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To the best of my knowledge (which might be incomplete), pretty much all instances of tithing in the Bible involve agricultural produce or animals. Even in the time of Jesus, when money was commonplace in the Roman Empire, the Pharisees would tithe "mint, dill and cumin", as indicated by Matthew 23:23 (NIV):

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

What is the biblical basis for tithing money instead of agricultural produce or animals?

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    Challenge: If tithing was only agricultural produce as you say, did carpenters for example not have to pay tithes?
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 7, 2020 at 14:08
  • @kutschkem - that's a good question, which should be answerable by looking at the historical evidence: is there any evidence of carpenters tithing with money during the first century or before?
    – user50422
    Commented Dec 7, 2020 at 14:59
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    I'm not sure the question deserves the upvotes. Here is another idea: For sacrifices, people were able to buy animals if they didn't have suitable animals themselves. This is indirectly substituting money for something else the law demanded. I am not aware of such laws regarding tithing (but to be honest, I am not aware of many laws regarding tithing in general), but there is precedent in the law for substituting money.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 7, 2020 at 15:45
  • According to Leviticus 27:30-32, agricultural tithes can be redeemed with money, but not animals.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Dec 7, 2020 at 15:53
  • @kutschkem - I don't see the word money/cash being used, it just says value. But again, the command is to tithe the agricultural produce from the land (and animals, I forgot that one). If someone is a carpenter and does not cultivate plants or raise animals of any sort, that person is not expected to tithe, right?
    – user50422
    Commented Dec 7, 2020 at 15:58

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After the fall harvest, people would travel to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. People would reserve a tenth of their harvest for what, in addition to being a religious experience, was like an annual week-long holiday.

For those that lived far from the city, bringing a tenth of their harvest would be impractical, so they sold it locally and instead carried their tithe as cash.

“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household. — Deuteronomy 14:22–26

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When the tithe system was set up, the only income that existed for Israelites was agricultural. Wealth was entirely in terms of animals and crops. So in the context when the law was given, the command is to "give a tenth of your agricultural income", but the command is just as much "give a tenth of all your income", since those meant the same thing.

As Israel became more settled and less dependent on agriculture it would have become necessary to decide whether the original command meant "all income" or "just agriculture". Ancient Israel decided that it meant "all income" and Christians follow suit.

It is also worth pointing out that law in Biblical times was "normative" rather than "prescriptive". Whereas we are used to laws being exact definitions, ancient laws were examples to be applied. So if the ancient law said you had to repay someone if their ox fell down your well, that didn't mean you were exempt if their goat or sheep did.

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  • 1) What about other professions, such as carpentry? Were carpenters also commanded to give the tenth of their carpentry produce? 2) What is the evidence that supports your second paragraph? 3) Where is the biblical basis in all this (see biblical-basis tag) ?
    – user50422
    Commented Dec 7, 2020 at 15:02
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History of Tithing A summary of the history of tithing might just be in order first to bring clarity to this issue. In the Ancient world tithing was well known in all the major empires. There are archaeological records giving instances where the rulers gave a "tenth" to their Temples...especially after a victory in battle.

Abraham Thus we see Abraham giving a "tenth" of the booty he took from the war with the northern tribes. Note that these were not income from agricultural produce that he had raised. We have no Biblical statement requiring this, but it was the normative cultural practice of old. Some commentators say this practice was handed down from the sacrifices of Cain and Able (Cain's sacrifice perhaps was rejected because it was not "a tenth".).

See the Sacred Tenth, by Henry Lansdell, 1906; Laws of the Tithe by Arthur Babbs, 1912; Historical Vindication of the Right of Tithes by Thos Comber, 1682.

Mosaic Law When the Mosaic Law was given, more details were enumerated concerning the tithe. Three tithes were enjoined: The Annual Tithe (income), the Festival Tithe, and the Poor people's Tithe. At that time the majority of businesses were agricultural and ranching, so much of the tithe was in kind.

However provision was made for those to far to bring produce, or some other hardship.

And all the tithe of the land, whether of the sees...or fruit..is the LORD's...And if a man will at all "redeem" ought of his tithes, he shall add thereunto the fifth part thereof. (Leviticus 27:30-31)

And if the way be too long for you, so that thou are not able to carry it, or if the place be too far from you, which the LORD thy God shall place His Name there...Then you shall turn it into money, and bind up the money in thy hand, and shall go unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose... (Deuteronomy 14:24-25)

New Testament Era This practice of "redemption" was carried on into the time of Christ. The Pharisees had a tremendous amount of rules and regulations concerning tithing and redemption. They were later written down in the two Talmuds (Babylonian and Palestinian).

For example, income, not agricultural (such as carpenters, masons, potters, etc.), could be paid with money. Buying food at a market had to be tithed (since one does not know for sure if the grower was faithful in paying his tithes!). Many other detailed requirements, such as certain herbs were required, but others were not.

AND--this is the kicker--the money brought to the Temple had to be holy, not foreign coins. Hence the money changers in the Temple complex---with an exorbitant fee of course! And hence the anger of Jesus to the point of over-turning the tables.

Biblical Basis The biblical basis for redemptive money was mainly "convenience." And this became more common as industries increased which were not agricultural or horticultural. So when Paul and his team gather resources to help out the poor in Jerusalem, it was hard money (coins) they carried, not produce.

Church Tithe Just as the Old Testament tithe went to the support of the priests and High Priest, so the New Testament ministers were supported, for as Paul wrote:

Have I committed an offense in abasing myself that you might be exalted, because I have preached to you the Gospel of God freely? I robbed other churches taking wages from them, to do you service. (2 Corinthians 11:7-8)

Let the elders who rule be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in Word and Doctrine; for the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treads the corn, and The laborer is worthy of his hire (reward). (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

That this included money as well as produce, cannot be doubted. Especially as some churches "sent" Paul what he needed; and produce would have spoiled on the long ship voyages, or highway traveling.

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Christ mentioned “tithe” once in Scripture. All of the New Testament speaks of “generous giving,” in fact, it is the overall theme of the church. Not one apostle mentions tithe… it is the only thing we preach that cannot be supported for the New Testament church… in fact, it was Constantine that instituted the law for people to “pay tithes” to fund the large edifices and if you didn’t you were punished. The “guilt conscious” that is taught throughout the church about tithing or being cursed (Malachi 3:10) is not Godly teaching because then we’re saying that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, except for if we don’t pay money? If Matt. 6:28-33 is correct (and it is) then how can we legitimately tell people they are cursed when Christ requires seeking the kingdom and He will provide? Seeking the kingdom in scripture was never defined as giving a tithe. Tithing can be something one does not something one is forced to do. It must come from a place of generosity and not obligation. A lot of opinions on just that and there is no clear picture of tithe as money. The passages that speak of exchanging produce into money was called a “self tithe” because they would exchange for money and buy for themselves whatever they wanted with that money — it was not given to the priests.

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