithe was set aside on the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th years of the 7-year cycle to serve as a kind of celebration fund that was to be used during the pilgrimages each year to Jerusalem every Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.
The 3rd tithe was required on the 3rd and 6th years of the 7-year cycle and was given to the poor.
Can We Tithe Today?
For the 1st and 2nd tithes, it’s no longer possible to tithe in the way that the Torah commands because there is no longer a temple or Levites to which to tithe.
But the 3rd tithe which is for the poor can still be performed to some extent:
At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and you shall deposit it in your town. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the stranger, the orphan, and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.
This 3rd tithe for the poor if calculated on a yearly basis, would have come out to about 2.9%.
However, regarding our duty to help the poor, I do believe that 2.9% would be an absolute minimum rather than the goal. This is because we have a standing Torah command that tells us not to deny help to the poor.
If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother.
There is no mention of a cap on this commandment so my conclusion is that we are called to help them every opportunity that we get.
In the New Testament, we read a lot more about freewill offerings than tithes. Offerings were given to help support those who had needs as well as provide means for those who dedicated their lives to preaching the gospel.
Those making a freewill offering were called to give as their heart led them:
2 Corinthians 9:6-7
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
From this, we can see that we should not feel compelled to make a freewill offering. It should come from the heart and be given with joy.
Who to Pay Tithes & Offerings to?
We know the poor, widows, and orphans need our help so giving to them should be a high priority.
There are some people who believe that only fellow Christians qualify as someone who should receive our tithes and offerings. The Torah disagrees.
In Deuteronomy 14:29 above we can see that strangers (“Ger” in Hebrew) were included in the tithe and based on Exodus 12:48, a Ger includes someone who has not joined themselves to the covenant.
But if a stranger (Ger) resides with you and celebrates the Passover to the Lord, all of his males are to be circumcised, and then he shall come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised male may eat it.
So what about ministries?
Paul had this to say about supporting those who preach the gospel:
1 Corinthians 9:13-14
Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.
Supporting ministries, whether financially or by donating your time helps enable them to perform works for Elohim’s kingdom. This type of support is a very effective way to “seek first the kingdom”.
So whether through tithes or freewill offerings, all those who are able to are called to help others in need.
Where you choose to sow those tithes and offerings, whether by donating to charities or handing out food or supporting a ministry financially or by other means is ultimately up to you. There’s no right or wrong way to help others. Just trust your spirit and let your heart lead the way!