In the fourth century, the Apostolic Constitutions gave separate instructions for bishops regarding two issues: (1) tenths and first fruits; and (2) free will offerings. This document also states that tithes were “the command of God.” Furthermore, the Constitutions likened bishops with priests and Levites, and the tabernacle with the Holy Catholic Church. It exhorted all Christians to give their first fruits and tithes. While the Constitutions contains the strongest statement about tithing in the Ante-Nicene period, this passage may be of a much later date than the rest of the document.
During this period, nothing was said (directly) about tithing by Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Quadratus, Tatian, Hippolytus, Kallistos, and Novatian. In the second century, Irenaeus apparently believed that Jesus abrogated tithing. Clement of Rome’s comments are innocuous and could have been based upon 1 Corinthians 16. There is no good reason to infer tithing from his writings. The Didache never discusses obligatory giving or tithing; it does state the principle of 1 Corinthians 9:14 that ministers have a right to live from the gospel. Justin Martyr’s description of contributions never mentions tithing, though it would have fit well into the context if Christians practiced tithing. Justin’s description of contributions offer support against the idea that tithing was being practiced in the churches during his time. In the third century, Clement of Alexandria concluded that Christians need to tithe. However, his support of keeping the Sabbatical Year and Year of Jubilees renders his view on issues in the law-gospel relationship suspect. Tertullian’s description of giving is incompatible with the conclusion that Christians must tithe. Origen specifically said that he did not tithe and Cyprian’s comments can be understood to mean that tithing was not practice in his time. The Didascalia Apostlorum explicitly said that Christians were not bound to give tithes or first fruits.
Resources and References:
The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles 2.4.25 (ANF 7:408); 7.29 (ANF 7:471). See also statements at 2.4.27; 2.4.34; 8.30–31.
See ANF 7:388.
Powers, “Historical Study of the Tithe,” 32.