What does the Bible say about tithing?

To tithe means to give ten percent. 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, when people ask the question, "What does the Bible say about tithing?" what they are really asking is: "Does God require me, a Christian, to give 10% of my income to the church?"

The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, has a lot to say about giving. So, pastors should not avoid the topic of giving/tithing. But, the pressure put on pastors to encourage giving has resulted in many abuses and misinterpretations of what the Bible says about tithing. 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 verify 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.

While pastors should never allow financial need to impact biblical interpretation, it is understandable when it happens. When there is a lot of pressure on a pastor to raise money for the church and/or when a man's ability to provide for his family depends on his ability to get people to give, 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 requirement for 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 encourage tithing in some sense. Ten percent 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 nearly 25% of their income.

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 giving (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7), but other than being mentioned in the context of discussing the Old Testament Law in Matthew 23:23, the New Testament nowhere else 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.

S. Michael Houdmann

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What does the Bible say about tithing?