Does the Bible teach that tithing (giving 10% of our income/increase) is the essential and enduring requirement for Christian giving? Christians through the years have supported this based on various scriptures, reasoning that since the Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob gave tithes at certain times, then the practice must be God’s abiding standard. Since tithing appeared before the law, it must transcend the law. This argument, however, has many flaws and, after careful review of scripture, we discover that there is no formula or percentage for how much we ought to give. Giving is a matter of the heart, not a matter of the head (Matthew 6:21). The tithe is not a divine ordinance, but refers to a voluntary free will offering, motivated by the heart. Let’s look at the tithe as exhibited in the Bible.
Tithing in the New Testament
It is important to know that there are no verses in the New Testament directing Christians to tithe. The word tithing is only referenced on three occasions in the New Testament and all three are merely historical references to the practice (Matthew 23:23; Luke 18:9-14; Hebrews 7:5-10). The tithing references in Matthew and Luke involve the Pharisees and their participation in the Old Testament Law. Abraham’s tithe, referenced in Hebrews, was a one-time “payment,” made of his own free will from excess spoils gained in war (Genesis 14:20). We have no indication in scripture that he ever did it again or that this action was to be normative for others on a regular basis. The New Testament was written by practicing Jews who certainly knew the old covenant law on tithing well. But, none of the writers – Matthew, Mark, John, Paul, Peter or James – ever mention tithing as a basis for Christian giving, even when they are talking about giving.
Tithing in the Old Testament
Old Testament tithing, simply stated, was a tax that the Jews had to pay to underwrite their theocratic nation whose king was God. There were actually three different tithes that they were required to pay: The Levite Tithe (Leviticus 27:30), the Festival Tithe (Deuteronomy 19:9), and the Welfare Tithe (Deuteronomy 14:28). This was a Jewish flat tax of 23.33% annually. Added to this was Poor Taxes which brought the annualized total up to 25% per year. These tithes/firstfruits were “brought,” “taken,” “presented,” and even “paid” rather than given.
This tithing has never been an offering to God; it was always a form of taxation. Jesus even upheld that the disciples should pay their taxes to the human government in power. However using the 10% tithe as the basic standard for which we should give back is a rigid concept simply not taught in scripture (John MacArthur; Whose Money is it Anyway?)
Free Will Offering
If tithing isn’t the basis for Christian giving, what is? It is the same as it was for God’s people in the Old Testament – free will offerings. The Jews had taxes to pay and we have taxes to pay. The Jews made free will offerings and we also make free will offerings. Free will offerings, contrary to taxes, have always been voluntary and in whatever amount the giver chooses. They are motivated out of grace and love. Taxes are motivated out of law, duty and obligation.
In the early church, the Jews were trying to insist that the new Gentile converts needed to also obey the Jewish laws in order to become Christians. The Jerusalem Council determined that the Gentile Christians were only obligated to obey the following: “. . . for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements. You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well” (Acts 15:28-29). Here was a chance to impose the Jewish tax law (tithing), but it was not included. They could have accused them of “robbing God” and therefore being “under a curse” as Malachi did of the Israelites in reference to the Temple Tithe. However, Christians are not under a law or a curse but under grace, and the New Testament leaders knew this.
Paul gives crystal clear teaching on what our giving should look like as he describes the giving of the Macedonian Christians: “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. They urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. They gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4).
Paul further sets the giving standard for believers in 2 Corinthians 9:7 where he directs us, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Paul is not giving a formula or a percentage on how much we should give, but rather on how we should be internally motivated.
Let’s be perfectly clear here. Freedom from the law of the Old Testament taxation is not freedom to give less. It is freedom to give in the ways and the amounts that properly reflect our deep, abiding love and gratitude for our Father and His Kingdom. It should reflect our desire to give to Him with the same sacrificial abandon that He gave to us when He sent His son to rescue us from hell. Being under grace does not mean living by lower standards than the law. On the contrary, Christ systematically addressed sins and made it clear that his standards were much higher than the law. As the law was a tutor to lead us to Christ, the tithe is a tutor that leads us on to generous giving. So go and be free from the law and let the law of love direct you in the size and amount of your freewill offerings to your Father.
Jeffery Masters, President of Jeffery W. Masters & AssociatesSecurities offered through LPL Financial, member FINRA/SIPC Investment Advise offered through Independent Financial Partners, a Registered Investment Advisor. Independent Financial Partners and Jeffery W. Masters& Associates are not affiliated with LPL Financial. Call for questions @ 954.977.5150 Jeffery.Masters@LPL.com