Tithing is one of those strange Christian traditions that many Christians take for granted, without having any understanding of its origins or lack of Biblical foundation. Many Christians would be shocked to learn that tithing — that is, the practice of giving one-tenth of your income to the church — is not a universal Christian practice at all. For that matter, it’s not even a “Christian” practice.
Here are a few truths about the practice of tithing:
- The word “tithe” means “tenth.”
- A tithe was not money (except in the event the food tithe could not be transported to where it needed to go).
- The Law of Moses includes more than one tithe.
- Tithing only applied to farm goods; people like fishermen, carpenters, and merchants did not have to pay a tithe.
- Tithing did not apply to income, it applied to what you had at the time.
- Someone with only 9 sheep did not tithe, as he had no “tenth” to give.
- Only Levites could receive a tithe.
- A farmer under the Law of Moses “tithed” approximately 23% per year for various causes.
- The early church did not practice tithing.
- The practice of tithing taught in many churches today has no resemblance to any tithe in the Old Testament.
When you believe in things that you don’t understand
Then you suffer
Superstition ain’t the way – Stevie Wonder
The current practice of tithing is nothing more than a superstition. Whether you believe that you’ll be blessed if you keep the rule or punished if you don’t, or if you’re troubled by the question “net or gross,” you’re acting out of superstition. And where there’s superstition, there’s no faith.
Seriously, you might as well be concerned about spilling salt or having your path crossed by a black cat.
When pastors teach that tithing is a New Covenant directive (whether they use the word “law” or the modern “principle”), either they really suck at Bible study (in which case you should critically consider everything else they teach), or they are motivated by a fear of not having enough money. Either way, you’ve got to wonder, and you should be concerned.
New Covenant Giving
Now, there’s nothing wrong with giving. In fact, it’s encouraged. But, giving in the New Testament is based on the idea of reciprocity: we all give, and we all receive, according to our gifts and needs. This is not socialism (a forced redistribution of wealth), or having everything in common (which was done by some in the NT, but not by all and never mandated by anyone). It’s simply relational.
The bad news for pastors (or what seems like bad news to those who lack faith) is that there is no Biblical mandate to pay a pastor or leader, or to funnel all of your offerings to a local church. There’s also nothing precluding these things, but giving should be based on relationship and good stewardship, not on a few out-of-context Bible verses and a boatload of guilt.
Personally, I think the 10% guideline is good; however, I generally prefer to give to charities and other non-profits rather than to a church. If I thought a church really needed the money, I’d have no problem giving it to them, but it’s not my first choice. When choosing between a) a church with a new $20,000 sound system, and b) some orphans, I’ll tend to go with the orphans. But that’s just me.
Party On, Dudes
Today I discovered a really good series of teachings on tithing, which is one of the things that prompted this post, by Joel Brueseke over at Grace Roots. It’s entitled “Freed from Tithing, Free to Give,” and I encourage you to check that out. I particularly enjoyed part 5, where he quotes from Deuteronomy 14:
“24But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the Lord your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the Lord your God has blessed you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 26 And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” (emphasis mine)
You don’t hear that preached too often.
Grace, and Peace
Christians shouldn’t have to live in anxiety about whether or not they are about to suffer 7 years of bad luck because they didn’t tithe, or tithe properly.
 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.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.  As it is written,
“He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.”
 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.  By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,  while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.  Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
(2 Corinthians 9:6-15 ESV)
Grace, and Peace.
I find this one of the more tragic postings on tithing. Of course, this young woman say she loves God, but she is all about selling the word of God in little packages. I find this kind of stuff tragic, but it is so rampant, and more couples and singles jumping on the bandwagon every day trying to get a piece of the action.
As the saying goes, a little leaven …
My church emphatically teach that you can’t be saved without tithing, because you would be robbing God or stealing from God. After readining this article, I wonder if I am in a works-based salvation environment.
Any supposed secondary requirement to salvation, such as circumcision or tithing, is “another gospel” according to Paul (see Galatians). If your church teaches that salvation is “Jesus plus” something else, than it is definitely a works-base religion, not one based on the gospel. For a more detailed explanation, check out my book with Ken Blue, “The Gospel Uncensored.”
Interesting post on tithing. Surprised that you didn’t mention Abraham and Melchizedek. Party On Dudes – yes you may not hear that part preached often, but when I do hear it, I also hear the next verse which says, “But do not neglect the Levite who belongs to your community, for he has no share in the heritage with you. At the end of every 3rd year you shall bring out all the tithes of your produce for that year and deposit them in community stores, that the Levite who has no share in the heritage with you, and also the alien, the ophan and the widow who belong to your community, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord, your God, may bless you in all that you undertake.”
Supporting the church is important. If proper education on tithing, it’s origin, and it’s purpose is taught, it makes sense. God gives us everything, let’s give some back. The church gives so much to others for us, too. Many, many educational institutions are in existance because of the church. Many, many medical institutions and hospitals are in existance because of the church. Where would we be without them, and without our tithing to them. Thanks be to God.
I appreciate your comments. I didn’t mention Abraham and Mel as 1) this was not done out of any religious law, and 2) it was obviously a one-time thing, with no explanation about why this was done. Presumably (I don’t think we can tell for sure) he gave 1/10 of the things he took from the kings who had sacked Sodom, etc.
Re the Levite line, we have no need for earthly priests; we are all priests. And, I’m not Jewish, and inherited none of the lands, etc. The New Testament model is to give to widows, orphans, and others who are disadvantaged, and to support missionary work. Paul, of course, sets the model for the tent-making missionary. Paul also tells the Galatians that they should share with those who teach them in a reciprocal manner. He does not distinguish between paid staff and those in the church who teach as volunteers.
Supporting some churches can be a good thing to do. I don’t know of many who run medical institutions and hospitals. I do know a lot of people who do a lot of good things who also need financial support to do what they do.
What I’m suggesting is the we are free from the law, in order to be free to give.
Excellent post Alden. It’s also interesting how even giving can often be seen as almost entirely in monetary terms. As someone who’s been living on a very diminished income to keep my job for over 17 months now, I simply do not have a great deal of cash, but I readily give of my time, gifts and talents, as well as my material resources (reading, research and teaching materials) whenever I can, and I am often staggered how wonderful it can be to share and give in such a fashion. Prior to my present situation, I regularly sought to provide monetary aid to others, but this was exactly along the lines you state. I think if these “principals” were part of what was taught, generosity would truly get a chance to breathe in many situations.