Must Christians Tithe?
Tithing – we hear it so often in our churches that many just assume that God has commanded all believers to give a tenth of their earnings as an offering to the church.
Instead of “studying to show ourselves approved who accurately interprets the word of God,” many just assume it’s true.
But is it?
Shouldn’t we look at this as well as everything else we’re told and actually investigate?
Let’s begin by making a few statements and then follow up by reviewing what the Bible teaches.
First – In both the Old and New Testaments, giving to God, the church, and others has always been “free will giving.”
Second – Tithing is not in the New Testament; except for three references to the Old Testament.
Third – In both the Old and New Testaments, believers are obligated to pay their taxes. In Old Testament times, these taxes are referred to as the tithe.
Fourth – The word tithe simply means a tenth.
A perspective on Biblical History – Dispensations
The history of believers can be divided into three significant periods or dispensations: Patriarchal, The Law, and Church.
Adam to Moses is the Patriarchal age, including Adam, Abraham, Jacob, etc. Moses receives the Law and brings the Jews to the promised land, and finally, Christ brings in the Church age.
It’s important to grasp this because we can see what the Bible says about free will and required giving in each of these three dispensations.
So, how does the tithe fit into the Bible?
Giving during the Patriarchal period
The first offering in the Bible is in Genesis 4:3-4 “In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering — fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.”
A few points should be discussed, God was pleased with Able and not pleased with Cain, and said so in Genesis 4:4-5. Also, Abel’s offering was from the “firstborn” or best, while Cain just brought “some.”
Notice also, there was no command to do so, nor was there any stipulations, such as a tenth. It can be implied that “the firstborn” or best was important to God, and that a blood sacrifice was to be given as an offering to God.
The next offering is in Genesis 8:20: “So Noah built an altar…taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.”
Again, this was a voluntary free will giving by Noah without any biblical requirements or numerical stipulations.
Now, in Genesis 12 (and 13:18), we have in response to God giving land to Abram in Genesis 12:7: “…so he (Abram) built an altar there to the Lord…”
Still free will spontaneous giving without any rules or solicitation from God.
Later, in Genesis 14:20, we have the first mention of a tithe. Abram, after having victory in wars with other nations in his land, meets Melchizedek (which translated means King of Righteousness), the king and priest of Salem (Jerusalem), and in verse 20, “gave a tenth of everything.”
Again, there is no requirement and Abram gave voluntarily out of thankfulness. Additionally, although Abram lived 160 years, this is the only time the bible records him giving a tithe.
Genesis 28:22 Jacob makes a vow with God in exchange for a safe journey, bread, and clothes, and states, “Of all that you give me, I will give you a tenth.”
So, out of all the offerings in the book of Genesis, only twice was there 10% or a tithe. And both times they were voluntary free will giving without any biblical rule or requirement.
So what about required giving? Let’s look at Genesis 41:34. Joseph has been sold into slavery, and even though imprisoned, he is the only person who can interpret the Pharaoh’s dream about an impending famine. “Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance.” And, in 47:24, he institutes this tax or required giving to the government: “…when a crop comes in, give a fifth of it to the Pharaoh…”
Here, we have 20% as a required giving to the government – this is required taxation to fund the government and provide for the impending famine.
In summary, there was always free will and spontaneous and voluntary giving during the Patriarchal period. Only twice was this 10%, which was arbitrary and not commanded in the Bible. Finally, there is a 20% required giving or taxation in Egypt. Interestingly, 20% is close to the percentage of taxation in most governments today.
Giving during the Jewish period – the Law
Let’s look at required giving. In Leviticus 27:30-34, we have the Levite Tax: “A tithe of everything from the land…belongs to the Lord. Whoever would redeem any of their tithes must add a fifth of its value. Every tithe of the herd..will be holy to the Lord. No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution. If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed. These are the commands the Lord gave Moses at Mount Sinai for the Israelites.”
This is the Lord’s tithe or the Levite tithe. The Levites were the priests who ran Israel and this was how they are cared for. It is required giving, a tax, not voluntary giving. You could pay in cash for crops only, but you needed to add 20%. Additionally, this is the law as it applied to the Jews not to any other dispensation.
In Deuteronomy 12:6-17 we have another tithe required giving – which is effectively a national potluck or the Festival Tithe. “…bring your tithes and special gifts…and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks..you and your family shall eat and shall rejoice…you mist not eat in your own towns of the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks…”
This is another required giving – the Festival Tithe. so we now have 20%. Note also, the references to “free will giving” as additional offerings. This was not quantity but attitude of the giver and the quality of their offering. Additionally, the tithe was not a substitute for free will giving, it was in addition to it.
In Deuteronomy 14:28, we have a third required giving every third year, which is the Poor Tithe. “At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites…and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat…”
So now, we have approximately 23% as required giving.
But that’s not all, we have three more required assessments. In Leviticus 19:9 the Jews were instructed “When you reap the harvest..do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleaning of your harvest.” Why? You were to leave that for the poor to eat. In Exodus 23:10 they could only work the land for six years and were required to let it lie fallow on the seventh year. Finally, in Deuteronomy 15:1 they were required to cancel all debts every seven years. These were all required giving and were easily over 25% in taxation.
We already referred to free will giving in that the scriptures which discuss required giving also include free willing giving. This is in addition to required giving.
Numbers 18:12 says, “I give you all the finest olive oil and all the finest new wine and grain.”
God’s promise to Israel for their free will giving is expressed in Proverbs 3:9 “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing…” This is course temporal vs. spiritual and although the spirit of generosity will be awarded one way or another, there is no guarantee, especially for the church age that this is an automatic promise.
If God wanted, He could have specified a tithe for offerings outside of taxation in this verse in Exodus – He didn’t and refers to their hearts being “prompted” vs. specifying a percentage. In Exodus 25:1 “The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.”
1 Chronicles 29:9 states, “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord.”
Again and again, we have examples of free will giving in addition to required giving in the Old testament. If God wanted to institute a 10% requirement for giving to the church, He could have…He didn’t.
Giving during the Church Age
Let’s look at required giving again, this time in the Church Age. In Matthew 17:24-25 “…collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. And, of course, using a willing and able fish, He did.
Now this is still the age of Law, Christ has not yet died on the cross, but acknowledges an obligation to pay taxes to the government.
In Matthew 22:15-21, the Pharisees attempting to lay a trap asks, “…Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” …” So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
We see also in Titus 3:1-2 and in 1 Peter 2:13-16 our obligation to the government which God has instituted. In other words obey the laws and pay your taxes.
Again, Christ confirmed the obligation to pay taxes.
Now, tithing is mentioned in the New Testament in three places.
In Matthew 23:23, Christ states, “Woe to you, teachers of the law…you give a tithe…but you have neglected the more important matters of the law…”
Again, in Luke 18:12 when, Jesus told a parable of two men, “one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” The Pharisee boasted, “I fast twice a week and give a tithe of all I get.”
Finally, Hebrews 7 restates Abrams’s gift to Melchizedek of a tenth of his war spoils.
None of these were instructions to go and do likewise. Also, they were consistent with required giving, also known as taxes, in Israel and in the case of Abram, his spontaneous gift of ten percent of the spoils.
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 gives us the general guidelines concerning giving in the Church Age: “…Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Giving in the Church age? It should be weekly, generous, and without reluctance or compulsion.
There are two types of giving in the Bible: required and free will.
In all three dispensational periods, giving is consistent.
The Bible requires that we give to the Government, also known as taxes – Romans 13:6-7.
God encourages our spontaneous, non-reluctant, thankful, and generous freewill gifts to the church, to support the poor – Proverbs 19:17, widows and orphans – James 1:27, family – 1 Timothy 5:8, and other believers – Galatians 6:10.
Simply stated, tithing, as a requirement to give to the church, is never taught.