To Tithe or Not to Tithe: that is the question…
In order to avoid any misconceptions or confusion, the question is NOT whether or not we should take an offering up during Sunday Morning worship. The bible clearly teaches that the congregation should support their pastor and that they should be willing to give money for the benefit of other Churches, to feed the poor and widowed, and to advance the Gospel in the World. Those things are clear and are not a part of the discussion I am about to undertake. I realize that a lot of people will misconstrue my argument in spite of this introduction but I am not sure what more I can do to clarify my position.
The glaring question that I am going to try and answer is whether or not New Testament believers should give what is known as a “tithe”.
What is the Tithe?
This might seem like a very simplistic question but in order for me to make an argument and in order to avoid confusion, we need to have a common definition. And in order to have a good definition, we need to take a look at how the scripture talks about the tithe.
The first thing that is important to note is that the tithe is nowhere used in the New Testament as a command for New Testament believers. The only mention of the tithe in the NT is found in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 in which Jesus tells the Pharisees that they should have tithed (as part of the Jewish Law that they were under) but should have been merciful and justice. The fact that the tithe is not given to us as a command is an important clue to my original question.
So what was the tithe in the Old Testament? Everyone knows that a tithe means 10%, but what you may not know is that the Old Testament required three different tithes from the Jews. Many people seem to think that the tithe is somehow simply an Old Testament “principle” while they fail to realize that it had very specific uses.
1) The Levitical or sacred tithe.
This tithe (or 10 percent) was given by the people to the Levitical priesthood for the services that they did in the tent of meeting. This tithe is a common one that people reference when they try to say that the New Testament believer ought to tithe. They argue that Pastor and the leaders of the church are the New Testament “Levites” and that the tithe from the believer is meant to go and support those people.
This argument is ridden with absurdities. The first is seen in the fact that Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the role of the Levitical priest. He made the perfect sacrifice to God (Himself) and the sacrificial system has found its completion in Him. The second absurdity is seen in the fact that believers are encouraged to support their pastors but this is out of respect for the work that they do in preaching the Gospel and not under compulsion (or a tithe).
The third absurdity is seen in the context of the Levitical tithe itself. This tithe can be seen in Numbers 18 where God is giving commands to both the Levites and to the people of Israel. If you remember the story of the Israelites and their victorious campaign for the promise land, then you remember that each of the tribes of Israel received a twelfth of the promise land as an inheritance. The problem is that there were 13 tribes; that last one being the Levites. The Levites did not receive a land inheritance like the rest of the tribes did. As compensation, God says to the Levites (In Numbers 18:24) “For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance.” So we see that this first tithe is an actual inheritance meant only for the Levitical tribe of Israel.
This type of tithe cannot logically apply to the New Testament believer because we are not a part of the tribe of Israel, nor are our Pastors promised “an inheritance of tithes”…
2) The tithe of feasts.
This tithe is seen in Deuteronomy 14:22-27 where God says that a yearly tithe should be set aside for the purpose of celebrating the Jewish feasts that God had set into place. The passage here tells the Israelites to either bring the tithe but if their journey is too long, they should convert it to money and bring that to the celebration.
Seeing as we are not part of Israel (or under that same covenant) we are not obligated to participate in all the feasts that were required. Because the feasts are not present, requiring that people still bring a tithe of feasts seems obviously absurd…
3) The tithe for the poor
This was a tithe that (unlike the other two) was taken up every three years. This tithe was the Jewish equivalent of “welfare”. It was a way in which the nation of Israel took care of the poor and estranged in their society.
Deuteronomy 14:28-29 “At the end of every three years you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in the same year and lay it up within your towns. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.
While it is very clear that the New Testament believer is to be actively caring for the poor, widow, and orphan; nowhere is it connected to the idea of a tithe. The New Testament believer supports the poor because Christ, who was rich, became poor in order that we may gain the riches of God. The idea that the New Testament believer is under some compulsion to give a tithe to the poor is antithetical to the Gospel. Besides, if it were true, then it would only be 10 percent every third year…
By the way, add all these tithes together and you get 23.33% a year. A lot more than the 10% that pastors normally claim people should give.
So we looked at the tithes in the Old Testament and not one of them relates to the New Testament Christian in any way. First, the tithe is clearly something set up within the nation of Israel; something that we are not a part of. Secondly, some of the things that the tithe did (taking care of the poor…) are seen reflected in the New Testament but it is without any compulsion.
So to answer the question that the title asks, Not to Tithe…
Are you stealing from God if you don’t tithe? (Malachi 3:8-9)
No. The prophet here is speaking to the Israelites who had been given the command to tithe whereas we are not under that same law. There are many pastors who use this passage as some sort of scare tactic to get their people to give more money to the Church but in light of the biblical teaching about the tithe and the difference in the covenants, their arguments fall flat.
Are you under a curse if you don’t tithe?
See the above answer. You are, however, under a curse if you break one of the commands that God has given you; say lying, lusting, idolatry, anger, or disobedience. Fortunately, Christ has become a curse for us so that we may become the righteousness of God. If you are concerned that you are under a curse, look to Christ; His life, death, resurrection, and present rule.
Do you gain blessings from God if you tithe?
No. God has set up means by which we may receive his blessings but tithing isn’t one of them.
Ephesians 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
How do we receive blessings from God? By being IN CHRIST. How do we get there? By grace through faith (Eph 2:8). And in Christ, we do not find that we lack any spiritual blessing for God has promised that we have every blessing in Christ. There is no amount of tithing or any work of ours that could gain more blessings than we already have gained through Faith in the Savior of the world.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:7