What The Bible Really Says About Tithing

What The Bible Really Says About Tithing

Does the practice of tithing, instituted in the Torah for ancient Israel, still apply to Christians today? Is it a divine command from God for this hour, that you are “required to give 10% of your income to the Church? Should it be discarded as vestige from the past?

It is true that tithing is mentioned twice in the book of Genesis centuries before the Torah was given to Israel (see Genesis 14 and 28). But the practice is not prescribed there, only described.

Within the Torah itself, there was more than one tithe required, as reflected in later Jewish law, meaning that an ancient Israelite would be expected to give more than one-tenth of his income to support the Levites (the ministers of that day) and to care for the poor.

That’s why God challenged Israel in the book of Malachi to bring the full tithe into His storehouse so the nation would be blessed. To withhold it would be to steal from God and come under His curse.

The Old Testament also taught the principle of giving to God from the first and the best of one’s produce, thereby giving Him honor and demonstrating faith. The Old Testament also contrasted generosity with stinginess, commending the former and critiquing the latter.

But what about the New Testament? Are Christians also under the law of tithing?

As much as I believe in the practice of tithing (and beyond), I do not believe that Christians are “under the law of tithing,” meaning, required by God to give one-tenth of their income to His work. And I certainly don’t believe that they will be cursed by God if they fail to tithe.

It is true that Jesus encouraged the Jewish religious leaders of His day to continue to tithe in the most scrupulous way while not neglecting the more important issues of justice and mercy and faithfulness. And any local church can say, “If you would like to be a member of our congregation, we expect you to tithe.” But that would be their own requirement for official membership as opposed to a divine requirement.

This does not mean that all Christians are obligated by the Law to tithe. No verse that I find in the New Testament makes any such claim. 

That being said, in many ways, the New Testament calls us to an even higher ethic, to greater faith, and to extravagant generosity beyond tithing.

First, Jesus taught that as we gave to others, it would be given to us, both in natural and spiritual terms. This strongly encourages a spirit of generosity. He also taught that those who left everything to follow Him would inherit eternal life in the world to come, and would be rewarded many times over in this world – along with suffering persecution.

Second, on two occasions in the book of Acts, many believers sold their possessions to help those in need, going way beyond what the law required. (See Acts 2 and 4.)

Third, Paul laid out a number of important principles when it came to giving.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul explained that those who preached the gospel should make their living by the gospel, meaning that vocational ministers should be supported by those they ministered to. This would require consistent and systematic giving.

In 1 Corinthians 16, he instructed the believers to put aside money for a special offering at the beginning of every week. This points to the principle of giving to God first before money is spent on other things. It also points to the principle of systematic, regular giving.

Then, in 2 Corinthians 8, he pointed to the example of the believers in Macedonia who out of “their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity,” urging the believers in Corinth to follow their example. For the record, Paul was not requesting funds for himself. He was collecting funds to help the poor believers in Jerusalem.

In the same chapter, Paul taught the principle of proportional giving. Those who had much should give more; those who had less could give less. As he wrote, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.”

When it came to rich Christians, Paul didn’t lay a guilt trip on them. But he did command them “not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain,” And he urged them “to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

As for the example we were to follow, Paul pointed to Jesus, who “though he was rich, yet for our sake became poor, so that we through His poverty might become rich.” To be clear, Paul was saying that we have been enriched spiritually by the Lord’s sacrificial love, not that we will all become millionaires because He died for us.

Paul also had this word of encouragement for the Corinthian believers in expectation of their sacrificial generosity: “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

To sum it up, the New Testament teaches systematic, proportional, generous, and faith-filled giving, and first-fruits giving (meaning, giving to God first). This brings us well beyond the tithe, not under legal compulsion but under the spirit of grace.

Our giving should support those who minister the gospel to us and care for our souls, provide for those in need and help bring the gospel to the unreached.

It is a sacred privilege to give, and as we do, we store up treasure in heaven.

Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries and is the author of 40 books. Connect with him on FacebookTwitter, or YouTube.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.