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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

Early Christian writers on the Tithe

Tithing: Intro and Eternal Principle Argument (Part 1)
Tithing: Eternal Principle Argument (Part 2)
Tithing: Matthew 23 and Hebrews 7
Tithing: The Absence of An Explicit Discontinuation
Early Christian writers on the Tithe

The doctrine that the tithe did not continue under the New Covenant is one agreed upon by prominent orthodox Christian writes such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. Before we quote their comments on the matter, it is important to remember the backdrop of their comments. The early Church, as evidenced in both the book of Acts as well as in the epistles, shared their belongings communally, distributing according to need. Some gave what they could. Others were wealthy and so much more than could have been asked of them, including property in order to contribute to the needy.

Acts 2:44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

Acts 4:32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. 36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, 37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.

The goal was equity and the focus was on giving to those who lacked, not giving to the local church leaders.

2 Corinthians 8:12 For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not. 13 For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: 14 But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: 15 As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.

If local church leaders were included, it was only because they too were in lack potentially because their work in the church prohibited them from working more to support themselves with their own hands. (For more on the extent to which local church leaders were supposed to receive a share alongside the poor from the weekly distribution, please visit our articles entitled, "Financial Support for Ministers.")

It is in this historical context and Christian community that Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian made the following comments. When Irenaeus writes that "instead of the law enjoining the giving of tithes" Christians were instructed "to share(7) all our possessions with the poor," he is simply referring to Acts 4:32 and the fact that no Christian though of the things "which he possessed was his own" but instead viewed his own possessions as belonging to all so that "they had all things common." As the quotes below demonstrate, it was this practice of opening one's home and sharing all things in common that replaced the tithe under the New Covenant.

We will also notice from the quotes below that the giving was always voluntary according, it was not obligatory, but as Justin Martyr said, it was for those who are "willing" and "what each thinks fit." And Tertullian says similarly that it each one gave "if he likes," and "only if it be his pleasure" because "there is no compulsion; all is voluntary." And this instruction they received from Paul who wrote in 2 Corinthians 8 that the prerequisite to giving was that "there be first a willing mind."

For those modern tithe advocates who suggest we must reinstate the tithe because it was part of original, orthodox teaching, let them instead institute these communal standards, which were truly the original Christian doctrine while the tithe was not.

Here then are the quotes from Justin Marty, Irenaeus, and Tertullian confirming the doctrinal conclusions we have made in our study that the tithe is not in effect under the New Covenant.

"And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son…Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday,(1)and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given,(3) and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need." - Justin Martyr, THE FIRST APOLOGY OF JUSTIN, CHAP. LXVII., WEEKLY WORSHIP OF THE CHRISTIANS

"3. …and instead of the law enjoining the giving of tithes, [He told us] to share(7) all our possessions with the poor; and not to love our neighbours only, but even our enemies; and not merely to be liberal givers and bestowers, but even that we should present a gratuitous gift to those who take away our goods." - Irenaeus, AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK IV., CHAP. XIII., CHRIST DID NOT ABROGATE THE NATURAL PRECEPTS OF THE LAW, BUT RATHER FULFILLED AND EXTENDED THEM. HE REMOVED THE YOKE AND BONDAGE OF THE OLD LAW, SO THAT MANKIND, BEING NOW SET FREE, MIGHT SERVE GOD WITH THAT TRUSTFUL PIETY WHICH BECOMETH SONS

"2. And the class of oblations in general has not been set aside; for there were both oblations 485 there [among the Jews], and there are oblations here [among the Christians]. Sacrifices there were among the people; sacrifices there are, too, in the Church: but the species alone has been changed, inasmuch as the offering is now made, not by slaves, but by freemen. For the Lord is [ever] one and the same; but the character of a servile oblation is peculiar [to itself], as is also that of freemen, in order that, by the very oblations, the indication of liberty may be set forth. For with Him there is nothing purposeless, nor without signification, nor without design. And for this reason they (the Jews) had indeed the tithes of their goods consecrated to Him, but those who have received liberty set aside all their possessions for the Lord's purposes, bestowing joyfully and freely not the less valuable portions of their property, since they have the hope of better things [hereafter]; as that poor widow acted who cast all her living into the treasury of God." - Irenaeus, AGAINST HERESIES, BOOK IV, CHAP. XVIII., CONCERNING SACRIFICES AND OBLATIONS, AND THOSE WHO TRULY OFFER THEM

"On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary." - Tertullian, THE APOLOGY, Chapter XXXIX.