Thursday, September 1, 2011

Does Leviticus 27 Prove Tithe isn't on Income?

One of the foundations of the anti-tithing argument is that the bible gives very specific lists of those things which are to be tithed on and that these lists do not include (among many things) money earned for one's labor. While they are correct in asserting that the lists do not include monetary income, they are incorrect in assuming that these lists were ever intended to be an exhaustive guideline. In the interest of not having an excruciatingly long article on the subject, I've decided to do a series of posts dealing with each relevant passage. If you're just stumbling upon this tithing discussion, an overview and summary of the articles I've written on tithing can be found on the tithing page.

Leviticus 27
Leviticus 27 is the first instance in the Old Covenant law in which tithing is mentioned, though the concept of giving a "tithe" or "tenth" to God is presented in the stories of Abraham and Jacob in Genesis. Due to the objections of anti-tithers, I am purposely refraining from using these accounts to make any points until after I have had an opportunity to address them properly.

The heading for Leviticus 27 in the New King James is "Redeeming Persons and Property Dedicated to God." When a person dedicated something of his to God, he was permitted, in some cases, to instead pay a certain amount of money to keep it or get it back, and this process is known as redemption. Leviticus 27 gives various rules for what could be redeemed and the price of redemption when applicable.
  • Verses 1-25 explain the rules for redemption in the specific cases that someone has voluntarily dedicated people, animals, houses, or fields to God by a vow.
  • Verses 26-27 discuss when and how the firstborn of animals, both clean and unclean, can be redeemed, since it was mandatory that all firstborn animals be dedicated to God. 
  • Verses 28-29 state that no "devoted offerings" of men, animals, or fields that a person possesses may be redeemed. To my knowledge, we are not given a clear definition of what a "devoted offering" is in scripture or how it differs from a vow, and this is the only place where the phrase appears.
  • Verses 30-33 discuss whether and how one could redeem tithes of the land and of the herds and flocks.
The central topic of Leviticus 27 is not tithing, as you can see from this breakdown. The focus is on various instances in which redemption is permitted. The relevant passage concerning tithing reads as follows:
Leviticus 27:30-33
And 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. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. He shall not inquire whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange it; and if he exchanges it at all, then both it and the one exchanged for it shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed.
Anti-tithers will argue that the "tithe of the land" and the "tithe of the herd and flock" are the only categories of tithe because these are the only ones for which instructions about redemption are given. However, is that interpretation consistent with the context of the overall chapter?

As I pointed out before, verses 1-25 give instruction on how and when vows could be redeemed in the specific instances of people, animals, houses, and fields. If you were to make a vow to commit something other than these for service, there are no guidelines about how to redeem it. Following the logic applied by anti-tithers to the verses on tithing here, that would imply that it was illegal to make a vow about anything other than these specific things. Furthermore, what if a person vowed one of the above forms of property, but only for a specified period of time? This conclusion is clearly not the intent of these verses. There is an unfathomable number of vows that a person could make for which instructions for redemption are not mentioned, and the "list" of circumstances in which redemption is discussed did not restrict the Israelites to making vows only of that type.

Similarly, just because the "tithe of the land" and the "tithe of the herd or the flock" are the only items for which redemptions instructions are given does not imply that they are the only categories of tithe. The same applies for those "devoted offerings" in verses 28-29 - the only categories listed are people, animals, and fields, but this does not necessarily restrict the things which a person may devote to God.

We should also consider that wine and oil - two products which are specifically commanded to be tithed on elsewhere - are absent from this "list." Anti-tithers claim that wine and oil are part of the "tithe of the land" since they are obtained by processing grapes and olives, but I disagree. The command is clear that they were to tithe on "the seed of the land [and] the fruit of the tree," and I don't consider wine or oil to fall into that category because the majority of the fruit used in producing these products is actually discarded in the process. Also, in the case of wine, the fermentation process produces alcohol, a component which is definitely not part of the fruit itself, and to tithe on wine requires tithe on the alcohol that clearly formed after the fruit had been harvested. I gave some additional consideration to how wine and oil fit into the tithing discussion in the previous article.

The absence of oil and wine from the redemption discussion in Leviticus 27 supports the conclusion that this "list" is actually not a list of what things to tithe on at all. Rather, it's a set of instructions on what can be redeemed and for how much. Furthermore, even if it were a list, it could still only be regarded as an incomplete list, which I have demonstrated by my analysis of what the chapter says about vows.

There is still much more that I want to delve into concerning the laws of redemption. For example, what should a person do if they want to redeem the tithe of their wine? The discussion in Leviticus 27 says that tithes of crops can be redeemed and that tithes of animals can't, but it gives no position whatsoever on wine. I believe that there are logical reasons for discussing redemption for only these two things, and I would like to take a closer look when time permits.


  1. You are mixing vows with the laws of tithing, and you are mixing the three tithes.

    The first tithe (Leviticus 27:30-33, Numbers 18) is the ONLY tithe that was paid to God, and He gave that tithe to the Levites. That tithe says nothing about wine or oil.

    The second tithe was eaten at the festival, so it included processed foods - the oil and wine.

    The tithing commands have nothing to do with vows. They are laws.

    Each of the three tithing laws has its distinct definition, instruction, and purpose. You can't mix them. You can't take the instruction for one and apply it to another.

  2. I'm not mixing vows and tithing, I'm just applying consistent logic to how we understand each of them. What I've written here argues that the topic at hand in Leviticus 27 is not "how to tithe" any more than it is "how to make vows" - the topic of the entire chapter is redemption.

    I'll look further into the distinction between the definitions of the tithes, but my understanding is that each of the tithes belongs to God and that God decides who can receive it. First tithe is received by the Levites, second tithe is received by the person who gave it on condition of using it at the festivales, and the third tithe is received by the poor and the Levite within your gates, but all of it is given to God by the tither.


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