By Rick Becker 3 June 2021
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse..” God’s rebuke may be one of the most read verses (Malachi 3:8-9) from the pulpit in the visible church. Should Christians give a tenth of their income to the church? Does Malachi 3:8-10 apply to the church? Are you “robbing God” if you don’t give your tenth? Will things go wrong in your life if you don’t tithe? Will God curse you or your 90% if you don’t tithe 10%? These questions arise due to the teachings of certain men and women who teach the doctrine of a compulsory tithe for shameful gain. “Church” is big business, and the teaching of a compulsory tithe is generally employed to grow and sustain “churches” that are business for-profit entities, but masquerade as an assembly of believers. What’s the truth concerning the tithe? In this article, we’ll examine what the old and new Testaments teach regarding the tithe. We’re also going to examine a typical scripture twisting teaching on tithing by “apostle” Bill Johnson of Bethel church, and conclude with what’s expected of believers regarding their finances.
The teaching of a compulsory tithe along with the threat of non-tithers being cursed by God, has funded the empires of charlatans and burgeoning mega churches with budgets that put any medium to large sized enterprise to shame. At the outset, I want to be clear, and not tar all those who believe in a compulsory tithe with the same brush. There are tithers with good motives who believe they are being faithful to scripture by giving their tenths to support their local church. If you’re in this category, all I ask is that you consider the information presented in this article. The other two categories are the dangerous ones:
• Tithers motivated by greed and view tithing as a get rich quick scheme.
• Tithers who give out of fear, as they’ve been taught that God will curse them if they don’t.
That covers the folk who believe in the compulsory tithe, but there’s another group that should be mentioned:
• Those who don’t believe the tithe is compulsory, and foolishly delight in their belief that they can hold on to their money, spend it as they wish, and rarely support the needy or those who labour for the gospel.
One of the biggest proponents of the compulsory tithe is mega church “pastor” Robert Morris. He’s an example of an ear tickler who plays on unhealthy motivational factors such as greed and fear to manipulate his followers into tithing.
Greed: “Have you ever wished you could multiply your money? Well, I have wonderful news for you: God is able to do it. Of course, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. He multiplied oil and flour for a poor widow and her son. He multiplied the strength of outnumbered Israelite soldiers in battle after battle. And He multiplied fish and loaves on a couple of Galilean hillsides.” – Robert Morris, The Blessed Life.
Fear: “My heart breaks because much of the body of Christ is living under a curse as a direct result of stealing from God.”
“Tithing truly is a test. The truth of this passage seems so simple to me. If I tithe, I’m blessed; if I don’t, I’m cursed. Hmmm, that’s a tough decision. Let me think about that. Tithe—I’m blessed. Don’t tithe—I’m cursed. Blessings? Or curses? For me, that one really isn’t that hard to figure out.” – Robert Morris, The Blessed Life.
“if you don’t tithe, that’s an open door to demons.” – Robert Morris.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10. This verse is talking about false teachers, not Satan. Prosperity teachers like Morris who accuse non-tithers of robbing God are actually robbing their followers. They are thieves, and their ultimate concern is self gratification in the form of monetary reward: “..they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” Titus 1:11.
It’s ironic that most of these prosperity teachers who threaten non-tithers with a curse from God, are cursed. Not because they’re believers teaching error, but because they’re unbelievers under the curse:
“They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!” 2 Peter 3:14.
“As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:9.
Are you cursed if you don’t tithe? No, that’s impossible because Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law:
“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Galatians 3:10-13.
Another twist – teachers who demand that you tithe 10% have no idea what the tithe was:
TITHING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
When a preacher turns to Malachi 3:8-10 to prove the doctrine of tithing, you can know for certain that there’s a lot of information regarding the tithe in ancient Israel they’re not going to tell you. They’re not going to tell you what was tithed, the total percentage, or how the tithe was spent. Many have been taught to believe that the Israelites gave 10% of their income in monetary form to the temple every month. But it’s far more complicated than that. The tithe was part of the Mosaic law, and a type of income tax to sustain Israel’s theocracy. The tithe was linked to the land of Israel, the temple, and the priesthood, and there were three tithes that God required:
• Tithe for the Levitical priesthood.
Their duty was to teach the law (Deuteronomy 33:10), maintain the tabernacle, or serve as priests in the tabernacle. (Numbers 18:21-24) The Levites in turn, gave their tithes to the Aaronic priesthood (Numbers 18:26-28).
• Tithe for the seven feasts (Leviticus 23; Deuteronomy 14:22-26)
The interesting point about this specific tithe is that the tithe was for the benefit of the tither: “Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine, and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire.” vs 24-25.
• Tithe for the poor.
Collected every three years. This tithe was for Levites living outside of Jerusalem, sojourners, the fatherless, and widows (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).
Three groups of people benefited from the tithe – the priests, the individual who tithed, and the poor.
The text in Deuteronomy proves that money did exist at the time (Deuteronomy 14:25). In fact, as early as Genesis, weighted silver was used for transactions (Genesis 23:16). However, tithes weren’t monetary but were connected to the land of Israel (Leviticus 27:30-32; Deuteronomy 14:22-23) and consisted of livestock and produce. The only time money was given, was for an annual offering of a half shekel (Exodus 30:13) and for the valuation of individuals consecrated by a vow (Leviticus 27).
The tithe was from the increase of agricultural produce! Tithing was not monthly but based on farming cycles. There were multiple tithes, which amounted to approximately 20%, if not more. Some were excluded from the law of tithing – the poor, and those in other occupations outside of the agricultural sector such as a carpenter, blacksmith, fisherman, etc. Apart from the tithe, there were voluntary offerings (Leviticus 23:38) or “freewill” offerings – the burnt offering, peace offering, and grain offering. Another freewill contribution went towards the construction of the tabernacle (Exodus 35).
A despicable teaching:
Many preachers will insist that even the poor should tithe because in doing so they “release” the financial blessing God has in store for them. What they don’t tell you, is that there was relief for the poor! Instead of tithing, the poor were recipients of the third tithe! The poor were permitted to glean the fields (Deuteronomy 24:19-21) Poor Lepers who could not afford the required sin offering (not tithe) were allowed to offer less, and the poor were given grace for vow offerings (not tithe) – paying only what they could afford: “If anyone making the vow is too poor to pay the specified amount, the person being dedicated is to be presented to the priest, who will set the value according to what the one making the vow can afford.” Leviticus 27:8.
An example of how the poor benefited can be found in the life of Joseph and Mary. Being a carpenter, Joseph was not required to tithe but was still subject to various offerings.
As a poor carpenter, when the time came to present Jesus at the temple, Joseph and Mary could not afford the sacrificial lamb as an offering, and instead, according to the law (Leviticus 12:8) were permitted to sacrifice birds:
“And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
TITHING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Without engaging in theological gymnastics, the argument for tithing in the new testament is an argument from silence. The same could be used to show that tithing ceased under the new covenant. The transition from the old covenant to the new during the establishment of the church created some problems. One of the problems was that Jewish believers from Judea were instructing Gentile converts to keep the laws of Moses regarding circumcision. They were insisting that this specific law was still binding, and unless Gentiles were circumcised, they could not be saved: “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1. The Jerusalem council dealt with this issue, affirming that salvation is by grace (Vs 11). Did they burden these Gentiles by telling them a compulsory tithe had been carried over into the church age? No: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” Acts 15:28-29.
But an argument from silence isn’t necessary to show that the law of tithing does not apply to believers. There’s not a single verse that instructs believers to tithe, and there are clear instructions regarding giving.
Believers are not under the Mosaic law – God is their temple (1 Cor 6:19), Jesus is their high priest (Heb 4:14-16), and if the law of tithing still applied, only believers living in Israel who produced crops or livestock would be required to tithe. If believers are still under the Mosaic law, then why is it just the tithe that is carried over into the church age? What about the hundreds of other laws? If it has carried over, then believers who don’t tithe will be cursed by God. Now if this were true, it would surely be a huge doctrine that the epistles would have addressed – God cursing believers. If God cursed non-tithing believers, Christ’s death on the cross was insufficient: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14.
The New Testament gives us clear guidelines for giving, not tithing.
There are two reasons why believers in the early church gave:
1. To support other believers who were enduring financial hardships due to famine etc.
2. To support the ministers of the gospel.
This is a necessary distinction to make because financial gifts for the needy, and financial compensation for ministers of the gospel are two different things. There are clear passages of scripture that identify these two reasons:
1. Giving to those in need
“At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.” Romans 15:25-26.
“Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.” 1 Cor 16:1-4.
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” 2 Cor 8:1-4.
“By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,” 2 Cor 9:13.
No specified percentage!
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Cor 9:7.
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper..” 1 Cor 16:2.
“For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord” 2 Cor 8:3.
“For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” 2 Cor 8:12.
2. Giving to ministers of the gospel or local church
“Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.” Galatians 6:6.
“Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Philippians 4: 14-20. (Paul compares the gift he received to an offering)
“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. ” 1 Corinthians 9:7-15 (See also 1 Tim 5:17-18).
The comparison that Paul makes: just as the Levites who served in God’s temple had a right to receive support, so do the ministers of the gospel who serve in the body of Christ. Paul is pointing to a principle, not the law of tithing. Some argue that because Paul is basing his argument for material compensation on the “law,” the law of tithing was carried over into New Testament practice. But Paul is specific, in fact, he quotes directly from the “law” he’s referring to: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Deuteronomy 25:4. (The welfare of animals was not overlooked in the Mosaic Law – Exodus 23:12; Deut 22:6; Exodus 23:4-5)
This is the principle Paul is highlighting – if animals who work for people need to be cared for, how much more so does a minister of the gospel? We see the same principle of a labourer’s right to wages when Jesus sent out the 72 – “And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.” Luke 10:7.
No specified percentage!
What percentage of grain did the ox eat? We don’t know, except that the ox had sufficient grain to keep it healthy and fit for work. Its needs were met. If Paul wanted the Corinthians to realize that tithing laws still applied – he would have quoted the scriptures in the law regarding tithing. Clearly, the new testament texts appeal to a principle, rather than the law when it comes to supporting those who labour for the gospel. What is clear, is that their needs should be met. Do you want a shepherd who’s burdened and distracted by various needs? Or a shepherd whose needs are met and they’re able to devote themselves to the work of the ministry?
BILL JOHNSON TWISTING THE SCRIPTURES
With that background in mind, we’re going to examine excerpts of a message by Bill Johnson. It’s a typical example of how most proponents of tithing like Robert Morris and Kenneth Copeland twist the scriptures. The transcript was published by Johnson’s publisher – Destiny Image. Titled Bill Johnson Tackles a Controversial Topic, the article is broken down into sections, each with a subheading. I’ll name the subheading the various quotes fall under.
Bill Johnson: “I’m just going to go for it like a bull in a china shop. But I want to take a look at something here and I’ll tell you the reason and the motivation. First of all, in obedience to the Lord, I do believe really strongly that God spoke to my heart a couple of months ago before ever coming here. In fact, before I ever knew I was coming here, or before you knew it.”
This is a typical claim employed by preachers to give their message the stamp of divine approval. Instead of appealing to the authority of scripture, listeners are expected to drop their guard and simply believe the message because the preacher heard from God.
Under the heading Spiritual Kindergarten—How We Handle Finances
Bill Johnson: “The way that we treat the finances in our own life biblically is the kindergarten of our spiritual life. You can’t get on to first, second, third grade until you do what He says with finances. It’s a very critical thing.”
The way we steward our finances are important, but to suggest that if we don’t tithe we’ll miss out on progressing to other “grades” is nonsense. What are these “grades” Johnson mentions? Johnson says when we obey God’s commands, blessing is released. What kind of “blessing” is an obsession at Bethel?
Bill Johnson: “..because in walking in obedience to God in all the different aspects and areas of our life, it releases His blessing. There’s not a person in this room who has truly met God that does not have a passion for the supernatural. It comes instinctively. It’s birthed in us. We read the stories in here of the multiplying of the loaves and the fishes. Anybody hungry for that kind of thing? For that kind of a day where the miraculous is not the exception but it’s the rule? Anybody else hungry for that?….Most of the time, the supernatural is released through our obedience.”
In other words what he’s saying is that if you are obedient in tithing faithfully, you’ve got a greater chance of experiencing the supernatural. Just step back for a moment, can you think of ANY verse in the bible that teaches this? (Johnson’s not done with this idea, he’s just planting the seed). Can you think of a group of people in the new testament equally obsessed with the supernatural?
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Matthew 7:22-23.
Under the heading Who Has Ownership Over My Life?
Bill Johnson: “All the gifts, the abilities. Everything that we have. Every dollar. Everything now belongs to God. We as believers are called stewards in the Bible. A steward is one who oversees another person’s possessions.”
Here, Johnson is correct. The very essence of the Christian life is self denial, and this should be reflected in the way we steward our finances. This would have been a good opportunity for Johnson to simply state that we are not instructed to tithe a percentage under the law, but to be wise stewards of 100% Sadly, the good Johnson has to say is overshadowed by the bad.
Bill Johnson: “I’m so glad that we live in blessings even though sometimes we live as jerks. That God still knows how to bless His people. But I’ll tell you what. There’s not a person in this room who has disobeyed God in this area that has become what God has intended them to be. It’s true. There’s not a person in the Body of Christ that has become all that God wants them to be who has disobeyed God in this particular area, in the area of finances. It is the starting point in the race of the gospel.”
That sounds like the law. And if you place yourself under the law, you’d better keep it all, or you’ve failed: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” James 2:10.
The starting point in the race is to get the gospel right. By conflating the law and gospel, Bethel not only gets the teaching of tithing wrong but veers off into other false doctrines.
Under the heading The Tithe and the Offering Brings the Release of the Miraculous
Bill Johnson: “I know how to give and I’ve seen God use that in my life in the tithe, in the offering to bring the release of the miraculous. This does not mean that somehow with my dollar I can buy a miracle. But with my dollar I bring myself under His leadership, and under His Lordship there is all kinds of stuff that I really want in my life.”
Search as you may, you will not find this principle in scripture, it’s a Bill Johnson concoction. Simon the sorcerer had the same idea. What Johnson’s saying is that your tithe won’t buy a miracle, but your stakes are higher. What he means by “stuff” I’m not sure, but rest assured the Johnsons live comfortably. How does Johnson explain away the fact that non-tithing Israelites were not excluded from the miraculous works God performed in their midst? What about the non-tithing disciples? How did a non-tither like Peter get to experience walking on water?
Bill Johnson: “But we’re going to read this passage of scripture here. Malachi chapter three. Last book in the Old Testament. We’re going to begin with verse six. “For I am the Lord, I do not change.” Old Testament or New Testament. I do not change. “’ Therefore you are not consumed, oh sons of Jacob. Yet from the days of your fathers, you have gone away from my ordinances and have not kept them. Return to me and I will return to you says,’ the Lord of hosts. ‘But you said, “In what way shall we return?” Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me. But you say, “In what way have we robbed You?”’” God’s answer? “In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse for you have robbed Me. Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and try me now in this.” Test me now in this and see, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:6-10 NKJV).
Note Johnson’s own words in the quote – “Old Testament or New Testament. I do not change.” This tactical insertion suggests that the law of tithing does not change. Johnson’s friend Robert Morris uses the same portion of verse 6 – “I do not change,” to argue that the law of tithing remains in effect:
“It is amazing to me how many people try to overlook this Scripture or explain it away. Some say, “Well, that’s in the Old Testament.” But in the very same chapter of Malachi, God says, “For I am the Lord, I do not change” (v.6)” -The Blessed Life.
Using that argument from their superficial theology, they should both be sacrificing lambs for their sins, and their followers should be bringing their tithes in the form of agricultural produce to “church” on Sundays. Johnson and Morris conveniently ignore the context – the reason Israel was being chastised instead of consumed for their wickedness is because of God’s covenant with them. The whole context has to do with Israel and the old covenant:
“The oracle of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi.” Malachi 1:1.
“And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.” Malachi 2:1-2
“You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.” Malachi 3:9.
God’s attributes don’t change, but his covenant has. The Mosaic law was not carried over into the new covenant, if that were true, Christ died in vain.
Bill Johnson: “It’s like God is saying, “Over here is this area, is this world, is this realm of blessing and you can’t handle all the blessing I’ve got set aside for you. ”You just simply can’t handle it, but to get there you’ve got to walk into this realm of the tithe and the offering.”
No, God is not saying this to his church, God said that to the nation of Israel. Now typically, people who believe this kind of message are hoping for a financial blessing, and in the case of Bethelites, miracles. But when God told Israel “..see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing,” it was literally a pouring. It’s the same form of speech we see in Genesis 7:11 – “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” The “blessing” was rain, not the supernatural multiplication of agricultural produce or finding silver in unexpected places. Prosperity was the reward for obedience under the old covenant. Under the new, obedience brings spiritual, not financial blessing. That’s not to say God doesn’t prosper some materially, but it’s not guaranteed and certainly not the case for the majority of believers.
What were some of the fruits of spiritual blessing in the new testament? Definitely not the accumulation of wealth, but the desire to share and meet the needs of others: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” Acts 4:31-35.
Bill Johnson: “but when it comes to the tithe and the offering…“it’s everybody’s personal decision.” No, the decision has been made by the Father. The Father says you rob me or you do what I say. What is the tithe? The tithe means 10%. You can’t tithe 5%…. You can’t tithe 20%. Tithe means tenth. That’s what it means. Tithe is 10%. He says you have robbed me because you have not brought the tithe into the storehouse.”
If Johnson knew what the scripture taught, he’d know there was more than one tithe of 10%. So strictly speaking, Johnson is teaching his followers to rob God by insisting on 10% instead of the 20% plus required under the Mosaic law.
Bill Johnson: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. Try me now in this.” There is no area of life where God has said, “I now give you permission to test me.” It’s the only place in scripture…But now God speaks to His people and He says, “There’s one area where I will give you access and opportunity to test me.” That’s in finances. That’s in our giving. That’s in the tithe and the offering. It’s the only area that we have not only been given opportunity but we’ve been given a divine invitation by God, “Come. See if you can out-give me. I challenge you. See if you can out-give me.”
No “His people” refers to his chosen nation – Israel. This elementary observation escapes those who believe they’ve stumbled upon a divine jackpot in the form of tithing. Many tithe simply because they want to get rich, and scripture warns us about this specific desire: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” 1 Timothy 6:9.
Under the heading The tithe belongs to God
Bill Johnson: “The tithe is not a gift. What do we do with the tithe? Can we take the tithe and send it to a missionary friend over here? Can we take the tithe and send it to the church down the road? Can I feed the poor with the tithe? No. No. God is very clear. Leviticus 27 says you cannot consecrate or dedicate the tithe, that which belongs to God. Why? It’s already dedicated.”
Again, Johnson’s ignorance is exposed. As we saw, there was a specific tithe for the poor. Johnson conveniently ignores the majority of the chapter which deals with vows and valuations (which he should practice if he wants to be consistent in his interpretation) and misses the context: “These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.” Leviticus 27:34. There are hundreds of commandments in the old testament law, but tithing is the one that’s conveniently still applicable.
Bill Johnson: “Some people have stated that the tithe is the law. We’re now under grace, which basically means under the law God can make you do something hard and under grace, you get to do what you want. Hebrews chapter seven, verses one and two. It says, “Melchizedek, king of Salem … to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all” (NASB). Four hundred years before the law, Abraham tithed. Jacob, one of his descendants says, “Of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee,” we have in Genesis 28:22 (KJV). Then comes the law. Leviticus 27:30, “All the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree. It is holy to the Lord” (NKJV). The law ratified what was already written.”
What Johnson conveniently left out regarding Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek:
• Abraham tithed from the spoils of war: “See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils!” Hebrews 7:4. Johnson should be consistent in the application of his interpretation of this verse and instruct his followers to plunder nearby cities in order to tithe to Bethel.
• Abraham gave the rest to the king of Sodom, except the share of the young men, and what they had eaten. He refused to keep even a “thread or a sandal strap” for himself. Genesis 14:20-24.
• This was a once off “tithe,” there’s no indication that he “tithed” from his own wealth, or ever again.
Those who use this verse in Hebrews 7 ignore the context, which is a new priesthood:
“For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” Hebrews 7:12.
“For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.” vs 18-19.
And in chapter 8, a new covenant:
“In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Hebrews 8:13.
Jacob’s voluntary tithe was based on specific promises (Genesis 28) There’s a record of Jacob offering sacrifices and offerings, but there’s no record of him paying the tithe.
If Abraham’s tithe and Jacob’s vow prove that what was written before the law means the law of tithing is still in effect, what about the Sabbath or circumcision? Both occurred before the law, became aspects of the law, yet are not binding on believers. Johnson suggests that those who oppose the law of tithing in the church age think that living under grace means we “get to do what you want” with our finances. This is simply not true, and we’ll examine this notion in the conclusion.
Bill Johnson: “Jesus after the law in Matthew 23 verse 23 says, “You tithe of mint and cumin and these things you should have done without neglecting the rest.” What is Jesus saying there? He ratifies what was established in the heart of men before the law. It was ratified by the law. Jesus comes along and He says, “This tithe, you should have done but don’t do it at the cost of neglecting true compassion for people.”
Johnson’s ignorance is astounding. What does he mean by “after the law?” Jesus was under the law: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4) as was his audience:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” Matthew 23:2-3.
No, Jesus wasn’t ratifying what was established in the heart of men before the law, that’s Johnson inserting his meaning into the text (eisegesis). Jesus is calling out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. Johnson leaves out the first part of verse one:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”
Johnson fails to mention that the law did not require Jesus to tithe! Joseph would not have tithed as he was a carpenter. Jesus began his ministry when he was thirty, and prior to that was known as a carpenter (Mark 6:3) which means Jesus was not required to tithe. The only record we have of Jesus paying money was for the temple tax (Exodus 30:13-16; Matthew 17:24-27).
The same people who use Matthew 23:23 to justify tithing in the church age, ignore other texts where Jesus is addressing the same audience – Jews under the law: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24. Does Johnson obey this text?
Under the heading The Consequences of Withholding the Tithe
Bill Johnson: “I’ve got some interesting news for you, and you all know this but you need to be reminded: We never get to keep the tithe. If I don’t give it to God, then God gives it to the devourer. You never get to keep it. That’s the bummer. You withhold it and what happens? A car breaks down again. Washing machine, amazing how many times that thing can break. Hello. Storm comes, a fence blows over, this happens. It’s amazing how many crazy things happen for people who just withhold the tithe. Why? Because you’ve become a legal target to the devourer. Does that scare anybody at all? A legal target. God says, “Yep it’s legal. He’s got a bull’s-eye right on his chest. Go for it. Just don’t take his life.”
When Johnson says “You never get to keep it” he’s revealing his ignorance of the law. As we’ve established, Israelites used the second tithe (feats or festival tithe) for their own consumption. Johnson’s last sentence may be an allusion to Job 1:12: “And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.” Even if it’s not, Job is an example of a blameless man who feared God (Job 1:1) and experienced far worse than a broken appliance or damaged structure. He lost servants, livestock, children, and his health. The suggestion that things go wrong because a believer has failed to tithe opens up a can of worms. It’s this kind of thinking that leads the biblically ignorant down a rabbit trail when they analyze various forms of loss or inconvenient circumstances. When dominion theology and the health & wealth gospel become the lens through which we analyze our circumstances, we’re back in the land of the law – “blessings and curses.” Using Johnson’s argument, we could conclude that Paul’s hardships (1 Corinthians 4:11; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28) were a result of his failure to tithe.
Who is the devourer? Johnson’s language implies that it’s the devil, and since the text for his message is Malachi 3, it’s his duty to identify the devourer from the context: “I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:11.
The devourer was not the devil, it was all the various pests such as caterpillars and locusts that devoured crops. So strictly speaking for example, only believers who farm on their own land in Israel and don’t tithe, would have their crops decimated by locust swarms.
Bill Johnson: “Then He says, “But if we bring the tithe into the storehouse and move in tithes and offerings, listen, you take 90% of your income. You can live further on 90% when it’s submitted to God than you can 100% when you got the devourer working in your life. How many of you know the devourer doesn’t always stop at 10% loss?”
Did God speak to Johnson’s heart, or did Johnson read his friend’s book? Compare Johnson’s words to this excerpt from The Blessed Life by Morris: “Would you rather try to make it through life with 100 percent of your income – but all of it cursed? Or would you rather try to make it through life with 90 percent of your income and all of it blessed, redeemed, and protected by God?”
Hopefully, Johnson will note that his friend is the one who teaches you get to do what you want – albeit with the 90%:
“Jesus has gone away for a season of time. He has said to each of us, “I want you to take care of My Bride (the Church) while I am away by giving 10 percent to My house. You can spend the remaining 90 percent as you desire.” Those who obey will be blessed. Those who go above and beyond will be blessed even more.” Robert Morris, The Blessed Life.
What neither of these men points out is that the early church didn’t spend a dime on fancy buildings, live in comfort, or peddle their teachings. What they are peddling, is a formula that supposedly works – irrespective of motives. Those who give money to Bethel, Gateway Church, Hillsong, and other “ministries” that twist the word of God are not “sowing into the kingdom,” they’re funding a delusion.
Under the heading The Test Is Before Us
Bill Johnson: “I have no desire for your money. It’s not useful to me.”
Oh but it is! According to this article “In fiscal year 2017-2018, according to its annual report, Bethel Church pulled in $21.6 million in income JUST from “tithes and offerings”. And that’s just a small chunk of their income – “In fiscal year 2017/2018, Bethel Church reported almost $60.8 million in overall income. And per its annual report, the bulk of that income came from sales, services and royalties, not from traditional tithes and offerings.” Apart from fleecing his flock through tithing, Johnson needs money for Bethels new 171,708-square-foot $96 campus that includes “1,851 parking spaces and 300 bike racks…a one-story worship center that seats 2,600 people and a two-story building for the School of Supernatural Ministry with classroom space for up to 3,000 students.” Of course, Johnson includes some form of a “divine mandate” and justify their pursuit of “God’s decree” over their movement.
Believers are not under the law and not required to tithe, but be generous givers instead. Believers don’t “get to do what they want” with their money as Johnson suggests. 100% belongs to God. We should be wise stewards of our finances, should not need coercion to give, but be eager and find great joy in doing so. For some of the wealthy, a compulsory 10% is a relief. Equally selfish, are some who don’t believe in a compulsory tithe, and seldom give. In both instances, funds that should be used for those in need, or those labouring for the gospel, are withheld. To some folk, giving ten percent may mean less food during the month for their children, to others giving ten percent means cutting short their annual holiday by a few days. To some poor, 10% is sacrificial giving, to some wealthy, 10% is stingy giving – you get the picture. (You may not believe in the compulsory tithe, and refer to your gift as a tithe, that’s not the issue, but it can cause confusion.)
Those who tithe or give motivated by fear or greed will miss the fruits of their giving. Those who give with the right motives will be rewarded, not necessarily in the material and temporary form, but definitely in the spiritual and eternal form:
“Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.” Philippians 4:17.
“And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it.” 2 Corinthians 8:10.
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.” 2 Corinthians 9:10.
View your giving not simply as meeting a need, but as an offering to God:
“I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Philippians 4:18-20.
I hope that this article will bring clarity where there’s been confusion or condemnation. Let me conclude with:
PRINCIPLES FOR GIVING
As far as a specific percentage is concerned – The New Testament makes no distinction between giving to the needy or giving to those who preach the gospel. In the light of this, we are governed by clear texts that contain principles regarding giving. They apply to the way we give to the local church, the needy, or any other ministry or mission.
• Not a law – but an act of grace
But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you- see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.” 2 Cor 8:7-8.
• Proportionate giving or giving according to your means
We see this principle of proportionate giving in the old testament (Deut 16:16-17) and the new testament:
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” 1 Cor 16:2.
“For they gave according to their means..” 2 Cor 8:3.
“For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” 2 Cor 8:13-15.
Proportionate giving means:
• The percentage is your decision
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7. (You may have decided, and be in the position to give 10% every month – nothing wrong with that, or any other percentage).
• Systematically & Intentionally
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” 1 Cor 16:2.
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” 2 Cor 9:7 (KJV).
A short sentence, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. The amount given is determined by the heart, but the decision or purpose to give already existed – “ἕκαστος καθὼς κ.τ.λ.: let each man give (understanding διδότω) according as he hath purposed (note the perf.; he implies that they had already made up their minds to give.” In other words, we don’t just give when we feel like it, we give because we have made the decision to give.
“for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord,” 2 Cor 8:2-3.
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 2 Corinthians 9:6.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21.