Tithing in the Ante-Nicene period will take about six posts to cover it all.
Four extant writings from the second century are important for the history of tithing. Clement of Rome (pictured left) (c.a. 100 A.D.) urged Christians to give their offerings systematically, thus following God’s laws. Clement makes no direct mention of tithing. The only evidence deduced to conclude that Clement is inferring tithing is his use of “laws.” However, his discussion on Christian offerings are more than likely dependent upon Paul’s epistles (e.g. 1 Cor 16). There is not adequate evidence to support the supposition that Clement advocated tithing.
The Didache (c.a. 100 A.D.), also called The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, contains numerous references to giving. In 1:5–6, the text discusses the sharing of resources among Christians. The only possible allusion to tithing could be the statement that giving should be done “according to the commandment.” However, since 1:6 says, “Let your charitable gift sweat in your hands until you know to whom you are giving it,” it appears that the Mosaic law of tithing is not the referent since responsibility is placed within the giver as to the worthiness of the recipient. The Didache exhorts Christians to be givers rather than takers (1:5; 4:5–8; 5:2; 15:4). It contains one statement similar to statements in Acts 2 and 4 about communalism (4:8). The text includes teaching similar to 1 Corinthians 9:14, that ministers of the gospel have a right to live from the gospel (11:6, 12; 13:1–2). 13:3–7 discusses how Christians are to give first fruits, stating that prophets are Christians’ high priest. However, it does not equate first fruits with a portion that is the (Divine) right of ministers of the gospel: “If, however, you have no prophet [minister of the gospel], give [the first fruits] to the poor” (13:4). Finally, 13:7 says to take the first fruits of “money and clothing and whatever [else] you own as you think best and give them according to the commandment.” A problem occurs when the text says both to give “as you think best” and to give “according to the commandment.” Some have said this is a contradiction. However, the phrase “as you think best” refers to the items that are considered liable to first fruits and “according to the commandment” probably refers to the instructions just given.
Justin Martyr (pictured left) (100–165 A.D.) provided an early, detailed, account of church services. He says that Christians met on Sundays and read the writings of the Apostles and prophets. After an exhortation to do good and pray, the love feast took place. They took the offering at the end of the service and those who were wealthy were free to give as they saw fit. The church used this offering to help the poor, widows, and others in need. There were two parts to the offering: (1) the first consisted of food: the congregation consumed part of the offering at the love feast and part of the offering was taken to those who were absent. The remainder of the offering was for the poor. After this meal, they partook of the Lord’s Supper. Finally, they took a second offering that included both money and food. This offering was for the clergy and the poor. Justin’s description of the offering neglects to mention tithing. Furthermore, his emphasis on personal responsibility in giving and that giving was mainly dependent upon the rich argues strongly against Justin advocating tithing. All of Justin’s explicit references to tithing were either incidental or quotes from Scriptures containing the word.
Resources and References:
Clement of Rome, The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians 40 (ANF 1:16).
Powers, “Historical Study of the Tithe,” 15; see also Babbs, Law of the Tithe, 108.
Justin Martyr, First Apology of Justin 67 (ANF 1:185–86).
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew 17, 19, 112, 33 (ANF 1:202, 204, 211, 255).