Notice the title says, “Do Christians Have to Give a Tithe?” versus “Should Christians give a tithe?” or “Can Christians give a tithe?” The word tithe is a noun meaning “tenth,” which is why many Christians think we should give ten percent. Giving, and the amount Christians should give, is a controversial topic. If you’ve been in the church for long you’ve probably heard different opinions. And you may have your own thoughts based on your experiences up to this point. May I ask you a couple of questions?
Table of Contents
First, have you been told that you should tithe? If so, take a moment to consider whether New Testament verses cause you to think this way. I believe it’s clear that Christians are commanded to give, but they’re not commanded to give a tithe, which brings me to my second question.
Second, if you’ve believed that you must give a tithe, will you consider a different view if it is supported by Scripture? The obvious question you might ask is, “If we aren’t commanded to give a tithe, then how much do we give?” That’s the topic of the next chapter. In this chapter, I want to show that God calls us to give willingly.
Having asked those questions, here’s a principle I’d like to ask you to begin applying in your heart: God wants us to give out of thankfulness rather than out of obligation. Keep in mind how much God has done for you so you’re moved to give out of a heart of worship versus out of duty.
Please don’t assume any of this is merely my opinion. I believe it is vital for us to be convinced by God’s Word alone, and on this topic, understanding what Scripture teaches requires some technical information. Bear with me as we get this foundation in place!
The New Testament Doesn’t Command Giving a Tithe
Not long after becoming a Christian, I heard that I should tithe. As my familiarity with the New Testament grew, my confidence in this claim waned because I couldn’t find any supporting verses. Giving a tithe is clearly commanded under the Old Covenant, which is associated with the Mosaic law. But Christians today are under the New Covenant, which is associated with the law of Christ. Paul notes this distinction in the New Testament:
To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews. To those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those under the law; to those who are without the law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without the law.1 Corinthians 9:20-21
Paul said to win Jews to Christ, he would put himself back “under the [Mosaic] law,” which means he hadn’t been adhering to the requirements of that law since coming to Christ. When he tried to win Gentiles (“those who are without [the Mosaic] law”), he ensured he wasn’t under the Mosaic law. But to prevent readers from thinking he was without any law, he said he remained “under law toward Christ.” The point is that there’s a clear distinction between two different laws and how they relate to our giving:
- the Mosaic law, which is associated with the Old Covenant (which we are not part of), and its mediator, Moses, commands giving a tithe
- the law of Christ, which is associated with the New Covenant (which we are part of), and its mediator, Jesus, doesn’t command giving a tithe
The book of Galatians is our Declaration of Independence from the Mosaic law. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (ESV). The premier book about not being under the Mosaic law still commands us to “fulfill the law of Christ.”
The tithe was God’s way of paying the priests who served God’s people all through the Old Testament era up through the time of Jesus’s earthly life. After Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, He became our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14). This produced a change, because “when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well” (Hebrews 7:12 ESV).
Two Categories of Commands
The Mosaic law was divided into two categories. First are the moral commands, or what we think of as the commonsense commands, such as, “You shall not murder…commit adultery…steal…bear false witness.” These commands are based on God’s nature, which defines morality for us. Because God’s nature doesn’t change, morality doesn’t change, and because morality doesn’t change, the moral commands don’t change. Because the moral commands don’t change, they are brought forward from the Old Covenant into the New Covenant. They’re part of the law of Christ and are still binding for us today.
The second category is the ceremonial commands, which are amoral (not moral or immoral). These commands are not commonsense in that we wouldn’t intuitively come up with them. Think of the commands related to sacrifices and offerings, feasts and festivals, abstaining from certain foods (such as pork and rabbit), farming certain ways, and avoiding mixing certain fabrics. The command to give a tithe was also ceremonial, and thus it was not carried forward into the New Covenant and is not part of the law of Christ.
One fact that might surprise many people is God didn’t even command giving a tithe in the Mosaic law. He commanded giving multiple tithes:
- Leviticus 27:30-32 and Numbers 18:21-32 describe the general tithe given to the Levites.
- The second tithe is in Deuteronomy 14:22: “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year” (ESV).
- The third tithe occurred every three years for “the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 26:12 ESV). The three tithes totaled about twenty-three percent annually.
All these tithes pushed the total closer to twenty-five percent. If people want to put themselves “under the law,” as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:20, they should give closer to one-fourth of their earnings rather than one-tenth, for one-fourth is what the Old Testament Jews were commanded to give:
Further complicating the situation for people who feel bound to give a tithe is the fact the Mosaic law commanded giving a tithe on grain, wine, oil, and animals. How would this apply today? I suppose the best we could do is give away one-tenth of our food, clothing, and possessions. Instead, God has a better (but tougher) way for us to give today.
A Higher Standard for Giving
Like many people, when I began reading the Bible, I started “in the beginning” with Genesis, which I loved. Exodus was also enjoyable, but then I reached Leviticus. Maybe some new believers have liked reading the 613 commands in that book for the first time, but I admit that I didn’t. I moved to the New Testament and started reading through Matthew. I reached the Sermon on the Mount, and it changed my life.
At that time, I didn’t know Jesus was contrasting the Mosaic law and the law of Christ, but I could tell He was raising the bar. Six times He quoted the Mosaic law, “You have heard that it was said…,” followed by, “But I say to you…,” revealing the higher standard the law of Christ set regarding murder, adultery, divorce, swearing, revenge, and love (Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-34, 38-39, 43-44):
- Matthew 5:21-22—“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder [Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17]…But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment.”
- Matthew 5:27-28—“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery’ [Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18]. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
- Matthew 5:31-32—“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce’ [Deuteronomy 24:1]. But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery.”
- Matthew 5:33-34—“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord’ [Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21]…But I say to you, do not swear at all.”
- Matthew 5:38-39—“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
- Matthew 5:43-44—”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy’ [Deuteronomy 23:6]. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Because the law of Christ raised the bar in these areas, we can conclude that it raised the bar for giving too. As Christ’s followers, ten percent shouldn’t be seen as the end of Christian giving. It should be seen as the beginning!
No Mention of Tithing in the New Testament
The final reason we know we’re not commanded to give a tithe (or any percent, for that matter) is that it’s not commanded, or even recommended, in the New Testament. The word tithe appears only four times (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42; 18:12; Hebrews 7:5-9), and none of these passages are instructions for church-age Christians to give a tithe:
- The first and second instances are in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, when Jesus condemned the religious leaders: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23). Jesus said that “the others [should not have been] undone” because the New Covenant hadn’t been instituted yet at the Last Supper, when Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). Because they were still under the Old Covenant, they were still expected to give tithes.
- The third instance of the word tithe is in the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. In Luke 18:12, the Pharisee said, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I possess.”
- The last place the word tithe occurs is in Hebrews 7:5-9, recounting Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek and giving him a tithe. It’s simply a record of the account, versus being prescriptive, or commanding us to give a tithe.
The epistles are the instruction letters for New Covenant believers (those under the law of Christ), but there’s no mention of giving a tithe. Considering there’s extensive teaching on prayer, love, forgiveness, serving, and many other topics in the epistles, this silence is inconceivable if God expected us to give a tithe.
We Must Decide How Much to Give
Paul said, “Let each one give as he purposes in his heart” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Can I be honest with you? I don’t like these words! I prefer black-and-white instructions. I have joked with my wife that I was born under the wrong covenant, and that I need the precision of the Mosaic law. I don’t want to have to decide how much to give. I want God to tell me.
You can’t miss the point, though: If we were commanded to give a tithe, Paul would have said, “Let each one give a tithe.” But he didn’t. This means no one can tell you how much to give, and that includes your pastor. You’re welcome to email me when you finish this book. I love to hear from my readers! But if you say, “I read your whole book and I still don’t know how much to give,” I’ll reply that you are correct because you must decide the amount on your own. The New Testament doesn’t tell us how much to give, but it does give us principles to help us determine the amount, and we’ll look at those in the next chapter.
For now, I can tell you we shouldn’t decide casually or flippantly. I’m not saying we need to agonize over how much, or fast and pray for extended periods of time, but the decision shouldn’t be taken lightly. In the Amplified Bible, 2 Corinthians 9:7 reads, “Let each one give [thoughtfully and with purpose] just as he has decided in his heart.” We must put some effort into deciding the amount because God is looking at what’s in our hearts versus our hands.
Jesus Willingly Gave More Than a Tithe
Jesus gave Himself completely for us. This is illustrated no better than by the burnt offering, which is a wonderful picture of Christ. The Old Testament is about Jesus:
- Luke 24:27 says, “Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”
- In Luke 24:44, Jesus said, “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’”
- In John 5:39, 46 Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me…For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.”
- In Hebrews 10:7, Jesus said, “Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me.”
Jesus is revealed throughout the Old Testament in types and shadows (Colossians 2:17 and Hebrews 10:1). Shadows are a fitting way to describe the types of Christ in the Old Testament because (1) shadows provide an idea of what something looks like without completely revealing the object. The Old Testament does this with Christ. (2) A shadow is evidence that something is casting it, or in the case of Christ, it is Someone. (3) Nobody looks at a shadow and believes it is the real thing. Nobody sees the shadow of a tree or car and thinks it is a tree or car. Shadows have no substance. They are not the reality. In Colossians 2:17, Jesus is the substance and in Hebrews 10:1, He is the reality. The sacrifices and offerings are some of the strongest examples.
The key verse is Leviticus 1:4: “[The priest] shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” Let’s consider how each part looks to Christ’s sacrifice:
- “[The priest] shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering”—This communicated the transmission of sin to the animal, like our sins were transmitted to Jesus on the cross: “The LORD has laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
- “…and it shall be accepted for him”—“Him” is the sinner, so this is substitutionary atonement. The animal died in the sinner’s place, like Jesus died in our place.
- “…to make atonement for him”—The burnt offering made atonement for the sinner, just like Jesus “is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2).
Three verses—Leviticus 1:9, 13, and 17—record that “the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering…with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.” Paul applied this imagery to Jesus: “Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). Burnt offerings were completely consumed, and Jesus is the true and greater burnt offering completely consumed for our sins. Instead of giving us ten or twenty-five percent, Jesus gave us one hundred percent. How could this truth not motivate us to give much better than any command?