Saturday, October 1, 2011

Does Numbers 18 Prove Tithing Isn't on Income?

After the discussion of tithes in Leviticus 27 in the context of redemption, tithing isn't discussed again until Numbers 18. Here, the main theme is that tithe was to be the wages and inheritance of the Levites.

Again, we find absolutely no instructions saying "you shall tithe on the following items." Rather, the only indication in this chapter that tithe was to be received in the form of food comes in verse 31:
Numbers 18:30-31
Therefore you shall say to them: ‘When you have lifted up the best of it, then the rest shall be accounted to the Levites as the produce of the threshing floor and as the produce of the winepress. You may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward for your work in the tabernacle of meeting.

Anti-tithers claim that this passage proves that the tithe was only on food since the tithe was "accounted to the Levites as the produce of the threshing floor and as the produce of the winepress." They argue that the reference to the threshing floor and the winepress (i.e. the production of grain and wine) clearly indicates that the Levites received only food products as tithe. I have two issues with this interpretation of these verses:
  1. There is no analogous statement for the tithe of other specifically commanded products, such as animals or fruit trees. As a result, this passage cannot be construed as a guide for what to tithe on, nor does the context dictate that it should be taken that way, as I will later explain.
  2. Taking this as a guide for what to tithe on would actually lead one to tithe on finished products - grain and wine - rather than the raw harvest - wheat and grapes. This opens the door for arguments about tithing on labor rather than just the produce. I described such arguments concerning wine and oil in detail in the linked article, and these arguments extend logically to the act of threshing wheat into grain. Anti-tithers reject these arguments on the premise that such finished products were not part of the tithe given to the Levites. Instead, they claim that wine and oil are mentioned only as part of the second tithe; but that stance contradicts their view of this verse since the "produce of the winepress" would refer directly to wine.
Verse 31 provides the actual reason for which the winepress and threshing floor were mentioned: it is reckoned to them as the produce of the threshing floor or of the winepress so that they would know, "you may eat it in any place." The Levites were allowed to eat parts of some types of offerings, but, because they were holy to God, there were restrictions placed on their consumption. Some could only be eaten at the door of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 8:31), others could be eaten only in a ceremonially clean place (Leviticus 10:14), and some had to be burned up if not completely eaten within 3 days (Leviticus 7:18). Therefore, it makes sense that God would take care to clarify for them that they didn't have to eat the edible portion of the tithe under any particular set of circumstances as they did with these offerings.

For an overview, the relevant part of Numbers 18 breaks down as follows:
  • Verses 21-24: God declares that a tithe will be given from the children of Israel to the Levites in exchange for their services in the Temple as an inheritance, as I've examined previously in detail.  
  • Verses 25-27: God commands that the Levites regard their tithe as though they had earned it themselves, as I explained above.
  • Verse 28: Because the tithe is reckoned to them as though they had earned it, then they should in turn give a tenth of what they received (sometimes referred to as a "tithe of the tithe") to the priests.
  • Verse 29: Stipulates that the part given by the Levites as the "tithe of the tithe" to the priests must be the best part of what the Levites were given from the tithes of the rest of Israel.
  • Verses 30-31: Reiterates that the portion given to the Levite, after the Levite had taken out a tithe of it for the priest, belonged to the Levites as though they had worked for it themselves - therefore, they were free to use it as they pleased.
  • Verse 32: States again that the Levite would not incur sin by how they consumed the tithe, but warns them against profaning the "holy gifts of the children of Israel."
The focus here is not at any point to give individual instructions on how to tithe or what to tithe on. The context of the statement that the tithe belonged to the Levite "as the produce of the threshing floor and the produce of the winepress" is most logically understood in the sense of "the tithe is yours as though you had labored for it yourself." This continues to drive home my prior point that the tithe was not merely for the Levites' inheritance, but also the product of their labor for the Tabernacle/Temple.


  1. But this tithe is defined in Leviticus 27:30-33. So whether you are satisfied that tithing can or cannot be on income from Numbers 18, God gave His definition in Leviticus 27.

  2. As I stated on my article on Leviticus 27 (linked at beginning of this blog post), I don't think that Leviticus 27:30-33 can be construed as a definitive guide to 1st tithe - as a matter of fact, it occurs to me that there is absolutely no qualifying statement in those verses to indicate that it is referring to only the first tithe. Instead, it seems to be a guide for redemption that specifically treats tithe in the form of livestock and crops. It neglects to comment, for whatever reason, on refined products, such as wine and oil (and also grain), which are more than merely the product of the harvest because they require additional labor.

    Your claim previously was that because wine and oil were not included in Lev 27 that they were not part of the 1st tithe. On the other hand, you used Numbers 18:30 as evidence that the Levites only received food as tithe even though that would mean that they were specifically receiving wine. All of my arguments to the contrary aside, the fact still remains that from a logical standpoint you must concede that your view on one of these scriptures is wrong. It appears that you are more willing to let go of your view of Numbers 18:30, which makes sense because you want to try to diminish the possibility of the arguments that I have made concerning tithe on labor vs. tithe on the raw harvest.

  3. EVEN IF the Israelites tithed on the product including the labor, it was still restricted to items of food from crops and animals. Since only the land owners tithed, the hired farm workers did not tithe on their labor. Nor did wage earners. There is just nothing in the scriptures to support tithing anything other than food.

  4. There is no scripture to support the assertion that only the land owners tithed - this is a secondary conclusion from your initial assumption about the nature of tithe.

    In any case, the entire reason for my "labor vs. miracle" and "labor vs. product" arguments was a response to your (and others') claims that the tithe was merely on the food product itself because it was God's miracle that brought it forth. As I continue to think through and examine these things in detail, we will see which arguments hold up and which do not. In the meantime, I think I've sufficiently demonstrated - at the very least - that tithe was on "the production of food," since the tithe is clearly also on the labor that brings it to usable form. This is also evident in the fact that there would be no need to tithe on a field that was left unharvested - even though God gave the increase by allowing the crops to grow, it is not tithable until it actually comes into the possession of the farmer in a form of value.


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