Religious Racketeering: The Tithe


Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

This scripture, found in the the 12th chapter of Mark’s gospel, is often used as an example of what God requires of us – not 10% or 50% but all of what we have. In comparison, the more well off religious people, although giving great quantities of money to the temple, are still left quite wealthy. Since they are rich they could give even more, but they do not, choosing to give the minimum requirement. This has been used as an indictment of those people who use legal loopholes to avoid total commitment to God.

Yet right before this happens Jesus says something about the teachers of the law, a law that compelled the faithful to sacrifice at the temple:

As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”

Is it merely coincidence that Jesus comments on the tithe of a poor widow, just after he specifically condemns the teachers of the law for taking advantage of widows? What does it mean when he says that they ‘devour widows’ houses’? These teachers (also referred to as scribes) were the literate class working for the wealthy and in that capacity they would draw up and administer loan agreements. They would also be the ones who foreclosed on those who could not repay these loans.

The teachers also were the ones that taught the necessity of the temple tax, part of which was paid as tribute to the Romans. The widow was obligated, according to the current interpretation of the law, to give half of what she had in her possession at that time, which would have been one penny. The significance of a system that required a poor widow to give half of what she owned while the wealthy class who administered the law were exempt from such hardship could not have been lost on Jesus. The obligatory tithe had long lost any scriptural validity as it was used to fund the Roman tribute as well as the lifestyles of their Vichy-like collaborators, the Herodians, religious leaders and scribes. It seems obvious, that although holding up the virtues of this poor widow, he was also condemning a corrupt domination system that was built on the backs of people like her.

Question; isn’t this still a problem that we have in the church today, where millions of ‘peasants’ support the opulent lifestyles of the Vatican in their Roman palaces? Isn’t this also the case with the many televangelists who live in luxury financed by the donations of their followers, many of them poor? I really don’t see how church leaders like Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Paul and Jan Crouch, Creflow Dollar, TD Jakes, Benny Hinn and Joseph Ratzinger are much different than the likes of Caiaphas or Herod (although to be fair, not all of them have the law on their side). These are just a few of the more obvious examples of a religious class who enjoy tremendous material benefits, earned at the expense of those who they supposedly are serving. But when it comes to soliciting money, even the Church as a whole, not to mention the thousands of small congregations, often resorts to a form of Biblical persuasion that is not unlike a Mafia protection racket.



  1. #1 by Marianne on February 15, 2008 - 3:04 pm

    The church is a business now…not a group of believers out to save the lost….the active ones have to be paid to do anything, which rarely reaches past their desks. Most 100K or more salaries are dependent upon the tithe of the poor widow, so the ministry can prove how God is blessing them. Sigh…..

    a poor widow

  2. #2 by Stephen Davis on February 23, 2008 - 6:03 pm

    It is my part time job debunking the tithe doctrine that is now so prevelant today. It is God’s will that we accept His free gift of salvation. From the grace that we have been given ‘freely’, we give to the poor, to those in need, to those who teach ‘good things’. This latter one is on the condition of ‘good things’. For this reason those who collect so called tithes are to be cut off from support. This is for their own benefit. It is as a rebuke of their covetous practice of calling the gifts given, tithes or offerings.

    In the law you could exchange the tithe for money (silver) Deut.14:25 If the tithe can be exchanged for money then the tithe cannot be money. The tithe was called holy. Jesus, who has replaced the land as our inheritance, is holy. Both, were exchanged for money. The thirty pieces of silver prophecy is primarily speaking of those who weigh the corn, oil, and wine for money. “If you think good, give price (wage), if not forbear (leave it alone).”

    So few people give God credit for knowing what money is in relation to the tithe. There it is in Deuteronomy 14. This portion also matches the parable of the tares that Jesus spoke of. Those who bind the money in their hand are to be bound themselves while the wheat (Christians) are to be gathered.

    The logic in this verse in Deut. 14 precludes the modern teaching of collecting tithes. This is why it is ignored. The reason tithes are gatherd into the storehouse is to keep the greedy from robbing the poor. Thus the complaint, there is no profit (gain) in serving God. Mal. 3

    Isaiah 33:15 says to despise the gain of extortion. This word is contructed the same as the word for ‘tithe’ cause that is what God is pointing at. The logic here also suggests that God is opposed to using the tithe law to get gain. Too many have no fear and are feasting among us. But then the scriptures tell us that this would be the case.

  3. #3 by inWorship on February 24, 2008 - 1:20 am

    Just curious. The tithe is an Old testament…Jewish tradition. If it is not something that is truly “Christian”, should we #1 be teaching it as a principle in churches. And #2 holding our giving in churches to a “tithe” standard if it isn’t a “tithe” to begin with.

  4. #4 by Marianne on February 24, 2008 - 6:26 am

    I also worship with Jewish friends, because I find being in the synagogue a way to find out how Jesus would have worshiped, and I can find out how Jews interpret the original scriptures. It is really an interesting atmosphere in there.

    Jews say the tithe was ONLY from the land of Israel, and was only wheat, oil, corn, and sometimes animals. The purpose of the tithe is to bless the LAND – ie dirt – of Israel, so that future crops would grow. Also, ONLY jews in Israel were to pay tithes, if they were farmers. Also, NO gentiles were to pay tithes if they lived there. So who pays tithes, and how much and what is paid is very limited. A jew who is a fisherman may not pay tithes.

    Also, the tithe had to ONLY be brought to the temple in jerusalem. Since there has been no temple for 2000 years, Jews do NOT pay tithes now. So right now, ANY tithe is not really legal, according to the most orthodox Jews, who are the most observant and strict in interpretation.

    This correct interpretation would really mess up most church systems.


  5. #5 by Christian on February 24, 2008 - 10:24 am

    Steve, that is exactly my point as well. I also think that this “Christian” tithe distracts us from some of the more important, yet more challenging, elements of Jesus’ message.

    Thanks, Steve, and welcome. I hope you are having some success with your quest. You have definitely shed some light on this controversial subject. Please continue to do so.

    Marianne, you always provide a very unique and valuable perspective. I would like to hear some of the defenders of a Christian (or contemporary) Jewish tithe respond to your comment. I always find it interesting (and at times frustrating) when so many would like to follow OT guidelines yet are not really interested in finding out the Jewish historical context was and is.

  6. #6 by ric booth on February 25, 2008 - 4:17 pm

    I find this whole discussion very interesting. Well… and very frustrating. I have been struggling with these questions for a couple of years. I know I need to continue to seek God’s will through His word, and follow Him as I feel led. I am reasonably sure that convenient and comfortable answers that respect my way of life are not God’s answers.

  7. #7 by Marianne on February 25, 2008 - 9:31 pm

    By the way, just because the tithe is not official right now for Jews, does not mean they do not give offerings. They give a lot to charity and the poor, and give in other ways too. The bible does encourage many types of giving. If we do it from the heart, then we do not need to worry about any laws. We are covered under grace now.

  8. #8 by George Greene on February 26, 2008 - 7:19 am

    i certainly agree that the real lesson to be learned about Jesus and the widow was the fact that religious leaders were plundering widows and Jesus was demonstrating to the disciples how it was being done. Contrary to what is commonly taught, every gift or offering put in a church basket is NOT a gift to God. The way to give to God is to help those in need.

    Giving a ‘tithe’, ‘sowing a seed’, or just giving to get some supposed guarantee from God are all out of line with scripture. As Christians we should NOT be giving to get blessed but instead give to bless others in need. ”

    To Marianne:
    The things you mentioned about the OT tithe are exactly correct with just one exception. You said “Also, the tithe had to ONLY be brought to the temple in jerusalem.”
    That’s not quite accurate as I understand it. There were multiple tithes. It’s either three or 4 – depending on how you count them. I count them as four. They are:
    1)The Levitical tithe required those who raised crops (not everyone and not all professions – just those who raised crops) to give 10% of that to the Levites. This tithe only occurred 6 years out of the 7 year cycle. It also required those that raised 10 or more animals to give each tenth animal that passed under the rod to the Levites. If a person raised less than 10 animals, they were NOT required to tithe.
    2) From what was given to them, the Levites in turn had to give a tenth of the very best to the priests.
    3) The festival tithe required that those who raised crops or animals to set aside 10% for the annual festivals. It was for the people to have a party and consume the food joyfully and alcoholic beverages (strong drink) if they wanted.
    4) The Poor tithe occurred only in the 3rd and 6th years of the seven year cycle. This was set aside for the poor. 

    All tithes were always food and NEVER money.

    I go into more detail on my website, where, if you have a high speed internet connection, you can view or download my FREE series of 10 – 30 minute lessons titled “The Truth About Tithing”.

    To Preechaman7: You said “I hope to one day be able to give that church back the money it paid me over the 5 years I was there. ”

    Please consider this: I believe that God is pleased that you now have a different perspective on things however, I don’t think he would encourage you to be under the bondage of feeling like you need to give that money back. Look at Abram. He gained a lot of wealth by putting his wife at risk in the in the pharoah’s harem. God protected the both of them and they left with all that was given to him. I think that was OK that they left with the money. I believe that issue was still on his mind when he rescued Lot and absolutely refused to take any of the spoils for himself. He had taken an oath prior to going after the 4 kings. I’m not recommending that you take any sort of oath but just that you need to forgive yourself and move on and let what you have since learned influence your future decisions.

  9. #9 by George Greene on February 26, 2008 - 7:21 am

    I should clarify that I believe it was truly a bad choice for Abram to put his wife at risk!!

  10. #10 by Lord Sergeo on July 4, 2008 - 3:24 pm

    I know it’s too late if anyone is reading this now but let’s look at it for what it really is. The Universe (God) is not a systematic form of commerce. Commerce is a man made thing and far from a natural order. With that being said, God don’t really need my money. I think a little appreciation would be nice. As far as who God bless and who he doesn’t, if this could be narrowed down by servants and those who don’t serve, I think I’d rather be a non-servant if financial blessings is all there is to live for.

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