TITHE, (from Old English teogothian, “tenth”), a custom dating back to Old Testament times and adopted by the Christian church whereby lay (the congregants) people contributed a 10th of their income for religious purposes, often under ecclesiastical (relating to the Christian Church) or legal obligation.
Tithing in the New Testament:
What Does It Say?
What does the New Testament say about tithing? Is it a requirement, and should we continue to give our money to the church? We look at Bible verses to answer your questions!
To tithe or not to tithe – that is the question.
At some point, every Christian will face the question of whether they choose to tithe or not.
More important than relying on your bank account statement or personal feelings about tithing, however, is looking at biblical truth on tithing. What does the New Testament say about tithing? What did Jesus say about tithing? What is the purpose of giving money to church anyway, and when did tithing start in the church?
In this guide, let’s clarify what the Bible actually said about tithing. We’ll unpack the origins of “giving 10% of your money to God” to figure out how biblical and relevant the practice is today.
What Does the Bible Say About Tithing One Tenth?
The verse about tithing one-tenth of your income is found in Leviticus 27:30: “‘A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” The 10% requirement specifically comes from the Hebrew translation of tithe, “עשר” or “ten”.
Other passages also talked about tithing, such as the following:
Numbers 18:26: “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.”
Deuteronomy 14:22: “Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year.”
2 Chronicles 31:5: “As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the first fruits of their grain, new wine, olive oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything.”
So, does the Bible actually say to give 10%? Yes. Even before tithes were required by Mosaic law, Abraham tithed once (Genesis 14:20) and Jacob pledged to tithe all that he had (Genesis 28:22).
Later, the Old Testament Law required multiple tithes for the Levites, temple operations and feasts, and the poor and unfortunate. In total, tithes came out to 20-30% of incoming money, plus any additional voluntary giving of first-fruit and freewill offerings, which we’ll detail in the next section.
Law of Tithes and Offerings
In the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, God gave Moses the Law that included instructions on how to generously give to God and His people.
Here are some of the required tithings and offerings that the Israelites had to give:
The First Tithe: All Israelite families were asked to give one-tenth of their produce, flocks, and herds. That amount was set aside and given to the Lord annually to support the Levites in their priestly service, as they had no other source of income or land ownership (Leviticus 27:30-33 and Numbers 18:21-24).
The Festival Tithe: Israelites, mainly in Jerusalem, had to give another tenth of their resources to sponsor religious feasts and festivals throughout the year. These events were grand religious celebrations, so the Israelites spared nothing to bring thanks and praise to God (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).
The Poor Tithe: Israelites had to give a tithe to the poor and needy every third year. It’s unclear whether this is a third full tithe or the second Festival Tithe was being donated to the poor that year (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), but there was certainly a tithe set aside for the unfortunate.
The point of tithing is to support the ongoing work of God’s people. This is different from the purpose of offerings, which was acted as a personal thanksgiving and repentance of sins:
Propitiatory Offerings: These offerings were meant as a material sacrifice to atone for one’s sins, both known and unknown. There are two types in this category: the Sin Offering mentioned in Exodus 29:14, 36, and Leviticus 4, and the Guilt Offering mentioned in Leviticus 5:14 to 6:7.
Dedicatory Offerings: These offerings reminded the Israelites of the ongoing goodness of God. There were three types in this category: the Burnt Offering mentioned in Leviticus 1:3-17, the Cereal Offering in Leviticus 2:1-16, and the Drink Offering in Numbers 28:14 and 29:6.
Communal Offerings: These offerings include the Peace Offering in Leviticus 3 and 7:11-26 and the Votive Offering in Leviticus 7:16-17 and Numbers 6:21. A vow often accompanies the Votive Offering.
What Does the New Testament Say About Tithing?
We’ve established that the Old Testament had a lot of tithing and offering rules, but what does the New Testament say about tithing? After Jesus saved humanity from eternal death, He introduced a new perspective on tithing and offerings (John 3:16). Jesus endorses tithing – but expects His followers to exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees whom He encouraged to continue tithing (Matthew 23:23).
Here are the key ideas of the principle of giving:
God owns everything, and His people are “money managers.” God continues to give everything they need, including money (1 Corinthians 10:26). In turn, they are to manage the money so His blessings and generosity are not wasted. Moreover, gaining money is only possible through Him, so Christians may show their gratitude by returning a portion to Him.
Giving to God is the best antidote for materialism. Money can’t buy happiness. Instead, happiness is gained by who a person has (God) rather than by what the person has gained (things). “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth… But to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17)
Christians are to give to the church in proportion to God’s provision. Instead of asking, “How much is required?”, Christians are to ask, “How much can I give?” Tithing in the Old Testament established rules for proportionate giving. Today, anybody dedicated to Christ should be able to offer an appropriate portion of their wealth voluntarily to support the ongoing operations of their church.
Finally, a note on Hebrews 7, a passage that parallels Melchizedek–the priest to whom Abraham gave one-tenth of what he had–to Jesus.
This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever. (Hebrews 7:1-3)
The Old Covenant of keeping Laws to gain forgiveness is fulfilled in the New Covenant of faith in Jesus. The writer of Hebrews makes it plain that Jesus is a High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. The first tithe was given to Melchizedek by Abraham. Christians are children from the seed of Abraham. Jesus receives tithes from believers who deem Him their High Priest, just as Melchizedek did from Abraham.
Is Tithing 10%?
A tithe is a tenth, but it doesn’t have any intrinsic spiritual value. The tenth of the spoils Abraham gave could be interpreted as "top of the heap." It was the first and best Abraham had and he decided to give it.
Paul makes it clear that generosity should be cheerful and voluntary (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). We should not allow the Old Covenant law of tithing to become a stumbling block to embracing the New Covenant's behavior of generosity. Some people may start at 1% and work their way from there. The point is breaking the curse of "love of money" through rearranging our priorities on building the Kingdom of God.
Tithing in the New Testament -
John MacArthur’s Thoughts
John MacArthur is an iconic pastor and author known for his internationally syndicated Christian teaching via radio, television, and a website called Grace to You. He has been the pastor of Grace Community Church since 1969, a non-denominational church in Sun Valley, California.
Today, he is a well-known pastor that most Christians worldwide look up to – one who has had many thoughts on tithing in the New Testament, such as:
There are two kinds of giving: giving to the government, which is always compulsory; and giving to God, which is always voluntary. In the Old Testament, as the Levitical priests were the civil government, tithes were required taxes for funding the national budget in Israel.
By the New Testament, Christians were not commanded to tithe anymore but rather encouraged to voluntarily give to the church (and to God) in proportion to their wealth. Even in New Testament passages like Matthew 22:15-22, Matthew 23:23, and Romans 13:1-7, Jesus was only referring to the Old Testament command on tithing – not advocating for the return of the requirement.
The guideline for tithing and offering today is vastly different, but aptly explained by Paul. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
When Did Tithing Start in the Church?
Tithing started even before the Law was given to Moses, mostly as a voluntary return for how God helped His people overcome major challenges. We can see this in these two verses:
Genesis 14:20: Abram “gave [God] a tenth of everything” to show his gratitude for defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings that allied with him.
Genesis 28:18-22: Jacob promised God that, “of all that You give me, I will give You a tenth” in response to God’s blessing that the Covenant promises given to Abraham will now flow through him.
So, when did tithing start in the church? In a nutshell, tithing started in the Old Testament for the Israelites to support the temple. Today, although we are not required to give a tenth of all we have, we continue to use the tithe as a guide for the minimum amount to give freely and cheerfully to the church.
When Did Tithing Become Money?
In a way, tithing has always been about money.
In Biblical times, the Israelites were asked to tithe their crops and livestock because they didn’t have the paper bills and checks of today. They were largely using a barter system, which means produce, flocks, and herds were their money.
As the world was slowly introduced to the forms of money we now know, the tithing system also adjusted accordingly. In this way, the Old Testament requirement for giving 10% of crops and livestock is equivalent to 10% of income in today’s economy.
Is Tithing Biblical?
There are different opinions on this question. Some Christians believe that we are still held to the standard of tithing 10%; others believe that we are released from this law, but that we are still called to radical generosity.
Regardless, Christians still believe that everything they have comes from God, so it’s only natural that they “tithe” a portion of their earnings in thanksgiving to the God they serve. Ultimately, the 10% tithe is only the beginning of what generosity could look like for the Church.