About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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New Testament Teaching
 About Old Testament Tithing

I suppose if you are a pastor of a traditional church you’d believe in tithing because its Biblical. You might quote from Malachi 3:8 where God tells Israel that they rob Him by not giving their tithes and their offerings. God also tells Israel to test Him on this point to see if He won’t bless them once they tithe. So there you go, as a pastor it’s your job to teach your people to tithe, especially to your church.


One pastor told me that if he didn’t teach on strict tithing then his people wouldn’t give and the church would fold. I wonder how he knew that since he’d never tried teaching anything else but tithes and offerings. So there’s  another reason why tithing is taught, and that seems to be a real important reason. Maybe it’s the most important one.       

Most Evangelicals believe in tithing to be God's divine truth. The word tithe simply means “a tenth”. The idea taught in recent years is that we should give one tenth of our income to the local church. There is some debate whether the tenth should be taken from your gross income or from your net income.


Beyond the tenth you are encouraged to give an offering, and that is usually given into the Sunday morning offering plate as well.  As an aside, it seems that lots of people go out for lunch these days after the Sunday morning service, so Sunday church gets to be an expensive adventure.  

Have you ever seriously thought about, or looked into the Scripture to see what it says concerning tithing, or have you simply accepted the general consensus from the pulpit?  Let's take a look to see what the Bible says about this subject.

The Old Testament And Tithing.

There are many examples of tithing in the Old Testament. Abraham gave a tenth of his spoil to Melchizedek,  Priest of God after winning a battle. (Gen 14:20)   In Abraham’s case the tenth that He gave was from what he got through victory of war.  It wasn’t a percentage of his income.  I don’t think we know if Abraham ever gave a tenth of his income.


Jacob promised God that he’d return to Him one tenth of what God gave him. (Gen. 28:22)  I’m not convinced that Jacob was thinking in terms of income either.    

Abraham and Jacob lived before the law of Moses came into existence.  So even in these early days there was some hint of tithing, but it’s uncertain how or when this understanding first came into existence.  Some people say that since tithing existed before the Law that it still exists after the Law, but this makes no sense.  Blood sacrifices can be found before the Law  as tithing was and we don’t offer animals to the Lord today.  So why is tithing any different than animal sacrifices.     


Many things that existed before the Law were codified into the Law.  This  simply means that many things, including animal sacrifices were part of life before the Law and God incorporated them into the Law when He gave the Law to Moses.

Part of the Law provided provisions for the Levites, who were the priests.  People would bring a tenth of their food to the priests so they had sufficient to eat.  Also the Law told these Levites to give a tenth of these goods  as a tithe.  (Num. 18:26)

Three Tithes

Most people think that God only demanded a tithe, or ten percent in Old Testament days, but that’s not so.  They were in fact told to give three tithes as according to the Law of Moses.  These 3 tithes are; a tithe to support the Levites (Num.18:20-32), a tithe for celebrations held at the sanctuary (Duet. 14:22-27), and a tithe for the Levites, widows, fatherless and foreigners who lived among the Israeli people. (Duet. 14:28-29)  This last tithe was collected once every 3 years.  So the yearly percentage of  tithing comes to  23.3%, not 10% as you might think.


I derived 23.3 % because the first two equal 20 %, and since the last  tithe was only collected once every 3 years, the yearly rate is 3.3 %.  The grand total is thus 23.3% per year.

Malachi 3

Israel asks God in Malachi 3:8 says, "...how do we rob you"?  God responds (verses 8 to 12) by saying, "in tithes and offerings. You are under a curse because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse … test me in this ... to see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and poor out so much blessing that you will not have room for it ."

Most preachers point out that this is the only place in the Bible where God challenges His people "to test Him" so this has to be extremely important. Then they go on to point out that when we stop robbing God of both tithes and offerings, then we will receive blessings from Him beyond our imagination. This is what these verses are saying, right?

These verses may be saying this, but the question is, to whom are these verses directed to? Are they directed towards the Israeli people of the Old Testament, or are they directed to us, Christians, in New Testament times as well.


I believe for reason we will discuss later that these words of the Lord were directed towards Israel and not towards New Testament Christians.


One thing we can learn about God from this passage is that He does want us to give generously and He will reward us for our giving., but concerning the exact amount as being the tenth is the subject for this article.      

What Does The New Testament Say?

First of all the word " tithe" only appears two times in the King James New Testament. The word "tithes" (plural) is found four times, all in the same passage. In the NIV, the words " tithe" or " tithes" occurs zero times. The NIV replaces the word tithe with the word tenth.

The first two times that the King James uses the word tithe is in a negative context. You can read in Matt. 23:23 and Lu. 11:42  where Jesus scolds the Pharisees.  He says, "Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe . and have omitted the weightier matters of  the Law, judgment mercy and faith.". (Matt. 23:23 KJV)  The importance of
this verse is the emphasis that Jesus places on the "weightier matters" of  the Law. He tells the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees that their giving of the tithe means very little when they forsake such things as judgment, mercy and faith. Jesus is not telling the Pharisees not to tithe in this verse. He is only saying that they are missing the important aspects of the Law. In fact Jesus implies that their tithing is meaningless if they are neglecting these important issues.

The other  passage where the word " tithes" is used in the King James Version is found in Heb. 7. These verses are describing the event when Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, and the giving of a tithe to the Levites. These passages say nothing about New Testament Christians tithing.   They are all about Old Testament tithing. 

It is thus clear that the idea of tithing is pretty well left out of the New Testament. The New Testament speaks little about tithing but lots about giving. So at this point we need to see what the New Testament actually says about giving of our finances.

Before we go farther, as you’ve seen, I don’t believe in tithing as a New Testament principle. Simply stated, I believe Christians are to be generous givers, and not tithers.  And when I speak of giving, I’m speaking of giving more than just money. 


I’ve heard it said over the years that 10 percent of our income belongs to the Lord.  In my thinking, 100 percent of all we have belongs to the Lord and we need to be good stewards of His property. I will now explain how I come to this conclusion.

The Law

Some people quote from Matt. 5:17 and 18 to prove that the Law is still in existence and has not passed away, and if it has not passed away we should still obey it and tithe. People who say this clearly don’t understand the relationship between the Old and New Testament.  And they certainly don’t understand the significance of the cross of Christ. 


Matt. 5:17-18, "Think not that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of the pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (NIV)

Some people say that tithing is still for Christians today because the Law is not yet abolished. If this were the case then, why are we not continuing the practice of animal sacrifices?  Why are we not involved in all of the other rituals stated in the Law?

Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets until all things were fulfilled. This tells me something about the nature of the Law. That is, the Law like the Prophets is prophetic in nature. The Law is more than a list of  rules. It is just as prophetic as the book of Jeremiah. For example the blood sacrifices were prophetic of the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. By saying the Law was prophetic, I’m saying that which is in the  Law at some point needs to be fulfilled.

The question is then asked, “when was the Law fulfilled, or is it yet to be fulfilled”?  Look at Col. 2:13 and 14 and think about what Paul is saying. "...God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, . He took it away, nailing  it to the cross." (NIV)  This verse tells us that when Jesus died on the cross, the Law died as well. Paul clearly states that the written code was taken away and nailed to the cross with Jesus. 

Look also at Heb. 8:13. "By calling this covenant new, He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear". The writer of the book of Hebrews is calling the Old Covenant obsolete. Obsolete means outdated. The Old Covenant is outdated and has been replaced by the New Covenant, that is by faith in God's grace and the provision He made for us in the cross of Jesus.  This is the point to the whole book of Hebrews.


You might tell me that this verse says that the Law is obsolete.  It doesn’t say it’s past away.  The Law is obsolete while at the same time hasn’t completely passed away.  It still has some meaning, but it does not mean to New Testament Christians what it meant to Jews in the Old Testament.


First of all, there is still some prophetic significance to it that won’t be fulfilled until the return of Christ.


Secondly,  Paul says that the Law is our school master or teacher that leads us to Christ.  (Gal. 3:24 – 25)  This means that the Law shows us our sin, but once it’s done that, its job is complete.  Verse 25 says, “…after faith has come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster”.  (KJV)  That says it very clearly.  The Law is our schoolmaster. It has shown our sin.  It has led us to faith.  It’s done what it was meant to do and we’re now not under its regulations. 


Another thought to consider concerning Gal. 3:24-25 is that Paul was speaking to Christian Jews about being under the schoolmaster. He was not speaking to or referring to Gentile Christian.  Remember, Gentiles weren’t ever under the Law.  The Law showed the Jews their sin, not Gentiles.  The Holy Spirit now shows or convicts people of sin in today’s New Testament world.  (John 16:8-11)       

If these verses aren’t convincing enough read what Paul says in Rom. 10:4.  He says, "for Christ is the end of the Law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes". That makes it pretty clear. When Jesus was on the cross, and when He said, "it is finished", (John 19;30) He meant that everything was finished to provide Salvation for all who believe. When Jesus died on the cross the Law was fulfilled for the purpose of salvation. The Law became obsolete, and was replaced by Jesus Himself.  As Christians we are now under the authority of Jesus, not the Law of Moses.

You cannot say that we as New Testament Christians must tithe because the Law tells us to, or that Jesus told us to tithe because the Law is still intact today.  All was fulfilled on the cross. Tithing was nailed to the cross along with the blood sacrifices and all of the other rituals specified in the Law.

Other Words From Jesus

I have quoted from Matt. 5:17. The rest of Matthew 5 is interesting as well. From verses 21 to 27 Jesus tells us that the Old Testament told us not to kill, but I tell you that if a man is angry at someone, he has killed him in his heart already.


In verses 27 to 33 Jesus says that the Old Testament told us not to commit adultery. Jesus then says that if you lust at someone, you have committed adultery in your heart.

Do you see what Jesus is saying here?  He is telling us the Old Covenant, the Law was external. Killing and adultery are external behaviours.  The Law dealt with external issues, but Jesus has come to deal with internal issues of the heart. Jesus has come to get to the heart of the matter. The Law tells us not to kill. Jesus tells us not to get angry. Jesus goes much farther than the Law did. Heart issues are important to Jesus because He knows if He has the heart problem solved, the external problems will be solved as well. The reverse is not so true. Just because you have the outward things down right, like the Pharisees, it does not mean your heart will be right.

Killing and adultery are two examples of outward sins. Tithing is not an outward sin, but it is an outward act. There are many outward acts that were not sin. The Pharisees did them all. They did all the right outward things but failed miserably when it came to the matters of the heart and the  weightier issues of the Law. For example, they prayed openly so they could be seen. They had the wrong attitude when they prayed. Their heart wasn’t right.  Their prayers meant nothing to God.

In the same respect Jesus is not interested in giving of the tenth any more than He is interested in blood sacrifices. Anyone can tithe. What Jesus really wants is for us to be cheerful givers from the depth of our hearts, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 9:7.


The Old Testament tells us to give a tenth.  The New Testament tells us to give Jesus our whole lives, and then concerning money give cheerfully and according to our ability to give. 

What Did Paul Say?

The thinking that ninety percent of our income is ours and ten percent belongs to the Lord is not New Testament thinking. All of our income belongs to Jesus. Our whole lives should belong to Jesus. With this in mind Paul told the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:2) "to set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income" (NIV). He did not say that they needed to set aside a tenth, but in keeping with your income.

See again what Paul says in 2 Cor 8:2-4, "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity ... they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability". (NIV)  Paul was speaking of the Macedonians here giving to help support poor Christians in Jerusalem .  There’s no mention of tithing here. What appears to be the case is that these people gave according to their ability to give and even beyond.  They were good givers and they were cheerful givers.  I believe Paul’s words shows us New Testament thinking on  this issue.

Giving to our ability has replaced tithing. Giving beyond our ability is even better. Jesus would tell us that the Law says don't kill, but I say don't get angry. I believe He would also say, "as the Law says give a tenth, I say give generously”. 


And just to help relieve the pastors who might read this.  Remember the poor widow that gave her last  penny at the Temple in Jerusalem . (Lu. 21:3)  Jesus commended her for that.  He did not tell her that she shouldn’t have given.  He did not tell her that she didn’t have to give the next time she was in town.  I take this story to mean that “poverty is no excuse not to give”.  This is New Testament teaching.    

The Act 15 Conference


Imagine that you’re a new Gentile Christian in the first generation church.  You don’t know that much about your new found faith.  You meet up with some Jewish Christians who tell you that you need to become a Jew and obey the Law of Moses in order to be a real Christian.  You’re now all confused because men like Paul told you just the opposite.  What should you do?


This was a real problem in the first few years of Christianity and it got resolved in Acts 15 where Christian leaders met to discuss this situation.  To make a long story short, they decided that Gentiles were never under the Law and that salvation was by grace as much for the Jews as it was for Gentiles.  As a side note, you might think I’ve got the order wrong in the last sentence when I said, “grace is just as much for Jews as it is for Gentiles”.  You might think I should have said, “it’s just as much for Gentiles as it is for Jews”, but the text doesn’t say that.  What’s really happening here is that even these Jewish Christians were now acknowledging that grace and not Law was for the Jews as well as the Gentiles, which was hard for them to accept.      


These men, through the Holy Spirit decided that they’d only give Gentiles 4 requirements for thierr consideration.  They are; abstain foods offered to idols, abstain from blood, abstain from the meat of strangled animals, and also abstain from sexual immorality.  (Acts 15:29)


Note that I’ve used the word “consideration” in the last paragraph.  The reason for this is found in the last phrase of Acts 15:29 that says, “you will do well to avoid these things”.  That doesn’t sound like a strong imperative to me.


Another thing to note is that Paul himself did not follow the first requirement.  He did not see a problem with eating meet that had been sacrificed to idols as long as he didn’t eat it in the context of a pagan ritual, or as long as it didn’t hurt another’s faith.  (1 Cor. 10:14 and following)


I conclude that these rules weren’t hard and fast, except for the last one concerning sexual immorality, something that Jesus Himself addressed quite clearly.


As a new Gentile Christian you now knew the truth on these matters.  You are not under the Law.  You never were under the Law, and the Law has no authority over you, and that includes the tithing laws.            



The idea of tithing is absent from the New Testament. Either everyone believed it and accepted it as truth and therefore nothing had to be said about it as one pastor told me, or else they did not believe it and taught generosity instead. I believe the latter to be true. I think if Paul believed in tithing he would have told us.

I think the New Testament emphasis is on heart issues, not external issues. Yes, killing is a sin, but so is getting angry in your heart. Jesus scolded the Pharisees many times for praying on the street for all to see. He scolded them for their outward appearance of righteousness but in their hearts they were far from Him. (Matt. 15:8 and Mark 7:6)  Jesus died, rose
from the dead and ascended into Heaven so that He could give us His Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:33) When the Spirit comes to us and lives within us, it is then that the heart issues begin to be solved. It is then that we go from tithing to giving generously from the heart.

I have heard it said that tithing came before the Law and therefore exists after the Law. Yes tithing was instituted before the Law. So was animal sacrifices, and we don't continue killing sheep. Besides tithing became part of the Law, along with blood sacrifices and a multitude of other
things. All these things hung on the cross with Jesus.

Finally, we have seen that the written code, the Old Covenant, the Law is obsolete and has been abolished. It has been nailed to the cross with Jesus. As Paul said so clearly in Rom. 10:4, "Christ is the end of the Law".

For these reasons I believe that Christians are not under the obligation of tithing, giving a set ten percent. We are not under any obligation to give any percent. We give according to our ability, and if we so desire we can give even beyond out ability. We give generously from our hearts because
that is where the Holy Spirit lives.


If you are really fixed on tithing then maybe you ought to do as the Old Testament says, and that is to give 23.3 percent,
If you can do that cheerfully from your heart, and not make that a rule for others, you'd come close to New Testament thinking.

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