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The ominous question “Will a man rob God?” was quoted by William Branham. But it has also been plastered on bulletins, offering envelopes, and sermon titles in many non-message evangelical churches. William Branham taught that tithing was required of all Christians:
- Every Christian should pay tithes!
Obviously, no one wants to be guilty of robbing God. However, the issues are not as straightforward as William Branham suggested . Also, while they may deny it, pastors bring a significant amount of bias and self-interest to the question.
While it is commonly agreed that the OT food laws and the OT practice of circumcision do not carry over into the NT era, William Branham brought some other OT laws such as tithing and dress into the new covenant. This article will look at tithing from the perspective of both the Old and New Testaments as well as what the New Testament teaches about giving generally.
What does the New Testament teach?
The New Testament is very clear on how followers of Jesus are to practice giving.
The following is a summary of what the New Testament teaches on giving. Detailed discussion of each of these issues can be found later in this article.
|1||Systematic||Give on a regular basis, that is, weekly, biweekly, monthly, etc.||1 Cor 16:1|
|2||Proportional||Give as you have been prospered; according to your ability||1 Cor 16:2
2 Cor 8:2–3
|3||Sacrificial, Generous||Give generously, even sacrificially, but not to the point of personal affliction||2 Cor 8:2–3
|4||Intentional||Give deliberately in order to meet a genuine need, not out of guilt merely to
soothe a pressing request
|2 Cor 8:4
|5a||Motivated by love||As Jesus gave himself for us, believers should give of themselves out of love||2 Cor 8:9|
|5b||Motivated by a desire
|Believers are to give so that all needs are met and we are specifically to
focus on the needs of the poor
1 Cor 9:14–15
2 Cor 8:12–14
|5c||Motivated by a desire
for God's blessing
|Give in order to receive more from God so that you can continue to
bless others generously
|2 Cor 9:6|
|6||Cheerful||God loves a cheerful giver||2 Cor 9:7|
|7||Voluntary||Giving ought to be done out of one’s free will and not under compulsion.
(tithing in the OT was not voluntary but New Testament giving is)
|2 Cor 8:2–3, 8
2 Cor 9:7
The principles of giving stated above all require one key element: a relationship with God. In the end, obedience in giving comes down to our relationship with the Father. Christians need to be willing to give whatever the Lord may ask, whether it be 1 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent, or more. Radical obedience to his guidance is required.
Each one of the principles above is associated with our relationship with God. Far from being “emotional and mystical theology,” these sound principles from the teaching of Paul will greatly test and grow our faith and dependence upon him. Rather than quibble over some of the questions concerning tithing, we should ask, “How can I manage my affairs so that I can give more?”
Giving our resources to aid the ministry of God should not be viewed as burdensome. With the proper perspective, the more one gives, the more joy one can find in giving.
Many tithe supporters seem to assume that those arguing against tithing are simply trying to find a way to keep more of their money. Many assume that those who do not believe in the tithe are giving less than ten percent. This assumption is completely false.
The standard Paul exhorts us to follow is actually a more stringent one than the traditional tithe. Research has shown that even in churches where tithing is taught, most church members give less than ten percent. It may be possible that the teaching of tithing actually causes at least some people to give less.
Our motivation for disagreeing with the teaching of tithing is simply one of faithfulness to Scripture, not greed. Our giving is not optional, and it should not depend on our whim or personal feeling. The basis of our giving should be our love and devotion to God, in gratitude for His inestimable gift to us.
We will first discuss what the Bible has to say about tithing and then discuss what the New Testament teaches us about giving.
Tithing in the New Testament
There are four passages in the NT that make a direct reference to tithing: Matt 23:23 (Luke 11:42), Luke 18:9–14, and Heb 7:1–10. It is clear that
- (1) none of these passages has tithing as their primary subject; and
- (2) none of the passages commands tithing for the new covenant believer.
Jesus and Tithing
In Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 Jesus never condemned tithing or commanded that the Pharisees, scribes, or his disciples begin or cease tithing. While Jesus considered tithing to be a less central aspect of the Law, he did not view tithing as separate from it. The fact that tithing was a less central aspect of the Law does not nullify the fact that it was part of the Law. Hence it would be unwarranted to conclude on this basis alone that the tithing requirement is not important in the new covenant era and that Christians may safely ignore it. The last part of the verse indicates that the scribes and Pharisees were supposed to tithe. It was proper for them to do so, because tithing “should have been done.” This verse is the only one in the NT that could promote tithing. Jesus does not prohibit tithing; he condemned the wrong attitude and motive of the people who were tithing. Nevertheless, second, the practice of tithing for the church cannot be deduced from this verse, because the command was given to the scribes and Pharisees, who were still under the old covenant.
In Matt 23:3, Jesus is in effect saying, “You may follow their teaching if you like, but don’t imitate their behavior.” In Matt 23:23, the import of Jesus’ words is, “Go on observing their tithing rules if you wish, but don’t let this distract you from the weightier matters of the Law.” Whether tithing continues to be required in the era of the new covenant must be determined on the basis of other passages.
In Luke 18:9–14, Jesus tells a parable about a tax collector and a Pharisee. Jesus’ main point is not tithing or stewardship but humility: “He who exalts himself will be humbled, and … he who humbles himself will be exalted.” In this parable, Jesus again does not prohibit tithing. However, the one justified, the tax collector, is never said to have tithed. It would be inappropriate and tenuous to attempt to draw any more conclusions concerning tithing from this parable. Jesus never tells people to stop tithing; he does say that tithing is part of the Law and that it should be practiced with the proper attitude.
Tithing in the Rest of the New Testament
The only other place that tithing is mentioned in the New Testament is in Hebrews 7. Heb 7:1–3 demonstrate the greatness of Melchizedek. Hebrews 7:4–10 provides three specific reasons (or proofs) that Melchizedek’s priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood. First, Melchizedek is shown to be greater than Abraham on account of Abraham’s voluntary offering to him. The fact that Melchizedek received a tithe from Abraham is the central argument for Melchizedek’s superiority. Levi and Aaron were both ancestors of Abraham. When the author of Hebrews says that “even Levi … paid tithes,” the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood is proved. Therefore Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to the Levitical one.
Those that use this passage to argue for tithing essentially concur with the above analysis regarding the primary meaning of Heb 7:1–10. However, they continue the analysis as follows - If Melchizedek is greater than the Levites and a type of Christ, then of whom is Abraham a picture? The answer supplied is “Christians.” However, this interpretation has several problems. First, if Abraham were a picture of Christians, his tithe was voluntary. It was offered as “a thanksgiving for victory.” This is not the picture of tithing during the Mosaic covenant, and neither is it the picture painted by many tithe supporters today.
Second, using this passage to support tithing presses the analogy or typology farther than the scriptural author went. Abraham’s action is unrelated to the later Mosaic legislation on tithes and this is not Hebrews’ concern. This leads to the main objection: the author of Hebrews was not attempting to argue for a continuation of the practice of tithing in this passage.
If anyone were to prove the continuation of tithing based upon the NT, he must produce a passage that has this goal as its primary purpose. If such a passage is produced, then Heb 7 could possibly be used as a secondary, supporting statement. The important point to remember is this: the author of Hebrews was arguing for Melchizedek’s superiority over the Levitical priesthood. The reference to tithing is an illustrative, secondary statement. The mere description of tithing as having taken place at any time does not necessitate its continuation. Description does not equate prescription. The author of Hebrews simply wants his readers to be in no doubt about the superiority of Christ to any other priests and sees the mysterious figure of Melchizedek as powerfully illustrating this superiority.
Arguments for tithing from the New Testament
There are 3 common arguments for the continuation of tithing in the new covenant.
People that follow covenant theology view tithing is viewed as part of the moral law. They divide the law into three parts: moral, civil, and ceremonial. Proponents of this view say that the ceremonial law was fulfilled or completed by Christ and the civil law no longer applies because we have separated church and state. The civil law is helpful guidance to governments, but not binding. However, the moral law continues on, since it is a reflection of the character of God. This group typically contends that laws do not have to be repeated in the NT in order to continue: the continued relevance of a law is assumed, its abrogation needs to be stated.
The major problem with this view is that tithing is in no way tied to the moral law. Assuming for a moment that the distinction between moral, ceremonial, and civil law is unproblematic (which it is not), tithing is part of the ceremonial law, and possibly part of the civil law. But nowhere in the OT is tithing connected to the moral law.
Second, some Christians hold to the obligation of tithing because of tradition. The argument is usually stated in terms of the way things have always been done in their church. Some in this category believe that the word “tithe” means “a religious monetary gift,” with no specific amount attached to the word. While one group asserts that ten percent is the minimum one should give, others (while still using “tithing terminology”) do not conceive of tithing in terms of giving a certain percentage of one’s income.
Some ministers in this category are fearful of what would happen should they tell their members that they are not obligated to tithe. They claim that their church may suffer financially. They fear that monetary giving would severely decrease. They are also concerned regarding what should be the message to their congregation on how, and how much, to give. Since they do not see a viable alternative, they continue to teach tithing (and in many cases, tithing as a ten-percent-minimum requirement). What could be the harm, they argue, of teaching what is, after all, a biblical requirement?
The main problem with this view is that, in keeping with a principle that evangelicals have held dear at least since the Reformation, unless a requirement can be established from Scripture, it should not be imposed upon believers. Another misunderstanding is that, unless tithing were taught, believers would be left in a vacuum as far as giving is concerned, and the church’s financial standing would therefore suffer. To the contrary, there are in fact many principles on giving that Christians can be taught to observe apart from a tithing requirement. 
Those in this group fall under several different categories. Some claim that it is simply easier to tell Christians that they should give at least ten percent rather than to try to explain another, more complicated, method. Related to this, some are fearful that the alternative will lead to a decrease in giving. Admittedly, it is simple to tell church members, students, and pastors that all they need to require people to do is to start with ten percent. Such a requirement has the advantage of requiring believers to give a clear-cut figure of their income that removes all ambiguities. Simply asking people to take their paycheck and to multiply it by 0.10 and then write a check based on that total is less complex than the principles we will present below. Overall, those who teach tithing for pragmatic reasons have an easy-to-do and easy-to-understand doctrine on giving for Christians (especially new believers).
The problem with this view is that it effectively gives up on attempting to prove that tithing is a scriptural obligation for those in the new covenant period. It does not matter how simple or complex the teaching may be: if it is biblical, it must be taught and obeyed. If the evangelical church decides to base its teaching on what is pragmatic, then doctrine is relegated to second place. Any church that decides to do this will cease at that point to be evangelical. Doctrine must remain central to our teaching and faith.
The main problem
Nowhere are Christians commanded to tithe in the NT. This fact alone should raise concerns for those who believe the issue is black and white, and believers ought to tithe today. The issue of multiple tithes (that the Israelites actually gave at least 20 percent per year) likewise has yet to meet a satisfactory answer. To call for the cessation of two of the three tithes while leaving one intact would seem to require some major theological nuancing. Though the NT discusses giving at many junctures, no passage ever cites a specific percentage. The references to giving in passages such as Gal 6:6, 1 Tim 5:17, and 2 Cor 8–9 lead one to believe that the issue of giving was a vital one in many churches. Paul could have simply addressed this issue by appealing to the OT teaching of tithing. However, he never resorted to this type of approach.
Tithing proponents typically fail to recognize that tithing is an integral part of the OT sacrificial system that has been once and for all fulfilled in Christ. The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rom 10:4, and Matt 5 all point to this reality. This may be the best reason why tithing is not commanded in the new covenant era: it was fulfilled in Christ. Some tithing supporters view the OT teaching on tithing as an act one must perform to show honor and respect to God, regardless of its possible fulfillment in Christ. Yet, in the OT tithing is commanded for the support of the priests and Levites who are in charge of the temple. It is also linked with offerings that, despite how this may be taught today, do not refer to the amount above ten percent. An offering in the OT did not refer to adding a “tip for God,” as it were, after one had fulfilled the tithe but to “the peace offerings and other sacred gifts, in the form of the breast of the wave offering, the thigh of the ram of ordination (Exod. 29:27, 28; etc.), cakes of leavened bread, etc. (Lev. 7:14).”
The case for tithing ultimately rests not on the exegesis of biblical passages on tithing but on arguments from a theological system or tradition. We have attempted to show that the text of Scripture contains no basis for tithing. What is more, arguments from theological systems or traditions have been shown to be unpersuasive as well.
Are the demands and the promises of Malachi 3 still applicable in the NT dispensation, as they were under the OT dispensation? Based on scripture as discussed above, our answer must be “No.”
For this reason we conclude that NT believers should not be required to give ten percent or more, but not less, of their income. This does not mean that we are left with nothing. Those who do not hold to the position that tithing is obligatory for Christians have been charged with teaching that believers need not give to the church. But this charge is similar to charging Paul with encouraging believers to sin when he teaches salvation by faith through grace apart from the Law (Rom 3:23). As discussed below, the NT provides more than sufficient guidance for giving. In fact, it sets a considerably higher (albeit more complex) standard than merely giving ten percent of one’s income.
Does Paul discuss tithing?
1 Cor 9:3–15 may be the most difficult passage in one’s determination of whether or not Paul ever refers to the concept of tithing. If at any point Paul were to appeal to Mal 3 or to tithes and offerings, this would be the most likely place for him to do so. In fact, the language of these verses is very intriguing. The overall context is that of foregoing rights. This is supported by all of the illustrations provided by Paul. As an apostle Paul had a right to receive financial support from the community to which he was sent. Paul presents his arguments as in a court:
- soldiers do not serve in the military at their own expense; the government provides for them;
- when a farmer plants a vineyard he, naturally, will eat some of the fruit; and
- a shepherd partakes of the milk of his flock.
- Deut 25:4: “Do not prevent an ox from eating while it is treading out the grain.” Paul’s application is that, since he sows spiritual things, he should reap material things.
- he refers to the priests who served in the temple ad says, “in the same way,” preachers in the new covenant should receive support for their ministry.
- finally, he states that Jesus commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel (Matt 10:10)
Paul provided 3 illustrations from everyday life, 2 proofs from the OT, and a final proof from Jesus. Each type of proof given by Paul is gradually more persuasive. While examples from everyday life might open the Corinthians’ eyes to what Paul was saying, and while his proofs from the OT should have been satisfactory evidence, the argument is made conclusive by citing Jesus.
It could be argued that Paul, in verses 13–14, was saying that the apostolic/preaching ministry in this age has replaced the ministry of the priests and Levites. Therefore, since the priests and Levites are no longer active, apostles and preachers should receive the tithes that formerly went to the priests and Levites. What is wrong with this kind of reasoning?
To be consistent, one would have to see Paul as saying that, in some way, he is a soldier, a farmer, a shepherd, and an ox. While some of these may be understood both literally (that is, flock = flock of animals) and metaphorically (flock = followers of Christ), it does not work for all of them: Paul used the analogy of being a soldier for both himself and Timothy in 2 Tim 2:4; the verb used for ‘planting’ is used previously in 1 Corinthians 3 times (3:6, 7, 8) and always with the metaphorical meaning of introducing the gospel message to a new community; the verb for shepherding is used metaphorically in Acts 20:28 by Paul (compare with Acts 20:16–18) to refer to the role of elders.
Yet nowhere does Paul refer to himself analogously as an ox or any animal similar to it. This argument would also be based upon the idea that Paul is deliberately using a double entendre, which is not altogether clear in this passage. Therefore, unless one can apply the illustrations or proofs consistently, their purpose should be kept in mind: the worker has the right to be supported by his work. Again, this is all subsumed under the argument that Paul chose to forego his right, as the Corinthians were urged to do in the case of meat sacrificed to idols.
For these reasons this alternative explanation of vv. 13–14 is found wanting. More likely, Paul referred to the temple because of the context of this discussion: food sacrificed to idols. This illustration or proof is extremely pertinent because of the context of chapters. 8–9. Hence, Paul provided 3 illustrations from everyday life, 2 proofs from the OT, and a final proof from Jesus. In v. 14, Paul says that Jesus ‘directed’ those who preached the gospel to live from the gospel, which is most closely paralleled in the Gospels to Matt 10:10: the worker is worthy of his provision. Each type of proof given by Paul is gradually more persuasive. While examples from everyday life might open the Corinthians’ eyes to what Paul was saying, and while his proofs from the OT should have been satisfactory evidence, the argument is made conclusive by citing Jesus.
While Paul therefore provides 6 arguments to demonstrate that a worker deserves his wages, he has nonetheless chosen to forego those rights. Consequently, the Corinthians, for the sake of the gospel, should likewise be prepared to forego their right of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Reason and common experience; the OT; universal religious practice; the teaching of Jesus himself: all these support the custom by which apostles (and other ministers) are maintained at the expense of the church which is built up by their ministry.
The second potentially relevant passage in Paul’s writings is the offering mentioned in 1 Cor 16. However, as noted, this passage is not directly relevant for a discussion of tithing for at least two reasons. First, the reference is not to people’s regular giving (be it weekly or monthly) but to a special collection taken up for the poor believers in Jerusalem. Second, there is no mention of giving ten percent of one’s income by way of a regular tithe. When Paul discusses the amount (“as he may prosper”), he uses a phrase that probably refers to “that in accordance with ‘whatever success or prosperity may have come their way that week.’ There is no hint of a tithe or proportionate giving; the gift is simply to be related to their ability from week to week as they have been prospered by God.
Third, in 2 Cor 8:8, Paul is instructing the Corinthians that their giving was to be done freely, as purposed in their hearts. Nothing is said about giving a specific amount or percentage of their income.
Fourth, in 2 Cor 9:7, Paul informs his readers that their giving should not be done out of compulsion. This word is linked with grudgingly and is set in contrast to the clause before it: ‘as each one has purposed in his heart’. Paul is describing to the Corinthians a type of giving that is different from tithing. The Corinthians are not obligated to give to this offering; their participation is voluntary. And they are not to give a prescribed amount but rather should give according to their own determination. In fact, the words “should give” or “must do” have to be provided in translation. The absence of these words in the Greek softens Paul’s pronouncement. If a prescribed amount were predetermined, this would negate the teaching that one can determine or “purpose” an amount in one’s heart.
Paul had every opportunity to discuss tithing in these passages. His audience was not specifically a Jewish one, which is why one might expect him to clarify or distinguish between freewill offerings and involuntary tithing. 
Paying teachers and pastors
Three verses warn about leaders who “love money” (1 Tim 3:3, 6:10; 2 Tim 3:2). While this is truly a danger, another danger that Paul warns the Corinthians about is that of “muzzling the ox while he is threshing” (1 Cor 9:9). A similar verse is Gal 6:6. A distinction is made between “the one who is taught” and “the one who teaches.” This passage calls for financial support for those who teach. While the phrase “all good things” may refer to more than money, it does have to do with financial support.82 Another understanding would be that this refers to the Jerusalem collection, but this hypothesis has been satisfactorily refuted. Therefore, we have an early teaching84 that refers to paying teachers for their service.
How was this supposed to happen?
Since Paul’s discussion of giving in 1 Cor 16 refers to a special collection taken up among the Gentile churches for the Jerusalem church, his teaching on the support of ministers is limited to 1 Cor 9, 2 Cor 8–9, and Gal 6:6. No set amount or percentage is provided in these passages. In light of the fact that Paul is not writing exclusively to Jewish congregations, one would expect some explanation of tithing if the apostle intended for this practice to continue. An explanation would also be needed if the common understanding of three tithes were to be corrected.
Paul’s discussion of supporting teachers in the above-mentioned passages shows that this was a concern for Paul. If this was an important issue, why is there no teaching on tithing? The rules in the Mosaic Law are very specific and fairly complex, and matters are not quite as simple as giving ten percent of one’s entire income. No Christian reformulation of this doctrine is presented, even though supporting ministers seems to have been an important issue.
1 Corinthians 9, 2 Cor 8–9, and Gal 6:6 would seem to be the ideal place for Paul to mention tithing if he in fact held to such a requirement. Yet since Paul makes no reference to tithing, and since neither Jesus nor any other passage in the NT compels Christians to tithe, the requirement for believers to give at least ten percent of their income should be replaced with teaching on the NT principles of giving sketched out below.
Giving in the New Testament
We have seen above that the references to tithing in Matt 23 and Luke 18 are incidental, and that in Heb 7 tithing is mentioned only to provide one of the three proofs of the superiority of Melchizedek’s priesthood. Does this mean that the NT is silent on the issue of giving?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
So what does the New Testament teach regarding giving?
The New Testament does have a lot to say about giving.
1 Corinthians 9:1–23
Preachers deserve to get financial support for their work (1 Cor 9:14). However, Paul accepted no such gift from the Corinthians. While he could have asked for it, he was not required to be rewarded financially for his work. He is not saying this so that he will get paid (1 Cor 9:15) but so that the Corinthians will realize that others have the right to be paid for their service.
From this we can extract the principle that as a community the church must make sure that those who are over it spiritually have their needs met. When church members give financially to the church, they should take this into consideration. If God has provided the money, and the pastor of a church has a legitimate need, the need should be met.
1 Corinthians 16:1–4.
This brief section contains several principles for giving. As stated previously, there are several problems with linking the present passage to a tithing requirement. First, as noted, the reference is not to people’s regular giving (be it weekly or monthly) but to a special collection taken up for the poor believers in Jerusalem. Second, there is no mention of giving ten percent of one’s income by way of a regular tithe. Third, the phrase “as he may prosper” also excludes the conclusion that a specific amount was in mind. There is no hint of a tithe or proportionate giving” in the present passage.
While 1 Cor 16:1–4 can, therefore, not be legitimately used to support a tithing requirement in the NT period, it is still possible to glean helpful principles for giving from this passage. First, giving should be done regularly. Paul tells the believers to give on the first day of the week (1 Cor 16:1). The practical reasons for this may be that (1) it is easier to give small amounts frequently than large sums on a monthly or even annual basis; and (2) the church has ongoing needs and financial obligations that require regular weekly giving.
Second, giving should be proportionate in keeping with a household’s income. In Paul’s terms, the amount to be set aside depends on the degree to which the giver has been prospered. No percentage is given. This would have been an ideal place for tithing to enter into the discussion. Yet tithing is not mentioned. According to Paul, if anyone has been prospered greatly, he should give a large amount. If one has prospered only a little, a smaller gift is completely acceptable.
2 Corinthians 8–9
This passage provides a few additional principles for new covenant giving. Grace is the entire theme of this entire two-chapter section. In 2 Cor 8:2–3 Paul praises the Macedonians for their giving, which was (1) according to (and, in fact, beyond) their ability; and (2) voluntary. The Macedonians were not required to give a prescribed amount or percentage. Rather, they gave as they had been prospered, according to their ability. Their giving was sacrificial and generous in that they actually gave beyond what Paul thought they were able to do. In fact, the Macedonians were considered poor, yet they still gave.
Sacrificial giving is measured, not by what is given, but by what remains.
Their giving was also ‘of their own accord’, a word that refers to the Macedonians’ free or spontaneous giving. They did not need to be asked to give. Giving should not have to be requested. Rather, the believer should seek to find a need that he is able to meet and thus help out a fellow believer. Notice that the Macedonians were pleading with Paul to allow them to be involved in this offering (2 Cor 8:4). Christians should be alert to find opportunities where they can use the resources God has given them.
In v. 9 Paul provides a reason for giving in the way he is prescribing: Jesus gave of himself. The mention of love in v. 8 prompts this thought. Our giving should be compelled by love. The ultimate demonstration of love was Jesus’ death on the cross (see 1 John 4:9–10). Generous and willing giving occurs when the motive is love. In 2 Cor 8:12–14 Paul unfolds the principle that, within the Christian community, there should be some level of equality. This is not an argument for communism or egalitarianism. Paul’s point is rather that no one should go without his or her needs being met. God has apparently provided the Corinthians (and others) with enough resources so that the Jerusalem believers might have their needs met.
The meaning of 2 Cor 8:13 is captured well by the NLT: “Of course, I don’t mean you should give so much that you suffer from having too little. I only mean that there should be some equality.” Paul does not want the Corinthians to give so much to the Jerusalem church that they end up needing an offering for themselves. To give so much that one ends up in debt is foolish.
Paul’s main point in 2 Cor 8:12–14 is not that he desires the Corinthians and the Jerusalem church to switch places. Rather, he urges the Corinthians to give as they said they would and to do so out of love.
Another principle that can be derived from 2 Cor 9 is found in v. 6. Paul illustrates this principle by saying that no farmer would ever consider his seeds wasted when he sowed. Therefore, “plentiful giving will result in a plentiful harvest.” This does not mean that we should give so we can get more for ourselves but that one motivation for giving is that God will bless us so we can continue to be generous.
The principle derived from 2 Cor 9:7 concerning the amount of giving was discussed above. However, this verse concludes by saying that the giver should be ‘cheerful’ in his giving. The OT background for this is Prov 22:8: “God loves [or blesses] a cheerful and generous man.” Only a real appreciation of God’s grace to us can prompt us to give ‘cheerfully.’
Philippians 4:15–20 functions as an indirect “thank you” from Paul to the Philippians, which was in keeping with Greco-Roman societal norms. A few details of this passage will now be examined to see if and how the Philippians’ giving was synchronized with the principles Paul set forth more prescriptively in other passages.
First, the Philippians’ giving was closely related to the relationship they had with Paul. Second, their giving was related to the gospel. Third, they were the only church to participate in this sort of relationship with Paul.
The language is of a business transaction:
- “in the matter” = opened an account;
- “giving” = credit;
- “receiving” = debit;
- “profit which increases to your account” = interest.
Therefore, the gift that Paul has in mind is not limited to but includes money. The phrase in 4:18 (“paid in full”) adds to this theme as well. Therefore, we should understand the phrase “shared with me” to refer to the “partnership entered into.” The uniqueness of this partnership was that it was three-way: Paul, the Philippians, and the gospel.
Finally, it must be noted that Paul refers to the gift(s) as meeting his “needs.” As the Philippians supplied Paul’s need, so God would supply their needs (Phil 4:19).
Three aspects of this passage stand out. First, as Paul mentions the need of those in Jerusalem in 2 Cor 8:14, here he discusses his own need (Phil 4:16). When Christians see a need on the part of a fellow believer—especially a minister of the gospel—they should attempt to meet it if they are able. Second, Paul’s use of ‘paid in full’ (ἀπέχω πάντα) indicates that the Philippians had no obligation to him. His motive in this passage is not to raise more funds but to express thankfulness. The Philippians’ giving was an example of voluntary giving: they gave what they had purposed in their hearts, not a set, required amount. Finally, they gave generously. Verse 18 contains two words (‘abound’; ‘filled up’) that communicate the exceeding generosity of the Philippians’ gift to Paul.
Romans 15:26 / Gal. 2:10
These two passages specifically deal with the need to remember the poor. This was something that Paul wanted to do and the apostles in Jerusalem indicated that this was also something that they wanted him to do.
What does the Old Testament teach?
Is the requirement to tithe part of the Abrahamic Covenant?
Many message ministers (as well as denominational pastors) use the argument that, because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, we are obligated under the Abrahamic covenant to pay tithes to the church.
Abraham did not regularly practice tithing
Genesis 14:20 states that Abraham “gave Melchizedek a tenth.” Does this offering refer to a pre-Law tithe? Genesis 14 says nothing about a system or pattern of tithing that had become part of Abraham’s worship of God. The remainder of the narrative about Abraham does not discuss him tithing. A few factors are present that argue against this being a reference to systematic tithing:
- Abraham was not under obligation to pay tithes, he paid them freely. There is no evidence in scripture that Abraham was required to pay a tithe.
- The offering in Gen 14:20 was made to Melchizedek, the priest. If Abraham was tithing consistently, who received the other tithes? Did Melchizedek engage in an itinerant ministry and collect tithes on behalf of God.
- Gen 14:20 states that Abraham gave a tenth of what “he recovered.” Hebrews 7:4 refers to Abraham’s giving a tenth of the “spoils,” not continuously giving a tenth of all of his possessions for the rest of his life. The present passage likewise does not indicate that Abraham continually gave a tenth of his increase. The modifying phrase “he recovered” also suggests that this was a one-time action rather than a continual pattern.
- Some have argued that Abraham was following the Mosaic Law prior to its being given, as it were. However, according to Num 31:27–29, people were commanded to “set apart one out of every five hundred [of the spoils] as the LORD’s share” and to give it to the priest as an offering to the LORD. Hence the amount for spoils won in victory stipulated in the Mosaic Law is different from what Abraham actually offered Melchizedek in Gen 14. For this reason the argument that Abraham in Gen 14 gave to Melchizedek a tithe in accordance with the Mosaic Law is invalid, because there a different amount for the giving of spoils is prescribed.
- Abraham also was required to be circumcised as part of the covenant, does that mean that circumcision is also required today?
Gen 14:20 provides no evidence that Abraham continuously or regularly tithed. Abraham was never commanded to give a tenth on a regular basis, and there is no evidence that Abraham ever tithed again. His giving of a tithe to Melchizedek should therefore be considered a voluntary gift for the priestly functions performed by Melchizedek and a thank offering given to God for military victory. The context of Gen 14:20–24 seems to assume that Abram had the right to keep the spoils for himself. Indeed, if Abraham’s tithing is any kind of model for Christians, it provides support only for occasional tithes of unusual sources of income.
Jacob's tithing was conditional
In Gen 28:22, Jacob promised to give God a tithe:
- Then Jacob made a vow to the LORD: “If you will be with me and protect me on the journey I am making and give me food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then you will be my God. This memorial stone which I have set up will be the place where you are worshipped, and I will give you a tenth of everything you give me.”
Jacob’s vow is very revealing in that it is a conditional vow. “If” God does what he asks, “then” Jacob will do certain things. The “conditions” placed upon God in Gen 28:20–22 are as follows:
- (1) if God will stay with Jacob;
- (2) if God will keep him safe on his current journey;
- (3) if God will provide him with food and clothes; and
- (4) if he returns home.
God had already promised to fulfill three of these four conditions, and the fulfillment of the fourth seems to be assumed. The “then” part of Jacob’s vow included:
- (1) Yahweh will be his God;
- (2) the pillar will be God’s house; and
- (3) he will give a tenth of all that God gives him.
While narratives in the OT can serve as examples of faith for all believers (see Heb 11), this is not one of those examples. Interpreters need to read these narratives critically; not every passage presents the patriarchs or kings positively. Gen 28:22 should not be read as suggesting that Christians ought to emulate Jacob’s behavior. Rather, it teaches believers to avoid spiritual immaturity or unbelief. Jacob seems to be trying to bribe God and buy God’s blessing. Jacob also seems to have been a specialist in the area of negotiation (see Gen 25:29–34; 29:18). In fact, he does not appear to be converted yet as his conversion appears to have taken place when he wrestled with God (Gen 32:24–30), not in his dream in Gen 28.
As with Abraham's example, it appears that the giving of this tithe was voluntary on Jacob's part. There is no evidence in the text to suggest that tithing was the general practice of Jacob's life. If he did in fact begin to tithe after God fulfilled His promises to him, Jacob still delayed tithing for 20 years! What is also important is the question of how he gave this tithe to God. Was it through sacrifice or by giving to the poor? There is no indication that he ever met Melchizedek.
How could tithing be a law from God when Jacob put a condition on it?
The evidence from the period prior to the Mosaic Law suggests that no system of tithing was in place. No command to tithe is recorded, and thus the evidence that any systematic tithing existed prior to the giving of the Law is scarce if not nonexistent. What is more, all giving discussed prior to the Mosaic Law is voluntary. In fact, many passages throughout the OT discuss voluntary giving.
The existence of a practice prior to the giving of the Law as well as subsequent to it does not necessarily prove that it was meant to continue into the new covenant period. The assertion is inadequate that, because tithing existed prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law, it must continue to be practiced by God’s people in later periods. Circumcision is first recorded as a command of God for Abraham and his descendants (Gen 17:10–14). The practice was later incorporated into the Law in Lev 12:3. However, a pre-Mosaic custom does not, as a matter of course, transcend the Old Testament dispensation, becoming an element of the universal and timeless moral code.
Tithing in the Mosaic Law
William Branham taught that the Old Testament tithe was ten percent. But that is simply not the truth. The Old Testament was at least double that, if not more.
The Levitical tithe
Tithe. In the Mosaic Law, the Levites stood between Israel and God, offering daily sacrifices for sin. Numbers 18:21 and Lev 27:30–33 declare that the Levites will receive the tithe for their services as payment for bearing this burden and for not getting an inheritance of land:
- The LORD said, “I have given to the Levites every tithe that the people of Israel present to me. This is in payment for their service in taking care of the Tent of my presence.
- One-tenth of all the produce of the land, whether grain or fruit, belongs to the LORD. If a man wishes to buy any of it back, he must pay the standard price plus an additional twenty per cent. One out of every ten domestic animals belongs to the LORD. When the animals are counted, every tenth one belongs to the LORD. The owner may not arrange the animals so that the poor animals are chosen, and he may not make any substitutions. If he does substitute one animal for another, then both animals will belong to the LORD and may not be bought back.
The tithes were paid only on income from the land and took the form of animals, land, seed, and fruit. There was no tithes that were to be paid on salaries or other types of income. While land, seed, and fruit could be redeemed with money by adding twenty percent, animals could not. This offering was compulsory. These tithes were used for the livelihood of the Levites, who would then give one-tenth of their tithes to the priests.
If this tithe is still binding today, are Christians supposed to give a tenth of everything? If someone has a garden, should they bring one out of every ten tomatoes or jalapeño peppers? If not, should they give the value plus twenty percent? If a Christian is a cattle rancher, should he bring every tenth animal to the church on Sunday when he tithes? These questions reveal the difficulty in bringing the tithe into the new covenant period. They should not be overlooked as absurd but dealt with seriously.
The priests only got ten percent of the tithe
The tithe funded the Levites (Num. 18:20–32). The Levites were scattered all over the country and were not just in Jerusalem at the temple. The Levites also included everyone in the tribe of Levi that worked in the temple - the priest, the song leaders and musicians, even the doormen and the janitors. In Nu 13:21–32 it is laid down that the tithe must be paid to the Levites, not just to the priests.
According to Numbers 18:26-28, the Levites paid ten percent of the tithe to the priests (who were also part of the tribe of Levi). It should be noted that according to Heb 7:5, ‘they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood.… take tithes of the people.’ The explanation for this is that the priests, who received from the Levites a tithe of the tithe, thus symbolically received the whole tithe.
What is clear is that the priests only got a small portion of the total tithe (ten percent of ten percent = one percent of income).
The party tithe (or the festival tithe)
A distinct second tithe is found in Deuteronomy 14:22-27, and happened every first, second, fourth and fifth year of a seven-year cycle. This tithe is different because the person tithing gets to eat it, and not just the Levites or the Priests. The point was to bring the resources to the temple for a party (the festivals). Just in case you couldn't make it to the temple with your harvest, you were supposed to redeem the tithes for money and then go.
Yes, that is right, it was spent on parties and it was mandatory. Can you even imagine if we all kicked in ten percent of our gross aggregate income for parties?
- You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. And you shall not neglect the Levite who is within your towns, for he has no portion or inheritance with you. The Deuteronomy 14 tithe remained “the property of the original owner.
So why do Christian ministers teach about the first tithe only, and forget about the party tithe?
The Poor tithe (or Welfare tithe)
Ten percent every third year went to help the poor (Deut. 14:28, 26:12-15). That’s 3.33 percent. In addition, there were gleanings for the poor and the alien.
If your pastor preaches that tithing is mandatory for New Testament Christians, does this include tithing to the poor (including strangers), or only to preachers?
James 1:27 says, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." What James experienced in the New Testament is believers who gave everything, and shared it with those in need. It was a religion of love for others from the heart. The law, after all, was just a schoolmaster leading to true faith.
Giving to the poor is largely absent from the message. But it was critically important to Paul and all of the apostles:
- James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.
Every follower of Jesus should give to the plight of the poor. Not on the basis of the Old Testament law but on the basis of the new covenant.
The no-tithe year
Every seventh or sabbatical year the land lay fallow, and was then tithe-free (Leviticus 25:4-5 and Deuteronomy 15:1). But since you didn't have any income from the land, you couldn't really pay a tithe in any event.
The total tithing requirement
The "multiple tithe" position is held by Adam Clarke, Albert Barnes, Matthew Henry, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Bruce Metzger, Charles Ryrie, the Jewish Talmud and most Jewish writers, like Josephus. Total tithing was either 20% (twelve tithes over seven years) or 23.33% (fourteen tithes over seven years).
However, it is also clear that non-farmers were not required to pay any of the three separate tithes.
- Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged uon a tree” — so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Other OT passages on tithing
After the Pentateuch, tithing is mentioned in seven passages:
- 2 Chron. 31:5–6, 12 - this relates to the people starting to tithe once again. and records tithing of both harvested crops and animals
- Neh 10:32,38–39; 12:44–47; 13:5, 12 - This passage is again a reinstitution of tithing but also Nehemiah imposes a tax, to be paid yearly, of a third part of a shekel. This was a tax, first, used for various items in the temple (see Neh 10:33). It was completely separate from the tithe. This passage raises some interesting questions for those who say that tithing continues. Does the tax Nehemiah imposed in Neh 10:33 continue (obviously not one-third of a shekel, but in some equivalent amount)? Is there any parallel to supplying firewood for the temple? How does the firstfruits command apply? Finally, and most intriguingly, should pastors (who have replaced the Levites/priests) go out to collect the tithes to make sure they are being paid? The problem during Nehemiah’s time was that the people were not bringing in the tithes, so his solution was to go and collect the tithes. Today’s church, too, has people who are delinquent in paying their tithes.89 If tithing continues into the present administration, and a church has a problem with members not tithing, should the pastors go and collect the tithes as Nehemiah prescribed for his time?
- Amos 4:4 - The message of the prophet Amos regarding tithes in some ways anticipates Jesus’ message in Matt 23:23 and Luke 18:9–14 that his contemporaries ought not to neglect the weightier matters of the Law, or their tithing will essentially be in vain.
- Mal 3:6-12 - this passage has been used and misused by many preachers. The major purpose of the prophet’s message was to rekindle the fires of faith in the hearts and minds of a discouraged people. The fact that the Jews were withholding the tithes was an indication of a greater disobedience of the nation. The main purpose of this section is a call to repentance, which Malachi then applies to the specific problem of tithing.94 In spite of people’s sins, God loved them and patiently waited for them to return. The question of whether the command to tithe is applicable also for the new covenant era cannot be decided from this passage.
- But what is the reference to “offerings?” One fact that may explain why this passage is frequently misapplied is that not many interpretations of this text deal with the question of how the term offerings is to be defined. This is a reference to the peace offerings and other sacred gifts, in the form of the wave offering, the thigh of the ram of ordination (Exod. 29:27, 28; etc.), cakes of leavened bread, etc. (Lev. 7:14). It was one of the chief sources of the priests’ livelihood. Like tithes, these were compulsory contributions required by the Mosaic Law for the temple staff.
- William Branham, 61-0723E - God Being Misunderstood, para. 112
- Andreas Köstenberger, “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving: A Discussion of Relevant Systematic Issues and New Testament Principles,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 258–260.
- Andreas J. Köstenberger and David A. Croteau, “‘Will a Man Rob God?’ (Malachi 3:8): A Study of Tithing in the Old and New Testaments,” ed. Craig A. Evans, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 72.
- Andreas J. Köstenberger and David A. Croteau, “‘Will a Man Rob God?’ (Malachi 3:8): A Study of Tithing in the Old and New Testaments,” ed. Craig A. Evans, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 76–77.
- Andreas Köstenberger, “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving: A Discussion of Relevant Systematic Issues and New Testament Principles,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 242.
- Andreas Köstenberger, “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving: A Discussion of Relevant Systematic Issues and New Testament Principles,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 242–243.
- Andreas Köstenberger, “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving: A Discussion of Relevant Systematic Issues and New Testament Principles,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 243.
- Andreas Köstenberger, “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving: A Discussion of Relevant Systematic Issues and New Testament Principles,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 244–245.
- Andreas Köstenberger, “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving: A Discussion of Relevant Systematic Issues and New Testament Principles,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 251–252.
- Andreas Köstenberger, “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving: A Discussion of Relevant Systematic Issues and New Testament Principles,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 252-253.
- Andreas Köstenberger, “Reconstructing a Biblical Model for Giving: A Discussion of Relevant Systematic Issues and New Testament Principles,” Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 254–257.
- American Bible Society, The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation, 2nd ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1992), Ge 28:20–22.
- Andreas J. Köstenberger and David A. Croteau, “‘Will a Man Rob God?’ (Malachi 3:8): A Study of Tithing in the Old and New Testaments,” ed. Craig A. Evans, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 60.
- American Bible Society, The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation, 2nd ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1992), Nu 18:21.
- American Bible Society, The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation, 2nd ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1992), Le 27:30–33.
- Andreas J. Köstenberger and David A. Croteau, “‘Will a Man Rob God?’ (Malachi 3:8): A Study of Tithing in the Old and New Testaments,” ed. Craig A. Evans, Bulletin for Biblical Research, Vol. 16, 2006, 61.
- Paul Levertoff, “Tithe,” ed. James Orr et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Volumes 1–5 (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 2987.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Dt 14:22–27.
- New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ga 2:9–10.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ga 3:13–14.