Tithing and the New Testament

General Principles

Many churches teach that some Old Testament regulations are just as applicable to us today as they were in the days of Moses and David. As we consider such questions the following principles are essential in coming to a proper, God-given answer.

1.   You can’t pick and choose! The New Testament is our guide.

2.   Is the Old Testament regulation mentioned in the New Testament? If so, how is it described?

3.   Is it prescriptive (prescribed) or descriptive (described)? Remember: Not everything that is DESCRIBED in Scripture is PRESCRIBED by God for His people!

What is tithing?

Tithing is the consecration or setting apart of a tenth of produce and animals for service to God. Tithing was done before the time of Moses. Examples: Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek (Gen 14:20; Heb 7:6) and Jacob vowed unto the Lord and said, "of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You" (Gen. 28:22).

The first Mosaic law on this subject is recorded in Leviticus 27:30-32: “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S. It is holy to the LORD. If a man wants at all to redeem any of his tithes, he shall add one-fifth to it. And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the LORD.”

Subsequent legislation regulated the destination of the tithes: “Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting. Hereafter the children of Israel shall not come near the tabernacle of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. But the Levites shall perform the work of the tabernacle of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a statute forever, throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance’” Numbers 18:21-24 (cf. Deut. 12:5,6,11,17).

“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always” (Deut. 14:22,23).

The paying of the tithes was an important part of the Jewish religious worship. In the days of Hezekiah one of the first results of the reformation of religion was the eagerness with which the people brought in their tithes: “As soon as the commandment was circulated, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and of all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. And the children of Israel and Judah, who dwelt in the cities of Judah, brought the tithe of oxen and sheep; also the tithe of holy things which were consecrated to the LORD their God they laid in heaps” (2 Chron. 31:5,6).

The neglect of this duty was sternly rebuked by the prophets: “Yet from the days of your fathers You have gone away from My ordinances And have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you," Says the LORD of hosts. "But you said, `In what way shall we return?' Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, `In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this," Says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," Says the LORD of hosts; And all nations will call you blessed, For you will be a delightful land," Says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi. 3:7-12).

Tithing in the New Testament

The words tithe, tithes, and tithing are found 40 times in the Bible:

        Tithe – 12 times in O.T.; 2 times in N.T.

        Tithes – 18 times in O.T.; 6 times in N.T.

        Tithing – 2 times in O.T.; 0 times in N.T.

        Total – 32 times in O.T.; 8 times in N.T.

In every one of the New Testament references to tithing, the Holy Spirit simply describes the practice of tithing, and it is never prescribed. Mostly of these New Testament references are of the Pharisees who have become self-righteous in their practice of tithing. Jesus uses these examples to point out that this is NOT what He desires.

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. (See the parallel passage in Luke 11:42.)

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

In addition to a lack of prescription for tithing in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit tells us that the purpose of tithing was for a specific purpose, and for a specific time. It’s purpose was to support the Levites in their work since they were not given an inheritance in the promised land of Israel. Since the Levitical priesthood is no longer needed since we have a greater High Priest in Jesus Christ, there no longer remains a need for the tithe of the Old Testament.

In the Book of Hebrews we read: “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” (Hebrews 7:5).

Stewardship in the New Testament

While the Old Testament law of tithes is not binding on the New Testament Church, the principle of supporting the work of God through His church remains, and is incorporated in the gospel, as Paul says: “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:13,14). Paul discusses this in his letter to the Galatians as well: “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6).

While the New Testament does not mandate a tenth for giving back to God, we are regularly reminded that God desires for us to give back to Him of all that He has given us. His requirement: Give willingly and joyfully!

Jesus speaks about the Gospel motivation to give back to God when He told His disciples: “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8b). Likewise the Apostle Paul wrote: “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.

If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew