The Three Tithes

By Phillip G. Kayser · 2019-2-14

    Tithe #1 (Ma'aser rishon) Levitical Tithe – Numb. 18:21-24; Lev. 27:30-33; Neh. 10:35-39; Heb. 7:5,9.

    1. Recipient: Levites (preachers) in every community. (Note that these Levites were also required to give a tithe, and their tithe went to the Levites at the temple.) "Levi who receives tithes" (Heb. 7:9); "bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities" (Neh. 10:37). "when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse" (v. 38). "I have given the children of Levi all the tithes" (Numb. 18:21) "the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance" (v. 24) "all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S. It is holy to the LORD" (Lev. 27:30) "the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD" (Lev. 27:32)/ "the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law" (Heb. 7:5). "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house." (Mal. 3:10)

    2. Location: For the people, the location for collections was each community synagogue "in all our farming communities" (Neh. 10:37).[1] The Levites teaching in those synagogues would take a "tenth of the tithe" and send it to the temple (Numb. 18:26; Neh. 10:38).

    3. Purpose: the support of Levites "in return for the work which they have done." (Numb. 18:21)

    4. Method: The tithes were brought by the people to the local synagogues to support the Levites scattered throughout every community (see note on location). The Levites tithed a tenth of this tithe to the temple.

    5. Who controls: The Levites always had jurisdiction of how it was spent, not the individual. Thus "all the tithe" was given to the local Levites and they in turn gave one tenth of all the tithe to the Levites in the temple. See Heb. 7:5,9; 1Cor. 9:13-14

    Tithe #2 (ma'aser sheni) Rejoicing Tithe – Deut. 14:22-27; 12:6,11,17; 16:16

    1. Recipient: Your family; also helps Levites & poor who can't afford to go to festivals or don't have much to celebrate the Sabbath. "And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you. You shall not forsake the Levite who is within your gates, for he has no part nor inheritance with you."

    2. Location: Temple Festivals. Note contrast with next tithe – "You may not eat within your gates the tithe" (Deut. 12:17); "you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide" (Deut. 14:23)

    3. Purpose: to be spent on the seven festivals of Leviticus 23 for food, drink, and other expenses to rejoice before the Lord with His people (and thus a "rejoicing tithe).

    4. Method: Very flexible, but had to be used at temple festivals.

    5. Who controls: The individual controls what, when, and how he spends it, though he had to spend it all on the festivals in some way - "for whatever your heart desires" (Deut. 14:26) at that vacation/conference retreat.

    Tithe #3 (ma'aser 'ani) Poor Tithe – Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12-15

    1. Recipient: Levite, stranger, fatherless, widow...

    2. Location: Local charity "within your gates" (Deut. 14:29), "so that they [stranger, et al] may eat within your gates and be filled." (Deut. 26:12).

    3. Purpose: Charity, and other mercy projects listed by Rushdoony.

    4. Method: Left to discretion of the individual

    5. Who controls: The individual giver controls.

    In addition to the tithes were the firstfruits (a small harvest sample), and free will offerings.

    Tithes in the New Testament

    Paul's discussion of giving to the church in 1Corinthians 9:11-14 is explicitly tied to the Old Testament tithing to the Levites. Paul said, "Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel." (vv. 13-14).

    Notice the "even so." There is a one-to-one identity. And this should not be surprising since the Old Testament prophesied that New Covenant officers would be "Levites" in some sense of the term (Isaiah 66:21; Jer. 33:18,21,22; Ezek. 45:5; 48:11,12,13,22) even though they would be taken from among the Gentiles (Is. 66:20-21).

    The Bible simply does not make a sharp cleavage between Old Testament Levites and New Testament officers, and Jesus describes the New Testament officers that He would send in Old Testament terms Matt 13:52; 23:34; see also the way "elder" describes both synagogue officers (Luke 7:3; 9:22; 20:1; 22:52,66; Acts 4:5,8,23; 5:21; 6:12; 22:5; 23:14; 24:1; 25:15) and church officers (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2,4,22,23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18). They appear to be one and the same thing.

    Christ established the church as the remnant of Israel (Luke 22:24-30) and the bride bears the names of the twelve sons of Israel (Rev. 21:9-12). The church is called "the Israel of God" (Gal 6:16) and Gentiles are grafted into Israel when they are saved (Eph. 2:12-13,19-22; Rom. 11:17-24). We would expect that there would be some continuity between synagogue and church if this was true. The Old Testament people of God are described as being part of the "church" (Heb 12:22-23; Acts 7:38 in KJV) and we are said to have joined that "church" (Heb. 12:22-23).

    Unless the New Testament explicitly changes an Old Testament command or practice, it continues to apply (Matt 5:17-19; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; 1 John 2:6-8) and such changes were already anticipated in the Old Testament (Acts 26:22; Heb. 3:5; Acts 17:11). Paul made clear that he had been "saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come" (Acts 26:22). Thus, every New Testament doctrine was anticipated in the Old Testament so that "the new is in the Old Concealed and the old is in the New revealed." But it is also interesting that these Old Testament passages promise that the New Covenant officers would receive the tithes and offerings of the people (Is. 66:20; Jer. 33:18).

    Thus, just as the Old Testament had a storehouse for tithes (Mal. 3:10), the New Testament has a place to "store" the offerings (1Cor. 16:1-2). Just as God distinguished between giving that was a "free will" offering (Lev. 1:3; 19:5; 22:19,29) and tithing that was a mandate (Deut. 14:22; Mal. 3:8), the New Testament distinguishes between offerings that are "freely" given (2Cor. 8:3; 9:5) and offerings that are a "duty" (Rom. 15:27) or which we "must do" (1Cor. 16:1-2).

    Just as the firstborn and Levites had "double honor" so too do the officers of the church (1Tim. 5:17). Jesus said, "if you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39), and Abraham certainly tithed (Heb. 7:5,6,9; Gen. 14:20), as did his grandson Jacob (Gen. 8:22). Jesus Himself commands the tithe (Matt 23:23). If Abraham and Jacob tithed long before the tribe of Levi existed and before the temple was formed, then it follows that it wasn't a purely Levitical function, because "the tithe... is the LORD's" (Lev. 27:30). To fail to tithe was not simply to rob the Levites; it was to rob God Himself (Mal. 3:9). Consider the following possible New Testament counterparts to the three tithes:

    1. First tithe (1Cor. 9:11-14; 16:1-2; 2Cor. 11:7-10; 1Tim. 5:17-18)
    2. Second tithe – love feasts (1Cor. 10-11; Jude 12); fellowship meals (Acts 2:42) including feeding the poor (Acts 7); conferences (Acts); vacations (Mark 6:31).
    3. Third tithe (Rom. 15:26-27; 2Tim. 1:16-17).
    4. Offerings above and beyond these tithes that were "free will" offerings (2Cor. 8:1-5; 9:1-14)

    The Question of Levites in the New Testament

    Many people believe that there are no Levites in the New Testament, and they reason that there can thus be no tithing. But let's consider the Scriptural doctrine of Levites. The Old Testament prophetically describes the New Testament church as having "priests and Levites" (Isaiah 66:21; Jer. 33:18,21,22; Ezek. 45:5; 48:11,12,13,22). It is clear that these priests and Levites are not literally from the tribe of Levi since it was prophesied that they would be priests and Levites taken from the Gentiles (Is. 66:20-21).[2]

    Isaiah 56:3-5 says that even eunuchs will be in the New Covenant temple. This unusual temple with its unusual prince and unusual priests and Levites is described in Ezekiel 40-48. These prophecies clearly show that though there is not a continuity of heredity, there is a continuity of the essential meaning of the office. Likewise, the word "scribe" is used for both the Old Testament teaching elder (Ezra 7:6,12,21; Neh. 8:1,9) as well as the New Testament teaching elder (Matt 13:52; 23:34).

    Jesus Himself uses Old Testament language to describe officers that He will send forth after His resurrection (Matt 23:34). He also uses the same terminology for teachers of the kingdom (Matt 13:52). Even the word "elder" is an Old Testament term that is introduced without comment in Acts 11:30, implying that there is a continuity with the synagogue elders. Indeed, Luke uses the term elder in exactly the same way to describe both synagogue officers (Luke 7:3; 9:22; 20:1; 22:52,66; Acts 4:5,8,23; 5:21; 6:12; 22:5; 23:14; 24:1; 25:15) and church officers (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2,4,22,23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18). They appear to be one and the same thing.

    The firstborn had to be spiritually qualified. if the eldest son was not spiritually qualified to lead as priest, teacher and shepherd, that responsibility was passed to someone else. Jacob, not Esau was supposed to have this blessing. Though Reuben was firstborn, he was bypassed because of his sins. When a younger son took over the spiritual oversight, he was given the label of firstborn even though he was born second, or third or fourth (see 1 Chronicles 26:10; Jer. 31:9).

    The firstborn was spiritually gifted to give prophetic blessing upon the families and servants who were under his oversight. He was also given the role of priest of the family[3] (Gen. 20:7; Ex. 3:1; 18:1,12; Job. 1-5; Luke 13:28; Gen. 46:1).

    The firstborn was therefore consecrated to the Lord and had a spiritual responsibility to the Lord that others did not have. This underlines the concept of ordination.[4] The words used of the firstborn son are "consecrate," "dedicate," "sanctified," and God declares "they shall be Mine." (Ex. 13:2,12,13; 22:29; 34:19,20; Lev. 27:26; Numb. 3:13; Deut. 15:19). The title "firstborn" therefore had religious significance and was applied to Israel as a priest to the nations, and was applied to Christ in His spiritual role (Heb. 12:23; Jer. 31:9; Ps. 89:27; Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15,18; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:5).

    Just as officers in later history were given "double honor" or extra income, the firstborn ordinarily had double honor (double the amount of money and inheritance given) (Deut. 21:16,17; Is. 61:6-7; 1Tim. 5:17).

    Under Moses, God gave the pastoral office of the firstborn to the Levites (Numb. 3:12,41,45,46; 8:18). Just like the firstborn, the Levites were expected to have spiritual gifting (John 11:51; Hag. 1:1,14; 2Chron. 20:14; 24:20), and could be bypassed if they were not spiritually qualified (Ezek. 44:10-31; 48:11; 1Chron. 15:12,14; 2Chron. 29:5; Ezek. 48:11). Just like the firstborn, the Levites were well paid for their ministry (Judges 17:10; Numb. 3:44-51; 2Kings 12:16; 2Chron. 31:4; Neh. 10:37; 12:44; Numb 18:24,26,30; Deut. 12:12,18,19; 14:27,29; 16:11,14; 18:1; 26:11,12,13; 2Chron. 31:4,19), and received this remuneration from the tithe (Numb. 18:23,24,26,30; Deut. 12:12,18,19; 14:27,29; 16:11,14; 18:1; 26:11,12,13; 2Chron. 31:4,19).

    Just as Levites (whether priestly, scribal or diaconal) were called "firstborn" because they took over the role of the firstborn, officers in the New Testament are called "Levites" because they take over the role of the Levites (Is. 66:21; Jer. 33:18,21,22; Ezek. 45:5; 48:11,12,13,22). The Old Testament prophecies anticipate a time when even Gentiles will be Levites (Isaiah 66:21). Thus it is no surprise to find Jesus upholding the tithe (Matt 23:23) and to find Paul arguing that church officers must be financially supported in exactly the same way as the Levites of old were ("even so" – 1Cor. 9:11-14).

    Key Quotes on Three Tithes

    Most Jewish writers hold to a three-tithe system in the Bible, as do Christian commentators like Adam Clarke, Albert Barnes, Matthew Henry, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Bruce Metzger, Charles Ryrie, John MacArthur, etc.

    430BC?

    Tobit 1:6-8 in Vaticanus codex:

    I alone went often to Jerusalem at the feasts, as it hath been ordained unto all Israel by an everlasting decree, having the firstfruits and the tenths of mine increase, and that which was first shorn; and I gave them at the altar to the priests, the sons of Aaron. The tenth part of all mine increase I gave to the sons of Levi, who ministered at Jerusalem: and the second tenth apart I sold away, and went; and spent it each year at Jerusalem: and the third I gave unto them for whom it was meet, as Deborah my father's mother had commanded me,

    70 AD

    Josephus, Antiquities, bk. 4; see Ant, IV, iv, 3; viii, 8; viii, 22:

    Beside those two tithes which I have already said you are to pay every year, the one for the Levites, the other for the festivals, you are to bring every third year a tithe to be distributed to those that want; to women also that are widows, and to children that are orphans,

    390 AD

    John Chrysostom, Homily 64 on Matthew 20:27:

    What did they give? A tenth of all their possessions, and again another tenth, and after this a third...

    400AD

    Jerome's Commentary on Ezekiel 45:1, p. 565, quoted in McClintock and Strong, 10, p.434:

    one tithe was given to the Levites, out of which they gave a tenth to the priests; a second tithe was applied to festival purposes, and a third was given to the poor.

    11th century AD

    Aben Ezra on Deut. 4:28:

    This was a third tithe, and did not excuse the second tithe.

    Modern

    Dr. Pusey, late Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, said

    The Pharisee "paid tithes of all which he possessed: a double tithe, you will recollect, one for God's priests, the other for the sacrifices, and yet another every third year for the poor: 4s. 8d. in the pound he anyhow gave to God, not, as our custom is, underrating property for the poor-rate, but a good 4s. 8d. in the pound on the average of the three years,"

    (Pearson, Systematic Beneficence, p. 11.)

    The only old Jewish authority to argue for Rushdoony's view is in the 12th century. Maimonides says that the third and sixth years second tithe was shared between the poor and the Levites, i.e. that there was no third tithe, De Jur. Paup. 6, 4. quoted in McClintock and Strong, 10, p. 434. But even then we have a contemporary rabbi of the same century (Aben Ezra) who says: "This was a third tithe, and did not excuse the second tithe." (See Gill on Deuteronomy 4:28.)

    For these three tithes see

    1. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 863.
    2. Eerdmans Family Encyclopedia of the Bible, p. 147.

    1. Scripture indicates that from the time of Moses and on there were synagogues (assemblies) throughout the land on every Sabbath: "For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath." (Acts 15:21) Psalm 74:8 calls them the "meeting places," and Isaiah 4:5 calls them "her assemblies."

      Moses commanded, "Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation." (Lev. 23:3) The Hebrew word for "convocation" (miqra), like the English, means "an ecclesiastical assembly that has been summoned to meet together; an assembling by summons." It would have been physically impossible to travel to the temple once a week from many parts of Israel. This is why the Levites were scattered throughout the land in every community to teach (2 Chronicles 17:9; Deut. 18:6-8; Nehemiah 10:37-39).

      Thus the "calling of assemblies" (Isaiah 1:13) and the "sacred assemblies" (Amos 5:21) should not be assumed to be temple assemblies. There were numerous "meeting places of God in the land" (Psalm 74:8). And Israel was responsible to "keep all my appointed meetings, and they shall hallow My Sabbaths" (Ezek. 44:24). Thus we read of Jesus, that "as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day" (Luke 4:16). His practice of weekly public assembly was the practice commanded in the Bible. It was these synagogues that received the tithes in their communities, and they in turn gave "a tenth of the tithe" to the temple (Numb. 18:26; Neh. 10:38).

    2. Delitsch says,

      mēhem must refer to the converted heathen, by whom the Israelites had been brought home. Many Jewish commentators even are unable to throw off the impression thus made by the expression mēhem (of them); but they attempt to get rid of the apparent discrepancy between this statement and the Mosaic law, by understanding by the Gentiles those who had been originally Israelites of Levitical and Aaronic descent, and whom Jehovah would single out again. David Friedländer and David Ottensosser interpret it quite correctly thus: "mēhem, i.e., of those heathen who bring them home, will He take for priests and Levites, for all will be saints of Jehovah; and therefore He has just compared them to a clean vessel, and the Israelites offered by their hand to a minḥāh."

      On Isaiah 66:21 JFB comments that "of them" refers to the Gentiles and by making them "priests ... Levites" they can enjoy "the direct access to God which was formerly enjoyed by the ministers of the temple alone (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6)."

    3. It should be remembered throughout this study that though there was an office of priest, there has always been a universal priesthood of believers. This was true both before and after Moses.

      Since Israel had the role of a priest to the nations (Exodus 19:6), God says "Israel is My firstborn... that he may serve Me" (Exodus 4:22-23) Thus, Israel as a whole was called a royal priesthood and a nation of priests.

    4. It also explains why Levites were later ordained to their offices – see below.


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