Are Christians Supposed to Tithe?

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If Jesus censured the Pharisees for loading burdens upon the people that they could not bear, would he not censure today’s pastors for doing the same thing?

Within popular piety in America today, it is widely believed that the Bible instructs Christians, either explicitly or implicitly, to give ten percent of their income to their local churches. Pastors teach this in the name of the biblical notion of “tithing,” a term applied to the giving of ten percent of one’s crops and flocks to the Levite. As we will see, however, the Bible nowhere even remotely suggests that Christians are supposed to give ten percent of their income to the church, or anything. Moreover, the plain facts about biblical tithing contradict the very possibility of any sort of Christian tithing, or at least of the possibility of basing such a practice upon a biblical model. Let us leave aside the question of whether Christians are bound to the Old Testament commandments for now, and look first at some of the specifics concerning tithing during the days of the Temple.

In the Bible there are three different tithes (although the third is really a part of the second). The first (Leviticus 27) is the best known, but even it, when properly understood, does not correspond at all with the notion that a tithe represents the giving of ten percent of everyone’s income to the Temple. There are two central facts about this first tithe that contradict the common conception. First, it did not apply to everyone’s income. Rather, it consists of ten percent of the crops grown and the livestock raised by Israelite (later Jewish) farmers within the land of Canaan. Israelites living in the land of Canaan who made their living by any other means did not have to pay this tithe, and Israelites farming outside of the land of Canaan did not have to pay this tithe. This is because the first tithe was not a required payment for livelihood per se, but rather it represented payment for tenancy on God’s land. In other words, the first tithe was not a sort of thank offering for one’s livelihood, as it is commonly construed today: rather, it applied only to those farming within the land of Canaan.

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Comments 4

    1. Dear Leinen777,

      May I suggest the following passage to reveal the freedom we have in the Messiah:

      Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
      “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
      his righteousness endures forever.”
      10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
      12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

      The Holy Bible : New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984), 2 Co 9:6-15.

      Nothing was “required” per se; rather, released to give accordingly. Be a wise steward of the financial blessings God has given you, and find radical ways to give cheerfully to those in need.

      Adrian Bernal

      1. Excellent answer and I would add that Paul seems to be stressing “distribution of wealth”– e.g.: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality” (II Cor 8). Even more fundamental is the understanding that everything we have is supplied by God anyway (Ex 16:18) and should therefore be used according to His will.

        QUERY: When reading II Cor 8 and 9 I can’t help but sense a bit of “manipulation” on Paul’s part. For example
        II Cor 8:7-8 “…I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others…

        II Cor 8:24 “Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it.”

        II Cor 9:2-5 (even more brash). At least he doesn’t obscure his logic and motivations with regard to giving!

  1. JP

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  • Jack Poirier

    Jack Poirier

    Jack Poirier is the chair of biblical studies at the newly forming Kingswell Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio (scheduled to open in Fall 2008). Jack earned his doctorate in Ancient Judaism from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, where he wrote a dissertation…
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