Is tithing biblical?

By S. Michael Houdmann, Got Questions Ministries

To answer the question directly, yes, tithing is biblical. The Old Testament Law commanded the Israelites to tithe (Leviticus 27:30-32; Numbers 18:21-28; Deuteronomy 12:6-17; 14:22-28; 26:12-14). However, the question "does the Bible mention tithing?" is not what people usually mean when they ask "is tithing biblical?" What they are really asking is "Does God require, me, a Christian, to give 10% of my income to the church?"

It is a sad state of affairs that most pastors also must serve as the primary fund-raisers for their churches. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, has a lot to say about giving. So, pastors should not avoid the topic of tithing. But, the pressure put on pastors to encourage giving has resulted in many abuses and misinterpretations of biblical text. Some churches have walls that annually picture the previous year's top givers. Some churches require members to provide the church with a copy of tax returns so the church can make sure 10% giving was achieved. Some preachers emphasize tithing to the extent that it becomes a legalistic requirement for salvation. Some pastors are quick to pronounce any financial difficulties as evidence of a lack of tithing. These are just some of the examples of the abuses against the biblical message on tithing.

While pastors/preachers should never allow a need to impact biblical interpretation, it is understandable when it happens. When a man's ability to provide for himself and his family relies on his ability to bring in funds, it is a tremendous temptation to go with the interpretation that would conceivably encourage more people to give, and to give more generously. Sadly, though, many pastors who know that Jesus fulfilled the Law and understand that the New Testament does not teach tithing still preach tithing as if it was a biblical command on Christians. This should not be. We should preach the Word accurately and rightly (2 Timothy 2:15; 4:2), and allow the Holy Spirit to do the convicting.

Most churches/denominations at least encourag tithing in some sense. 10% seems to have been adopted by the Christian church as the standard for giving. Most who propose tithing do so based on the Old Testament Law. However, if the Old Testament Law is the standard, 10% is not the correct amount for biblical tithing. The Old Testament Law required multiple tithes. If all of them are combined, the Israelites were required to give approximately 25% of their income. (Wait, maybe I shouldn't say that. The last thing I want is for churches to start requiring 25% giving.)

But, ultimately, the Old Testament Law is not relevant on the issue of Christians tithing. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15), and that includes the laws on tithing. The New Testament teaches Christians to give (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7), but the New Testament nowhere even mentions tithing. There is no set amount of recommended (or required) giving in the New Testament. Christians are to give generously, sacrificially, and joyfully. But, in the freedom we have in Christ, there is no biblical tithing requirement for Christians.

So, what is the biblical message on tithing for Christians? If God is leading you to tithe, by all means, tithe. But, tithing should never be viewed as a legalistic command. Giving is an aspect of the Christian life, and all Christians should give. But, again, there is no set amount. Having a set amount would be easier, for sure. That's what makes legalism so attractive. The Christian life is easier if we just have a checklist of things we have to do. God calls us to live a life of faith, and part of faith is sacrificial giving. While it is not a biblical statement, I think the following is a good summary of what the Bible teaches about Christian giving: "Give until it hurts, and then give a little more."

Related article: "What does the Bible say about Christian tithing?"


Image credit: More Good Foundation; "Tithe Tenth Mormon"; Creative Commons

TagsChristian-Life  | Church-Issues

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Published 5-25-11