Easton's Bible Dictionary
A tenth of the produce of the earth consecrated and set
apart for special purposes. The dedication of a tenth to God was recognized as
a duty before the time of Moses. Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek ( Genesis
14:20 ; Hebrews 7:6 ); and Jacob vowed unto the Lord and said, "Of all that thou
shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee."
The first Mosaic law on this subject is recorded in Leviticus 27:30 - 32 . Subsequent
legislation regulated the destination of the tithes ( Numbers 18:21 - 24 , 18:26
- 28 ; Deuteronomy 12:5 , 12:6 , 12:11 , 12:17 ; 14:22 , 14:23 ). The paying of
the tithes was an important part of the Jewish religious worship. In the days
of Hezekiah one of the first results of the reformation of religion was the eagerness
with which the people brought in their tithes ( 2 Chronicles 31:5 , 31:6 ). The
neglect of this duty was sternly rebuked by the prophets ( Amos 4:4 ; Malachi
3:8 - 10 ). It cannot be affirmed that the Old Testament law of tithes is binding
on the Christian Church, nevertheless the principle of this law remains, and is
incorporated in the gospel ( 1 Corinthians 9:13 , 9:14 ); and if, as is the case,
the motive that ought to prompt to liberality in the cause of religion and of
the service of God be greater now than in Old Testament times, then Christians
outght to go beyond the ancient Hebrew in consecrating both themselves and their
substance to God.
Every Jew was required by the Levitical law to pay three tithes of his property:
|(1) one tithe for the Levites;
(2) one for the use of the temple and the great feasts; and
(3) one for the poor of the land.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
The proportion of property devoted to religious uses
from very early times. Instances of the use of tithes are found prior to the appointment
of the Levitical tithes under the law. In biblical history the two prominent instances
|Abram presenting the tenth of all his property,
or rather of the spoils of his victory, to Melchizedek. ( Genesis 14:20 ; Hebrews
7:2 Hebrews 7:6 )
Jacob, after his vision at Luz, devoting a tenth of all his property to God in
case he should return home in safety ( Genesis 28:22 )
The first enactment of the law in respect of tithe
is the declaration that the tenth of all produce, as well as of flocks and cattle
belongs to Jehovah and must be offered to him that the tithe was to be paid in
kind, or, if redeemed, with an addition of one fifth to its value. ( Leviticus
27:30-33 ) This tenth is ordered to be assigned to the Levites as the reward of
their service, and it is ordered further that they are themselves to dedicate
to the Lord a tenth of these receipts, which is to be devoted to the maintenance
of the high priest. ( Numbers 18:21-28 ) This legislation is modified or extended
in the book of Deuteronomy, i.e. from thirty-eight to forty years later.
Commands are given to the people--
|To bring their tithes, together with their votive and other
offerings and first-fruits, to the chosen centre of worship, the metropolis, there
to be eaten in festive celebration in company with their children their servants
and the Levites. ( Deuteronomy 12:5 - 18 )
All the produce of the soil was to be tithed every and these tithes with the firstlings
of the flock and herd, were to be eaten in the metropolis.
But in case of distance, permission is given to convert the produce into money,
which is to be taken to the appointed place, and there laid out in the purchase
of food for a festal celebration, in which the Levite is, by special command,
to be included. ( Deuteronomy 14:22 - 27 )
Then follows the direction that at the end of three years all the tithe of that
year is to be gathered and laid up "within the gates" and that a festival
is to be held of which the stranger, the fatherless and the widow together with
the Levite, are to partake. Ibid. ( Deuteronomy 5:28 , 5:29 )
Lastly it is ordered that after taking the tithe in each third year, "which is
the year of tithing," an exculpatory declaration is to be made by every Israelite
that he has done his best to fulfill the divine command, ( Deuteronomy 26:12 -
From all this we gather--
|(1) That one tenth of the whole produce of the soil was
to be assigned for the maintenance of the Levites.
(2) That out of this the Levites were to dedicate a tenth to God for the use of
the high priest.
(3) That a tithe, in all probability a second tithe, was to be applied to festival
(4) That in every third year, either this festival tithe or a third tenth was
to be eaten in company with the poor and the Levites. (These tithes in early times
took the place of our modern taxes, us well as of gifts for the support of religious
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
tith (ma'aser; dekate):
The custom of giving a 10th part of the products of the land and of the spoils
of war to priests and kings (1 Macc 10:31 ; 11:35 ; 1 Samuel 8:15 , 17) was a
very ancient one among most nations. That the Jews had this custom long before
the institution of the Mosaic Law is shown by Genesis 14:17 - 20 (compare Hebrews
7:4) and Genesis 28:22. Many critics hold that these two passages are late and
only reflect the later practice of the nation; but the payment of tithes is so
ancient and deeply rooted in the history of the human race that it seems much
simpler and more natural to believe that among the Jews the practice was in existence
long before the time of Moses.
In the Pentateuch we find legislation as to tithes in three places.
|(1) According to Leviticus 27:30 - 33, a tithe had to be
given of the seed of the land, i.e. of the crops, of the fruit of the tree, e.g.
oil and wine, and of the herd or the flock (compare Deuteronomy 14:22 , 23 ; 2
Chronicles 31:5 , 6). As the herds and flocks passed out to pasture they were
counted (compare Jeremiah 33:13 ; Ezekiel 20:37), and every 10th animal that came
out was reckoned holy to the Lord. The owner was not allowed to search among them
to find whether they were bad or good, nor could he change any of them; if he
did, both the one chosen and the one for which it was changed were holy. Tithes
of the herds and flocks could not be redeemed for money, but tithes of the seed
of the land and of fruit could be, but a 5th part of the value of the tithe had
to be added.
(2) In Numbers 18:21 - 32 it is laid down that the tithe must be paid to the Levites.
(It should be noted that according to Hebrews 7:5, 'they that are of the sons
of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood .... take tithes of the people.'
Westcott's explanation is that the priests, who received from the Levites a tithe
of the tithe, thus symbolically received the whole tithe. In the time of the second
temple the priests did actually receive the tithes. In the Talmud (Yebhamoth 86a
et passim) it is said that this alteration from the Mosaic Law was caused by the
sin of the Levites, who were not eager to return to Jerusalem, but had to be persuaded
to do so by Ezra (Ezra 8:15).) The Levites were to receive the tithes offered
by Israel to Yahweh, because they had no other inheritance, and in return for
their service of the tabernacle (Numbers 18:21, 24). The tithe was to consist
of corn of the threshing-floor and the fullness of the wine press (Numbers 18:27),
which coincides with seed of the land and fruit of the trees in Leviticus 27.
The Levites, who stood in the same relation to the priests as the people did to
themselves, were to offer from this their inheritance a heave offering, a tithe
of a tithe, to the priests (compare Nehemiah 10:39), and for this tithey were
to choose of the best part of what they received.
(3) In Deuteronomy 12:5 , 6 , 11 , 18 (compare Amos 4:4) it is said that the tithe
is to be brought "unto the place which Yahweh your God shall choose out of all
your tribes, to put his name there," i.e. to Jerusalem; and in Deuteronomy 12:7,
12, 18, that the tithe should be used there as a sacred meal by the offerer and
his household, including the Levite within his gates. Nothing is said here about
tithing cattle, only grain, wine and oil being mentioned (compare Nehemiah 10:36
- 38 ; 13:5, 12). In Deuteronomy 14:22 - 29 it is laid down that if the way was
too long to carry the tithe to Jerusalem it could be exchanged for money, and
the money taken there instead, where it was to be spent in anything the owner
chose; and whatever was bought was to be eaten by him and his household and the
Levites at Jerusalem. In the third year the tithe was to be reserved and eaten
at home by the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. In Deuteronomy
26:12 - 15 it is laid down that in the 3rd year, after this feast had been given,
the landowner should go up himself before the Lord his God, i.e. to Jerusalem,
and ask God's blessing on his deed. (According to the Mishna, CoTah 9 10; Ma'aser
Sheni 5 65, the high priest Johanan abolished this custom.) In this passage this
3rd year is called "the year of tithing."
There is thus an obvious apparent discrepancy between the legislation in Leviticus
and Deuteronomy. It is harmonized in Jewish tradition, not only theoretically
but in practice, by considering the tithes as three different tithes, which are
named the First Tithe, the Second Tithe, and the Poor Tithe, which is called also
the Third Tithe (Pe'ah, Ma'aseroth, Ma'ser Sheni, Dema'i, Ro'sh ha-shanah; compare
Tobit 1:7,8; Ant, IV, iv, 3; viii, 8; viii, 22). According to this explanation,
after the tithe (the First Tithe) was given to the Levites (of which they had
to give the tithe to the priests), a Second Tithe of the remaining nine-tenths
had to be set apart and consumed in Jerusalem. Those who lived far from Jerusalem
could change this Second Tithe into money with the addition of a 5th part of its
value. Only food, drink or ointment could be bought for the money (Ma'aser Sheni
2 1; compare Deuteronomy 14:26). The tithe of cattle belonged to the Second Tithe,
and was to be used for the feast in Jerusalem (Zebhachim 5 8). In the 3rd year
the Second Tithe was to be given entirely to the Levites and the poor. But according
to Josephus (Ant., IV, viii, 22) the "Poor Tithe" was actually a third one. The
priests and the Levites, if landowners, were also obliged to give the Poor Tithe
(Pe'ah 1 6).
The explanation given by many critics, that the discrepancy between Deuteronomy
and Leviticus is due to the fact that these are different layers of legislation,
and that the Levitical tithe is a post-exilian creation of the Priestly Code,
is not wholly satisfactory, for the following reasons:
|(1) The allusion in Deuteronomy 18:1 , 2 seems to refer
to the Levitical tithe.
(2) There is no relation between the law of Numbers 18 and post-exilian conditions,
when the priests were numerous and the Levites a handful.
(3) A community so poor and disaffected as that of Ezra's time would have refused
to submit to a new and oppressive tithe burden.
(4) The division into priests and Levites cannot have been of the recent origin
that is alleged.
W. R. Smith and others suggest that the tithe is simply a later form of the first-fruits,
but this is difficult to accept, since the first-fruits were given to the priest,
while the tithes were not. The whole subject is involved in considerable obscurity,
which with our present information cannot easily be cleared away.
The Talmudic law of tithing extends the Mosaic Law, with most burdensome minuteness,
even to the smallest products of the soil. Of these, according to some, not only
the seeds, but, in certain cases, even the leaves and stalks had to be tithed
(Ma'aseroth 4 5), "mint, anise, and cummin" (Dema'i 11 1; compare Matthew 23:23
; Luke 11:42). The general principle was that "everything that is eaten, that
is watched over, and that grows out of the earth" must be tithed (Ma'aseroth 1
Considering the many taxes, religious and secular, that the Jews had to pay, especially
in post-exilian times, we cannot but admire the liberality and resourcefulness
of the Jewish people. Only in the years just after the return from exile do we
hear that the taxes were only partially paid (Nehemiah 13:10 ; compare Malachi
1:7; and for pre-exilian times compare 2 Chronicles 31:4). In later times such
cases seldom occur (Sotah 48a), which is the more surprising since the priests,
who benefited so much by these laws of the scribes, were the adversaries of the
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