In biblical usage, the word “tithing” simply means a “tenth” or “tenth part” (http://biblehub.com/hebrew/4643.htm). The first time the Bible mentions tithing is in the book of Genesis (Gen. 14:20; 28:22). In neither of these passages was a tithe required by God. In fact, both passages refer to Abram and Jacob’s free will actions.
Genesis 14:20 implies that Abram gave a tithe of all of the possessions he had gained, not just monetary (Heb. 7:1-10). Jacob made a pledge with God that if He blessed him then he would give a tenth back to God. Based upon these passages, one can see that tithing was not commanded nor was it a regular religious practice before the Law of Moses.
The tithe was first given as a required law under the Law of Moses in Leviticus 27:30-33. In reality, there were several different required tithes (e.g., Num. 18:20-21; Deut. 12:17-18; 14:28-29). Often times, the tithe was not just limited to money but included land and other possessions (e.g., 2 Chron. 31:5; Lev. 27:30; etc.). When considering all of the tithes in the Bible, it really amounts to roughly 22-24% (See: Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life; Moody Press, p. 86). Interestingly enough, a man could redeem part of his tithed possessions back with money, but if he did so he was required to add an additional 20% to buy them back (Lev. 27:31).
The purpose of the tithe should be seen from more of a Jewish nationalistic standpoint. The reason for the required tithe found in Leviticus 27:30-33 was so that the Levitical Priesthood, who had no inheritance, could be supported (Num. 18:20-21, 2 Chron. 31:4-6, 12; Neh. 10:37-39). In return, the Levites were to give a tenth of the tithes they received as a heave offering for God to Aaron (Num. 18:25-29).
When we fast forward to the days when Israel wanted a king, we also see a tax of a tenth being enforced (1 Sam. 8:15). Later in history when the Temple was established, Malachi 3:8-10 shows how many of the Jews were failing to tithe at this time; thus also failing to provide for the Levitical Priesthood and duties associated with the Temple (e.g., “My house”). There also appears to be a different type of tithe (“second tithe”) that didn’t go exclusively to the Levitical Priesthood, but that also went to help the widow, the orphan and others in need who were “inside the gates” (i.e., Jews; Deut. 14:29; See also: Deut. 12:5-6, 11, 17-28; 14:22-27).
When Jesus came to earth, although a transition was taking place (Lk. 16:16), the Law of Moses was still in force (Mt. 23:23-34; Lk. 18:9-14; Lk. 2:22-24; Heb. 9:16-28; etc.). However, when the Jewish system was fulfilled and replaced with the Christian system after the death of Jesus, there was no longer Jew or Gentile (Heb. 10:8-10; Gal. 3:10-28; Rom. 1:16). Instead, all can now be one in Christ (Eph. 2:10-12). The Jewish system of worship, the physical Temple and Levitical Priesthood are no longer in force (Jn. 4:21-24; Heb. 7-10; etc.). Jewish tithing is never seen as part of the Christian system.
Furthermore, tithing is not mentioned in any of the writings of the early “Church Fathers,” even though giving was important to them. The New Testament continually and simply teaches the importance of free will, opportunistic offerings with no amount or percentage attached (See: Gal. 6:6, 10; Acts 2:44-46; 4:32-37; 6:1-7; Rom. 15:26; 1 Cor. 9:14; 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 8-9; Ja. 1:27; etc.).
If one chooses to give 10% of what they make, less than 10% or more than 10%, then that is perfectly acceptable under the Law of Christ and God will judge the heart and motive; no amount of giving is required or specified for the Christian and thus shouldn’t be enforced.
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
“I am not speaking by way of command, but am proving through the earnestness of others the genuineness of your love also.For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ— that for your sakes He became-poor while being rich, in order that you might become-rich by the poverty of that One” (2 Cor. 8:8-9).
Unfortunately, some churches are at the point of making members turn in their tax returns to make sure they are giving enough to the Church. While I am sure there are well-intended leaders who believe this is the right thing to do, I also believe there are those who are choosing to exploit their members for gain. There is nothing “cheerful” or “willful” about these tactics.
Others have used guilt and other means by which to get their members to give more money. For example, some have accused their members of facing trials and tribulations in their life because they haven’t been giving like they should.
Or perhaps, some (who I have personally heard) claim that if 10% was the standard under the Law of Moses, then how much more should we be giving under the Law of Christ? While this statement of rhetoric may sound nice, it has several flaws.
First, it is built upon a faulty presupposition that is nowhere in Scripture (i.e., Christians are somehow more financially obligated under the Law of Christ than the Jews were under the Law of Moses). Furthermore, if a Church truly demands more than the tithe under the Law of Moses, then according to the Bible, they should be tithing of all they have (not just money), giving two tithes, and making sure that every third year, the second tithe goes to support the strangers, fatherless, and widows in their town. As noted above, this amounts to 22-24%.
So, if one wants to argue that Christians should be giving “more” than the Jews under the Law of Moses, then it needs to be more than 22-24%.
Finally, how much more should one be giving? 1%? 5%? 10%? Obviously, this philosophy cannot be upheld by Scripture because it begins with a faulty premise and cannot be taught or applied consistently with Scripture .
We shouldn’t think of “giving” as purely monetary or cooperative. Giving should predominantly include personal time in multiple acts of services in one’s daily life (Acts 3:1-10; Ja. 1:27; Lk. 10:25-37; etc.).
Christians are nowhere subject to tithing nor are they subject to giving more than the Jews under the Law of Moses. Instead, Christians are to choose where they want to willfully and cheerfully give their offering and how often they want to do it. We should be a walking living sacrifice giving 100% to God (Rom. 12:1-2).
– Kevin Pendergrass
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