A Biblical take on tithing you will never hear at church

The vast majority of Christians only have a traditional understanding of tithing but have no idea what the Bible has to say about the topic

A table full of food
And thou shalt eat before the LORD thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the LORD thy God always.
Deuteronomy 14:23

Teaching people to give 10% of their income to their local church is not biblical. This popular teaching is obviously taken from the biblical covenant tithe God commanded from Israel but in its modern form looks almost nothing like what God commanded. Further, it assumes we as the Body of Christ have taken the nation of Israel's place in their covenant with God rather than having our own and separate gentile covenant with Him.

Why is this important?

  1. At stake is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God's covenant with us. The covenant of Grace Alone was supposed to be radically different from God's covenant of Law with Israel.
  2. At stake is the understanding of how we read scripture and apply it to our lives. The modern church takes God's law of tithing and cherry picks pieces from it and then further twists those cherry picked pieces to fit into our modern church system. We need to be true to the scriptures in all areas and be careful not to mishandle them. Deuteronomy 12:32
  3. At stake are familial priorities that may conflict with each other like -- giving to church or keeping mom at home, giving to the church or taking care of aging parents, giving to church or giving to the poor or destitute. God says that he that fails to provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever. If God in fact does not expect a full tithe from us, struggling young families could be neglecting their duties or stay struggling for longer by following a false teaching.

Why God gave the tithe to Israel

  1. To remember God's covenant — God wanted Israel to remember His covenant with them, that if they obeyed Him he would bless their land and livestock. Taking 10% of the nations food and having a massive feast was a way of teaching Israel not to rely on their food stores but instead regularly splurge and learn to rely on God. Deuteronomy 14:23;16:15;26:15
  2. To provide for the landless Levites — The Levites were not free to provide for themselves and had no land of their own. God instead promised to provide for them through regular offerings and a tithe every three years. Numbers 18:21, Deuteronomy 14:28
  3. To provide for the orphans, widows and foreigners — God had a number of ways for Israel to provide for the poor, the tithe was just one of them. Deuteronomy 14:29

What is the tithe God commanded:

The tithe was "of the land" and "of the herds" and was distributed on a 3 year cycle so that for 2 years it was used for a feast and the 3rd year was given to the Levites (and the poor).

The Israelites did not tithe for decades after God commanded it. This is because the tithe was to be from the promised land which took 40 years to possess.

So what was the tithe?

  • A covenant with Israel — Or more specifically "one part" of Gods covenant with Israel. Deuteronomy 1:1, Leviticus 1:2, Malachi 1:1
  • Food — The 10th number of any agricultural produce (stuff you grew from the ground or livestock raised). Deut 14:22, Lev 27:30-33, Luke 11:42
  • Used to party — Israel was commanded to eat their tithe at the week long festival called the Feast of Tabernacles. Deuteronomy 14:22-27;16:16-17
  • Used to provide for the Levites — Only on year 3. Deuteronomy 14:28, 26:12–15
  • It is to be given once a yearDeuteronomy 14:22
  • It was mandatory — God stated that the tithe was His. Failure to give all of it was equivalent to robbing Him and would result in being cursed instead of blessed. Malachi 3:9, Deuteronomy 12:32

What tithing is not:

  • It is not the first fruits. — If a man had 11 sheep he was to give only the 10th one as a tithe. If a man had 9 sheep he wasn't expected to give anything. The book of Numbers specifically talks about the giving of firstfruits separate from the tithe — Deuteronomy 26:1-4. Firstfruits must be your best, but with the tithe "No one may pick out the good from the bad or make any substitution." - Leviticus 27:32-33
  • It is not money
    – God told Israel that if the place he choose for them to take the tithe was far that they should sell the tithe for money. Then when they arrived at their destination they should use the money to buy the food locally. Deuteronomy 14:24– When God first explained the tithe to Israel he told them it was "of the land" or "of herds and flocks" and that it should not be substituted for anything else (like money). However, if you did convert your tithe to money you would have to add 20% to it. Interesting.
    Lev 27:30-33
  • Is is not for gentiles — Tithing was only commanded for Israel, God never expected gentiles to tithe because God did not have a covenant with them. A gentile could not simply do the things from God's national covenant with Israel and expect to be blessed. That is not how covenants work.
  • It was not given to the priests — The tithe was given to a tribe, a people group, in Israel called the Levites. The Levites then gave a tithe of the tithe to the Levite priests. Numbers 18:26

Real world example

Here is how many teach the tithe should work today

Lets say a farmer had 10,000 bushels of corn from harvest. The average farmer today has many expenses and typically makes about 40% profit from what they sell. If the farmer sells the 10,000 bushels for $100,000, his expenses to produce that crop was likely around $60,000. In the end the total cash profits would be $40,000 (before taxes). Many teach today that this farmer should give $4,000 of this profit to their local church.

Here is how God said the tithe should work for that same farmer today

Only a farmer would tithe, his neighbor who only runs a successful business repairing farm equipment, tithes nothing.

God did not command a tenth of profit after expenses, He commanded a tenth of what was produced be the tithe.

Since the farmer produced 10,000 bushels he is to take 1,000 bushels to the place God designates and eat it as part of a feast 2 out of 3 years. Every third year the farmer would give his tithe to the Levites the orphan and the widow. The cash value is $10,000. Alternatively the farmer could sell the 1,000 bushels and give the cash to the Levites but he would then be required by God to add 20% to the tithe which would then be a total of $12,000.

Takeaway: Modern tithing and biblical tithing work out to be very different in practical terms, even from a dollar amount perspective.

Tithing scriptures outside of the Mosiac Law

Abraham - The first tithe

Genesis 14:19

Abraham attacked and defeated Chedorlaomer because he had taken his nephew Lot after defeating Sodom.

Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils Chedorlaomer had taken from Sodom to Melchizedek, a priest of God. Sodom was grateful to Abraham for delivering them and said Abraham could keep the rest of the spoils that he now possessed but Abraham said he would do no such thing and gave everything else back to the Sodomites.

Takeaway — Abraham's gift to Melchizedek was not anything like the tithe God set for Israel. It was 10% of someone else's stuff and he even gave the remaining 90% back to it's rightful owner.

Jacob vowed to give God a tithe

Genesis 28:22

Jacob offered to make a covenant with God that if God blessed him he would give God 10% of this wealth.

Takeaway — Jacob volunteered this tithe, it was not commanded by God and scripture never follows up with if or how Jacob gives this tithe since there were no Levites or priests at this time. God may have taken Jacob's early vow to give God a tenth and incorporated into His national covenant for Israel but there is no direct indication of this.

Jesus taught tithing should not be neglected

Matt 23:23

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they kept the letter of the law but not the heart of the law. Jesus expected people to do both. The Pharisees kept the Moseaic tithing law by giving a tenth of their produce even though it was only herbs from their garden. We know the Pharisees has money, they gave Judas 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus, but they did not tithe from their money only from their gardens as the law required and Jesus affirmed their doing this.

Takeaway: The Pharisees knew that the tithe was food and not money.

How we should give today

Paul was the apostle to the gentiles and teaches how we should live as the Body of Christ. His teachings were in contrast to the Laws of Moses and even Jesus' teaching that affirmed all of the Laws of Moses.

Paul teaches giving is different under grace

The tithe was compulsory (Malachi 3:10, Lev 27:30-33). Paul teaches gentiles that they should not give out of compulsion but rather what you have decided in your heart - 2 Cor 9:7. This is in stark contrast to not only tithing but law living in general.

Pay pastors well

The apostle Paul exhorts us:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” -1 Tim 5:17-18

Thoughts on how we should teach church giving

Although giving to our local churches is important, it needs to fit in with other biblical priorities. Responsible leaders will teach families to prioritize their finances towards personal responsibility before church or ministry.

Things more important than giving to church

  1. Reasonable food, shelter
  2. Reasonable education for children
  3. Reasonable rest (vacation and days off)
  4. Reasonable retirement savings
  5. Helping family and friends in times of need
  6. Having mom stay home with the children
  7. Being prepared to care for aging parents

Final takeaway

Again, to summarize, the modern teaching of tithing today is wrong in both its detail and application.

Modern tithing is not true to scriptures

Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.
Deuteronomy 12:32

In other words, you cannot keep God's covenant of tithing in your own way. You must follow the law to the letter. As shown, modern teachings on tithing, both adds and takes away from the commands of God on it which is in direct violation of God's command.

Tithing does not bring a blessing but brings a curse

Tithing is of the Law. God told Israel that failure to tithe would bring your under a curse:

You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you.
Malachi 3:9

In contrast Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, tells us that we are under a curse for relying on following the law:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
Galations 3:10