by: Ron Mosely
“Tithe” meant “tenth” both in Hebrew and Greek and was referenced two thousand years before Yeshua was crucified. Abraham brought tithes to Melchizedek before there was a Temple (Gen. 14).
There were three major kinds of tithe known as maaser, meaning a tenth of one’s income set aside for a certain purpose. The first tithe, called maaser rishon, was given to the Levite, who in turn tithed to the priest (Num. 18:24,26). The second tithe, called maaser sheni, had to be consumed in Jerusalem in what was an elaborate feast around the Temple (Dt. 14:22,23). It was assumed by scholars that the second tithe was taken to Jerusalem during the three pilgrim festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The third tithe, maaser ani, was called the poor tithe and was distributed to the three major groups of orphans, widows, and the poor (Dt. 14:28,29).
The total amount tithed by believers in Yeshua‘s day amounted to over twenty percent.The second tithe, called maaser sheni, had to be consumed in Jerusalem in what was an elaborate feast around the Temple (Dt. 14:22,23). It was assumed by scholars that the second tithe was taken to Jerusalem during the three pilgrim festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The third tithe, maaser ani, was called the poor tithe and was distributed to the three major groups of orphans, widows, and the poor (Dt. 14:28,29). The total amount tithed by believers in Yeshua‘s day amounted to over twenty percent.
Non-tithers were called by the term am-ha-eretz, and the non-tithed products were called demai and were not allowed to be a part of the believer’s society. The demai could not be used or sold. The entire Mishnah tractate, Demai, was dedicated to explaining how the doubtful tithe was treated. Strict believers called themselves haverim, meaning “companions of the faithful.” The haverim concept was taken from Psalm 119:63: “I am a companion of them who fear the Lord and obey Your precepts.”
A “good eye” or “single eye” referred to the liberal giver, while an “evil eye” was a term used to designate the stingy (Mt. 6:23). Since there was no specific injunction on what constituted the proper terumah or tithe, the rabbis determined: If an individual gives one-fortieth, he has a “good eye” and is considered a liberal giver. If the person gives only one-sixtieth, he is considered to have a “bad eye” and was designated as stingy. Nehemiah stood guard so the people did not neglect to give their tithes to the priests and representatives of the Temple. In ancient times, certain priests were in charge of collecting the tithes, which were stored in the storehouse of the Temple and used to feed the priests (Neh. 10:38, 12:44, 13:10-13).
Guilt offerings, known as asham, were brought to the Lord on five major instances. Biblically, when something was brought to the Lord, it was actually consecrated or waved before the Lord and then given to the priests. These five occasions were included:
The freewill offerings were types of peace offerings, which were brought voluntarily and often as a vow. Sometimes the freewill offering was given because the person wanted to make a donation in regard to something like the Temple building project. This was given to the priests in the name of the Lord.
Another type of peace offering was the thanksgiving offering. The thanksgiving offering was known as todah and was given because the Lord was so good (Lev. 7:12-15). This was given to the priests in the name of the Lord. Ancient Jews believed that when Messiah established the eternal kingdom and there was no more sin, this offering would continue.
Tithing was not something exclusive to the Bible. The concept of tithing is well-documented in nonbiblical literature from the ancient Middle East. The receiving of a tithe as a sacred temple tax was documented in neo-Babylonian (6th century BC), and in Syro-Palestine documents (14th century BC). Written Ugaritic records (Hittites in northern Syria, 1375-1340 BC) refer to the tithe as a royal tax, imposed by the king and used for upkeep of the court. It was a blending of these traditions of sacred and royal taxes that developed in the accounts of biblical Judaism.
As early as the patriarchs, we see Abraham giving tithes to Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20). Since Melchizedek was a king and a priest of Salem (Jerusalem), whose name meant “my king is righteous,” there was a blending of two ancient traditions of the sacred and the royal. Some scholars trace the tithe back to Jacob in Bethel, known as the “royal chapel” of the northern kingdom, and to Abraham in the “royal sanctuary” of Jerusalem. The kings controlled the treasures of palace and Temple alike, since they were responsible for the maintenance of both sanctuary and court (1 Ki. 15:18; 2 Ki. 12:19, 18:15; Ezek. 45:17). Hezekiah organized and supervised the collection and storing of tithes and tribute (2 Chr. 31:4). Mesopotamian tithes were organized in a similar manner as were the tithes of the Carthaginians and the tribute sent to the temple of Melqart (Diodorus 20:14). The Levites were faithful officials of David whom he put in charge of sacred treasures (1 Chr. 26:20).
The general context of the tithe included all kinds of property, evidenced when Abraham gave a tenth of everything (Gen. 14:20). Tithe in Mesopotamia included agricultural produce, cattle, sheep, slaves, donkeys, wool, cloth, wood, silver, gold, and all metals. According to examples in and out of Israel, the priestly and Deuter-onomic codes referred to the most common objects in Israel as an illustration of all.
Illustrations of the tithe in Deuteronomy and the Second Temple writings portray it as obligatory; but some types were voluntary. Amos mentioned the tithe in the framework of voluntary offerings, while the law of the tithe in Leviticus related that the firstlings could not be dedicated, since they were already holy by virtue of birth (Amos 4:4,5; Lev. 27:26,27,32,33). The rabbis concluded that the main purpose of the tithe originally was for the maintenance of the Temple and its personnel, and that it was a voluntary donation. It was only in Deuteronomy that the purpose of the tithe was expanded to include obligatory gifts to the poor and destitute.
Tithing was not only done by Abraham, but by all his children and throughout the biblical text. Early in Jewish history, Jacob was seen giving his vows of the tenth (Gen. 28:22).
Some scholars mention that in ancient times, the tithe was not required outside the land of Israel. Historical records note that the tithe was observed in Syria, Babylon, Egypt and the lands of Moab and Ammon during the biblical period. After the destruction of the Temple (AD 70), the Jews continued to regard the tithe, along with prayer, as a substitute for the Temple sacrifice.
The use of the word “fellowship” or koi-non-i-a in the New Testament was used also for the word “contribution” (Acts 2:42,45; Rom. 15:26; Ante-Nicen Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 86). In fact, the Greek word koinonia and the Hebrew word tzedakah (hqdx) were used in a similar manner to define ministering to the needs of others. The word koinonia, which we normally interpret as “fellowship,” actually carried the meaning of both “participation” and “impartation” by the act of contributing. Paul used the word koinonia to convey the word “collection” (Romans; 1 Corinthians).
Selden, in his Christian history, noted that early believers far exceeded what the tenth could have been in giving. In Galatia and Corinth, Paul ordained that they take weekly offerings (1 Cor. 16:2). There were 10 major areas to which early Church offerings were designated: (1) Christian worship, (2) maintenance of the clergy, (3) feeding, (4) clothing, (5) burying their poor brethren, (6) widows, (7) orphans, (8) persons tyrannically condemned to the mines, (9) prisons, (10) and those banished by deportation to Isles. It is thought by some that this was the means by which the Apostle John received his necessary sustenance while banished on the Isle of Patmos (Selden 1618, pp. 36,37).
As early as the second half of the 3rd century AD, ecclesiastical writers began to refer to the Hebrew pattern of the tithe as the example for the Church to follow in support of religious functionaries (65th Epistle of Cyprian). Cyprian (Sip-re-an), who was bishop of Carthage in AD 248, declared that clerics ought not have outside jobs involving themselves in worldly anxieties (Ante-Nicean Fathers, Vol. 5, p. 367).
According to Selden, the first example of a legal requirement of tithes to the Church in England was AD 786. Charlemagne was the first to give the confirmation of a civil statute to ecclesiastical injunctions (Hallam 1854, pp. 263,264). Charlemagne’s order was called a “capitulary” and regulated the tithe of the Church into three parts:
Concerning the idea of prosperity, there were some apparent misunderstandings about the original meaning of several terms. There were eight primary Hebrew words used for prosperity, to prosper, and prosperous:
God does prosper His children when we abide in His Word and do it His way. Then He can fulfill His promises. In Malachi 3:10, God says, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and test Me now, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”
Recently, my daughter asked me about faith and how we can know that God’s Word is true. After all, no one can see God. I told her that God is like the wind. No one has ever seen the wind, only the effects of the wind as it blows the leaves of the trees or whips the waves of the sea into a frenzy. Likewise, even if you can’t see God, you can see the effects of the living God when you have faith to believe Him and act upon His Word. Then He will answer our prayers, bless us, comfort us, and give us the abundant life He promises to His children of faith.
So why not do what God asks us to do in Malachi 3? Test Him with the tithe of your income and see how He will pour out blessings upon you and your household. I know I have, and it works. God is a good and faithful God.
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion by R.J. Werblowsky.
Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period by Jacob Neusner and William Scott Green.
Pesikta De-Rab Kahana by William G. Braude.
Midrash Rabbah Deuteronomy by J. Rabbinowitz.
A Conceptual Approach to the Mekilta by Max Kadushim.
Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 15, by Keter.
Universal Jewish Encyclopedia by Isaac Landman.
Lectures by Roy Blizzard, Ph.D.
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This expert was taken from the “What We Believe and Why” course taught by Dr. Moseley.
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