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The House Church Network: Dedicated to Kingdom Expansion
What is a Tithe?

A reader from California wrote and asked, "In regards to tithing, does the bible speak only of money or does it include time and talent?" To fully understand what scripture says about the tithe, we first have to understand its history. The earliest commands regarding the tithe are found in Leviticus. Here it is clear its purpose was to support the local sanctuary and the priest.

Early in Israelite history most settlements had a local sanctuary staffed by a Levitical priest. The priesthood depended on its support from the local community and thus dietary/purity laws were enacted. According to these laws, priests were allotted certain portions of most sacrifices, both animal and grain (cf. Leviticus 6.2-3; 7:31-33). One of the required offerings was the tithe which was defined as: "All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord's; they are holy to the Lord. All tithes of herd and flock, every tenth one that passes under the shepherd's staff, shall be holy to the Lord. Let no one inquire whether it is good or bad, or make substitution for it; if one makes substitution for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy and cannot be redeemed" (Lev. 27:30, 32-33). These tithes were taken to the sanctuary and given to the priestly family (Numbers 18.21). To further care for the Levitical priest, a law was enacted that all slaughtering had to take place at the sanctuary (Lev. 17.3-4). From each slaughter the priest took a portion as well.

Later in Israelite history, the monarchy chose Jerusalem to be the seat of government. To further consolidate the nation, Jerusalem was chosen to be the primary site for the religious cult as well. In doing so, the local sanctuaries were done away with and all sacrifices were commanded to be brought to the temple (Deuteronomy 12.5-6). To effect this, the law was changed so the Israelites could slaughter animals wherever they cared to, thus eliminating the need for the sanctuary (Deut. 12.15). However, traveling to Jerusalem to surrender the tithes and to make other sacrifices was burdensome. With local sanctuaries abolished or designated as idolatrous high places, much of the priesthood relocated to Jerusalem. To encourage the Israelites to make the trip to Jerusalem the law reflected an inducement: "Set apart a tithe of all that is brought in yearly from the field. In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place chosen as a dwelling for the Lord's name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock."(Deut. 14.22-23). To maintain the support for the Levitical priesthood, a provision was added that every third year the tithe should be stored to dole out to the priestly families as well as "the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows" (Deut. 14.28-29).

From this we can understand that the tithe was originally enacted to support the priesthood. However, the residents of Israel were commanded to do much more than tithe to support the priests and the sanctuary/temple. During the years of the sanctuary the priests got a portion of all slaughters. And in all times the priesthood got portions of all offerings, sacrifices (except sin sacrifices), and the first-fruits of the flocks and fields.

With this in mind, the answer to the tithing of time and talent may be understood. Tithing was specifically enacted for the well-being of the priesthood. Today, however, few of us produce goods that can be offered to the church as a tithe (instead, our time, skills, and talents are traded within our society for monetary compensation). Our tithes, then, should generally be a monetary gift. However, if the giving of one's time and talents to the church relieve a financial burden or specifically enhances the quality of life for the ministerial family, then it would meet the biblical command of the tithe.

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