Giving or Tithing?


     I took this picture with my camera phone while passing through an apartment complex one day.  The person living in the apartment apparently thought the message important enough to stick on the front of her door for others to read as they passed by.  It certainly reveals her theology.  So, will you “tithe if you love Jesus”?

     The word tithe means “to give a tenth.” Prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law (ca. 1445 B.C.), we see an example of Abraham giving Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war which he had accumulated after he had defeated Chedorlaomer at the Valley of Shaveh (Gen. 14:17-20). Later, Jacob made a vow to give God a tenth of his possessions if God would be faithful to protect him on a journey (Gen. 28:20-22). In the accounts of Abraham and Jacob, there was no mandate from heaven for them to give a tenth, and when they did give a tenth, it was a one-time act, never repeated as far as Scripture is concerned. It was not until several centuries later that tithing became mandatory for the nation of Israel when they entered into the Mosaic Covenant and came under the Mosaic Law (Ex. 19-20).

     God established the nation of Israel as a theocracy (after calling them out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron, ca.1445 B.C.), and gave the 613 commandments that became known as the Mosaic Law. Within the Mosaic Law, God required Israel to pay three tithes. Two tithes were required every year (Deut. 14:22-23; Num. 18:21) and a third tithe was taken every third year to help the poor, the alien, the orphans and the widows (Deut. 14:28-29). The three tithes was tantamount to a form of taxation required from the whole nation (20% annually, 30% every third year). All the tithes consisted of the fruit and grain that came out of the ground, as well as the firstborn from the herds and flocks.

You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. “You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. (Deut. 14:22-23)

     A tithe of the tithes was used to pay the salaries of the Levitical priests, because they did not own land and did not work fields for themselves. Their work consisted of serving the Lord at His Tabernacle and later at His Temple. Because they served all Israel in worship, they also depended on Israel for their daily food and clothing, which came from the tithes that were collected under the Mosaic Law.

To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service. (Num. 18:21)

     The third tithe required of all Israel was taken every third year and, like the other tithes, consisted of animals and produce from the land. However, this tithe was not only for the Levite who worked full time at the Tabernacle or Temple, but was also for the visiting stranger, and the orphan, and the widow who lived in the communities of Israel. This tithe shows God’s compassion for the less fortunate in society and was comparable to a welfare system.

At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat [the produce of the land] and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. (Deut. 14:28-29)

     tithe-storehouseThe tithe was gathered into storehouses (Neh. 10:38; 13:12), which were special rooms in the Temple where the produce and animals could be kept and distributed evenly among those whom the Lord had designated as its beneficiaries. Withholding the tithe was a form of robbery, both to God and to the less fortunate in society who depended on it for daily living. This is why God speaks the way He does in Malachi 3:6-11.

“For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob [Israelites], are not consumed. 7 “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes and have not kept them [i.e. the Mosaic Law]. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. “But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ 8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings [which were required by the Law; cf. Deut. 14:22-23; 28-29; Num. 18:21]. 9 “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! 10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse [where fruit, grain and animals were kept], so that there may be food in My house, and test 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 a blessing until it overflows [rain for their crops]. 11 “Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground [not destroy their crops]; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:6-11)

     Non-tithers-boardSadly, some pastors have abused this passage in Malachi and tried to apply it to the church, browbeating Christians to make them feel guilty for not giving their money to the local church. Malachi 3:8-10 has nothing to do with the church. Some pastors coerce their church members to give 10% regularly and have even resorted to abuses such as requiring them to show tax returns or posting annual contributions in order to make certain everyone is giving. This is more an act of legalistic control over one’s flock than loving leadership. Malachi 3:8-10 is used by some pastors as a whip against ignorant Christians to browbeat them into giving more money to the church coffer, when in fact, Malachi speaks only to Israel and refers to literal storehouses where grain and animals were kept. Pastors who use Malachi 3:8-10 against Christians display an ignorance of God’s Word and a spiritual immaturity in leadership.

     To be clear, Israel and the church are both God’s people, but Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:31; Gal. 6:2). Israel had a priesthood that was specific to the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:6-7), whereas all Christians are priests to God (Rev. 1:6). Israel worshipped first at the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 40:18-38; 2 Chron. 8:14-16), but for Christians, their body is the temple of the Lord and they gather locally where they want (1 Cor. 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15). Israel offered animal sacrifices to God (Lev. 4:1-35), but Christians offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15). Israel was required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut. 14:22-23; 28-29; Num. 18:21), but there is no tithe required from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).

     To Christians, the apostle Paul mentions systematic giving (1 Cor. 16:1-2), but nowhere specifies an amount. Giving 10% of one’s income is good, so long as it is understood that it’s a voluntary action and not required by the Lord. One could easily set aside 9%, or 3%, or 18%, or whatever one chooses to give on a regular basis. Giving financially to support a good church is biblical. Certainly the financial support of the Pastor is in line with Scripture (Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17-18), although the apostle Paul supported himself in his own ministry so as to be example to others of sacrificial living (Acts 20:32-35). Giving systematically and giving joyfully is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament (1 Cor. 16:1-2; 2 Cor. 9:7).

Steven R. Cook, M.Div.


Additional articles on tithing by other authors:

  1. Gracenotes:


About Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Steven is a Christian educator. His webpages communicate evangelical Christian doctrines and topics. Steven earned a Master of Divinity degree in 2006 from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and completed his Doctor of Ministry degree in 2017 from Tyndale Theological Seminary. His articles are theological, devotional, and promote a biblical worldview. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than three hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven worked in jail ministry for over twelve years, taught in Bible churches, and currently leads a Bible study each week at his home in Arlington, Texas.
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7 Responses to Giving or Tithing?

  1. Reblogged this on Boldproclaimer's Blog and commented:
    An excellent article on tithing written by Steven R. Cook, M. Div.

  2. Pingback: God Loves Israel | Thinking on Scripture

  3. Pingback: Honor the Lord From Your Wealth | Thinking on Scripture

  4. Terrell (Terry) Holsinger says:

    Hi Steven. Great article. Agree with you. One thought (question) however. Most Christians who give regularly – whatever the percentage – generally give based on income. Why not give based on the perceived or specified need, in accordance with one’s wealth rather than yearly or monthly (weekly) income? Does that thought have legs? Comments?

    • Hello sir, nice to hear from you. Systematic giving could certainly be based on need. We know Paul wrote to the church at Rome, saying, “Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Rom 15:26). I assume the contribution for the poor took several months to collect before it was delivered. And, we know each person must give “as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Right giving should have a right heart before God, and it should meet the needs of others.

      • Terry Holsinger says:

        Hello to you also, Steven – So this discussion has rekindled my thought process on “giving” in general. Your point regarding our giving meeting the needs of others is profoundly accurate. That is probably the main difference between “charity” now and then. Often we put our money into a giant cauldron – not knowing exactly where it’s going – and – unfortunately – that can be said of some churches. And I know the Bible says that a servant is worthy of his hire so we do pay our staff members and rightly so. But there can be so many auxiliary ministries in Mega Churches that the actual recipient of that type of giving in very little defined. I suppose the bottom line resides in each one giving as God has directed him/her. If our giving is based on God’s direction, it becomes the responsibility of the recipient to exercise good stewardship. Thanks for sharing. It’s good to get my brain in gear some times.

      • Excellent comment. Thanks for posting.

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