How Much Should Christians Give…A Tithe?
B. Hodge, Biblical Authority Ministries, August 26, 2020
In many Christian churches, they request a tithe—a certain percentage of their earning “given back to the Lord”. Tithe literally means “one-tenth”. A tithe is therefore 10%.
In the Old Testament, a tithe is often mentioned and is the Hebrew word מעשׂר or transliterated as ma‘aser. Recall that Christ lived under the Old Covenant and fulfilled it. So references to tithing before Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection on the cross would have been under the Old Covenant. Tithing was directly commanded to the Israelites in the previous covenant to be paid to the Levites as their inheritance (more on this in a moment), but interestingly it goes back well before Moses.
Giving before Moses
In searching for tithe/tithing/tithes, there were no commands for it in the New Testament. Though there are a couple of references to it in Hebrews 7 looking back to the Old Testament account where Abraham gave 10%, a tithe, to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem.
This is the first recorded instance of a tithe in the Bible when Abraham gave Melchizedek (the priest of God) a tenth of his plunder in Genesis 14:18-20 (see more in Hebrews 7:1-12):
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand." And he gave him a tithe of all. (Genesis 14:18-20, NKJV)
The next instance is Jacob’s vow to give a tenth to God in Genesis 28:22:
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, "so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. "And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You." (Genesis 28:20-22, NKJV)
Perhaps these are a reflection extending as far back as the amount given by Abel from his flocks (fat portions in Genesis 4:4) and Cain’s (first fruits in Genesis 4:3). However, we cannot be sure of the amounts given prior to Abraham nor was there a command revealed to us by God to give a tenth. Abraham and Jacob set their own amount to give, as it wasn’t commanded by God. So I would not be dogmatic about pre-Abrahamic amounts, but it is something to think about.
Another tidbit that escapes many expositors is that Pharaoh received a double tithe (1/5th) from the Egyptians’ increase when they sold themselves into slavery. After they had sold their land to Pharaoh, this was the purchase price for slave labor in Egypt that Joseph imposed (Genesis 47:19-24). Nevertheless, to understand tithing further though, we need to dive into the Law of Moses.
Tithing with Moses and the Law
‘And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD’S. It is holy to the LORD. ‘If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. ‘And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD. (Leviticus 27:30-32, NKJV)
After Moses gave the law to the Israelites, there were tithes of the land (seed and fruit) per Leviticus 27:30. There were tithes of livestock per Leviticus 27:32.
This is the beginning of the Bible’s references to tithing as a command to the Israelites under the Law. Under the Mosaic Covenant, the Israelites were commanded to give 10% of what they earned to the Lord. One of the reasons for this tithe was for the Levites income, who were the priests. The Levites, who had no land allotted to them. Instead, they worked for the Lord performing sacrifices and doctoral duties and so on. God had set them apart to work in the Tent of Meeting, Tabernacle, and later the Temple.
The LORD had said to Moses: "You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony—over all its furnishings and everything belonging to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they are to take care of it and encamp round it.( Numbers 1:48-50, NKJV)
When Israelites were giving to God, they were also providing for the Levites and the upkeep of the Tabernacle and later the Temple, Synagogues, and so on.
"I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting. From now on the Israelites must not go near the Tent of Meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. It is the Levites who are to do the work at the Tent of Meeting and bear the responsibility for offenses against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the LORD. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’" The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the LORD’s offering. (Numbers 18:21-26, NKJV)
This tithe was to be for the Levites for their “inheritance” because they didn’t inherit land as the other Israelite tribes. Even so, the Levites were to still give 10% of their earning as a gift to God.
In Malachi, the Israelites were not tithing as they were commanded. At this point, the Levites weren’t getting any sort of proper “income”, so in a way they were robbing those who worked in God’s house, and that was the same as robbing God.
"Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this," Says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it.(Malachi 3:8-10, NKJV)
God blesses those who give. Of course, Leviticus 26 speaks of blessings and curses if the Israelites didn’t obey God (this would include tithing), which they weren’t doing in Malachi. This is why God was cursing the Israelites for their disobedience.
You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation.(Malachi 3:9, NKJV)
When Jesus spoke of tithing (e.g. Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, etc.) we need to keep in mind that Jesus was living during the Old Covenant. The Temple was in place, the Levite priests and their families needed to be paid for their religious duties.
How to view law changes
Christians are now under the New Covenant in Jesus Christ as He fulfilled the Old.
Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:20, NKJV)
In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.( Hebrews 8:13, NKJV)
Because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we are under a New Covenant (not to mention we don’t have to provide for Levites because they no longer have the Temple in which to work and the sacrificial duties are no more as Christ died once for all. In fact, the body is now the new Temple of the Holy Spirit per 1 Corinthians 6:19.The point is that things changed.
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
This is where you need to understand some theology to understand these changes. For example, the way Christians look at various Old Testament laws is primarily based on one of two theologies. They are either dispensational or covenantal (sometimes people try to mix these two to get hosts of variations). These views have similarities and differences.
As a note of history, most Christians historically have been covenant theology. However in the mid-1800s, a new idea emerged called dispensationalism in the Plymouth Brethren denomination in the United Sates. Since then, it has spread to several other notable denominations.
Both covenant theology and dispensationalism agree that when a new covenant came about, rules changed. Some of these covenants are the original Adamic (Hosea 6:7), Noahic (e.g., Genesis 9:9), Mosaic (e.g., Exodus 24:8), and now the new one in Christ’s blood (e.g., Luke 22:20).
For example, from the Adamic, man was vegetarian (Genesis 1:29-30). When there was a new covenant with Noah, man was allowed to eat clean and unclean meat (Genesis 9:3). With Moses and the covenant with the Israelites, it was even more strict limiting them to eat only meat that was clean (Leviticus 11:47, etc.). In the new covenant with Christ’s blood, this was again changed (Romans 14:1-4) as Christ, showing His godly power, made all foods clean (Mark 7:19, Acts 11:6-9, etc.).
And in heaven, we will be vegetarian again to complete the cycle (there will be no death in heaven [Revelation 21:4], so no meat will be available).
Food permitted to be eaten
Vegetarian foods, clean and unclean meats
Vegetarian foods, clean meats
New Covenant in Christ
Vegetarian foods, expanded listing of clean meats
So God’s rules to man can change at various covenants (but God’s character has never changed). With regards to various other laws, there are also some changes but it may not be as “cut and dried” as the example above. These two views differ in the way they look how the laws change. In essence, they say:
rules apply unless done away with or
modified in the next covenant by God.
In other words, each of the covenants is seen as part of a greater
covenant that now has modifications.
Dispensational theology: previous rules don’t apply in a new covenant unless reiterated in the next covenant. In other words, new dispensations do away with previous rules in previous covenants and new rules need to be stated.
Both of these affect the way that Old Testament laws are viewed. Both sides agree on most laws (where they don’t is where it gets interesting –bestiality, tattoos, etc.), because so much was reiterated in the New Testament that both sides agree for the most part. But some things went away – obviously the sacrificial stuff, which Christ fulfilled.
the duties of the Levite priests have been fulfilled and no longer necessary,
by both dispensationalism and covenant theology. So let’s look at tithing from
New Testament Giving
Under the new covenant (New Testament), we find no direct passages insisting on a tithe to the Levites or the church. So from a dispensational perspective, tithing should be extinct, when Old Testament law came to an end with the new covenant in Christ’s blood per dispensationalism. Even Levites, who were Israelites, are now the same as gentiles (Galatians 3:28-29).
For the covenant theologian, it gets interesting—because God never said to stop tithing in the New Testament although the New Testament makes it clear, the Temple, sacrifice, and associated Levitical duties to be done away with. So did tithing, which is connected to those duties, end as well? God discusses giving and gave rules concerning it so indeed there has been changes.
Both dispensationalists and covenant theologians should completely agree on this part by the way. God discusses how He loves a cheerful giver. Furthermore, we, as Christians, should set aside a certain amount according to our income as purposed in our heart. This is found in 2 Corinthians:
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7, NKJV)
This was in the context of setting aside funds for the ministering saints, such as Paul when he arrives (2 Corinthians 9). Paul also directs the church in Corinth to set aside a sum of money each week.
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Corinthians 16:1-3, NKJV)
This was directed specifically for the New Testament church
at various places such as
If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:11-14, NKJV)
Those who preach the Gospel are to reap their living from the Gospel as well—in a manner similar to the way the ministering Levites did. So there has been a change from the ministering Levites to those preaching the good news.
We should be encouraged to give to God’s ministry of
saints whether through the local church, missions work, para-church
organizations, or other specific ministries of the church as a whole or locally
(supplementing widows and orphans, etc.)—so long as the Gospel is being
preached. Jesus says it is more blessed to give than to receive.
"I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’" (Acts 20:35, NKJV)
It is of importance that Christians give as it is commanded, but they should give because they want to, and not because they are forced to. Consider the gracious gift that was freely given to the saints:
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. But as you abound in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us — see that you abound in this grace also. (2 Corinthians 8:1-7, NKJV)
The Corinthian church actually excelled in giving! This lets us know that Christians were indeed giving different amounts freely. Some purposed to give a certain amount in the New Testament but then tried to rob God. They were Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). They were put to death for God lying to God.
Some Christians hold to a theological concept called transference. Those in this camp hold that Christians are like the Israelites and the church leadership and buildings are like the Temple and the Levitical workers from the Old Covenant and so the tithe law is to be transferred to the New Covenant where it now means Christians and the church. Transference is then used to justify tithing to the Christians.
Transference is also used by many to transfer circumcision to infant baptism (utilizing Colossians 2:11-12 of instance), Sabbath rest to Sunday rest, and so on. The problem is that transference is not justified Scripturally to transfer one doctrine to another in its practices. For instance, no longer would giving be cheerfully and freely purposed in one’s heart but now a command and a set amount. In the same way, just because there is a comparison of circumcision to baptism doesn’t justify transferring infants who were circumcised in the Old Testament to infant baptism (paedobaptism). Transference comes out of a theology, not the text of Scripture.
We are commanded to give—but that cheerful amount is between you and God. Keep in mind that if we do not give to God, then we are robbing God in the same way the Israelites were in Malachi. So what has been purposed in our hearts by each individual to give and should be followed through with and if that is 10%, then so be it.
Christians should excel in giving and the tithe would probably be a good guideline to use but it shouldn’t be a hindrance, as giving could easily be much more than 10%—consider the widow’s offering (Mark 12:42-44) who far exceeded the tithe. The Lord honored such a thing by revealing it to us in His Word. So why restrict the Christian who wants to give more by only permitting 10%?
Please read Paul’s exhortation to those who were generous givers as a closing to this brief discussion on tithing:
Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:14-19, NKJV)
 In verse 31, a person could redeem (keep back) their tithe of fruits, seeds/grains, etc., by taking its value and doubling it (so the value is equal to 1/5th or a double tithe) and sending that equivalent monetary value (or something else equivalently valued) to the Levites.
 Dispensationalists also have other dispensations beside covenants, and the covenants are also largely seen as dispensations.