Are Chrisitans commanded to tithe? This is a very simple question, and one that most Chrisitians have asked themselves and their pastor. It seems like an unavoidable question for anyone who has read the Old Testament. Tithing is a perennial theme from Genesis to Malachi, and is a major component of the Mosaic Law. It is natural and behooving for anyone who takes the Bible seriously to resolve this matter in their mind.
Just so we are clear what we are referring to, allow me to define tithing. Tithing is the practice of offering ten percent of your increase (net income, take home pay) to the Lord. Typically this means giving it to your local church. This tithe (10% of net income) is not optional, it is commanded by God. You have certain discretion as to whom it is given, but you don’t have the right to keep that money. To not give a tithe is indicted in Malachi 3 as “robbing God”. You are free to give more than a tithe, and even encouraged to do so, but the tithe is the minimum requirement.
There is no doubt that the people of Israel were commanded to tithe. The Law of Moses is unambiguous.
Leviticus 27:30 And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s: it is holy unto the Lord.
Even the Levites who received the tithes, also had to tithe from the tithes they received.
Numbers 18:26 Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the Lord, even a tenth part of the tithe.
So without belaboring the point, I think we can all agree that as far as the Old Testament is concerned, tithing is a commandment of God and one could not truly believe the word of God and refuse to tithe. But now the question is if this commandment is also applicable to New Testament believers. To answer that, it is necessary to make a division between two broad categories of those who oppose tithing.
The first category is those who love their money and refuse to give to anything that doesn’t return a benefit to themselves. They are very willing to give money… to Amazon, Walmart, the Hollywood box office, McDonalds, and so forth. They are even willing to give money to people they know and care for, when they are in need. They are always willing to be “generous” at parties they attend with expensive food and drink. They are even willing to make an occasional donation of some merchandise to a cause, like giving an Air Conditioning unit to the church or a piano or something of that nature. What they are recalcitrant to do is to take ten percent of their net income and put it in the offering box or plate every week, without fail. I don’t wish to spend much time on this category, explaining the psychology of these people; I will just say that they desire to be seen as generous without the pain of sacrifice and they desire to maintain control over what has been given — that is the benefit they often get out of giving. To them our answer is that they should consider the strong admonition regarding covetousness in 1 Corinthians 5.
The second category is those who object to tithing on doctrinal grounds, but that personally give at least a tithe and often much more. Those that object on these grounds have a solid Biblical case. There are several pointed teachings in the New Testament regarding money and giving, and none of them plainly command a tithe, or any other specified percentage. They are quick to point out that the commandant is for each to give as he purposes in his heart. (2 Corinthians 9:7) And they are quick to point out that tithing is an Old Testament law that is not required of Christians any more than the Mosaic dietary law is. For these reasons they believe it to be a closed case. However, there is quite a bit more to the matter than this. The conscientious doctrinal objectors are overlooking a lot of significant arguments and evidence that is presented in the New Testament regarding tithing.
First, tithing predates the law of Moses, and is cited in the New Testament as being both prior to the New Testament and connected to the Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews records that Abraham paid tithes to Melchisedec (Genesis 14:18-20), but that the deeper meaning of that offering was that Levi, who had not yet been born, paid tithes to Christ. While this obviously is not a New Testament commandment that Christians should pay tithes, it does challenge the allegation that tithing has no New Testament connection.
Second, tithing is found in the New Testament and it is commanded by Jesus. In Jesus’ censoring of the Pharisees, he points out that they were diligent in tithing even the smallest of harvests, but that they omitted the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23), but he also states categorically that the tithing was not to be left undone. So this should not be thought of as a dichotomy between tithing and judgment, mercy, and faith; but a commandment to do both. These (tithing the small things) ought not to be left undone, Jesus commanded. The doctrinal objectors typically will dispensationalize this commandment away, nonetheless, they cannot honestly say that Jesus never commanded tithing. And if tithing, as commanded in Matthew 23, is to be relegated to the Old Testament without binding power, what about Judgment, Mercy, and Faith? If the light things of the law (tithing) are not for Christians because we are not under the law, then how are we subject to the weightier matters of the same law?
Third, tithing is the framework upon which the Apostle Paul constructed the doctrine of offerings. While it is indisputable that Paul never uses the word tithe, that is a hermeneutical canard. The only thing worse than prooftexting is proof-no-texting; showing all the scriptures that don’t say something. Look at what he does say. Paul teaches that ministers should receive wages not charity. That means compensation that is agreed upon, reliable, and owed. None of this is possible without a tithe. Obviously the percentage of the tithe could be less or more (although technically it would be an actual “tithe”) but the principle of a minimum amount that each earner is required, or expected, to give is critical. Otherwise the minister cannot possibly receive a wage, he gets whatever happens to come in. It is important to understand that receiving a wage does not mean that he gets a set amount, a salary, so to speak; although he might. What it means is that his income is fixed by some rule. In the Old Testament, the ministers income was fixed to a percentage of the net increase of the congregation. As they did better, so did the minister. That percentage of their increase was not theirs, it belonged to the minister. Just as a business cannot count their total income as profit, since the agreed upon wages must be first paid. Where does Paul say this, you ask?
In 2 Corinthians 11.7,8 he says that he took wages from other churches so that he could preach freely to the Corinthians. The word he uses is opsonion. This is the word that describes a soldier’s pay. Not a gift, not an offering, not whatever you purpose in your heart.
In 1 Timothy 5:17, 18 he quotes Jesus (from the Gospel of Luke) that the laborer is worthy of his reward. His misthou — wages, pay. If the minister’s income from the ministry is a wage, a owed payment, how much is it? How is that amount determined? He also commands that an elder that rules well is worthy of twice as much. Twice as much as what? If there is no minimum, if there is no “once as much” then how can we know what twice as much is? And finally here, he quotes the same Old Testament law that forbids muzzling the ox that treads the corn. With that in mind, lets look at the first time he quoted that law.
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul gives his longest and most detailed explanation on giving, and one of the Old Testament texts he cites is the law against “muzzling the ox that treads out the corn”. His point here is that this law of the oxen is not for the oxen but for the church. So the law of the oxen is for the church, but the practical, human implementation of that law in the law is not for the church? The doctrinal objectors might say that the oxen didn’t receive a tithe. True, they got to lick up the scraps that scattered into the dust. But I don’t think that is really what they want to go on record as saying. Obviously Paul is making a specific point with the oxen, and that is made clear in the following statements. The point is that ministers should plow in hope, thresh in hope, sow in hope, and reap in hope. The hope is that they are partakers, partners, investors in the increase: Meaning that they are owed a percentage of that increase. How much are they owed? Well the entire passage of 1 Corinthians 9 is couched in the Old Testament law of tithing.
Observe the most important citation of the text, verses 13 and 14: “Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.” How did the Old Testament ministers live of the things of the temple? That is indisputable: A required tithe. And Paul says that even so Jesus has ordained that his ministers should also live. Just because the word “tithe” doesn’t appear in the text, does not negate that this entire text of giving is encased in the Divine requirements of tithing. To not tithe is to rob the minister, and since he tithes to God from his increase, in the end it is to rob God himself. I realize that this statement is difficult for the doctrinal objectors to stomach, but that is often because they are grossly dismissive of the doctrine of money. Carefully examine the Scriptures we have already mentioned and observe that giving is a serious, technical, meticulous, and sacred action. Giving is not to be done haphazardly or unwittingly. Who we give to, why we give to them, how much we give to them is not to be done with a “Que Sera, Sera” attitude. If you owe a minister wages, and you give that money to something or someone else you are committing fraud. Consider James admonition:
James 5.4 Behold the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is kept back by fraud, crieth.
If you pay your tithes properly, it is not just you who has paid them. It affects your children, and their children. Consider the effect of Abraham rightfully paying tithes (Not giving a love offering, PAYING A TITHE!) to Melchisedech.
Fifth, logic prescribes tithing as the obvious answer to the question of “how much must I give”. Does even the most committed doctrinal objector doubt that every Christian is commanded to give? Of course they don’t. So if they are commanded to give, how much should they give? Set aside the unreasonable, self-serving answers that “even two mites” is sufficient. That widow gave 100%. However, while she was commended for exceeding by 10 times her duty, those that gave their tithe and no more are not condemned. I say these kinds of answers are self-serving because they do not help those that sincerely desire to be in the will of God. Telling them that there is no minimum amount that God expects of them, leaves them caught painfully between the naivete of an over-sensitive conscience and the habitual covetousness of the old man. Expecting them to come to a proper balance between keeping too much and giving away too much, is the same error of “free-range” child rearing. God’s minimum requirements are there, not to bind us, but to free us; to free us from something worse than disobedience: Not knowing how or where to start. Those that are exercised in the law of God, are not concerned with how little obedience they can get away with fulfilling, but rather how totally they can surrender themselves to his will.
Do you really believe that there is no minimum amount that God requires? Or do you really believe that this minimum amount is different for every person? And do you really believe that God’s law, cited and respected by Christ and the Apostles has no bearing on this question? If I were to say that for me personally, the required amount is 0.000000000001% of my left over income, could you in good conscience not rebuke me for covetousness? If you can simply shrug your shoulders and say, “well everyone will answer to God”, how is that not simply shaking the dust off your feet and not caring one whit for my soul? And if you know that the minimum is not 0.000000000001%, then you obviously know what it is, you are just being coy, feigning ignorance. So what is the minimum amount? Is it 125%? Is it 75%? Is it 50%? Is it 25%? Is it 10%? If only God had given us some guidance, some old treasure that we could bring out, along with the new treasures of the Kingdom, to inform us properly on this matter.
And what if I were to say that for me the minimum is 12.5%, but was unsure if that should be of the gross or of the net. Might you have an answer for that? I mean one that didn’t coincide with the law, which clearly and reasonably specifies that we give from our increase. Many doctrinal objectors will glibly say that we should err on the side of generosity with God; in other words, give from the gross. After all, how much a difference are we talking about, right? Well what if my gross income is $500,000.00 but my net income after business expenses is $10,000.00? That would mean that I would have to borrow $40,000.00 to give my minimum offering. Wouldn’t you have an answer for me in this scenario? If we have an answer to the gross/net question, then we also have an answer to the percentage question.
For those unaware of what a Steel Man, or Iron Man, argument is: It is an attempt to make the very best argument possible for a position you don’t agree with. If possible, even a better argument than the one those who hold the position can make for themselves. It is the opposite of a Straw Man argument, which consists of assembling the worst possible argument, full of semi-hidden flaws intentionally mixed in for the purpose of then easily tearing the straw man argument down. Steel man arguments are very difficult to make, but they are very profitable. In this essay, I attempted to build a steel man argument for tithing in the New Testament church. You be the judge if it is a solidly built, honest, rigorous steel man argument or if it is just another straw man.