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Tithing- For Today?



Today many Bible-believing churches and ministries teach that tithing is a part of the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Others say that it was part of the law and therefore is not the duty of Christians today. What does the Bible have to say about this?

The first time that tithing appears in the Bible is in Genesis 14:20 where we are told that Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, the priest of the most high God. There is no record of God or Melchizedek commanding such an offering. Apparently Abraham did so voluntarily. The next record of tithing in the Bible is in Genesis 28:22 where Jacob vowed that if God would take care of him, then he in return would give a tenth of all his income to God. Again, there is no indication that this was done as a matter of obedience to a command, but rather voluntarily. In both of these instances the patriarchs apparently tithed voluntarily, not out of obedience to a command. It seems that their decision to tithe was motivated by gratitude, rather than obedience, fear of punishment, or even in order to obtain a blessing from God.

Tithing is next found in Leviticus 27:30-33. The following verse, 34, clearly establishes that tithing was part of the Law: "These are the commandments which the LORD commanded Moses for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai." The book of Numbers describes how God designated the Jews' tithes as being given for the purpose of supporting the Levites since they were given no land (Numbers 18:21,24). Even the Levites were to tithe (Numbers 18:26,28).

Tithing is mentioned several times in the book of Deuteronomy. In Deut 12:6 tithes are evidently distinct from freewill offerings. In Deut 12:11 tithes are apparently part of what God commands the Jews. Deut 12:17 and 14:23 give details regarding tithing. But tithing is absolutely stated as a matter of obedience to God's command in Deut 14:22,28 as well as 26:12 and 13.

The next reference to tithing is found in II Chronicles 31:5,6,12 which recounts the children of Israel tithing during the days of King Hezekiah. After this the book of Nehemiah describes tithing in 10:37,38; 12:44; and 13:5,12. Neh 12:44 in particular indicates that the tithe was part of the law.

Tithing is not mentioned in any of the poetic books of the Bible. In the prophets tithing is only mentioned in Amos and Malachi. In Amos 4:4,5 God was rebuking the people for their sins even though they delighted in the religious activity of tithing. In Malachi 3:8-10 God told the Jews that their neglect of tithing was a way of robbing Him. This resulted in a curse; but He told them that if they brought in their tithes He would bless them with prosperity. Malachi 1:1 and 3:6,7 tell us to whom God was addressing this message - the Jews. In addition, verse 7 indicates that the verses following deal with Israel's failure to keep God's ordinances. The Jews failure to tithe was disobedience to God's law.

In the New Testament tithing is only referred to in four passages. In Matthew 23:23 (cf. Luke 11:42) Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their omitting the weightier provisions of the law although they were scrupulous regarding tithing. His phrase "weightier provisions of the law" indicates that tithing is a lighter provision of the law -but nonetheless, a provision of the law. Jesus was here speaking to the Jewish leaders ("Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!..."), not to His disciples. The third passage in the New Testament regarding tithing is Luke 18:12 in which Jesus told a parable in which a self-righteous Pharisee tells God how he tithes, yet he was not justified.

The final reference to tithing in the New Testament is found in Hebrews chapter 7. The purpose of this passage is to explain how the priesthood of Christ is superior to the Levitical priesthood. The reasoning may be summarized by saying that Levi receives tithes; yet his ancestor, Abraham, gave tithes to Melchisedec, a type of Christ. Therefore Melchisedec is superior to Abraham, who is superior to Levi, his descendent. Therefore the Melchisedec priesthood is superior to the Levitical priesthood. Looking more closely at the relevant verses we find in verses 1 through 4 a recounting of Abraham's tithing to Melchisedec. In verse 5 we are told that the Levites collect tithes according to a "...commandment in the Law...". Verse 6 relates that Melchisedec received tithes of Abraham. Verse 8 states that, "And in this case mortal men receive tithes, but in that case one {receives them}, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on." The first part of this verse, in context, must refer to the Levites - see verse 5. The second part, of course, refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. The words "receives them" are in brackets and are not found in the Greek, and therefore cannot be used to support tithes being given to Christ in the church age. An interpretation more in keeping with the context would be that in one case the mortal Levites receive tithes today (at the time of the writing of Hebrews) but in the other case the immortal Melchizedek (type of Christ or perhaps a preincarnate Christ) received tithes from Abraham. The phrase "in this case" in verse 8 must refer to the previously discussed tithing according to a "commandment in the law" which was taking place at the time of the writing of the epistle. The phrase "in that case" in verse 8 must refer to the previously discussed account of Abraham tithing to Melchisedek. Therefore neither "this case" nor "that case" refers to Christians tithing.

These are all the Bible passages that relate to tithing. To summarize: before the Law Abraham and Jacob tithed voluntarily; then tithing was part of the Old Testament Law; finally, in the New Testament there is no verse directing Christians to tithe. There are, in addition, no examples of Christians tithing in the New Testament. The following is an examination of the reasons given to support the teaching that Christians are supposed to tithe today:

1) Jesus said to tithe in Matthew 23:23. Two important considerations in biblical interpretation are who is speaking and who is being spoken to. It is evident in this passage that Jesus was not speaking to His disciples, but to the Pharisees. In addition, if verse 23 is for Christians today, then so must verses 1 through 3 of the same chapter also be for today. In this passage Christ told his disciples to obey all that the scribes and Pharisees commanded them. This would obviously include the entire Old Testament Law. However, the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that believers today are no longer under the Law. Believers are not bound to verses 1 - 3 or verse 23. Jesus' blood had not yet been shed when he spoke in chapter 23 of Matthew. The New Testament had not yet been fully inaugurated. Another example of Christ telling someone to obey the law is found in Matthew 8:4 in which He tells a man whom He had just healed to "...show yourself to the priest, and present the offering that Moses commanded...." This is certainly not applicable to believers today. Of course we must not cast aside Christ's words as not applicable for today without strong scriptural reasons. Much of what Christ taught is applicable to believers today, but proper biblical interpretation is necessary in order to determine which passages are and which are not.

2) Hebrews refers to tithing in the New Testament. As we have seen, chapter 7 of this epistle contains no directions to Christians to tithe nor does it contain examples of Christians tithing. In fact, verse 5 tells us that tithing is a "commandment in the Law".

3) Abraham and Jacob tithed before the Law. As we have seen, both of these patriarchs apparently tithed voluntarily - not to obey a command, nor to keep from being cursed, nor even in order to obtain a financial blessing, but apparently out of gratitude. In addition, it is interesting to note that these same two patriarchs practiced circumcision before the Law, as stated in Genesis 17 for Abraham and as implied in Genesis 34 for Jacob. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, makes an extremely strong case against compulsory circumcision. If we can not use the argument that the patriarchs practiced circumcision before the Law and therefore so must we, then we cannot use the argument that they practiced tithing before the Law and therefore so must we. In fact there is a stronger case for Christians getting circumcised then there is for them tithing since pre-law tithing was voluntary but pre-law circumcision was commanded. So, in order to be consistent, if circumcision is not required today, then neither is tithing. Both tithing and circumcision, even though they predated the law, were incorporated into the Law; and to require tithing is just as legalistic as to require circumcision. Besides, just because the patriarchs practiced something does not mean that New Testament Christians must also practice it.

4) Since the New Testament does not specifically forbid tithing, then it is still in effect for today. This is not in accord with Acts chapter 15 in which the Holy Ghost and the apostles decided that the gentiles were not bound by the Law, but they enumerated certain exceptions - abstaining from idolatry, blood, things strangled, and fornication. The idea that we must do everything in the Law that is not specifically forbidden is the exact opposite of biblical doctrine in which we do not have to do anything in the Law except that which is specifically mentioned in Acts 15. Those who advocate such an approach to the law by believers, in order to be consistent, must keep other parts of the law not specifically forbidden, as well. This would include wearing fringes on their garments (Deut 22:12), wearing their hair and beards in a prescribed fashion (Lev 19:27), releasing their debtors in the seventh year (Deut 15:1,2), and practicing capital punishment on their rebellious children (Exod 21:17 and Deut 21:18-21).

5) Christians must tithe since it is a recognition of the principle that all that we have belongs to God. There is no place in the Bible where it is stated that we must do this. A person can recognize this principle without tithing. We must not invent requirements for demonstrating belief in certain principles when those requirements are not to be found in the Bible.

6) Tithing is an integral part of the Christian life. There are absolutely no scriptures to support such an idea. As has already been stated, there are no New Testament verses which direct Christians to tithe or which give examples of Christians tithing.

7) If we do not tithe then we are robbing God. This is based on Malachi chapter 3, and was not written to New Testament Christians, as was explained above. The Old Testament prophets directed the Jews to keep the Law. This is stated in several places (e.g. Jeremiah 11:1-4 and 26:4) but in the context of Malachi is clearly set forth in chapter 4, verse 4: "Remember the law of Moses my servant, {even the} statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel." Malachi 4:4 evidently teaches the keeping of the law and is therefore not for New Testament believers, since we are not under the law. So how can Malachi's statement about tithing (which is definitely part of the law) be indiscriminately applied to Christians? In addition, in Luke 16:16 Jesus said that the law and the prophets were until John the baptist. Finally, to accuse nontithing believers of robbing God is highly condemnatory since 1 Corinthians 6:10 emphatically states that thieves shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Is it a sin to tithe? Of course not. Christians are free to voluntarily tithe, just as they are free to voluntarily practice circumcision, rest one day a week, refrain from certain non-kosher foods, etc. In fact, there are benefits to all of these practices in this life. But observing these things makes a person not one bit more pleasing in God's sight. And not observing these things makes a person not one bit less pleasing in God's sight. Our standing with God does not depend at all on whether or not we observe such practices. People who do not tithe cannot be accused of disobedience to God. There are commands in the Bible to Christians, such as "love one another"; but tithing is not commanded to New Testament believers. A nontither is not living in sin. The problem is in believing that God still requires us to observe these things. This is contrary to the grace of God and cheapens Christ's precious blood that alone saves and sanctifies us.

If we do not have to tithe, then how much money should we give to God? As much or as little as we desire. We are free to give because we want to, not because we have to. 2 Cor 9:7 tells us, "Let each one {do} just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver."

In conclusion, New Testament Christians are not commanded to tithe, are not required to tithe, do not have to tithe. Nontithing New Testament Christians are not living in sin, are not disobeying God, and are not robbing God. It is time for churches and ministers who have been teaching the necessity of tithing to realize that this doctrine is contrary to the Word of God and the grace of God.
1999 Arthur Manning


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