16—history of the tithe in NT days
NOTE: I originally wrote a segment for each of the 61 points Frank Viola and George Barna make in their book, Pagan Christianity, about traditions in the institutional church not based on scripture. After writing it, I chose to not include this segment merely as I felt that in wouldn’t be an interesting radio commentary.
My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute
Question: If Bible scholars know there were two or three tithes in the Old Covenant, how did the idea of one 10% tithe get started in the church?
Answer: In the early church, there weren’t formal organizations, leadership offices, salaried persons or buildings, so money was only collected for special needs, like Paul’s collection for the church in
, which had an unusually large amount of elderly people. One of the outstanding testimonies of the early church was how generous they were with the poor and needy. There is one 3rd century document recommending financial support of clergy and connecting it to the practice of the Levites, but it was another century later before clergy getting paid was even slightly common. By then, the Jerusalem Roman Empire had gotten involved in the church, and payment was not widespread until the 8th century.
Strangely, the 10% tithe idea came from secular government. In the 7th and 8th centuries, 10% of the crop was the standard payment to a landlord for renting his land for a season. About that time, the Catholic church got involved in land ownership, with the clergy collecting land rent. Over time, the idea slid into the church, and the payment of tithe to the church became secular law in parts of
Europe. By the 10th century, 10% as standard land rent disappeared.
One further problem with this legalism is that giving 10% is no problem to a well off person, and an extreme burden on the poor. Some institutional churches have made 10% giving a litmus test for discipleship. Jesus, in Luke 21 verses 1 to 4 seems to disagree. Lordship can be judged by the Holy Spirit looking at your spirit, not any outward act.