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Tithing and Social Financing

By R. J. Rushdoony
October 24, 2005

(Reprinted from Institutes of Biblical Law, The Intent of the Law, Vol. 3 [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1999], 11–15.)

  1. Tithes on increase: Genesis 28:20–22; Exodus 30:11–16; Leviticus 27:30–33; Numbers 18:21–26; Deuteronomy 14:22–29; 26:12–13.
  2. Redemption of firstborn sons: Exodus 13:1–2, 15; 22:29; 34:20; Numbers 3:11–13, 44–51; 8:16–18.
  3. Redemption of firstborn in flocks, herds: Exodus 13:11–13; 22:30; 34:14–20; Leviticus 27:26–27; Numbers 18:15–17; Deuteronomy 14:23–26; 15:19–22.
  4. Firstfruits: Exodus 23:16–19; 34:26; Leviticus 19:23–24; 23:10–11; Numbers 15:17–21; Deuteronomy 18:1–11.
  5. Monetary redemption: Deuteronomy 14:24–26.

(In Tithing and Dominion [1979], Edward A. Powell and I treated this general subject from the standpoint of tithing as God’s appointed way for Christian dominion. What follows is not a repetition but a development of the same thesis.)

In any society social financing must be provided unless that society, in some way imitating Sparta, wants to execute all unwanted peoples. This is a solution that various Marxist powers have adopted, and this answer is a brutal one and its methods radically vicious. It is a solution that may commend itself to many on the political Left, but it is a mark of degeneracy rather than of wisdom.

There are those in the ministry who claim that tithing is now invalid because Christ has come. Where does Christ abolish the law? We are in Christ dead to the law as handwriting of ordinances and indictments against us calling for death; but we are alive to it as God’s way of righteousness or justice, as our way of sanctification. Judging by the growing sexual misconduct in many church circles, including fornication, adultery, homosexuality, child abuse, and so on, it would seem that some are determined to reach heaven by illicit copulation.

In Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 our Lord condemns the scribes and Pharisees for assuming that tithing will save them. He calls them “hypocrites” and says, “[T]hese ought ye to have donebut not to forgo obedience to “the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” What will He say to those who forgo tithing as well? To say that our Lord said this “before the Cross” is silly. Why was He so plainspoken about a fading concern? In Hebrews 7:5–9 tithing is clearly presented as important in Abraham’s day and ours.

Social financing is a necessity in any and every society above the most backward level. If it is not provided by God’s people, the state must step in and assume the responsibility, or face anarchy. Statist welfarism and social financing have been from antiquity a source of civil corruption, the destruction of the family, and a burden that can bring down the state.

God could have required that state and/or church make tithing mandatory and forcibly collect tithes. This would simply be a form of socialism, whether civil or ecclesiastical. It would also be a misuse of the tithe. A recent account of how much tax money reaches the needy reported that in one case appropriations equivalent to about $8,000 per person amounted to $300 when they reached their destination. Bureaucracy abounds in both church and state, as much as the available funds will provide.

God makes mandatory the moral obligation to care for widows, orphans, aliens, the needy, the sick, and so on, but He does not give either church or state the power to enforce the tithe. True enough, tithing has often enough been made mandatory, and it still is so in some European states not notable for their faith.

By not making tithing a matter of civil or ecclesiastical enforcement, God, in effect tells us that we shall have the kind of society we deserve. We are told thereby that if we do not obey Him, we shall suffer the consequences. There is a triple tithe required of us in the six years before the Sabbath year: first, a tithe was given to the Levites, who gave a tithe of the tithe to the priests (Num. 18:25–28). This meant that one percent of one’s increase was so designated. The Levites, of course, provided for the care of the sanctuary, and its music. This is an annual tithe.

The second tithe, Deuteronomy 14:22–27, was for rejoicing before the Lord, together with the Levite. The family’s rest and rejoicing are religiously required.

The third tithe, on the third and sixth years, was a poor tithe, to be shared with the local Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, the needy, the widow, etc. (Deut. 14:28–29).

Those who see these tithes as “too much” forget that they are paying far more in taxes for bad services to the state. In the 1990s it is said that Americans are paying about 51 percent of their income in taxes to some agency of state, from the federal to the local level. And still we are abused as neglectful of some areas of human need! We are supporting the state and its agencies better than ourselves.

Socialism is a form of slavery. In some cultures, people have sold themselves into slavery in preference to freedom and its liabilities.[1] Slaves are often brutally treated, at other times indulgently so. At all times, they are no longer responsible for their support nor their future.

In our time, men talk much of freedom while working to create a slave state. God gives us the freedom to do this. The warning of God through Samuel (1 Sam. 8) has not been heeded over the centuries, nor is it heeded now.

Because the basic government is the self-government of the Christian man, what God tells us through His laws on tithing is that we must either establish freedom according to His Word or have slavery as our destiny. Through tithing, we can provide social financing.

At one time in the United States, tithe agencies met immigrants at the docks to offer help in finding homes and jobs, Christian schools for their children, classes for the women on a variety of subjects, and so on. The results were remarkable. We now seem to prefer socialism and slavery.

In the medieval era, the tithe was more or less enforced, and sometimes, because of its unpopularity, it was not even a tenth. Many reforms occurred as discontented people withheld their tithes and offerings from churchmen they regarded as wayward, non-Christian, or corrupt. New and reforming orders grew quickly as the people turned to them with their interest and support. Reformation was thus a continuing fact during the medieval era.

Two things helped choke off reform and made the explosion of the Reformation inevitable. First, tithes and gifts had to go to the parish church and other approved agencies alone. Second, attendance had to be to the local parish church.

The same two deadly factors now haunt the Protestant churches. Earlier in the 20th century some fundamentalist churches began to insist on the “storehouse” tithing, identifying the local church as the storehouse of Malachi 3:10. But the reference there is to an actual storehouse maintained by the Levites to receive such things as grains and livestock. The Levites would then sell and distribute the tithe as instructed. Such storehouses were once a part of the American scene, and some such buildings still survive.

God nowhere empowers the church or state with controls over the tithe. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek on his own volition (Heb. 7:4–6), and the man from Baal-shalisha gave his tithe to Elisha and the school of the prophets on his own (2 Kings 4:42–44). Elisha was definitely not a temple-approved recipient for tithes.

Tithing is a form of governing. Our gifts direct and govern churches and Christian agencies and causes. We as individuals are not infallible in our judgment, but, on the whole, we do as well and better than church and state. There are indeed causes that exploit gullible Christians, but, as in very recent years when some deceptive causes and television evangelists were exposed, people largely stopped giving to them, and many failed. But when corruption in state agencies is exposed, taxes continue. When a church’s work in some sphere is exposed as bad, it does no good to withhold support for it because funds from other departments are directed into it. The administrator of tithing should be the tither; he is far from all-wise or perfect, but he is still more responsible. But, first, he must begin tithing. Otherwise the state must take over, and the man is then a loser of money and freedom.

The redemption of firstborn sons (Exod. 13:1–2, 15) rests on the same premise as the tithe. All that we have and are belongs to God, and the requirement that the firstborn sons must be set apart to be redeemed (Exod. 34:20; Num. 3:11–13, 44–51; 8:18) is to remind us that God has prior claim on everything that we are and have. We cannot live as our own governors and lords: we are God’s property.

But man’s original sin is to seek to be his own god and his own maker of law, his own determiner of good and evil (Gen 3:5). The redemption of the firstborn, typifying all, tells us that God claims the totality of our lives and possessions as His own. We have been created for His holy purposes, not our own, and any arrogant claim to independence on our part is a prescription for disaster.

The same applies to the firstborn of flocks and herds. These must either be redeemed or given to God. At one time, some Christians recognized God’s property rights here, although few do now.

All firstfruits, of grain or fruits, belong also to God and had to be taken to the sanctuary.

But the last-fruits are not ours either. In the laws of gleaning, the vines and trees could not be picked clean. The fruit on the top of the grain along the edges, and the stray bunches of grapes, had to be left for the gleaners (Lev. 19:9–10; Deut. 24:19–21). God thus governs every aspect of our lives and world, but He gives church and state limited jurisdiction over us. His enscriptured Word speaks to us, not to church or state.

The Lord God thus leaves the determination of our lives in our hands under Himand His law-word. Too often we sell our souls and freedom for a mess of ecclesiastical and/or civil pottage and slavery. Thus far, we have seen no laws entrusted to church or state for enforcement. God’s purposes do not make either church or state basic to His Kingdom. The family is often in God’s law, and the family is God’s most important institution. He takes His own designation, Father, from the family.

It is individuals and families who suffer most from tyranny, and it is they who must be zealous for freedom by providing social financing that will meet the needs God requires us to meet without creating a power state. God’s appointed means of social financing are tithes and offerings or gifts. A tithe is God’s tax; only when we go beyond the tithe have we given a gift to God and His work. Too many want neither to pay their tax nor to make a gift. All such people are really opting for tyranny and slavery.

Many who claim to be the champions of freedom are really promoters of slavery. They believe that appeals to certain laws will provide them with the tools whereby liberty will be restored. They are opting for revolution, not regeneration, for slavery, not for freedom. The Christian premise of freedom is man’s regeneration in Christ, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). It is easier, however, to rail against an “evil establishment” and forget one’s own evil nature than to recognize that the only freedom is under God and His law, and unredeemed men, as slaves of sin, can only create a slave society.


[1] Alain Borer, Rimbaud in Abyssinia (New York: William Morrow, 1984) 221–222.


Topics: Biblical Law, Charity, Reformed Thought, Statism, Economics, Family & Marriage, Philosophy, Culture , Government, Major Prophets, Pentateuch, Church History, Old Testament History, Church, The, Socialism, American History, Epistles, The, Gospels, The, Minor Prophets

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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