The Truth About The
I don’t believe that the new covenant believer
is commanded anywhere in the Bible to give ten percent
of his income to God. If, having read this article,
you still believe the Bible specifically commands us
to tithe, then you should practice and teach it. God
will bless you and your church as result. However, I
invite you to consider the following summary of the
biblical teaching on tithing.
Tithing In the Old Testament
Before the establishment of the Mosaic law there are
only two examples of the giving of a tenth. Abraham
gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils he won in battle
(Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:4) and Jacob vowed to a give
God a tenth of all he owned if God would protect him
from his angry brother (Gen. 28:22). While these examples
of tithing are commendable, the Scriptures do not command
us to follow them, nor should they be considered as
establishing obligatory standards of giving for today.
Dr. Charles Ryrie, with his trademark logical clarity,
The fact that something was done before the law
which was later incorporated into the law does not
necessarily make that thing a good example for today,
especially if the New Testament gives further guidance
on the matter. Not even the most ardent tither would
say that the Sabbath should be observed today because
it was observed before the law (Exodus 16:23-36),
yet this is the very reasoning used in promoting tithing
today. The New Testament teaches us about a new day
of worship, and it also gives us new directions for
When the Mosaic law was instituted, Israel was commanded
to give three different tithes averaging twenty to twenty-three
percent per year.2
The first was a Levitical tithe in which ten percent
of everything earned or grown was required to support
the Levites and priests as they served in the tabernacle.
"And to the sons of Levi, behold, I have given
all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return
for their service which they perform, the service of
the tent of meeting (Num. 18:21). This tithe was necessary
because the Levites could not earn their own livelihood
and work in the tabernacle at the same time. It was
used to support the national priestly program.3
The second annual tithe required was a festival tithe
in which ten percent of the remaining nine-tenths of
one’s income was to be set apart and eaten at
the yearly religious festivals in Jerusalem.
You shall surely tithe all the produce from what
you sow, which comes out of the field every year.
And you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your
God, at the place where He chooses to establish His
name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your
oil, and the first-born of your herd and your flock,
in order that you may learn to fear the LORD your
God always (Deut. 14:22-23).
This tithe was used to fund the national religious
The third tithe the law demanded was a welfare tithe
in which, every third year, the second tithe, the festival
tithe, was not taken to Jerusalem, but was kept at home
to feed the Levites and the poor. This tithe was used
to fund the national welfare program.
At the end of every third year you shall bring out
all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall
deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has
no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien,
the orphan and the widow who are in your town shall
come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD
your God may bless you in all the work of your hand
which you do (Deut. 14:28, 29).
Some scholars think this poor tithe was actually a
third tithe required every three years. If so, it would
average three and one-third percent per year and the
average annual tithe required from an Israelite would
be close to twenty-three percent each year! At the very
least the yearly tithing requirement was two tithes
amounting to twenty percent.5 In light of
this, if someone wishes to argue for a percentage based
on the Old Testament tithing laws, to be consistent
he must not press for giving a mere ten percent, but
for twenty to twenty-three percent.6
When I taught this to my congregation I always assured
them that while we believed their interpretation was
faulty, if they insisted on giving according to the
Mosaic law of tithing they must give not ten, but at
least twenty percent—and we would be happy to
Tithing in the New Testament
When studying the concept of tithing in the New Testament
you discover that the word is used only eight times,
in the gospels and in the letter to the Hebrews. In
the gospels it is used in connection with the tithing
of the Pharisees who were fulfilling their obligation
to the old covenant, codified in the Mosaic law, which
had not yet been abrogated by the death of Christ (Matt.
23:23, Lk. 11:42; 18:12). In the book of Hebrews tithing
is mentioned in the discussion about Abraham's having
paid tithes to Melchizedek (Heb. 7:5-9). It is significant
that nowhere in the New Testament is the new covenant
believer commanded to tithe. As a matter of fact,
there is no text in all of Scripture that commands God’s
people to give a mere ten percent to God!
Tithing in Your Church
In light of what I’ve just written, you will
probably be surprised to learn that I still believe
in using the giving of a tithe as a guideline in leading
God’s people into faithful stewardship. When preaching
on stewardship in my church I taught that, while the
giving of a tithe is not a biblical command, it is a
helpful guideline to use in planning our giving. I showed
them what the New Testament had to say about generous,
sacrificial, and proportionate giving (more on this
in the April newsletter). I then told my people, "I’m
convinced that American Christians are so prosperous
that if we don’t start by giving a minimum of
ten percent of our income to the Lord, we can’t
possibly be fulfilling New Testament principles of giving."
It made sense to them. Their giving soared, their personal
finances improved, their faith grew, their joy expanded,
and our offerings increased by 32% in one year!
Could you use a 32% increase in your offerings next
1 Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Balancing
the Christian Life. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1969.
Allis, Oswald T. God Spake By Moses. Nutley,
NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company,
1951, p. 143.
3 Orr, James., ed. The International
Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 5, s.v. “Tithe”.
Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,
1939, p. 2987.
4 Unger, Merrill F. “Tithe.”
Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Chicago, IL:
Moody Press, 1957, p. 1103.
5 Allis, Ibid., p. 143; Friesen, Gary.
Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical
Alternative to the Traditional View. Portland,
OR: Multnomah Press, 1980, p. 357; Orr, Ibid.,
p. 2988; Unger, Ibid. p. 1103; Ryrie, Ibid.,
6 MacArthur, John. Giving: God’s
Way. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1978,
Copyright © 2004 by Rod Rogers. All rights reserved.
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