What Does the Bible Say About Tithing?

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A tithe (pronounced tie-th) is one-tenth part of one's income. Tithing, or giving a tithe, goes back to ancient times, even before the days of Moses.

The definition of tithe from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church explains the term as "the tenth part of all fruits and profits due to God and thus to the church for the maintenance of its ministry." The early church depended on tithes and offerings to operate as does the local church to this day.

The Definition of 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.

Paying tithes was an essential part of Jewish religious worship. 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)

In the days of Hezekiah, one of the first signs of the people's spiritual reform was their eagerness to present their tithes:

As soon as the command was spread abroad, the people of Israel gave in abundance the firstfruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, and of all the produce of the field. And they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything.
And the people of Israel and Judah who lived in the cities of Judah also brought in the tithe of cattle and sheep, and the tithe of the dedicated things that had been dedicated to the Lord their God, and laid them in heaps. (2 Chronicles 31:5-6, ESV)

New Testament Tithing

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. This is because the principle of giving to support the church continued in the Gospel:

Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? (1 Corinthians 9:13, ESV)

Today, when the offering plate is passed during worship, many Christians donate ten percent of their income, to support their church, the pastor's needs, and missionary work. But believers 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. 

For this reason, some Christians view New Testament tithing as a starting point, or minimum, for giving as a sign that everything they have belongs to God. They say the motive for giving ought to be even greater now than in Old Testament times, and thus, believers ought to go above and beyond the ancient practices of consecrating themselves and their wealth to God.

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Zavada, Jack. "What Does the Bible Say About Tithing?" Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, learnreligions.com/what-does-it-mean-to-tithe-700700. Zavada, Jack. (2020, August 25). What Does the Bible Say About Tithing? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-does-it-mean-to-tithe-700700 Zavada, Jack. "What Does the Bible Say About Tithing?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-does-it-mean-to-tithe-700700 (accessed June 5, 2023).