On Tithing & Offerings
The purpose of this article is to take a flat (non-denominational) Biblical approach to the topic of Tithing and Offerings, and whether they are still applicable as a law or requirement for New Testament Christians. This article isn’t to discuss the value or principal of giving to ministries, to promote the ‘Give and you shall get’ principal, or to stir up any division. It is simply and prayerfully written to discover the answer to the simple question, ‘Do I have to give 10% of all my income to the Church’.
Many Christian denominations use tithes and offerings to fund the work of the ministry, local and abroad, while some use it as a retirement fund for the pastor of the local church. Some Churches teach that tithing is a requirement for salvation, using Malachi 3:8 to justify this belief while others teach it as sacrificial giving at the discretion of the giver. II Corinthians 9:7 tells us that God loves a cheerful giver and we know that many disciples gave much to the early works of the Church in the book of Acts, although this was communistic living and not tithing. That will be explained later in this article.
What is the definition of a Tithe?
Per Merriam-Webster’s and other dictionary definitions, a tithe is a tenth part, paid as a voluntary contribution or as a tax especially for the support of a religious establishment. Some definitions include that the tithe is the tenth part of agricultural produce or incomes set apart as an offering to God or works of mercy.
Quite literally, a tithe simply means a tenth of a whole or one out of ten. The first Biblical reference to tithing is in Genesis 14:20, “And blessed, praised, and glorified be God Most High, who has given your enemies into your hand. And Abram gave him a tenth of all the treasure he had taken in battle”. (Amplified Bible) Him in this verse references Melchizedek which is a study unto itself.
The word ‘tithes’ in Genesis 14:20 is the Hebrew ma’asrah which simply means the tenth part. This Hebrew word is used 28 times in Scripture for tithe, tithing, and tithes. In the Old Testament, only one other word was used three times in Scripture, which is first found in Deuteronomy 14:22, “Ever year you shall certainly tithe [a tenth] of all the yield of your seed which is produced by your field.” AMP
The Hebrew word used in Deuteronomy 14:22 is asar which means to accumulate the tenth part and is related to the Hebrew ashar which also means to accumulate, to make oneself rich, to enrich. It is important and also interesting to note the difference in words here because, in the case of Deuteronomy 14:23 the tithe was to be accumulated and consumed by the ones giving the tithe, it was not given to the Priesthood. This accounting is also the only place in Scripture where actual social currency could have been used instead of produce or livestock. No other Scriptural reference deals with currency as a form of tithing or offering.
The following words are used in Scripture for tithe, tithing or tithes;
ma’asrah [Hebrew, Concordance Reference 4643] meaning a tenth
asar [Hebrew, Concordance Reference 6237] meaning to accumulate the tenth, to enrich
apodekatoo [Greek, Concordance Reference 586] meaning to tithe and denotes ‘to pay the tithe of’, or to ‘extract the tithe’
dekate [Greek, Concordance Reference 1181] meaning a tenth, as a percentage
dekatos [Greek, Concordance Reference 1183] meaning to give or take a tenth
From this we can clearly see that a tithe is a tenth part. There is an interesting dichotomy in Scripture relating to the tithe in that as we see in the Greek references a tithe was both offered, and taken. As we read in the secular definition, a tithe could be either a voluntary offering or a tax. This forms the basis of the next talking point.
When was a tithe was given, who was it for, what was given, and why?
The first mention of tithing was in Genesis 14:20 when Abram (Abraham) gave Melchizadek (priest of God, King of Salem) a tenth of all the spoils of war after retrieving his nephew Lot from enemy armies. This is long before the Mosaic law was declared and tithing was instituted as a requirement of the Jewish people. This is the only reference to tithing on anything other than produce and livestock and the only circumstance where the tithe was offered to a non-Jew. Melchizedek was named the King of Salem which is a mystery to Bible scholars as to where that was, or who he was. Some offer up the ancient Jerusalem settlement as his origin but this accounting was long before the coming of the Israelites to Canaan so this wasn’t the Jewish capital we think of today.
Also, spoils of war would have most likely been slaves, the women/children of the slain enemies, their livestock, treasures, and lands. In all other references to tithing, we only see the Lord dealing with the fruits of the field, both in produce and livestock. Even Jesus only referenced produce in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42.
As to when tithes were given, there are three named tithes that applied for different reasons.
- The Levitical Tithes (Numbers 18:21, 24) – As the Levite priests inherited no land it was a tax on all of Israel to feed the work of the Priests in their service.
- The Tithes of Feasts (Deuteronomy 14:22,23) – Annual and self-consumed
- The Tithe for the Poor (Deuteronomy 14:27-29) – Every three years as a sacrifice for the Poor
First, the annual tithe was brought to the temple and offered to the Levitical priests. This was a levy or tax as the Jewish nation of Israel was a theocracy at the time. They had no kings or rulers other than the Priests and Judges. In Deuteronomy 12, Scripture teaches about the sacrifice that is given at the Temple and commands all the people to bring their offerings and tithes to the ‘place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there’, a direct reference to the Temple/Tabernacle of God.
The Levitical Tithe was brought to store up foods for the priesthood and is later referenced as ‘the storehouse’ in Malachi 3:10.
The Tithe of Feasts was also an annual ‘tenth portion’ that was a celebration rather than a ‘tax’ collection. In Deuteronomy 14:22,23 the Scripture says ‘And thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. V23 And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always.’
It is important to note that in Deuteronomy 14:24-26 we see the only reference to using money/currency in place of the literal tithe, but that was only used if the one giving the offering could not physically bring the tithe to the temple. If that was the case, they were to sell their tithe for currency, bring that to the Temple and purchase meats, produce, wine or strong drink and then eat it and rejoice before the Lord.
Lastly, the Tithe of the Poor was a self-imposed storehouse tithe for the Levites and poor within the land owned by the one giving the tithe. In Deuteronomy 14:27-29 the law was given that every three years a tenth was ’laid up within thy gates’ that all in need may come and eat and be satisfied. This again was not currency but the produce of the field.
The Tithe was for the Levitical Priests
We now know that the primary method of tithing was to bring the tenth part of the annual harvest, both in farmland produce and livestock to the ‘storehouse’, or the Temple/Tabernacle, the ‘place which he [God] shall choose to place his name there’. We also now know and can see in Scripture that this tithe was for the priesthood only.
Numbers 18:21 “And behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth of Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.” KJV
II Chronicles 31:4 “Moreover he [Hezekiah] commanded the people that dwell in Jerusalem to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the Lord.” KJV
In Joshua chapter 14:3 we see that the Tribe of Levi (Priests) received no land or inheritance, “…but unto the Levites he gave none inheritance among them.’ Thus the necessity of the tithes in that they would have no land to farm or produce their own living. This made the necessity of the tithe as a Mosaic law-bound tax to feed the priesthood.
The Amplified Bible version of II Chronicles 31:4 reads “He also told (ordered) the people living in Jerusalem to give the portion that was due to the priests and Levites, so that they might [be free to] devote themselves to the Law of the Lord.”
This rendition makes it seem clear that the purpose of the Law of the Lord on tithing was to ensure the priesthood were free to administer their duties and to be sustained in the flesh, not having to worry about how to feed themselves.
Why was money never used for Tithes? Was it because they had no ‘currency’?
It has been said, in ignorance, that in the Old Testament tithing was done with produce and livestock because there was not a standard form of currency or money. This is false as can be proven in Scripture. For instance, in the King James Bible, searching for ‘money’ produced 123 verses with the word ‘money’ used 140 times. In all Old Testament cases, the Hebrew word kaceph is used (Concordance Reference #3701) which means literally ‘silver money’. Abraham purchased land to bury his wife Sarah with ‘money’. In Genesis 17:12 all slaves purchased with ‘money’ were to be circumcised. Prior to minting of coins, a ‘shekel’ was used as a unit of measurement, or a weight to standardize commercial trading. The Hebrew word sheqel (Concordance Reference #8255) means weight.
The tithe wasn’t a ‘financial proposition’ or a ‘wealth’ building ritual/law. The tithe was to provide the fleshly needs of the Priests and Levites who ministered in the temples. We see a similar ‘principle’ when Jesus dispatched his disciples on their gospel missions to the Jews.
In Matthew 10:9,10 Jesus told his disciples (Apostles) “Provide neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses; Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves, for the workman is worthy of his meat.”
It is important to note here that the Apostles were dispatched only to preach to the Jews so the idea of ‘priests’ being cared for in ‘meat’ was assumed and traditional.
Matthew 10:5,6 “These twelve Jesus sent forth and commanded them saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into the city of the Samaritans enter yet not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Later, in Luke 22:35 Jesus asked his disciples, “…When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything?” They answered, “Nothing”.
The ministry was to be ‘fed’, not enriched by incomes and monies. Job 7:2 says “…as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work.” The true minister isn’t, or shouldn’t be looking for wages.
Is Tithing an Old Testament ‘Law’?
Simply answered, Yes. Tithing was a Mosaic law given to Aaron as the head of the Levitical priesthood and was carried down through the ages, even up through the day Jesus walked upon the earth. The New Testament (covenant) didn’t begin until the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Hence the reason Jesus sent his disciples to the Jew first. The Gospel of Christ was to the Jew first (Romans 1:16) and only did the Law cease when Christ was rejected and killed by the request of the Jews.
When Jesus confronted the Jewish sects about their hypocrisy, he referenced tithing twice in the New Testament which again highlights the fact that it was Old Testament law. The Sadducees and Pharisees were Jewish political and socio-religious sects.
Matthew 23:23 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith…”
Luke 11:42 “But woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye tithe mine and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God…”
Very interesting to note again that money or any form of currency was never used in tithing. Quite specifically ‘garden produce’ was referenced.
Is Tithing for New Testament Christians?
Simply answered, No. Not as we see tithing in the Mosaic law. Christ referenced tithing when rebuking the hypocritical Jewish Pharisees because that was still the time of the Ceremonial and Civic Mosaic law. Christ first came for the Jews and thus would not do away with the Law, nor break it. (Matthew 5:18)
Moreover, there is only the reference to tithing in Hebrews 7:8-9 illustrating the loyalty Abram (Abraham) showed Melchizadek. As Christ was the High Priest of the order of Melchizadek this is noting the supremacy of His priesthood over the Levitical priests. This was something the Jews would understand as an argument to gain support for the Messiah they had rejected.
A common message in Christian Churches is that Tithing is a requirement to stay right with God. In an out of context and false application of Malachi 3:8-10 modern teaching is that unless we obey the civic law of the Old Testament in tithing we will gain the curse of God and in many instances, salvation is attached to tithing. While prophetically Malachi 3 begins referencing the coming of the Lord, we must keep in mind that Christ came for the Jews. It was not until they rejected Him that the New Testament took effect. Even Peter’s message in the book of Acts chapter 2 was to Jews and not Gentiles.
Churches misuse this in a legalistic manner, not only forcing tithes but some an additional offering on all income. If the money was not given, Malachi 3:8-10 was brought out to use fear of a Godly curse to coerce you into paying your tithe. Often it was said, ‘If you don’t pay your tithes God will rob it back from you.’ New Testament preachers should never use fear to lord over God’s heritage! (2 Timothy 1:7, Mark 7:7, Ephesians 1:22)
We can call this type of teaching Pharisaical because it is rooted in Old Testament Mosaic law that has been done away with. To use this as a ‘requirement’ for a New Testament believer’s salvation falls under the banner of legalism as it forces ‘law’ into Grace. (Ephesians 2:8)
What about all the examples of giving in the New Testament?
It is taught endlessly in New Testament Scripture that we are no longer ‘under the law’. The New Testament Church is one that is saved by Grace, not works (fulfillment and obedience to Law). (Ephesians 2:8) So then what is the ensample of giving in the New Testament? Should a Christian close his/her wallet? If the words of Paul, ‘God Forbid!’ But we must carefully assume the correct stance on giving.
II Corinthians 9:7 “Let each one give [thoughtfully and with purpose] just as he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver [and delights in the one whose heart is in his gift].” Amplified Bible
New Testament tithing should be just that, giving as he has decided in his heart. The early Church examples in the book of Acts on giving were more closely resembling communism, or communal living due to the persecution of the time, so using accounts such as Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 is not a compelling arguments for tithing under the Old Testament model. First off, they ‘vowed a vow’ to God and then lied, the account was not about ‘giving’ but being honest before God. Not only do we have no such persecution and communal living needs today, there is strong argument that until Acts the ‘Apostles Doctrine’ was still only dealing with the Jews and not the Gentiles. It was not until Stephen’s stoning in Acts 7 at the final rejection of Christ by the Jews that the early ‘Church’ turned to the Gentiles and to the message of Grace through Paul in Acts 13 and thereon. Paul declared in Galatians 1 & 2 that he had a ‘revelatory Gospel’ from Jesus that was not learned by man or even the other Apostles, thus we cannot base our entire message on two chapters in the Book of Acts.
There is no doubt that the ministry needs support. The missionaries in foreign countries need money to buy plane tickets, room & board, clothing and medical supplies. Local churches must pay the utility bills. We all expect decent seating now, with air conditioning and heat, sound systems and projectors. Our demand for a better ‘church’ also makes the ‘cost’ higher. But giving offerings should be a matter of the heart. When one is filled with the Spirit of Christ the natural outflow, or fruit of the spirit in love (charity) would be to do the good works of God. Doing His work is always associated with ‘feeding the poor’ and helping others. Our financial blessings to a church can fund recovery programs, group counseling, youth outreach, bus ministry, children’s church and much, much more.
Should we as New Testament Christians stop tithing? God forbid! But woe unto New Testament Preachers that spew hate and condemnation with proven Old Testament Laws that would override the grace and mercy of the Blood of Jesus and the dealings of His Spirit in the body.
II Corinthians 9:7 “Let each one give [thoughtfully and with purpose] just as he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver [and delights in the one whose heart is in his gift].”
In conclusion, it must be said that any church, pastor or leader that compels his ‘flock’ to ‘pay up or get out’ is then a hireling and not the feeders of the flock Christ attempted to create. His disciples took no money, they lived off the good will of the people. Neither did they demand money, or food.
Nowhere in Scripture did the ‘disciples’ pay for million dollar parsonages or a closet full of suits or driveways with Mercedes Benz’. In fact, Jesus commanded “Provide neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses; Nor script for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves, for the workman is worthy of his meat.” – Matthew 10:9,10
It is understood that those whose ‘living wages’ comes from forced tithes and offerings will challenge this message. Our only hope is that any challenge is made with flat Biblical evidence, not ‘I think’ or ‘We teach’. God’s word is the end of the line when it comes to Spiritual Authority.
We hope this study opens the heart of the Christian believer as well as the Christian leader on the subject of Tithes and Offerings in the New Testament dispensation of Grace!