Biblical Evidence Against Tithing

Biblical Evidence Against Tithing February 24, 2016

. . . and in Favor of Progressive Giving According to Ability

The Widow’s Mite, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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(2-4-09)* * *

From exchanges on the Coming Home Network board (where I was moderator).

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Why don’t Catholics give more to the Church?

Probably because they are materialistic, like most folks (especially Americans). That’s the short, easy answer.

Secondly, because the absolute necessity of it is relatively less stressed in Catholicism. As in most things, unless people are required to do something, they usually don’t do it. Human nature. People give voluntarily at a far lower rate and frequency than they do if pressured with “crisis” situations or what-not. I think this is why tithing became entrenched in many Protestant circles. It was a sort of rule that could work well with fundraising needs.

The biblical rule would be, I think, of a more progressive scale of giving: with the rich person giving quite a bit and the poor person less. It’s like the biblical story: the woman who gave a penny gave 100% because that is all she had. That’s greater giving than a rich person donating 10% out of their millions.

Tithing penalizes the relatively poor person who gives 10% that is literally needed for bills and food. They should give less. And the well-to-do persons should give more, because they have excess, which often gets splurged on luxury-type items.

I better shut up soon before I get myself in trouble . . . .

But wait! [Name] asked some good, probing questions:

Do you really think tithing is no longer correct, because it came from Jewish law?

It’s not a matter of being incorrect, but of not being binding or obligatory, as it was in the Jewish Law. It can be a very good voluntary figure, if someone desires to do that, as you have done.

In my view, the Protestants who encourage tithing are on track.

I think they are wrong if they make it binding.

They preach that tithing came before Moses and the Jewish law, and they point to Abram giving a tenth of his victory spoils to the priest Melchizedek (Gen. 14:17-20) as a proof text. Even though the Jews included tithing in the law, the Protestants preach that it was an acceptable practice for generations prior to the law, and I tend to agree with them.

As a general economic principle, it works: give 10% to the Lord: one part out of ten. That makes sense and is possible and practical for most people. It’s a great and helpful “rule of thumb.” But I would argue that the NT teaching is more so a voluntary, progressive giving, rather than an obligatory 10% for everyone. If anything, the NT teaching (if I am correct) is more stringent and more demanding than the straight 10% tithe. Jesus told the rich young ruler to give away everything he had (not just 10%) because riches were his idle (as they are for many wealthy people). He refused. The poor widow gave everything she had (the “widow’s mite”: see the painting above).

Those examples come straight from Jesus, too, after all. The rich man gave a 0% “tithe” and the poor woman gave a 100% tithe. Jesus didn’t say she shouldn’t have done that. He simply commended her extraordinary faith as a worthy example. The early Christians (at least some of them, as we know from Scripture) shared everything in common. That ain’t modern American capitalism, nor is it a tithe. It’s not normative, of course, and not required for everyone, as if the NT is against property, but if we want to trade biblical examples, these things are there, too.

And tithing is mentioned in the New Testament by Jesus in passing, so it’s not correct to say that nothing is said about it in the New Testament. In Luke 11: 42 Jesus says, “Woe to you, Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” This is a classic Catholic both/and moment straight from Jesus’ lips. He’s not saying don’t tithe. Instead, he’s saying the tithing of their wealth is right and proper, but in addition to that they should be doing justice and loving God. He says, “You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former [tithing] undone.” BOTH tithe AND do justice and love God.

He was still teaching within the paradigm of the Jewish Law, which He and the earliest Jewish Christians observed themselves (Paul went to temple worship and called Himself a Pharisee; Jesus practiced Pharisaical rituals of the Jewish Law, including Passover, etc.). So with regard to the Pharisees, He was critiquing them from within their own paradigm, and showing how the tithe means little if it isn’t accompanied by love (just as Paul reiterates in a larger sense in 1 Corinthians 13).

But obviously, Christians today are no longer required to abide by the 613 commandments of the OT law. This was established at the Jerusalem council, where it was determined that circumcision was not required for male Gentile converts.

The spirit of the law remains, but then we must consider tithing within that overall framework. Is it likely to be a legalistic requirement, or a more free, voluntary giving, based on what we actually have? What does the NT teach about that? Here’s a few things:

1 Corinthians 16:1-2 (RSV) Now concerning the contribution for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come.

The implication is that if one doesn’t prosper much, he wouldn’t have to give much (and vice versa). The tithe, however, takes no consideration of that. It would require the same proportion from the poor farmer in the 30s who lost everything in the dust bowl, as from Henry Ford, who was fabulously rich. The NT teaching on money and finances is far more nuanced and sensible than that. St. Paul and others teach the same principle elsewhere:

2 Corinthians 8:3-14 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints — and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. Accordingly we have urged Titus that as he had already made a beginning, he should also complete among you this gracious work. Now as you excel in everything — in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us — see that you excel in this gracious work also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I give my advice: it is best for you now to complete what a year ago you began not only to do but to desire, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not. I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.

1 Timothy 6:17-18 As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous,

[i.e, not just a mere legalistic 10%]

Romans 12:8 he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Hebrews 13:16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Luke 19:8-9 And Zacchae’us stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.

Acts 10:2 a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God.

Acts 2:44-45 And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need.

Acts 4:34-37 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need. Thus Joseph who was surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means, Son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 11:29 And the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea

Luke 3:11 And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

Not a thing about tithes in all of that. It is a matter of progressive giving “according to his ability” (Acts 11:29) or “as he may prosper” (1 Cor 16:2), or giving all, or giving 50% (one coat out of two — Lk 3:11 or half one’s goods — Lk 19:8-9). If all that were required from everyone is 10% this surely would have been mentioned in these contexts. But they are not. It only appears in NT recounting of OT systems, or in Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees from within their own Jewish Law paradigm, which does not apply in its entirety to Christians: especially Gentile Christians.

By tithing I mean that I figure out each year what a tenth of my gross income will be, and I figure out from that how much I will give to the Church each week. And that’s what I give. A tenth of my gross income every year. Yes, I even tithe on what I pay out in taxes. When I plan my monthly budget, I subtract out two things before I figure out where the money will go for everything else: I subtract out my tithe and my taxes, since I pay a quarterly estimated income tax. If I can plan ahead for the government, certainly I can plan ahead for Christ and his Church!

I think that is extraordinarily commendable and wonderful, and probably a good plan for you. God will honor your faithfulness and generosity (especially since you said you have relatively little income). I don’t think it is binding on all Christians, or that they should not give more or less according to variable financial circumstance.

In addition to my tithe, I give offerings when I’m moved to do so. It might be a check in the basket of a parish I’m visiting, or it might be a check to help seminarians with their tuition, or it might be a check to the local Commission on Aging to help pay for Meals on Wheels for senior citizens.

Then that would go beyond strict legalism. Great!

I’m not destitute, yet I’m not wealthy. According to federal guidelines, I’m below the poverty line for a single person. All the more reason to give to the Church, which is clearly assisting me as I journey toward heaven.

And Catholics incorporate so much that is Jewish in their worship and understanding of God. Why don’t they incorporate the idea of tithing? Why leave that one out? I’m open to ideas on why Catholics don’t tithe, yet it will take a lot to convince me to stop the practice, as I believe it is right and proper because Jesus condoned it in the New Testament.

It’s great on a voluntary basis. I’m not running it down in the slightest. I commend you. But I think I have provided some solid reasons for why I don’t accept tithing as any sort of binding requirement. I’ve always believed this, as a Protestant and as a Catholic. It’s not trying to “get out of” anything. Like I said, if anything, my view is stricter and would require (i.e., voluntarily, should they follow it) more giving for most people. I think this is the NT view, and I have given the texts for why I think so.

Thanks for the discussion! I don’t think I’ve ever written this much about tithing in any one place, and it can be a future reference when I’m asked about it.

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