Are Christians Supposed To Tithe?
By Brian Anderson
The idea that every believer is obligated to tithe (give ten per
cent of their income to the work of God) is widespread in the
evangelical church today. Most Christians receive teaching on
tithing early in their spiritual lives. Some churches believe
so strongly in tithing that their members regularly recite the
Tither's Creed -- "The tithe is the Lord's. In truth we learned
it. In faith we believe it. In joy we give it. The tithe!"
Other preachers have claimed that anyone who does not give a tithe
to the work of God is robbing God and under a curse according
to Malachi 3:8-10. In this pamphlet, we will examine the Biblical
teaching on the subject of the tithe with a view to understanding
what relevance it has to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ living
under the New Covenant. We will do so by examining what the Bible
has to say about tithing 1) before the Law was given; 2) under
the Mosaic Law; and 3) in the New Testament Scriptures.
Tithing Before The Law
There are two Biblical passages which speak of a tithe being given
before the Law was instituted at Sinai. They involve two of the
Jewish patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob.
Genesis 14:17-20: "Then after his return
from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him,
the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh
(that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought
out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. And
he blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor
of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered
your enemies into your hand.' And he gave him a tenth of all."
In this passage we are told that Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek,
presumably as an expression of gratitude to God for enabling him
to rescue his nephew Lot who had been taken captive. Those who
believe that tithing is binding upon New Testament believers argue
that since tithing was practiced before the Mosaic Law was given,
it must also be practiced after the Mosaic Law (which has been
made obsolete by the establishment of the New Covenant by the
sacrifice of Christ) (Heb. 8:13). Before we come to any hard and
fast conclusions, however, let's take a closer look at the text
and make some pointed observations.
There is no evidence in this text that tithing was commanded by
God. In fact, everything in the text leads us to believe that
giving this tithe was completely Abraham's decision and choice.
As such, it was completely voluntary. As we will see a little
later in our study, tithing under the Law was not voluntary at
all, but mandatory upon all God's people. Furthermore, this is
the only tithe mentioned in Scripture that Abraham ever gave.
We have no evidence that this was his general practice. In addition,
this tithe came from the spoils of victory that Abraham acquired
by military might. As we shall note later in our study, the tithe
required under the Mosaic Law was the increase of crops, fruit,
and herds to be given on an annual basis -- not the spoils of
a military victory!
Genesis 28:20-22: "Then Jacob made a vow,
saying, 'If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey
that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear,
and I return to my father's house in safety, then the Lord will
be my God. And this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will
be God's house; and of all that Thou dost give me I will surely
give a tenth to Thee.'"
Jacob, in this passage, is making a vow in response to a visitation
of God to him in a dream. In the dream Jacob saw a ladder reaching
to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
In the dream God stood above the ladder and said to Jacob, "I
am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac;
the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.
Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and
you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north
and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all
the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with you,
and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to
this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have
promised you" (vs.13-15). God promised Jacob that He would
be with him, and keep him wherever he would go and bring him back
to this land. In response, Jacob vowed that if God kept his promise,
he in turn would give God a tenth.
Again, we must observe exactly what the text does and does not
say. Nowhere are we told that God commanded Jacob to give Him
a tithe. Again, along with Abraham's example, it appears that
the giving of this tithe was voluntary on Jacob's part. Also,
there is no evidence in the text to suggest that tithing was the
general practice of Jacob's life. If he did in fact begin to tithe
after God fulfilled His promises to him, Jacob still delayed tithing
for 20 years!
These two examples are the only examples of tithing to
be found in the Old Testament before the Law was given. Both were
examples of voluntary giving, and neither was required by God.
In neither personage do we see an example of tithing as a general
practice of life. In fact, in Abraham's life it appears that we
have a tithe of the spoils of military victory given to God's
priest on a one time only basis. If our only evidence to obligate
believers under the New Covenant to tithe rests on these two passages
in Genesis, it seems to me that we are resting on pretty shaky
Tithing Under The Mosaic Law
What does the Bible teach about tithing under the Mosaic Law?
In this section of our study, we will examine all the significant
passages of Scripture which describe the tithe under the Law.
Leviticus 27:30-33: "Thus all the tithe
of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree,
is the Lord's; it is holy to the Lord. If, therefore, a man wishes
to redeem part of his tithe, he shall add to it one-fifth of it.
And for every tenth part of herd or flock, whatever passes under
the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord. He is not to
be concerned whether it is good or bad, nor shall he exchange
it; or if he does exchange it, then both it and its substitute
shall become holy. It shall not be redeemed."
Notice that in this passage the tithe is described as the product
of the land, seed of the land, fruit of the tree, herd or flock.
The tithe was not the giving of money. Nowhere in all of the Scriptures
will you find that tithing was the giving of money to God. Furthermore,
this tithe was probably given on an annual basis. Every year after
the land had been harvested, the people would bring to the priests
their tithe of their harvest and increase in herds and flocks.
Thus, I think that we can readily see that our weekly giving of
ten per cent of our income is a far cry from the Biblical practice
Numbers 18:21-24: "And to the sons of Levi,
behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance,
in return for their service which they perform, the service of
the tent of meeting. And the sons of Israel shall not come near
the tent of meeting again, lest they bear sin and die. Only the
Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and
they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a perpetual statute
throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they
shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the sons of Israel,
which they offer as an offering to the Lord, I have given to the
Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them,
'They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.'"
Notice in this text that the tithe was designated for the support
of the Levites. Because the Levites had no inheritance in the
land of Canaan like the other tribes, God provided for their support
through the tithes of the rest of Israel. In fact in Numbers 18:31
we are told, "And you may eat it anywhere, you and your households,
for it is your compensation in return for your service
in the tent of meeting." The tithe was the compensation God
provided for the Levites in turn for their priestly service. This
is similar to the support government workers receive today in
America through the taxes of the common working man.
Deuteronomy 14:22-27: "You shall surely
tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the
field every year. And you shall eat in the presence of the Lord
your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name,
the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the first-born
of your herd and your flock, in order that you may learn to fear
the Lord your God always. And if the distance is so great for
you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place
where the Lord your God chooses to set His name is too far away
from you when the Lord your God blesses you, then you shall exchange
it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place
which the Lord your God chooses. And you may spend the money for
whatever your heart desires, for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong
drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat
in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your
household. Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your
town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you."
This text speaks of a tithe being used to provide for the religious
feasts and festivals of Israel. Numbers 18:21 tells us that God
gave all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance to the
Levites. If all the tithe was given to the Levites, how then,
can this tithe be said to be used for the religious feasts and
festivals of Israel? The answer must be that this is a second
tithe. The first tithe was used to support the Levites. The second
tithe was used to sponsor the religious festivals and has come
to be referred to as the Festival Tithe. The people of Israel
were to use this tithe to eat in the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem
(the place where He chose to establish His name). If it was too
burdensome for them to bring their tithe all the way to Jerusalem,
they were permitted to sell it and bring the money to Jerusalem
where they could purchase goods for the festivals. God expressly
encourages them to spend their money on "whatever their heart
desires," including strong drink! The purpose was so that
the people of Israel would learn to fear the Lord their God and
rejoice before Him. Note that having a sense of the fear of the
Lord and rejoicing before Him are not mutually exclusive, but
were actually complementary to accompany one another! This tithe
made it possible for the people of Israel to obtain all the food
and drink necessary to enjoy the religious feasts of Israel and
worship before Him.
Deuteronomy 14:28-29: "At the end of every
third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in
that year, and shall deposit it in your town. And the Levite,
because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien,
the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and
eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless
you in all the work of your hand which you do."
Here we are told of a third tithe that is collected every third
year. Bible commentators are divided as to whether this tithe
is actually a third separate tithe, or just the second tithe used
in a different way on the third year. The Jewish historian Josephus
supports the view that this was a third separate tithe. Other
ancient Jewish commentators have written in support of the latter
view. It is probably impossible to determine with any finality.
In any event, the Jewish people have been commanded to give at
least 20 per cent of their harvests and flocks and perhaps as
much as 23.3 per cent! This particular tithe could well be called
the Poor Tithe. It was not to be gathered in Jerusalem, but in
their own town. The people of the town were to bring a tithe of
their crops and herds and gather them together to take care of
the poor of their towns including the alien, orphan and widow.
In many respects, it appears that the tithe required under the
Law is similar to our governmental taxation today. Israel was
ruled by a theocracy. Under a theocracy the people were responsible
to support the government workers (priests), holidays (festivals),
and poor (aliens, widows, and orphans).
Nehemiah 12:44: "On that day men were also
appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions,
the first fruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the
fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the
priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites
Notice that the text says tithes were required by the law.
This giving was not voluntary as it was in Abraham and Jacob's
lives. Similarly we read in Hebrews 7:5 "And those indeed
of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office have commandment
in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their
brethren, although these are descended from Abraham." Tithing
was never voluntary under Mosaic Law. Notice here that in Nehemiah's
day men were appointed to gather the offerings and tithes into
chambers designated for that particular purpose. These chambers
were for the stores and later became known as the "storehouses."
This will become important as we look at our next text in Malachi
Malachi 3:8-12: "Will a man rob God? Yet
you are robbing Me! But you say, 'How have we robbed Thee?' In
tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are
robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into
the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test
Me now in this, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for
you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until
it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that
it may not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine
in the field cast its grapes, says the Lord of hosts. And all
the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful
land, says the Lord of hosts."
In order to glean some important truths from this passage, let's
examine it verse by verse.
3:8 Here we are told that by withholding tithes a man is
actually robbing God. That is to say, he is withhholding something
which is not his own, but is the property of God. Under the Old
Covenant, tithing was compulsory. To withhold it was to become
a thief. Notice also that God says the people were robbing him
in "tithes." It does not say "the tithe",
but in "tithes" (plural). These "tithes" must
refer to the different tithes required of God's people (Levite
Tithe, Festival Tithe, Poor Tithe). Additionally, observe that
it was not only withheld tithes that God objected to, but also
offerings. These offerings refer, no doubt, to the offerings specified
in Leviticus 1-5, such as the burnt offering, grain offering,
peace offering, sin offering, and guilt offering. These offerings
were constituted primarily of animal sacrifices. The Levites'
food supply was provided in large part through these animal sacrifices,
of which they were permitted to partake in certain instances.
Now, an important question surfaces at this point. Why is it that
we recognize animal sacrifices to be obsolete under the New Covenant,
but that tithing is not? If we are obligated to pay tithes today,
then certainly we are still obligated to offer animal sacrifices.
God lumps them both together and says that His people were robbing
Him by withholding both of them. We can't decide to pick and choose
which of the two we will offer to God today. Either we must offer
both tithes and animal sacrifices (offerings) or both these gifts
have been abolished by the abrogation of the Mosaic Law.
3:9 Here we are told that if Israel withheld the tithes
and offerings, she was cursed with a curse. Notice that the verse
doesn't say, "You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing
Me, the whole race of mankind." Rather it says, "the
whole nation of you." If tithing is an eternal moral
command for all people of all time, then the whole race of mankind
would be under a curse. But our text says it is only the whole
nation of Israel who were under the curse. Now, what is interesting
about this "curse" is that in Deuteronomy 28 we are
told that if Israel disobeyed God's commands under the Mosaic
Law she would be cursed. Notice the following texts: "Cursed
shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground,
the increase of your herd and the young of your flock... And the
heaven which is over your head shall be bronze, and the earth
which is under you, iron... The Lord will make the rain of your
land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down on you until
you are destroyed. You shall bring out much seed to the field
but you shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it.
You shall plant and cultivate vineyards, but you shall neither
drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall devour
them. You shall have olive trees throughout your territory but
you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall
drop off. So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you
and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not
obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes
which He commanded you" (Deut. 28:18, 23-24, 38-40, 45).
In these verses God warns that if His people disobey His commandments
and statutes, their crops would fail, the rains would not come,
the harvests would be small, the locusts would consume the food,
and the fruit of the trees would fail.
3:10 In this passage God speaks of the "storehouse."
From Nehemiah 12:44 we know that this refers to chambers in the
temple set apart and designated to hold the tithes of the people
for the support of the priests. There is not a shred of Biblical
evidence that we should identify these "storehouses"
with church buildings that believers under the New Covenant are
to bring their monies into. Furthermore the reason Israel was
to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, was so that there
would be food in God's house. God was concerned that the Levites
had food to eat. That was the purpose of these tithes which were
brought to God's temple. We are also told that if God's people
were faithful in bringing their tithes into the storehouse, God
would open up the windows of heaven and pour out for them a blessing
until it overflowed. This no doubt refers to God's promise to
bring abundant rains to produce the blessing of an overflowing
harvest of crops.
3:11 God further promises in this text to rebuke the devourer
for them, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground.
Undoubtedly, the "devourer" refers to locusts which
God warns will come upon their crops if they fail to bring the
tithe (Deut. 28:38).
3:12 In this text God graciously promises that if Israel
is obedient in the giving of tithes and offerings, all the nations
will call her blessed. It is interesting that God not only warned
Israel of being cursed for disobedience to the Mosaic Law, but
also promised that she would be blessed if she obeyed the Mosaic
Law. Notice these texts, "Now it shall be, if you will diligently
obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments
which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high
above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall
come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the Lord your
God... Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce
of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase
of your herd and the young of your flock... The Lord will command
the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your
hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your
God gives you... And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity,
in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your beast
and in the produce of your ground, in the land which the Lord
swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord will open for you
His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in
its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall
lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow" (Deut. 28:1-2,
4, 8, 11-12). Here God promises to bless Israel materially if
she is obedient. The promises include abundant crops, copious
rains, and large increases in herds and flocks.
Therefore, it is my conviction that the blessings and cursings
spoken of in Malachi 3:8-12 refer to the material blessings God
promised to Israel if she would obey His commandments and statutes.
Tithing was one such commandment.
What can we conclude, therefore, about tithing under the Mosaic
Law? I think we can safely conclude that tithing had nothing to
do with the regular giving of money on a weekly or monthly basis,
but rather had to do with the ordained worship of God in the Old
Covenant age. The command to tithe, like the command not to eat
shrimp or oysters, has been made obsolete and set aside by the
inauguration of the New Covenant in the death of Christ. The tithe
was God's ordained tax under the Old Testament theocratic system.
If someone truly wants to tithe according to Scripture, he/she
would have to do the following:
1) Quit their job and buy a farm so that they can raise herds
and grow crops;
2) Find some Levitical priests to support;
3) Use their crops to observe the Old Testament religious festivals
like Passover, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles;
4) Begin by giving at least 20 per cent of all their crops and
herds to God; and
5) Expect God to curse them with material deprivation if they
were unfaithful or bless them with material abundance if they
I think all of us would conclude that this is utterly absurd!
We all recognize that Christ has done away with the Levitical
priesthood, animal sacrifices, and religious festivals in Christ.
Well, if that is true, why are we trying to hold on to the tithe,
which was part and parcel of all of these Old Testament ordinances?
Tithing In The New Testament
The interesting thing about the concept of tithing under the New
Testament is its almost virtual absence. There are four different
passages which mention the "tithe" in the New Testament.
Matthew 23:23: "Woe to you, scribes and
Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin,
and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice
and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should
have done without neglecting the others."
This passage in Matthew is also repeated in similar fashion in
Luke 11:42. In both cases it is important to notice that the tithe
had to do with garden herbs (the product of the field) rather
than with money. Additionally, Jesus spoke these words to very
religious, law-keeping Pharisees while the Mosaic Law was still
in force. To say that since Jesus told these Pharisees it was
right for them to tithe, and thus it is right for us to tithe
as well, misses the fact that these Pharisees lived under a different
covenant with different laws than the New Testament believer does.
By Christ's death He inaugurated the New Covenant, thereby bringing
about a change in the law (Lk. 22:20; Heb. 7:12). Finally, notice
that the tithe mentioned here was not voluntary in any sense of
the word. Jesus tells them that they "ought" to have
tithed. It was obligatory on all Jews, and thus binding.
Luke 18:12: "I fast twice a week; I pay
tithes of all that I get."
Jesus, in this passage is telling the parable about the Pharisee
and the tax-collector. Christ puts these words into the mouth
of the self-righteous Pharisee, "I pay tithes of all that
I get." Here Christ is emphasizing that the self-righteous
man trusts in something he does to be acceptable before God, but
nevertheless is not justified before God. Again, Christ is speaking
about a Pharisee who tithes while living under the Mosaic Law,
not of a Christian tithing under the New Covenant.
Hebrews 7:1-10: "For this Melchizedek, king
of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was
returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to
whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils,
was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness,
and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. Without father,
without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of
days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he abides
a priest perpetually. Now observe how great this man was to whom
Abraham, the patriarch, gave a tenth of the choicest spoils. And
those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest's office
have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people,
that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from
Abraham. But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them collected
a tenth from Abraham, and blessed the one who had the promises.
But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater.
And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one
receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on. And,
so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid
tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek
In this lengthy passage, the design of the author is to show the
superiority of the priesthood of Christ over the Levitical priesthood,
thereby exhorting his readers not to go back to their former Jewish
form of worship, replete with its priesthood, temple, and sacrifices.
The author mentions the account of Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek
to show that since Levi was in the loins of the patriarch Abraham,
actually Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek and was blessed by him.
Since it is obvious that the lesser is always blessed by the greater,
Melchizedek and his priesthood are greater than the Levites and
their priesthood. Here, the author of Hebrews is simply restating
the fact that Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek; a fact that
we have already noted. This passage is not exhorting believers
to give like Abraham did. Rather, it is instructing believers
to perceive the excellence of Christ, who ministers as a priest
far superior to the Levites. Therefore, this passage can not be
used to enforce the tithe on Christians. It is simply not written
to address that issue. It has nothing to do with Christian giving,
but rather everything to do with the superiority of Christ.
Well, there you have the totality of the New Testament teaching
on tithing. There is not one word in all the New Testament to
command or even suggest that New Covenant believers are supposed
to tithe. While the New Testament is silent on the duty of Christians
to tithe, it is not silent on the subject of giving,
but rather quite vocal.
The New Testament never gives a certain percentage point as an
obligatory and required standard for our giving. Instead, the
Scriptures declare, "Let each one do just as he has purposed
in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves
a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7). The Old Testament tithe was
required by law. The Jews were under compulsion to give it. The
New Testament teaching on giving focuses on its voluntary character.
"For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond
their ability they gave of their own accord" (2 Cor. 8:3).
This voluntary giving is exactly what Abraham and Jacob were doing
before the institution of the Law, and is what all Christians
are to be doing today. Believers today are free to give the amount
they choose to give. If they want to give ten per cent as Abraham
and Jacob did, they are perfectly free to do so. However, if they
decide to give 9 per cent or 11 per cent, or 20 per cent or 50
per cent, then they may do that as well. Their standard of giving
is not a fixed percentage point, but the example of their wonderful
Savior -- "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that
you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).
Our standard of giving is Christ Himself, who did not give 10
per cent or 20 per cent or even 50 per cent, but 100 per cent!
He gave everything He had, including His very life in order to
redeem sinful men and women like you and me!
Sometimes those who are wealthy feel that if they just pay their
ten per cent, God is pleased. However, for a wealthy man to give
ten per cent of his income may actually be displeasing to God
if he is living a life of extravagant luxury, while giving a mere
pittance to the work of God and the needs of others. The will
of God for this man may be for him to be giving 50-80 per cent
of his income instead of ten per cent. Each individual must seek
God as to how He would have him to give.
Moreover, those who are poor should not feel guilty if they are
not able to give ten per cent of their income. It is true that
God will honor and bless the man who gives sacrificially, but
if an individual decides that he can't give ten per cent of his
income and still meet his basic needs, we ought to allow him that
liberty without judging him. After all, God has nowhere told Christians
that it is their duty to give any fixed percentage point.
May the effect of this study be to free us from the shackles of
the traditions of men which can not be substantiated by the Word
of God (Mk. 7:1-13). Look to Christ as the standard and example
for your giving. Seek God diligently, and be generous and ready
to share that you might store up for yourselves the treasure of
a good foundation for the future, so that you may take hold of
that which is life indeed! (1 Tim. 6:18-19).