John Goldingay’s new book, Key Questions about Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers, collects his studies that address significant church issues. One of those pertains to giving of our monies. At the top of the list when it comes to giving money is the age-old, and for some little more than old-fashioned, question:
Never count Goldingay out for a suggestive, if not provocative, angle on what the Bible says.
Goldingay will argue that “tithing is a norm” but has a fresh proposal.
Let’s look at what the Bible says today when it comes to the tithe. I will be interested in your response to his proposal, but I’m also interested in your thoughts about the implications of his proposal. Perhaps the word “sustainability” needs to be considered.
Before we go through the various themes, I want to observe that the OT is not as uniform on this as many might think. It’s not a simple but a multi-themed approach when it comes to the tithe.
1. Tithing emerges in Genesis 14, when Abraham offered a tithe to Melchizedek. God didn’t tell Abraham to do this, Abraham volunteered it and Melchizedek accepted it. From this Goldingay says tithing taps into the instincts of humans. God will harness such instincts but the first occasion is not a command.
2. In Genesis 28:8-10 Jacob tells God he will give God a tithe since God promises to bless him. Goldingay sees here another instinctual, but perhaps even selfish, manipulative act on Jacob’s part.
3. At the end of Leviticus 27, vv. 30-33, tithing is both assumed and an occasion for God to remind Israel that it should not be evaded — they are to tithe on everything, even the best of their flock and produce.
4. The most common perception of tithing is that it is for “clergy” and this anchored in Numbers 18:21-32 where tithing goes to the Levites. Here we find a pervasive practice in ancient Israel — tithes take care of the people in the Temple.
5. But Deuteronomy 12 and 22:22-29; 26:12-13 (see below) clarifies this situation. The calendar is cut into seven years at a time. In year one and two, four and five, a normal tithe; in year three and six, a special tithe; and in year seven a sabbath. The special tithe went to the aliens, orphans, and widows. (At least 3/7 years concern the poor: year 3, 6 and 7.)
6. The other reference to tithing, other than warning Israel to resume tithes after not tithing, pertains to the warning that kings will tax through a tithe (1 Sam 8:15-17).
Goldingay sorts through this and combines it with Jubilee visions of the OT and then makes the suggestion that Christians today should give their tithe to “causes that will thus provide nourishment, education, basic health care, and health education for people in the two-thirds world” (169). He suggests also that another tithe be used to care for the local church.
Four results: A significant redistribution of resources; our disproportionate consumption of the world’s resources does not make our lives any happier; we can model that life is more than goods; maybe God will pour out blessings on us (Mal 3:8-12).
22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. 27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.
28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
12 When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied. 13 Then say to the LORD your God: “I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them.