Collecting tithes, in the name of Jesus, is not evangelical

Image: Hans Chavez


The collection of tithes seems to subject the Christian church to a new Babylonian captivity, in which the sale of indulgences resembles the sale of prosperity promised by the church to those who invest in the tithe

It is fair for religious people to donate money to maintain church buildings, payroll, social and spiritual services in their churches. Donating money to the Church is, of course, legal. It is an individual right of the person, implicit in the Federal Constitution.[I] Paying tithe, however, is a different act from collecting tithe; Therefore, it is worth asking whether it is fair for the church, in the name of Jesus, to cover 10% of the income of associated families. According to the Gospels, no!

Some Christian churches and sects charge tithes to their faithful. This practice has its origins in the priestly tradition of ancient Judaism, of which Christianity is heir. Jesus was a Jew and adhered to the religion of his people, which is exactly why, throughout his life, he denounced the collection of tithes that oppressed the poor, widows and orphans. This and other criticisms of Christ against tithing aroused the deadly hatred of almost all the priests, the rich Sadducee aristocrats and many Pharisees.

Tithing emerged throughout the 12th century BC. God's people had freed themselves from slavery in Egypt and were militarily dominating the cities of Canaan. Led by Joshua, they conquered and divided the promised land among the twelve tribes. Eleven of them received land to work in agriculture and herding. The tribe of Levi was assigned to priestly work and therefore did not inherit land. The “burnt sacrifices of the Lord God of Israel are his inheritance” (Joshua 13: 14).

All of the Levites' time was spent caring for the Ark of the Covenant, carrying out ritual sacrifices and organizing the liturgical festivals of the Jewish tribes. Therefore, the tribe of Levi was supported by the tithe, that is, by the tenth part of the agricultural products harvested and by the first offspring of each female from the herds of the other eleven tribes. Tithe collection took place during large popular festivals (Deuteronomy 12: 16-18).

Centuries later, early Christians still remembered the reasons why the Levites received the “people's tithe” (Hebrews 7: 5).[ii] Maintaining due proportions and immense historical, economic, religious and cultural differences; just to facilitate understanding, one can imagine that the tithe payment festivals – before being centered in Solomon's Temple – perhaps resembled the religious festivals of Kerb – the harvest festival – traditionally held today by many religious communities. formed by peasant families descended from German immigration to Brazil.

Contrary to the theological common sense of many believers, pastors and pastors today, the tithe was not intended only to support priests, maintain the Temple and Jewish religious festivals. Families themselves should set aside part of the tithe to allocate “to the stranger, the orphan and the widow, so that they may eat within your doors and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 26:12). The tithe fed the Levites, but it also fought the hunger of the poor, filling them with food. Today, the fight against hunger is a public policy.[iii]

The social and economic evolution of God's people transformed the confederation of the twelve tribes into the Kingdom of Israel. King David began to centralize Jewish worship, a process that culminated in the inauguration of the Temple under King Solomon as a symbol of the political and religious power of the unified Jewish state.[iv] In the center of Solomon's Temple was located the Tabernacle, a room in which the Levites fixed the Ark of the Covenant and other religious objects that were previously itinerant. The Solomonic court decreed that the Temple would be the only legitimate place for ritual sacrifices. Only in this building would Yahweh receive the offerings of his people.

Centuries later, at the time of Jesus, the Temple concentrated Israel's political, religious and economic power. With the support of Roman troops, the Jewish leadership became rich through the collection of tithes, the profit from the creation and sale of sacrificial animals, the control of currency exchange and offerings to attest to the purification of sins, the restoration of health, the corban , among other sacred anointings. Members of the Sanhedrin, Sadducees and priests accumulated so much money that the Temple became a kind of central bank for the country. With permission from Roman imperialism, the economy of the holy land was managed by the Temple; politics was commanded by Herod and legislative and legal power was manipulated by the Sanhedrin, presided over by the High Priest Caiaphas.

In Jesus' time, taxes allocated to Rome and tithes to the Temple were extortionate and caused strong popular revolt against Roman troops and officials, their local lackeys, King Herod, the Jewish aristocracy, and the Temple. A Jewish political party called the “Zealots” promoted guerrilla warfare against Rome and its allies in Palestine. In this polarized political context, the Gospels testify that Jesus remained a pacifist. It was against the armed struggle of the zealots, despite Jesus radically criticizing the collection of tithes: “Woe to you, hypocritical scribes and Pharisees! who pay tithes on mint, fennel and cumin, while neglecting what is most serious in the law: justice, mercy and faithfulness; This is what needed to be done, without omitting that.” Jesus states that these people look like “whitewashed tombs”, they appear to be righteous people, “but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Mateus 23: 23,28).

It is likely that Jesus, despite his disagreements, understood the causes of the popular revolt. Perhaps there was even a certain reciprocal sympathy between Jesus and the zealots.[v] One of the apostles of Jesus Christ was “Simon the Zealot” (Lucas 6:15 and Acts 1:13). A few years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, this revolutionary group took the city of Jerusalem and the Temple by storm. The Roman reaction was not long in coming, in the year 70 AD, four legions commanded by General Titus burned the Temple, destroyed the holy city and exiled the Jewish people to the vast territory of the Empire. It was the end of the State of Israel. Other peoples then came to dominate Palestine. Only in 1948, by decision of the United Nations, Israel returned to exist as a national state.

Another of Jesus' harsh criticisms of the Temple is difficult to understand today. This is a criticism of Corbã's corrupt policy. At that time there was no public social security to support elderly or disabled workers, nor widows and orphans. In the Jewish religious tradition of that time, elderly fathers and mothers had to be supported by the eldest son, who thus fulfilled the divine commandment to honor his father and mother. Some greedy and obviously rich children negotiated – behind the scenes of the Temple – with the doctors of the law about the value of the corban.

The masters of the law calculated the money that would supposedly be needed to feed, shelter and care for elderly parents until their deaths. Again for didactic purposes, highlighting the differences in social context, the corbã would be similar to what actuaries work with today, professionals with a degree in Actuarial Sciences, whose scientific projection guarantees more effectiveness and efficiency in health plans, property and life insurance. , in addition to state or private social security funds that guarantee retirement and pensions. The young rich Jew who wanted to free himself from the expenses of his elderly parents paid the value of the corban as an “offering” to the Temple.

Once money came in, the Temple Treasury assumed responsibility for “caring” for elderly parents in place of their children. The Temple declared that the firstborn no longer needed to obey the commandment to honor father and mother. It is easy to imagine the dirtiness of these businesses, as well as the way the temple took care of the elderly abandoned by their children. Jesus denounces this corrupt and inhumane practice: “But you say, If a man says to his father or his mother, What you could benefit from me is Corban, that is, an offering for the Lord, then you exempt him from making anything in favor of your father or your mother, invalidating the word of God by your own tradition, which you yourselves handed down; and you do many other similar things” (Mark 7: 11-13).

It is quite plausible that among these “other things” that Jesus mentions was the under-invoicing, through bribery, of tithes to be paid by priests and Sadducees. Jesus' other criticisms of the Temple are well known. Lucas 4,1:13-XNUMX is one of the evangelical narratives about the “temptations” of Jesus. The scene in which Satan places Jesus on “the pinnacle of the temple of Jerusalem (…), gives the impression that the Devil is very comfortable in this place”.[vi]

The irony of this account insinuates that the Devil knew the Temple well. Another famous scene is the expulsion of money changers and vendors in the Temple courtyard which, in Jesus' opinion, had become a “den of thieves” (Mark 11,15:19-7). Jesus' criticism of the corruption of Solomon's Temple follows ancient prophetic tradition: “Do not trust in false words, saying: Temple of the Lord, temple of the Lord, temple of the Lord”. Rather, it is important to practice justice among people and not oppress “the stranger, the orphan, and the widow” (Jeremiah 4:6-XNUMX).

The tragic narrative of Jesus’ death by crucifixion “ripped the veil of the temple in half” (Lucas 23:45). This heavy veil was the door to the Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, the holiest place in the Temple, where only the High Priest could enter once a year, on the annual Feast of Atonement to offer sacrifice for the sins of the people (Levitical 16). The current expression “scapegoat” comes from this Festival. During the Festival, a goat was released into the desert carrying the sins of the people. Jesus – the Suffering Servant – took the place of the scapegoat by breaking once and for all the veil that separated the forgiveness of sins controlled by the priests from the desire of ordinary people to atone for their sins.

The “precious blood of Christ” tortured and crucified is the “immaculate and undefiled lamb” given by grace to all people, at all times and once for all time. The Christian’s faith does not need a “scapegoat”. The ransom for sin is not paid with “corruptible things, such as silver or gold”, but with repentance in the heart. Paying to be forgiven is a “vain way of living that you traditionally received from your fathers” (1 Pedro 1: 18,19).

The cross removed what was most sacred in Solomon's Temple. Christians confess that “Christ is coming, the high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (Hebrews 9:11). After the cross, salvation no longer depends on Solomon's Temple, much less on tithing.

For Christian apocalyptic theology, there is no future for the Temple and, consequently, for the collection of tithes that supported it. Although the Bible do not register it explicitly, there could still be a good reason for paying the Jewish tithe: the social security function of helping widows and orphans! In contemporary times, the democratic rule of law has assumed this Judeo-Christian moral duty.[vii] According to John, in the new Jerusalem that is to come there is no temple: “for its temple is the Lord God Almighty, and the Lamb” (Apocalypse 21: 22).

Christ, the Lamb of God, according to the testimony of the apostolic church, also dispenses with the need for the Temple. Stephen, before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest, goes against the economic interests of these powerful people by declaring that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands” (Acts 7:48). The Christian faith that God dwells in people's hearts led to the stoning of the first Christian martyr. The apostles reaffirm the radicality of Jesus' criticism against tithing due to the simple saving uselessness of the Temple.

From these and other biblical texts, it is obvious that it is not evangelical, in the name of Jesus, to charge tithes. It is lawful and even necessary and pastorally recommended for believers to offer enough money to maintain and even expand the religious institution to which they requested affiliation and by which they were accepted. It is obvious that anyone who wishes to join the Church is responsible, within the limits of the law, for ecclesiastical interests.

According to the traditional republican separation between church and state, the economic maintenance of the church is a duty of the faithful derived from their right to free association. Citizenship's right to freedom of faith generates the believer's duty to uphold their religion. The Church that accepts or rejects the application for membership does so in accordance with its Bylaws registered in the respective Civil Registry of Legal Entities. The criteria and forms of the Church's financial contribution may or may not be foreseen in this Statute, the wording and interpretation of which are subject to the legal norms in force in Brazil.

To conclude, it is possible to turn to the ecclesiastical tradition that gave rise to Protestantism, that is, to Luther's dialectical thought. The theology of the cross allows us to affirm that, on the one hand, contributing to the church through tithing is an act of Christian freedom; on the other hand, collecting tithes in the name of Jesus denies justification by faith alone. The collection of tithes seems to subject the Christian church to a new Babylonian captivity, in which the sale of indulgences is similar to the sale of prosperity promised by the church to those who invest in the tithe. According to the Gospel, it is lawful to pay tithes, if the believer so desires; but it is unlawful to collect it in the name of Jesus.

*Evaldo Luis Pauly is a retired professor at the Faculty of Education at La Salle University (Canoas\RS). Author, among other books, of The Bible explains itself (Synodial).


[I] Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil of 1988, article 5, item VI: “freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, the free exercise of religious worship is guaranteed and, in accordance with the law, the protection of places of worship and the their liturgies”; section XVII: “freedom of association for lawful purposes is complete, paramilitary purposes are prohibited”.

[ii] Details about tithing or this very ancient social division of labor are recorded in Genesis 14: 19-20; 28: 20-22, Levitical 27, among many other biblical texts.

[iii]   Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil of 1988: Art. 3 The fundamental objectives of the Federative Republic of Brazil are:

I – build a free, fair and supportive society;

II – guarantee national development;

III – eradicate poverty and marginalization and reduce social and regional inequalities;

IV – promote the good of all, without prejudice based on origin, race, sex, color, age and any other forms of discrimination.

[iv] See the account of the construction of the Temple in chapters 5 to 6 of 1 Kings, especially 1 Kings 7:1-8. See also 2 Chronicles chapters 2 to 6.

[v] CULLMANN, O. Jesus and the revolutionaries of his time. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1972. This French biblical scholar considers that, on the one hand, “the 'life' and activity of Jesus: His rise over the popular mass who, according to John 6,15:16, want to make him king. – The attraction he exerted on the zealots” (p. 20); and on the other, “Unlike the zealots, Jesus announces that the kingdom comes from God and that its coming does not depend on us” (p. XNUMX).

[vi] SCHIAVO, L. Temple of God or Temple of Demons? History and Conflicts Around the Jewish Temple. Ways – Revista de Ciências da Religião, Goiânia, v. 5, no. 1, p. 247–262, 2008, p. 267. Available at:

[vii] Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10.12.1948/XNUMX/XNUMX) requires democratic governments to ensure that people have “the right to a standard of living capable of ensuring the health, well-being, including nutrition, clothing, housing, medical care and essential social services and the right to security in the event of unemployment, illness, disability, widowhood, old age or other cases of loss of means of subsistence in circumstances beyond their control.

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