To Tithe or not to Tithe? (with David Croteau)

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In a Baptist Press First Person column Mark Coppenger issued a correction to something he said while speaking at Southern Seminary: people’s tithe should be based not on their net but on their gross income. In this Coppenger largely presupposed the (affirmative) answer to the more foundational issue: Should believers tithe (i.e., give at least ten percent of their income, whether net or gross) in the first place? In this belief Coppenger is not alone. In fact, a minimum ten percent “tithing” requirement is regularly assumed on a popular level and in many of our churches. However, as people of the Book, we should take our cue from Scripture, properly interpreted, which requires a close examination of scriptural teaching on the issue of tithing and, more broadly, Christian stewardship and giving.

The word “tithe” literally means “tenth” and is commonly used to refer to the requirement to give ten percent of one’s income to God. However, from the outset, it should be noted that nowhere was money ever tithed. The tithe in the Old Testament always referred to produce from the ground or herds. Some may respond that this is the case because people lived in an agricultural society. While this is true, however, “money” is mentioned about thirty times in Genesis alone (e.g., Gen. 17: 12, 13, 23, 27; 31:15; 33:19; etc.). Therefore, before tithing is ever mentioned in the Mosaic Law (Lev. 27:30), money has been referred to about forty times. The last reference to money before tithing is mentioned in the Mosaic Law even provides rules for an ancient banking system (Lev. 25:37)!

Both Testaments view the tithe within the larger framework of giving and worship. Prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law, tithing was not a systematic, continual practice but an occasional, even exceptional, form of giving (Gen. 14:20; cf. Heb. 7:4; Gen. 28:22). The Mosaic Law includes stipulations regarding the Levitical, Festival, and Poor (or Welfare) Tithe (Lev. 27:30–33; Num. 18:21; Deut. 14:22–29). Taken together, the annual tithe of the Israelites surpassed ten percent of their income, totaling more than twenty percent. Of the seven references to tithing in the Old Testament historical and prophetic books, the most important is that in Mal. 3:8 (cf. 2 Chron. 31:5–6, 12; Neh. 10:38–39; 12:44–47; 13:5, 12; Amos 4:4), where people are told to bring their (Levitical) “tithes and offerings” into God’s “storehouse” and agricultural blessings are promised for those who comply.

It should be noted that in Malachi, the withholding of tithes was a sign of a larger pattern of disobedience. The tithe mentioned by the prophet is the Levitical Tithe (Num 18:21). The offerings to which reference is made were a primary source of livelihood for the priests and were required (not voluntary) offerings. The invitation to test God is limited to the context of Malachi 3 and should not be universalized. For this reason the promised (agricultural) reward, likewise, does not carry over to people who may tithe today. Moreover, if this passage were consistently applied today, offerings—that which tithing advocates refer to as the freewill portion of giving that occurs after one has tithed—are not of one’s free will, but required just as tithes are. Therefore, if someone were to give only ten percent (not that the Jews only gave ten percent), this person would still be in sin for robbing God of “offerings.”

References to tithing in the New Testament are limited to three passages. In Matt. 23:23, the Old Testament tithing requirement is presupposed for Jesus’ audience. The scribes and Pharisees are excoriated for prioritizing the minutiae of the Law over weightier matters. Jesus was not speaking to members of a church, but to Jews still under the Old Covenant and thus obligated to tithe. Similarly, Jesus in Luke 18:9–14 denounces inappropriate religious pride on the basis of observance of the Law. Hebrews 7, finally, addresses Abraham’s giving of a tenth to Melchizedek in the context of Melchizedek’s priesthood being superior to the Levitical one. None of these passages have tithing as their primary subject, and none command tithing for the new covenant era. The case for tithing on the basis of larger systematic-theological or pragmatic considerations likewise fails in that, similar to circumcision, Jesus fulfilled the tithing requirement and replaced it with a command for New Testament believers to give themselves to God and to give liberally of their means (1 Cor. 9:1–23; 16:1–4; 2 Cor. 8–9; Phil. 4:15–17).

Where does that leave New Testament believers? We are not saying that it is okay to neglect giving. In fact, the New Testament contains sufficient guidance for our giving. Second Corinthians 8 tells us that our giving should be relationship-driven, grace-driven, and love-driven. However, nothing is mentioned regarding ten percent. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 16 teaches us that every believer should give; that they should give consistently or systematically (albeit there the reference is to a special collection); and that the amount is relative to one’s income. Second Corinthians 9 stipulates that the amount should be based upon one’s heart disposition (v. 7); that we should give in order to meet the needs of fellow-believers; and that our motivation should be thankfulness to God for all he has done for us. This is just a sampling of the many principles the New Testament gives for believers in order to direct them in their giving.

For further study see the two-part series “‘Will a Man Rob God?’ (Malachi 3:8): A Study of Tithing in the Old and New Testaments” and “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving: A Discussion of Relevant Systematic Issues and New Testament Principles,” Bulletin of Biblical Research 16/1 (2006): 53–77 and 16/2 (2006): 237–60.

26 Comments

  1. Muchas Iglesias tienen como requisito para ser miembros el diezmar como norma de conducta cristiana, sitando a Malaquìas especialmente y yo no estoy de acuerdo. Creo que la mayorìa de las Iglesias estàn apegadas al diezmo. Va a ser difìcil cambiar, solo individualmente creo yo que a conciencia debemos afirmarnos en lo que dice la Biblia. Muchos tendràn que sufrir el costo de ello, pero si estàs en una Iglesia de sana doctrina creo que deber permanecer y orar al Señor. Es difìcil para muchos encontrar una Iglesia que estè màs acorde a lo que crees de Doctrinas fundamentales de la Gracia. Encontraràs que alguna es dispensacionalista y tù no o es Pentecostal y tù no etc. etc.
    Creo que las Iglesias si se pueden sostener en su Ministerio si hay generosidad en el ofrendar y de acuerdo a lo properado econòmicamente. Algunos como yo que vivimos de ayudas familiares o que los recursos no alcanzan para ofrenda grande se aliviarìan sabiendo que son libres de una obligaciòn.
    Claro que es un tema tabù en las Iglesias y es entendible.

  2. In looking at the NT, there is NO instruction given regarding giving for the NT Christian, with the exception of God loving a “cheerful giver.” Most of the criticism that I see with the 10% test, (not necessarily here0 is made by people who do not see a need to give that much. I guess I could agree that I might be more “cheerful” giving 5% than 10% or whatever… just like getting my year end tax statement; if the tax amount comes in less than what I am expecting, I can be “cheerful.” One might conclude the reason that there is NO teaching in the NT on tithing may well be that the principle was commonly expected, there was no need to spend time on it.

    I believe the real test is to see how much we can give as opposed to how little we can get by giving… so in some respects this whole discussion may be poorly presented in the first place. I teach to start out where you believe you can… and then increase your giving… and you will find out that God will indeed bless the attitude of your heart and your faith in Him to provide… I also believe your attitude about giving your money says more about your confidence in God than it does anything else… I do like the question, if you cannot trust God with 10% of what HE has given to you in the first place, how do you know you can trust Him with your eternity. It is at the least, a thought provoking question.

    Lot of arguments and different angles… when we are looking for ways to give less, I am convinced we are looking down the wrong road.

    It is correct to say that the NT does NOT demand or even teach giving 10% to the church. It is also fair to say, that the church does deserve support from its members and from those that come to find support from the ministry of the church. While I know of a few who are “over-blessed” financially from their ministries, the majority of pastors laboring on church fields are grossly underpaid and under appreciated and not prayed for and not supported as they ought to be supported. I am convinced that if we did a better job in all these areas, this discussion “to tithe or not to tithe” probably would not even be a discussion.

    Grateful to be in His Grip,

    ><>

  3. I believe in giving because our Heavenly Father gave us His Son; and I don’t personally believe that I ever gave more than I have received. When you freely give with no external pressure, there is a true sense of happiness. So the debate on tithing and giving, seems to me that giving in its essence turned out to be a burden because Christians constantly hear that they will be under a curse if they don’t give. Well, God is not a tax collector! Thank you all for your enligtening comments.

  4. I find it interesting that we are so hung up on whether we should or should not tithe. Doesn’t Romans tell us that we are freed from the Law? Not free to sin, but free from the Law. Aren’t we supposed to be generous givers, giving “not out of necessity” (2 Corinthians)? If we are going to tithe according to the Old Testament law, then we will have to tithe 20-30% of our produce from the land of Israel.

    The tithe was never a money donation, never. The Tithe was collected by the Levitical priests only. Don’t think any of our churches have any of those. On top of that, where in Scripture is there any paid pastors that need to collect money from parishioners to pay their bills? Aren’t we supposed to be using that money, that we are giving, to support the fatherless, orphans, poor, lame, etc?

    The church that preaches that Christians have to tithe are doing nothing but being the majority who are peddling the Word of God, as mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians. Christians need to do some research on this, really read the Bible and see what the Bible says and not church doctrine.

  5. Net income tithing is a prudent guideline for stewardship of our God given blessings. To love others as God loves us means to share our gifts with the Body of Christ. Tithing along with a structured family budget is a fiscal discipline that will benefit the entire family to save, spend on essentials of food and shelter, and avoid the temptations of excess spending on material goods or pleasure before the former. Moral discipline is the basis of Christian lifestyle for maintaining a healthy body and soul. The teachings of Christ and his statutes are a necessary ownership manual for successful human life and eternity.

  6. In today’s modern church we have left grace and have swayed to the side of expecting / demanding God to bless us because we have performed a good deed (giving money is just / only a good deed). Jesus said “ask and you will receive”. The danger of prosperity teaching (that God will bless you if you tithe) is spreading everywhere. People are losing faith when it doesn’t work for them and others are falling from grace to legalism expecting rewards for so called obedience. The gospel is not about preaching obedience to rules (as was the law), but about preaching God’s love, forgiveness, and redemption into a relationship with the Father. Pastors and preachers need to stand up against this cancer of legalism before it contaminates the whole body of believers. Those preachers/teachers who believe the lies about tithing make a quick jump to think Jesus was rich and that is why they live the way the do. They think “blessings” from God is due to their obedience to the tithe issue. They have benefited from that message because they are on the receiving end not on the giving end. These preachers have taken from the sheep and have blessed themselves with lavish living. They have thought to themselves that “gain is godliness”.

  7. I have personally been the recipient of so many miraculous and astounding blessing from God throughout my life. I believe that we should all be lead too give as the Holy Spirit moves us and guides us to; joyfully and willingly. Not out of obligation. I accepted Christ along time ago and the one instances that sticks out in my mind is when I was lead too give a very large sum of money that I really could not afford. I was lead to give because of a identified need for a missions group in my church. The gift was sacrificial and I gave as much as I could. I truly believe that God knew at that moment that if I could have given the close off my back then I would have. I gave without expecting anything in return. Several months past and I received the largest pay raise and promotion I have ever recieved in my life. As many others have stated, tithing has to be done with the right attitude or whatever your giving will not mean anything to God. He gave us his Son! We have to maintain a willing and humble spirit with whatever were able to give back to the Lord. Its all his!

  8. I am a Wesleyan Minister so I understand where you are coming from. I whole heartedly support what the Nazarene Church stands for in this area of the tithe. The reasons you claim there are no tithing references in the NT church is correct. The NT never needed to address the point when people where practicing the tithe. You need to be consistent. You say that the NT clearly teaches that “we are to give as the Spirit leads us to give.” Your references are dealing with request for offerings to the Jerusalem church under persecution or giving to people in need. I do not believe you can have it both ways. Most if not all references in Paul’s letters have nothing to do with the local church funding. All I ask for is consistency. Those who do not believe in the tithe use references that have no context for giving to the local church in supporting the local church government. All those NT references on giving, if we want to be contextual, are relating to how we are to give our free will offerings that go to missions or people in need, and have nothing to do with funding the local church and it’s staff.

    If the Nazarenes choose to support their pastors by teaching tithing as a principle of giving, and you will receive your salary from those offerings then it is imperative that you are a minister of integrity and you practice what you preach.

  9. Dr. Andreas J. Köstenberger

    My name is Luke Oakes. I am a student at Nazarene Bible College, Colorado Springs, CO. I have had a district ministers license (in the Nazarene Church) for two years and am called to be a church planter and evangelist. As a fulltime student with no job and rely on my wife’s income to pay the bills. Currently, we are only able to give 5% of our income to the church on a regular basis. We give with joy, and give more of our time and energy in response to the Spirit’s leading.

    Recently however, I was directly asked by my credentials board if I tithed 10%. When I told them the truth, they immediately thought I wasn’t qualified to be a pastor. They could see my potential, but they said I had a lack of faith and that “the Lord will never bless me until I fully tithe.” Well, since the theology didn’t sit well with me, I spent the next month reading the scriptures and placing those scriptures in context. I wholeheartedly agree that giving is biblical, but I do not know if I can support the concept of tithing. I think we are to give as the Spirit leads us to give.

    I am scared, the Holy Spirit is telling me that the church is making a mistake in making people give out of compulsion. I fear that this doctrine/opinion constitutes a lack of faith in God, and that He is able to provide for the church on His own. I fear that we have created an unnecessary barrier that has driven many people away from the church. I fear that in our attempt to worship in beautiful worship centers, that our stewardship is wasted on insurance and bills instead of reaching the lost. I fear that the church is living by the law that has been abolished. And I fear that God may be asking me to stand up and challenge this heresy.

    I am alone and scared. I am called to preach, yet I may never get a pulpit in the Nazarene church unless I suck it up and go with the flow. I have read some of your ideas on tithing. I am not looking for a sympathetic ear. I am truly trying to get to the bottom of tithing, so I can build a solid theology and stand on it. I hope to develop a relationship with you in the future. For more information about me, you can go to my website. Hope to hear from you soon.

    Luke Oakes
    (Evangelist)

    Website: http://OakesMinistries.org
    E-mail: Luke@OakesMinistries.org

  10. I attend a SBC. I was fairly active. I was brought up in a babtist church and read a lot of the bible. I thoought I understood the bible. It did not seem to teach modern tihthing as a requirement. I was asked to teach and on several occasions to fill in for the pastor on 3 rare occasions. At a teacher meeting it was statedthat if you were unwilling to to teach tithing as mandatory for christians that a person should not be ateacher. Along the way i accepted that the church new better than me about tithing, but after many years I came to the conclusion that I was correct originally and that my teachers and pastor were incorrect. One Day I decided to take a stand and when asked to fill in for a teacher, I said that someone had said I should not teach. He demanded who is it? I said you sir, and explained myself . I have not taught or preached since that day. I know that some church members know why and they talk about me. Sometimes I feel like the devil has won a victory in me but I cannt shake thw knwlede and the conviction that what is told to church members in my church is plain lies. jose

  11. IRT the tything article: Was not the Jewish Kindom’s “tythe” an equivilent to our modern day income tax? Did it not only pay for feeding the poor, elderly, widows, orphans, but also to support the army, the priests, & Jewish royalty? Since we are a Christian nation and force our rich and working classes to give from 10% to 50%, why should we be giving ANOTHER 10% or more? The new testement’s examples of giving are for needy church members near & afar, and for those who work full-time (ministers& evangelists). No other examples or instructions are given. Our modern greater-than-10% taxes pay for the former, thus we should only be encouraged to give to the later, which our government does not fund. Then what percent of the tythe should we split between the two? I would think that the greater would be for the more urgent needy christians. And that is already accomplished by our very large socialistic & humanitarian welfare sytem. The truth of the matter is, we build an unscriptural case to ask for another full tythe (or more) to fund HUGE church buildings, properties, gyms, schools systems, etc. These are not biblical or early church efforts. They met in public places when they could, and in homes and catacombs when they couldn’t. I feel certain that our over-tything pressures run off more converts than the expensive properties, buildings, gyms, & schools bring in. I’m not saying that we cannot build expensive buildings and schools but we should never apply any pressure to do so. It should be completely volutarily without any reprisals (shunned from leadership roles & ministries). Rather ask only for a small percentage to cover the only thing our current taxes do not cover: financial support to those ministers & evangelists who serve full time. Paul said several times that he worked to support himself so that he would not be a burden. Our current church leaders not only ask for full time salaries for our large staffs, but also burden us beyond this and our current taxs to pay for expensive properties, buildings, gyms, schools, etc. One of the greatest lessons from the New Testement is to not hold on to Old Testament law nor create new law beyond what has been handed us by the Apostles. No one else.

    With Christian spirit, Jeff Lea

  12. I have been struggling with this issue as well. We are a well enough off family, but with the world’s economy (interest rates up on credit cards, etc.) we have been living paycheck to paycheck. We have not been giving at all, but I finally have an amount cut back enough in our budget we can give about 4-5% and do so with a “happy heart” as the Bible says without getting ourselves in more credit trouble. I feel as though since God commands us to be responsible with money, He would not want me to be so tied to the 10% of the OT that HE would want me to go into debt and endanger my family.

  13. Hi: We are no longer under the Mosiac law, therefore, tithing was done away with, however, we still have the expenses related with our place of worship. There should be enough money donated to fully maintain the building, taxes, etc. Then there must be money set aside to help the widows, needy families and children, etc. and anyone how is down and out with no where to turn. We can no turn away our brothers and sisters. God went on to say about tithing, I do now want to put any further burden upon you!! Its the ministers that are pushing for the 10% tithing. Look at the wealthy television ministeries. They are always begging for money, some even tell us that God is going to call him home if tithing amounts is not met! How ridicilious that was.

    Sincerely, LR, in Tennessee

  14. I have alway’s believed that we should tythe, but lately I have been questioning it. My husband and I are pensioners, we have sold our house so that we could have a better life, our rent is £500 per month, and the money that we have invested is not giving us what we were expecting, so we are using the small amount of savings that we kept by, we are still tything, but we are finding that we are getting into a bigger mess, and it is quite frightning, I love the lord dearly, but am finding this one hard, if I cut my tythe to 5% worried that we will loose everything

  15. I am a christian who attend in a small church in Sudan.I have read the article about tihe on the web , titled to tithe or not to tihe.I would like to know much of how to support the one who teaches you the word,as it is mentioned in the Bible to do so.The believers of the church here tithe.

  16. It’s simply impossible to outgive God. 10% 20% 50% 90%. You can’t outgive God.

  17. I read your post and enjoyed what you say about the tithe. You hit a lot of good points, especially about taxes. One thing that i think would be interesting for you to read, is a book titled “eating sacred cows” by an author named ?”grame carlie”? (i think that’s how you spell it) anyways, he just mentions one tithe a year. not multiple tithes that equaled over 20% of the income. God’s word states 10% of ALL your increase, not 23% of ALL your increase. Anyways that book is an interesting read. But thanks for the good word in your blog.

  18. Me and my wife paid over $31,000 in income tax last year, which in essence, is the same as the OT system of tithing.. SO, if you want to argue the 10% issue, we gave over 40% of our income in taxes which serves as feeding the poor and holding the social net of Canada in it’s place- including welfare and social security- ALL THE PRINCIPLES OF WHAT THE OT TITHE WAS ALL ABOUT!!!! People need to really study what tithing was all about instead of just accepting what people say to them, or basing their views on 1 or 2 scriptures.. So, 40% of our income to taxes, and giving what we feel to the church, I would say it is a good start in taking care of the needs of our people here in Canada wouldnt you say??????

  19. Here’s a link to another helpful article on the question of tithing: http://www.dbts.edu/journals/2000/Snoeberger.pdf

  20. I might be wrong but 2 Corinthians 8-9 is not talking about a tithe. Paul is referring to the “contribution” for the church in Jerusalem. I Corinthians 16:1 speaks about how they should go about saving up for the collection. I always thought the tithe was assumed (gentiles being use to pagan temple tithes), the contribution was above the tithe, thus the emphasis on generosity.

  21. Dr. Köstenburger,
    I just wanted you to know how much I really enjoy your blog…

  22. Dr. Kostenberger,

    To me, most who view tithing as binding upon the NT Church based their arguments upon personal experience – “this is how God blessed me after I started tithing.” Rather than being motivated out of obedience and/or love for God, it seems that people are manipulating the hand of God’s blessing. I appreciated your statement, “As people of the Book, we should take our cue from Scripture.” Like yourself, I believe many churches need to revisit their approach to encouraging their members in the area of giving.

  23. Christians who are overjoyed when they discover the NT doesn’t teach tithing need to read their NTs again, because it doesn’t teach tithing but generosity. Don’t want to be a legalist, but for most people reading this, less than 10% of their income would not be a very generous gift!

    Someone commented that for those who don’t tithe, the offering is often a few coins or about 1% of their income.

    We Aussies can’t claim our giving as a tax deduction: is this why many of us give less generously than our American friends, or is because many American churches teach tithing?

  24. Dr. Kostenberger,

    Thank you for your post and for the resource it will be for future study and preaching for me. It is calling us back to biblical foundations and thinking on this issue. May we hear and obey and be satisfied in God as we give in the way he calls us to today. Another resource I’d like to recommend for your readers is a sermon by Don Carson entitled, “Laughing all the way to the bank” from 2 Cor. 8:1-9:5. He preached it at a church in England.

    The sermon link is: http://audio.stag.org/mp3/200105131115.mp3

    The page where this sermon and three others by Carson is:
    http://www.stag.org/insearchorder.shtml?book=Any&preach=Don+Carson&chaps=&start=+1&startyr=1986&end=12&endyr=2006&sort=bible&format=Any&title=&go=Submit

  25. Andreas,

    Thanking for this study on tithing. I have been wrestling with this issue for many months now. My conclusions are the same. I see in the New Testement we are commanded to give…to give generously and joyfully. But we are never given the command to tithe as NT Gentile Christians Acts 15 or anywhere else in the NT. If I was to obey the Old Testement tithe legalistically, I would have to go buy a Kroger or Albertson’s food gift card and put it in the offering plate. For as you said, a tithe is of your produce, wines and cattle. But since keeping the letter of the law of the Old Testement has been fulfilled through Jesus, I see the freedom not to be bound by tithing or circumcision or singing psalms only or not working on a sabbath day (saturday). I can still do those things, but not bounded by a command to obey those things to fulfill the OT law, which Jesus has done.
    Lastly, have you read this book, http://www.shouldthechurchteachtithing.com/, and if you scan his chapters online, do you agree with his opinions on tithing? I just want to know if he is sound in his hermenuetics.

  26. I made the mistake last year of telling my parishioners that they should tithe on their gross rather than on their net. My people were farmers. Most of them gross somewhere in the neighborhood of 800,000 to a million dollars. But at least 9/10’s of that gross goes to pay for expenses. If they tithed on their gross, they would have no income at all! I don’t think that anyone can be dogmatic about tithing in the new covenant era. However, it does seem to me that the Bible suggests that ten percent is a good place to start. And you are absolutely right in saying that the heart is far more important. Someone who is tithing %5 with all their heart is giving more than a hypocrite who measures out %10, but whose heart is far from being in it, and is doing it for their own glory, rather than soli deo gloria.

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