By Demóstenes Neves da Silva
The term “tithe” in the Old Testament corresponds to the Hebrew word maser, and in the New Testament the original word is dekate. Both words simply mean “the tenth part” or “tithe.” In the Bible, although Abraham is said to have returned tithe (Gen. 14), the beginning of the tithing practice is lost in time, with no records of the historical beginning of this practice. There is also no record of the abolishment of the ministerial tithe, the practice of which remains in force. Therefore, I return tithe because it has not been abolished.
However, there is confusion between another two contributions called tithe in the Bible, but which are different from the ministerial tithe and should not be confused with it, even though they are called the same.
In the Bible, the word “tithe” is used for three different practices, which will be listed below in reverse order since we intend to conclude with the tithe that remains valid.
The Third Tithe: the King’s Tax
This tax was called tithe. This is the most recent and briefest of tithes, which we call in this article third tithe, and which was collected from approximately one thousand years before Christ when Saul became king (1 Sam. 8:11-15).
Since Israel left Egypt around 1440 b.c., this king’s tithe was collected for only 400 years after the people entered Canaan, and the monarchy ceased. Therefore, although it was also called tithe, this was not the priestly ministry tithe, but rather a temporary tax for the king only.
The Second Tithe: Family Worship, the Poor, and People Without Land
The second tithe mentioned in the Bible is found in Deuteronomy (Deut. 12:17, 18; 14:23-27; 26:23). This second “tithe” is sometimes mistakenly confused with the first tithe mentioned in the Scriptures, but it is not the same. As clearly indicated by the above Bible texts, this second tithe was collected only within the seven-year sequence of the sabbatical year.
This seven-year cycle (on which the second tithe depended (according to Deuteronomy), came into practice only when the Israelites entered Canaan (Lev. 25:1-7). Therefore, this second tithe was taken only in the context of the sevenyear period for family worship and the poor (Deut. 12:17; 18; 14:23-27; 26:23).
Thus, the tithe returned to support the Levites in the sanctuary during the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert before entering Canaan cannot be this second tithe.
Furthermore, according to the texts mentioned in Deuteronomy, this second tithe was kept by the worshiper and was not returned to the storehouse. The worshipper could sell the tithe of the product or animal if necessary and use it all in banquets when he or she visited the sanctuary annually on the first, second, fourth, and fifth years of the seven-year cycle, which ended with the sabbatical year.
The guests who benefitted from this second tithe were needy people who did not own land in Israel (poor, widows, orphans, foreigners, and Levites). The Levites were only guests who ate with the others, but, evidently, this tithe was not returned in full to the storehouse, neither was given to the Levites, as per Bible instruction (Mal. 3:10). On the third and sixth years of the seven-year cycle, this second tithe was not taken to be used by the family and guests when visiting the sanctuary but was kept in the homes of the worshipers and given to the poor and those who did not own land. Therefore, this is another reason why it cannot be the same as the one for the priests. The tithe for the priests was returned in full to the storehouse (Mal. 3:10).
Finally, a summary of the Bible texts regarding the second tithe indicates that:
• The second tithe was collected only when the Israelites entered Canaan and was not practiced outside Canaan.
• It was connected to the sabbatical year of the Jewish ceremonial system and was not valid outside that calendar.
• Its use depended on four annual pilgrimages to the sanctuary—thus, not being valid if the temple no longer existed.
• It also had a charitable purpose because in two of the years in the sabbatical period, the second tithe was given entirely to people in need and those who did not own land rather than exclusively to the priestly ministry.
• It was never given, even partially, to the storehouse; therefore it was not a priestly tithe. Since the second tithe could operate only within the context of Canaan, it became valid only after the people entered the Promised Land. Consequently, it came to an end around the year 70 and 136 after Christ, when:
• the temple was destroyed,
• the sabbatical and jubilee year calendar ceased to be observed, the pilgrimage to the temple was no longer carried out,
• when the Jews were driven from the land, and, generally,
• when the religious system subject to the original national Israelite context was abandoned.
So, this second tithe cannot be the tithe used exclusively to support the ministry, which will be presented below.
This second “tithe” is sometimes mistakenly confused with the first tithe mentioned in the Scriptures, but it is not the same.
The First Tithe of Melchizedek, the Levites, and Jesus
The first tithe is different from the previous ones, and there is no record of its beginning. Neither there is any record of it being abolished. It is described within the Levite system as “God instructed Moses,” but its origin was much earlier.
Abraham was the first person recorded in the Bible to return tithe, approximately 500 years before there were any Israelites, Levites, or ceremonial laws (Gen. 14), but the origin of the tithe comes from way earlier. The history of tithe is lost in time, suggesting that the first tithe, exclusive to support ministers, is so ancient that it goes back to a time when there were no historical records. Its an tiquity is represented in the ministry of Melchizedek, a figure of Christ, who has no beginning or end (Heb. 7:1-7).
While there was and is a ministry in the order of Melchizedek, or Jesus, there will be tithe, since the tithe was part and proof of the legitimacy of the ministry. Such an ancient and unchanged ordinance of divine origin cannot end, and this motivates us to return our tithes.
Application of the Ministerial Tithe
From the days of Melchizedek, the tithe was not kept by the worshiper, but was given to the priests as Abraham did (Gen. 14), or taken to the storehouse in the days of ancient Israel (Mal. 3:10) to pay the priests their salaries (2 Chron. 31:2-21; Neh. 12:44; 13:10-14).
The purpose of the tithe was to provide resources for the spread of the gospel, but ultimately it belongs to God, who provided it for His work on earth. It is administered by the institution for the advancement of the church, but never as something to be kept by anyone.
We may summarize the Melchizedek tithe as follows (Heb. 7:1-17):
Melchizedek was not a Levite, but received the tithe; therefore, the tithe is not only for the Levites but for whoever God calls for the exclusive ministry of Jesus.
Melchizedek represented Jesus and received the tithe, including that of the Levites, through Abraham, His forefather; therefore, the tithe belongs to the Lord Jesus, who is greater than the Levites.
The Levites died, and their priestly order ended, but the priestly work of Jesus through His pastors, teachers, and others remains until God’s purpose is fulfilled on this earth.
Jesus, who was not a Levite and was represented by Melchizedek, has a ministry “not according to the law of a fleshy commandment, but according to the power of an endless life.” This non-Levite incorruptible ministry of Jesus received tithe (Heb. 7:8, 17); therefore, the tithe is not a carnal (mortal) commandment, but rather a spiritual commandment of the endless life of Jesus’ ministry.
The priesthood of Melchizedek represents that of Jesus. This one has no end and is more entitled to the tithe than the ministry of the Levites, so the tithe remains while Jesus’ ministry lasts.
Therefore, I return tithe because the tithe is connected mainly to the ministry of Jesus and will remain so while this ministry is required and is active on earth for the salvation of souls until He returns.
Meaning and Application of the Tithe
The tithe shows that God is also the owner of our possessions. It is useful to pay workers employed by the church, under the same system practiced by the storehouse principle (Mal. 3:8-10). It was God who gave us strength to acquire wealth, and the purpose of this wealth is to confirm the cov enant between Him and His people (Deut. 8:18). We know that God’s covenant has a broader sanctifica tion and salvation meaning, as it is the covenant mediated by the blood of Jesus (Jer. 31:31-35; Heb. 8:8-10; 12:24). Consequently, the tithe, as well as all offerings, shows the mutual faithfulness between God and His children. In this regard, the purpose of possessions is to confirm the salvation and sanctification covenant necessary to take a blessing to all the nations of the earth in Christ (Mal. 3:12; Matt. 28:18-20).
“For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
How then shall they call on Him whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:13-15).
And how will they be sent if there is no one to support them (1 Cor. 9:13, 14)? And how will they be supported if no one is faithful in tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:8-10)?
In this regard, it is necessary to believe and practice tithing, because faithful tithes, together with our offerings, are the foundation for the advancement of God’s work. The objective of tithing is to sanctify and confirm the salvation of the faithful, according to God’s covenant since the beginning of the world. This covenant was renewed at each stage of human history, with Noah, then Abraham, and Abraham’s descendant, who is Christ, for the salvation of all those who believe. That is why the Levites had a ministry in Israel, received the tithe, and died; but Jesus, who lives, was the one who received Abraham’s tithe and was represented by Melchizedek (Heb. 7:8). This indicates that His ministry stands forever, that the tithe is also valid during Jesus’ ministry, and that His ministry is to take salvation to all the nations on earth (Matt. 28:18-20). You and I have the opportunity to confirm the covenant with God by being faithful in our tithe and offerings and recognizing that He is Lord of our life and our possessions.
There are three tithes in the Bible, but only one remains forever. I believe in this ministerial tithe, which remains valid. This first tithe did not depend on the Levites, the ceremonial law, nor the Israelite theocracy. There is no record of its beginning or end. Like Melchizedek, it is a symbol of Jesus. The tithe is linked to the ministry of Jesus, which lasts until the gospel is preached “in all the world as a witness to all the nations” (Matt. 24:14). Those faithful to the ministry of Jesus will also be faithful in their tithes and offerings, in order to confirm the sanctification and salvation covenant made with each one of us. There are many blessings in store for God’s faithful people. You are also invited to be faithful and receive the Master’s approval upon His return.