I. Exegetical study of the Bible on giving

A. GIVING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

1. Tithing Prior to the Mosaic Law

a). Passages that speak on giving

Three sets of text have been adduced to acquire support for the applicability of tithing in the new covenant era, surrounding the practices of Abel (Gen 4; Heb 11:4), Abraham (Gen 13:18; cp. Gen 14:18), and Jacob (Gen 28:22). The questions that present themselves are as follows. First, do these texts demonstrate the “practice” of tithing before the giving of Law? Second, would the presence or practice of tithing prior to the giving of the Law necessitate that the practice continues? Finally, is there anything parallel to tithing that was practiced prior to the giving of the Law and that was incorporated into the Law which may serve as a point of comparison? Our contention in the present section is this: The texts that discuss tithing prior to the Mosaic Law do not portray tithing as a systematic, continual practice but as an occasional, even exceptional, form of giving.

b). Summary of tithing prior to the Mosaic Law

The evidence from the period prior to the Mosaic Law suggests that no system of tithing was in place. No command to tithe is recorded, and thus the evidence that any systematic tithing existed prior to the giving of the Law is scarce if not non-existing. What is more, all giving discussed prior to the Mosaic Law is voluntary. In fact, many passages throughout the Old Testament discuss voluntary giving. Involuntary giving existed as well, one example being a twenty percent tax in Egypt. Joseph, second only to Pharaoh, collected a twenty percent tax because of the coming drought. This tax was given to the Egyptian government. Voluntary giving “is directed toward the Lord in an attitude of love and sacrifice,” and involuntary giving “is given to the national entity for the supply of the needs of the people.”

However, since much of the argument is based upon silence, there remains the possibility that tithing did exist. This is not problematic. Another custom existed before the Law, was incorporated into the Law, but is not necessary in the new covenant: circumcision.49 There is virtually no controversy in modern-day Christianity over the necessity of circumcision; it is not a requirement for Christians. Circumcision is first recorded as a command of God for Abraham and his descendants (Gen 17:10–14). The practice was later incorporated into the Law in Lev 12:3.50. Verhoef, commenting along these lines, contends that a “pre-Mosaic custom does not, as a matter of course, transcend the Old Testament dispensation, becoming an element of the universal and timeless moral code.” Therefore, the existence of a practice prior to the giving of the Law as well as subsequent to it does not necessarily prove that it was meant to continue into the new covenant period. The assertion is inadequate that, because tithing existed prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law, it must continue to be practiced by God’s people in later periods.

2. Tithing in the Mosaic Law

a). Passages of the Bible on giving

There are three major passages related to tithing in the Mosaic Law: Lev 27:30–33; Num 18:21; and Deut 14:22–29. Each passage needs to be examined to see whether God commanded the Israelites to render one, two, three, or four tithes. The primary key to identifying how many separate tithes existed within the Mosaic Law (i.e., if there was more than one tithe) is the description of their nature and purpose in the respective passage.

b). Summary for tithing in the Mosaic Law

The investigation of references to tithes in the Pentateuch has yielded the following results. First, it appears that the annual tithe of the Israelites surpassed ten percent of their income, actually totaling more than twenty percent. The Levitical Tithe was ten percent of the Israelites’ income. The Festival Tithe was another ten percent of a person’s income (or of the remaining ninety percent after the Levitical Tithe had been paid), with both of these tithes totaling twenty (or nineteen) percent of a person’s income. Finally, the Poor Tithe averaged 3 1/3 percent every year. This adds up to a total of approximately 23 1/3 (or 22 1/3) percent of people’s overall income. Differences exist among those who have calculated the percentages.65 Regardless of the total, it should be clear that the Israelites gave more than ten percent.

3. Tithing in the Old Testament Historical and Prophetic Books

a). Passages of the Bible on giving

After the Pentateuch, tithing is mentioned in seven passages: 2 Chron 31:5–6, 12; Neh 10:38–39; 12:44–47; 13:5, 12; Amos 4:4; and Mal 3:8.

b). Summary for tithing in the Old Testament Historical and Prophetic Books

While 2 Chron 31 did not add significantly to our discussion and Amos 4 was found to anticipate the thrust of Jesus’ words in Matt 23 and Luke 18, Neh 10:32–29 raised some issues that are indicative of the problems that occur when the Mosaic Law is brought into the new covenant era without adequate consideration being given to the question of how the Law was used and what its purpose was. The discussion of Mal 3 surfaced similar problems and, at the least, demonstrated that the passage cannot legitimately be used to argue for the continuation of tithing into the new covenant. Passages that discuss tithing in the New Testament must now be examined to see if the command to tithe continues into the new covenant period.

B. GIVING IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

1. In the Gospels (Matthew 23:23; par. Luke 11:42; Luke 18:9-14)

2. In the rest of the New Testament (Hebrews 7:1-10)

C. Summary statement of the teaching of New Testament

If anyone were to prove the continuation of tithing based upon the New Testament, he must produce a passage that has as its primary purpose that goal in mind. If such a passage is produced, then Heb 7 could possibly be utilized as a secondary, supporting statement. The important point to remember is this: the author of Hebrews was arguing for Melchizedek’s superiority over the Levitical priesthood. The reference to tithing is an illustrative,[1]  secondary statement. The mere description of tithing having taken place at any time does not necessitate its continuation. Description does not equate prescription.[2]

Morris summarizes the present section well: “The author wants his readers to be in no doubt about the superiority of Christ to any other priests and sees the mysterious figure of Melchizedek as powerfully illustrating this superiority.”[3]

II. Principles of New Testament Giving

The case for tithing ultimately rests not on the exegesis of biblical passages on tithing, but on arguments from a theological system.

For this reason we conclude that New Testament believers should not be required to give ten percent or more, but not less, of their income. This does not mean that we are left with nothing. Those who do not hold to the position that tithing is obligatory for Christians have been charged with teaching that believers need not give to the church. But this charge is similar to charging Paul with encouraging believers to sin when he teaches salvation by faith through grace apart from the Law (Rom 3:23). As will be seen, the New Testament provides more than sufficient guidance for giving. In fact, it sets a considerably higher standard than merely giving ten percent of one’s income.

Thus the New Testament provide to us several principles that can help us as we think of giving (tithing, and offering).

  Priniciple Description Reference
1. Systematic Give on a regular basis, that is, weekly, bi-monthly,   monthly, etc. 1 Cor 16:1
2. Proportional Give as you have been prospered; according to your ability 1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 8:2-3
3. Sacrificial, Generous Give generously, even sacrificially, but not to the point   of personal affliction 2 Cor 8:2-3; Phil 4:17-18
4. Intentional Give deliberately in order to meet a genuine need, not out   of guilt merely to soothe a pressing request 2 Cor 8:4; Phil 4:16
5. Motivation Our motivation for giving should be love for others, a   desire for reciprocity, and an eye to the reward from God
a. Love As Jesus died for the sins of others, believers should   give of themselves out of love 2 Cor 8:9
b. Equality Believers are to give so that all needs are met 1 Cor 9:14-15; 2 Cor 8:12-14; cf. Gal 6:6
c. Blessing Give in order to receive more from God so that you can   continue to bless others generously 2 Cor 9:6
6. Cheerful God loves a cheerful giver 2 Cor 9:7
7. Voluntary Giving ought to be done out of one’s free volition 2 Cor 8:2-3, 8; 9:7; Phil 4:18

III. Giving for the ministry of the local church

A. Why Should we give?

  1. Because we need to support those who preach the Word (1 Cor 9:8-14; Gal 6:6)
  2. Because we need accomplish the mission of the church (Matt 28:18-20)
  3. Because we need to cover the expenses of the church from:
    1. Mortgage or Rent of the building
    2. Office expenses (such as paper, stamps, utilities)
    3. Buy the curriculums for the different ministries of the church (kid’s ministry, youth’s ministry, adult Sunday school, etc.)
  4. Giving for the needy like: Orphans, Widows (1 Timothy 5:3-8; James 1:27)
  5. Giving for Missionaries (Phil 4:10-19)
  6. Giving for traveling speakers of the gospel (3 John 5-8 especially v. 8)
  7. Special offerings collections (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9) This was a special collection taken up for the poor in Jerusalem.

B. Does the Bible Teach about Percentage?

No, in the OT the Jews use to give 23% plus out of their income. That does not include the free will offerings that they give out of their own generous heart. Churches decided to start with 10% as a standard but that is not our standard. We should have this percentage as our minimum percentage of giving but we should seek to give more if we can. One practical way is to increase our giving every three months or six months. Start by 10% in the beginning and increase every couple of months as you can.


[1]Fitzmeyer, “‘Now this Melchizedek …’ (Heb 7,1),” 318, confirms that the subject of tithing in this passage is illustrative.

[2]This is not to say that something that is merely described cannot be prescribed. However, there is not a one-to-one correlation. See Duval and Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 263–69, for some rules concerning how to discern when a description can be taken prescriptively.

[3]Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 65. Three phrases in Heb 7:11–19 also place doubt on the validity of continuing to practice aspects of the Mosaic Law: “a change of Law” (7:12); “a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness” (7:18); “the Law made nothing perfect” (7:19). For a discussion on whether “Law” refers to a general principle or the Mosaic Law, see Morris, “Hebrews,” 64 (who favors Mosaic Law) and Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 363 (who prefers the specific law about tithing).

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