Should Christians Tithe?

As a Pastor I am regularly asked if Christians should tithe—or put more explicitly, whether Christians should adopt the ancient Israelite practice set forth in the Hebrew Scriptures of giving to God the first tenth of our increase. My simplest answer is, “Yes.” And if I am asked why, my answer is this: “Because that’s what my Dad taught me…and he was wiser than either of us.” Let me explain.

Christians are not required to tithe.

Tithing is no more a Christian “law” than daily prayer. In the Christian faith, our only law is to love God with all of our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Christian faith is not a religion of law, but rather the practice of Christ-like love. Within the Christian faith, we find practices designed to form us as a Christ-like people. These spiritual disciplines include commitment to prayer, Scripture, worship, sacrament, and the practice of the tithe. In its collective wisdom, the church adopted many of the spiritual practices of Israel, including the tithe.

A Treasured Tradition

Yet this doesn’t mean the New Testament tells us to tithe in a juridical sense. In my interpretation, it doesn’t, but, to me, that doesn’t matter. My dad told me to tithe. When I was in first grade, I received a weekly allowance of two dollars. With that allowance, I was to pay for my school lunch (25 cents a day) and I was instructed to place 25 cents in the offering plate in church every Sunday—which was a little bit more than a tithe. This left me with 50 cents a week to spend at my discretion—more than enough to fund my candy habit. The truth is, I don’t remember what I did with each week’s 50 cents. What I do remember is placing that quarter in the offering plate every Sunday and feeling how I belonged to the First Baptist Church of Savannah, MO, because I gave to it. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” At six years old I was being formed in the Christian practice of loving Jesus and his church through a disciplined generosity.

Later, when I was earning income by mowing lawns in the summer, I distinctly remember my dad walking into my bedroom with a calendar and a box of giving envelopes. He told me to write down what I earned each day on the calendar, and on Saturday night to put ten percent of my earnings in one of the giving envelopes and place it in the offering plate on Sunday. Because I learned these practices as a child, this was easy to do—it was no different than acquiring the habits of saying please and thank you. I was learning that God should be honored with the first tenth of all my income. In my teen years, I experienced my own dramatic encounter with Jesus and began to follow him in earnest, but I already knew how to tithe. I have practiced the tithe all of my life and I can’t imagine doing otherwise.

Where Practicing the Tithe Begins

I learned this practice from my dad. He learned it from his dad, who learned it from his aunt, who learned it from someone in the church, who learned it from…well, eventually we work our way past Moses and the Prophets and all the way back to Father Abraham. In Genesis 14:18-20 we are told this:

King Melchizedek of Salem brought Abram bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And Abram gave him one tenth of everything.

This is where practicing the tithe begins. Not as a law in the Torah, but as Abraham’s faith response to the Christ figure King Melchizedek. Centuries later, Moses incorporated this practice into the Law, and the prophets uniformly endorsed it. In the New Testament, it appears that Jesus as a Jew assumes the practice of the tithe (Mat. 23:23). If you want to make a Biblical case for Christians practicing the tithe, I suppose you can, but the bottom line for me is that I received this practice from the wisdom of my father, who ultimately received it from Father Abraham. This is a practice of wisdom that I taught my three sons and that I am sure will be taught to my grandchildren. It is a privilege to pass on wisdom traditions from generation to generation.

So, should Christians tithe?

Yes. Not because it is a legal requirement (it’s not), but because it has been part of the wisdom tradition of Jews and Christians for millennia. Who am I to disparage the wisdom of this? I have learned to trust these time-vetted traditions that teach us how to live by faith, how to pray, how to read Scripture, how to worship God, and how to honor God with our possessions. The rejection of all tradition is not freedom, it’s foolishness. In the Zahnd family, the wisdom tradition of the tithe pioneered by Abraham continues to be practiced. I am grateful for this. And if you didn’t have the benefit of learning this practice from your parents, then you have the honor of being the Abraham in your family—the patriarch who pioneers this particular way of living by faith.

So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
–The Apostle Paul (Gal. 3:9)

 

Brian Zahnd

Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church, a non-denominational church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is also the author of several books, including A Farewell To Mars and Beauty Will Save the World.

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Showing 26 comments
  • Weston

    Really enjoyed this post. For it being such a commonplace, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen it explained so clearly. “Wisdom tradition of tithe”…great way of putting it! Thanks for sharing.

  • Linda Buckle

    I’m copying your remarks to use later when someone asks me about tithing. I’ve never heard it taught better.

  • anand mishra

    Your thoughts mean a lot to me, coming from a brahmin hindu family in india.

    i have grown in faith reading ur articles.

    But today first time i disagree to your thoughts,

    as tradition we have celebrated christmas,easter and so many other things(excess baggage)

    we call it CHURCH – again its not biblical.

    Tithe for me in new testament times is a curse,

    For us jesus shed his bled, i need to give it all ! do not limit someone to 10 %

    • Derek Gillette

      Hi Anand,

      Thanks so much for adding to the conversation. Your perspective is a good one, generosity is a 100% endeavor. What creative ways have you found to ‘give it all’ as you mentioned above?

      -Derek

  • Matt Saunders

    I’ll declare my bias up-front – The word ‘tithe’ is toxic for me. I left the institutional church after being told that Christians who don’t tithe are cursed and at risk of demonic possession. But, Brian, I still think this is a very poor article full of very weak arguments.

    You appeal to the Church’s “collective wisdom”, practices designed to ‘form us as a Christ-like people”, saying that the Church “adopted many of the spiritual practices of Israel, including the tithe”. But when exactly did this happen? Did the early church tithe? How about evidence from the Patristic period? I think you’d be hard pushed to make any kind of case for tithing being part of the tradition of the Church before Constantine. A lifestyle of absurdly generous giving, yes, but a tithe, no. You have to go to the 585 Synod of Mâcon to find a formal statement on tithing. Later, in mediaeval Europe, tithing grew into what was effectively a forced taxation system, massively disliked, rather than something “designed to form us as Christ-like people”.

    Frank Viola says, “tithing, while biblical, is not Christian. Jesus did not teach it to his disciples. The first-century Christians did not observe it. And for three hundred years, followers of Christ did not do it. Tithing not become a widely accepted practice among Christians until the eighth century, though they gave generously – often well above 10 percent – from the beginning (Pagan Christianity, page 182)

    I think there’s room for debate on the Melchizedek stuff, and either way it’s a weak argument when compared to the vitriol with which Paul speaks in Galatians about those who tried to impose Jewish practices on new believers.

    I get 100%, Brian, that you don’t believe you’re making tithing an obligation, a law… but I think you’re looking at the tradition you grew up in and inherited from your father, seeking to honour that (which is commendable) but not questioning the origins of this practice, and the result is that your “should” imposes a burden on your hearers that Christ never intended us to carry.

    The shared communality and absurdly ultra-generous lifestyle of the first believers were a work of the Holy Spirit, and any human attempt to recreate or legislate that outside of His movement on human hearts, is, I believe, doomed to failure. There is a place for exhortation to generosity – but the danger is that “after beginning with the Spirit, we try to complete it by human effort” – and so corrupt the Gospel.

    • Derek Gillette

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the dialogue. Your points above are well thought out and definitely add value to the conversation. Can you elaborate more on what this might look like for a church – to not practice a ‘tithe’ but rather to practice a lifestyle of absurdly generous giving? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

      -Derek

      • Ronald W Robey

        Simply teach the love of Jesus Christ. Teach your flock to be aware of, and concerned about, the needs of those in the community.

        When expenses are needed in the Church assembly, such as; electricity, maintenance, etc., tell the congregation about the needs. Ask them to pray about how God would have them help to meet the needs. Believe God to speak to the people’s hearts and to be faithful to His Word.

        Does it not say that God shall supply all your need according to His riches in Glory by Christ Jesus?

        There is no need to deceive the people into believing that tithing was practiced by the early Church. The Bible shows that is not the case. Teach the to love God and to love their fellow man. Teach them that if they sow sparingly, they will reap sparingly. If they sow bountifully, they will reap bountifully. Teach them to give with a willing heart.

        Then, step back and watch God work. If it is His will for the doors to remain open, then needed funds will be there. A Church that has to manipulate or deceive its members into giving has serious issues.

    • Marci Hunt

      I would be interested in knowing why you think the first century Christians did not tithe. All Biblical evidence points to the fact that until Paul spread the gospel to the Gentiles, and Gentiles began to outnumber Jews, that Christianity was seen as part of Judaism, in fact the ultimate fulfillment of Judaism. We know that the disciples went to the Temple, and that the first followers continued to go to the Temple, and continued to follow the laws of Judaism (ex. Peter claiming meat was unclean in vision). It is logical to assume that the earliest followers DID tithe and that it was not until Christianity spread to the Gentiles that the question of tithing was raised

      • Ronald W Robey

        Hi Marci,

        If any first century Christians did tithe, it would have been to the only ones authorized to receive the tithe… the sons of Levi. Hebrews 7:5 states that the sons of Levi have the command to take tithes. It would have been an offense to give the tithes to anyone else than whom God had said the tithes were to be given to.

        Also, those tithes would have been agricultural. Hebrews 7:5 says the tithes were ‘according to the Law’. The Law said the tithes were agricultural.

  • Christian

    Hey Brian! I’ve read and enjoyed some of your posts in the past, but this is honestly terrible. Christians should tithe because…. It’s tradition? It’s what Christians have always done?
    That’s your answer?

    Not to remind us we are stewards of ALL we have been given, not just our money?
    Not because loving others in a way that mimics Christ NECESSITATES selflessness towards others?
    Not because it humbles us and reminds us that we are not our providers, but God is?
    And must we give 10% to the church every time? Would God be displeased with us if we have September’s 10% to a widow who lives down the street?
    You left a lot of questions unanswered here and gave a filler answer with no real meat. This was mostly a story about how you were indoctrinated to tithe from a young age and didn’t really question is when you started cutting grass as a teenager. ????
    I encourage you to be more thoughtful on subjects such as these, as this is an easy target for non believers to look at the church and perpetuate a stereotype of money-hungry pastors looking for blind congregants to feed their pockets.

    • Derek Gillette

      Hi Christian,

      Thanks for the comment. It means a lot that you took the time to read. Completely agree that generosity is a total lifestyle, that requires sacrifice and the willingness to give everything we have.

      Did you have additional thoughts on how a church should approach the topic of tithing? I think it’s a conversation worth having.

      -Derek

  • Jon Grote

    Tithing is one of the greatest forms of worship in which we can partake. God has honored my tithing by blessing me to not only take care of my family’s needs, but also being able to bless others in their time of need without needing to be repaid by them. What an honor and a privilege!

  • Marci Hunt

    My dad made the point Sunday that Grace ALWAYS goes further than the law. The fact is that every New Testament example of giving is of someone giving all they had, or giving sacrificially.

    • Derek Gillette

      Sounds like a great message Marci. Do you have a link to the audio of the sermon in case anyone wants to listen to it?

  • Paul Hughes

    I appreciate this article a lot. The link to Abraham advocates a pre- or ante-nomistic (in the OT legal literature sense) grounding which renders the anti-nomistic slant of Galatians kind of irrelevant.

    From a highly pragmatic perspective, I notice across the board that people who tithe (and give above; offerings, etc.) generally somehow make it all work out, and people who don’t, struggle.

    Thanks again. And God bless.

  • Ken Williams

    The most important aspect of our giving is not the percentage or the amount, but the reason why we give. What motivates us to give should be the glory of God and the forward progress of His kingdom. We should not become so concerned with the percentage or the amount of our giving that we miss the basic, underlying fact concerning money, material possessions and giving: It all belongs to God. We are only managers and stewards of what is rightfully His.

    Tithing is a mathematical concept meaning “one-tenth.” Although tithing is an Old Testament teaching, its truth carries over to the New Testament. Yet, tithing is not so much a legalistic requirement as it is a spiritual matter. Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek over 400 years before the law was given by God.

    Stephen Olford wrote, “Abraham gave tithes to God through Melchizedek, the king-priest. According to Hebrews 7, Melchizedek is a beautiful type of Christ in resurrection. Melchizedek gives Abraham bread and wine, symbols of sacrifice; and Abraham acknowledges his indebtedness to God by giving Him tithes of all his spoils. In other words, tithing is the scriptural way of saying ‘thank you’ to God for all that He has done for us.”

    Tithing existed under the law, as well as after the law. Tithing is a universal truth that supersedes the law and one which continues today in this day of grace.

    If tithing is so important, why, then, isn’t it emphasized in the New Testament? The reason is very clear. Under the Old Testament economy, God’s people were required to give from 25% to 33% of their income. That practice continued into much of the New Testament era. Would you not agree that it would seem a bit odd and even ludicrous to preach to people about giving 10% when they were already giving three times that amount?

    In His rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, Jesus indicated that they tithed even their spices but had omitted the more important aspects of their faith, including mercy and justice. But even as He condemned their wrong actions, He commended them for their tithing. Never did Jesus give so much as a hint that tithing was not the right thing to do.

    Think about it: If under the law, God’s people gave as much as 33% of their income, shouldn’t we — living under grace — be willing to give 10% and more?

    In his booklet, Giving to God, Robert A. Laidlaw provides this illustration: “I go to a home where there is a little girl, five or six years of age, and give her a box of chocolates. She disappears, and when she returns, her lips and fingers are covered with chocolate. In another home, however, the box is opened at once and the little girl brings it to me and says, ‘You have the first one.’ ‘Oh, no!’ I say, ‘they are for you.’ ‘But please,’ she pleads, ‘you brought them to me; please have the first one.’ And helping myself, I say, ‘Thank you, dear.’ Which child has the warmest place in my affections, and which is more likely to get another box of chocolates?”

    Stephen Olford offers this striking commentary on that story: “ . . . the tithe is the first chocolate handed back to God. For some, it will be one-tenth of the total income (as the word indicates); for others, it will be more. Never will it be less.”

    Tithing simply follows the pattern of “first fruits” giving by which we give to God the first part of our income, not the bits and pieces which might be left over. Tithing is putting our giving to God first rather than at the end of our spending after all of our bills are paid.

    In Malachi 3, God issues a serious indictment against His people. He says we have robbed Him. How have we done this? In tithes and offerings. Then He patiently instructs us to bring the whole tithe into His storehouse and offers a challenge to us. Concerning the tithe, God says, in essence, “Prove Me. Try Me. Put Me to the test. And see — in response to your obedience — if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

    If you are one who tithes, you know how God keeps His promise. You have proved Him and settled this issue in your heart. If you are not one who tithes, why not take God at His Word. Here’s how: Take stock of your present financial situation, and then step out by faith. Put God to the test by tithing for six months or so. Then take stock again. You will find that God has kept His promise and provided specific, tangible blessings in your life in response to your obedience. Tithing, you see, is not God’s way of raising money to pay His bills. Tithing is God’s way of growing His children.

    • Michael Akrong

      Dear Ken,

      I give you 100% pass mark for these words…. We are to bear fruits as the Seed of Abraham. How best to imitate our father and show that we have his character?

      Well said!

      Thanks.

  • Paul Busta

    Brian –

    I like your thoughts, but disagree on one point: I believe Jesus DID tell us to tithe.

    He did not make it a specific teaching, but on two occasions, he CONFIRMED it. Both to the rich young man who said he practiced tithing, and in admonishing the Pharisees, who tithed the slightest herb, Jesus said that they SHOULD be doing so, but then took their actions a step further. He gave new teaching to many of the old laws and rules, but this one He did not change. He confirmed it.

    While tithing is certainly not a requirement for salvation, I believe that among the many reasons we should do so is that Jesus said that we should.

    • Bob Wadholm

      But remember that Jesus did not actually tell us to tithe, but rather seems to have told Pharisees (Jews) to continue tithing. Description of an event is not necessarily a command. Beyond this, note that Jesus speaks to Second Temple Jews, who have Levites and a priesthood to whom they must pay their tithes (they would not think of paying their tithes to a church, nor would Jesus have meant for them to pay their tithes to a Christian church–that would have been against the Law of God). Jesus tells the Pharisees to continue to pay tithes because this is a requirement of Torah. You, as a modern human, have no way of obeying Jesus’ words as he meant them (for the Pharisees to continue paying their tithes to the Levites) because there is no temple, and really no Levites that are currently accepting this tithe. If you are Jewish, you might think about saving up your money in an investment account for when the Jewish priesthood is reinstituted in the world (I am being serious about this), but outside of that, Jesus’ words must be taken out of context to apply to modern Christians paying tithes to non-Levite church workers or to support a Christian church organization. The law is very specific about tithe (who must receive the tithe and how it must be used), and this may be why Brian above does not say that Jesus tells us to tithe, but he does defend the practice. In fact, it appears that Jesus told Jews to continue tithing (under Torah, and to the Levites) not us.

  • Jun Mateo

    A new Hymn- “I surrender 10%. 10% to Thee, my blessed Savior,
    I surrender 10%.

  • Festus Obute

    In JESUS’S sermons, HE had never told HIS disciples to tithe. Moses laid down the laws governing tithing. Does anybody follow the laws. NO. The Bible recorded that the laws were brought by Moses while grace came with JESUS. Do you preach grace and practise the laws. From my understanding of the letters of Paul, you don’t mix grace with laws, otherwise it will become a mix up. Giving bountifully is the teaching of Paul. JESUS also taught us to give not to tithe. CHRIST never gave teachings on tithing but severally, HE gave teachings on giving. Come to think of it, Abraham didn’t give tithe from his own resources but from war spoils. If we must imitate Abraham, we have to wage, wars win them and spoil them in order to pay tithes. But if we must follow the Moses’s type of tithing then we are being religious instead of allowing the HOLY SPIRIT to lead us in giving. Paul told us not to give what we don’t have. But surely to sow bountifully.

  • Ndungu mwangi

    may The holy Spirit guide me on this topic on tithing

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