Does the Bible Require Christians to Tithe?

Explore what the Scriptures teach about this often controversial question.

10.01.13Tithe.jpg
Photo (c) by stock.xchng user yokayo

If you've ever tried to borrow money from a friend or family member -- or if you've every had a friend or family member borrow money from you -- you understand it can lead to sticky situations. Money has a way of making things really awkward within relationships.

That's one of the main reasons why many Christians don't like talking about giving within the church

When we do talk about giving, our conversations typically revolve around one concept: the tithe.

In short, tithing involves giving 10 percent of your income as a regular offering within a local church. It's a simple concept on the surface, but it has created several tough questions for modern church members. For example: Should we determine our tithe before or after taxes? Do charitable gifts count toward our tithe, or are they separate? Stuff like that. 

Far and away, though, the main question connected with tithing revolves around its necessity within the church. Specifically, are modern Christians required or tithe? 

Let's explore.

Understanding the Tithe 

To get started, let's make sure we understand the background and purpose of the tithe in God's Word. The idea of giving 10 percent goes back to a crazy story involving a guy named Melchizedek. But there are several other passages of Scripture in the Old Testament that require the Israelites to observe a tithe. Here's an example: 

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. Whoever would redeem any of their tithe must add a fifth of the value to it. Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the Lord.
Leviticus 27:30-32

There is no doubt that these commands were originally directed to the Israelites -- God's chosen people in the ancient world. Contrary to popular opinion, the offerings given as part of the tithe were not burned up and wasted as some kind of "food" or nourishment for God. Rather, the tithe was collected and used to support the Levites, who were a tribe of priests and temple workers within the people of God.

 

The Levites were charged with caring for the temple and assisting all of Israel in performing rituals in obedience to the Law. So, they were not able to labor as farmers, weavers, fishermen, and so on. They were dependent on receiving the national tithe as their "income" for their work as servants in the temple: 

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 any offenses they commit 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.
Numbers 18:21-24

Also keep in mind that the Israelites were an agrarian culture, which means their tithe probably involved very little in terms of cash money. The people gave tithes on everything they produced or earned during the year, which was mostly crops, cattle, foodstuffs, and other goods.

To summarize, then, God commanded that the Israelites give 10 percent of their harvest and other income as a kind of divine tax intended to support the Levites, who were the religious workers within the community. That's where the idea began, and that's the way it was implemented for thousands of years. 

The main question before us is whether the system should continue to be implemented that way in the modern world. 

Tithing Today 

It's my belief that Christians in the modern church are not required to tithe. To be fair, there are many Christian leaders and thinkers who would say otherwise, and I can certainly see where they are coming from. There are also many Christians who choose to follow the principle of tithing as good sense, rather than a command -- which I think is a great starting point for giving today.

One of the central tenets of the Christian faith is that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, thus paving the way for salvation and the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus' work initiated a "new covenant" -- a new relationship with God that effectively replaced (or fulfilled) the sacrificial system practiced by the Israelites in the Old Testament. 

As Christians, we no longer use priests and other religious systems as a way to access the power of God. Instead, Jesus has become our Great High Priest (see Hebrews 4:14). He has granted us access to God through His own work and sacrifice, and through His Holy Spirit.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. 
Romans 5:1-2

Practically, then, followers of God no longer require a system of priests and temple workers in order to process sacrifices and other rituals. In addition, those who follow Jesus are no longer collected in a single nation or people group -- the Israelites. Instead, the church is comprised of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. We are no longer a theocracy, which means we no longer require a divine tax in order to service the Levites. 

For these reasons and more, the tithe is no longer a practical requirement for God's work in the world today. That's why I say modern Christians are not required to give 10 percent of their incomes to their local church. 

But that doesn't mean Christians are exempt from giving to the church or financially supporting God's work in the world. Quite the contrary. The New Testament is clear that modern Christians are commanded to support the church in many ways, including financial giving.

In fact, I'll let the apostle Paul have the last word on this topic:

Remember this: 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