Paul was not Post-Tithing (or for everyone)

Monday our post was called Paul was Post-Tithing, and I followed through on Rodney Reeves’ fine chapter by supporting it to see where it would take us — and I did so in the comments as well. His view was that the tithe was more or less transcended or outdone by the theme of what I called “pass the grace.” That is, grace given from God leads to God’s people becoming an abundantly gracious people, while the tithe set limits. It seems to me this is a very common view (though many churches advocate a tithe for pragmatic reasons).

But there’s another view, a view that is probably much more a minority view, a view that I had in my mind but thought it would clutter up our post Monday, but it makes sense to me. I toss it out today for your consideration.

Do you find this view more convincing or less convincing? Why or why not?

Here goes: If you accept that Jewish Christians (messianists) lived a Torah observant life and therefore paid a tithe as a matter of course, and if you accept that Gentiles observed the Torah only to the degree and in the details that were for them and that meant they did not pay the tithe tax, then we have another situation:

Paul doesn’t ask Gentiles to tithe because tithing was a kind of Jewish tax. It was for Jews and it was for the upkeep of the temple and its personnel. Jewish Christians continued to tithe; Gentile Christians wouldn’t have thought of it anymore than I think of paying taxes to Ireland come the end of the year.

There was no reason for Paul to ask Gentiles to pay a tithe and this explains the total absence of “tithe.”

“Grace” then becomes Paul’s theology of stewardship for Gentiles who are urged by Paul to support the people of God, including Israelite fellow believers, above and beyond their normal taxes in their local setting. Jewish believers (messianists) could then support the Christian movement out of “grace” in addition to their tithe, and this would be of use as a term for such a form of giving.


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  • A Medrano

    Wow. Very probable. That would explain the omission of the tithe from Paul’s letters. But it still goes to say for gentile believers, their basis for giving is grace. If which I do believe.

  • Amos Paul

    “There was no reason for Paul to ask Gentiles to pay a tithe”

    While this may be true when discussing the construct of a 10% tithe *specifically*, what about all the instances in which Paul tells the gentiles that he expects them to give to the church?

    1 Corinthians 16:1-2
    Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

    Romans 15:27
    They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.

    1Corinthians 9:11
    If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?

    1 Corinthians 9:14
    In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

    Though, I will admit, that this giving is also more about the person giving than the giving itself.

    Philippians 4:17
    Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.

    2 Corinthians 8:12
    For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

    2 Corinthians 9:7
    Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

  • Great question Scot. I look forward to the discussion section, as the readers of this blog are thoughtful and much smarter than me. 🙂

  • “Paul doesn’t ask Gentiles to tithe because tithing was a kind of Jewish tax. It was for Jews and it was for the upkeep of the temple and its personnel. Jewish Christians continued to tithe;”

    I am not sure why Jewish Christians would keep tithing to support the temple operations since the function of the temple under the New Covenant is obsolete.

    @Amos Paul, what is interesting about all of the examples you cite, none of them were used “in house” to operate the local church but instead were used to meet material needs of Christians and to support itinerant workers. Contrast that with our system where the vast majority of giving to the local church organization stays “in house” with a small fraction going to support missions work or to help the needy.

  • I think both views make sense, particularly the “pass the grace view,” but I too have thought about what Gentiles would have made of a tithe. I don’t see how it would have made sense to them, but the concept of a “tax” probably would have, in general. I find it probably would have made little sense without the centrality of the Temple.

    I think Amos Paul’s comments are a bit of an apples/oranges distinction. Challenging believers to give money is not the same as tithing, so Paul could make that admonition to give to the Church and it have nothing to do with tithing. It is probably good to recall that the Church was not just one local assembly. In fact, some of the verses quoted by Amos Paul relate to Paul’s challenge for the churches of Asia Minor and Macedonia to give to the church in Jerusalem. Indeed, that was about “grace” and not “law.”

  • Jeff Butler

    I have never been convinced that tithing is for Christians so I have not taught it as a command. However, I have never been able to completely dismiss it either given that it is found in Genesis 14 and 28 prior to the Law and tabernacle/temple. I have been told but never confirmed it for myself that tithing is present in other religions. That makes me wonder whether it is somehow part of the created moral order like “don’t murder.” Both were incorporated into the Law but they get their authority from creation rather than being part of the Law. Thus, they might remain in effect even after other commands in the Law are fulfilled. All that results in my teaching it is not a command but a good starting point when thinking about giving/generosity.

  • scotmcknight

    Amos, I, too, would point out that those texts are not about the tithe and thus may well prove the whole point.

    Arthur, I’m not so sure your point obtains. It assumes that the Jewish Christians saw Christianity as a new religion and not as the fulfillment of their already existing covenant of Israel faith.

  • Paul’s pleas for the “collection for God’s people” is all about helping fellow Christians in need. There is no way that can be equated with a “tithe” to support a temple. Of course, Christians then didn’t build temples.

  • A Medrano

    @Arthur – The Temple was still considered a place for worship. Christianity wasn’t yet a new religion. It was more like a movement within Judaism. And those Jews who were part of the Temple system still paid their “tax” to it.

    @Jeff – Many have used Genesis 14 and 28 as a first-mention principle or pre-law basis for tithing, however there’s a problem with both passages. As for Genesis 14, Abram wasn’t from giving from his income or his own produce. And, Abram was not tithing to God. As for Genesis 28, Isaac says he will only give a tenth “if” God met certain conditions. It wasn’t what God had demanded. After this passage, there is nothing showing that Isaac actually followed through with his promise to God.

  • Amos Paul


    Paul pretty clearly stated that there should be money to support the ‘clergy’, or, those spending their life preaching the Gospel.

    In any case, I don’t find the arguments against supporting a local church with money very convincing. Almost every local church I know is an extraordinarily strategic tool for ministry, care, and community. Funds support a place for people to ‘do church’, the clergy, and everything else facilitates community service, ministry, missions, charity initiatives, whatever.

    I take giving like I take other disciplines like, say, prayer. Do you *have* to pray? Are you not under grace to choose not to? Sure, I guess you don’t have to… but you should. And not only that, but you should pray for others.

  • Jeff Martin

    I think you are on track Dr. McKnight. Gordon Fee has great comments about tithing in his Galatians commentary. I have qouted him in my review of his commentary on Amazon

  • JT

    I sense mass confusion about the difference between the “tithe” and “offerings”. If we read the descriptions in the Old Testament that define what the “tithe” is, we realize that the “tithe” does not apply to all citizens. Producers of FOOD were required to submit a tenth of their increase of food products: lambs, grain, spices, etc., so that there would be a storage of food for the Levites, widows and orphans — citizens who had no inheritance in the promised land. If too far from the place where the food was to be stored, they could then sell that tenth, add 20%, and send in the money so that food could be purchased on the open market and stored for the underprivileged. In modern America, an equivalent would be the federal food stamps program, Goodwill, subsidized housing, etc. Malachi 3:10, then reveals that the 12% money tithe was obviously not being exchanged for food, but was being misappropriated, i.e., “stealing the tithe”. In other words, that money was never intended for the church, but to buy food for the underprivileged. When the church diverted the funds away from providing a food source for the underpriviledged of the NATION, it stole from the poor.

    What Paul is talking about is something completely different from the tithe, and I believe that the modern church in America is guilty of stealing the tithe when we have pastors stand up in the pulpit and demand that every member submit 10% of their cash salaries to support the staff salaries and church expenses. When people of means walk into Goodwill and purchase low priced clothing intended for the poor, that is also “stealing the tithe.”

    “Offerings” are completely different. When Paul said, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”, he was not referring to the tithe, but to offerings. Confusing the two results in nothing less than a form of extortion by the church.

  • Amos Paul @10, does it follow that when Paul speaks of supporting those who preach the Gospel that he was speaking of permanent clerical employees of a local church? Or is it that we assume a professional clerical class and read that assumption into the text. It is not at all apparent from what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9 and elsewhere that a professional clergy deriving their salary and benefits from the offerings of the local church.

  • A Medrano @9,

    “The Temple was still considered a place for worship. Christianity wasn’t yet a new religion. It was more like a movement within Judaism. And those Jews who were part of the Temple system still paid their “tax” to it.”

    Do you have any evidence of this or are you assuming it? The letter to the Hebrews specifically addresses the idea of the Old Covenant passing away, becoming obsolete. Wouldn’t that letter indicate that if not immediately after the cross, shortly thereafter Christians of jewish ancetry no longer saw themselves as Jews in a religious sense but rather Christians?

  • Amos Paul


    Yes, it does follow. Because Paul specifically discussed how some individuals were called to be apostles, teachers, etc. and, himself, appointed various individuals into particular church roles.

    He then stated that those preaching the Gospel (presumably full time) should be able to *receive their living* from the Gospel. I find it disheartening when people want to, not only challenge the notion of a formal ‘tithe’, but go on to say that we shouldn’t be supporting some individuals to serve in full time ministry at all! I couldn’t disagree with this more.

  • Cal

    Amos Paul: You just made a logical jump from “receiving their living from the Gospel” to “some individuals serving in full time ministry”. What does the latter mean? If I went out to another country and started preaching to others, and asked friends back home to send money. Is that full time ministry? We should be careful with terms “full time ministry”, with the assumption of it as a ‘career’, sounds more institutional than Paul may have intended. “Being a full time minister” doesn’t mean you have any kind of degree of any kind.

    To the general point, I think Paul would’ve concluded this like anything else. You’re free, but actions carry value.

    Jewish Christians were free to not pay the Tithe, but they may do so out of service to reach Jews. Paul had his head shaved and circumcised Timothy to be “a Jew to the Jews”. There’s of course a limit of compromise(Paul’s point to the Corinthians about not being yoked to unbelievers); I don’t think Paul would advocate a Greek to go to a Dionysian orgy so he has credibility.

    I think of Sundar Sadhu Singh (look him up!), a former Sikh who donned the yellow robes of a Sadhu (‘holy man’) to have a place to talk to his people about Yesu (Jesus). Yet, he was threatened with death by some because he bathed (which a ‘holy man’ was never to do).

    Wisdom is the key!

  • Amos Paul


    I guess I should *hope* that if the church community is supporting your living it’s because you’re serving occupationally full time for the gospel. I haven’t the faintest why you’re so opposed to this idea. You act like institutionalized is a dirty word when all it really means is the organization of churches and individuals to support the cause of the gospel.

    Paul recognized and appointed people to specific offices and jobs for the sake of the gospel.

    1 Corinthians 12:28
    And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

    Ephesians 4:11-12
    It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

    1 Corinthians 12:28
    And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

    Acts 14:23
    Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

    Titus 1:5
    Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

    1 Corinthians 4:17
    For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

    Philippians 2:22
    But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.

    1 Corinthians 16:10
    If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am.

    Acts 19:22
    He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.

    2 Corinthians 8:23
    As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honor to Christ.

  • Amos Paul

    ^ Failure on my part. 1 Cor 12:18 was not meant to be posted twice.

    And Titus 1:5 shoud read,

    The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

  • Cal

    I’m not against institution as much as institutionalism.

    There’s also a difference in ‘gift’ vs. ‘office’. My problem is how we organize the Church, Paul would’ve found bizarre. A seminarian degree an Elder does not make. Nor any training regiment fit for preaching.

    I guess I don’t have a problem on the surface, rather it is underlying issues that make the Church into a clerical, religious bureaucracy.

    I’m not saying don’t give to the local expression of the Church, but think about it. How much of the money is going to support missionaries, taking care of the poor (inside the Church and out) etc. and how much is paying the wages of secretaries, building upkeep and construction, denominational head quarters etc. In fact, a lot of churches are involved in investment groups that have stocks in businesses that manufacture weapons. I’ll pay my taxes, but I don’t want to give money that ends up there.

    Honestly, I’m not terribly interested in keeping that kind of system floating but I’m more than happy to pay give a man a livelihood that involves full-time preaching and service.

  • DanS

    I was once taught that the “tithe” Abraham gave to Melchizedek plays into this. That takes the tithe out of the Mosaic Law context, puts it under the priesthood of Melchizedek and thus makes it a “norm” for Christians, but not a legalistic one. I think that makes enough sense for me to practice the 10% as a New Covenant believer.

  • The tithe Abraham offered Melchizedek was a voluntary one, and one God honored — Abraham received a blessing. I would not go so far as to call it a “norm,” but it is certainly a worthy example for Christian giving. I believe God still honors the tithe today, even as He did back then, quite apart from the Law.

  • A priest “after the order of Melchizedek” is both God’s priest and king (and of course the priest/king of all citizens of the kingdom of God). The king’s portion wouldn’t shrink in the case of the King of Kings.

  • I hold to a similar view as yours, Scot. I arrived at it, not by asking where the tithe passages are for gentiles, but by first discovering the Jewish context. I would expect the Jerusalem Council to tell the gentiles to tithe, if that was indeed a work of Torah expected from Gentiles.

    Tithing, as I see it, is related to national Jewish identity. That we Gentiles read ourselves back into the Jewish story is problematic for healthy hermeneutic on many counts, including this one.

    So what does that mean about the offering plate that is passed each Sunday? I’ve struggled with the obligations many Christians have to their “church” before giving to other groups and people and organizations that may be doing a more urgent and better work. That kind of obligation will hardly ever be questioned in the corporate church that has salaries and bills to pay. But I wonder how “biblical” we are being by making the Church organization the top “tithing” priority.

    On my view, the offering plate is optional. Giving to needs as is wise and loving, wherever they present themselves to us, should be our more regular habit.

  • Cal

    Comments #20-21:

    Consider this:

    Abraham gave 10% to Melchizidek of the plunder regained from warring kings. The 90% left he gave back to Sodom and Gomorrah and the others king who were robbed.

    The purpose of the tale by the author in Hebrews is that Melchizidek is superior to Abraham out of the latter’s deference, therefore Melchizidek’s priesthood (communing with God) was superior to Aaron’s (who was himself of Abraham).

    Abraham’s tithe was not even of his own and the rest he gave away.

    A Christian ought to freely give but calling it a ‘tithe’ or this notion of 10% is without ground to stand on.

  • How can you tithe when you have nothing?

    It seems the Christian ethic requires all and not part (Luke 12, 14, 18, Acts 2, 4). Some of the funds may have gone for the Jewish tax, we do not know, but it seems hard pressed to squeeze blood from a turnip.

  • Tithing is based on increase, what comes into your hand. If you have not experienced increase, there is nothing to tithe on.

    But it is still possible to give. There are a lot of ways we can give of ourselves for the sake of others. For example, through acts of service, through our prayers for others, through kind words to others. If our heart is to give and serve, God blesses it.

  • JT

    I think another thing I meant to add is that given the differences in our governmental structure from that of Ancient Israel (Israel being a Theocracy, while the US is a Republic which cannot establish religion) it is my position that in the US at least, the tithe is not for the church to collect. It was intended as a safety net for the nation. Since the church is so splintered by “religious freedom”, as Cal accurately pointed out, the money will be misdirected to pay for light bills, staff salaries, insurance, etc., never being converted into food for the less fortunate. If the church collects the tithe, it can’t possibly be used for the purpose God intended. Remember, the purpose of the tithe is FOOD, not money.