What difference is there between tithes and offerings? Are they the same? Are they different? Should Christians tithe today
Can We Rob God?
Offerings are given to God but so are tithes. How do offerings differ from tithes? Do Christians rob God today? Malachi 3:6-12 speaks of tithes and offerings as being different but also says that withholding both is like robbing from God:
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.”
Malachi differentiates tithes from offerings by the word “and” when he writes “your tithes and offerings.” God says that they are robbing Him by withholding the offerings and the tithes. Who was this written to? It was written to the Jews but does it apply only to the Jews? Malachi 3:16 says that “those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.” Is that us today? I see no biblical evidence that the tithe is commanded in the New Testament or is part of the New Covenant but this doesn’t mean that we should not give anything. Paul wrote about giving to God in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7:
“The point is this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Each person should give as they think best “in his [or her own] heart.” Not grudgingly or out of reluctance and certainly not under compulsion because God loves a giver who gives freely, willing, and cheerfully. When Paul wrote we should give not out of compulsion he is saying that the tithe is not really commanded for the church. He could have said as much but he never writes this anywhere. It’s not a matter of the law but of the heart. Would you want someone to help you out because they felt obligated to help you or because they sincerely wanted to help you out of love? We can rob God today, but not in tithes but in refusing to give anything back to God for what He has done and the generosity for those who have so much to be thankful for. Giving back to God is an expression of gratitude and thanksgiving to Him for all that He has done for us.
Are Tithes Commanded?
The word “tithe” is an old English word that simply means “tenth.” A tithe is a tenth of a person’s income. Before the Mosaic Law was initiated, Abraham had already been tithing which seems to indicate that tithing preceded the Mosaic Law given to Israel at Mount Sinai (Gen 14:18-24; 20:20-22). Even so, the Old Testament Mosaic Law required every Jew to give one tenth of their income to God. This supported the priests and the costs associated with the temple. The Levitical Priesthood had no inheritance but God and so had no land or income. The parallel today might be the members of a church financially supporting the church pastor and the costs associated with the upkeep of the church. There were actually three tithes in the Jewish nation. A second tithe was to be stored up for the Jews themselves to spend on their own enjoyment at the Feast Days (Duet 14:22-26). A third tithe was collected every three years for the poor, particularly for the widows, orphans (Duet 14:28-29).
In the church today, tithes are no longer required because the New Covenant has replaced the Mosaic Law as it was fulfilled in Christ. This doesn’t mean that we should come empty handed to church.
Are Offerings Commanded?
Offerings in the Old Testament that were part of the Mosaic Law were also commanded and the word offerings and sacrifices are essentially the same thing. Animal sacrifices were commanded because they showed that sin required a blood sacrifice (Lev 17:11). The shed blood was to atone for the sins of the people because without the shedding of blood, the sins remained (Heb 9:11-18). Of course animal sacrifices are no longer needed because of the perfect sacrifice from the sinless Lamb of God who died for us. As the animal sacrifices only covered sin, Jesus’ blood took them away permanently.
Offerings are essentially animal sacrifices but not all of them and not all of them were commanded. For example, a thanksgiving offering is an offering to God (Psalm 50:14) and is intended to be a pleasing aroma to God (Lev 3:5, 16). The Grain Offering was viewed as a gift or a tribute paid to God in recognition for His divine sovereignty.1 Most of the meat from the sacrificial offering is retained by the worshiper for a festival meal.2 The Grain Offering gave allowances of certain freedoms and was an offering not out of compulsion but a free will offering. This offering was also the primary means of sustenance for the priests who depended upon it for their daily food and living.3
The five major offerings reflected how God hates sin and that sin required sacrifice and blood is needed to atone for sins. One major difference is that in the Old Testament, the sacrifices covered sins but they could never take away the sins of the people (Heb 10:11) like Christ’s sacrifice was able to do by sprinkling our hearts by His own blood to cleanse our guilt (Heb 10:22). What was once only covered is now completely taken away.
There is a major difference between tithes and offerings. Tithes concerned monetary or financial support of the Jewish society and the priesthood while offerings were intended to atone for the sins of the people. Should Christians tithe today? One person asked, “Should we tithe 10% of our gross or 10% of our net.” I said, “It depends. Do you want God to bless your net or your gross income?” I was not saying the tithe is commanded but a person will be blessed if they do tithe. I believe that many Christians can give more than 10% and some can only give a small amount. We are not under the Law but we should be giving back to God at least something. Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 9:9-14:
“For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”
Just because Paul says it was written in the Law of Moses he is not saying that we should do it out of obligation, but since even the Law of Moses said that we should not “muzzle the ox when it treads out the grain” should we do any less to support those who are laboring for the Lord and for the upkeep of the modern day temple, the church? You have to decide in your own heart what to give but remember that “God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Cor 9:7b-8) because “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” This is the law of the harvest. A farmer always reaps more than he sows but also reaps later than he sows, so what kind of harvest do you want to reap? It depends upon how much you sow.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon
1 Desmond T. Alexander. From Paradise to the Promised Land (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publish,
2 Ibid., p. 254.
3 Ibid., p. 253.