The Tithe That Binds, part 1

We assume too much.  Sometimes we assume we know things that we really don’t know.  Sometimes we assume that others understand us when they really don’t.  When it comes to the Bible, we often assume we know what it says and what it means.  This is especially true regarding its teaching on tithing.

Many Christians assume that the New Testament teaches them to give a tithe of all of their income to the local church.  For many of us, this idea has been engrained from our earliest days.  Thankfully, some have assumed less than others and have at least studied the New Testament for themselves and believe they have found evidence that tithing is still binding for Christians today.  But upon closer examination, I am convinced from the New Testament evidence that the tithe is no longer a law to be obeyed by believers.

Four References with No Substantial Proof
If the tithe were still binding for New Testament believers, then one would think that there would be clear and ample evidence.  But there is not.  Granted, the New Testament talks about the use of money, the love of money, and the giving away of money all over the place.  When it comes to the tithe, however, there are but four sections of New Testament Scripture that mention it, and two of those are one verse in length and parallel accounts in the Gospels at that (Matt.23:23/Lk.11:42; Lk.18:12; Heb.7:1-10).  The question before us is whether or not these four references teach that Christians are required to give a certain percentage to the local church.

The references to tithing in the Gospels simply affirm that Law-abiding Jews are certainly expected to be tithing just as they would be expected to keep the kosher food restrictions and stone people caught in adultery.  Ironically, in both Gospel sections Jesus is actually rebuking the Pharisees for their legalistic understanding of tithing.

Regarding Hebrews 7:1-10, many tithe-advocates drive their stake in the ground here.  While I admit that this text has more flesh on the skeleton than the examples in the Gospels, Hebrews 7 still lacks clear evidence that the tithe is binding.  In the context of Hebrews 7, we must understand that the writer is striving to demonstrate the superiority of Jesus over the Levitical priest—Jesus is a better High Priest than the Levitical one, just as Melchizedek was too.

The point is not that tithing is reaffirmed as binding for Christians.  The point is that all of the temple-related regulations, such as tithing, were fulfilled by Christ.  There is no longer any need for the temple, priests, or sacrifices of any kind.  Therefore, there is no longer any need for tithes to “pay” for the upkeep of the temple or the needs of the priests.  The tithe, like circumcision, was an Old Testament Law that was temporal in nature rather than eternal (like “love your neighbor” or “do not murder”).  Even though the tithe in Hebrews 7 is traced back to Abraham before the Law, so is circumcision.  And practically all Christians agree that the pre-Law practice of circumcision is no longer binding.

All or None
Here’s the thing.  If the tithe is still binding, then we must obey the law of tithing to the letter (Gal.3:10-14; Jas.2:10).  True tithing would look more like this:

1)  Old Testament tithes were only on food, drink, and livestock (Lev.27:30-33).  Today, that would mean, in addition to bringing 10% of our income to the church, we must bring 10% of our livestock and fruits and vegetables from our gardens into the church, or else sell 10% of them and bring that money.

2)  Actually, it would be closer to 23.3% because obeying the letter of the Law means that we must give all three Old Testament tithes (Num.18:21-24; Dt.14:22-27; Dt.14:28-29)—20% each year and 10% more every three years.  It is possible, however that tithes two and three (Dt.14:22-27; 14:28-29) are really one—tithe two simply being given to the poor and indigent every third year.

3)  We should stop expecting all Christians to tithe since a few groups were also exempt from tithing—namely the Levite, sojourner, fatherless, and widow (Dt.26:12).  Some would say non-farming occupations were also exempt.

Based on this evidence (and the lack of evidence in the New Testament to the contrary), Christians are free to give less than 10% of their income to the local church, or Christians are free to give more than 10% of their income to the local church.  While tithing is no longer a law to be obeyed, it certainly remains a principle to be applied.  Whatever our view on tithing, the binding principles behind the giving of tithes is strongly reaffirmed in the New Testament: faith, sacrifice, and worship.  While I do not expect nor desire conformity for all Christians on this issue, I do pray and desire that we be unified despite our differences.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Jeremy Vanatta

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5 thoughts on “The Tithe That Binds, part 1

  1. While anyone can choose to give , or not to give. I choose to listen to the words of Jesus in Mathew 23:23 woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” My Jesus was saying that tithing should be done. Jesus named three things that were being tithed on, all three were small in comparison to the gifts God blessed them with. The fact is Jesus said about tithing ” these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

    • Ray,
      As you and I have discussed this before, I completely respect your interpretation of Matthew 23:23. It is not a matter, however, of choosing to listen to Jesus or not listen to Him. It is a matter of interpreting what Jesus is saying in light of all that the Bible teaches because it is all the Word of Jesus from cover to cover. My question is why have Christians, who hold your view, only taught a 10% tithe when the Old Testament clearly teaches three tithes totaling 23.3% (“these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”)? Anything else is robbing God, albeit unintentionally. My other question is why have Christians, who hold your view, taught widows to tithe when the Old Testament clearly teaches that they are not required to? Doing so would appear to be a form of extortion, albeit unintentionally.

      Just some questions and thoughts. I pray you and Debrah are well.

      Blessings in Christ,
      Jeremy

      • Pastor, I recognize your call as a man of god and your study in seminary however when you state my view as that of giving only 10% you are in error. My view of giving includes three separate types of giving, 1- the tithe or 10% of income. 2 dedicated gifts or for a special need. 3 Offering or giving above and beyond the tithe. I believe all that God has blessed me with to be His and I am to be a good steward over it. Regarding The widows of which you speak, I believe God in His grace expects their worship in respect to giving to be as they are able. A good place for Christians to start in reguard to giving would be a tithe. The teaching that tithing is no longer A new testament teaching I believe causes Christians to miss the joy of giving. Debrah and I are well thank you. I am praying for the work at Southside as you lead. Tell your family we send our love.
        Ray Johnson- In His service

  2. Thanks Ray. I in no way meant to imply that persons holding your view only give 10% of their income to the Lord. What I was trying to say is that when it comes to the teaching of tithing, persons holding your view only teach 10% is required by the Law rather than 23.3%. Perhaps I could have said that more clearly.

  3. As I said the 10% is a good place to start for a Christian learning the principles of giving. As far as teaching goes , I as a teacher have sought to teach that giving is an act of worship. The teaching of giving a tithe which my LORD approvd in Matthew 23:23 In no way discourages further giving. In fact the further giving consist of offerings, dedicated gifts and alms giving. Jesus came to fulfil the law not to do away with it. God bless your ministry.

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