What About Tithing?

What About Tithing?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 10:37am

THE QUESTION: Does the Bible say anywhere that all of one’s tithe has to go to the local church, or can it go to other organizations?

MY REPLY: First, I have some reservations about the view that the tithe is a requirement in this NT era (see below). But assuming for the sake of the question that the tithe is the standard, I will answer thus: nowhere does the NT say that all of our offering (10% or otherwise) must go to the local congregation. In fact, much of Paul’s writing about giving has to do with the offerings he collected on his missionary journeys to take to Jerusalem for benevolent purposes (see Rom. 15:25-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 & 9). This is in fact the bulk of the NT teaching on giving.

I do believe, however, in view of the local church’s great need, and also in view of the fact that we do support many missionaries in other places with our local giving, that the greatest portion of our giving should go to the local church. I also believe, in view of the fact that some people are very naive about who would be worthy recipients of non-local giving, that anyone who wants to give part of his or her tithe to a non-local organization ought to seek the wisdom and guidance of the missions committee or some other knowledgeable leader as to the worthiness of that organization. Too often we have well-meaning people sending their offerings to Calvinist or faith-only ministries, or even to quasi-secular organizations.

(On a personal note, a large portion of my family giving goes directly to mission groups of all kinds all over the world. After teaching for 40+ years, I have a lot of former students who are new church planters, missionaries, Bible college teachers, etc.; very often they solicit funds from their old teachers!)

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: But does not the OT practice of tithing mean something? Did not the practice of tithing precede the Law of Moses? Should it not then be our model for determining our giving as a NT church? Should we not use the tithe as a gauge for the “least we could do,” i.e., as our “minimum” benchmark, while taking into consideration 2 Cor. 8:8, where God is testing the sincerity of our love for him and the desire to do MORE than what is expected? Is that not a valid way of looking at it?

REPLY: In many ways this makes perfectly good sense. Though the tithe was part of the Law of Moses (Deut. 14:22ff.), which no longer applies in this NT era, it is true that the tithe actually preceded the Mosaic Law (Gen. 14:30; 28:22; Heb. 7:4-10). Does this not mean, then, that it transcends the Mosaic Law and covenant distinctions? Not necessarily. Other practices that preceded Moses’ Law and were sanctioned by it are not considered binding in the NT era, e.g., the levirate marriage (Gen. 38:8ff.; Deut. 25:5-10), and the consecration of the firstborn (Exod. 13:1-16; Num. 18:14-19). Thus without specific apostolic instruction or sanction, I cannot conscientiously bind the tithe on Christians today.

Some may cite Jesus’ words in Matt. 23:23 as NT sanction for tithing: “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others [ESV].” The problem here, though, is that Jesus speaks these words to Jewish leaders who were still under the Law of Moses, where the tithe was still an obligation.

For determining the amount of one’s giving, I start with 1 Cor. 16:2, which instructs that one should give “as he may prosper” (NASB) or “in keeping with his income” (NIV). In this I find the principle of PROPORTIONAL giving, i.e., that giving should not be a random and variable amount, but that each one should determine a specific percentage and stick to it, with the percentage increasing as income increases. I agree that the OT concept of tithing (10%) should be the guideline or benchmark at which we begin. After all, if it was good enough for God’s people in the OT, it should be even better for his people in the NT era. My only point is that we cannot make this a law or rule (i.e., part of our law code), since it simply is not included in any instructions on giving in the NT. If someone who is jobless and barely making ends meet says 5% is as much as they can spare, I will not put a guilt trip on them.

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What About Tithing? — 2 Comments

  1. Well said. Thank you for writing that. I once wrote a rather lengthy paper on the concept of the “Christian tithe”. I should preface all this, however, by saying that I’m certainly not against tithing. If people choose to tithe, that’s fine with me, as long as its a reflection of their heart. But the way in which tithing is being taught as an expectation for all Christians has me greatly concerned and quite frankly, smacks of legalism. Many of the comments I’ve heard to support the idea that God expects and is pleased with tithing are misleading if not completely false. You mentioned one already…that Jesus instructed Christians to tithe. Clearly the instruction was made to someone still under the law. Here are a few more. (Note that in the interest of brevity, I’m not going to go into great detail. If you want more detailed info, I’d be happy to provide it)

    In Malachi, offerings were what was given above the tithe. This is false. Offerings were very specific offerings required by the law.

    All people were expected to tithe. This is not true because it was ONLY required of those landowners raising crops and animals. This was spelled out in the law and well understood as we see the example of the Pharisee in the NT give of his herb garden, not money. Some claim that this was only written toward landowners because the society mainly consisted of landowners. This is not true. Most did not own land. Many were hired servants, carpenters, tent makers, musicians, artisans, lawyers, etc.

    Money could be given as a tithe. This apparently was not true as there was a provision in the law for those who lived far away and would be difficult to bring in their tithe. They could sell the tithe where they lived, exchange it for money, and then they were required to repurchase animals/grain at the place the tithe was given. In other words, they couldn’t just give money. They were required to give crops and animals, and it was based specifically off of the yield. I don’t know, but I’m guessing that the reason for this is that it was to recognize what God has done, not what they did. God alone provided the rain to sustain their livelihood, so they were completely dependent on Him. Others could earn a living based on their own efforts. So, the tithe may have been given, in part, to recognize a specific provision from God. Just a guess, but the Bible seems clear that money was not “tithe-able”

    Those expected to tithe were expected to give 10%. This is also not true. The landowners were to give multiple tithes. The specifics aren’t entirely clear, but the total amount may have been around 23% (two tithes a year and one every three years). For certain, it wasn’t only 10% Furthermore, some of it was to be used personally in the form of a feast of celebration.

    Jesus tells Christians they should not neglect the tithe. Actually, as mentioned in the blog entry, He told this to those still under the law.

    The New Testament tells us we should tithe. It does not. In fact, it does not appear to have been practiced by the early church fathers (evidenced by the writings of Irenaus and Tertullian), though eventually suggested by Cyprian. It was not made a “law” by the Catholic church until as late as the 8th century.

    Malachi promises God will bless Christians if they tithe. This was written to those under the law, and was referring to the promised blessings that accompany obedience. Specifically, rain was one of those blessings for those who tithed. This makes sense because those who tithed were those who relied on crops and animals. Also, note that the promise in Malachi was that if they test God in this, they would see that the storehouse in heaven would be opened (a phrase often referring to rain).

    Tithing were given in the form of crops and animals because there was no currency at the time. This is not true. The Bible refers to them trading in silver before this law was even instituted.

    Tithing was called “holy”. Therefore, we can reason that it supersedes the law. While the tithe was called Holy, so were many other items including feasts, sacrifices, the Sabbath, and even the Law. Using this reasoning, we must observe everything that is called Holy.

    Tithes were the “first fruits”. Whoever made this claim didn’t think this one through very well. How could you possibly know what 10% is if you giving the first production of crops and not waiting until you know your total yield?!

    There are a lot more misguided claims I could list, but comments like these really persuaded me to research and find out the truth. What I found out is that God is less interested in the percent Christians give, but rather that we give out of the heart and in trust of God’s provision for us. God does not say that the more we give, the more we will receive. In fact, Paul points out that sometimes we give to those in need so that when we are in need, they can help us in return. Paul also says that we are not to give if it causes hardship. But those passages are rarely preached. As Jesus told the rich young ruler, he desires that we will be sold out for Him. It’s not an item on a “How to Satisfy God” to-do list. It’s far deeper than that. New Testament / Christian giving is simply a matter of the heart. If we love God, joyous giving will result. This is what God desires and expects of us.

    I truly believe that leaders of our churches are short-selling God. They are having us believe that God is happy with a tithe, when what God wants isn’t money but hearts. Many people feel as if they’ve done their duty, and consequently had earned God’s favor by tithing when their hearts are far from him. This is the stark warning in Malachi which was written not to the general public, but to the priests. It wasn’t that people were not tithing, but that the priests/Levites were allowing people to not bring in the best and/or complete tithe, and doing it resenting God. It is this warning in Malachi should awaken our church leaders. Stop teaching that God is satisfied with the tithe. For without the heart being sold out for God, no amount of money can buy God’s favor. The amount we give is merely an indication of our hearts. Let’s give God what He truly desires of us. Let’s focus on the heart and not be concerned about strict adherence to an Old Testament law. Christ has already fulfilled the law. Let’s not pretend that His death was insufficient and only partly fulfilled it.

    Sorry, I probably got carried away in this post. I’m just concerned about this bit of legalism sneaking its way into Christianity…a place where is simply doesn’t belong.

  2. I have looked at this extensively, specially among New Testament Preachers. Have found good arguments on both sides especially in reference to Mt 23. Many of those that use this to support tithing suggest that Jesus did not have to use tithing as the example here and that if not important as a teaching tool for Christians wouldn’t have included it at all. Their argument is that there were probably many teaching examples that the Holy Spirit did not give to the writers for inclusion yet this was included. I myself have always felt that since I am blessed I don’t need a reason to give other than the Bible saying to give as prospered. Many new Christians however put themselves in such a bind with debt that of course they feel they don’t have money to give back.

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