Christians And The "Tithe"

Are Christians Required To Keep The Old Testament Tithe?

 By Timothy S. Morton

This article is intended to show how the concept of tithing is misused and misapplied in many churches. It is not meant to be some sort of "justification" for a Christian failing to give to God's work. Christians should give liberally ("Freely ye have received, freely give," Matt. 10:8) and cheerfully ("It is more blessed to give than to receive," Acts 20:35) because of what Christ has done for them and because of the need of others.

Christian, Pay Or Else?

Christian, have you heard words similar to these from a church pulpit? "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse" (Mal.3:10). A tenth of your income belongs to God and if you don't give it you are a God robber according to the Bible (Mal. 3:8). If you are not faithful in giving your tithe, God will curse you (Mal. 3:9) and not "rebuke the devourer" (Mal. 3:11)." "You WILL pay a tithe one way or the other, possibly through sickness, hardship, lost job, lost home, or other means if you don't give it to God." "You cannot expect God to bless you if you do not tithe." "No matter who else you owe or how much you are in debt, God's tithe must come first." All your tithe belongs here in the local church." Will a man rob God and get by with it"? "Never, never, YOU WILL PAY!" etc., etc.

Words like these have echoed in your author’s ears from certain Fundamentalist preachers ever since he became a Christian in 1980. They deliver these words with a fiery zeal that rivals many cult leaders. Their words leave the poor believer with the impression that the most heinous sin a Christian could commit (besides divorce, of course) is to neglect to tithe (usually to their ministry). God may be long-suffering with other "sins," but failure to tithe will bring swift wrath and sure retribution. One would think murder, adultery, stealing, etc., pale in comparison.

More than once your author has heard Christians say, concerning a brother who was hospitalized and believed by them to be a non-tither, "He is probably in the hospital to have his "tithes extracted." That is, God struck him with an illness only so he would have to spend the money his should have tithed (usually to their ministry)! How do they know why the brother is in hospital? How do they know if he is in God's will or not concerning his giving? The brother may faithfully give as the Lord leads but just not give to them! These self-righteous, pharisaical rascals are quick to judge anyone who doesn't adhere to their legalistic beliefs about tithing and speak of God as if He is a money hungry dictator who is ready to pounce on any soul who refuses to pay Him what He demands.

What does the Bible really say about tithing? Are Christians under the law of the tithe? Is tithing and Christian giving the same? In the following we will examine the tithe in relation to the Christian, and you will see why this is truly a "Taboo Topic."

Is The Tithe Taught In The New Testament?

Although the tithe is almost universally preached in Fundamentalist churches, it is a concept found nearly exclusively in the Old Testament. It is only mentioned in three different contexts in the New Testament. Twice in connection with Jews (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:14, 18:2), and once in connection with Abraham (Heb. Ch. 7). That the tithe is not mentioned in connection with any Christian, church, or New Testament practice should cause any believer to strongly question its application to born again believers. One can find a considerable amount of material on "giving" in the New Testament, but absolutely nothing linking the Christian with the Old Testament law of tithing. Don’t believe me, open your Bible and check it out! Get a concordance and look up the words "tithe" and "tenth" (and variations) and you’ll find the Bible does not even suggest a Christian should tithe, let alone command him to. Paul, Peter, John, etc., could have easily mentioned the "tithe" when discussing matters of giving, but they knew it had been nullified by the cross of Christ and was no longer valid. One would think just the opposite was the case from attending many "Bible believing" churches, however.

The tithe is erroneously applied to Christians by pulling the Old Testament law of tithing across dispensations and placing it as doctrine in the New Testament. This is how most false doctrines originate. When doctrines which are valid in only one dispensation (time period) are forced into another dispensation they become false doctrines (see our book, "The Difference Is In The Dispensations," for a fuller treatment of this issue). For example, many preachers quote Malachai 3:10 ("Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house") as if a New Testament church is the storehouse, but the church is never spoken of as a storehouse for God’s goods. Churches were not intended to store crops and livestock (or even money) as the passage refers to. This is one area where otherwise sound and sensible preachers will spiritualize and compromise the Bible to promote their pet doctrine or traditional belief. Could it be because it deals with their income ($$$)? Apparently, they cannot get their people to give without the motivation of fear and retribution. If these preachers were consistent and jumped dispensations to teach doctrine in other matters they would have Christians becoming circumcised, observing Jewish feasts and holy days, offering animal sacrifices, shunning unclean meats, keeping the Sabbath (Saturday), etc., under the pain of death!

What About Abraham And His Tithe?

When these "tithers" are charged with teaching Old Testament doctrines in the New Testament they usually claim "Abraham and Jacob paid tithes before the law so believers should pay tithes after the law," or something similar. But this is forced, illogical reasoning and doesn’t consider the facts. For that matter circumcision began before the law with Abraham also, does that mean all male Christians must be circumcised to be saved or in God's will? Of course not. This was the error of the "law-keeping" Judaizers who were quickly corrected by Peter (Acts 15: 1-11).

Don’t get us wrong, many preachers who teach tithing as a law have no ulterior motive and are sincerely convinced of its validity. Their main fault is they don’t study. Unfortunately (especially for those who hear and believe them), many preachers don’t learn (or at least confirm) their doctrine from personal study. They learn it from hearing other preachers or teachers. But what if their teachers are wrong? They will never know it if they don’t study. Sincerity is no substitute for knowledge (Pro. 14:12).

Let’s take a closer look at Abraham’s case and see what those who appeal to him fail to mention. In Genesis 14 Abraham does pay tithes of the spoils of battle to Melchisidek, but notice these revealing facts:

1. Abraham was not commanded to tithe by God or Melchizedek.
2. Abraham was not even asked for tithes by God or Melchizedek.
3. Abraham did not tithe to keep something bad from happening to him, but because God had already blessed him in the battle.
4. It is recorded Abraham only tithed this one time in all his 175 years.
5. And what is most shocking, Abraham was not even saved when he tithed! Not saved according to Moses (Gen. 15:6), Paul (Rom. 4:20-22), and James (James 2:23)!

Obviously, the account of Abraham is no help to those who compel the tithe on Christians. Either they can’t read, are ignorant of the Scriptures, or intentionally deceptive.

As for Jacob, by his own accord he offers to give God a tithe after he has the dream of the ladder (Gen 28:22). Like Abraham, though, he is not commanded to tithe (there is no record he ever did), he offers it of his own free will. A little Bible study can clear up a lot of legalistic, pharisaical ignorance and Scripture wresting.

Tithing Under The Mosaic Law

The majority of references to tithing in the Bible are found in the Mosaic law. Under the Law a voluntary, freewill tithe like Abraham’s is unheard of. To the Jews the tithe was essentially a compelled national income tax for the upkeep of the tabernacle and support of the Levites. Refusal to pay it COULD lead to the destructions of the "devourer" mentioned in Malachai 3:11.

Furthermore, from careful examination of the Scriptures there appears to be not one but THREE tithes under the Law, each given at different times:

1st Tithe: The annual tithe for the maintenance of the Levitical Priesthood (Num. 18:21-24). Since the tribe of Levi received no inheritance (Num. 18:20; Deut. 12:12, Deut. 14:27), and was segregated from the rest of Israel in order to serve the Lord (Num. 3:5-10, 3:39-45, 8:14-19), the first tithe was necessary for their support.

2nd Tithe: Another tithe was brought to Jerusalem for festival purposes (Deut. 14:22-27).

3rd Tithe: The third tithe was required every third year to assist the poor (Deut. 14:28-29). This year was called "the year of tithing," (Deut. 26:12-14). When the Israelites had completed tithing of the increase of the land, they were to give this tithe to the Levites, strangers, orphans, and widows.

All the tithes put together would consist of around 23% of a persons income per year. Far short of the single 10% many call a "tithe" and boast of paying.

For the most part the tithes of the Old Testament were of crops and livestock. Each Jew was to separate out his tithes from his labors for God’s use, but notice what the scriptures say in Leviticus 27:31. If a Jew redeemed his tithe (sold it for money) then he was to add 20% more to it totaling 12%! This shows God would rather have the goods than the money. How many times have you heard that preached? How many pay their "tithes" in goods today? If they pay in money they can’t even call it a tithe unless they add a "fifth part" of the tithe to it! So, essentially, today a tithe is 12% of one’s income and not 10%!

The law is an unforgiving taskmaster and tolerates nothing but obedience. How many of those who boast of tithing, besides not paying 12%, don’t tithe on ALL their increase or pay three different tithes? Beware all ye who boast of tithing because the Bible will show you a liar. God could show you a thousand places where you have failed to tithe. Do you tithe your garden crops or anything else you grow or raise? Do you tithe all interest of any form you accrue from savings accounts or capital gains? Do you tithe the yearly increase of the value of your home, jewelry or other assets? Or if you sell your home or any other property do you tithe any increase in value? (A home bought in 1970 for $20,000 may sell today for $80,000, leaving the "faithful tither" $7200 to tithe! [12% of $60,000]) Do you tithe the value of any gifts you receive (Christmas?), the benefits you receive from your job (value of health insurance, profit sharing, retirement, etc.) or any unexpected or extra income no matter how small from any source? And you call yourself a tither? Some deluded souls actually believe they are tithing if they give 10% of their income after taxes and deductions! The "tithe" comes off the top (Lev. 27:30; Deut 14:22), not after convenient deductions lower the "tithable" income.

It should be clear from above the Law only brings bondage; but, glory to His name, Christ by His blood freed us from the curse of the Law (Gal 3:13).Whether it be the Law’s requirements of feasts and sacrifices or of tithing, Christ has made us free. It is amazing how many preachers will shout "Ten percent belongs to God" when they should realize 100% belongs to God. All Christians are God’s property two-fold, by creation and by redemption by Christ’s blood. God owns the believer’s person (body, soul, and spirit), everything he has, and everything he will ever have or become, and appeals to the Old Testament to weaken God’s dominion over him circumvents Christ’s work on the cross.

Some otherwise sensible and sound preachers are so biased toward the legalistic view of the tithe they have said (probably to justify a questionable expenditure), "I don’t believe God cares what one does with the other 90% as long as He gets His 10%." Is God so blinded by money that He doesn’t care what a believer does as long as He gets His cut? Nonsense. Their "logic" is completely unscriptural and self-serving. If these fellows would stop and think a little they would realize the ignorance of such statements and reconsider their position. But, as we said, most only repeat what they have heard and have never fully studied the issue. They take confidence in thinking, "Dr. So-and-so is a godly and scholarly man and that is what he believes, so it must be right," without looking into the matter in the Scriptures themselves. I have observed this attitude on many occasions concerning different subjects. They simply trust another man's word.

The New Testament Method

This article is not meant to be a discourse on Christian giving but on the misuse of the Old Testament tithe. As we have seen the tithe was primarily a tax on Israel to support Judaism and is not mentioned in connection with the New Testament believer. The New Testament method of giving, however, is not under the threat of law and retribution but from thanksgiving and heartfelt desire (2 Cor. ch. 8-9). "God loveth a cheerful giver" and one who is compelled to give doesn’t give in the purest sense and is seldom cheerful about it.

The simple fact is Christians are not commanded to tithe. The Bible strongly suggests Christians give but never stipulates as to how much. Since 10% was the basis for giving in the Old Testament, a Christian could spiritually use that amount as a basis for his giving, but he would be deceiving himself if he thought he was somehow pleasing God by giving that particular amount.  Maybe God would have him give more or sometimes maybe less! That is, the Old Testament tithe can be an example before Christians, but not a law.  No one can judge a believer either way. The amount each individual believer should give is entirely between him and the Lord (2 Cor. 9:7).

Tithing Summary

Adapted from an article by Dave Combs

1. There is no mandate anywhere in the New Testament for tithing. The word "tithe" or "tithes" appears eight times in the New Testament, and each time it is used is in reference to an Old Testament event or a concurrent Jewish practice.

2. The epistles contain numerous admonitions, exhortations, and rebukes because of numerous sins and spiritual problems, but one is never mentioned for failure to tithe.

3. Hebrews 7:5 states quite clearly that only the sons of Levi had a commandment to receive tithes, not pastors or other religious leaders:

4. The Mosaic Law was given to Israel through Moses, not to the Church. If Christians are supposed to tithe, then what about circumcision, worshipping on Saturday, observing the holy convocations (Passover, Feast of Tabernacles, etc.), animal sacrifices, a tabernacle, and all the other components of the ceremonial law? Numbers 18:26-28 says that the Levitical priests are to offer up a heave offering to the Lord when they receive the tithes of the children of Israel. Shouldn't pastors conduct heave offerings when they receive tithes as well?

5. The statements Jesus makes about tithing (Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42, 18:12) are all indicative, not imperative. A plain interpretation of these passages doesn't reveal any command that tithing should be continued into the Church Age, which began at Pentecost.

6. Christians who mandate tithing are making the same mistake as the Judaizers.  They believed that faith in Jesus Christ is not enough, and certain aspects of the Mosaic Law needed to be retained for salvation and/or sanctification. In fact, the Apostle Paul stated in Galatians 5:3 that we are "a debtor to do the whole law" if we get circumcised or keep any other aspect of he law with the belief that this will add to what Christ already did on the cross. Today, circumcision is not an issue in the Church, but tithing certainly is. If the Apostle Paul were alive today, he might very well have written Galatians 5:2-3, substituting the word "tithe" for "circumcision, "Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye [tithe], Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that [tithes], that he is a debtor to do the whole law." This is a very sobering concept coming from the Apostle Paul. A person who is a "debtor to do the whole law" describes an unsaved person seeking justification by trying to keep the law.

7. Undoubtedly, the Judaizers of Paul's time used God's command to Abraham that he be circumcised (Gen 17:11) as a proof text to illustrate that believers in the Church Age also need to circumcised. In much the same way, many of the modern Judaizers use Abraham's giving a tenth to Melchizedek after the defeat of Chedorlaomer (Genesis 14:17-20) as an example of how tithing should be performed by Christians. Since the cross, however, Abraham’s tithe has no more application to Christians than his circumcision.

8. The Levitical priesthood has been replaced with the priesthood of believers (1 Pet 2:5, 2:9). So from this perspective, all that we have, money, possessions, spiritual gifts, belong to the Lord, not just a tenth of our income. Since NT giving is discretionary, and not based on a demand of a set percentage, this should dispel the common notion that one-tenth of our income is somehow "holy," as if God is some sort of a divine accountant.

9. Those involved in full-time ministry should be supported by the people they serve (1 Cor. 9:7-14, 1 Tim 5:17-18). A careful review of New Testament giving reveals to us that our contributions should not only be to support our local ministries, but also meet the basic needs of poverty stricken fellow Christians (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37, 1 Cor. 16:1-3, 2 Cor. 8:1-13, 1 Tim. 6:17-19). There was organized giving within local congregations to care for believing widows and orphans who had no other family to rely on (Acts 6:1-4, 1 Tim. 5:1-16).

10. 2 Corinthians chapters 8-9, and 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 state that a Christian is to evaluate the needs of others and to give as he is able to. NO PERCENTAGE GUIDELINES ARE EVER GIVEN. The Apostle Paul had ample opportunity to use the word "tithe" or at east mandate it as a standard to be preserved, but instead Paul gives us new rules for giving, which would supersede the Old Testament law for giving. If there is any single verse in the New Testament that nullifies the "tithing in the Church age" doctrine, it would be 2 Cor 9:7, which says, "Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver."

11. Love is to be our motivation, not compulsory legalism (Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:6-8, Mark 12:28-34, 1 Cor 13:1-7). How much consideration we have for the poor, for example, is an indication of our spiritual condition (1 John 3:17).

12. Those who preach the "tithe" as doctrinally applying to Christians are wresting the Scriptures to conform to their belief at the expense of the truth. They either through ignorance, from fear of ridicule of those like-minded, or from not wanting to admit what they always taught was wrong, continue to apply Old Testament practices in the New Testament, in essence placing those who hear them under the bondage and curse of the Mosaic Law (Gal. Ch. 3).