Does God Require Of Christians To Tithe?
By Gabriel Manyati
I have been a Christian for 25 years this year, after giving my life to Christ as a 13-year-old boy back in1992. During that period, I have tried to be a diligent student of the Bible, which effort is rooted in the belief that you just can’t take someone else’s word as the truth no matter how much you trust or respect them.
The Bible says in Acts 17:11 that the Jews in Berea were nobler than those in Thessalonica because they received the gospel with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Truth always suffers whenever people don’t examine things for themselves, allowing others – including their leaders – to do their thinking and examining for them. I have never bought into the notion that being in a leadership position alone necessarily makes one a custodian of wisdom or truth. Adolf Hitler may be a poor example of someone to quote, but he nailed it when he said leaders or rulers were lucky because the people they lead don’t think.
I wish to therefore share conclusions I’ve drawn through the years on the subject of tithing.
Tithing in the Old Testament
The first recorded instance of tithing in the Bible is found in Genesis 14:18-20, which states:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.
This was before the law of tithing was given under Moses, so to state that Christians shouldn’t tithe because tithing was under the law is inaccurate. But I need to say this. I have heard it taught that we Christians can only access the Abrahamic blessing of prosperity if we do the works of Abraham, among which is tithing. Well, the fact of the matter is that the Bible is silent on whether Abraham became wealthy because he was a tither and a giver as is sometimes claimed. In Genesis 13 we are told that Abraham was very rich, but the source or cause of His wealth isn’t discussed. We, however, find out later that this great wealth was the result of God’s blessings, but it doesn’t say these blessings were given as God’s response to his tithing or giving.
And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. (Genesis 24:1)
To claim out of nowhere that we Christians must tithe because these Abraham’s blessings of wealth came because Abraham tithed or was generous is clearly to presume upon the Scriptures. One law of Bible interpretation and study is to be silent where the Bible is silent and to speak where the Bible speaks.
Notice another thing regarding Abraham’s tithing. The Bible doesn’t say it was regular or from time to time. When he gave that ten percent to Melchizedek, it was clearly a once-off thing and wasn’t even from his own bank account or possessions, so to speak. It was from the spoils of plundering the kings he had just defeated and pillaged.
So what exactly does the Old Testament say about tithing? We know that Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek, and Hebrews appeals to this account to support the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood over Levi’s (Hebrews 7:4-10). God met Jacob at Bethel and promised him covenant blessings; the patriarch promised God a tenth of everything granted him (Genesis 28:22).
A tenth of Israel’s seed, fruit, and flocks were given to the Lord (Leviticus 27:30-32; Deuteronomy 14:22-24; 2 Chronicles 31:5-6; Nehemiah. 13:5, 12). The people gave a tenth to the Levites to support them (Numbers 18:21-24; Neheniah 10:38; 12:44), and the Levites, in turn, were to give a tenth to the chief priest (Numbers 18:25-28). Those who didn’t tithe were threatened with a curse, while those who did tithe were promised blessing (Malachi 3:8-10).
Malachi 3:8-12 is the scripture passage often used in churches today while collecting tithes. It states:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.
And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.
Although this passage is the one most quoted and used to collect tithes, the book of Malachi wasn’t written to the Church, but to the children of Israel, the Jews. So when God said they were robbing Him by not tithing, He was talking about their obligation to tithe and give offerings under the law. Also note that under the law, the tithe wasn’t collected in monetary form, but in the form of the harvest of farmland.
In Leviticus 27:30-32, the Mosaic law states:
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.
And if a man will at all redeem ought of his tithes, he shall add thereto the fifth part thereof.
And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord.
Notice that God called for a tithe from the harvest of the children of Israel in the form of the harvest of the land, but He added that if they wanted to pay in the form of money they had to add five percent. That shows us God primarily wanted the tithe in the form of the harvest. By this time money already existed, even before the time of Moses, so if God had wanted the tithe in monetary form He would have said so. Remember in Genesis 47:35, long before Moses came with the law, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain and gave them “money pouches” for the task.
From this, it is clear that even under the Old Covenant tithing wasn’t normally money but in fact agricultural produce, which is why Malachi said God wanted faithfulness in tithing so that “there may be meat (food) in my house”. This food was used by the Levitical priests to feed the poor, orphans and windows.
It is my considered view that mandatory regular tithing is not a divine requirement in the New Testament. From Matthew to Revelation, we see nothing to even remotely suggest that Jesus Christ or the Apostles ever collected tithes or even instructed the believers to do so. The only instance where Christ referred to the tithe was in Matthew 23:23, where He told the scribes and Pharisees, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
What Christ meant here was that the scribes and Pharisees, who were under the law because Jesus hadn’t yet gone to the cross to institute the New Covenant, were right to give tithes of their harvests, but that wasn’t enough because there were more important matters of the law, such as justice, compassion and faith. He wasn’t addressing His disciples or Christians, so it’s erroneous to say Christ necessarily endorsed tithing for Christians when He wasn’t even addressing us.
Another instance where tithing is mentioned in the New Testament is found in Hebrews 7, where the writer says in verse 8 that “here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth”. This chapter discusses tithing as engaged in by Abraham, and by Israel under the Levitical priesthood. It uses the analogy or Abraham to depict the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood to that of Levi. We sometimes hear it claimed that because verse 8 is in the present continuous tense, it means Christ is still receiving tithes hitherto, but that would miss the point because it ignores the context. In verse 9 it’s stated, “And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham.” So tell me: were the Levitical priests receiving tithes under the New Testament lunched by Christ through His blood or under the law of Moses? It’s obviously under the law of Moses, the same one annulled and replaced by Christ through His death. Yet verse 9 is written in the same tense as verse 8, the present continuous tense.
Tithing is not a MUST under the New Covenant. We are not obligated as Christians to give ten percent of our incomes or possessions to God as a regular, ongoing requirement. A believer can nevertheless tithe if they so choose, but not as a must.
Why tithing is not required of Christians
The first reason tithing is no longer valid is that believers are no longer under the Mosaic covenant.
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (Romans 6:14-15).
For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:5-6).
The commands stipulated in the Mosaic covenant are therefore no longer in force for believers. Some appeal to the division between the civil, ceremonial, and moral law to support tithing. Yet these divisions are not the basis Paul uses when addressing how the law applies to us today. And even if we use these distinctions, tithing is clearly not part of the moral law. It’s true the moral norms of the Old Testament are still in force today, and we discern them from the law of Christ in the New Testament, but tithing is not among these commands.
Some think tithing is required because both Abraham and Jacob gave a tenth, and they both lived before the Mosaic covenant was in place. Such examples hardly prove tithing is for all time, however. Abraham’s gift to Melchizedek was a one-time event; there is no evidence he regularly gave God a tenth.
Jacob’s giving of a tenth signified his gratefulness to God for promising to be with him and to protect him. His gratefulness and generosity still speak to us today, but a historical description of what Jacob gave doesn’t support the idea that all believers must give God a tenth of their income.
Tithes were given to the Levites and priests, but there are no Levites and priests in the new covenant. Levites and priests were tied to the sacrificial system of the old covenant. Now all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 1:6), with Jesus as our Melchizedekian high priest (Hebrews 7).
Nowhere is tithing mentioned when commands to give generously are found in the New Testament. When Christians are instructed to give to the poor, they aren’t commanded to give “the poor tithe.” Instead, they are instructed to be generous in helping those in need (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37; 11:27-30; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15.
For example, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 — a passage often cited in popular circles in support of tithing —doesn’t mention tithing; it relates to a one-time gift for poor the saints in Jerusalem.
Tithing versus New Testament Giving
Be that as it may, there are many Scriptures in the New Testament that define the kind of giving we as Christians are to engage in.
The Lord Jesus Christ stated in Luke 6:38:
Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
This is the beginning of a full body of teachings on Christian giving as enunciated by the Master Himself. Here Christ states in simple, clear terms that whatever we give will be given back to us multiplied. So we need to understand that God will cause people to give to us whatever we give to Him whether we do this in church or by giving to the poor or to anyone else for that matter.
God wants us to understand that.
Next, in that same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described the attitude we are to have when giving to the needy, but this applies to all types of giving too. He said in Matthew 6:1-4, “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”
Another component of New Testament giving is that it shouldn’t be done to draw attention or praise. Giving, as God defines it in the Bible, is not mere philanthropy as the world defines humanitarianism. Many unsaved philanthropists want it known when they give, and companies now routinely engage in “corporate social responsibility” to “give back” to the communities where they operate with a view to enhancing their brand. Although it’s all giving, Christian giving and humanistic philanthropy differ in that while philanthropy is giving mainly just to help or give back to enhance brand awareness as a marketing avenue, giving as defined in the Bible is first and foremost an act of obedience to God.
God requires that we give to the poor and that we give to support various good, noble causes in the earth that enhance human life, foremost among which is the preaching of the gospel.
Perhaps the greatest and most elaborate teaching on Christian giving was given by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Those two chapters drip with divine instruction on what Christian giving is all about, and I urge you to read them in full.
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. 7 But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also.
I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply heir lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack” (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).
The first takeaway from this passage is that Christian giving is sometimes sacrificial, going way beyond the ten percent so many are desperate to cling to. These Macedonian Christians were in deep poverty, but they begged Paul and others to receive their gifts collected to relieve the famine-stricken believers in Jerusalem. Paul emphasises that they were not forced or arm-twisted into this but, as the King James renders it, “they were willing of themselves”.
This is a major theme is this chapter, which the apostle pursues further in verse 12 by stating that “if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.” New Testament giving is based upon the exercise of one’s own freewill in deciding what and how much to give. God doesn’t set a percentage of one’s income or possessions and tell them to give it. We sometimes hear of so-called freewill offerings, but all Christian giving should be freewill offerings.
In Chapter 9, Paul goes on to say in verse 7 that every man “according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” To peel money off the palms of believers in church with a view to meeting fundraising goals in unscriptural. The same applies to shaming people into giving until they give reluctantly. God loves a cheerful giver and a person will only give cheerfully when they do it according to what they purpose, not what someone else tells them to give.
This is a great safeguard against manipulation.
One reason there is so much desperation regarding tithing especially on the part of those in ministry is because ministers sometimes think those questioning the legitimacy of tithing under the New Testament are teaching Christians not to give. If tithes are not collected, ministers of the gospel seem to wonder, how then will the work of the ministry be financed?
Well, we just have to teach the truth, which sets people free from unbiblical obligations. The truth sets everyone free, including those called to the ministry. I am convinced more money to fund the gospel and other good causes will be raised when ministers stop handling the Word with deceit by forcing the Bible to say what it doesn’t say, and start teaching the real Bible truth in this area. “But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2).
What is the truth that must be taught? New Testament giving! New Testament giving begins with the understanding that giving primarily benefits the giver more than the receiver. When Christ enunciated the new era of giving under Him in Luke 6:38, He emphasised the principle of multiplication that would attend to Christian giving.
The apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, expounded on the blessedness of giving, also dwelling much on the principle of multiplication – with Paul likening what we give to seed that is sown but results in a bountiful harvest.
“But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6).
Believers need to understand that the principle of giving and receiving is not some preacher’s invention, but an ordinance of the Lord Himself. Paul told the Corinthian believers that, depending on their attitude and extent of giving, God was able to make all grace come rushing at them – furnishing them with continuous supplies and unending prosperity. He said in 1 Corinthians 9:8, as the Amplified Bible puts it, “And God is able to make all grace [every favor and earthly blessing] come in abundance to you, so that you may always [under all circumstances, regardless of the need] have complete sufficiency in everything [being completely self-sufficient in Him], and have an abundance for every good work and act of charity.”
So when this understanding dawns on ministers and they start practising it and teaching it to their congregations, there will be no lack in the Church because we will all start giving like never before on the realisation that the one who gives always ends up better off than the one who only receives.
Even though tithing isn’t required today, it does not follow that believers should hoard their possessions or become stingy. We are commanded to support those who preach the gospel.
Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat (Matthew 10:9-10).
And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house (Luke 10:7).
Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
And while we should enjoy the good things God gives us, we are also called to be generous to those in need (1 Timothy 6:17-19). Wealth can so easily become an idol, leading us to abandon the Lord.
Since God is to be our treasure, believers are to give generously and freely with the understanding that it is more blessed to give then to receive (Acts 20:35).