Tithing in the Bible – Is Tithing for the New Testament Believer?

A few weeks ago I wrote an article called “Why it’s Important to Keep Tithing in Tough Economic Times” and, quite frankly, I was surprised by the many follow up comments from Christians who don’t believe that tithing is for today. Many expressed the belief that tithing was only done in the Old Testament and thus it shouldn’t be a part of a believer’s life. Their comments made me wonder:  Whether tithing is restricted to the Old Testament or not, is the practice of tithing such a bad thing for today’s believer? Let’s dive in and look at what the Bible has to say about tithing and more importantly, our heart.

What is the Tithe?

The word “tithe” comes from an Old English root meaning “one tenth.” It is the common English translation for the Old Testament Hebrew asar word group. The tithe was an offering of one’s agricultural income to the Lord as an expression of thanks and dedication. In the Old Testament agricultural economy, tithes were paid not in cash, gold or goods but in crops or livestock, for only the agricultural fruit of the promised land was to be tithed—not other forms of income. Although today we commonly think of the tithe as “10 percent” as a result, apparently there are three tithes in the Old Testament, two every year and a third every third year, or an average of 23.3 percent of one’s annual produce from the land. There was also provision for freewill offerings and personal giving above and beyond the tithe, so that the tithe never stood alone. Tithes were given by the patriarchs Abraham (Genesis 4:17-20) and Jacob (Genesis 28:22); a system of tithes was instituted in the law of God given through Moses (Deuteronomy 12Deuteronomy 14  Deuteronomy 26; and the prophets rebuked the children of Israel for failing to give the tithe to God (Malachi 3:8).

The idea of the tithe is still present in the New Testament (Matthew 23:23), but it is never explicitly applied to believers. Instead, almost all Christians are called to more extravagant freewill giving in response to the gospel of the Lord Jesus, based on faith in God as Provider (2 Corinthians 9:6-10).

Tithing is a Matter of the Heart

First, let’s look at the defintion and purpose aof the tithe. The main principle behind tithing and giving is the fact that what we do with our money shows where our heart is. Matthew 6:21 says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  When we are able to give 10% or more of our income instead of keeping that money for ourselves, it shows that our heart isn’t tied to our money and that we love God more than our money.  

The Bible mentions money over 800 times and of all of Jesus’ parables, more than half of them talked about money. Why? Because that is where so many people get tripped up! When we are able to release at least 10% of our income back to God, our money doesn’t have as tight of a hold on us because we realize that God is in control of our finances. We remember that everything we have has been given to us by Him. Even though most of us probably work for the money we make each month, even God has his hand there – He has given us the ability to do our jobs. Many who grasp what God has truly given them seem to agree that 10% doesn’t even feel like enough!  

Is Tithing Mandatory?

Many readers who responsed took issue with idea of tithing being “mandatory” or “required” – as if it is something that keeps believers in bondage. But do God’s standards really keep us in bondage? Just like God tells us to keep sex within marriage, to love one another and to seek first His kingdom, tithing is a blessing to our lives and something that will help better our lives (as well as help the lives of others). We are not saved by works, thus failing to tithe will not necessarily send you to hell, but doing so will help improve your life and strengthen your relationship with God. I personally don’t believe that God will curse us if we don’t tithe, but I do believe He will help us escape the curse that is already in the world if we do. I also understand that there may be some church leaders who try to guilt and coerce people into giving, but studies show there are plenty of church leaders honoring God in this area — the majority of them want to share God’s best with the people they love and have been tasked to lead.

Old Testament vs. New Testament Tithing Practices

Whether the tithe is only for Old Testament or if it is also included in the New Testament is probably the most debated issue.  The scripture most frequently referenced regarding the tithe is indeed in the Old Testament (Malachi 3:10-12), but the tithe is also referenced in the New Testament. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus talks to the Pharisees, condemning them for tithing to the penny but neglecting the more important issues of justice, mercy and faith.  He then goes on to tell them that they should in fact tithe, but that they shouldn’t neglect the more important things. Jesus recognized the importance of keeping the tithe and we should, too. 

There are many practices in the Old Testament that don’t make sense to us today, yet many of these ancient ways carry over to the New Testament law of grace as part of Christ’s promise to not abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). For instance we no longer sacrifice animals but as believers we are called to offer ourselves up as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1).  Men no longer are required to be circumcised, but we all have a circumcision of the heart through the Holy Spirit (Rom 2:29).  Most of us don’t have grain and produce to bring to the storehouse, but we do have incomes that we can bring the first tenth of into the church. In other words, just because something is written in the Old Testament doesn’t mean it lacks application to us today in some way or another. One Crosswalk.com member, Zoe4Ever, left a comment on my previous article regarding this principle that I found insightful:

When I think of Christians asking themselves whether “tithing” is commanded in the Bible, is an Old Testament or New Testament teaching, I wonder how many of these Christians “send back” the many scriptural blessings God has given His people in the Old Testament. How many people when they are blessed and given hope through the mention of God’s works, words etc. through the Old Testament Scriptures say ‘I don’t receive this or that blessing or confirmation because it’s in the Old Testament’?”

While it is true that we are no longer under the old law, that we are under grace, we must not forget the purpose of grace: to help us live for God and do the things He wants us to do. Romans 8:4 tells us that Jesus came that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, not so that we could altogether dismiss it. And Romans 3:21-31 talks about how we have righteousness through faith and not through following the law, but verse 31 adds “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” God’s grace gives us the power and ability to tithe!  

Tithe and The Number 10

Most of us are aware that we as Christians are to give, but many people get hung up on the 10% part of the tithe.  The fact is that God knows we can not all give an equal amount because we all have different resources, so He gave a percentage ensuring it would equal out. 

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”  Mark 12:41-44  

Jesus understood that even though this widow gave a small amount compared to the others, her heart was more giving because she gave a larger percentage of what she had than all the others. This verse is also interesting because this widow gave all she had to live on.  There are many people today who say they can’t afford to tithe but this woman realized she couldn’t afford not to.   

God knows we are naturally inclined to be selfish and will want to keep our money. So while, yes, we should give cheerfully, sometimes we need to take the step and actually give regardless of our internal feelings. The act of giving allows God to change our hearts so that ultimately we end up doing so cheerfully.  Many of us, if we let our natural minds decide how much to give, would likely opt for a lot less than 10%. Having a standard keeps us accountable. 

Trusting the Church With Your Tithe

So what if you don’t take issue with the concept of giving or even the concept of giving 10%? What if you, like many of the commentors, take issue with those you hand your money over to: the Church.  Those who express this concern reveal two potential problems that need to be addressed: 

1. This individual’s trust isn’t in God (and the church He’s placed them in). Or

2. This individual is attending an untrustworthy church and should consider finding a new one.  

The truth is, church leaders are responsible for using church money in a responsible way – they have more accountability for that than we do. And as mentioned previously, most of them do a pretty good job of this. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that our accountability as believers is simply to give and trust that God will take care of the rest.  Hopefully you are in a church where you can trust your leaders to do what is right.  If you are unable to find such a church, then it would be beneficial to work on your trust in God, asking Him to help you trust the leaders He has placed you under (or pray to help you find a solution if there is a genuine problem of corruption present). But just remember, you’re responsible for what you give and for your heart, and the church leaders are responsible for how to use it.

In closing, I’d like to point out that the percentage you ultimately give is between you and God, however there are many who do give 10% and want to offer encouragement to others to do the same. Think about it: If some individuals are willing to give 10% of their income (or more) to their church — the place that feeds and teaches them — and if some individuals are experiencing the blessings of giving away income to care for the needy and want to encourage others to experience the same blessings they’ve been experiencing – is that such a bad thing?