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Tithing and Enforced Giving

A STUDY OF
ENFORCED GIVING AND
TITHING
WITHIN THE CHURCH

 

 

 

A discussion paper on the subject of Christian giving.


PREFACE

 

This discussion paper was prepared in response to a request from Cultwatch who expressed concern at the fund-raising policies of some evangelical/ charismatic/ Pentecostal churches, in particular their questionable practices of enforced giving and compulsory tithing. This paper is available from their website at www.cultwatch.com.

The author is a retired secondary school teacher who has no formal theological training. I do not pretend to be infallible and I welcome criticisms, corrections and additions to this paper. I prefer the hard question to the easy answer. The bibliography at the end of the paper reflects not only my research but also my indebtedness to others.

Should the academic debate about the complexity and the confusion of the Old Testament tithing laws prove to be too tedious, the reader may find other sections and the conclusion easier to follow. It is assumed that the reader accepts the final authority of Scripture in spiritual matters.

It is my hope and prayer that many Christians will find this paper useful. Not every reader is expected to agree with the conclusions reached. However, it was interesting and profitable for me to write this paper and I pray that others may also find it useful.

Unless otherwise identified, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible

Jim Peacock MA (Hons), Diploma of Teaching.


2 CONTENTS

1 PREFACE 2
2 CONTENTS 3
3 INTRODUCTION 4
3.1 AN OVERVIEW 4
3.2 THE PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY 5
3.3 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT GIVING AND TITHING INCLUDE: 6
3.4 TWO BASIC KINDS OF GIVING ARE TAUGHT IN SCRIPTURE 7
3.5 A DEFINITION OF THE TITHE 7
4 THE OLD TESTAMENT 7
4.1 THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TITHE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT 7
4.2 THE OLD TESTAMENT SYSTEM OF TITHING: THE ACADEMIC DEBATE 8
4.3 THE OLD TESTAMENT SYSTEM OF TITHING: THE ACADEMIC DEBATE PUT ASIDE. 9
4.4 OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGES USED TO JUSTIFY TITHING TODAY 9
4.4.1 ABRAHAM’S TITHE: GENESIS CHAPTER 14 VERSE 20 9
4.4.2 MELCHIZEDEK AND HEBREWS CHAPTER SEVEN 10
4.4.3 JACOB’S TITHE: GENESIS CHAPTER 28 VERSES 20-22 11
4.4.4 THE MOST COMMONLY QUOTED PASSAGE OF MALACHI CHAPTER 3 VERSES 8-12 11
5 THE NEW TESTAMENT 12
5.1 THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE OLD TESTAMENT TO THE NEW TESTAMENT 12

5.2 CONFUSION OF THE OLD COVENANT WITH THE NEW COVENANT: LAW VERSUS GRACE 13
5.3 THE NEW TESTAMENT DOES NOT COMMAND TITHING 14
5.4 TITHING IN THE EARLY CHURCH 16
5.5 STEWARDSHIP MEANS COMMITMENT TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST 16
5.6 THE TEACHING OF OTHER NEW TESTAMENT PASSAGES 17
5.7 A SUMMARY OF NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING 20
6 CONCLUSIONS 20
7 A PRAYER 23
8 BIBLIOGRAPHY 24
9 APPENDICES 26
9.1 APPENDIX I: A BRIEF HISTORY OF TITHING IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH 26
9.2 APPENDIX II: REFERENCES TO “TITHE” AND “TITHES” AND “TENTH” IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. (NKJV) 27
9.2.1 References to the tithe are few in the New Testament. 27
9.2.2 Various Greek words belonging to the same word family are used: 27
9.3 APPENDIX III: PRINCIPLES OF GRACE GIVING 28

3 INTRODUCTION
3.1 AN OVERVIEW

1. It is difficult to give a definite answer as to the number of tithes in ancient Israel. While some scholars have argued that there were two tithes or even three, others hold that all the references are to one and the same tithe, and indicate different practices in various places at different times.

2. It is essential to understand the basic difference between the Old and New Covenants when considering the will of God for Christians today. Law and grace are opposing principles. Not to grasp this distinction is to mix and confuse law with grace with damaging spiritual consequences. Christians are not under the OT law or its economy. The multi-cultural Church is not the theocratic nation of Israel.

3. There is very good evidence that the OT tithe is not for Christians today. The Law was a temporary system until the coming of Christ. The new covenant fulfills the old covenant with a higher law. To enforce compulsory tithing on the Christian creates a false synthesis of law and grace. It is the error of the legalist.

4. There is nothing wrong with giving 10% of one’s income to God but an understanding of NT teaching puts that practice into proper perspective. Christians are not obliged to tithe as in the NT the principle of tithing is replaced by the principle of grace giving. Christian giving is based on our response to God’s generosity to us in Jesus. The example of God’s gift of grace to us of Jesus Christ remains the compelling motive for giving. God’s “indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15) is his own precious Son (John 3:16).

5. We must each come to our own conclusion about how, and how much, God is leading us to give as a matter of individual conscience before God. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). This verse rules out any “compulsion”, i.e. any organizational pressure, guilt trips, emotional blackmail, or any form of manipulation and intimidation. For a pastor to enforce the tithe, which is part of an obsolete legal system, on his people is to make them spiritually immature and hinder a genuine partnership with Christ in giving by grace. Giving that is reluctant or coerced does not please God, “for God loves a cheerful giver.”l[1] (2 Corinthians 9:7).

3.2 THE PURPOSE OF THIS STUDY

There is considerable contemporary debate and disagreement among some Christians about enforced giving and the Old Testament (OT) tithe. Many evangelical/ pentecostal/ charismatic churches hold tithing as a tenet of faith and their members are often subject to unfair coercion or persuasion. Therefore to question their understanding of tithing involves not just a major doctrine, but also questions a main source of funding for their churches. Other churches understand giving in terms of Romans chapter 14, where the individual believer should be guided by conscience, and by the New Testament (NT) principles of grace outlined by Paul in chapters 8 and 9 of 2 Corinthians, and in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, and in other NT passages.

The purpose of this paper is not to be contentious but rather to follow the example of the Berean Jews. Rather than be concerned with finance as such, we should focus on the truth of Scripture and the will of God, trusting that our heavenly Father knows our needs. Like the Berean Christians, we should search the Scriptures daily to discover God’s message for our lives. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11)

This is an example for all who hear preachers explain the Bible. These open-minded Jews did not accept what the apostle Paul said uncritically, but they examined the Scriptures to see if his teaching was sound. This was not an emotional response to the gospel, but one based on intellectual conviction. This type of response believes that no interpretation or doctrine should be accepted passively. Instead it must be examined carefully by a personal study of the Scriptures.

The word translated “examine” (Gk. ‘anakrino’) means to “to examine, to investigate, to scrutinize, to question”[2] . “It expresses the questioning process that leads to a judgment: to examine, cross-examine, inquire and investigate.”[3] It originally implied a thorough legal examination from bottom to top. So Bible preaching should make Bible students out of its hearers for the truth of Scripture is always more liberating than human tradition and spiritual error.


3.3 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT GIVING AND TITHING INCLUDE:

  • What does the Bible say about giving?
  • What guidelines does the Bible give us for managing our money?
  • What is stewardship?
  • How can a Christian be financially responsible before God?
  • Is giving to the local church the only way to give to God? (Should all Christian giving be given only through the church?)
  • Is “storehouse tithing”, where the church and its leadership receive and control all the giving of all its members, applicable today?
  • Are Christians required by the Bible to tithe? (Are Christians subject to the entire old covenant tithing laws?)
  • Is one’s failure to tithe “robbing God” and bringing God’s curse on one’s life?
  • Which one of the two or three (?) OT tithes should I keep?
  • Should I tithe out of my gross income (before tax) or out of my net income (after tax)?
  • Does God expect more than a tithe from me?
  • Will God automatically bless me with more wealth if I faithfully tithe?
  • Should churches and ministries tithe out of their corporate income?
  • Should pastors pay their tithes to their local churches?
  • Does compulsory tithing contradict the NT command that giving should be in proportion to income and voluntary?
  • Is tithing a form of “legalism”[4] that negates the NT principles of grace giving based on one’s personal freedom and one’s conscience guided by the Holy Spirit?
  • What is the difference between tithes and offerings, and how should churches collect money?
  • Can a free-will offering be given to God only after the tithe has been given?
  • Can I give my tithe to any ministry that upholds the bible like a missionary society, or the Red Cross or a TV ministry?
  • Should any private charity or gifts to Christian friends or institutions be additional to the 10% given to the church?
  • If I have not been tithing should I pay the church “back tithes”?
  • Should I tithe what has been reimbursed for expenses?
  • Does the average tither give more than the average non-tither?
  • If we tithe from our net income, does this include what is withheld for medical insurance and retirement benefits?

While different churches offer varying answers to these questions, and to other related questions, the reader may like to consider the following points of doctrine related to Christian giving, and apply the test of Acts 17:11.

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3.4 TWO BASIC KINDS OF GIVING ARE TAUGHT IN SCRIPTURE

Two basic kinds of giving are taught in the Bible: giving to the government (always compulsory), and giving to God (always voluntary). The OT tithes were not primarily gifts to God but rather taxes for financing the national government. As Israel was a theocracy the Levitical priests acted also as a bureaucracy for the civil government. The total giving required of the Hebrews was probably well over 20%. However, all giving apart from that required to finance the government was purely voluntary (Exodus 25:2; 1 Chronicles 29:9). Each person gave whatever was in his heart to give; no percentage or amount was specified. Moreover, NT believers are never commanded to tithe but are required to pay taxes to the civil government (Matthew 22: 15-22; Romans 13:1-7) and Christian giving is a matter of the grace of God at work in the believer’s heart.

3.5 A DEFINITION OF THE TITHE

The custom of giving a tenth part of one’s yearly income of the products of the land and of the spoils of war to priests and kings was a custom among most nations of the ancient Near East. In the secular world it was used of taxes levied by the local king (or other ruler), or it could refer to a share in a business. In 1 Samuel 8:15, 17, for example, the tenth part refers to the standard 10 percent tax on grain, grapes, and flocks by “a king like the other nations.” This has been called the “royal tithe”.

“This ambiguity of the tithe, as a royal tax on the one hand and as a sacred donation on the other, is to be explained by the fact that the temples to which the tithes were assigned were royal temples (Amos 7:13).” [5] 

The tithe of garden herbs like mint, anise, and cumin was a later rule of the Jewish rabbis which went beyond the intention of Scripture and made tithing a grievous burden by NT times (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42). The rabbis had elaborate rules for the exact time of the year, as well as for the stage of growth, when produce was to be tithed.

For several centuries in the early Church there was no support of the clergy by tithing. Instead leaders in the Church like Irenaeus and Epiphanius emphasized freedom in Christian giving without any external compulsion. They also considered that a tithe was an insufficient amount for a Christian to give. Historically, the decree of Charlemagne in AD 785 no longer gave people an option; they were taxed for the support of the Western Church whether they liked it or not. [6]

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4 THE OLD TESTAMENT
4.1 THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TITHE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Underlying the tithe was the basic idea that “the earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). Tithing was an acknowledgment of God’s ownership of everything in the earth. The firstborn and the tenth of the flocks and herds, and produce of the soil, were offered to God as being sacred to him. This income dedicated to God was intended to represent all the produce of the land and all property in general. Tithes were a confession and an acknowledgment that the whole land and its possessions belonged to God and that it was He, as the Owner, who gave them. The giving of tithes was meant to be an act of joyful worship (Deuteronomy 12:12) and not a tiresome burden or onerous duty.

Thus Judah’s failure to do this amounted to robbing God (Malachi 3:8, 10), not of the material things themselves as these already belonged to God (Psalm 50:10) but of the recognition that material things belonged to him. Tithing was an expression of thanks to God for his generosity. In practical terms, tithing meant that the Levites and priests could be supported and the poor provided with food. Just as God had shared his blessings with his people, so they in turn must share them with the less fortunate.

4.2 THE OLD TESTAMENT SYSTEM OF TITHING: THE ACADEMIC DEBATE

The history of the tithe in ancient Israel is in some aspects obscure and it is difficult to reconstruct exactly its history. For example, the relationship between tithes and first fruits remains uncertain. Sometimes first fruits and tithes appear to be the same (Deuteronomy 26: 1-14), but at other times they appear to be separate (Nehemiah 12:44). More importantly, scholars have vigorously debated whether there were two tithes or even three. This continuing scholarly debate is not completely resolved.

“Reconstructing a clear picture of the nature and function of tithing in biblical times is extremely difficult due to the conflicting accounts concerning tithes in the biblical tradition and the problems in identifying the dates and provenance [source or origin] of the texts.” [7] 

The differences (some would call them contradictions) between the tithe laws in Deuteronomy 12:6,11,17 especially 14:22-29; 26:12-15 as opposed to those in Leviticus 27:30-33 and Numbers 18:21-32, are considerable. For example, Numbers grants the tithe directly to the Levites (with a tithe of the tithe going to the priests), but Deuteronomy has it consumed by worshipers in a feast to the Lord, except in the third and sixth years of the sabbatical cycle, when it was granted to the Levites and the poor of the land.

“The various attitudes toward the tithe…had to be combined and the contradictions to be harmonized. Thus for instance the two types of tithes prevalent at this period (of the second temple) are the outcome of the contradiction between Numbers 18:21 ff and Deuteronomy 14:22 ff. According to the priestly ordination (Numbers) the tithe is to be given to the Levite, whereas according to the Deuteronomic code, it is to be consumed by the owner at the central sanctuary. The rabbis, taking it for granted that both laws are of Mosaic origin and therefore equally binding, interpreted them as two different tributes; one to be given to the Levite, “the first tithe”; and the other to be brought to Jerusalem and consumed there, “the second tithe”. [8]

Thus the apparent discrepancy between the laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy is harmonized in Jewish tradition by considering the tithes as three different tithes, which are named the First Tithe, the Second Tithe, and the Poor Tithe, which is called also the Third Tithe. According to this explanation, after the tithe (the First Tithe) was given to the Levites (of which they had to give the tithe to the priests), a Second Tithe of the remaining nine-tenths had to be set apart and consumed in Jerusalem. Those who lived far from Jerusalem could change this Second Tithe into money with the addition of a fifth part of its value. Only food, drink or ointment could be bought for the money (compare Deuteronomy 14:26). The tithe of cattle belonged to the Second Tithe, and was to be used for the feast in Jerusalem. In the third year the Second Tithe was to be given entirely to the Levites and the poor. But according to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, the “Poor Tithe” was actually a third one. The priests and the Levites, if landowners, were also obliged to give the Poor Tithe.

Thus questions remain: Were there three tithes in this third year, or is the third tithe only the second under a different name? Did Samuel forewarn that Israel’s kings would appropriate, as a mandatory royal tax, the three years’ poor man’s tithe? (1 Samuel 8:15, 17). Or was the king’s tithe over and above the other tithes?

However, a simpler solution has been proposed. Since the tithe was subject to a variety of laws, some scholars think the differences in legislation reflect different uses of the tithe at various stages of Israel’s history. It is suggested that these tithes were originally one and the same tithe and that they were only interpreted (or misinterpreted) to be different and multiple tithes by Jewish rabbis after the return from Babylon. Thus the tithe passages in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT) are not seen as contradictory but as complementary. It is argued that Numbers looks at tithes from the point of view of the Levites and priests, while Deuteronomy sees tithes from the perspective of the nation as a whole, the common people, and their responsibility to the Levites. In other words, it is claimed that later Jewish rabbis misunderstood the OT tithing laws.

4.3 THE OLD TESTAMENT SYSTEM OF TITHING: THE ACADEMIC DEBATE PUT ASIDE.

The OT system of tithing was an integral part of Hebrew society that was established by the Law of Moses to provide for the specific needs of people within the sovereign nation of Israel in the land of Canaan (Palestine). These needs were for a central place of worship, for a large number of priests set aside for religious service who were not given land of their own, and for the poor, who lacked today’s comprehensive system of social welfare financed by graduated taxation.

However, the NT Church has no such national identity, as it comprises groups of believers scattered among the nations and cultures of the world. These Christians are subject to the laws of the nation in which they live; they have the duties and privileges of citizenship. The multi-cultural and multi-lingual Church does not have a central temple. The Christian Church does not have a Levitical priesthood offering animal sacrifices. Few urban Christians have farm produce or livestock with which to tithe. Even fewer Christians live in the Promised Land. For the first two centuries or so of the Christian era, believers met in private homes so there were no buildings to maintain. Instead of a special priestly class, the NT speaks of a priesthood of all believers.

Thus there are significant differences between the OT and NT communities of faith. It is therefore not surprising that the NT does not transfer the OT system of tithing into an entirely different social context. Nowhere does the NT expressly command Christians to tithe. Instead a new set of guidelines and principles based on grace are introduced.

Other Old Testament concepts like tithing, such as the Sabbath, animal sacrifices, and circumcision, predate the Mosaic Law, yet they are not stated as requirements for the Church in the NT in either the book of Acts or in the epistles of Paul, Peter and John.

4.4 OLD TESTAMENT PASSAGES USED TO JUSTIFY TITHING TODAY
4.4.1 ABRAHAM’S TITHE: GENESIS CHAPTER 14 VERSE 20

The practice of giving a tenth of one’s income or property as an offering to a god, or to a king, was an ancient custom among many nations of the ancient Near East. The first mention of tithing in the Bible occurs in Genesis chapter 14 so Abram practiced tithing before the Law of Moses made it compulsory. There is no indication that Abram was told to tithe by Melchizedek. Note that the “everything” (v 20) in question did not belong to Abram. He gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils of war, i.e. a tenth of other people’s property, not the produce of his own land. This was not his usual source of income as he was not a warlord. It was a once only voluntary event whose purpose is not explained. It was probably a representative act of thanksgiving to God on behalf of those people who had been miraculously rescued from a life of slavery. It was an isolated incident. This was the only time that he ever tithed according to Scripture.

Moreover there are no NT commands to tithe based on Abraham’s example than there are to be circumcised, to offer animal sacrifices, to have concubines and to practice polygamy, or to meet on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was also instituted prior to Abraham (Genesis 2:3) yet Christians traditionally meet on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. If people insist that you should follow the example of Abram’s tithe in Genesis chapter 14, you should go to their house, and take 10% of their property, and give it away!

4.4.2 MELCHIZEDEK AND HEBREWS CHAPTER SEVEN

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, his name means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people-that is, their brothers-even though their brothers are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor. (Hebrews 7:1-10)

It cannot be inferred from the Bible that Abram regularly paid tithes of all his property. Neither the Genesis account nor the account in Hebrews chapter seven suggests that Abraham was under obligation to pay tithes to Melchizedek. Hebrews 7:4 clearly says “a tenth of the plunder.” (NIV).

Some argue that we can infer a requirement for Christians to tithe from Hebrews chapter seven. The analogy of this passage would imply, they say, that Christ as the anti-type of Melchizedek should receive tithes. However, Abraham was under no legal obligation to pay tithes to Melchizedek, as Israelites would later be required by the law to pay a tithe to the Levitical priesthood. His paying of a tithe was a voluntary recognition of Melchizedek’s authority and position as a priest-king of God. The writer of Hebrews recalls the Genesis story of Melchizedek to explain the nature of Jesus’ superior priesthood. He argues that the priesthood of Jesus is superior to and supersedes the Levitical priesthood and its ministry. Christ is greater than Abraham, Levi and all his descendants.

This passage does not tell Christians to tithe; it establishes nothing about New Covenant giving. The tithes referred to are those given to the Levites under the Old Covenant and that given to Melchizedek by Abraham. It explains that Abraham once tithed and the significance of that action, in verse 8:

“In the one case (Israel in the writer’s time), the tenth is collected by men who die (the Levites); but in the other case (Canaan in Abraham’s time), by him who is declared to be living (Melchizedek, as a type of Christ).”

Furthermore, in all 75 New Testament references to Abraham (based on the NKJV), the only practice of his that we are told to follow is his faith. In Romans (4: 11 and 16) and in Galatians (3:6-10), Abraham is an example of one who was justified by faith, and not justified by the works of the law. Abraham is compared to the Christian in this one point only. And all the saints of all the ages, whether before the cross of Christ or after it, have been justified in the same way.

Moreover, nowhere does the NT expressly command Christians to tithe. In the New Testament the words ‘tithe’ and ‘tithing’ appear only nine times [Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42; 18:12; Hebrews 7:4, 5, 6, 8, and 9 (2x). See Appendix 2.] All of these passages refer to Old Testament usage and to current Jewish practice. They are not NT commands to today’s believer.

4.4.3 JACOB’S TITHE: GENESIS CHAPTER 28 VERSES 20-22

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth’.”

The only other example of tithe-paying before the Law is found in Genesis chapter 28, verses 20-22, where Jacob made a vow to give God a tenth of all that God would give him. This attempt by the cunning fugitive Jacob to bargain with the mercy of God reveals his shallow spiritual character. Again, this is an entirely voluntary action. God did not ask for it or expect it. If the tithe were an obligation, or a debt, it was insolent of Jacob to “give” God what Jacob had no right to refuse. What Jacob felt free to vow or not to vow cannot be made compulsory for any other person. Since this was the first time that Jacob had tithed to God it shows that tithing had not become a tradition since the time of Abraham.

There is no record in the Bible that Jacob kept this conditional promise. The last condition, “and I return to my father’s house in safety” happened about 20 years later. If Genesis chapter 28 is an example of tithing, then make a list of everything you want from God, and once you have received it all, start making your ‘once-every-twenty-year’ payments! Jacob’s vow lends no support to the argument for universal tithing.

4.4.4 THE MOST COMMONLY QUOTED PASSAGE OF MALACHI CHAPTER 3 VERSES 8-12

The most commonly quoted passage on tithing in the OT is Malachi 3:8-12. Question: which one of the three tithes is referred to in verse 10? Those who advocate tithing on the basis of this verse rarely state which particular tithe is meant here. A parallel passage in Deuteronomy 26:12-15 confirms that Malachi refers to the “whole tithe” i.e. the third year tithe which was the only tithe wholly given away. The only tithe to reach “”my house” i.e. the temple in Jerusalem, was the tithe that the Levites took there. Nehemiah explains how this tithe got to the “storehouse” in Jerusalem (10:37-38). It was from this third year tithe that the Levites in turn gave a tithe to the temple priests (Numbers 18:26-28).

The Hebrew word “‘outsar” (Strong’s # 214) translated “storehouse” (NIV) in Malachi 3:10 is the same word in Nehemiah 10:38. The “storehouse” refers to a kind of temple warehouse, described in Nehemiah 13:5, as a place for keeping tithed grain, frankincense, temple vessels, wine and oil. The tithe in question was probably the tithe payable by the Levites, not the tithes payable by the people. Malachi was not rebuking the common people (“And now this admonition is for you, O priests.” 2:1); he was rebuking the Levites.

“One must be careful in applying these promises (3:10-12) to believers today. The Mosaic Covenant, with its promises of material blessings to Israel for her obedience, is no longer in force (Ephesians 2:14-15; Romans 10:4; Hebrews 8:13). However, the NT speaks about generosity and giving. While not requiring a tithe of believers today, the NT does speak of God’s blessing on those who give generously to the needs of the church and especially to those who labour in the Word (Acts 4:31-35; 2 Corinthians 9:6-12; Galatians 6:6; Philippians 4:14-19).” [9]

The idea that one’s entire giving should be paid to the local church based on the identification of the local church with the “storehouse” (AV) of Malachi 3:10 i.e. the temple treasury, is very questionable and highly dangerous. The Christian life is not about rigid legalistic regulations insensitively imposed by a church leadership. That practice has resulted in the spiritual abuse and unfair manipulation of God’s people.

The thrust of the book of Malachi may be summed up in verse 4 of chapter 4, “Remember the law of my servant Moses.” But Christians live under the grace of God provided in Jesus Christ and do not live under the Mosaic Law (Romans 6:14-15; 7:4, 6; 8:3; 10:4; Galatians 2:16; 3:23-25). If one chooses to place oneself under the works of the law, like tithing, one places oneself under a curse because we cannot keep the law of Moses (Galatians 3:10-14). Here is the dilemma: observe part of the law and you are obliged to keep all of the law; enforce part of the old covenant and you must enforce all of it (Galatians 5:3).

Finally, some who argue for tithing say that it predates the Law, as in the case of Abram, yet they use a passage of scripture like Malachi chapter 3 that was appropriate under the law, to support their argument. This is another theological contradiction. In conclusion, the Malachi text should not be used to badger God’s people to give.

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5 THE NEW TESTAMENT
5.1 THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE OLD TESTAMENT TO THE NEW TESTAMENT

How much continuity and discontinuity exists between the old and new covenants? While we may draw many spiritual principles, character studies, types of Christ and moral lessons, etc from the OT because “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16), not all OT scripture is applicable to Christians as members of the body of Christ. There is a question that one must always ask when considering an OT practice: “Does the New Testament either endorse and continue, or modify, or abolish this OT practice?” For example, the NT sets aside the “clean/unclean” food regulations of the OT (Mark 7; Acts chapters 10 and 11). Some of the laws of justice have been abolished. For example, we are not to stone disobedient children or adulterers today. Has the command to tithe been continued into the NT, or has it been modified or set aside?

Nowhere does the New Testament require Christians to tithe in the age of grace but the NT reiterates some aspects associated with tithing. For example, those who minister are entitled to financial support (1 Corinthians 9:14); the poor and needy should be cared for (1 Corinthians 16:1; Galatians 2:10); and those who give can trust God to supply their needs (Philippians 4:19). The N T directs that taxes be paid to the state (Romans 13:6-7), which replaced Israel’s theocracy. Paul’s teaching suggests that giving is voluntary and that there is no set percentage. Following the example of Christ, we should cheerfully give as much as we have decided (2 Corinthians 9:7), based on how much the Lord has prospered us (1 Corinthians 16:2), knowing that we reap in proportion to what we sow (2 Corinthians 9:6), and that we will ultimately give account of our stewardship (Romans 14:12).

There are some legitimate NT applications of the Malachi passage discussed above, but coercing believers into tithing and insisting that all believers give all that they give to the local church amounts to manipulating the scripture for a particular agenda. Perhaps a more biblical application of Malachi chapter three is that believers should get their spiritual priorities clear and support those who minister the things of God as Paul encourages in Galatians chapter six and 1 Timothy chapter five. But these applications need to be preached in a non-manipulating way, and they should be in line with NT principles, and implemented as the Lord directs individuals by his Spirit.

5.2 CONFUSION OF THE OLD COVENANT WITH THE NEW COVENANT: LAW VERSUS GRACE

A legalistic mixture of Hebrew truth with Christian truth comes from a failure to distinguish in the Bible between what properly belongs to Israel in the OT and what the Church in the NT can correctly claim. The basic error is that of regarding OT and NT saints as identical in character, thus applying indiscriminately all promises in the OT to the Church. Such careless exposition of the Scriptures makes for confusion.

The Mosaic Law was a system based on merit, i.e., it offered rewards for obedience and punished failure with severe penalties. The tithe was an integral part of the Law as a rule of life for Israel. This legal character of the Law is everywhere opposed in the NT by the teaching of grace. The two opposing systems are set in antithesis in Romans 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (NASB).

The NT positively states that the Law is done away as a rule of life, and for the Christian a principle of grace replaces it. A few Scriptures are sufficient proof:

1. John 1:17, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
The contrast between Moses and Jesus Christ lies in the different approach to God. Obedience to the Law is inferior to acceptance of the grace and truth found in Christ. A new order has replaced the Mosaic system.

2. Galatians 3:24-25, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”
The words “put in charge” in Greek refer to an attendant, custodian, or guardian, usually a slave whose job it was to accompany the child, train him, and discipline him. The law was this kind of a disciplinarian until Christ came.

3. Romans 6:14-15, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”
“It is not restraint, but inspiration which liberates from sin; not Mount Sinai but Mount Calvary which makes saints.” [10]

4. Ephesians 2:15 “by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace”
The words “in his flesh” refers to the physical death of Christ, possible because He was human (Gal. 4:4); “the law” refers to the whole Jewish legal system; “the two” refers to Jew and Gentile.

5. Furthermore, as 2 Corinthians 3:7-13 plainly states that the ten commandments are abolished after the death of Christ, and these commandments were the heart and soul of the Mosaic Law, it is extremely unlikely that they should be done away, and the more minor commandments, such as tithing, should remain in effect.
“Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.”

Verse 3:7: “the ministry that brought death.” refers to the law and particularly to the ten commandments, which were engraved on stone (Deuteronomy 9:10). Since the law showed mankind his sinfulness and gave him no power to break out of it, it ministered death. Note that the law was fading away (v. 11). When Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the law, his face shone so that the people were afraid to approach him (Exodus 34:29-30). But just as his radiance faded so also the Mosaic Law was temporary.

Verse 3:11: There is no question that the law was glorious for its time and purpose, but its temporary nature and limited purpose caused that glory to fade in the light of the grace of Christ.

It should be obvious that the OT tithe, as part of a legal system, does not and cannot apply to a Christian under grace. The tithe was compulsory; grace never compels. The tithe was a debt payable to God, not a gift. Grace cancels all debts and accepts only gifts. The tithe was part of the Law; grace has abolished the Law.

Because they were compulsory, the OT tithes were more like taxes than gifts. It is obvious that the OT system of compulsory tithes contradicts the NT principles of grace giving. For example, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart… not under compulsion.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) and “set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.” (1 Corinthians 16:2).

How best then to resolve this obvious contradiction between the OT compulsory tithe and the NT instructions about voluntary giving in proportion to income? The Old Testament is best seen as a progressive and partial revelation of what is fully revealed in and by Jesus Christ of the New Testament. He is the theme and the fulfillment of the OT. In Matthew 5:17 the “law and the prophets” were popularly equivalent to the whole of the OT. In the same verse the word translated “fulfill” means “to bring to full expression or show it forth in its full meaning or to complete”.[11] Jesus completed its partial revelation, fulfilled its messianic predictions, and gave the true interpretation of its moral teaching.

In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ of the NT interprets the OT, not vice versa. Therefore to make tithing mandatory on the NT Church is to misinterpret the NT in terms of the incomplete revelation of the OT. This is a serious theological error. It also causes confusion in our churches and grieves the Holy Spirit.

5.3 THE NEW TESTAMENT DOES NOT COMMAND TITHING

The only passage in the NT that explicitly authorizes tithing does so in a rather backhanded way: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)
It is important to note that Jesus taught as One in the old dispensation of Law, prior to his cross, and not in the new dispensation of grace. He did not say that tithing was unimportant. However, the Jewish scribes had wrongly expanded the items required to be tithed to include even the smallest of garden herbs. Remember that these Pharisees were respected religious leaders. He does not condemn tithing, but he condemns the ridiculous scrupulous tithing of a few garden herbs at the expense of the more important moral principles of the law- right, mercy and faithfulness.

Nowhere does the New Testament specifically command tithing as a regulation for the church. Neither Jesus nor his disciples taught the necessity of tithing; nor can we find any statement that they did tithe. Jesus paid the temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27), but we do not read of him paying his tithe. In the NT churches, giving was voluntary for the aid of the poor and for full-time ministry, though Paul the tentmaker often preferred to be self-supporting.

The first church council in Jerusalem about 50 AD, recorded in Acts chapter 15, decided that believers did not have to observe the Law of Moses which included tithing. When the subject of law observances came before the council the only matters stipulated to be observed were “to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (Acts 15:20). It was expressly stated, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements.” (Verse 28)

To demand a tenth from believers is disobedience to the principles of giving by grace set down in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, and 1 Corinthians 16:2 because the tithe may become an unequal yoke. It is an unrealistic burden to some, and a limitation to greater giving by others. Also an emphasis on tithing can lead to a sense of compulsion (giving as a duty) and even complacency (“I’ve met my quota!”).

The NT teaches in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 and 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, and elsewhere, that a Christian’s giving should be: regular, systematic, liberal, cheerful and generous as an expression of love, in proportion to income (and not necessarily limited to the tithe of one’s income). Giving is a matter of individual conscience, a voluntary decision before God, subject to the inward prompting of the Holy Spirit, and not controlled by the dictatorial commands of others.

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). The Greek verb “proaireomai” translated “decided,” means “to choose for oneself, to determine, to make up one’s mind”[12]  It indicates a deliberate resolve, deciding on the end and on the means of attainment. “It is not the outcome of a spent emotion, or a promise half-regretted, but formed with a clear well-defined perception of all attendant circumstances, and neither “reluctantly”, as regards amount, nor with reluctance, as giving under pressure.”[13] His concern is for “a consciously accepted obligation that is nevertheless free and not grounded in command or law.”[14] It is an act of faith in God who is able to supply our needs and enable us to be generous. It should be subject to financial accountability and integrity, and an expression of the unity of the fellowship of all believers. It is above all a response to God’s “indescribable gift” of Christ.

Giving should follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ who provides the greatest model of self-emptying (Philippians 2:5-8). It would be surprising if grace did not encourage a larger proportion than the Mosaic Law demanded. A Christian should not ask, “What am I required to give?” but “How much can I give?” and “What is left over after I have given?”

What matters is the giver’s willingness to give in relation to income, “according to what one has” (2 Corinthians 8:11-12), no matter how small the amount that can be afforded. The poor widow is an outstanding example of this principle (Mark 12:41-44). Some individuals may consider that they should give a tenth of their income. This is acceptable as a matter of conscience. However, church leaders must be careful not to place undue financial pressure on a congregation, nor tell them how much to give.

Compulsory tithing makes law keeping a means of earning God’s approval and legalism enters the Christian life when obedience is not based on faith, grace and love. Legalism may be defined as a doctrine of salvation by conformity to law, as distinguished by salvation by grace. To insist on tithing in the age of grace is to mix law and grace and encourage trust in human works. Christians are subject to the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2) and the standard for how much we give is not an amount set by some external law. If a set amount is laid down for believers to give, it becomes a legal and external matter, rather than a matter of the individual’s conscience and the leading of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:1, 18, 25). A Christian should give a proportion based on what one has, one’s own needs, and on the needs of others, including the ministry of the local church, and the worldwide body of Christ.

“One of the major arguments against tithing is the argument from silence: tithing is never mentioned as a principle for the NT church in the NT. The absence of any mention of the tithe principle in all the statements of other principles for NT Christian giving render arguments for tithing as a rule for Christian giving as questionable. There are just too many opportunities for NT writers to use the OT tithe to persuade Christians, yet no one ever does. The evidence weighs heavily on the side of relinquishing the tithe argument and following the principles set forth by Paul in his letters. Properly understood and taught, those principles are more compelling than the tithe ever was in OT days and could ever be in the NT church.” [15]

5.4 TITHING IN THE EARLY CHURCH

In the writings of the apostolic Fathers tithing does not appear although giving still continued to be an important part of worship. Justin Martyr observed that every Sunday “those who prosper and so wish, contribute, each one as much as he chooses. What is collected is deposited with the president, and he takes care of orphans and widows and those who are in want…and those who are in bonds and the strangers who are sojourners among us”.[16]  Irenaeus considered tithing to be a Jewish law not required of Christians for Christians had “liberty” and should give without external constraint. Origen saw tithes as something to be exceeded by Christians in their giving.

For the early Fathers of the Church, as for the writers of the NT, the tithe was a thing of the past; a new principle for giving was guiding them now and propelling them to share–the goodness of God and the inward compulsion of the Holy Spirit.”[17]

5.5 STEWARDSHIP MEANS COMMITMENT TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

The Christian life is a stewardship and each believer is a servant of Christ who will be held accountable for her/his stewardship. The NT idea of stewardship centres in a Christian’s commitment to Jesus Christ. When He becomes our Lord, He becomes Lord of our time, our abilities, our money and everything else. Whether we give God one-tenth or more of our income, we give Him but His own as we are the trustees of his property. We manage our earthly goods on his behalf.

Generally, God does not entrust more wealth to us to manage until we prove faithful with what we have now (Luke 16:10-11). The parable of the dishonest steward teaches, among other things, that our obedience to Christ is tested by how we use money. The dishonest steward used his opportunity wisely and prepared for the future. Proportionate giving is giving in proportion to God’s blessing, as a steward who wants to invest his life in heavenly treasure. Our motive for such giving is the glory of God

5.6 THE TEACHING OF OTHER NEW TESTAMENT PASSAGES

This section is not exhaustive as not all passages on giving are discussed.

1. Matthew 10:8b “Freely you have received, freely give.”

These brief words reflect divine love and grace. Christians are to give as God gives. Giving from a heart of love and gratitude is seen as the highest expression of God’s character.

2. Acts 6:1 “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.”

This brief report of a church quarrel indicates who should receive financial help. Evidently widows, who because of their age or the care of children are not capable of earning their own living, are to be supported by their church. However, the rule of 1 Timothy 5:16 also applies: “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”

3. Acts 20:35 “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

These words of Paul preserve a traditional teaching of Christ that is not recorded in the gospels. This saying is the epitome of grace. It is giving that is a blessing, not receiving, as those who understand the heart of God can testify. Paul also says that Christians should “support the weak.” These are probably sick persons who are unable to work themselves and require help from others.

4. Romans 12:13 “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Paul gives some practical advice. He says the care of needy saints is a concern of Christians. “Practice hospitality.” means literally “pursuing friendliness to strangers” and involves helping others and focusing on their needs.

5. 2 Corinthians 11:8-9-8 “I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.”

Paul considered that the responsibility for his support belonged to the believers to whom he was ministering, in this case the Corinthians. Because they neglected to provide for him, he “robbed” other churches for his support; “robbed” in the sense of having accepted gifts from other churches who could ill afford to give them, in order not to be a financial burden to the Corinthians.

When Paul first arrived at Corinth, he worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3), but then he devoted himself entirely to preaching when gifts for his support came from Macedonia (Acts 18:3-5; Philippians 4:15). He commended the believers in Macedonia for supplying his needs, even though he was not directly ministering directly to them. So a church is expected to first support the ministry to its own members, and then help financially in fulfilling the Great Commission.

6. Galatians 6: 6-10 “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

The word “share” in verse six (Greek “koinoneo”) is the same Greek word in Romans 12:13 also translated “share”. It means “to enter into fellowship, to join oneself as an associate, to make oneself a sharer or partner”.[18] It refers to the support of teachers who give themselves wholly to the ministry of the Bible. This would also include, in a wider sense, such institutions as Bible schools and seminaries.

Note that causes that belong to “the family of believers” have a priority in Christian giving before secular charities, however worthy they may be in themselves. Concern for other believers should be a special obligation of Christians.

7. Philippians 4:14-19 “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Paul was grateful for the financial help that the Philippian church had sent with Epaphroditus. It seems that this church had a special arrangement of “giving and receiving” with Paul; they alone of the churches had responded to Paul’s needs. Their sacrificial generosity was unique and unmatched (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

In this passage Paul uses the language of finance and investment. In verse 15 he writes of credit and debit (“giving and receiving”) the two parts of an accountant’s ledger. The word for “credited” (17) is a word used in banking for financial growth. Finally, in verse 18 when he says, “I have received full payment”, he uses a commercial term meaning “to receive a sum in full and give a receipt for it.”[19] He regarded their missionary gift as a spiritual investment that would pay eternal dividends.

But the greatest value of their gifts was its value to God as “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice”. Paul saw their gift as a spiritual sacrifice where the Philippian believers were priests offering a sacrifice to God (Hebrews 13:15-16). The OT background is a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. The term “fragrant offering” is used in Ephesians 5:2 of Christ’s offering of himself. Such generous giving is “pleasing to God.” (18)

Paul affirms two principles: the centrality of Jesus Christ as the source of every blessing from God and God’s commitment to meet the needs of those who give sacrificially to meet the needs of others. The Philippians had met Paul’s needs and so God would meet theirs. Note that the church that gives to missionaries will have its needs supplied (verse 19). The passage emphasizes a relationship of mutual concern between Paul and the Philippian believers.

8. 1 Timothy 5:8 “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Paul emphasizes that financial responsibility to one’s own family members must be put first in the believer’s practice of giving. Failure to provide, the Greek word “pronoei” means “to perceive before, to provide, to think of beforehand”,[20] for family members denies a person’s claim to know God and is a denial of the Christian faith. An old proverb says, “Charity begins at home.”

9. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

Paul’s words “double honor” (17) probably refer to respect and remuneration although some understand this to mean double pay for those who excelled in ministry. In either case the church should offer financial support to its workers. Though Paul reserved the right not to receive support from a church (1 Corinthians 9:15-23), he taught that a church did not have the right not to offer it (Galatians 6:6; 1 Corinthians 9:14). In modern practice this would apply to the pastor or minister of a church and to others who gave full or part time service.

10. 3 John 5-8 “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth.”

Gaius had generously helped both “brothers” and “strangers,” evidently itinerant evangelists and teachers, who were dependent on men like Gaius for help on their journey with food, money, shelter, and so on. These traveling missionaries declined to receive help from those who were not converted, lest they should appear to be selling the gospel when salvation is free. No further sanction is needed for the financial support of home and foreign missionaries, and Bible teachers. The words “work together” (8) suggest a partnership with what God’s truth does in people’s lives.

5.7 A SUMMARY OF NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING

  • Why a Christian should give? Believers should give because they have richly received (Matthew 10:8). Also, they are to give on the ground of having first given themselves and all they possess to God (2 Corinthians 8:5).
  • Who should give? Under grace, every believer is privileged to be a giver, and is encouraged to use that privilege for his own blessing and the blessing of others (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7).
  • How much to give? No specified amount or proportion is ever required by those who live by grace. God asks only that the believer recognize his abundant blessing and give as God has prospered. (1 Corinthians 16:2). Whatever the amount, it is to be “purposed in the heart” (2 Corinthians 9:7 AV).
  • How to give? Motive in giving is all-important under grace. Believers should give with a willing mind (2 Corinthians 8:12), cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7), generously (2 Corinthians 9:6), and freely (Matthew 10:8).
  • When to give? Though giving is not always done on a Sunday, believers are encouraged to set aside an amount “in store” each Lord’s Day, that they may have a fund from which to distribute (1 Corinthians 16:2).
  • To whom to give? The NT suggests needy saints (Romans 12:13; 2 Corinthians 9:12), the sick and aged (Acts 20:35), elders in the church, which would include the present-day pastor (1 Timothy 5:17), Bible teachers (Galatians 6:6-10), widows (Acts 6:1; 1 Timothy 5:16), poor relatives (1 Timothy 5:8-16), and missionaries (3 John 5-7).
    Thus the New Testament teaching about giving is full and complete. There is no reason to borrow any laws from the legal system of the Old Testament. To do so is to “fall from grace” to a lower level of duty and legal obligation.

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6 CONCLUSION

1. It is difficult to give a definite answer as to the number of tithes in ancient Israel. While some scholars have argued that there were two tithes or even three, others hold that all the references are to one and the same tithe, and indicate different practices in various places at different times. The rabbis of the New Testament period, however, understood the laws as referring to three separate tithes: a Levitical tithe, a tithe spent celebrating in Jerusalem, and a charity tithe. How does the “royal tithe” fit with either view?

2. It is essential to understand the basic difference between the Old and New Covenants when considering the will of God for Christians today. Law and grace are opposing principles. Not to grasp this distinction is to mix and confuse law with grace with damaging spiritual consequences. Christians are not under the OT law or its economy. The multi-cultural Church is not the theocratic nation of Israel.

3. There is very good evidence that the OT tithe is not for Christians today. The Law was a temporary system until the coming of Christ. The new covenant fulfills the old covenant with a higher law. Believers in Jesus Christ are not under any kind of legal system of external rules that are to be kept in order to walk with God.

4. Therefore to enforce compulsory tithing for the Christian creates a false synthesis of law and grace. It is this error that the apostle Paul tackles in the book of Galatians. It is the mistake of those who seek salvation not through Christ alone but through Christ plus something else. It is the error of the legalist.

5. There is nothing wrong with giving 10% of one’s income to God but an understanding of NT teaching puts that practice into proper perspective. Christians are not obliged to tithe as in the NT the principle of tithing is replaced by the principle of grace giving.

6. At the heart of NT giving there is the important Bible word “grace”. This key word summarizes the essence of the Christian life. It refers to God’s undeserved love, acceptance and generosity in providing salvation through Jesus Christ. It is one of the key attributes of God; it is the hallmark of the Christian experience. Christian giving is based on our response to God’s generosity to us in Jesus. It is an expression of our total self-giving to God.

7. We should be sensitive to the needs of others and sensitive to the Holy Spirit, in a responsible Scriptural manner. We must each come to our own conclusion about how, and how much, God is leading us to give. The example of God’s gift of grace to us of Jesus Christ remains the compelling motive for Christian giving. God gave his best; he gave his all. God’s “indescribable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15) is his own precious Son (John 3:16). The self-giving of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-8; Titus 2:14) is our example.

8. “How can I manage my affairs so that I can give more?” is an even better question than “What is the correct interpretation?” The full revelation of God in the NT reveals that we are to practice one hundred percent stewardship (2 Corinthians 8: 9). Paul said of the Macedonians that they “first gave themselves to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5). A surrendered life is the source from which true giving begins. All we have belongs to God and should be used for his glory. Our personal integrity is usually revealed in how we handle money.

9. There should never be any kind of pressure or coercion by church leaders to get God’s people to give a certain percentage or to give to a particular need. Rather they should encourage believers to prayerfully consider particular needs as Paul did in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, but this must be done in a non-manipulating manner.

10. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). This verse rules out any “compulsion”, i.e. any organizational pressure, guilt trips, emotional blackmail, or any form of manipulation and intimidation. Christian giving should always be “free-will”; it is not something that can be demanded.

11. For a Christian, tithing may be the beginning of Christian stewardship, not the end. God may want an individual to give less than a tithe, but he may require more through his enabling grace. It remains a matter of individual conscience before God. Only God and the giver know the proportion determined. The individual believer is to give “as he has decided in his heart” (2 Corinthians 9:7). There is no set percentage in Paul’s teaching. Remember that we cannot out-give God.

12. Christian giving should be exercised as an act of worship with preparation, purpose, and joy. Giving that is reluctant or coerced does not please God, “for God loves a cheerful giver.”[21] g (2 Corinthians 9:7). For a pastor to enforce the tithe, which is part of an obsolete legal system, on his people is to make them spiritually immature and hinder a genuine partnership with Christ in giving by grace.

13. The NT nowhere tells us that giving to the church is the only way to give to God. Anything that we do for others whether giving money to para-church groups, missionaries, the Salvation Army, to people in need, or giving hospitality to others, expresses God’s love to needy people. The parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) warns of the failure to do good deeds. This parable does not teach salvation by works but warns against the sin of omission.

14. As the Levites were commanded to give “a tenth of a tithe” (Numbers 18:26), then we may expect those who make their living by contributions for the Lord’s work shall themselves give to the Lord as well.

15. There is the danger of spiritual pride in thinking that if we have contributed a specific amount like 10% that we have satisfied God’s requirements. Likewise, if we give more than 10% we may over-estimate our own generosity. This is one of the lessons to be learned from the story of the widow’s mite: genuine giving is both generous and sacrificial.

16. A strictly legal point of view on tithing soon becomes a plethora of complicated issues like the list of questions at the beginning of this paper. Those who hold to enforced giving or compulsory tithing tend to become increasingly legalistic in their experience.

17. How should a Christian best determine her/his priorities on the basis of Paul’s statement, “let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers”? (Galatians 6:10). While the needy in one’s spiritual family take precedence over those outside that family, the church should not neglect needy unbelievers. It is a case of caring for those both inside and outside the family of God. Here is one suggestion to help determine one’s priorities:

18. “As the Christian responds to the grace of God by being a good steward of his money, he determines the distribution of his money according to biblical priorities. In general, the order of his giving moves outward, with those who are closest to him having the priority of provision: the immediate family, the extended family, the work of the local church, the work of gospel proclamation, and finally, the relief of needy believers, then unbelievers.”[22]

Finally, “Each Christian must come to a conscientious decision on this subject before God, and not be content to submit to the dogmatic statements of others; and it will be surprising if grace does not impel him to give a larger proportion than ever the law demanded.”[23]

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7 A PRAYER

Having studied these biblical principles of giving, ask yourself this question: “Am I willing to commit myself to these principles as a way of life, so that I may be a good steward ‘faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.’” (1 Peter 4:10)?

“Heavenly Father, we rejoice in the spiritual freedom the gospel of grace has given to us. We acknowledge that your sacrificial love and generosity in the giving of your only Son, reminds us that we belong to you, that we are bought with a price, and that all of our possessions come from you. May we surrender ourselves and our material possessions to you in joyful, generous, and sacrificial giving. Forgive us our sin of selfishness. Help us to establish right priorities of giving. May we serve God and not mammon. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

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8 BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bible Dictionaries and Bible Encyclopedias
The article “Tithe” in the following:

A Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 4, J. Hastings editor, Clark, 1904.
Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Copyright 1996 by Baker Books.
Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Copyright 1984 by Baker Books.
The Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, L. O. Richards editor, Zondervan, 1985.
Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, Electronic Database Copyright 1998 by Biblesoft.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary, P. J. Achtemeier editor, 1985.
Holman Bible Dictionary. Copyright 1991 by Holman Bible Publishers.
Holman Bible Handbook. Copyright 1992 by Holman Bible Publishers.
Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
The New Bible Dictionary, IVP, 1974.
New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, editor Colin Brown, Zondervan.
New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, Zondervan.
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright 1996 by Biblesoft.
The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody Press of Chicago, 1988.
The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Kittel and Friedrich, Eerdmans, 1985, CDRom.
The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, editors C. F. Pfeiffer, H. F. Vos, J. Rea, Moody, 1975.
Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, M. C. Tenney editor, Volume 5, 1976.

Bible Commentaries:
Adam Clarke’s Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright 1996 by Biblesoft
Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database. Copyright 1997 by Biblesoft.
A Bible Commentary For Today, Pickering and Inglis, 1979.
Ellicott’s Bible Commentary, Pickering and Inglis, 1971.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Victor, 1986.
The Bible Exposition Commentary, Warren Wiersbe, Victor, 1989.
Expositor’s Bible Commentary, F. E. Gaebelein editor.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database, Copyright 1997 by Biblesoft
The Life Application Bible, Tyndale, 1988.
New Bible Commentary, IVP, 1994.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Electronic Database. Copyright 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Electronic Database, Copyright 1962 by Moody Press.

Articles:
“The Question of the Tithe” Bibliotheca Sacra, Dallas Theological Seminary, various issues in 1950-1951.
“Are Christians Required To Tithe?” D. A. Carson, “Christianity Today”, November 15, 1999.

Websites:
www.bible.org
www.gty.org
www.generousgiving/.org

Encyclopedias:
The New Encyclopedia Brittanica, Volume 11, 15th edition, 1986.
Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 26, Grolier, 1988.
Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 15, 1971, Keter Publishing House.

Lexicons:
W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, “A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament”, University of Chicago, 1957.
Brown, Driver, Briggs, “Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament”, (Gesenius), Baker, 1979.
Thayer’s “Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament”, Baker, 1977.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright 1985, Nelson.
The Word Study Concordance (The Englishman’s Greek Concordance), Tyndale, 1978.

Books:
Graeme Carle, “Eating Sacred Cows, A New Look At Tithing”, Emmaus Road, 1994.
F. F. Bruce, “Answers To Questions”, Paternoster, 1972.
G. Friesen and R. Maxson, “Decision Making and The Will of God”, chapter 22, Multnomah, 1980.
R. T. Kendall, “Tithing, A Call To Serious Biblical Giving”, Hodder and Stoughton, 1982.

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9 APPENDICES
9.1 APPENDIX I: A BRIEF HISTORY OF TITHING IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH

1. TITHE, the tenth part of produce or other income, paid voluntarily or under the compulsion of law for the benefit of religious institutions, the support of priests and pastors, and the relief of those in need. In western lands tithing is probably derived from the Mosaic prescription of paying tithes for the support of the Levites and the temple service (Numbers 18:21).

It was not practiced in the early Christian church but gradually became common by the sixth century. The Council of Tours in 567 advocated tithing. Tithes were made obligatory by civil law in the Carolingian empire in 765 and in England in the tenth century.

Because of different local circumstances tithes developed in various ways. There were secular and ecclesiastical tithes and personal and real tithes – that is, tithes on income from personal trade, profession, or property. Praedial tithes were tithes on fruits of the soil. Great and small tithes were based on the value of the crops or animals taxed. It became common to substitute a money payment for payment in goods.

Abuses became common, particularly when the right to collect tithes was often given or sold to laymen. Beginning with Pope Gregory VII this practice was declared illegal. Many laymen then presented their tithing rights to monasteries and cathedral chapters. The Reformation did not abolish tithing, and the practice was continued in the Roman Catholic Church and in Protestant countries.

Tithing was abolished in France during the French Revolution (1789) and in other countries was gradually replaced by other forms of taxation. The Roman Catholic Church still prescribes tithes in countries where they are sanctioned by law, and some Protestant bodies consider tithes obligatory. Most religious bodies have abandoned the practice, particularly in the United States, where no system of tithing was ever generally employed after the American Revolution.[24]

2. TITHE. The tithe was never a legal requirement in the United States. Members of certain churches, however, including the Latter Day Saints and Seventh-Day Adventists, are required to tithe, and some Christians in other churches do so voluntarily.

The Eastern Orthodox churches never accepted the idea of tithes, and Orthodox Church members have never paid them.[25]

9.2 APPENDIX II: REFERENCES TO “TITHE” AND “TITHES” AND “TENTH” IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. (NKJV)

9.2.1 References to the tithe are few in the New Testament.

1. Matthew 23:23
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

2. Luke 11:42
But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.

3. Luke 18:12
I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.

4. Hebrews 7:2
to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,”

5. Hebrews 7:4
Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.

6. Hebrews 7:5
And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham;

7. Hebrews 7:6
but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.

8. Hebrews 7:8
Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives.

9. Hebrews 7:9 (2x)
Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak,

9.2.2 Various Greek words belonging to the same word family are used:

In Matthew 23: 23; Luke11: 42; 18: 12; Hebrews 7: 5, the Greek word is “apodekatoo”, Strong’s #586, meaning “to give or pay a tenth of anything.”

In Hebrews 7: verses 2, 4, 8 and 9, the Greek word is “dekatee”, Strong’s #1181, and meaning “a tenth part, especially the tenth part of booty taken from the enemy.”

In Hebrews 7: verses 6, and 9, the Greek word is “dekatoo”, Strong’s #1183, meaning “to pay (receive) tithes.”

[In John 1:39 and Revelation 11: 13 and 21: 40 a related Greek word is "dekatos", Strong's #1182 meaning "the tenth".]

9.3 APPENDIX III: PRINCIPLES OF GRACE GIVING

Chapters 8 and 9 comprise the second major section of 2 Corinthians and describe the collection for the poverty-stricken church at Jerusalem. Here we find the most detailed and significant teaching in the Bible about what Paul calls the grace of giving.

The Corinthians had been enthusiastic in responding to the needs of their fellow saints at Jerusalem. However, circumstances had arisen which had caused them not to complete their giving. With encouragement and optimism, Paul expresses his confidence that they will show themselves worthy of his previous boasting with regard to their giving.

The contemporary church would do well to consider carefully Paul’s specific principles for stewardship in the work of the Lord.[26]


Jim Peacock MA (Hons), Diploma of Teaching.

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[1] Greek ‘hilaros’, English “hilarious”.

[2] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. 
[3] New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol.2, page 362.
[4] Legalism, in brief, attempts to please God with man-made rules that are directly opposite to God’s saving grace in Christ.  These human rules often concern “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1) or issues about which the conscience of different believers allows them to decide in different ways.
[5] “Encyclopedia Judaica” page 1157.
[6] See Appendix 1, A History of Tithing in the Christian Church.
[7] Harper’s Bible Dictionary”, page 1078.
[8] “Encyclopedia Judaica” page 1161.
[9] “Bible Knowledge Commentary”, OT, page 1585.
[10] James Denny
[11] Arndt and Gingrich, page 677.
[12] Arndt and Gingrich, page 709.
[13] Ellicott’s Bible Commentary”, page 999.
[14] “The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament”, article by Rengstorf.
[15] New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis”, CD-Rom.
[16] I Apology 67
[17] “New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology”, CD Rom.
[18] Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament.
[19] Arndt and Gingrich, page 84.
[20] Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament.
[21] Greek ‘hilaros’, English “hilarious”.
[22] G. Friesen and R. Maxson, “Decision Making and The Will of God”, page 374
[23] F. F. Bruce, “Answers To Questions”, page 243.
[24] “Encyclopedia Americana”, Volume 26, Page 788, Grolier, 1988.
[25] “The New Encyclopaedia Britannica”, Volume 11, 15th edition, pp 802-3, 1986. 
[26] The Believers’ Study Bible, electronic edition.