Are Christians required to tithe (to give ten percent of their income)?

A good friend asked, “God says not to worry about money, to count on Him and He will provide. I’m okay with that. I count on Him all the time. But, why do the churches want 10 percent of my earnings? I’m confused.” That question and the following answer were printed in the Dec 22nd, 2010, Louisburg Journal newspaper.

The Bible does not require Christians to give 10 percent of their income. Pastors and churches teach this based upon a misreading of the Bible, and a need for your money (in order to make budget). To help you see where churches go wrong in this, we need to go back to the Old Testament.

The Old Covenant was a national charter given to Moses on Mt. Sinai for Israel — Israel being the nation that once was. Each member of that nation paid taxes in tithes (10% increments) as follows:

A. The annual 10 percent to support the priest-class / Levites (Lev 27:30-33; Num 18:21-28)
B. A second 10 percent was brought to Jerusalem for festival purposes (Deut 12:5-6,11,18; 14:22-27)
C. A third 10 percent was required to assist the poor (Deut 26:12-15; Deut 14:28-29)

Adding up A B and C, one can see that these three tithes turned out to be a single hefty national tax — a tax for the citizens of the nation of Israel. The third one, C, may have been given less often than annually.

Pastors and churches make two mistakes when trying to apply all of this to Christians.

First, in claiming to follow the bible, they extract one tithe without realizing that there were three. In the worst instances, they speak boldly of God’s personal displeasure against those who do not give 10%. In this, they are mistaken, and they speak loudly of “the tithe”, as if there was only one. Often, they quote Malachi 3:10 (a document that called Israel to pay its taxes) as if it applied to Christians who are not under the Old Covenant.

Second, they appeal to a unique war narrative as if it were normative for Christians. That narrative is in Genesis 14. Abraham, who was not under the Old Covenant, gave 10% of the spoils of war to a king (the booty which was stolen from someone else entirely). That episode is not a command but a narrative. Great care is needed here: a war narrative is not to be uncritically turned into a command that has binding power on Christian worship.

This article was published under Journal, Worship.

6 Responses to Are Christians required to tithe (to give ten percent of their income)?

  1. refe says:

    The 10% tithe sermon is a revealing window into the exegesis or absence of exegesis of a preacher. How many of the other common preaching points that we have grown up with are simply stock sermons passed down through culture or denomination and left untested by those delivering them?

  2. Good point. This preaching point is like a little test; if pastors fail on this one, then how many more are they wrong about?

    This reminds me of the radio program, “The Bible Answer Man” and their journal, “The Christian Research Journal.” People often ask the radio host, Hank, about tithing.

    When callers call in and ask him about 10% giving, he agrees that we are not under a 10% rule, and he always says, “In the New Testament, God wants all of us. 10% is a good benchmark; the standard is higher.” Vague (and as if in the Old Testament it were different).

    Besides being vague, Hank is missing the point. We need to first tell everyone that not even the Old Testament started with 10% as the base (I show that here). It is important to be clear. But Hank is in a hurry to skip this data, and his argument that it is a baseline needs not be said.

    There is too much confusion on this topic to answer with such vague words. He needs to know that hordes of pastors are aggressively demanding 10% (pounding pulpits, weeping, quoting Malachi 3…), and his callers are calling in for clarity; they don’t need to find out, “yeah, 10% is not the right answer, it is just a good idea starting point…” It is as if Hank is unaware of where the real problem rests. The problem is, as you put it, “stock sermons passed down.”

    Okay, sorry for the rant. I like a lot of what Hank says. Here is Elliot Miller’s viewpoint piece from the Christian Research Journal,

  3. Great post! And follow up at the Louisburg Journal. The thought occurred to me that folks are always asking “Give me a number” “How much should I give” from their pastors or spiritual leaders. When answered with a number, 10% or whatever, it then becomes a contract or pledge with that person or group. It should be in my opinion a point of contact with my living Lord. An act of worship that is guided by Him and the resources He has given me. If I make a pledge with you then I am happy when I fulfill my pledge. If I give to God out of a heart of love I am never satisfied with my amount as I learn more of His gift to me. John Piper has a sermon where he mentions three cases when the NT speaks about money. The rich young ruler, sell everything and give. Sell a field and give. Sell your possessions and give.
    John Wesley is often quoted as saying “Earn as much as you can, save as much as you can, give as much as you can.” If it truly is more blessed to give than receive then we have to challenge our tendency to horde possessions and money. If love is the mark of a Christian it follows so must generosity.

  4. Pingback: Are Christians Supposed to Tithe 10%? « Questions are Good

  5. Jim K. says:

    2 Corinthians 9: 7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

    We forget that God has given us all things and therefore all we have belongs to Him. The sweat of our brow is labour given unto God and the fruits of our labour are gifts bestowed for the love labour given. Give as you see fit, remembering always from whence the gift comes.

  6. Thanks Jim, this verse (2 Cor 9:7) is a positive statement on what the New Testament actually teaches, good point!