What does tithing in the Bible look like? Is tithing in the New Testament?
If you’ve ever been in a church before you’ve likely heard a sermon about tithing. Many churches and pastors preach that Christians should tithe 10%.
But I think most churches fail to accurately teach what the Bible actually says. In fact, many flat out ignore it and simply tell people to give them money.
I want to help you better understand what the Bible says about tithing and help you practically apply these principles to your life. I think you might be surprised by what you find.
Let’s start by looking at what a tithe is.
What Is A Tithe?
The concept of the tithe is common throughout the Old Testament. It comes from the Hebrew word āśar and is often translated into English as tithe which means “one-tenth.”
Most often we associate the tithe as a 10% offering that we give to God off what we make. That’s what most churches teach; for every $100 you make you give $10 to the church.
But this is a massive oversimplification of what the tithe is in the Bible.
The tithe for the nation of Israel was much more than simply giving 10% of what you make.
Leviticus 27:30 gives us a clear picture of what the tithe is: ”Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.”
Here’s a quick summary of the tithing in the Bible:
- The first tithe is found in Genesis 14:18-20 in which Abraham, the father of Israel, offers a tithe.
- Numbers 18:26: “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering.”
- Deuteronomy 14:22:“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.”
- 2 Chronicles 31:5: “As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the first fruits of their grain, new wine, olive oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything.”
- In Malachi 3:8 we see the consequences of not tithing for the nation of Israel.
We see throughout the Old Testament that a tithe is required under the Mosaic law. But we shouldn’t assume that these tithes were the same as giving to a church today.
Tithes And Offerings In The Old Testament
For the nation of Israel tithing was a straight 10% offering. The law required them to pay multiple tithes and offerings.
First, the tithes were what was required of each Israelite to pay. The three main tithes were:
- The First Tithe. This was a yearly 10% tithe given to support the Levites in their priestly service.
- The Festival Tithe. This was another yearly 10% tithe given to support the religious festivals.
- The Poor Tithe. This was a tithe to support the poor every third year.
We tend to assume that in the Old Testament the Israelites gave a total of 10%. But in reality the total was likely much higher, somewhere between 20%-30% every year.
It’s important to remember that tithing was first and foremost an act of worship commanded by God. But it was also how the whole nation of Israel was funded; in essence it was their tax system.
But Israel didn’t just pay tithes, they also give offerings. These were above and beyond voluntary offerings. They included offerings for sin, peace, dedications, among others. Well not directly commanded, these offerings supplemented the required tithes.
There’s another important detail we haven’t look at yet. Tithing is only ever mentioned in the Old Testament as part of the Mosaic Covenant, also known as the Old Covenant. Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Old Testament law, and Christians are no longer bound to uphold it. More on that in a moment.
While it’s easy to see examples of tithing in the Bible, many of the teachings that are being taught surrounding it are twisted and misrepresented.
Too many churches and pastors today simplify what the tithe actually is in hopes of receiving more funds for their church. Not only does that misinterpret what the Bible teaches, it also isn’t effective.
So all this means Christians don’t have to tithe right? We can use our money however we want and never give a dime? Well hold on…
Let’s jump into tithing in the New Testament and see what it teaches us.
Is Tithing In The New Testament?
Is tithing in the New Testament? No, the word “tithe” is never used. However, it’s far from silent on the topic of money. It just talks about it in a much different way.
Maybe the biggest difference is that the tithe in the Old Testament was to support the work of God’s people through funding the nation of Israel. In the New Testament we don’t see the same tithe commanded because Jesus gives us a new perspective on our offerings.
Overall the New Testament approaches the topic of giving much differently than the Old Testament. The Old Testament is much more black and white. It tells you what to give, when to give, and where to give.
The New Testament is a little more grey, but not in a bad way. Really what the New Testament does is raise the bar. Giving isn’t a checkbox. It requires you to examine yourself and see if you are living in light of what Jesus has done.
If I could consciously sum up what tithing in the New Testament looks like I would say, Be generous.
2 Corinthians 9:6-7 sums it up nicely: “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Paul is saying we are to be generous. Why? Because God has been generous to us, therefore we should be generous with our finances. And we also see the concept that our generosity is an investment in God’s kingdom. There’s a reward for our generosity, for us AND for others.
The reality is the New Testament never tells us how much to give. Rather it tells us to be generous. For some that might be 5%, others 50%. Maybe even for some 90%. Each of us should evaluate our lives and ask ourselves, are we living and giving generously?
That’s a big shift from the more stringent rules of the Old Testament. It raises the bar. Being generous isn’t a box you can check. It’s a heart we cultivate.
When we ask questions like, should Christians tithe? it’s really the wrong question. Followers of Jesus should be generous.
While Christians aren’t under the law that commands us to tithe, we are called to live and give generously. This isn’t tied to our salvation. It’s what we do in response to salvation. Our generosity is part of our worship. We are to love God and love those around us. Part of that means practicing generosity.
Although Jesus did talk about money, it wasn’t his most commonly taught about topic; read more here: No, Jesus Most Common Teaching Wasn’t About Money (it was THIS)
So, Should Christians Tithe?
I know we like black and white answers, but the Bible never gives those when it comes to our tithes. Instead it asks us to reflect on what Jesus has done for us and ask ourselves, are we living in light of what he has done for us?
So, how we can apply these passages to our daily lives? Here’s 4 ways you can live this out.
1. Practice Generosity
At this point we’ve seen the New Testament replace the command to tithe with the command to live generously (2 Corinthians 9:6-7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Acts 2:32-37, Galatians 2:10).
Because of what Jesus has done for us, we should live and give generously. God is to be our treasure, not money or anything else in our lives.
Christians are no longer required to give a tenth of their income. Instead we are to continually strive to be a generous people.
What generous is for you is up for you to decide. For many in the West being generous will mean giving more than 10%. But we should note that Jesus isn’t looking for a certain amount. He’s looking for you to give generously. For the widow that was a few pennies. For others that might be millions.
Let me just push you a little bit… for most people in the West giving generously will likely look like giving substantially more than they are currently giving. After all, Jesus has given us much, therefore we can give to others.
2. Give Joyfully
Giving shouldn’t be something that is forced or coerced. It should be something that is done with joy. After all, if we truly believe what the Bible says Jesus has done for us, how can we not live and give joyfully?
2 Corinthians 9:7 reminds us of the heart we should have when we give. Sadly, many churches and pastors try to guilt their congregation into giving. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. We should never give because we feel forced; we should give because we want to.
If you don’t find yourself joyful when you give, you should search your heart to see why it is tied to your money.
3. Give Voluntarily
This builds off the previous point. Part of giving joyfully means that we give voluntarily. Again, many churches and pastors try to force the issue of giving.
Now, I’m not saying churches shouldn’t talk about money. They should, Jesus talked about money often. In fact I think churches should talk about money MORE than they do. They should teach stewardship principles and encourage generosity.
BUT the focus should be on the heart and not on guilt. The point of being generous isn’t to check the box, it’s to align our heart with God’s.
We should never feel forced to live generously. And when we feel unwilling to give we should turn to God and seek as to why we are feeling that way and ask him to work on our heart.
4. Give To Those In Need
The New Testament makes clear that followers of Jesus should be generous, and that they should give to those in need.
Specifically the New Testament tells us to give to the poor and to our brothers and sisters in need (Matthew 19:21 and 1 John 3:17). In other words, Christians should care for other Christians and those who are in great need around us.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t give to your local church. Many churches are doing those two things along with other ministries very well. The point is our generosity isn’t summed up in JUST giving to your church. That can be part of it, but not the sum total of it.
Let me just add a quick caveat. If your church isn’t showing you how they are spending their money I would recommend not giving to them. Now they might not show you exact salaries of individuals, but you should be able to see how much in total is spent on salaries. If their books are closed, I would close your wallet.
A follower of Jesus has been given much. And because of the generosity they’ve received they should be generous toward others who are in need. Part of that can be giving through your church. But part can also be meeting the needs of those immediately around you.
Closing Thoughts On Tithing In The New Testament
Many church leaders and churches try to twist what the Bible says about tithing to suit what they are trying to accomplish. It’s important that we know what the Bible teaches about tithing and more specifically what tithing in the New Testament looks like.
It’s easy to say Christians should tithe. But that sells short what the Bible teaches. Jesus came and fulfilled the requirements of the law and gave us a new way to live. Because of what Jesus has done for us we should do the same for those around us. While the tithe is no longer required, generosity should be a marker of our lives. How can you be generous with what God has given you?
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