When starting this blog in April of this year (three months ago for those lacking in math skills) I developed a very specific formula as to how I would address certain topics on my mind, both in the church and outside the walls of the church. The point of this blog is simply to work through whatever is rattling around in my melon, whether it be opinion or exposition, and thereby increase in my sanctification as I strive to be more like Christ. The formula was to avoid controversial topics as long as possible (i.e., abortion, homosexuality, etc.) in order to gain a readership base. However, since that short time ago, two interesting things took place: I began to feel convicted to write about things of doctrinal importance in an age of doctrinal destruction, and you all have supported me with your readership beyond what I could have ever imagined three months in (to the tune of roughly 1,000 readers/month).
…apparently I love being insulted and thus my formula has been modified from avoiding controversy to embracing Biblical Truth and writing on those topics.
So, I would like to again thank you for your readership and thank God for leading me to an enjoyable, sanctifying activity that hopefully has prompted you to view your faith more deeply and possibly from a slightly different perspective (preferably a stronger Biblical perspective). Since you were likely drawn to this article by the title, you may be wondering why I opened with that recap of my goals for this site. Well, it’s rather simple; apparently I love being insulted and thus my formula has been modified from avoiding controversy to embracing Biblical Truth and writing on those topics. Rather than trying to tell God what I’m going to do, I’m trusting that through prayer and Bible reading He will direct my steps, or my typing in this case, as to what I need to hear and what you need to hear. No, I am not claiming any extra-Biblical special revelation from God à la Steven Furtick or Perry Noble. But, I’m no longer shying away from tough topics simply from fear of being insulted.
The article I wrote regarding pornographic television shows earned me a number of hateful comments and at least one “F-you! The article regarding culture-embracing Christians got me called a fundamentalist and legalist. The article on judging earned me the titles of “bigot” and “hypocrite”. Finally, my most read article to date regarding the fact that all sins are not equal elicited a rebuke telling me my writing is “straight from the pit of hell”. It’s therefore quite apparent that when speaking the Truths of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 1:18 is spot on regarding the fact that people will be offended. So, positive or negative, I thank you for your readership and feedback.
That said, let’s get to work on determining whether or not Christians are called to tithe.
For those unsure what a tithe [tahyth] is exactly, it is defined as the tenth part of agricultural produce or personal income set apart as an offering to God or for works of mercy, or the same amount regarded as an obligation or tax for the support of the church, priesthood, or the like.1 In other words, as most present-day churches teach, the tithe is giving to your local church the first 10% of your (usually) gross income. So, if you earn $4,000/mo you’d give $400/mo to your local church to fulfill your tithing requirement. Anything beyond that 10% is considered an “offering” as opposed to a tithe. Is this teaching in line with scripture?
Let us now turn to the Word of God to provide direction on whether the 10% tithe applies to the New Testament church and, if not, how we are directed to give.
The idea of tithing finds its roots deep in the Old Testament. It was a requirement of the law given to Israel. Known as the Mosaic Law, it is what we are most concerned about in relation to the New Testament believer. This consisted of 365 negative commands and 248 positive for a total of 613 commands. These may also be divided into three parts or sections—the moral, the social, and the ceremonial. As such, it covered every possible area of the life of Israel. It should be stressed that the moral principles embodied in the Mosaic Law given at Sinai were merely the codified expression of the eternal moral law of God as it was given to Israel to govern her life as a nation in order to experience God’s blessing under the Abrahamic covenant.2 The point is that Christ came to this earth as a fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17) and thus we are no longer governed by the Mosaic Law.
Interestingly, it is sometimes argued that the tithing requirement was introduced before the law and thus did not “go out with the Law” when Christ came due to being practiced prior. The entire body of evidence that tithing was practiced before the Law was given consists of two passages in the book of Genesis. Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils of his conquest against Chedolaomer to the priest Melchisedek in Genesis 14:20. However, as John MacArthur points out, “This is the first mention in Scripture of giving 10 percent. This 10-percent offering was purely voluntary, and may only have been a tenth of the best, not a tenth of the total. This tenth is not like the required tenths given to Israel in the Mosaic law.” In Genesis 28:20-22 after Jacob had awoken from his dream, he vowed to give to God a tenth of whatever future prosperity God might give him while he was absent from Canaan.
The guys over at TheNarrowPath.com do a great job of laying out why these passages do not validate the line of thinking that the tithe is independent of the Mosaic Law. “Do these passages teach or even hint that godly individuals regularly devoted ten percent of their wealth to God? Two isolated cases cannot establish such a pattern, since we never read of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Judah or Joseph observing any such practice. Nor do we have record of Abraham or Jacob ever doing so on occasions other than these two recorded cases. We have no reason to believe that Abraham tithed regularly.Therefore, none can establish from Scripture that tithing was a recognized or mandated practice prior to the time of Moses. Furthermore, even if we did have a biblical basis for such a teaching, it does not follow that tithing continues as a duty into the New Covenant. Remember, circumcision and animal sacrifices (both commanded in the Law of Moses) were definitely regular practices prior to the giving of the Law, but this does not provide an argument for their continuance after the time of Christ.“3
Moving forward, let’s have a look at how tithing was defined and mandated by the Mosaic Law. The tithe was a requirement in which the Israelites were instructed to give 10% of the crops they harvested and livestock they raised to the temple. These instructions can be found in Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 18:26, Deuteronomy 14:24, and 2 Chronicles 31:5. In fact, the Old Testament Law did not just require that single tithe. It additionally required a tithe to support the Levites as they were in full-time ministry and unable to support themselves, and another tithe for the poor of the land. This means that those under the Old Testament Law were required to tithe nearly 24%! It’s not uncommon for the Old Testament tithe to actually be looked at as a civic tax of sorts to provide for the needs of the priests and Levites.
The other Old Testament reference to “tithes” is the rebuke of those that neglected to “bring the tithes into the storehouse” that is found in Malachi 3:10 and is often used in the Pulpit to shame congregants into giving more money to the church. The sermon often argues, “The storehouse is where you go to get your food. Spiritually, you get your feeding from your local church. Therefore, God commands you to give ten percent of your income to the church of which you are a member. Anything over that amount that you give is not your tithe, but an offering.” The problem is that argument is devoid of legitimate scriptural points.
I again defer to Steve Gregg over at TheNarrowPath.com, “First, the “storehouse” was not where the Jews went to get their food. The storehouse refers to the storage rooms in the Jerusalem temple (Neh.10:38) where food was stored for the priests. They ate it there, and any surplus was given to the poor (Deut.26:12), but the idea was not that of a private pantry from which the tithing worshipper provided for his own sustenance. Further, it is not a given that every Christian gets his primary spiritual feeding from his local church. It is the very negligence of such feeding by the churches that has led to the proliferation on non-ecclesiastical ministries (sometimes called parachurch ) to make up for this deficiency. Finally, nothing in the passage is addressed to New Testament believers. The Christian’s standards for giving are defined in entirely different terms.“4
The bottom line is that the tithe was in place to support the ritualistic system in Israel. However, these aspects of the Law were done away with when Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law and ushered in the New Covenant. In lieu of a tithe, Christians are taught in the New Testament about “stewardship”. (Luke 12:42, Luke 16:1, Luke 19:12-13, Matthew 25:14, and Titus 1:7) The Christian is called to be a “steward” or “manager” of God’s possessions. The key point is that this is not some business partnership where Christians are 90% shareholders and God 10%. When the Christian is regenerated and born again in Christ, he surrenders everything to God. (Acts 4:32) In fact, Luke 9:23 goes on to make it very clear that we are not to reserve anything for ourselves.
There are three instances where tithing is mentioned in the New Testament: Hebrews 7, Matthew 23:23/Luke 11:42, and Luke 18:12. Hebrews 7 does nothing more than simply recount the Old Testament story of Abraham and Melchisedek and never one time transfers any of this responsibility to others. The Gospels are where Jesus scolds the Pharisees saying how they meticulously paid their tithes but neglected weightier matters of the Law. The key here, however, is that even though this is recorded in the New Testament, this rebuke was directed at men still living under the Mosaic Law. Jesus initiated the New Covenant at the end of His life at the Last Supper, but it wasn’t until Pentecost that it began in force. The theological disjunction, then, is pre-Pentecost and post-Pentecost, not Old and New Testament.5 Finally, in Luke 18:12 Jesus mentions the prayer of the self-righteous Pharisee who brags about his tithing but He never says anything about this man being a model for Christian disciples to emulate.
Nowhere in the New Testament either commands or even recommends that Christians submit themselves to a legalistic tithing system. It only says that gifts should be “in keeping with income” (1 Corinthians 16:2) yet due to the crisis of Biblical illiteracy in our churches, some Christian leaders have been able to take the required 10% from the Old Testament and apply it as a recommended minimum for Christians now. While only God knows the motivation behind these men’s teachings, it’s not too difficult to speculate what that motivation might entail.
While there are many examples in the modern church of money-grubbing televangelists and well-meaning local Pastors preaching the unbiblical call to tithe, there is one particularly disturbing trend I’ve seen come about in the last few years. So, I’m going to take a brief moment to address the “90-day Money-Back Guarantee” on your tithe. I fell prey to this twisted theology before I was truly regenerated and with its prevalence on the rise, I feel the need to warn others of this ridiculous theology. The premise is simple; the church running the “promotion” (because that’s what it is, a marketing promotion) tosses out the idea that if you commit to what is often referred to as the “90-Day Tithing Challenge” and you don’t feel as though God has poured out his blessings upon you (a twisting of Malachi 3:10 which refers to “needs” not “greeds”) in that time, they will refund your money. How twisted is that theology?! In other words, the church is promoting the idea that their congregants use God as some sort of a blessings ATM machine where if they don’t get what they want from God by tithing, they can just nix the whole deal. What about taking up our cross and denying ourselves (Matthew 16:24)? What about giving with a cheerful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7)? This is very wrong, very misleading, very irresponsible of the Pastors promoting such nonsense, and very sad that we’re too biblically illiterate to know any better.
We are to be giving as we are able and the New Testament speaks of both the importance and benefits of giving. There are times when you simply cannot afford to give 10% and there are times that may mean you give more than 10%. Each one of us should be praying fervently to seek God’s wisdom and direction regarding how much and to whom we give. (James 1:5)
In Against Heresies, Irenaeus wrote, “[The Old Testament saints] offered their tithes; but those who have received liberty set apart everything they have for the Lord’s use, cheerfully and freely giving them, not as small things in hope of greater, but like that poor widow, who put her whole livelihood into the treasury of God.”
The bottom line is that Christians are not required to tithe. There is no Biblical text that directs us to do so. Instead, we have a much higher calling regarding giving and that is to give as much as possible and do so with a cheerful heart. You are called to be a manager of all that God has put under your care. Just as the executor of an estate manages that which is under his care as the owner would, Christians should be managing what God has put under our authority the way Jesus would; giving to the poor of our communities and supporting the Kingdom’s ministers.
Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of legalism; giving a certain amount out of obligation and expecting God’s favor in return. Contribute to His mighty Kingdom because you love and strive to worship Him in all you do, and always give with a cheerful heart. (2 Corinthians 9:7)
- ‘Tithe’. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 11 Jul. 2014. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Tithe> ↩
- Keithley III, J. Hampton. ‘The Mosaic Law: Its Function and Purpose in the New Testament’. N.p., 10 June 2004. Web. 11 Jul. 2014. https://bible.org/article/mosaic-law-its-function-and-purpose-new-testament> ↩
- Gregg, Steve. ‘Is Tithing for Christians?’. N.p. Web. 11 July 2014. <TheNarrowPath.com http://www.thenarrowpath.com/ta_tithing.php> ↩
- Gregg, Steve. ‘Is Tithing for Christians?’. N.p. Web. 11 July 2014. <TheNarrowPath.com http://www.thenarrowpath.com/ta_tithing.php> ↩
- Koukl, Greg. ‘Should Christians Tithe?’. Stand to Reason. 12 March 2013. Web. 11 July 2014. http://www.str.org/articles/should-christians-tithe> ↩