Definition of Tithe in the Bible

Tithe Definition
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Tithe Definition

A tithe is one-tenth part of one's income. Tithing, or giving a tithe, goes back to ancient times, even before Moses.

The Tithe in the Old Testament

The first instance of tithing is found in Genesis 14:18-20, with Abraham giving a tenth of his possessions to Melchizedek, the mysterious King of Salem. The passage does not shed light on why Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, but some scholars believe Melchizedek was a type of Christ.

The tenth Abraham gave represented the whole--everything he had. In giving the tithe, Abraham simply acknowledged that everything he had belonged to God.

After God appeared to Jacob in a dream at Bethel, beginning in Genesis 28:20, Jacob made a vow: If God would be with him, keep him safe, give him food and clothes to wear, and become his God, then of all that God gave him, Jacob would give back a tenth.

We find the concept of tithing predominantly in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and particularly Deuteronomy. Mosaic law required that the Israelites give one-tenth of the produce of their land and livestock, the tithe, to support the Levitical priesthood:

"Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord. If a man wishes to redeem some of his tithe, he shall add a fifth to it. And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord. One shall not differentiate between good or bad, neither shall he make a substitute for it; and if he does substitute for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy; it shall not be redeemed." (Leviticus 27:30–33, ESV)

The Tithe in the New Testament

New Testament mentions of the tithe most often take place when Jesus rebukes the Pharisees:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Matthew 23:23, ESV)

The early church had differing opinions on the practice of tithing. Some sought to separate from the legalistic practices of Judaism while others wished to honor and continue the ancient traditions of the priesthood.

Tithing has changed since biblical times, but the concept of setting aside a tenth of one’s income or goods for use in the church has remained. And Christians continue to be divided on the practice. While some churches teach that giving a tenth is biblical and important, they maintain that tithing should not become a legalistic obligation. 

Today, many Christians donate a tithe, or ten percent of their income, to support their church, the pastor's needs, and missionary work.




We tithe when the offering plate is passed in church.