The Truth on Tithing

The Truth on Tithing August 17, 2016
Photo attribution: "The Shrinking Dollar" By frankieleon; CC 2.0
Photo attribution: “The Shrinking Dollar” By frankieleon; CC 2.0

Introduction: I’d like to take a moment and discuss one of my ministry areas that are near and dear to my heart. I have a few areas in particular I feel led to address in my ministry and tithing is one of them. Not as an advocate for tithing, which may surprise some, but as one to spread the message that tithing is being practiced when it should not be. For the most part I think pastors are being genuine in their teaching to adhere to the tithe, genuine but genuinely wrong. The majority are trying teach giving and how it blesses us, but still, tithing is not the New Testament pattern. In many cases, though, it is used as a manipulative tool to increase their own back accounts or at least to keep their paychecks rolling in.

A few years back I started a book on this very topic entitled, “Tattling on Tithing: Making Money Mandatory is a Mistake.” I was about two thirds the way through and lost all of my work due to a computer virus, a flood, and not backing up my work like a fool. To retrace the steps and start all over proved too daunting for my schedule, but I still like to preach and write about the error of requiring and teaching the tithe in our time.

The New Testament: The topic of tithing can be very controversial. It’s such a wide spread practice that to speak out against it can cause all kinds of backlash. When it comes to dealing with the livelihood of preachers and pastors it’s amazing how their kind, Christian attitudes can change in the blink of an eye. But what is surprising to most is the fact that the New Testament nowhere requires us to give a tenth of our income as an offering to the church, or even to God for that matter. If you don’t believe me feel free to go check for yourself. If tithing is such an essential issue why is it not taught in the New Testament. And as accepted as it is across the Church you would think tithing would be mentioned several times in the New Testament.

The word itself, “tithe,” refers to a tenth of produce and livestock prescribed by the Old Covenant as the requirement of all Hebrews to pay in order to support the Levite priesthood who were not allowed to earn wages; it was to pay for the maintaining of the temple; and it was used to provide sacrifices in the Old Testament worship system. Every single one of these needs has been done away with under the New Covenant, the New Testament, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now all believers are priests because we are children of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ our Savior. We, every believer, are now the temple of God which He has given the Holy Spirit to reside in, to indwell us, at the moment of our regeneration. There is no longer any need to make sacrifices in order to cover our sin because Christ became the sacrifice once and for all for all for our sin (past, present, and future). We are forgiven if we are in Christ. The national system of worship for Israel is now obsolete, the role of the priest and tithe has come to an end. This is why the Bible no longer requires believers under the New Covenant to tithe. It is simply not there. (See Eph. 3:12; 1 Cor. 6:19; Heb. 10:14)

Abraham and Melchizedek: People will often try and use the example of Abraham tithing to Melchizedek as a point to validate tithing. In this case it is true that Abraham gave a tenth of his belongings to Melchizedek, however, it was a one time gift where Abraham gave as a result of his own personal decision as a public action to show his thankfulness for a victory that was had during a military battle. It was not as an act of obedience from a commandment given by God.

Besides, just because something was done before the Law does not make it a permanent command of God to be added to the Law. If we are going to use Abraham to argue for the tithe then we need to follow him in other examples as well, like circumcision and the sacrifice of animals. Isn’t it odd how rare these two areas are mentioned alongside that of tithing. (Gen 14 – 16)

The real point for this incident being recorded in the New Testament is to show the supremacy of our priesthood in Christ which is represented by Melchizedek over and above the priesthood of Levi, a clear descendant of Abraham. (Heb. 7:1-10) The passage is not didactic regarding the issue of tithing, it’s not a commandment, it’s a narrative simply describing a situation that took place. Tithing is not the point to be taken from this incident.

Passages out of context: If time and space allowed at this point I could list many of the passages taken completely out of context which are used in an attempt to get people to tithe. Perhaps a brief mention of the main culprit will suffice for our purposes.

Probably the most infamous of the tithe manipulating passages of Scripture is Malachi 3:9-10, “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.”

See how this is used as a manipulative tool? “cursed with a curse,” “robbing” God, bring the tithe into the “storehouse,” “put me to the test,” if you tithe you will be given “blessing until there is no more.” Well, for starters the church is not a “storehouse,” that should be the first clue. “The context of this passage concerns the Israelites not bringing their offerings to the temple. Because of their disobedience, God had judged them with a small harvest. The Lord challenged them to bring the ‘full tithe’ of grain sacrifices (Leviticus 6:14-23) and see that He would bless them with an abundance of future crops. The ‘storehouse,’ mentioned in verse 10, is a place to store grain in the temple.”* And although this passage applied to a particular group at a particular time regarding a particular issue, pastors still use it to convince people into tithing often emphasizing on being cursed if they don’t and that they are robbing God if they choose not to. A clear abuse of the use of Scripture.

Giving: So then, how are we to give as believers under the New Covenant? Well, the best example we have is that of Jesus (2 Cor. 8:9). Jesus was a walking, living, breathing sacrifice in complete and absolute dependence on God the Father (Phil. 2:5-8). Well, we aren’t Jesus so what are we to do? Actually, we are to do the same thing (2 Cor. 8:5; Rom. 12:1-2). Our giving should come naturally out of the love we have for God and His people. We should give as we are felt led to give by the Holy Spirit. Can that be 10 percent of what we make? Sure, but it can also be 2 percent or 20 percent. It will be different for each of us as he works in our hearts on an individual level. That is the freedom we have in Christ. Does the Bible teach New Testament believers to give? Absolutely. Does it teach them to give 10 percent of their gross income as opposed to their net income? Absolutely not.

Conclusion: The best advice I can give on what and how much you should give is to point you to 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. I’ll leave you with a quote from that section of Scripture, “Each person should give what they have decided to in their own heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:8).

*Portion in quotes comes form “, ‘Does the Teaching on Tithing in Malachi 3:9-10 Apply to us Today?’

This was a guest post from Dr. Jeff Hagan.

Jeff is an ordained Christian minister with over 23 years of ministry experience. He has attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary, Tyndale Seminary and a handful of other institutes as well. He has earned several degrees including the Doctor of Christian Education and the Doctor of Theology.

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  • Iain Lovejoy

    The tithe in the old testament is further misunderstood because it is express that, after being offered to God with the Temple taking its portoon, you actually eat most if the tithe yourself sharing your produce with the rest of the community in a celebration of the harvest – it never was a kind of religious tax. Charitable giving and sharing with one’s neighbours the fruits of one’s wealth would be the modern equivalent.
    I would also second your criticism of the use of the Malachi passage, but for a different reason: I don’t think it means what it is taken to mean at all.
    This is because:
    – It comes following a passage specifically directed against the temple itself, so it is rather odd to see Malachi then demanding people give the temple more gifts and wealth.
    – It refers to theft of not just the compulsory tithes but offerings too, which were in a great part voluntary anyway, so how could they be “stolen” by not being given in thr first place?.
    – “Steal” is a strong word and should be taken seriously.
    – The people brought their tithes and offerings not to the storehouse, but to the altar or the temple generally: it would rather be the priests who would then put the share not immediately sacrificed into the storehouse.
    I therefore think that the passage reads more naturally as an accusation of corruption in the priesthood: the allegation is of embezzling temple funds. The challenge to bring the full tithe into the temple storehouse is deeply sarcastic: the priests can’t because they have swiped it. The point of the passage I think is that the prayers and sacrifices offered daily in the temple by the priests are worthless, and all their tears at God’s apparent abandonment of Israel are crocodile tears, because they are a nest of corrupt thieves. It doesn’t, in my view, have anything to do with people giving money to the church at all.

    • Good points. Thanks for taking the time to read.

    • JenellYB

      That has seemed so to me since I first started actually reading the bible on my own, some 50+ years ago. But I sure learned not to mention it.

      • Yes, condemnation does come with speaking this truth. After all, I’m/we’re messing with people’s livelihood. But I prefer being concerned with the livelihood of those sitting in the “pews.”

    • Good addition. Sorry took so long to respond and commend your thoughts.

  • Walter Fast

    Spot on, Jeff! It’s been somewhat of an uphill battle trying to convey this to those entrusted to my care. Helpful insight from iain as well!

    • Thanks Walter, I appreciate it. I’d rather have to work two jobs my entire ministry career than take advantage of people in an unbiblical fashion. And yes, Iain did indeed add some great words.

  • William AndAnn Akers

    I guess that if you believe in storehouse tithing and met under a brush arbor then the brush arbor would become the storehouse.Can I get an amen from a storehouse tithing preacher?

  • Chuck Wells

    Thank you for writing this. There are too many people who can barely afford their mortgage or necessities that are being hurt by the improper teaching of tithing. Perhaps that’s why Jesus warned us to . . “Beware of the teachers of the law . . . They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.” –Luke 20:46-47

    • Thanks Chuck. It’s a tough road to travel, but I can’t compromise. I’ve always had to work two jobs in order to make ends meet, but I’m not going to horde from those who don’t even have two nickels to rub together. Especially when that’s not what the Bible teaches.

  • Raymond

    How does the Widow’s Mite figure in to your reasoning?

    • Not sure what you mean. She gave more than a tithe, she gave all she had. It’s not tithe related so I’d be interested in what exactly you mean. For her tithe was not enough. No problem with that here.

      • Raymond

        The point I was making is that Jesus commended the Widow for giving all that she had and compared it (ambiguously to be sure) to those who were giving from their abundance. How does this play into your advice to “give what they have decided to give”?

        • 2 Cor. 9:7, “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.” (What you have decided in your heart)

  • Basement Berean

    Great job, but I think the temple tax is what was used for temple maintenance, not the tithe to the Levites.

    • Thanks Basement. It was used for a variety of things: temple maintenance; to support the priests as they did not work (except carrying out the duties of the Temple); storehouse for good for their agrarian culture, etc.

      • Basement Berean

        OK, please show me chapter and verse where the tithe to the Levites went to “temple maintenance.” It got tithed itself to the priesthood, and got stored in the storehouse, but I recall anywhere in scripture where the tithe to the Levites went to “temple maintenance.”

        The temple tax was specifically for that purpose.

        Fun fact from Wikipedia…

        ‘After the return under Nehemiah Jews in the Diaspora continued to pay the Temple tax. Josephus
        reports that at the end of the 30s CE “many tens of thousands” of
        Babylonian Jews guarded the convoy taking the tax to Jerusalem (Ant.