To Tithe, Or Not To Tithe, That is the Question

Every week, the congregation I attended in college would recite in unison: “The Bible teaches it; I believe it; tithing.” Another church has its members enthusiastically say, “The tithe is the Lord’s. In truth we learned it. In faith we believe it. In joy we give it. The tithe!” Some pastors even proclaim that unless God’s people practice tithing, they are actually robbing God (Malachi 3:8-10)! Is it wrong to not give ten percent to the church?

It is true that the Bible does indeed teach tithing—in the Law of Moses. The problem is that the same Mosaic Law that required tithing also required God’s people to do such things as offer sacrifices and not eat shrimp. The reason we no longer offer sacrifices and no longer have dietary restrictions is because of Jesus. The New Covenant made the first one obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). There has been a change of law (Hebrews 7:12). The former regulation has been set aside (Hebrews 7:18). The tithing question arises from confusion over which Old Covenant laws were renewed under the New Covenant.

Much like a modern government’s income tax, the Old Testament tithe was compulsory. Its purpose was to finance ancient Israel’s theocratic government. Since there was no separation of church and state, tithing was integral to the Levitical system with its priests and temple (2 Chronicles 24:6, 9). However, the coming of Jesus was a game changer. Unlike ancient Israel, the early church was not supported by a theocratic government. Unlike Judaism, the pristine church had no special class of priests— all believers were priests. Unlike the Mosaic Covenant, the New Covenant requires no animal sacrifices and no elaborate temple. Instead, Jesus is our Passover Sacrifice and those who believe in Him are living stones comprising a spiritual temple with Jesus Himself as the Chief Cornerstone. Just as there is no more animal sacrifice, no more physical temple, no more a separate priestly class, no more theocracy, no more special diet (forbidding pork, oysters, or shrimp), so also it could be argued there is no more tithe. It is a fact that the Law of Moses required tithing. It is also a fact that the tithe is never commanded in the Law of Christ.

Although tithing is never commanded in the New Covenant, some brothers still feel compelled to tithe since tithing actually predates the start of the Old Covenant. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek hundreds of years before Moses. Thus, tithing is seen as a timeless requirement transcending both old and new covenants. However, based on the historical record, Abraham’s tithe a one-time event in Abraham’s life (the same can be said for Jacob’s tithe). It was also voluntary; no one commanded Abraham to tithe. If binding practice is to be drawn from historical narrative, one should conclude that tithing should be a special one-time event in one’s life, and even then it is voluntary.

Other people’s conscience are bound because of Jesus’ statement that “you give a tenth of your spices . . . but you have neglected the more important matters of the law . . . you should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matthew 23:23). As always, context is everything. Jesus was speaking to the teachers of the law and to the Pharisees—men who lived prior to the start of the New Covenant. The “law” Jesus referred to is that of the Mosaic Covenant, not the New Covenant. The Jews of Jesus’ day were indeed required to tithe (and to make animal sacrifices).  We of the New Covenant are under no such requirements, because that first covenant and its law have passed away.

What does the New Testament teach about giving? According to the New Covenant , “Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). There is nothing wrong with tithing if that is what you have made up your mind to do. As was pointed out above, Abraham and Jacob both tithed voluntarily before the law was given. They serve as good examples to follow. Just don’t feel obligated to tithe. If some teacher says you must tithe, else you are robbing God, is that not placing you under compulsion? The key is that our giving is to be according to how we have purposed in our hearts to give.

Without dispute the New Covenant extols the virtue of generosity.  We are to share with others, “for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus taught us to store up treasures in heaven. In Matthew 19:21, Jesus told the rich young ruler that by giving to the poor, he could have treasure in heaven. Paul exhorts us to be “generous and willing to share . . . lay up treasure . . . as a firm foundation for the coming age.” (1 Timothy 6:18-19). You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead. Based on your present giving habits, how much treasure do you have laid up in heaven?

So how much should you give? The answer depends on how much you want to reap later, how much you want to be blessed, and how much treasure you want stored up in heaven. Scripture says to remember this: “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Tithing, as required by Moses, is not a New Covenant requirement. Yet do not use your freedom from the Law of Moses as a cover for stinginess. Did Jesus die on the cross so that we could give less than ten percent? Mike Indest has pointed out that the best text on giving is John 3:16. God so loved that He gave. Our giving is often in direct correlation to our love for the Lord. Give generously. Give cheerfully. Give frequently. Give whatever you have purposed in your heart to give.

— Steve Atkerson

Revised 11/04/2017