Do Christians have to tithe?
You may have heard some strong opinions on this subject, with some claiming tithing is merely an Old Testament principle and others believing it is still an applicable practice today. Let’s look at some of the arguments for and against before we make up our minds.
Yes we do…
Leviticus 27:30 says: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.”
There are plenty of other passages that reference the tithe in the Old Testament (Leviticus 27:30-34; Numbers 18:21-26; Deuteronomy 12:5-6; 2 Chronicles 31:4-5; Nehemiah 10:35-37), and Moses and Jacob pledged to give a tenth of that which they had been blessed with (Genesis 14:19-20; Genesis 28:20-22).
One of the verses most commonly used to support the ongoing practice of tithing is Malachi 3:8-10:
“‘Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, “How are we robbing you?” In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’”
And while it doesn’t mention tithes specifically, Proverbs 3:9-10 is often used to reinforce the idea of God blessing those who give of the “firstfruits”:
“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
These verses notably come from the Old Testament, but many Christians argue that Jesus, who spoke about money on multiple occasions, would have made it clear tithes no longer needed to be paid under the new covenant. What he actually said in Matthew 5:17 was:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
No we don’t…
One of the key arguments Christians use against tithing today is that we are no longer under Mosaic law but under grace in Christ (Romans 6:14-15; Galatians 3:15-4:7). Even if the moral law (as opposed to civil or ceremonial law) is still in force, tithing would not fall into this bracket. While Moses and Jacob gave a tenth even before the law was put in place, there is no evidence that this was a weekly, monthly or annual practice for either patriarch.
Furthermore, Old Testament tithes were primarily given to the Levites and priests, who were set apart to serve in the temple rather than pursuing other forms of employment. While there may be a case for supporting ministers who live by faith rather than receiving a salary, there are no specific ‘priests and Levites’ under the new covenant.
Jesus did not clearly stipulate how much we should give to God or Caesar in his clever quip about taxes (Matthew 22:21). In fact, he made a point of emphasising justice over financial issues in Matthew 23:23:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
While Jesus appears to say here that we should not neglect the “former” (giving a tenth of our firstfruits), some have been swift to point out that this comment was made before he had fulfilled the law through his death and resurrection and no longer applies.
So what should we give?
While the New Testament doesn’t give specific information about how much we should give and when, the message that we should give generously is a consistent one. The Bible teaches us to help the poor and support those working to spread the gospel. In the days of the early Church people gave wherever there was a need. They lived as though all their possessions belonged to God and were to be redistributed in whatever way he saw fit.
Jesus famously gave the example of the woman who gave her two mites – all that she owned – to demonstrate the heart of those who truly love and trust in God (Luke 21:1-4). Her offering was given privately and sacrificially, unlike those of the rich.
Paul sums the debate up well in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7:
“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”